Best Overall Travel Backpack
Peak Design Travel 45
Measured Weight: 4.51 lbs | Volume of Main Pack: 45 liters
The Peak Design Travel 45 is a well-thought-out, simple design chock-full of functional features. This bag is an innovative marvel, from its detachable lash straps to its magnetic tuckaway harness system. The high-density foam in the hip belt and shoulder straps make it so comfortable you barely realize you’re wearing a pack, no matter how heavy you stuff it. Everything on this bag is highly customizable. The shoulder straps and hip belt are on a swivel and lock away neatly behind a magnetic flap to ensure that nothing hangs off the bag unnecessarily when not in use. The zippers and compression buttons help minimize the volume for shorter trips, although it fits just fine under the airplane seat when fully stuffed. Peak Design also makes accessories for camera gear, which sync flawlessly.
While this travel backpack is feature-rich and comfortable, it is a little heavy for its size, and due to the rigid structure, the space can feel limited depending on your packing needs. All that extra padding protects your belongings, so if you plan to be packing items that do not require so much protection, like your wardrobe, there are better options in our test suite. This bag is also very expensive, though it’s highly durable and is well worth it for the right user. The Travel 45 made us incredibly happy everywhere we took it and thus earned our top accolades. If you are looking for something a little smaller, check out the Peak Design Everyday, which was a top scorer in our best laptop backpack review.
Read more: Peak Design Travel 45 review
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Co-op Ruckpack 40
Measured Weight: 2.10 lbs | Volume of Main Pack: 40 liters
If you often find yourself traveling with heavy outdoor gear, the tapered shape of the REI Ruckpack may be just what you’re looking for. The top-to-bottom zipper design allows easy access and strategic packing, while the tapered shape encourages all heavy gear to stay at the base. The pack does not easily get top-heavy or create an uneven weight distribution. It is comfy and well-balanced. This travel backpack is the perfect airplane-to-trail bag for those trips when pressed for time or space. The comfortable harness system is completely stowable for long car trips or when checking your bag, and the easily accessible and organized side pockets are great for your travel essentials.
While we appreciate the side pocket organization, some of the smaller pockets inside this bag are too shallow to feasibly hold anything. The shallow pocket theme extends to the two water bottle pockets on the sides, although these have improved since the last model. Most bottle sizes will fit but are not particularly secure when the bag isn’t upright. The harder hip pads take a moment to get used to, so don’t be surprised if you feel a little discomfort when you first put the pack on. The discomfort only lasts a few uses and, once broken in, offers ample support.
Read more: REI Ruckpack 40 review
Best Duffel Style Weekender Bag
Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 55L
Measured Weight: 2.57 lbs | Volume of Main Pack: 55 liters
Patagonia is known for its durable material, and the Black Hole Duffel 55L delivers. The fabric comes from their extremely durable line of expedition duffel bags using TPU laminate. This bag is so tough, waterproof, and abrasion-resistant that it’s perfectly reliable for airplane or boat travel. Toss it around without worry. Being an outdoor-based company, Patagonia designed this bag with expeditions and durability in mind.
The structured yet soft body allows this bag to shapeshift as you load items into every crevice, making it the ideal stuff sack for those who follow the “throw and go” packing strategy. The ergonomic left and right suspension straps buckle on or off easily for those constantly unzipping and re-zipping. While this is a great duffel style, it does not have the same organizational properties as some of the other top backpacks in this review. With only one small pocket for important items, this duffel is truly, as the name suggests, a large open black hole. Luckily, this makes the bag quite light for how much it can hold. With such a reasonable price for a rather spacious, durable, lightweight product, we feel the Black Hole bag deserves to be the token duffel in your luggage collection. If you want a smaller version of this bag that carries better, check out the Patagonia Black Hole 25.
