What is the Best Backpack for Travelling?

With so much choice out there these days, choosing a backpack can seem a difficult task! So what is the best backpack for travelling? I did hours of online research and tried a number of different packs on before buying – that research has paid off as my backpack has done a round-the-world trip plus a number of shorter trips and is still going strong. Yes, it’s a little dirty but there are no tears, broken zips or parts that have gone out of shape.

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There are a number of things you should consider when choosing a backpack:

The Size

This can be broken down into two further categories – the length of the bag and the capacity. The bag must fit your torso – most brands have at least two different lengths and some have adjustable frames which can be a great option.

In terms of capacity, never opt for a bag bigger than you really need. The last thing you want is to feel like you’re going to topple over when it’s on your back. My first backpack 15 years ago was a 65l one which was way too big for my frame (I’m only 5′ 3″) and it became a real pain to lug around. I now use a 55l one – a 42l main backpack + a 13l day pack that can be attached – and it suits me so much better! ( see below for more on my backpack). Certain brands do women’s fit backpacks which are made with slightly shorter torso lengths and narrower shoulder straps, positioned in a way to take into account our curves.

Obviously it all depends on your build as well as the length of your trip but I would say definitely the lighter the better – no one needs more than 70l, even if you’re travelling around the world for a year – and ideally you want to be carrying less than that. This may sound small but packing cubes can really help with this and believe me, you will be so thankful you packed light!

Comfort

As mentioned above, comfort is a major factor in choosing a backpack. As well as carefully considering the size of your bag, you want to opt for a backpack with padded shoulder straps, a hip belt and an internal frame to support the weight on your back. As a rule of thumb, 70% of the weight should be on your hips, 30% on your shoulders.

This is why it’s so important to actually go and try on a number of different backpacks to see how they feel. A durable, well-placed hip belt can make all the difference to how much weight you feel, as can padded straps that sit snugly on your shoulders.

Budget

Whilst you definitely don’t need to spend any more than $250 (£190), be careful as the cheaper ones may not last after being hauled on and off planes, trains and automobiles. They are also going to be less comfortable and are likely to have a heavier frame.

Backpacks in the $100-$200 (£75-£150) range will be perfect. You don’t need to spend any more than that to get a very good quality backpack but you want to spend enough to get something that’s going to last.



Top Loading or Side Opening

Whilst top loaders are fine for less time away, for a long trip I can’t recommend a side opening backpack enough. Rather than a small opening at the top, they fully open up like a suitcase, meaning you can see everything and pack and unpack much more easily and efficiently. If you’re constantly moving around, (especially if staying in hostels or camping where you generally have less space) you will find it so much more convenient.

Although some top loading backpacks do have separable compartments which can make things a little easier, I still personally much prefer a side opener. My first backpack (yes, the same 65l one) was a top loading one – it got so irritating having to unpack everything each time just to find one thing and made it a lot more stressful, especially when having to pack in semi-darkness in a hurry at 6am. Not fun.

Does it have a Detachable Day Pack?

A lot of backpacks come with a detachable day pack and the majority will have side pockets.  Side pockets are really useful for keeping muddy shoes away from all your clean clothes, sticking a pair of flip flops in if you suddenly need to change footwear, keeping a water bottle in etc.

Detachable day packs can be really handy for organisation and ease of packing – it means you can keep all your valuables in your day pack and zip it off if you find you need to leave your bag in a hostel lobby, loaded on a bus etc. The backpack I have has clips so you can actually clip the day pack to the backpack but so it sits on the front of your body. It balances out the weight and is so handy for walking through airports when you need to find your passport and documents easily.

The Material

You want at least to have semi-water resistant material to ensure your belongings don’t get soaked in an unexpected downpour. A lot of backpacks come with a pull-out rain cover made of fully waterproof material which is a must if you’re going to be outside with it for any length of time.



Lockable Zippers

It’s obviously extremely important to be able to lock your backpack, especially if it’s going to be out of your sight and in a public place for any length of time – or on the aeroplane. Make sure each separate compartment or bag has two zips that lock together or that you can put a small padlock through.

Extra Features

All the extra features really come down to personal choice and the sort of possessions that you will be carrying. Some backpacks have specific straps and loops for sleeping bags, cycle helmets, tents, walking poles, torches etc and slits for water bottle straws or headphones.

I have a small loop on my day bag that I find very useful to attach my baseball cap to when I’m not wearing it.  I also really like the fact that the harness and straps on my backpack entirely zip away so the backpack is neat with no loose straps that could get caught, ripped or dirty when in transit.

So what is the Best Backpack for Travelling?

