Best travel backpacks 2020: best carry on and full-size options
The best travel backpacks for mini breaks and globe-trotting adventures.
Whether you’re going for a weekend break in the UK or backpacking across Asia, you’ll want the best travel backpack. One that’s durable, easy to pack and built to last.
As seasoned travellers ourselves, we know exactly what's needed to make the best travel backpack purchase.
Below, you can see our working out. We've spent a month testing the most popular options to identify the best choice for all needs and budgets.
From our best value option, budget-friendly Quechua Forclaz 50l Lockable Backpack, to our overall winner, the cabin-sized Osprey Farpoint and Fairview 40l, whatever you want from your new travel pack you’ll find it here.
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Best travel backpacks: the ShortList
Best travel backpacks
1. Osprey Farpoint 40l and Osprey Fairview 40l
The men’s fit Farpoint and women’s fit Fairview backpacks are great cabin-sized packs with enough capacity for trips of up to a fortnight. Made from durable fabric, the comfy, ventilated back and waist straps come with a flight cover for stowing the bag in the hold. A cushioned laptop pocket and mesh storage compartments allow for organised packing.
2. Quechua Forclaz Travel 500 Men’s Trekking 50l Lockable Backpack
Great for backpacking on a budget, this 50l pack comes with a ten-year guarantee. It has a rain cover to protect your belongings, small detachable saddle bag and the zip sits flush to your back to help deter pickpockets.
3. Acteryx Brize 32
A cabin-size technical hiking backpack designed to take you seamlessly from travelling to the trail. It’s lightweight with room for water bottles, a water bladder and a pole attachment – you can fit a surprising amount into the top-loading main compartment.
4. Dakine Split Adventure 38l backpack
Made from ripstop fabric, this cabin-size bag with suitcase-style opening has a number of handy compartments including padded laptop, electronics and sunglasses pockets. Straps hidden in the front can be used to attach a skateboard or, more likely, a jacket or extra layer.
5. Millican The Mavericks Collection Smith The Roll Pack 25l
A vintage-looking, top-loading backpack that’s great for walking and weekend trips. Available in six muted shades, the highly durable fabric and aluminium fastenings make this a robust and stylish option for countryside escapes.
6. Quicksilver Rawaki 35l
Great for shorter trips and weekends away, this cabin-size backpack comfortably takes a laptop and has a number of inner mesh pockets for intelligent packing. A sleeve on the back allows you to slip the bag over the handles of a wheeled suitcase if you’re travelling with more luggage.
7. Mountain Warehouse Traveller 60 + 20l
The lightest 60l backpack we tested, this pack is also available in a female-specific fit in a variety of colours. It comes with a detachable 20l daypack, rain cover and flight cover to keep the shoulder and waist straps tucked away when storing in the hold.
8. Horizn Studios 23l Gion
You can fit a surprising amount into this overnight bag that’s smart enough for business trips and city breaks. It’s water resistant and has a laptop compartment and hidden back pocket for travel documents. Can be slipped over the handle of a suitcase and is available in six colours.
9. Deuter Traveller 60 + 10l
Female-specific, this pack for longer trips is designed to fit women’s shorter torsos, narrower shoulders and wider hips. It has an adjustable back for a comfortable fit, 10l zip-off daypack and a flight cover.
10. Vango Freedom II 60 + 20l
The Freedom II 60 is a good value backpacking option with a removable 20l daypack that’s big enough to hold a laptop. It has an adjustable back sizer to help it fit your torso, a handy phone pocket on the waistband, plus compression straps and drawstring gator inside to help keep your belongings in place.
The Expert's View
Best travel backpacks: how we selected
In this world of cheap flights, business trips, gap years and stag and hen weekends in Ibiza, it seems like we’re constantly on the move. While hold luggage charges on planes have taught us the art of packing light(ish), you’re still going to need more than a passport, some pants, and something to put all your clean undies in.
Suitcases have their place, but these days many of us navigate our own way around town rather than jump on a tour operator’s bus to a package holiday. A backpack, which can be stowed easily on planes and trains and doesn’t take up too much space on busy buses, is often the convenient option if you’re lugging your own kit.
So if you’re in the market for a new backpack, what should you be looking for?
