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Best Travel Backpack | In-Depth Buyer’s Guide & Backpack Reviews

A list of our favorite travel backpacks for traveling through Europe.

Packing, Product Reviews

There are more travel backpacks on the market than ever before — which is great because that means bag manufacturers are finally listening to travelers like us who want comfortable, functional, urban-friendly, and stylish travel backpacks. And I’m here to help you find the best travel backpack for your travel style.

So Why Trust Me?

best travel backpacks
Just a few of the travel backpacks I’ve tested.

I’ve traveled Europe with a backpack strapped to my back dozens of times and over the years I’ve personally tested over twenty of the most popular travel bags to bring you what I think are the best backpacks for travel on the market (yes, I’m a backpack nerd).

What You’ll Find In This Guide: We’ll cover every feature & aspect that you’ll want to consider when choosing a travel backpack that best suits you and we’ll also suggest our favorite backpacks at every price point because we know not everyone wants to shell out $200+ for a backpack.

Table of Contents:

Why I Love Travel Backpacks

Best Carry-On Backpacks | Osprey Farpoint
the best travel backpacks

Traveling with only a backpack gives you freedom that you won’t experience with a suitcase. It’s a very zen-like way to travel that you won’t truly understand until you do it.

That’s because a backpack makes you think very carefully about what you bring because you’re physically limited to what you can actually fit in your bag. It makes you travel smarter. Sure, it might be tough at first but you really appreciate the light load once you’re on the road.

Traveling light allows you to easily navigate busy train stations, cobblestone streets, endless staircases, and everything else that gets thrown at you.

Furthermore, if you travel with a carry-on size backpack then you also won’t have to worry about expensive checked bag fees or the airlines losing your luggage.

The Best Travel Backpacks: A Quick Look

My Osprey Farpoint 40L

In a hurry? Here’s the list of our favorite travel backpacks. Keep reading below to see our in-depth reviews of each backpack.

  • Osprey Farpoint Travel Backpack: Super comfortable with excellent shoulder straps. Tons of smart features and available in a 55L and a 40L version. Probably the best overall travel backpack. See on Amazon.
  • Osprey Fairview Travel Backpack: The female version of the Osprey Farpoint. Excellent overall travel backpack and also available in a 55L and a 40L version. See on Amazon.
  • Osprey Porter 46: High-quality backpack that hauls a lot of gear for a very solid price. See on Amazon.
  • Tortuga Outbreaker: Heavy-duty maximum-sized carry-on backpack with a great suspension system and it will hold up to whatever you throw at it. See on Tortuga Backpacks.
  • Tortuga Setout & Setout Divide: Streamlined and lighter-weight version of the Tortuga Outbreaker. The Divide version is a smaller version of the Setout. See on Tortuga Backpacks.
  • AER Travel Pack 2.0: Stylish-looking urban travel backpack that’s great for traveling light. See on Aer SF.
  • Kelty Redwing: Super comfortable backpack that blends features of a travel backpack and a hiking backpack. Solid price as well. See on  Amazon or REI
  • Patagonia Blackhole MLC: The Blackhole is a duffle bag that can convert to a travel backpack. It can hold a ton of stuff. See on REI.

Travel Backpacks 101: Everything You Need To Know

There are dozens of backpacks designed for travel on a market and we’ve tested a lot of them (as you can see in the photo above). Some are amazing. Some are downright terrible. But there really isn’t one single backpack that is perfect for everyone since every traveler has different needs and requirements — for example, someone doing weekend trips will have different needs than someone doing a 12-month trip through Europe.

That’s why in this guide we’ll try to point out different features so you can choose which are most important to your travel style.

Travel Backpack Sizes

Osprey Porter 46, Tortuga Setout, Aer Travel Pack, Osprey Farpoint 40, & Tortuga Outbreaker (whew)

Backpacks are generally measured in liters (e.g. 30L, 45L, 50L, etc.). Be aware that companies measure volume differently so Brand A’s 35L might be different than Brand B’s 35L. Furthermore, bags come in different shapes and configurations so you shouldn’t judge size on liters alone.

