Best Travel Backpack: How to Pick the Best Backpack for Traveling

Choosing the best travel backpack is probably the most essential step in planning your trip. No matter if you’re planning on traveling long term or just going on a short vacation, your backpack will be “your home away from home”. So you definitely want to make sure you have a travel backpack that fits you well and doesn’t fall apart after the first use.

I know it can be confusing to pick the best travel backpack out of the thousands on the market. But don’t worry, today I’ll help you save hours of research and tell you what to look out for in a good travel backpack and give you tips on picking the best travel backpack for your travels.

How much should a good travel backpack cost?

A good quality backpack for travel costs anywhere from $100 – 200. I know for some of you budget backpackers out there it might sound like a lot for a bag but trust me, if there’s one thing you don’t want to skimp on, it’s a good quality backpack. Those cheap, no-name brand backpacks you can find in Chinatown or at Walmart might save you some money at first, but if you constantly have to replace them it’s going to cost way more in the long run! So save yourself some time and money by dishing out the money only once. Get yourself a good quality backpack from Osprey, Deuter or Gregory.

What is the best capacity for a travel backpack?

1.) Capacity

Personally, we are fans of 35 – 45-liter backpacks because you can use them as a carry-on on budget airlines. Also, they can easily be stored under your seat or in the overhead bins of buses and trains. A smaller travel backpack also forces you to take less stuff with you. If you get a bigger travel backpack, you will have a tendency to fill the empty space and carry around unnecessary things with you, which gets quickly tiring for your shoulders and back.

Don’t think you can fit all your stuff in a 45-liter travel backpack? Check out our ultimate packing list for backpackers for help on what to pack.

2.) Frame Size

After figuring out how many liters you want to carry, the next and very important step is finding a travel backpack that corresponds with your torso length and hip measurements.

To measure your torso length, find your C7 vertebrae (the boniest part at the base of your neck) and the top edge of your hipbones, then measure the distance between the two, and the number you get is your torso length.

If you don’t want to do this yourself, just visit any good camping/outdoors company and they will help you find your torso length. Based on your torso length you can decide which travel backpack size (ES, S, M, or L) is the perfect fit for you.

Here is a general size chart from REI:

  • Pack size: Extra small = Torso length: Up to 15.5″
  • Pack size: Small = Torso length: 16″ to 17.5″
  • Pack size: Medium/Regular = Torso length: 18″ to 19.5″
  • Pack size: Large/Tall = Torso length: 20″+

Please note that the sizes may vary slightly based on brand.

Front loading or top loading backpack?

Both, front loading and top loading backpacks, have their pros and cons. Neither one of them is necessarily better than the other, it’s really a matter of personal choice. We have traveled with both and prefer top loading over front loading backpacks but a lot of other travelers might disagree.

Front loading backpacks, also called panel loading backpacks, have a zipper that goes all around the front and open like a regular suitcase, making them easier to pack and unpack. The reason why we don’t like them is because they are usually shorter and bulkier than top loading backpacks and are more difficult to store under your seat or in the overhead bins on buses and trains. Since we travel a lot by public transportation in developing countries, a front loader simple wouldn’t work for us. Plus, front loading backpacks look very weird and unproportional on your body.

Top loading backpacks open at the top and sometimes on the bottom, depending on the bag. Getting stuff in and out is a little bit more difficult than with a front loading backpack but once you know how to pack your travel backpack properly it shouldn’t be a huge problem. We, for example, always pack the stuff we need the most near the top or bottom of the bag, and everything else goes in between. Top loading backpacks are also slimmer and taller than front loading backpacks.

What to look for in a good travel backpack?

No matter what size you choose or if front loading or top loading, your new travel backpack should definitely have the following features:

Padded shoulder straps: Good padded shoulder straps are essential to avoid bruising and to add comfort when carrying around your bag.

Padded hip strap: Good hip straps help you distribute your backpack’s weight more evenly and take away the pressure from your shoulders and back.

