When you decide to travel somewhere and start planning your trip, you will certainly think about how and where to pack all the things you want to take with you. When talking about this, the first thing that comes to mind is a suitcase, which can certainly be a good solution in some situations. However, suitcases lack the versatility that many travelers are looking for.
For this particular reason many people choose a backpack over a suitcase, and their reasons are fully justified. Since you are here, you’re already considering getting a traveling backpack, and we’ll do our best to help you select the right product. While travel backpacks have many things in common with each other (which make them great for travel), they come with many different design solutions so they can cater to the specific needs of every backpacker.
This includes you of course – you need a product which will be comfortable and user friendly, have enough room for everything you plan to take with you, and offer specific features which will make your trip easier. The best travel backpack offers great functionality and significantly increases your mobility. We reviewed a range of products we liked, and hope you can find the one that fits you. Be sure to go through the buying guide below so you can learn more about each and every feature – whether you need it or not, and how it can be useful on your travels. Let’s get started.
How To Choose The Best Travel Backpack – Buying Guide
A backpack is something that will be used often, and it’s a product which is supposed to last for many years. Because of this, the selection process should be more careful compared to many other pieces of equipment. Not everything works the same for each person, and what’s good for me or your friend won’t necessarily be good for you.
You might prefer a different size, design, want a lighter backpack or need more compartments. So don’t strictly rely on recommendations from other people, but set aside some time to figure out what suits you. In the following text we will go into more details, so take a look.
One of the most important things when getting a new backpack is the size. Which one you should get depends on several factors, but mostly on what you plan to take with you and how large a backpack your body can carry. If you plan to take short trips which last a couple of days, then a smaller backpack may suffice. On the other hand, if you plan on going backpacking for a few weeks, you will need to look among large backpacks for travelling. A backpack too small won’t be able to hold all your things, but on the other hand if it’s too large and too heavy it can really be a burden and even cause you to lose balance.
When you start listing products, you’ll notice that manufacturers often specify the volume of the backpack, and use liters to do so. This usually ranges from 30 to 80 liters for travel backpacks. Most users are happy with volume between 40 and 50 liters, since they offer the best balance between capacity on one side and total size and weight on the other. Keep in mind that if you get a large luggage backpack you won’t be able to carry it inside the cabin, but will instead need to check it in and often pay additional fees for it.
In relation to this, it’s very practical to get a carry on backpack, with a size that complies to airline regulations. While this varies somewhat from one company to another, most have a limit of 45 linear inches, or 22x14x9 inches in dimensions. If your backpack can be compressed to this size or smaller, you will be able to take it inside and save some money. Many backpack manufacturers have this in mind when designing their products. In addition, if you travel by train you will often be able to put a smaller backpack under your seat and keep your stuff near you instead of having to leave them.
Some backpacks come with an expansion gusset, which allows you to increase the volume of your pack when needed. It’s usually hidden with a zipper so you can open and close it as needed. This is very handy if you get a little carried away. In general, your new backpack should be just a bit bigger than you need at that moment so you can neatly pack all your things and have some extra space for things you decide to buy on your trip. So, the best travel backpack size depends mainly on your needs and preferences.
The backpack has it’s own weight when empty, and it’s closely related to the total size as well as some features that come with it. This can vary significantly from one product to another, so if this is a concern for you be sure to take a closer look at product specs. You may be tempted to get the lightest product there is, but keep in mind that this weight reduction comes at a price. These products won’t have some additions like extra straps or compartments among other things. These extras can be very useful, so it’s best to find a balance. However, if you really want a lightweight backpack, be sure to check our selection of best carry-on travel backpacks.
Related Review: Lightweight Backpack
Straps are an integral part on any backpack. They should be well made and strong so they can endure the weight of the pack without tearing. They should also be designed to be comfortable for the person wearing the backpack. Shoulder straps are most important here, and they should be properly positioned on your shoulders without cutting in. Some backpacks have additional straps around your waist or chest.
Waist straps significantly help with weight distribution – instead of putting all the load on your shoulders and spine some of it is transferred to your hips. This way it will be much easier for you to carry the same amount of weight, and you can do it for a longer time period. It’s also very useful if you have problems with your back or shoulders, since it reduces the pressure. As we mentioned, some also have a chest strap, which further helps with weight distribution and stabilization.