Sometimes you just gotta shove your bag in there to make it fit.

As a general rule, the maximum legal carry-on (aka MLC) for a travel backpack is around 43-45 liters. But you’ll want to check airline requirements and actual bag dimensions since they do vary. That said, most airlines are more concerned about the weight than the size.

So what size travel backpack is best? It depends on your needs. But here are our thoughts on backpack sizes:

  • 20L-30L: Backpacks under 30L would be considered too small for anyone doing a trip longer than a day or two. For reference, this standard Jansport Backpack is 25L.
  • 30L-35L: There are a handful of travel backpacks in the 30L-35L range. In our opinion, these are still too small for most travelers. Bags in this range are best for minimalist travels. Example backpacks:
  • 35L-40L: Backpacks in the 35L-40L start hitting that sweet spot for a lot of lightweight travelers. That said, you’ll still need to be selective about what you pack because there will still only be room for the essentials. Example Backpacks:
  • 40L-45L: As mentioned before, 45L is about the largest your bag can be before it no longer considered “carry-on” size. But this is the size we recommend for most travelers since it gives you a little extra space. Example Backpacks:
  • Over 45L: If you’re not concerned with sticking to carry-on requirements then you might want to consider backpacks in the 45L-55L range. There are some 55L-80L bags on the market but we suggest avoiding those as they become a little more difficult to lug around. Example Backpacks:

Note: Your trip length doesn’t necessarily correspond to backpack size. That’s because you’ll do laundry on longer trips so the amount you pack on a 5-day trip really isn’t different than packing for a 7-week trip.

Comparing Travel Backpacks Vs. Hiking Backpacks

travel backpacks vs hiking backpack
Hiking Style Backpack (Left) Hybrid Hiking/Travel Backpack (Center) Travel Backpack (Right)

As you look at backpacks you’ll start seeing two main styles — travel and hiking. We recommend travel backpacks but plenty of people use hiking-style bags.

In this sub-section, we’ll talk about the main differences between the two styles — as well as the pros and cons of each backpack type.

Clamshell/Suitcase Opening vs Top Opening Travel Backpacks

Front Opening vs Top Loading

The most obvious difference between the two styles is how the bag opens. Travel backpacks zip open like a suitcase and hiking backpacks have a single opening at the top (usually closed with a drawstring). So what does this mean?

Basically, travel backpacks are easier to pack/unpack — simply unzip it like a suitcase and get whatever you need. Top-loading hiking backpacks are a pain to pack since you have to pull everything out if you need to access anything in the bag.

Travel Backpack Suspension System (Shoulder Straps, etc.)

Osprey Atmos (Hiking Backpack) vs Tortuga Setout (Travel Backpack)

The main benefit of hiking backpacks is that they’re generally more comfortable than travel backpacks because they’re designed to be worn for long periods of time (i.e. for hiking mountains).

In general, hiking bags have a more advanced shoulder harness and hip belt, and the bag is designed to sit closer to your body. But the design isn’t as practical for travel. In fact, some people actually prefer comfort to practicality — it’s all personal preference.

That said, some travel bags have an advanced shoulder harness and hip belts but in general travel, bags can be less comfortable than hiking backpacks.

Travel Backpack Size & Layout

Travel backpacks tend to be boxier so they’re basically shaped like a suitcase. This is the most efficient shape for packing as it allows you to easily utilize all the space in your backpack.

Hiking backpacks tend to be long and skinny so it’s harder to utilize the space in your bag as well as the boxier travel backpack. But, this shape is actually more comfortable since it keeps the load tight against your back. So there is a trade-off.

Travel Backpack Weight

Hiking backpacks tend to be quite a bit lighter than travel backpacks because they’re usually just a single “tube” without any extra frills.

Final Thoughts: Travel Vs. Hiking Backpacks

Despite a few shortcomings, we prefer travel-style backpacks because they’re more practical for urban travel.

