Skip to Content

16 Best Travel Backpacks | Efficient Carry-On Options

16 Best Travel Backpacks | Efficient Carry-On Options

A good, sturdy travel backpack is a necessity these days. Carrying your belongings while keeping your hands free during travel is life-changing.

Believe me.

As a traveling woman, it’s much more convenient to have your things within reach yet comfortably snugged across your back.

Between purses and tote bags, the shoulders can be the hardest working parts of a body on any given day.

But after hours of traveling? Oof. Where’s the spa?

Let me tell you about one memorable late-night arrival at Montreal Trudeau International Airport from Dallas.

I was balancing so much stuff in my aching arms, I literally kicked a satchel through the customs and immigration line.

Yeah, the customs agent was not amused. Neither was I, but I didn’t have many options.

Now, years later, backpacks designed to make travel easier on you and your spine (and grumpy customs agents, I suppose) are readily available.

They come in all shapes and sizes, loaded with features, stylish as heck and are comfortable to boot.

For this list, we took a hard look at dozens of travel backpacks and ranked them according to user reviews, personal experience and general usability.

All of our recommendations will have preferred features, such as side pockets for water bottles, Camelback option or electronics pocket.

They’ll also be waterproof and machine washable (unless otherwise labeled).

So save some wear and tear on your shoulders and neck. Make one of our recommended backpacks your luggage staple.

Best Backpack for Travel

The best travel backpack is the one that fits you and your specific needs. Meaning that what works for one person may not necessarily suit you.

With that being said, these are solid options with great all-around features and useful in most situations.

1. Thule Subterra Backpack 34L

Thule 34L Travel Backpack

You’d be hard-pressed to find many travel backpacks as sturdy and as versatile as the Thule Subterra Backpack 34L.

It has a large magnetic rolltop opening so you can easily reach in and find what you need quickly–useful when customs agents are scowling at you.

One of the greatest inventions in the luggage space is the packing cube and the Thule has one inside of it. Holy Mother of Organization.

Traveling with your laptop?

Of course, you are. You’re not an animal. The Thule Subterra has a padded space for it that securely closes.

It also has an internal power pocket to keep your cords neat between your mobile charger and device. Stop crying, there’s more.

A small pocket on the side holds your water bottle. Finally, it has a pass-through panel so that you can secure it to your rolling luggage.

Pros:

  • The packing cube is removable if you don’t need it.
  • Has a zippered side opening.

Cons:

  • Not waterproof, but it is water-resistant.
  • The exterior pocket is small.

See Related: Best Travel Drones

2. Tortuga Outbreaker 35L Carry On Travel Backpack with Packing Cubes

Tortuga Outbreaker 35L Travel Backpack

One of the best travel backpacks is also one of the most durable. The Tortuga Outbreaker comes in two sizes–45L and 35L.

But both come loaded with features and packing cubes(!!) and will probably last until the sun finally explodes.

It’s carry one size so you can wear it until you get to your seat. And you won’t mind doing that because it’s ergonomically designed to fit like a pack.

The backpack’s foam breathes and moves with you and a hip belt helps take the weight from your shoulders.

There’s a TSA-approved padded compartment for your laptop, tablet and other devices. And side pockets for your water bottle.

It’s made of waterproof sailcloth that’s practically indestructible. Oh, and PACKING CUBES.

Pros:

  • A padded hip belt takes the backpack’s weight from your back and shifts it to the hips for extra comfort.
  • You can unzipper it and lay it flat like a suitcase which makes packing it real easy.

Cons:

  • The laptop compartment is said to be TSA-approved so you don’t have to take out your laptop as it goes through inspection, but…is it really? That may depend on the day.
  • The 45L is probably too big for most people.

See Related: Best Gifts for Pilots and Aviation Enthusiasts

3. Peak Design Duffelpack 45-65L

Peak Design Duffelpack Travel Backpack

If luxury is important to you in backpacks for travel, you’ll love the first-class feeling of the Peak Design Duffelpack.

It can expand from an already roomy 45L to a massive 65L. You know, in case you’re sailing around the world.

The substantial nylon fabric is extremely durable and is rip-resistant. It’s also waterproof.

You could probably camp in it. Kidding (maybe).

As for comfort, the shoulder and hip straps are padded and can even be stowed if needed.

It also has padded carrying straps for grabbing so you won’t amputate your fingers.

And convenient storage galore for your little things in two external and two internal pockets

Pros:

  • Comes with a lifetime warranty.
  • Attractive sage color so you’ll spot it immediately at baggage claim in the sea of black bags.

Cons:

  • No laptop compartment.
  • It’s not designed to be a carry-on.

Best Travel Backpack for Men

We’ve picked out a few that make the best backpacks for travel for men due to style, usability and, most importantly, a good fit.