No matter which type of strap we’re talking about, it certainly helps if it’s padded. The soft padding makes it more comfortable for you, and prevents the straps from leaving marks and bruises on your skin. Many products feature additional straps on the sides – compression straps. They are used to tighten the pack, which is very useful. If you only have a few things inside, you can tighten it to keep them from flying around, and also reduce the size of the pack. Furthermore, compression straps can be useful when your pack is full too – by tightening them you can slightly reduce the size of the pack if you need to fit it in a tight space.
In addition to straps, handles are also important parts of a quality backpack. They are a necessity for picking up the backpack, and most products come with a single handle on top. Make sure it is well-made, from high-quality materials. Some are even reinforced or molded for better functionality. A number of backpacks (some of which we featured in our backpack reviews) come with multiple handles. This is very useful since it allows you maneuver it better, and also gives you the opportunity to carry it like a regular bag (a tote bag for example) instead of on your back.
A frame can give your backpack additional strength so it won’t fall apart when you load it. It keeps the it in shape even when you pack it full. In addition to this, it gives a certain level of protection to the content inside, which can be useful if you check in the backpack as luggage, since it can go through some rough treatment. Some models come without a frame, while those who do have either an external or an internal one.
External frames were more common in older backpack models. You’ve probably seen this type at one point or another – it has bars going around the body of the backpack. While this gives it good support, it can be somewhat uncomfortable. A much smarter solution is an inner frame, which is integrated in the body of the backpack. It’s usually made of either tough plastic or carbon fiber. The reason for this is that these materials offer excellent strength while remaining light, which is very important when constructing a backpack.
While frames are more common in hiking backpacks, they can also be found in some backpack models. If you’re getting a smaller backpack then a frame isn’t really necessary, but you should certainly consider it if you’re getting a pack with a larger volume and overall size.
Your backpack is going to go through some rough treatment, there is no doubt about it. It can be thrown around, be heavily loaded or come in contact with different surfaces, and it needs to endure everything. Perhaps the most important factor here is the material used to make it in the first place – the overall durability and strength depend on material quality.
Most common materials used for making backpacks in general (and travel backpacks as well) are polyester, nylon and canvas. Polyester is probably seen most often because of its high strength and light weight. However, all of them have their ups and downs, and no matter which fabric is used it needs to live up to certain expectations. This means that it won’t tear or get damaged when exposed to pressure of a full backpack. It’s also a big plus if it’s water resistant which we’ll discuss in more detail later on.
You will often see that manufacturers use denier (D) to show how good and tough a fabric is. Denier is a measurement which shows the thickness of the fabric, and a larger number indicates greater strength and higher quality. However, keep in mind that fabrics with higher denier tend to be heavier. Some manufacturers combine materials on their backpack, and some parts (like the bottom) are reinforced so they can handle the weight better. In addition, a good warranty can be a partial indicator for overall quality, especially when talking about materials and zippers. And if something happens, you have peace of mind knowing that they’re going to fix it for you.
This is closely related to the type of material used and whether it has some sort of additional protective layer over it. While your backpack doesn’t need to be fully waterproof, it should give you sufficient protection. You’re bound to encounter some rain at some point, and the best travel backpack will protect the content you have packed inside. It shouldn’t soak in water, and should dry off quickly if it does get a little wet. Otherwise your clothes can get wet and smelly, and even worse – your electronics can get damaged.
Whether you think you will find yourself in wet conditions or not, this feature is certainly very useful to have because you never know. As an alternative, you can get a separate waterproof rain cover for your backpack. Some manufacturers offer covers which are made for particular backpack models, but if you want to save money you can get it from an independent manufacturer and still give additional water protection to your travel gear.
Zippers and Buckles
High-quality zippers are an essential part of your new backpack. They will be used a lot and exposed to pressure when your backpack is full, so they need to be heavy-duty. Material strength doesn’t matter if your zipper malfunctions. If it bursts, the backpack becomes pretty much useless until you repair it. In addition, it should operate smoothly and not get stuck when opening and closing.
As you probably know, some manufacturers like YKK have made a name for themselves in the zipper industry, and you can count on their products to be reliable. However, this also raises the price a bit, which can be a problem for some people. There are many other well made zippers out there too, and if you don’t know how they perform be sure to dig around a bit and read some first-hand user experiences with the backpack.
