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Tim Leffel

Professional Travel Expert

Travel Backpacks

Walk into a gear store or visit a product website to browse for backpacks and you may feel like an overwhelmed tea-totaler trying to pick out a bottle in a wine for a gift. Once upon a time there were a few dependable brands of backpacks with a handful of models a year. Now there are literally hundreds of them vying for your attention.

Fortunately, you can dismiss a big subsection of them by eliminating the ones for campers and hikers. These are generally lightweight, stuffed-from-the-top affairs that enable you to traverse the Appalachian Trail with a sleeping bag, tent, and cooking gear along for the ride. What you need for travel is a different kind of backpack. Here are the best ones out there for a short group adventure tour or a yearlong trip around the world.

Best Travel Backpacks by Tim Leffel

The Best You Can Get

  • Eagle Creek Grand Voyage

    Tim says: For a yearlong backpacking trip through multiple climates, it’s hard to top the Eagle Creek Grand Voyage. It holds a full 90 liters of clothing and gear counting the daypack, which zips onto the main pack, so be sure you’re physically able to carry that much before buying this! The main pack has lockable zippers, a wide U-shaped opening for easy packing, and compression straps to keep everything in its place. The seam-sealed bottom compartment keeps dirty shoes, laundry, or a sleeping bag separate. Exterior pockets are sized for large water bottles.

    The ergonomically designed suspension system is adjustable from 18-inch to 22-inch torso length, with two curved stays that can also be adjusted to move weight away from the back and shoulders. The parts that meet the body are fully padded with breathable foam, and straps around the sternum and waist ease the burden of what can be a heavy load when this is packed full. At 6.5 pounds this one is a bit heavier than most, but Eagle Creek’s bags have a reputation of taking whatever you throw at them and lasting through years of heavy use.

    • Roomy enough for long-term travelers
    • Rugged construction
    • Adjustable suspension
  • Osprey Waypoint 80

    Tim says: The Osprey Waypoint 80 is a traveler’s mainstay: big enough for a round-the-world journey (at 80 liters). This popular backpack comes in separate models for men and women, with the main difference being the harness and waist strap configuration. It has a detachable daypack that is slimmer and less cumbersome than that of most competitors.

    Straps go inside a zippered flap, making it easy to check on a flight without worry. There’s no handle on top though, just a strap for hanging, so it must be carried horizontally when used as a suitcase. At a shade over six pounds, it’s of average weight and it contains plenty of padding and adjustments to make it easy to carry for extended periods.

    • Separate models designed for men and women
    • Easily converts to a suitcase/duffel bag
    • Slimmer daypack then many other models
  • North Face Backtrack 70

    Tim says: This workhorse travel backpack is a bit heavier than most at 8.5 pounds, but it is ready to take on the world with whatever you need to carry along. A zippered suspension cover (with its own case) doubles as a rain cover, keeping this pack dry when everyone else is running for cover. The bottom compartment for shoes or sleeping bag has a waterproof lining keeping it separated from the main compartment.

    The detachable daypack comes with a hydration port, plus a secondary pocket with organizer and audio port. The straps on this backpack don’t zip away completely behind a flap when you’re checking in at an airport though; instead they just tuck behind mesh panels.

    • Comes with a rain cover
    • Daypack has hydration and audio ports
    • Heavier construction for serious trips
  • JanSport Deluxe Euro Sak

    Tim says: JanSport was one of the original backpack manufacturers to expand beyond the hiking crowd and they continue to put out some of the best-made, long-lasting gear out there. This Euro Sak model has everything you need for an adventure tour or year on the road, including a detachable daypack, but the straps zip away and it converts into a good suitcase when needed, with handles on both the top and sides.

    The main compartment has a 65-liter capacity (3950 cubic inches), which will meet most long-haul travelers’ needs. There’s a “muck-proof” bottom that wipes off easily, two large side pockets, and an expandable drop-down compartment with sleeping bag lashes. Adjustable aluminum stays and multiple support straps keep weight distributed evenly. There’s nothing especially innovative or flashy about this pack (though it does come in three colors), just a solid 6 pound 5 ounce workhorse that won’t let you down.

    • Converts to a suitcase and has a top handle
    • Easy-to-clean bottom section is lined for dirty shoes
    • Adjusts to fit different body sizes
  • Osprey Packs Porter 65 Backpack

    Tim says: It’s getting hard to find a travel backpack that doesn’t come with a detachable daypack, but what if you already have your own daypack that you like, or you need a specialized one for carrying a laptop or SLR photography equipment? The Osprey Porter 65 gives you what you need in a single piece, without all the extra bulk that comes from another pack stuck on the top. Lots of cinches and compression straps keep everything tight too, giving this pack a much slimmer profile than similar bags with the same 65-liter capacity.

    It is also light, at 3 pounds 5 ounces, but it doesn’t scrimp on the handles or compartments. It works well as a backpack, or can be carried from the top or side when the straps are tucked away behind a zippered flap. Don’t look for any gimmicks or flashy features on this value-priced bag - just look at it as a solid but lightweight travel backpack that helps you get your gear around the world without a lot of fuss.