4. Eagle Creek Expanse International Carry-On Bag

Eagle Creek Expander Travel Backpack

This minimalist backpack is perfect for guys who don’t necessarily want to look like they’re going to hit the trail after a business meeting.

The Eagle Creek Expanse International Carry-On Bag combines the comfort of a backpack with the convenience and style of a roller bag.

Sometimes you don’t want to run across the airport in your Johnston & Murphys slinging a backpack.

This travel backpack features heavy-duty wheels and an expandable handle for those unexpected cross-parking lot or airport sprints.

It’s lightweight and is resistant to scuffing, so it’ll look dapper for years–just like you xx.

Features include one huge front pocket and two small side pockets.

It also has lash points for securing to other luggage or strapping to the roof of a Land Rover or similar manly vehicle.

Pros:

  • Lifetime warranty to cover repair or replacement no matter what caused the product failure.
  • Lightweight and will conform to most carry-on policies.

Cons:

  • Reviewers comment that the bag tends to tip over.
  • International travelers commented that the dimensions may be slightly over many European carrier’s cabin limits.

See Related: Best Credit Cards for International Travel

5. Osprey Men’s Atmos 65 AG Backpack

ATMOS 65 Osprey Travel Backpack

One of the best travel backpacks for men is the roomy, rugged Osprey Men’s Atmos 65 AG.

If you’re more likely to travel for adventure than for business, this travel backpack will deliver.

Anti-gravity suspension makes the pack feel lighter than it should. The shoulder harness and hip belt will facilitate the ideal fit.

The pockets on this thing are made of mesh. Perfect for shoving in a rain jacket or windbreaker.

You can stow water bottles in the zippered mesh hip pockets. But it also has a hydration sleeve for a 3L water reservoir (like a Camelback. Sold separately).

Pros:

  • Breathable mesh on the back will keep you from getting sweaty.
  • Over-the-top comfort and fit.

Cons:

  • Hikers commented that the pocket zippers are difficult to open with one hand.
  • The suspension system may not work as well for big, heavy loads.

See Related: Best Luxury Travel Gifts for Him

6. Tortuga Setout Backpack

Tortuga Setout Travel Backpack

What makes the Tortuga Setout Backpack the best business travel backpack for men is its lightweight versatility.

While it’s carry-on sized, it’s still the roomiest pack Tortuga makes. Pack a week’s worth of clothes and you’ll be ready for any event.

It opens like a suitcase for easy packing. Ample pockets hold all your little nomad office things and keep the entire bag organized.

Molded foam shoulder straps and the padded hip belt will make this one of the more comfortable travel backpacks in this guide.

There are also sleeves for both your laptop and tablet. Cords and chargers will stow nicely away too.

Pros:

  • It’s one of the most affordable travel backpacks found, yet still quality-made, weather-resistant and durable.
  • Staps can be stowed while the backpack is in storage.

Cons:

  • One reviewer noted that the fabric doesn’t keep its shape.
  • No internal frame for structure while filled.

See Related: Best Cross-Body Bags for Travel

Best Travel Backpack for Women

Confidently travel the world with these stylish, durable backpacks comfortable enough to take anywhere.

7. Knomo Luggage Beauchamp

Knomo Travel Backpack

The Knomo Luggage Beauchamp is one of the best backpacks for travel because of a sleek design and durable nylon fabric trimmed in leather.

It’s water-resistant and has a ton of pockets, including one with RFID blocking for extra security against credit cards and identity theft.

It can even tote your 14-inch laptop in a separate, but easily accessible compartment.

Comfortable curvy shoulder straps make carrying effortless.

Pros:

  • Made of durable, stain and water resistant nylon with full-grain leather trim.
  • Has one large front pocket and a second hidden front pocket.

Cons:

  • Too small for any trip longer than a weekender, but still a nice alternative to a tote bag for a carry-on.
  • Pockets get snug when stuffed with ID, devices, etc.

8. Hynes Eagle 38L Flight Approved Weekender Carry On Backpack

Hynes Eagle 38L Flight Travel Backpack

The best travel daypack and backpack all-in-one for women is the Hynes Eagle Carry On Backpack.

Comes with three packing cubes for superior organization.

Packing cubes are life-changing because you can toss them from the backpack into dresser drawers wherever you lodge.

You will never lose or leave behind anything ever again. Life-changing, I tell you.

It features a multitude of adjustable straps for ultimate comfort. Mesh-covered shoulder straps keep you cool.

They also tuck away when you don’t need them.

When you don’t need to stuff your pack, use the handy compression straps to cinch down excess space and keep your belongings organized.

A large zippered front pocket will safely hold your passport, tablet and other travel essentials.