Read more: Patagonia Black Hole 55L review
Best for Business Travel
Topo Designs Global Travel Bag
Measured Weight: 3.65 lbs | Volume of Main Pack: 40L
Whether headed out on a work trip, visiting a remote cabin, or to a flashy hotel, the stylish convertible Topo Designs Global Travel Bag is a fun option for an extended weekend getaway. This 40-liter pack is tall and slim, making it easy to slide through crowds without worrying about bumping into strangers. It hugs the body, making heavy loads feel lighter. The harness has load lifters, a sternum strap, and convertible hip and shoulder straps, which distribute weight across the upper body. The back panel is slightly padded, and the overall bag has some solid structure. The brightly colored interior and clamshell opening improve visibility. The Global has two water bottle pockets that fit various bottle sizes, a false bottom in the large laptop sleeve to help protect your electronics, daisy chains for dirty climbing shoes and PackFast clips to attach a daypack to the outside. The light padding offers some structure and cushioning.
Our biggest problem with the Global Travel Bag is that you cannot just toss irregularly shaped items in it, and the excessive amount of pockets ironically makes it difficult to remember which items are where. The high level of organization is great for smaller items but not for those who prefer a stuff-sack style. It also doesn’t fit underneath an airplane seat, so you must load it into the overhead carry-on zone. However, the Global Travel Bag is a great option if you love to stay organized and update your luggage with a trendier design.
Read more: Topo Designs Travel Bag review
Best Protective Carry On Bag
Osprey Porter 46
Measured Weight: 3.23 lbs | Volume of Main Pack: 46 liters
The Osprey Porter 46 offers up the protective properties of a duffel in a spacious and organized 46-liter travel backpack design. With multiple carry handles and a plush harness system, Osprey created a versatile and ergonomic design that has proven comfortable and easy to carry through the longest TSA lines and largest airports. With multiple access zippers and various pocket sizes, it’s easy to keep your belongings accessible and organized. We love the interior and exterior straps that can cinch up around the interior load and tighten up the protective panels of the outside shell, allowing the space to become more compact.
While the Porter 46 is thoughtfully designed and super useful for various travel purposes, the turtle shell style of the protective panels adds a lot of bulkiness to the bag. It can feel noticeably obtrusive when fully packed. The harness straps maintain solid support around the shoulders even when the bag is full, but it can feel uncomfortable walking through crowds and difficult to sling over your shoulder. The rounded style doesn’t fit under an airplane seat, but you can feel safe checking this bag or throwing it in overhead compartments. Overall, the Porter was a delight to test and a favorite for everything from international travel to long weekend trips to the Coast.
Read more: Osprey Porter 46 review
Why You Should Trust Us
We’ve taken these packs on all sorts of adventures over the years. In addition to visiting far-off lands, we’ve tested them for day-to-day use around town and on our work commutes. Metrics like comfort are slightly more subjective but include more tangible attributes like material type and an assessment of harness systems. We fully research all the features, and then their usability is put to the test. We pack and unpack each bag tens of times and take note of how easy it is to access our quick-grab items, like phones, keys, and wallets. We weigh and measure every bag and treat them roughly to hone in on durability aspects. This review encompasses a large selection of bags that you might use for a wide variety of adventures.
We test for five key metrics:
- Comfort (25% of overall score weighting)
- Features (25% weighting)
- Packing and Accessibility (25% weighting)
- Volume to Weight Ratio (15% weighting)
- Durability (10% weighting)
This review is brought to you by Liz Chamberlain and Hayley Thomas. Liz is no stranger to travel and has worked in the retail gear industry for years. She understands the importance of both form and function and brings a critical eye to this review. Hayley lived in a van for several years, so it’s no secret that travel is a big part of her life. She recently moved back to Denver, CO, and loves city life, but her passions are primarily outdoor-based. You can find Hayley climbing year-round, on the slopes in the winter, and taking long bike rides in the summer — almost always with a backpack in tow.