Well again, this is all down to individual preference and you will only know what’s right for you after having tried a few on. If you visit your local outdoors store, they should be able to stuff the backpack with some weight so you can really get an idea of how it would feel.

I personally use the Osprey Farpoint 55 and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s durable, comfortable and has exactly the features I need. As mentioned above, it’s been on a round the world trip plus a number of shorter ones and is still going strong. I actually have two smaller Osprey bags as well as I find them such good quality. I have the Women’s Fit version but it also comes in 2 standard sizes (S/M and M/L) as well as a bigger 70l version.


My favourite features of this backpack are:

  • The shoulder straps and hip belt can be stowed away
  • It has a side handle for ease of carrying
  • It perfectly fits 3 of the slim rectangular packing cubes into it (and you can double up the rows if you need to and fit 6 in)
  • It has compression straps inside making packing even easier
  • It’s weight – it’s got a super light frame
  • The detachable day pack that zips neatly to the main pack and can also be clipped on to sit on the front of your body

You’ll be grateful for having such a compact backpack – I’ve often been the envy of travellers with much bigger/heavier bags! No one can ever believe how I can travel so light. It’s all down to the features of the bag and using packing cubes. My backpack has been dragged, dropped, squashed into tiny spaces, thrown and rolled which is certainly testament to a good quality bag.

If you need ideas of what to pack for a backpacking trip, check out my Travelling Essentials for Backpackers – I have used every one of these products so they are a personal recommendation.

I hope you found this post useful. If you have any more questions or comments, please write them below. Happy travels!

what is the best backpack for travelling

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26 Replies to “What is the Best Backpack for Travelling?”

  1. Hi Louise,

    Great article!

    I was looking for a good backpack to travel to Greece this summer. And I didn’t really know what to consider when choosing a bag. I came to the right place. I finally can find all the information I needed to plan my trip effectively. The Osprey Farpoint 55 seems to be of high quality, and it looks practical too. Apart from doing some hiking, we also want to participate in kayak trips, and I was wondering if this bag would fit these sorts of adventures?
    Does this bag exist in a waterproof model?

    Thank you for this excellent post!

    1. Hi Daniella. This bag would be great for those sort of trips as it’s quite easy to carry round and is compact enough to fit in various places. The detachable day pack would be perfect to take hiking or kayaking for just the day as well. The bag is made of a highly water-resistant material and comes with a rain cover which makes the bag fully waterproof. I hope that helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions – and enjoy your trip to Greece 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing this post – a really useful set of tips for choosing the ideal back pack when travelling with lots of helpful things to consider. The back pack you use sounds ideal for any backpacking adventure. How long was your round the world trip and where abouts did you explore?

    1. Hi. It is indeed a brilliant bag! My round the world trip was 6 months – all the places I’ve explored I’ve written about on my site

  3. This is a great article about backpacks that I had not seen before.

    I especially like the backpack that you reference in your article and agree that it is probably the best option for all of the situations that you described in your well written article. It looks like it fits well to the body and is very compact but sturdy for long trips and trekking and would probably fit well in the overhead storage area on an airplane.

    I’m wondering if there is some way to attach an alarm system to it that would alert you on your mobile phone if someone tried to tamper with it if you leave it sitting somewhere. There is so much that can be done to integrate mobile with security, especially for travelers.

    Happy trails on your next travel venture and thanks again for an informative article. – Kel

    1. Thanks Kel, I’m glad you enjoyed my article. There would definitely be somewhere to attach an alarm system to it as it has a lot of hooks, loops and pockets. And you’re right, without the day pack attached, it fits well into an overhead compartment on a plane. I can’t recommend this backpack enough!

  4. Hi Louise,

    Backpacking is really not my style, but I’m intrigued to know about a good backpack that is suitable for backpackers in general. In Indonesia, where I live now, we’ve got a local brand that a lot of people look for anytime they need this backpack so I’m not sure whether there are some other options out there. 😛

    Great read, thank you for sharing! 🙂

  5. Thank you for the amazing suggestions on what to look for in a backpack. I’m currently trying to find a new one and this will give me a great step up and finding the right one

  6. I don’t think I like back packs. The traditional bags does it for me. This is a good post however. If I were to go for back packs, comfort would be my number one priority.

  7. This sounds like a fabulous backpack! I always like to have a good one when I travel. Granted, I don’t think I’d ever go backpacking, so I’m not sure if I’d need one this big, but I can see my daughter doing it. She’s more adventurous than I am.

  8. Am not into backpack travel however, my friends do! I will share this to them along with new backpack bag I got as a present for them 😀

  9. Such a helpful post. I will take your suggestions in mind. I was hoping to buy a new one, now I think I know what to choose.

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