Best Backpack: 9 Tips to Choose the Best Travel Backpack

Looking for the best travel backpack? Walk into any REI and you’re bound to be overwhelmed by the number of travel backpack options. Should I choose medium or large? Unisex or women’s? Blue or black? With so many choices, it’s no wonder travelers struggle to find the best backpack — the most important piece of travel gear. But it’s not impossible. Here’s how to find the best backpack for you.

Checkout our follow up article How to Choose the Right Travel Backpack For You

Best Travel Backpack

1. The Gender Question

“Backpacks have a gender?” you might ask. That answer is, sort of. Most major backpack brands have a least a few offerings designed for women’s frames. Your options in the world of backpacks are men’s, women’s, or unisex.

The first step in choosing the best backpack is to decide whether the backpack “gender” is a factor you want to consider. For many shorter or more petite women, the design of women’s backpacks is more comfortable. Try a few on and see what makes sense for you. Besides going to a store you can also consider buying several backpacks on Zappos or Amazon and returning the ones that don’t fit since they have free shipping.

Best Travel Backpack

Best Travel Backpack

photo credit: gcbb

2. Size: Go Small or Go Home

For an extended trip, you’re going to be hauling your travel backpack around for months. Do you really want that extra space, just in case? Be realistic about how much stuff you plan to bring, but know you’ll rarely regret packing light and a small backpack will help you achieve that.

Hint: If you can’t get your gear-filled backpack on by yourself, you need a smaller backpack. For tips on lightening your load, read our Ultimate Guide to Packing Light.

3. Weight: Don’t Let Your Pack Hold You Back

Along those same lines, consider the weight of your backpack. Backpacks have come a long way in the past few decades and most are fairly lightweight. That said, even one or two pounds will make a huge difference when you’re carrying your backpack for months on end. If you’re torn between two choices and one is a bit lighter, go with the lighter one as this will help you find the best backpack.

4. Design Is More Than Pretty Colors

Look at how the backpack is laid out. Is there only one opening at the top? Is that going to work for you, or would a front zipper be easier? Are there pockets that will make your water bottle and other frequently-used gear easily accessible? My favorite backpack has a number of very convenient pockets that make it perfect for extended travel.

5. Destination and Climate Matter

Sometimes the best backpack for the job depends on the destination. If you’re going to explore the plains of Kenya, you’ll probably choose a different backpack that if you were traveling around Northern Russia. Think about where you’re going, what the climate will be like at that time of year, and how that will affect how you use your backpack.

6. To Daypack or Not to Daypack

Daypacks — smaller, detachable backpacks or bags — can be great for people who pack light. You just zip off the top or front part of your backpack, and you’re off. But you definitely won’t blend into a metropolitan area carrying one of these. Determine whether you’d use a daypack and factor that into your search.

7. Eco-Friendly Materials

If you’re an environmentally friendly traveler, check out recycled travel backpacks. Mountainsmith has a good collection of quality backpacks made of recycled materials. With so many options available, there’s no excuse for buying a non-recycled backpack.

8. How You Will Use It

Is your backpack’s sole purpose to get your gear from one hostel to the next? Or will you take it hiking and on overnight camping trips? Think about all of the ways you plan to use your backpack and make sure the model you choose is suitable for each use.

9. The Comfort Factor with the Best Travel Backpack

Perhaps the most important factor of all — is your backpack comfortable? This means the shoulder, chest, and waist straps fit perfectly. It rests just right against your lower back. You don’t feel like you’re going to fall over when it’s full of gear and you put it on. A full backpack will never feel weightless, but it shouldn’t feel like torture, either.

Last, but not least, check out some reviews of the best travel backpack. We love reading the reviews on Zappos (free shipping!) and Amazon. And remember, if you by online from Zappos you can always return for free.

What’s Our Favorite and Best Travel Backpack?

We like the Lily Recycled Backpack by MoutainsmithIvy by Mountainsmith, and the Osprey Farpoint 40. Looking for a kids’ travel backpack? Check out our kids’ carry-on luggage post.

List Price: $129.95
Current Price: $119.95
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If roller bags are your choice, check out the suitcases from checkout the suitcases from Delsey luggage.

How did you choose your best travel backpack? 


  1. By on

    We also went to REI and after 6 months in I feel that the advice they gave would have been much more appropriate for someone on an extended hiking trip (aka Appalachian Trail) vs. an around the world trip. The Osprey Atmos pack I got was quite expense and very light , but if I had it to do over again I would get a traveler pack, that had a couple of key features mine does not including:
    – Front loading, traditional top-loading packs are a pain to pull things in and out of. And I am jealous of people with front loading packs that lay it down unzip and have access to all contents in 30 seconds.
    – Lockable, my pack has so many openings it is impossible to lock, and while we have not had a problem yet, you end up leaving your pack in hotel luggage rooms unattained all the time and I am more worried about someone putting something illicit in before we head to an airport, vs stealing some of my dirty clothes.
    – Tough material, the pack I have is very lightweight but as such it is much more vulnerable to abrasion and the abuse of getting through under buses, on top of vans, through airports and such.

    Hope this advice helps someone else looking for a good RTW pack.

    As another thought if you are starting your trip in SE Asia, bring your stuff in a cheap suitcase you have and buy a knock off pack here for about 1/6th the cost of what they are at REI.

  2. By on

    @Andy – That’s a good question, too. Thanks!

    @Keith – Thanks for sharing your experience and those tips. I would definitely vote for a front-loading backpack for a long-term trip. I brought one to Argentina and it was perfect. And lockable is a really good feature to think about, too.

  3. By on

    Hi Kimberly

    Thanks for sharing these useful tips. I would have called it Ten commandments if there was one more tip. :) I have read Ultimate Guide to Packing Light as well. This would definitely help me next time. Last year I had bought my backpacks online from Bergman Luggage and since most of these parameters like size, weight, material were mentioned on site so it was easier to choose my bag. Nice that you mentioned all these tips here in separate blog, it’s very informative.

  4. By John Matthew on

    Great tips for avid backpackers. I love the idea of backpacking, but I know carrying a heavy rucksack on me all the time is not going to do good things for my back. So, a rolling bag + daypack combo is what I would go with. In fact, one of my latest purchases has been a travel backpack from Briggs & Riley. For my next trip, I am juts going to dump the rolling bag in the hotel and carry everything I need for a day trip in the backpack when I venture out.

  5. By on

    Hey Kimberly,

    Have you every seen or used one of those Ivar backpacks with their internal Shelving System? Ivar’s benefits are (1) ergonomic weight distribution via several internal (angled) shelves (thereby not allowing for all your cargo to fall to the bottom), and (2) file-like organizational access to your stuff.

    Ivar’s website is and I just saw that one of their packs is the backpack in The Sharper Image Catalog and Website. It’s the Ivar Pilot:

    I just bought one… so, I’m quite jazzed about it :)

  6. By Alexandra Alden on

    Great article! On my recent trip to Central America to volunteer with Humanitravels I decided to economize on a backpack. 3 weeks later and the top is already ripped. My previous one lasted for 3 yrs so the lesson is, invest! It’s the most important piece of travel gear.

  7. By Alexandra Alden on

    Great article! On my recent trip to Central America to volunteer with Humanitravels I decided to economize on a backpack. 3 weeks later and the top is already ripped. My previous one lasted for 3 yrs so the lesson is, invest! It’s the most important piece of travel gear.

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