Besides quality, some zippers add to security and are designed with holes so you can use a padlock and lock your backpack. Some backpacks come with locks included, but in most cases you will need to buy one separately. If you worry about strangers opening your pack and your things being stolen, it’s perfectly fine to get additional protection. However, it’s a good idea to get a TSA friendly lock which security officers can open without damaging it, if they need to look inside your pack.
In addition to zippers, buckles are quite common on backpacks too. Even though manufacturers tend to make travel backpacks more streamlined with less things that can get stuck, most straps come with buckles to connect or adjust them. These are usually made of plastic, which is perfectly fine. However, not every plastic is the same, so it should be strong and shouldn’t break under pressure, when you apply some force or when it’s exposed to sun or cold temperatures.
When it comes to access, there are usually two options – either the backpack is loaded from the top or it has front loading. Top loading means that the pack has an opening on top, which is used to put things in and take them out. This opening has a drawstring or a zipper to close it. This access is commonly found in hiking and backpacking backpacks, and it keeps your things secure. However, it isn’t the greatest solution for travel because it’s more difficult to organize everything properly. Also, if you need something located on the bottom of the pack, you would have to take everything out in order to reach it.
For this reason, the best traveling backpacks have front loading. It’s usually a long U-shaped zipper which opens the backpack like a suitcase, and gives you direct access to the storage compartment. This way you have almost immediate access to whatever you need. In addition to this, some travel backpacks with laptop compartments have a side zipper too. This gives you direct and easy access to the laptop without having to fully open the backpack to get it.
Compartments and Pockets
While we’re on the subject of organizing your things, we must discuss compartments for a moment. Having multiple compartments allows you to sort your things properly. Most backpacks have at least two compartments, or three if there is one dedicated for your electronics. However, they are not designed the same way, so make sure the backpack your getting allows you to sort everything the way you want to. This allows you to keep electronics, clothes and hygiene products in different compartments, or to separate wet and dirty clothes from dry and clean ones.
Some compartments are designed to hold smaller things like phones, books, wallets, pens, tickets and so on. These also have a number of pockets inside, so you can organize all the stuff we mentioned and have it in hands reach. In addition to this, it’s a plus if your backpack has a few external pockets too, for example side pockets for keeping a water bottle or an umbrella close by.
It goes without saying that your new backpack should be comfortable. Many of the features we discussed contribute to the overall feel of the backpack when you wear it. It’s perhaps best if you have the opportunity to try it on before you buy it, and some stores even want to load the backpack so you can see how it feels when it’s full. But since we’re talking about online shopping here, it’s a good idea to see how other users felt about a certain product. We mentioned that weight distribution is determined by straps and their positioning, so you will certainly be more comfortable with a backpack which has a waist strap, and additional padding on all of them to reduce pressure.
The back of the product should be properly contoured to follow your spine, instead of being flat. It’s a huge plus if it has additional support in the lumbar (lower back) area. Some products have specially designed backs which give you the support you need, but also to allow air to circulate. You will certainly get sweaty when you have a backpack on, and this can become uncomfortable. This air dries you off, and greatly increases the comfort.
Travel backpacks come with many accessories to make your experience even better. One of the features we like very much is a zipped-in daypack. It can be found on some larger products, and you can simply unzip it, detach it and use it during your walks instead of lugging the large backpack with you all day. Another upside of this addition is that when traveling by plane you can check in the main bag, and take the smaller pack with you inside the cabin.
Many products we reviewed have USB extension cords built into them. In this time when we rely on our phones for many things, it’s certainly helpful to be able to charge it on the go. Unlike solar backpacks, these don’t generate power. You need an already charged power bank inside, and you can connect your phone to the outlet connected on the side.
Some backpacks come with wheels and a longer handle, so you can drag them too if you don’t want to carry them on your back. These backpack suitcases are a hybrid between the two, but we must admit that it can sometimes be nice to drag it instead of carrying it. As we mentioned earlier, some backpacks come with additional straps and handles, so you can carry them like a regular bag or on one shoulder. Finally, some have an additional zippered compartment in the back, which allows you to hide all the straps sticking out, making the backpack much easier to transport.