Travel backpacks also tend to be a little more stylish since most hiking-style bags are brightly colored. That said, we see plenty of people using hiking backpacks so it really comes down to personal preference.

Travel Backpack Suspension System (aka How Comfortable Is It?)

Your bag’s comfort is largely defined by its suspension system — i.e. the shoulder straps and hipbelt. Ok, it’s also defined by how much stuff you pack but a more advanced harness system lets you comfortably carry more weight.

The image above shows the two most common shoulder strap styles. The Osprey Farpoint (left) is more of a “hiking style” harness and the Aer Travel Pack 2.0 (right) is a bit more of a traditional backpack style harness.

Advanced Harness (Left) vs More Basic Shoulder Straps (Right)

As you can see, the shoulder straps on the hiking-style backpack (left) are positioned lower on the bag and curve up and around the shoulders. This style generally conforms to the shoulder so it keeps the bag from pulling away from your back.

On traditional backpacks (right) the shoulder straps don’t conform to your shoulders as well so the bag has a tendency to pull away from your back — which can put more strain on your shoulders.

That doesn’t mean traditional backpacks aren’t comfortable but they’re usually not as comfortable as hiking style harnesses — especially when you’re carrying a heavy load.

Some travel backpacks come with a hip belt — which helps distribute your bag’s weight to your hips from your shoulders. That said, many travelers forgo a hip belt on smaller bags because it helps keep things streamlined since the hip belt does add bulk. It’s personal preference but we feel it does make the backpack more comfortable if you’re a heavy packer.

You’ll also want to look at the amount of padding found on the shoulder straps because some bags have a ton and some have very little. It’s a balancing act since padding adds to the comfort of the bag but it also adds a lot of weight/bulk to the bag.

Recommended Travel Backpacks With A Hiking-Style Harness:
The Osprey Farpoint and Osprey Fairview (women’s version of the Osprey Farpoint) are travel backpacks but have hiking-style shoulder harness and hip belts — it’s a solid mix of both worlds.

The Tortuga Outbreaker is another travel backpack that incorporates a more robust shoulder harness and hip belt.

And the Kelty Redwing line is great for budget travelers.

Proper Fitting & Gender-Specific Travel Backpacks

Fairview 40 (Women’s) & Farpoint 40 (Unisex) – Same overall bag with small gender-specific tweaks.

Most travel backpacks are unisex and only come in one size. This is generally fine for most people but there are a handful of backpacks that come in small, medium, and large size — which is nice if you’re shorter or taller than average.

So, if you really want your bag to be as comfortable as possible then you might want to look into backpacks that come in multiple size options.

Additionally, a few companies are starting to offer backpacks with female-specific designs — which usually means the shoulder straps are shaped to better fit the female anatomy. Again, plenty of women have no issues with unisex backpacks so don’t worry too much if your perfect bag doesn’t have a “female” version. To learn more, check out our guide to the best travel backpacks for women.

Recommended Women-Specific Travel Backpacks:
Kelty Redwing 40, Osprey Fairview 40, & Osprey Fairview 55 are all women-specific backpacks.

Recommended Travel Backpacks That Come In Multiple Sizes:
The Tortuga Outbreaker has an adjustable torso and the Osprey Farpoint and Osprey Fairview come in multiple sizes (i.e. XS, SM, M & L).

Travel Backpack Configuration, Pockets, & Layout

Main Compartment on the Osprey Farpoint 40 & Laptop Compartment of Farpoint 55

Most travel backpacks consist of one large compartment and then a handful of smaller pockets to help keep all your smaller stuff organized.

Bag makers have a tough job of striking a balance between organization and weight — i.e. more pockets = more bulk.

Handy External Pockets on the Osprey Farpoint 40 and Tortuga Setout

We tend to prefer more minimalist bags that just have a few well-thought-out pockets because some backpacks really go overboard with the organization.