The first thing to take into account is what you plan to use it for. Is it for work trips and overnight stays, where you’ll want a small light pack with room for a couple of pairs of socks, some toiletries and a laptop? Or are you going to be circumnavigating the globe, carrying your worldly possessions on your back for months on end?
Some packs are smart enough to take into the boardroom while others are made from robust fabric designed to withstand trekking up mountains and down dusty roads. And there are plenty that fall somewhere in-between.
One key feature to look out for is size. Backpack size is measured in litres. The largest you can usually get away with as cabin luggage is 40l, although check with your airline first so you don’t get stung. If you pack well you should be able to get at least a week’s kit into a 40l backpack.
If you’re just going away for a weekend, or you’re one of those organised people who rolls their clothes and stows underwear in their shoes, a smaller bag may be sufficient. Plus it’ll be lighter and more comfortable to carry.
If you’re going for a longer period of time, such as on a gap year, you’ll probably want a 50-60l pack. Some may even want to go bigger but be warned, after a few weeks’ travelling from place to place like an overloaded turtle, you’ll probably end up dumping half your stuff in a beach hut in Thailand.
Comfort is another important aspect. Not so much for smaller packs, as they’re light enough to sling over your shoulder and go, but for anything over 25l you should consider the structure. Are the shoulder straps padded to stop them digging in? Does the backpack have a chest and waist strap to spread the load and protect your shoulders and back? Is there a ventilated panel to stop it rubbing and sticking to your sweaty back?
Size matters, too – not just the pack but your own stature. Some major brands offer different sizes – so small, medium and large – based not on the volume of the pack but the size of the person who’ll be wearing it. Getting the right size means a pack sits comfortably without rubbing your back or banging your bum. For women, or those with a more slender build, female-specific packs are definitely worth investigating as these are designed for shorter torsos and narrower shoulders.
How you fill your backpack could be important, too. Some packs are filled from the top with a drawstring. This usually means you can cram more in but it can be a pain getting it out again – whatever you’re looking for, you can guarantee it’s right at the bottom. Other backpacks zip open like a suitcase, meaning everything’s readily to hand.
Features such as a removable day pack – so you can leave the main backpack in your accommodation – water bottle holders, laptop sleeves and the ability to carry a water bladder might also be good for you.
We took all of the above into account when we tested a variety of packs for different trips, from overnight and weekend travel bags to those that’ll take you around the world. We chose packs from big-name brands like Osprey, Vango and Deuter as well as smaller independent labels, such as Millican, to find the best-value packs for your needs.
Best travel backpacks: how we tested
While we’d love to say we took each backpack on an overseas trip to the mountains, city and sea, our budget and holiday allowance couldn’t stretch to that. Instead we went on a weekend to Brighton, Marie Kondo’d the flat, took our unwanted clothing to the charity shop, filled packs with clothes, shoes and laptop and went for a walk round the block.
We walked at least one kilometre with each pack, to test for comfort in use and load distribution to protect the back. We weighed each pack when empty so we could assess how much weight they added – after all, you don’t want your backpack eating up half of your luggage allowance or adding kilos to the load on your back.
Alongside the robustness of the material, zips and straps, we looked at the number of pockets for ease of storage and how quick they were to pack and unpack. We also looked for any additional features such as fleece-lined pockets for electronics and sunglasses, carry handles and detachable daypacks.
Security was also a concern – do the packs have kissing zips (sounds romantic but it just means when they meet fully and have a hole for a padlock) or if not could they still be locked. Also, we looked for any other security features, such as a detachable pack that can be strapped to your front, or hidden pockets for valuables.
Finally, we considered price. You can spend anywhere between £50 and £300 for a decent travel backpack and, if you’re travelling on a budget, that can be quite an investment, so you’ll want to ensure you get good value for your outlay.
Best travel backpack reviews: The test results
If you’re travelling around cities with a pack on your back it needs to be comfy. All the backpacks we tested had padded shoulder straps with breathable fabric, which are essential if you will carry your luggage for any great distance. For bigger backpacks – those over 40l – you’ll also want a decent harness, with adjustable shoulder and waist straps you can manoeuvre to match your build.
