How to Choose the Best Travel Backpack

First let’s talk a little about what makes a travel pack a travel pack instead of, say a backcountry backpacking pack. Companies like Osprey and Eagle Creek have carefully thought through everything that might help make life on the road a little easier: detachable day packs that can clip to the front of the pack for easy carrying, padded carry handles, lockable zippers, and covers that zip up to protect shoulder straps from hungry airport luggage escalators. A travel daypack may be super compressible and easy to pack along; a medium-sized travel pack might be small enough to fit into an overhead bin; and a large travel pack might just be big enough to hold everything you need for a trip around the world. Do some of these products sound cool to you? Yeah, we thought so too.

On the other hand, travel packs can be less comfortable than traditional backpacking packs and generally aren’t as well-suited to longer outdoor excursions. For example, if you’re planning a 10-day backpacking trip in the Alps in the midst of your journey, then it would probably be wiser to purchase a backcountry backpacking backpack like the Arc’teryx Altra 65 for men and the Osprey Aura 65 for women and a packable travel day pack like the REI Stuff Travel Daypack 22. Plus, if you’re not that into special travel features, then a backpacking pack will not only get your stuff to locales around the globe, but will also serve you well long hikes at home, saving space in your closet and in your budget. We reviewed three backpacks that we would also take into the backcountry (the Deuter Quantum 70 + 10, the Kelty Redwing 50, and the Eagle Creek Deviate 60).

Once you’ve thought through your backpack priorities, hopefully you’ll have a better idea of whether a travel-specific backpack will best meet your needs or whether a backpacking backpack will do the trick. If it’s a travel pack you’re after, read on as we discuss two of the most important aspects to consider when choosing your next travel pack! If you think a backpacking pack would be better, journey on over here to check out a side-by-side comparison of some of the top performers in this category.


Finding a backpack that is comfortable is essential before going on a big trip, especially if you plan on using it for a mid-trip backpacking adventure or other similar activity. Even if you’re only planning on traveling city-to-city, the chances are high that at some point you’ll end up walking farther than you planned to get to the nearest bus station or to track down your hostel, so having a comfortable pack is key. If you are carrying a particularly heavy load or planning to incorporate intense outdoor activity into your trip, be sure to invest in a pack with a frame and hip belt.


One of the most important parts of a comfortable pack is finding one that fits. Start by trying on a variety of different packs, keeping in mind that packs with frames and hip belts will be easier to carry as your load gets heavier, since they shift the weight onto your pelvis. With a framed backpack, it’s even more important to make sure that the pack fits properly. It’s extremely helpful to go into a local gear shop where experts can measure your torso and try fitting different packs to your body, especially if it’s your first time purchasing a pack.

During this process, it’s also important to adjust the hip belt properly, making sure that it will cinch down tightly across the belly button with the padded hip belt resting along the top of the pelvis. Additionally, you should adjust the load stabilizing straps to ensure that you can pull the load closer in to your body for increased stability. Once you’ve made the manufacturers’ suggested adjustments, walk around, bend over, and move your arms and head. The weight should sit primarily on the hips, not the shoulders, you should feel balanced, and the hip belt should not be digging uncomfortably into the skin.

Pack Shape

Finally, we think it’s also important to consider the shape of the pack. While personal opinions certainly vary, we think that taller, slimmer packs promote better balance and pack awareness. Pack awareness is especially important when navigating in crowded areas or even hiking through a wooded or rocky wilderness. Imagine weaving your way through a packed bus station during rush hour while wearing a pack that sticks out 15 inches off your back. It’s more difficult to turn around, see who’s around you, and you could even unexpectedly take somebody out with any sudden movements!

For even more information on fitting a backpacking backpack, click here.