    • Slim and compact design
    • Compression straps to keep gear in place
    • Half the weight of some similar travel packs

You will be happy with any of these

  • Victorinox Trek Pack Plus 3.0

    Tim says: Rolling backpacks have become big sellers in the past few years, but for many travelers the idea sounds better when ordering than it ends up being in practice. The wheels add three to four pounds of extra weight, the wheels and handle necessitate a stiffening of the bottom and top of the pack, and many people find the only time they end up using the wheels is in airports.

    If you’re traveling mostly in developed countries with good sidewalks, however, and in nice hotels more than hostels, this Victorinox Trek Pack will meet your needs for short vacations. One of the big advantages of this pack is the monopole system with a fully rotating swivel handle, making it easy to round corners. Otherwise, it is set up like a regular travel backpack, with a detachable daypack, tuck-away shoulder straps, and plenty of pockets.

    With a capacity of 5,000 cubic inches (82 liters), this bag is meant for heavy packers. If you fill it to capacity, you will probably have no choice but to use the wheels, cobblestone streets and stairs or not!

    • The fanciest wheeled backpack
    • Monopole system for easy movement around corners
    • Multiple pockets and a detachable daypack
  • High Sierra ATQ Carry-on Wheeled Backpack

    Tim says: Wheeled backpacks work best when they’re not so heavy you’re forced to use the wheels all the time. This 50-liter (3068 cubic inches) High Sierra model is small enough to work as a carry-on, but still has a detachable daypack and plenty of bells and whistles.

    The daypack can be zipped onto the main bag or slipped over the telescoping handle. It has a zippered accessory pocket, two mesh water bottle holders, a headphone port, and room for all your books and camera gear.

    With a telescoping handle for the wheels plus side and top handles for other times, this is a versatile bag that works well for a trip of a week or two. Be advised though that bags of this design are suitcase first, backpack second: you will have a handle hitting your back instead of an adjustable internal frame and there are no additional support straps for your waist or chest.

    • Wheeled backpack that’s small enough to avoid checking
    • Daypack will slip over handle or attach to main pack
    • Versatile bag offers multiple carrying options
  • Eagle Creek Meridian Backpack

    Tim says: This 52-liter travel backpack from Eagle Creek hits the sweet spot of being small enough to carry on large jets, but big enough to hold what you need for a few weeks on the road.

    It has straps that tuck away, meaning you can use it as a backpack when moving around and then zip the straps out of the way when to make it more like a suitcase when you check it on a flight. Since it doesn't have wheels and is made from lightweight materials, the weight comes in under 2.5 kilos (5 pounds, 4 ounces).

    This model dispenses with the frequently added zip-on daypack, which makes it less top-heavy than many others. There are lots of zippered compartments and two side pockets outside that can hold a water bottle or extra clothes you need to keep handy. The cinch sack inside the bottom compartment allows you to keep dirty shoes or laundry away from the rest of what's in there. With a lifetime warranty, this is a well-made pack for multiple travel situations.

    • Sweet spot size is ample, but compact
    • Converts into a suitcase, hiding straps
    • Handle on the top and lots of convenient compartments
  • MeshSafe B200

    Tim says: For a getaway where you have to lug your laptop along, the MeshSafe B200 allows you to leave with one bag and be confident your valuables are safe. There are four anti-theft features in place, including slash-proof straps, tamperproof zippers, and a hidden anchor clip to keep the bag secured to your body.

    The MeshSafe is downright stylish, however, and has a 25-liter capacity for storing a long weekend’s worth of clothes and toiletries. There’s a removable organizer panel, a removable padded laptop sleeve, padded gadget pockets, a side water bottle pocket, and two main compartments for everything else. Comfortable padded shoulder straps and an air mesh back support keep you comfortable while moving from place to place. If peace of mind is important and you can pack light, this attractive bag from PacSafe is a good choice.

    • Four anti-theft features to keep valuables secure
    • Built-in detachable laptop sleeve
    • Stylish bag for shorter trips
  • Ivar Backpack

    Tim says: The Ivar backpack is the cheapest one featured here and is probably not the best bet if you travel constantly. For one or two short vacations a year though, it should hold up fine. What makes this bag notable is its built-in shelving system, which not only keeps your gear organized but also keeps everything from eventually gravitating toward the bottom.

    The standard horseshoe-shaped zipper set-up in the front allows easy access. This is a very light pack, at less than 2.5 pounds, but that means giving up some ruggedness and heavy zippers. It’s also small enough to carry on, but is for light packers only, with around 25 liters (1,465 cubic inches) of capacity. It’s made of 420-denier nylon though and has an adjustable chest strap, laptop padding, dual side pockets, and a headphone port.

    • Unique shelving system inside for organization
    • Higher weight distribution than with most packs
    • Small enough to be a carry-on

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