Related Review: Solar Backpack
Q: Why Travel With A Backpack?
Backpacks make carrying the weight much easier than a suitcase. It’s on your back instead of in your hand, and the weight balance is much better. Not to mention it’s more comfortable, and you can go longer distances with your luggage. Furthermore, a backpack has a flexible shape, and a high-quality backpack won’t get damaged easily. Suitcases come with wheels, sure, but you will need to carry them at some point. You will come to a surface like cobblestone or dirt where you won’t be able to drag them.
The backpack is on you all the time, and the surface you’re walking on won’t make much of a difference. You won’t need to pick it up when stepping into public transportation or climbing a flight of stairs. Also, both of your hands are free, which is very useful. We aren’t saying that suitcases are bad, they just offer less versatility compared to a backpack. They can still be very handy if you’re going on a short trip, or you have a back problem and want to avoid wearing a backpack altogether. As we mentioned, there are also hybrid products available, which try to give you the best of both.
Q: What Is The Difference Between Regular And Travel Backpacks?
The main difference is the design, which we mentioned when we discussed access. Travel backpacks feature long zippers which allow them to fully open and give you the possibility to add something to the backpack or remove a thing you need without taking everything out of the backpack. Regular backpacks come with top openings, as mentioned. This probably increases durability and protection, and you don’t have to worry about zipper malfunctioning. However, it does make it difficult to find what you need.
In addition to this, travel backpacks are often made to comply with airline requirements, at least in terms of size. This allows you to take them with you as carry-on luggage, have your stuff with you, save some money on luggage fees, and leave the airport faster when you land. Some backpacks like the Swiss Gear Travel Gear 1900 we reviewed comes with a TSA friendly design, which allows you to go through the security check-up much faster.
Q: How To Take Care Of A Travel Backpack So It Lasts Longer?
Proper caring will prolong the lifespan of your backpack. Most products come with instructions, or at least a small label inside where you can read how to properly take care of it. You should always try to follow these instructions, because different materials require different maintenance, so this isn’t completely universal.
It’s good if you care for it after each trip (not necessarily wash it). You should remove all content, and also dirt, crumbs and other residue before storing. You can shake it upside down so that dirt falls out, and you can even use a vacuum cleaner to reach some tough places.
If it has stains, you will need to wash it. While some are washing machine-friendly, usually it’s not recommended to put your backpack in a washer. Take a clean sponge, and mix some warm water with a mild detergent. Don’t use any bleaches or aggressive cleaning supplies. Soak the sponge in the water and scrub all the places that need scrubbing. When done, take a clean sponge or cloth and some clean water, and rinse it good so there are no stains when it dries off. You shouldn’t put it in a dryer, but rather leave in the air to dry.
The alternative is soaking the whole backpack in the same water and detergent mixture, in your tub for example. Then you also scrub it, and make sure you rinse it off good. It must be completely dry before you put it in a storage, because it might develop mold or a nasty smell which will annoy you the next time you use it. If you want learn more, you can read our article on how to clean a backpack.
Globo Surf Overview
Having one of the best backpacks for traveling is a smart and sound investment which is going to make your traveling much easier. When you get used to it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t buy one much sooner. It’s a big upgrade from a suitcase, since it significantly increases your mobility and comfort. As you had the chance to see, there are many different products out there. We tried to present various products in our reviews, so you have enough options to choose from. Always use the buying guide as a reference, so you don’t regret it later. We are sure you now have enough knowledge to confidently pick out your new travel companion. Have fun on your trip!
More Backpacking/Hiking Reviews:
- Hiking Pants
- Hiking Socks
- Shoe Glue
- Backpacking Sleeping Bag
- G Shock Watch
- Trekking Poles
- Tactical Boots
- Backpacking Stove
- Backpacking Sleeping Pad
More Backpack Reviews:
- Women’s Hiking Backpack
- Dog Backpack
- Osprey Backpack
- Roll Top Backpack
- Kids Hiking Backpack
- Patagonia Backpack
- Under Armour Backpack
- Ventilated Backpack
Have you tried a travel backpack that made it onto our list? Which one did you get? Were you satisfied with the size? How about functionality and durability? Please share your experience with us in the comment section below.