Analysis and Test Results
Since we couldn’t possibly test every product ever made (even though we may love to), we begin by researching the industry’s top-rated options. After countless hours, we narrowed our search and settled on the best selection. Once we receive our test suite, the real fun begins. We put each pack through rigorous testing under a very critical eye. We walk, bike, and hike countless miles with these packs, take them on road trips, and even travel internationally with them in tow. Over the years, these bags have accompanied us in airplanes of all sizes, racing through airports, crashing at hostels, in taxis, and on ferries.
We test our lineup out in the field and take them back to the “lab” to confirm the metrics we determined during our research phase. We measure and weigh each bag and inspect the design, manufacturing quality, and materials. Then, we top off our testing by packing and unpacking a curated “test load” to better compare across models and help you find your perfect fit.
We are always price-conscious here at GearLab, even when recommending expensive products. We like to give you options for various budget levels. We understand that considering a product’s overall value is an important part of the purchasing process. Our chosen travel packs have a large range of prices. While there may be some correlation between price and performance regarding durability, we don’t find that correlation to be particularly strong. The more glaring difference is that durable, lightweight materials cost slightly more than durable, heavy-weight materials. No huge surprise there. That said, we liked some of the less expensive bags as much as the very costly ones, so we recommend paying closer attention to the specific functionality you seek versus the stand-alone price.
Our current lineup has two major standouts regarding value: the REI Ruckpack 40 and the Patagonia Black Hole 55L duffel. These impressive packs score highly across all our metrics at a price you almost can’t beat. If you like to travel with outdoorsy gear or you want a spacious and multi-functional pack, the Ruckpack 40 is an excellent choice at an affordable price and scores highly in our review.
While Patagonia is not known for being inexpensive, we can’t deny that it produces valuable products. The Black Hole 55L is extremely versatile and can easily be used as your carry-on or a weekend bag you toss in the backseat on your next adventure. It’s the perfect duffel for the one-bag traveler. Now that it has an upgraded harness system for comfort and plenty of daisy chains to tack on water bottles or keys, the value of the durable Black Hole is undeniable.
Have you ever traveled through a foreign country with an extremely uncomfortable bag? There isn’t anything worse than starting a trip with the realization that what you will remember most is how the backpack strap kept digging into your shoulder. A travel-specific backpack that comfortably fits when weighed down with all your belongings is a surefire way to improve happiness and decrease frustration. Anyone who’s traveled knows that travel days can be the most exhausting of the trip. Maybe you’re on a shoestring budget, and your travel day requires schlepping your belongings from hostel to boat dock to bus station to the airport, or maybe you rented a charming Parisian apartment on the seventh floor, only to find that the elevator is either broken or doesn’t exist. In either case, you’ll be grateful that you took the time to buy a comfortable travel backpack.
The REI Ruckpack 40 and Peak Design Travel 45 are top dogs here. The Ruckpack has a robust harness system with breathable mesh along the back and shoulder straps to help keep you cool, making it a great option for backpacking trips and extended carries. The Peak Design bag has ergonomic shoulder straps, a thickly padded adjustable hip belt that can be tucked away when not needed, and an excellent overall structure.
A few features of a comfortable travel backpack are ample yet breathable padding, thoughtful weight distribution, and adjustability. The Tortuga Outbreaker 45L knocks all three must-haves out of the park. The firm Ariaprene foam padding on the back panel, hip belt, and shoulder straps is about a quarter to a half-inch thick. The weight distribution is well thought out, and the harness system is comprised of a thick hip belt, shoulder straps, a sternum strap, and load lifters. The belt sits somewhat high on the hips, allowing your legs and glutes to take the brunt of the weight rather than your lower back. The pack sits closely to your back, and every part of the harness system is highly adjustable, including the placement of the shoulder straps. The hip belt is also easily removable, but we suggest utilizing it to help take the weight off your shoulders if you’re packing a heavy load.
Perhaps most importantly, you should consider how a pack fits your body and how it will feel once packed and taken for a spin. Have a professional help you size it or teach you how to measure and fit it yourself. Remember that comfort is even more paramount if you plan to use your pack on various adventures between travel days. Out of this particular test suite, we would most likely take the REI Ruckpack 40 or the Thule Subterra 34 on shorter backpacking trips, but for multi-night outings into the wild, we would consider something with a heftier frame for more support.