We were impressed with the Osprey Farpoint and the Fairview women-specific version as it comes in two sizes, S/M and M/L, to ensure a good fit. The Deuter Traveller 60 + 10l is designed specifically for a woman’s body (females under 5 foot 8 will really feel the difference), and the Mountain Warehouse Traveller 60 + 20l also has a female option.
The Mountain Warehouse, Deuter and the Vango Freedom II 60 + 20l backpacks also have a quick adjust system so you can change the back size for a more comfortable fit on your torso. This prevents the packs sitting uncomfortably on the top of your bum or hitting your head as you walk.
Eight of the backpacks we tested had a clamshell or U-zip, meaning they could be packed and unpacked like a suitcase. The exceptions were the Arc’teryx Brize 32l and Millican Smith The Roll Pack 25l, which are designed for walking and so are top-loading for lightness.
The clamshell design generally makes it much easier to find what you need. Just be sure you zip smaller packs, such as the Quicksilver Rawkai 35llarge cabin bag, all the way round or you might leave a trail of underwear on a train station platform.
We found the backpacks with mesh inner pockets and compartments, where you can see what’s inside, really useful. The Osprey, Dakine Split Adventure 38l backpack, Quicksilver and Deuter all have them.
The Osprey Farpoint and Fairview, and the Dakine, were the easiest to pack thanks to a number of useful pockets and mesh compartments, with padded pockets for laptops and valuables.
Security is important when you’re leaving your backpack in hotel rooms, on trains or in shared hostel dorms. We liked the kissable zips – designed to touch and lock – of the Vango, Deuter, Osprey and Quechua packs. The Quechua also has a main zip sitting against your back to deter pickpockets. Among the smaller packs, the Horizn Studio's 23l Gion Backpack had a hidden pocket on the back – good for stashing your passport or a flat wallet.
The best travel backpack reviewed:
Osprey Farpoint 40l and Osprey Fairview 40l, £100
Yes, we know that’s two backpacks, but while they have different names they’re the same bag. The Fairview is designed specifically for women, who tend to have a shorter torsos, wider hips and narrower shoulders than men.
The men’s bag, the Farpoint, comes in two sizes, S/M and M/L, so you can pick the one that fits your body shape for extra comfort. There’s even a nifty little Packsizer app that measures your torso using your phone camera and tells you which size to choose – although you’ll probably need a friend’s help as pictures need to be taken from three metres away. Both packs come in 55l and 70l, and the Farpoint has an 80l option.
The bag itself packs like a suitcase rather than top-loading and the quality is excellent, thanks to ripstop materials that prevent it getting torn or damaged on your travels.
At 40l it should be fine for carry-on luggage on most airlines, and a detachable strap and sturdy handles on the top and side means you can carry it as a duffel bag and swing it onto luggage racks easily. If you want to check it in, there’s a cover to zip away the shoulder straps and waistband. This is useful as some airlines ask you to check rucksacks in at a separate desk for oversized luggage. This cover can be rolled up and tucked under the bottom of the pack when not in use.
The pack is roomy enough for at least a week’s travel. Compression straps inside keep all your clothing in place (and help you cram more in). We really like the finish of the pockets too – among the best we tested. There’s a cushioned laptop pocket so you can do away with a laptop case if you’re on a space-saving mission, a large mesh pocket inside – handy for underwear – and a padded mesh pocket in the front section, which is good for electronics and delicate items.
The mesh also means you can see exactly where your packed items are. A smaller pocket on the front has a good water-resistant lining, which is handy for your phone or smaller items of laundry.
The padded shoulder and waist straps are really comfortable and prevent a loaded pack from feeling too heavy. The empty pack is really lightweight anyway, weighing less than 1.5kg, the lightest of those over 40l that we tested. There’s good ventilation and it also has lockable zips for security. The only thing we weren’t too keen on was the placement of the two water bottle holders, on the front of the pack rather than the side, which makes it hard to grab your water bottle if you’re travelling solo.
The best travel backpack for value reviewed:
Quechua Forclaz travel 500 Men’s Trekking 50l Lockable Backpack, £59.99
The cheapest backpack we tested, the Quechua, offers some great features and outstanding value for money. Admittedly it wasn’t the best-looking – there’s quite a lot of strap and buckle going on when you first get it out of the packaging – but it certainly wasn’t offensive on the eye and is ideal for anything from a couple of weeks to months on the road.