There are also top and side handles for easy grabbing.

It looks nice too and is attractive enough to use on both urban day adventures or cross-country flights.

Pros:

  • Pre-approved as a carry-on even on European and Asian carriers and will easily fit in overhead bins or under your seat.
  • Interior straps keep your clothes in place.

Cons:

  • Not water-proof or even resistant.
  • Some reviews said the pack showed signs of wear and tear after a short time.

See Related: Best Travel Toiletry Bags

9. The North Face Women’s Terra 40 Pack

The North Face Terra 40 Pack for Women

Looking for a traveling backpack as adventurous as you? Take a look at The North Face Women’s Terra 40 Pack.

It’s a true technical pack comfortable and roomy enough for a backcountry camping trip. You’ll be able to use this as luggage too.

The company’s patent-pending lift system and complementary support technology are designed for quick load adjustments.

Along with an adjustable hip belt, you’ll be able to carry the largest loads comfortably.

Interior compartments keep your things separated and easily accessible. Carry a sleeping bag under the floating lid too,

This heavy-duty pack is also designed to hold your preferred hydration system.

Pros:

  • Offers tons of space.
  • Completely waterproof.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t seem to have the ventilation of other similar packs.
  • The pack itself weighs more than its competitors.

Travel Daypacks–Best For Daily Use

The difference between the small travel backpack that’s often referred to as a daypack and a regular travel backpack is in its intended purpose.

Daypacks are great for daily commutes, urban excursions, taking to the beach, short treks from basecamp and much more.

10. Topo Designs Men’s Daypack

Topo Design's Men Travel Backpack

As far as travel backpacks for men are considered, the Topo Designs Men’s Daypack is a fantastic daily option.

It’s made of ballistic weave fabric for superior durability and has padded straps for ultimate comfort.

Your 15-inch laptop will fit easily. And the diagonal zips and other touches give it a stylish, contemporary look.

Unlike many daypacks, this one has a few internal pockets for extra organization. There are also pockets for water bottles on either side.

For traveling, the pack makes a great carry-on and fits easily under your seat.

If you’re just going for a weekend, this may be the only baggage you’ll need.

Pros:

  • Great fit and stylish look.
  • Internal and external pockets.

Cons:

  • Some reviewers weren’t crazy about the fashion-forward design.
  • The compact size makes it good for a weekend but nothing longer.

See Related: Best Travel Gadgets for Long Flights

11. Active Roots Packable Daypack

Active Roots Travel Backpack

Portability is an important factor to consider for the best backpacks for travel and the Active Roots Packable Daypack can do something few other packs offer.

You can pack it!

If you plan to do a lot of exploring from your hotel or setting up basecamp and day-hiking, you’ll need to pack a daypack.

The Active Roots Daypack weighs less than 10-ounces and folds like a dream. Honestly, you could fold it up and stick it in a luggage pocket.

It then unfolds into a roomy 34L with seven pockets for great organization. Made from durable nylon, this pack is water-resistant.

Pros:

  • Made from water-resistant and durable nylon with hardy zippers.
  • The company offers a 30-day guarantee to make sure you’re completely satisfied.

Cons:

  • Some reviewers felt the shoulder straps weren’t very supportive.
  • Side pockets won’t quite hold a Nalgene water bottle.

12. Osprey Daylite Plus

Osprey Daylite Plus Travel Backpack

Thousands of five-star reviews say the best travel daypack is the Osprey Daylite Plus. Let’s take a look.

The opening is large so you can easily reach inside. There is also a sleeve that will hold either a water reservoir or tablet.

On the outside, two side mesh exterior pockets secure your small extras and will accommodate a water bottle.

Another pocket on the front is good for stowing rain gear. The back is covered in ventilating mesh for comfort and it’s water-resistant.

Pros:

  • For a daypack, it’s quite spacious and reviewers were surprised by how much stuff it would handle.
  • Light-weight yet still a high-quality pack.

Cons:

  • There are limits to how much you can adjust the straps and they don’t stow if you don’t need them.
  • Other than the sleeve on the inside, there are no other interior pockets.

Best Travel Backpack for Seeing the World

These travel backpacks can handle all the trips, treks and globetrotting you can throw at them.

13. Mystery Ranch Glacier

Mystery Ranch Glacier Travel Backpack

The heavy-duty Mystery Ranch Glacier is the best travel backpack for men and women who call hitting the trail a vacation.

The company is a personal favorite of my outdoorsy husband who planned a hike through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

After spending hours researching and talking with customer service reps of various outfitters, he settled on Mystery Ranch’s 100L T100.

The Glacier is the 70L option, but still has a ton of features and room. Unless you too are planning an epic trek, you probably don’t need 100L.