We’ve found that one or two exterior pockets really come in handy when you’re traveling — especially a top exterior pocket for storing your phone, sunglasses, and other small things you access frequently.

Laptop Compartment

Laptop Compartment on Minaal 2.0 and Osprey Farpoint 40

You should also pay attention to the laptop compartment (assuming you’re traveling with a laptop or tablet). The most important thing is being able to access the laptop from the exterior of the bag — i.e you don’t need to unpack the bag to remove the laptop when going through airport security.

The location of the laptop compartment is also something to consider. Most bags put the compartment against your back — which helps keep the laptop protected and keep the weight against your back.

Some backpacks put the compartment in the front of the bag — which probably isn’t as safe and the distance from your back might add extra strain to your load.

Travel Backpack Weight & Bulk

Different shapes and sizes (Tortuga Outbreaker, Osprey Farpoint, & Osprey Porter)

Most travel backpacks range from a lightweight 2.5 lbs to a honking 7 lbs+. Obviously, the heavier bags are physically bigger but they also tend to have more padding and pockets.

The super-light bags are physically smaller but they also cut back on padding, pockets, and might use less-durable fabric.

One important thing to remember is that most budget airlines are usually more concerned with the weight (and not the physical size) of your carry-on bags. For example, we scored a super cheap flight from NYC to Copenhagen on Norwegian Air and they charged people extra if their carry-on bag was over 22lbs (10kg). This is becoming much more common since bag fees are a huge money-maker for airlines.

So, with that in mind, a heavy backpack might force you to pack less if you’re trying to stay under any kind of weight limit.

Travel Backpack Structure and Internal Frame

The best travel backpacks have a bit of rigidity/structure and this helps distribute the weight of the bag across your entire back and it helps keep the load tight against your body.

There are generally two ways bag manufacturers add structure: through a lightweight internal frame (i.e. internal poles) or through a large plastic sheet built into the back of the bag.

The lightweight internal frame provides more rigidity/stability with heavier loads but the plastic sheet method also works pretty well in most cases. This isn’t something you really need to be concerned about but we wanted to let you know.

Stowable Shoulder Straps & Hip Belt

Stoawble Straps on the Osprey Farpoint (Good) vs Non-Stowable Hiking Backpack Straps (No Good)

While not a deal-breaker, we really like it when travel backpacks have stowable shoulder straps that can be hidden away.

First, this allows us to safely check the bag because you don’t have to worry about the shoulder straps being ripped off in baggage carousel conveyor belts.

Osprey Farpoint (and winter coat) ready for the overhead bin

And second, we like to stow away the straps before we board the plane so we can move through the narrow aisles and put the bag in the overhead compartment or under the seat with ease.

Recommended Backpacks With Stowable Straps:
Osprey Farpoint, Osprey Fariview, Osprey Porter, Tortuga Setout & Setout Divide, & eBags Motherlode Weekender.

Travel Backpack Materials/Fabrics

Just about every travel backpack is made out of some kind of synthetic material — usually nylon. Why nylon? Because it is lightweight and durable.

As you look at backpacks you’ll notice that manufacturers will throw all kinds of impressive-sounding fabric names at you. For example:

  • Osprey Farpoint: 210D Nylon Mini Hex Diamond Ripstop
  • Osprey Porter: 420HD Nylon Packcloth
  • GoRuck RE1: 1000D CORDURA®
  • Tortuga Outbreaker: X-Pac Waterproof Sailcloth
  • Aer Travel Pack 2: 1680D Cordura® Ballistic Nylon

What does all this mean? Well, it’s partially marketing (I mean, they all sound pretty impressive). But it also gives you an idea of the thickness/weight/durability of the fabric.

The number — 210, 420, 1680, etc. — conveys the thickness/weight of the fabric (higher=heavier) and the rest tells you what kind of fabric it is (Ripstop, CORDURA, Ballistic Nylon, etc.). But a high number doesn’t automatically mean it’s “better” because the weave of the fabric also plays an important role in its durability.