The name is rather misleading, though, as it implies this is a trekking pack when in fact it’s actually designed for travelling. It weighs a bit too much to take hiking up mountains (2.26kg, just over the weight of a 2-litre bottle of water). The exterior is made from durable, abrasion-resistant material and certainly feels like it could take some knocks, or even withstand being lashed to the roof of a minibus. The manufacturers must be pretty confident about this as it comes with a ten-year guarantee. We were less keen on the inner fabric, which looks cheap, although it stood up to us trying to push a headphone jack through it so it definitely does the job.
This looks like a top-loader but it actually packs like a suitcase. The top section detaches and forms a cross-body saddlebag that you can take as carry-on luggage or out on day trips. The extra bag is basic but does the job, although if you consider this an important feature you might want to go for a more expensive bag with a larger detachable day backpack with shoulder straps.
We were really impressed with the added security features. The two main compartments – the main body of the bag and another large pocket at the bottom, which can also be accessed from the main compartment – have lockable zips, and the main body zip sits flush to your back so pickpockets can’t unzip it while you’re walking in crowds.
There are loads of compartments for packing different items: two side water bottle holders, pockets on the side, front and bottom, and a zippable pocket on the waistband which fits a phone so you can have it to hand for snapping pics. There isn’t a separate laptop sleeve but we fitted a 13-inch device into the inner pocket of the main compartment, although there wasn’t much room to spare.
This was one of only two packs we tested that come with a rain cover – most brands ask you to pay extra for this. The cover is tucked away in a velcro compartment at the bottom of the bag for when you need it.
The ventilation system on the back looks a bit odd – kind of like egg boxes – but it was very comfy to carry. At 50l the pack will have to go in the hold on plane journeys, but with no flight cover for the back straps you may need to put it through the oversized luggage drop-off.
Comparing the rest on test
Best for women
The Deuter Traveller 60 + 10l is designed to fit the shorter torso, wider hips and narrower shoulders of a woman’s body. A men’s version is available in 70l + 10l. It’s the most expensive pack we tested but its made from a durable materials and Deuter will make any necessary repairs throughout the bag’s lifespan, so it’s going to last.
Despite being the heaviest of our packs it was one of the comfiest to wear, as the frame, sternum and hip straps were great at distributing weight and you can adjust the back size to fit your torso. There’s a detachable carry strap and slide handle for slinging it onto luggage racks, plus a flight cover to zip all the straps up to put it in the hold.
It has a zip-off removable daypack which, at 10l, is smaller than some of the other bags with removable packs but should be enough for a day out or as carry-on luggage – you can squeeze a 13-inch laptop or an iPad in there and it has room for a water bladder if you’re hiking.
A handy zip expands the capacity by a couple of inches if you’ve bought too many souvenirs and it also comes with a removable fake flower attached, though we have no idea why. For the price it’d be nice to see a rain cover instead.
Best for lightweight capacity
Available in black, green or purple – with the purple also in a women-specific design – the Mountain Warehouse Traveller 60 + 20l was the lightest 60l pack on test, weighing in at just under 2.5kg. The 20l zip-off bag is a decent size for when you want to leave your big bag in the hotel. It can also be attached to the main bag using the clips and straps for added security if you want to wear it on your front when on the move.
This pack is one of only two we tested to include a rain cover. It also comes with a flight cover and adjustable back for comfort. It has carry handles, although these feel a bit flimsy compared to those on the other larger backpacks. While it has a large bottom pocket (also accessible from inside) and two large inner pockets we would have liked a couple of smaller compartments – maybe one on the front – for valuables. A laptop sleeve in the detachable day pack would also be nice to have. The daypack is a bit basic, with a front pocket and water holders but just one large main compartment.
Best for gap years
The cheapest of the 60l bags we tested, the Vango Freedom II 60 + 20l, is a good value choice for backpackers. There are no female-specific or size options but it does have an adjustable back so you can fit it to your torso. With ripstop fabric it’s designed to take a beating so should see you round the globe.