Here’s where knowing the purpose of your travel pack really starts to come in handy. If you’re mostly going to be using your travel backpack for business trips, you might prioritize finding a carry-on sized pack like the REI Vagabond Tour 40 and Osprey Porter 46, which are both sleek, one-size-fits-all bags without rigid frames. If you know you won’t be carrying heavy loads for long distances, then you can easily save on weight and generally on money by purchasing a frameless pack. On the other hand, if you’re going on a longer adventure trip, you may need space for more stuff, as well as external gear loops for clipping on extra items like a sleeping bag. For extended travel, we highly recommend the Deuter 70 + 10, which won our Top Pick Award. We find that it’s helpful to choose a bag with a little extra space for souvenirs and messy packing (unless you always pack luggage like a pro). Most of the packs that we reviewed come in multiple different volumes, ranging from 40 to 90 liters. Even some bigger, framed packs, like the 60-liter Eagle Creek Deviate are sized to fit in an overhead bin when the brain and extra daypack are removed. This can be extremely useful in avoiding lost or damaged luggage.

Overhead Bin Rejection?

Most US airlines require a carry-on bag be no bigger than 22″ x 14″ x 9.” Most travel backpacks we tested are just a bit bigger than this and a few are much larger than this. However, most travel backpacks are also quite soft and compressible and can be made smaller using their own compression straps or additional compression straps bought separately. Most US airlines are fairly lenient about the dimensions and generally let you have a couple extra inches for each of the three dimensions. Keep in mind that some international airlines have weight restrictions of 15 to 22 pounds on carry-on bags. This can be very limiting and make it very important to make sure your carry-on bag is lightweight to begin with. Most United States airlines don’t have a carry-on weight restriction or have a limit of 40 to 70 pounds. Forty-plus pounds is pretty hard to reach unless you’re traveling with your weight-lifting plates.

Daypack Performance

No matter what kind of trip you’re heading out on, having a daypack is usually extremely handy. We reviewed three packs with detachable day packs and really liked the idea of the built-in extra bag. It seemed to streamline the packing process and ensured that you always had a small pack handy for day hikes or city exploration. Plus they strap easily onto the back or clip to the front for super easy carrying. In our carry-on luggage review, we review three pieces of rolling luggage that convert into backpacks with detachable daypacks: the Osprey Ozone 22, the Osprey Meridian 22, and the REI Stratocruiser 22.

Alternatively, maybe you already have some luggage or a backpack that you love but need a small daypack for short adventures. Luckily, REI solved this conundrum by making a lightweight daypack that stuffs into its own pouch. This will allow you to save some dough on a whole new set-up and instead spend it on that hot air balloon ride over Angkor Wat that you’ve been telling yourself was way too expensive.

Travel-Specific Features

Stepping past marketing hype, nearly any backpack or bag will work to transport your items from one destination to another. That said, there are some really neat travel-specific features that will enhance your traveling experience. Consider whether or not you would benefit from features like lockable zippers, hydration compatibility, and whether or not a pack has a cover that will zip-up to protect shoulder straps during travel or an included travel duffel. Backpacks like the Pacsafe VentureSafe 65 have super high-tech security features like interlocking zipper pulls, puncture resistant zippers, and slash resistant cables.

On a more practical level, be sure to think about packing features. How easy it would be to pull something important out of the bottom of your bag while waiting in line at the bus station. Although it’s not necessarily a deal breaker, when you have to remove the contents of your bag to retrieve something at the bottom of your pack, it’s just generally a bummer. You may also want to consider the pack’s weight; when a pack is heavy before you even begin to put your stuff in it, it may not be the best option for backcountry use. Finally you should check out the pack’s durability by learning what it’s made of. Generally speaking, the higher the denier or D rating (i.e. 1680D ballistic nylon) the fabric is given, the burlier it is. You should also check out the pack’s zippers and look into whether or not the company offers a full guarantee on the pack.

Traveling should be the time of your life. The best pack for you is the one that works so well for your needs that it disappears from thought so that you can focus on the world around you. We’ve done the research for you so you can buy the right pack the first time. See our full Best Travel Backpack review to find the best pack for your needs.

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