But honestly, we wouldn’t get too hung up on the fabric details since any bag we mention in this article is going to be plenty durable for your trip.


weather-sealed zippers

Of all the things that can fail on a backpack, the zipper is probably the most common failure point. The gold standard of zipper manufacturers is YKK so most of the best-quality bags use these. While it’s not a dealbreaker, we prefer bags that use YKK zippers.

Another nice feature that some bags offer is weather-sealed zippers. This helps protect your stuff from rain. Again, this isn’t a dealbreaker feature but it’s a nice extra.

Top and Side Handles on Travel Backpacks

Tortuga Setout Review - Handles

While not a deal-breaker, another nice feature we like is the sturdy handles on the top and the side of the bag. These are super helpful when you’re carrying your bag through narrow plane/train aisles or moving your bag without having to put it on.

Weather Resistance

Rain cover

In our opinion, we’re not too concerned with having a backpack that is weather-resistant — especially in Europe where it’s unlikely you’ll be caught in heavy downpours.

Yes, it’s nice when backpacks take steps to help keep the elements out but you should buy a cheap rain cover if you’re really worried about protecting your backpack from the rain (almost every bag has an accompanying rain cover that’s usually sold separately but some bags come with them).

Note: No bag is fully “waterproof” — but some are more water-resistant than others.

Style and Aesthetics

Minimalist (Minaal 2.0), Utilitarian (Aer Travel Pack 2), & Outdoorsy (Osprey Farpoint 55)

Travel backpacks come in multiple different styles — some are sleek and urban, while others are full-on outdoorsy (and kinda ugly).

We’re usually not too concerned about what our bag looks like, but we understand that some travelers prefer a bag with urban styling since those bags don’t scream “tourist”.

That said, the cooler-looking backpacks tend to be less comfortable than hiking-style backpacks — but there are a few that strike a nice balance of form and function.

Travel Backpack Price

Unfortunately, well-made travel backpacks aren’t cheap and some are downright expensive. For a new backpack, expect to spend a minimum of around $140 but some bags cost $300+.

If you’re on a tight budget we suggest buying used (Craigslist, eBay, borrow your friend’s old bag) or checking out REI Garage for closeout deals on previous year’s models.

Match Your Backpack To Your Travel Style

One of the most important things to consider when buying a travel backpack is knowing your travel style because different bags are designed for different uses.

For example:

  • If you plan on using both a backpack and a suitcase then your backpack can be smaller.
  • If you’re doing business travel then you might want a bag that’s sleeker and a bit more stylish.
  • If you’re just visiting one or two cities then you might not need a large backpack.
  • Are you a barebones minimalist traveler? Look for a sleek and utilitarian backpack.
  • Will you have easy access to a washer and dryer? Consider packing less and using a smaller backpack because you can wash your stuff halfway through.
  • Are you traveling in the winter? A slightly bigger bag will let you carry those bulky items.
  • Are you a fashionista with a lot of clothes but plan on using Uber/taxis as opposed to public transportation? Then go ahead and get a bigger backpack because you won’t be wearing it for long periods of time anyways.
  • Are you visiting somewhere that requires you to wear your backpack for long periods of time? Then you might consider a hiking-style backpack with an advanced shoulder harness system.
  • Do you have a bad back? Then you might want a suitcase.

Our Picks For The Best Backpacks For Traveling

Alright! Let’s take a look at our list of the best travel backpacks on the market. The backpacks in this list range from around $100 to $300 so there are options at every price point.

Osprey Farpoint & Fairview — Best “Do-It-All” Travel Backpacks

Farpoint 55 (Left) and Farpoint 40 (Right)

The Osprey Farpoint and its female version, Osprey Fairview, are two of our favorite travel backpacks on the market and we’ve used them on many trips.

These backpacks do a nice job of combining the best features found in travel backpacks and hiking-style backpacks (i.e. an advanced shoulder harness system with a suitcase-style opening).

Both bags also come in multiple liter sizes as well as different torso sizes — which means a better overall fit for you.