There’s a 20l detachable day pack with a number of useful pockets and enough room to hold a laptop. The day pack attaches to the main bag with straps and clips rather than a zip, which can make it easier to get on when the main bag is stuffed to the gills.
The main compartment features compression straps and also a gator – a fabric surround with a drawstring – to get the air out and squish all your possessions down to keep them in place. Really comfortable to wear, it has a handy pocket on the waistband for your phone. The harness also has a flight cover, although it took us a very long time to work out where this was stowed away – a hidden compartment under the pack, as it turns out.
A smaller pocket on the front of the main bag would have been nice, and the large inner pocket would have been better in mesh – which the Vango website states it is – rather than fabric, to make finding things easier.
Best for hiking
The Arc’teryx Brize 32l is designed for hiking and travelling, so you can get straight off the plane and onto the trails on short walking trips. At 32l, it’s small enough to be used as cabin luggage but can fit quite a bit of kit.
It’s super lightweight at just over 1kg, so won’t weigh you down in the mountains. And it’s made from durable, water-resistant fabric – good enough for showers but you’ll need to buy a rain cover for protection in serious downpours. There’s space for a water bladder and two water bottle holders, and you can attach a walking pole.
The Arc’teryx Brize 32l is very comfortable to wear on the move, with a sternum strap, ventilated back and waist strap. To keep things light it’s a top-loader with a secure drawstring opening, two inner pockets, a front pocket and one small lid pocket for valuables and maps.
If you’re going away for a longer period of time, or want more of a travel-specific pack, you may find a cheaper, suitcase-opening option more suitable.
Best for mini adventures
We were really impressed with the Split Adventure 38l backpack from Dakine, which makes bags and accessories for people who love to surf, snowboard, skateboard and travel. It’s a really good-looking pack which, at 38l, is big enough for a short trip away and smart enough to take to the office to stash your gym kit, a change of clothes, toiletries and a towel.
Made from ripstop fabric to prevent damage, it has padded shoulder straps, a chest strap and water bottle holders, but it’s the vast array of compartments we really love.
There are internal mesh pockets, a fleece-lined laptop pocket at the back, a fleece-lined pocket for electronics at the front, a fleece-lined top pocket for sunglasses on top, a place to stash your electric cables and straps which pop out at the front to secure a skateboard (or if, like us, you’re just not that cool, an extra layer instead). You can also machine wash it on a cool setting if protected in a pillowcase.
Best for UK breaks
The Mavericks Collection Smith The Roll Pack 25lcomes from independent brand Millican, which is based in the Lake District – precisely the kind of place this bag would be best used. Available in six muted shades it has a vintage, minimalist feel and the padded shoulders make it great for walking, although it would work as an everyday about town bag, too.
The 57 per cent recycled fabric is durable and has an almost waxy look, but it didn’t scratch or mark when we tried to scuff it. It has a fleece-lined pocket for your laptop, a front organiser pocket for valuables and two water bottle holders on the side.
Its top-loading main compartment lets you stuff a lot in, although you may struggle to get it out again. The aluminium hook fastenings look good and are hard-wearing but things may spill if you were to put it in a hold. It has a sternum strap and a thin waist strap, although the latter is a bit too thin to be of much use and is easily removed.
Best for city breaks
The Horizn Studio 23l Gion Backpack is a good choice for short breaks and business trips. It’s neatly designed so won’t look out of place in restaurants or the office, has plenty of laptop room at the back, a hidden pocket to keep your passport safe against your back and has a surprising capacity for a small bag – we packed two changes of clothes, shoes and toiletries in there.
The zips are durable, it’s waterproof and it has a strap you can slip over a wheeled suitcase handle if you’re travelling with more luggage. There are no inner compression straps to keep clothing in place, though, and we can’t help feeling it’s quite expensive for what it is.
Best for weekends away
Quicksilver’s Rawaki 35l large cabin bag is just the right size for a weekend away and, as the name suggests, is compliant with most airline’s cabin luggage restrictions. It has three handy inner pockets, a space for your laptop, fleece-lined top pocket for sunglasses or phones and a large pocket at the front.
There’s also a strap to slip over a suitcase handle if you wish. But it’s very squishy. While this means you can get it into small spaces like airline bag-measuring buckets, it moves around a bit on your back despite having a sternum strap.