Back Cushion/Ventilation: A good travel backpack should have plenty of back cushion and allow air to move freely, keeping your back from sweating against your bag.

Sternum strap: This little mid-chest strap might not look like much, but it is essential for bringing your bag towards your body and stabilizing heavy loads.

Hip-belt pockets: Those extra pockets can come in handy for the smaller items you need more frequently like your passport, money, phone, etc.

Water-resistant material: Your new backpack probably won’t be 100% waterproof, but it should at least be semi-water-resistant for the times you suddenly get caught in a downpour.

Rain cover (tarp): Besides the backpack being semi-water-resistant I also strongly recommend you get one that has a rain cover. If your preferred backpack doesn’t come with a rain cover, you can always purchase one separately.

Compression straps: Compression straps help you tighten your backpack and distribute the weight more evenly.

Multiple compartments: Multiple compartments help you keep your things organized and allow for easier access.

Water bottle pockets: It’s not the end of the world if your bag doesn’t have water bottle pockets but I think they are a nice addition to any backpack.

5 Best Travel Backpacks

In case you are looking for backpack recommendations here is a list of the 5 best travel backpacks for travel.

Osprey Talon 44

Osprey Talon 44

Capacity: 44 Litres
Weight: 2 lbs

  • Extremely lightweight and can be used as a carry-on
  • Top load access through a single drawstring closure to main compartment
  • Sleeping pad straps provide extra secure external storage
  • Peripheral aluminum frame with head cup helps support heavier loads

Read Reviews

Osprey Farpoint 40

Osprey Farpoint 40

Capacity: 40 Litres
Weight: 3 lbs

  • Fixed, unisex backpanel
  • Hipbelt and harness system can easily be stowed and zipped away
  • Peripheral frame effectively transfers the load from harness to hip belt
  • Mesh covered atilon foam provides a comfortable, breathable contact surface

Read Reviews

Kelty Redwing 44

Kelty Redwing 44

Capacity: 44 Litres
Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz

  • Dual use laptop / hydration sleeve
  • Hide-away daisy chain and handle
  • Front stash pocket with closure hook
  • Padded and ventilating back panel

Read Reviews

Gregory Z 55

Gregory Z 55

Capacity: 56 Litres
Weight: 3 lbs 15 oz

  • Top-loading pack with side access
  • Suspension ensures maximum ventilation without extra points of contact
  • Zippered pocket on top of front bucket pocket offers weatherproof storage
  • Lightweight, perforated HDPE framesheet

Read Reviews

Deuter Transit 50

Deuter Transit 50

Capacity: 50 Litres
Weight: 4 lbs 14 oz

  • U-shaped zip opens up completely for full access to the main compartment
  • Separate bottom compartment for shoes, sleeping bag etc.
  • Compact detachable daypack
  • Padded detachable carry strap

Read Reviews

Inspired? Pin this for later …

Best Travel Backpack Pinterest Pin

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The Author


Ben is a professional web designer and the man behind the scenes of Road Affair. He has been traveling around the world with his partner in crime, Jazzy, since 2012.

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  1. Great review, Ben. I personally used the Osprey Talon 44 on a backpacking trip to Japan, borrowed from a friend. It was more than enough capacity for a 5-day summer tour. Now I’m looking to buy one, so I don’t have to always borrow my friends :) The Kelty Redwing 44 looks like a good contender.

    1. We are bias when it comes to Osprey Talon 44 since it’s our go to backpack for traveling but we would agree that Kelty Redwing 44 is a good contender ;)

  2. Great Stuff! It’s really awesome info to find a travel backpack. In the early of July, I have decided to go for a long tour. your article helps me a lot. Thanks for sharing with us. I’m going to share your article with my social media friends and family.

    Steven Rocks.

    1. Hey Steven,

      Glad you found our guide on the best travel backpacks useful and thanks for sharing it with your friends! Hope you have a great trip :)!

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