Osprey Farpoint / Fairview 40 Backpack Specs

  • Size: 19.3H X 13.8W X 8D IN. (XS/S), 20H X 14W X 8D IN (S/M), 21H X 14W X 9D IN (M/L)
  • Weight: 3.11 lbs
  • Price: $160

Osprey Farpoint / Fairview 55 Backpack Specs

  • Size: 22.8H X 13W X 11.8D IN (XS/S), 24H X 13W X 12D IN (S/M), 25H X 13W X 12D IN (M/L)
  • Weight: 3.75 lbs
  • Price: $180

What we like about the Osprey Farpoint/Fairview: First of all, these backpacks have a shoulder harness and hip-belt that are very close to what you’d find on a full-featured hiking-style backpack so it’s one of the most comfortable travel backpacks available.

These backpacks also come in multiple sizes (i.e. small, medium, large) — which is nice if you’re a little taller or shorter than most people. And, of course, the Fairview is designed specifically for women so that’s a solid bonus.

Quick Note: Other than the obvious size difference, the 55L and 40L are slightly different bags. The 55L is actually around 43L with a detachable 12L daypack. The 40L doesn’t have a daypack. There are a few other very small differences but that’s the main difference — see our in-depth reviews below to learn more.

See Latest Prices:

Osprey Porter — Best Affordable Gear Hauling Travel Backpack

Osprey Porter review - side view
Osprey porter review - side view

The Osprey Porter series of travel backpacks is another super solid travel bag that lets you haul a lot of stuff at an affordable price— it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most popular travel backpacks.

Osprey Porter 30 Specs

  • Size: 19.5″ X 13″ X 10″
  • Weight: 2.8 lbs
  • Price: $120

Osprey Porter 46 Specs

  • Size: 22″ X 14″ X 11″
  • Weight: 3.4 lbs
  • Price: $140

Osprey Porter 65 Specs

  • Size: 25″ X 14″ X 12″
  • Weight: 3.9 lbs
  • Price: $160

What We Like About The Osprey Porter Series: While it’s not quite as comfortable as its Farpoint/Fairview cousin, in our testing we’ve found the Porter to be comfortable enough for city travel. That said, the Porter series excels as a purpose-built gear-hauling backpack perfect for city hopping and urban travel. The Porter’s “turtle shell” shape allows you to maximize your packing space so you can fit an impressive amount of stuff inside the bag.

The 46L version is our recommended size for most travelers since it meets (or comes close) to carry-on size. The 30L version is really only for minimalist travelers. In our opinion, the 65L version is probably too large for most people (unless you really need to carry a lot of stuff).

Check Latest Prices:

See Our In-Depth Review:
Osprey Porter 46 Review

Best Carry-On Backpack | Tortuga Outbreaker
Trying on the Outbreaker for size

The Tortuga Outbreaker is the most full-featured, do-everything, withstand-anything-you-throw-at-it travel backpack out there. It’s built like a tank and comes in 35L and 45L.

Outbreaker 35L Specs

Outbreaker 45L Specs

What We Like About The Tortuga Outbreaker: I think Tortuga’s idea when they built the Outbreaker was to make a travel backpack that includes everything a traveler would want in a backpack. Some might say they included too much but there is no denying that this is a super solid backpack.

The Outbreaker has a beefy hiking-style shoulder harness and hip belt. The Outbreaker is also one of the only backpacks we’ve seen that has an adjustable torso length so it fits a wide range of people. It’s also made out of extremely tough and water-resistant fabric.

The Outbreaker comes in two sizes — 35L and 45L. Trust us, you can fit a ton of stuff in the 45L version as it is designed to be the max size for a carry-on bag.

Check Latest Prices:
Tortuga Backpacks

See Our In-Depth Review:
Tortuga Outbreaker Review

Tortuga Setout — Best Minimalist But Spacious Travel Backpack

Best Carry-On Backpack | Tortuga Setout
The 45L Tortuga Setout

The Tortuga Setout (along with its little brother, the Setout Divide) was built specifically for carry-on and urban travel — and since its debut, the Setout has become an incredibly popular travel backpack.