If you want a more standard suitcase-style travel backpack, we found the Cotopaxi Allpa opens wide for easy packing and is impressively comfortable. The Allpa is essentially a large, soft rectangle on your back. It features complete suspension and decent padding, making it one of the more comfortable models in this review. The Topo Global Travel Bag has equally comfortable straps that are protective and provide good support at the waist and chest. The thin, tall shape of the Global Travel keeps your pack sitting upright even when fully loaded.
The ideal travel backpack offers seamless transitions from one leg of your trip to the next, facilitating a fun travel experience and helping transportation go smoothly. Our experience with each pack hinges on how well we match our choice to our specific needs. We touch on the best uses for each pack in this category and highlight features enabling certain types of travel. Be sure to read between the lines of the numerical ratings and award winners to find your perfect pack.
It’s important to think about your needs and use cases when traveling. It’s sometimes easy to pick a bag based on aesthetics, but if it’s missing features you need or is cluttered with features you don’t, it will be more of a nuisance than a useful piece of equipment.
We appreciate the Topo Global bag for both its features and its aesthetics. This bag can be carried three ways and is easy to organize thanks to well-laid-out pockets, external daisy chains, water bottle pockets, and attachments to secure another bag from the Topo Designs line to the exterior (sold separately). However, it may offer too much space and organization for someone who just wants to bring a few clothes and books along with them.
While the Tortuga Outbreaker 45 does not offer any specialty pockets or daisy chains, it still performs highly in this department. The waist belt is adjustable and removable, and the shoulder straps are too. At the top of the back panel, you will find an easy-to-use velcro strap that allows the wearer to modify the height of the shoulder straps. Its uniquely adjustable harness system makes this pack extremely versatile in its fit.
You may want something light, easy, and stylish, like the Cotopaxi Allpa 35. It offers a good clamshell layout with helpful pockets burly material, and comes with a rain cover. And look no further than the Peak Design Travel Bag if you are searching for something to carry your camera gear around. Peak Design sells an assortment of packing cubes for everything from camera gear to shoes to toiletries so you can customize your bag. We love it.
Packing and Accessibility
Imagine that moment when you’re standing at the bus stop on a dirt road in Costa Rica, and it starts to downpour. Not long after, you realize your rain jacket is packed at the bottom of your pack underneath all your dirty underwear. And then you realize you can’t get your jacket out without unloading all the undies into the rapidly growing puddles beside you. We pay special attention to details like water bottle pockets, easy-access laptop sleeves, and designated spots for your phone, passport, keys, and wallet.
Related: How to Pack Luggage Like a Pro
Some packs have panels that zip down to expose the entire contents of the pack so you can grab that rain jacket in a hurry — like the REI Ruckpack. Others have more of a suitcase shape or clamshell design, like the Cotopaxi Allpa, making it easy to pack, unpack, find gear, etc.
Bags with more structured walls, like the Osprey Porter 46, Topo Global Bag, and Peak Design Travel 45, offer accessible pockets and can unzip fully so you can pack or unpack from multiple angles depending on your needs. We consider each bag’s easy-access pockets, compression features, and dividers while testing for this metric. The foam StraightJacket compression padding system on the Porter 46 works wonders for minimizing the overall size of a fully packed bag. However, the restricted access makes it difficult to reach into any pockets besides the one on top.
The Osprey Porter 46 also has an internal compression strap system that helps keep everything in place without adding bulk padding or dividers. The Topo Global Travel Bag is easy to get in and out of, and all the pockets are brightly colored, improving visibility. The REI Ruckpack can front or top-load; with tons of useful organizational pockets, this bag is a pleasure to pack, unpack, and repack.
The divider in the Peak Design pack was one of our favorites. It splits the bag in half longways and consists of two mesh pockets that are accessible and visible from anywhere in the bag. If you don’t want to utilize the wonderful divider, you don’t have to leave it flopping around in the main compartment — there is a small pocket to tuck it away, leaving the main compartment as one big bucket.