It has a large top opening for easy gear packing. The top also can be detached and used as a daypack.

There are zips on the sides so you can access the interior without unpacking the whole darn thing.

On the exterior are two large pockets for everything else. This is the ultimate travel backpack for the ultimate travel adventure.

Pros:

  • One of the highest quality packs on the market. Many users are former and currently deployed military.
  • Awesome (and patient) customer service.

Cons:

  • Pricey, but the pack will last longer than you will–instant heirloom.
  • Most experienced hikers know this, but you’ll need to buy and carry a couple of extra hip belt buckles.

    They will break on the trail–even on Mystery Ranch packs.

14. Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack

Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Backpack

This marvel is a small travel backpack loaded with features that will take you from the airport into town and the country.

Although the Cotopaxi Allpa Travel Pack is lightweight and compact, the roomy 35L interior holds enough clothing for a 10-day trip (says one reviewer).

Cotopaxi created this second-gen pack as a smaller and carry-on compatible alternative to their popular adventure travel backpack system.

A low-profile harness system keeps weight evenly distributed. There’s a padded pocket for a laptop.

Heavy-duty zippers closing the main compartment and pockets keep belongings secure. External pockets offer theft-proof webbing too.

Carabiner loops, straps that stow, grab handles and packable rain cover round out this pack’s utility and ruggedness.

Pros:

  • Mesh across the back helps with ventilation and comfort.
  • The pack is waterproof even without pulling out rain cover.

Cons:

  • Reviewers noted the hip belt is flimsy compared to the other straps.
  • Reviewers also said interior compartments took up valuable clothing space.

See Related: Best Portable Travel Toothbrush

15. Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack

Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack

The best backpack for travel during a gap year experience is the Osprey Farpoint 40 because of its utility.

It comes in two versions: the Osprey Farpoint 40 for Women and the Osprey Farpoint 40 for Men.

Both have a front-loading design especially convenient for hostel stays. But it’s also super comfy due to a durable suspension system.

It features straps that neatly stow and a padded grab handle if you need to carry it like a duffel.

A functional hip belt works as intended for hiking. Two front pockets made of mesh hold convenience items, water filters and water bottles.

And a zippered smaller pocket contains a key fob for quick accessibility. Also works well for stowing sunglasses.

It even has a compartment for your laptop.

Pros:

  • Airline carry-on compliant.
  • Also good for hiking.

Cons:

  • If the pack is filled, the laptop compartment loses capacity.
  • Exterior mesh pockets are not zippered.

See Related: Best Travel Gifts for Backpackers

16. TIMBUK2 Especial Medio Cycling Backpack

Timbuk2 Especial Medio Cycling Travel Backpack

The best travel backpack for seeing the world from two wheels is the TIMBUK2 Especial Medio Cycling Backpack.

Reflective with a high profile, it’s specially made to accommodate the specific needs of cycling with a travel backpack.

Attach a blinking bike light to one of the loops for ultra visibility.

It holds and protects all your belongings with front-loading expandability and water-proof nylon.

There are also adjustable straps for cinching down excess bulk.

It’s mega-comfortable with a breathable back and straps. And it has a hydration sleeve along with routing for your headphones.

Exterior side pockets hold water bottles and bike locks. You can even tote your laptop in a specially intended inside pocket.

Pros:

  • Made with extra durable nylon and tons of special features with the cyclist in mind.
  • Comes with a lifetime warranty.

Cons:

  • No side zippers for lay-flat packing.
  • The water bottle pocket is small and shallow.

Related Resources

Lock In Your Travel Now
Looking for Extra Travel Perks?
My favorite travel companion is The Platinum Card® from American Express, which gives me lounge access, Uber credits, upgrades, and plenty of other travel perks. If you want to find out the best travel rewards credit card for you, consider using CardMatch to instantly get matched to a travel rewards credit card that meets your travel needs.
Booking Flights

Use Skyscanner to book the cheapest flight possible. Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine as you can find flights around the globe and from every airline possible. You'll be in great shape to get the best price possible.

You must grab a free trial or join Scott's Cheap Flights Premium to get cheap flight alerts directly to your email inbox. My favorite cheap flight alert was 25,000 Delta SkyMiles to London non-stop.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It's a low cost way to ensure your travel plans go smooth no matter what's thrown at it. Use World Nomads to find the best policy for your travel schedule.
Book Your Accommodation
In order to capture the widest selection of properties and the best price, use Booking.com as they have the cheapest rates for guesthouses, hotels, luxury condos, B&Bs and so much more.
Want More Destination Ideas Direct to Your Inbox?
Be sure to join the ViaTravelers Newsletter for expert tips, tricks and inspiration for your next travel journey!