We also like to think of the Setout as a paired-back/streamlined version of the beefy Tortuga Outbreaker.

Setout 45L Specs

Setout Divide 26L-34L (Expandable) Specs

What We Like About The Tortuga Setout: The Tortuga Setout is a travel backpack built specifically for modern, urban travel. Its 45L size and rectangular shape mean you can carry a lot of stuff but it still complies with carry-on size regulations.

We also like the bag’s unassuming looks — it looks like a normal, albeit large backpack.

And if you think 45L is a little too big then you should check out the Setout Divide as it is essentially the same travel backpack but it’s smaller at 34L max.

UPDATE: Tortuga recently slightly revamped their Setout backpacks to now include load-lifter straps to make them even more comfortable.

Check Latest Prices:
Tortuga Backpacks

Aer Travel Pack 2 — Best Minimalist & Utilitarian Travel Backpack

Aer Travel Pack 2 | In-Depth Review

Coming in at 33L, the Aer Travel Pack 2 is a minimalist travel backpack with a cool urban/utilitarian styling. This is a backpack for lightweight travelers who want to blend into their surroundings.

Aer Travel Pack 2 Specs

What We Like About The Aer Travel Pack 2: The Aer Travel Pack 2 was designed to be both cool looking and functional — perfect for urban travel. And while it can hold a pretty good amount of stuff, its relatively small liter size means its better suited for minimalist travelers.

It also a great backpack for travelers who use it in conjunction with a suitcase. This 33L bag will easily meet any airline carry-on size specifications (it will probably even fit under the seat).

The Aer is made from very sturdy materials and the fabric is heavy-duty. The shoulder straps have a pretty good amount of padding and they’re curved in a way to make them more comfortable.

Check Latest Prices:
Aer SF Website

See Our In-Depth Review:
Aer Travel Pack 2 Review

Kelty Redwing — Best Bang-For-Your-Buck Backpack

The Kelty Redwing backpack tends to get overlooked — probably because it is marketed as a hiking backpack — but it is quietly one of our favorite travel backpacks. It’s essentially a hybrid between a hiking and travel backpack so it’s very comfortable and easy to pack thanks to its quasi-suitcase opening. Plus, it comes in multiple liter sizes and a female-specific version.

Kelty Redwing 50 Specs

  • Size: 26″ x 16″ x 12″
  • Weight: 3 lbs 11 oz
  • Price: $140

Kelty Redwing 44 Specs

  • Size: 25″ x 15″ x 12″
  • Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz
  • Price: $125

Kelty Redwing 32 Specs

  • Size: 22″ x 14″ x 11″ 
  • Weight: 2 lbs
  • Price: $100

Kelty Redwing 40 (Women’s) Specs

  • Size: 23″ x 14″ x 12″
  • Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz
  • Price: $125

What We Like About The Kelty Redwing: The Kelty Redwing gets a lot of things right — it has a very comfortable hiking-style harness, its lightweight, has lots of external pockets, it’s front-loading, and it is one of the cheapest bags on the market.

That said, it still looks like an outdoorsy backpack so it doesn’t have that sleek/urban styling that a lot of people like.

The only real downside to the Redwing is the looks — it looks like an outdoorsy hiking backpack (because it essentially is a hiking backpack that opens like a suitcase). So if you can get over that, then you have yourself a solid travel backpack.

Osprey Atmos — Best Ultra-Comfortable Hiking-Style Backpack

If comfort and capacity are most important to you then we highly suggest looking at the Osprey Atmos line of hiking backpacks. Sure, it is a top-loading backpack so it’s a pain to pack/unpack but its a joy to wear — it is designed to be worn for hours at a time.

By the way, the Osprey Aura is the female version of the Atmos.