Regarding electronics, we find laptop sleeves placed on the back panel are the easiest to access when removing items in the airport security line. The Porter 46, Allpa 35, Topo Global, and Peak Design packs all make removing electronics on the fly quick and simple without compromising security. Considering how your tech-focused gear will fit in a bag is always a good idea. From location to padding to organization, consider what devices you like to have with you and how organized and accessible they will be when you’re on the move. A notable layout we liked is the PowerPocket on the Thule Subterra. This area has a slit for charging cables to feed through with well-conceived interior organization, ideal for smaller electronics.
Volume to Weight Ratio
Weight and capacity are important considerations, whether attempting to meet airline requirements or simply looking at the inevitability of lugging your stuff around. The travel packs we reviewed range significantly in weight and volume. Because of this range, it wasn’t fair to compare the weights of each without accounting for their volume. We devised a simple equation of dividing the volume of each bag by its weight and compared this number across all our tested models. A larger number tells us that a bag offers more capacity per ounce on your back. And, while that means you may end up carrying more stuff (i.e., weight) on your back, you’ll at least know it isn’t the structure of the bag weighing you down.
Analyzing this ratio boosts some smaller models (that lose points in other categories due to the inherent limits of being smaller) and helps to balance our metrics a bit. A higher score in this category may correlate with a higher price point, as stronger, lighter materials are the Holy Grail of travel.
The impressive Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 55L only weighs 2.57 pounds despite its 55-liter capacity. We were especially taken aback by how light this pack is, considering how hefty and durable the material is.
The REI Ruckpack 40 weighs just over two pounds with 40 liters of carrying capacity. The Osprey Fairview 55 follows closely. The fact that the Fairview splits into two bags via the detachable daypack means that you can leave weight behind that you don’t need when heading out for a day trip.
When investing in a pack, it’s always good to know it will last. This is especially true when prepping for longer trips. We looked up each bag’s denier (or D) ratings in this review. The higher the denier rating, the denser the fibers, resulting in a stronger fabric. The only exception is when comparing denier ratings on different materials; for example, 420D nylon is significantly stronger than a polyester fabric with the same rating. The standout in this detail is the Cotopaxi Allpa 35 with 1000-denier fabric on the outside. The Patagonia Black Hole 55 doesn’t specify the denier rating, but it is up there with the Allpa. This adds a higher level of waterproofing as well.
Beyond fabric quality, design has a significant influence on durability. While testing these bags, there were a few questions we kept circling back to. Are there any unnecessarily strained areas of the pack that may cause zippers, buckles, or seams to tear under pressure or heavier weights? Do the zippers or seams look as though they are unevenly tensioned? Do the strap flaps or pockets protect the harness system when tucked away? In general, how does the bag hold up to regular use?
We considered zipper durability and angles where repeated use may cause wear and tear. The Cotopaxi Allpa 35 has zippers that turn right angles, a prominent spot to watch for any strain. Regardless, the bag sports robust YKK zippers that glide smoothly no matter how much the bag gets overstuffed, so we never had any issues. Unfortunately, the mesh pockets of the integrated packing dividers are susceptible to tearing if you put any pointy or catchy objects inside.
The excellently crafted Osprey Porter 46 is also noteworthy, with its protective and useful external compression system. The Peak Design Travel 45 is also notable. This bag has 400D weatherproof nylon, a 900D weatherproof bottom liner, and robust zippers. The Tortuga Outbreaker also stands out with 210D ripstop nylon, PET waterproof membrane, trusty YKK zippers, and robust Duraflex hardware.
Finding the right travel backpack can be almost as tricky as finding your ideal travel companion. Because people travel for various purposes, travel backpacks have a lot of variety. The spectrum is complex and nuanced. Some backpacks lean more toward urban use, some function like a deluxe duffel, and some operate more like a briefcase. This review has helped match you with the best travel backpack for your specific uses.