Osprey Atmos/Aura 50 Specs

  • Size: 28.35″ X 14.17″ X 14.17″ (XS), 30.71″ X 14.96″ X 15.35″ (S), 32.68″ X 14.96″ X 15.35″ (M), & 34.65″ X 14.96″ X 15.35″ (L)
  • Weight: 4.21 lbs
  • Price: $240

Osprey Atmos/Aura 65 Specs

  • Size: 32.28″ X 15.35″ X 16.14″ (S), 34.25″ X 15.35″ X 16.14″ (M), & 36.22″ X 15.35″ X 16.14″ (L)
  • Weight: 4.56 lbs
  • Price: $270

What We Like About The Atmos/Aura Backpacks: The Atmos 50L was the first backpack I took to Europe way back in 2006 (“Travel backpacks” weren’t really a thing back then). It was an amazing backpack back then and Osprey has continued to make improvements year after year. These bags are super lightweight and its shoulder harness and hip belt make this bag crazy comfortable.

But since this bag is a hiking-style backpack you’ll have to deal with it being a top-loader and it’s also too large to be “technically” considered a carry-on bag (but I was still able to take mine on most planes so I’m sure times have changed).

Note: An even nicer (and more expensive) hiking backpack is the Osprey Aether. So if you have money to burn you might want to check it out.

eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender — Budget Budget-Friendly Carry-On Backpack

The eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender is a max carry-on size backpack that’s purpose-built for city travel. It’s also cheaper than most travel backpacks at the max carry-on size range — but it also has a basic shoulder harness so it’s not as comfortable as other bags.

eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Specs

  • Size: 22″ x 14″ x 9″
  • Weight: 3 lbs, 15 oz
  • Price: $140 (but it’s often on sale)

TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior

  • Size:  19.5″ x 14″ x 9″
  • Weight: 3 lbs, 5 oz
  • Price: $130 (but it’s often on sale)

What We Like About The TLS Mother Lode Weekender: The best thing about the eBags Weekender is the price — it’s often on sale for $90-$110. This bag can hold a lot as it’s the max size for a carry-on. The build quality is very solid for the price. As mentioned, the shoulder straps are pretty basic so it’s not going to be super comfortable for extended carry — especially if it’s fully packed out.

There is also a slightly smaller version called the TLS Mother Lode Weekender Junior.

Patagonia Black Hole MLC Convertible Briefcase — Best Duffle-Style Bag

Ok, the Patagonia Blackhole MLC isn’t technically a travel backpack… it’s a travel duffle bag. Yes, it has basic backpack straps but we prefer to carry this bad-boy as a shoulder bag.

The Patagonia Blackhole MLC (maximum legal carry-on) bag has gained a bit of a cult following. It’s basically a soft-sided suitcase with a shoulder strap and it’s a great choice for travelers who don’t want a backpack.

The 45L Blackhole MLC is a sleek and minimalist travel backpack with no dangly exterior straps. It has urban styling so you’ll look like a super-stylish urban dweller. Ohh, and it can hold a ton of gear.

Patagonia Blackhole MLC Specs

  • Size: 22.75″ x 18″ x 6.75″
  • Weight: 3 lbs. 5.1 oz.
  • Price: $199
    • Check Prices On REI

Tips For Packing Your Travel Backpack

Europe travel packing cubes
Get organized with packing cubes.

Regardless of what kind of backpack you choose, we highly suggest using packing cubes. Packing cubes make it easy to compartmentalize your clothes into different cubes so you can keep everything easily accessible. Trust us, these things will make backpacking much easier.

We’ve already written up a guide to packing with packing cubes so we think you should check it out. But, if you’re too lazy to click, our favorite packing cubes are made by Eagle Creek.

Backpacking Europe Packing List

ultralight packing list

Now that you’ve found the perfect backpack for travel it’s time to start packing! We’ve put together quite a few different packing guides to help you out.

For general packing tips check out our Europe Packing List. We also have our Travel Packing List for Women and a Travel Packing List for Men.

James Feess
No Funny Business

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