The Secret About the Best Travel Backpack


best travel backpack carry on 2019 - doesn't matter! What does? Travelpack rucksacks that qualify as a small backpack - like tortuga backpack and osprey farpoint

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best travel backpack carry on disclaimer for budget travel blog half the clothes for post discussing travelpack rucksacks that qualify as a small backpack - like tortuga backpack and osprey farpoint

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Yes, a backpack is one of the most important gear items for a RTW trip. So which one is the best?

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  There is no best travel backpack!  The RTW best backpack wars rage on.  But every travel backpack has both awesome and annoying bits.

I’ve combined my travel experience and research ninja skills to bring you the top RTW travel backpack options.

Best Size for a Travel Backpack

Small backpack size is the most critical “feature.” If you get that part right, you don’t need to over-stress about the bells and whistles.

Which small backpack is perfect for global travel? We all prefer different features, have different body sizes and needs, etc. The best travel backpack is the one that meets most your travel bag priorities! (Read about How to Pick a Good Travel Backpack.)

These are the best backpack for RTW travel 2018 - from the writer who brought you the most thorough RTW backpack list ever!

For traveling, I recommend a pack between 25 and 45 liters depending on your size. Packs in this range have plenty of room for gear, can fit my entire RTW packing list, and won’t break your back. For tall individuals with extra-large clothes I’ve reviewed a few 50-liter backpacks so you carry everything.

Remember, veteran travelers (me included!) predominately recommend traveling lighter. You can do it! You will love it!

Travel Backpack Reviews

Because size really matters, my reviews are broken into three size categories:.

Travel backpacks you can:

In a hurry?
Here are my top picks:

Osprey Far Point & Fair View
$160
Most comfortable backpack
40 Liter
Life time warranty
Men's and women's version
Ergonomically designed
Timbuk2 Wander Pack 40
$180
Most water resistant backpack
40 Liter
Life time warranty
Water resistant compartments and fabric
Completely Unzips for easy packing
Pacsafe Vibe 40L Security Backpack
$140
Most secure travel backpack
40 Liter
Comes in smaller 30L version
Slash resistant eXomesh material for security
RFID protective pocket (credit card and identity security)


Travel Backpacks You Can Definitely Carry-On (25-30L)

The following backpacks are great for minimalist traveling. They include backpacks great for women and petite travelers. Not only will you definitely be able to carry on these packs, they’ll keep you from over packing. They are all extremely lightweight and comfortable to wear for long periods of time.


Osprey porter 30 with compression straps

Black Osprey Porter 30

Black Osprey Porter 30, with a hip belt and sternum strap, for weight distribution and support

Osprey Porter 30

The Osprey porter 30 is a bag I own and use almost every day – whether I’m slow traveling or bopping around to a new place every few days. I love that it’s a backpack with a lifetime warranty from a company with a reputation for high quality gear. The Porter 30 completely unzips like a clamshell making packing and finding your gear easy. The hip belt and sternum strap ensure comfort by balancing weight. I love the bag’s snag-free option: the straps completely zip into the pack for smooth loading into airplane overheads, busses, tuktuks, cargo holds, etc. Some people find the straps hard to adjust; I haven’t had that problem. I personally love the well-padded straps, but some people find them bulky, especially on hot days. The compression straps make my bag more compact and allowing me to carry extra gear as needed. Women smaller than me (5’7″ 150lbs.) might find the bag a bit big. The Osprey is so well-loved, it’s worth the $120 to try and maybe return. With a lifetime warranty, I’ll use this bag for the rest of my life.


Osprey Porter 30

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Pros
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Inexpensive
  • Completely opens up
  • 30L (carry-on size)
  • Suitcase conversion option

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Cons
  • Padding can trap heat
  • No slender profile
  • One size fits most


North Face Surge Women’s is one of the best backpacks for those traveling light. It holds 30L and contains a laptop sleeve that fits a 15-inch device. Digital nomads love the many additional pockets for other electronics. The Surge is one of the nine North Face backpacks endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association. Those who love to hydrate might be disappointed the bag doesn’t have a large water bottle compartment. While I usually recommend looking for packs that unzip completely, for a bag this size I don’t worry about that feature. If you tend to be disorganized, you might care, however. Overall this is a great backpack for petite travelers attempting to pack light. – starting at $130

North Face Surge

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Pros
  • 30L (carry-on size)
  • Inexpensive
  • Very light
  • Multiple pockets for storage

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Cons
  • No hip belt
  • Requires organized packing
  • Won’t fit tall/large humans


The REI Ruckpack 28, is another great small traveling pack. The pack has a well-placed 15-inch laptop compartment. The locking zippers keep the contents secure. However, there are no storm flaps over zippers. Water resistance requires using built-in pack cover during rain. Like the North Face Surge, it’s a top loader, but also has side zipper access. A built-in rigid foam backplate makes this one of the top backpacks for traveling. The plate adds support, keeps contents in place, and keeps your back cool and comfortable. This backpack is comfortable with 20 lbs packed into it. And it’a affordable – starting at $99.

REI Ruck pack 28

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Pros
  • Backplate for support
  • Inexpensive
  • Comfortable at 20 lbs
  • Side zipper for easy packing
  • Carry-on size

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Cons
  • For minimalists only
  • Requires pro-active weatherproofing


Front of Pacsafe Venture X30 in black, showing the external pockets

Pacsafe Venture X30

Black Pacsafe Venture 30 liter backpack hip belt and sternum strap

Pacsafe Venture X30

Pacsafe Venturesafe X30 – This anti-theft adventure travel pack is perfect for tech-enthusiasts. The Venturesafe is one of the most secure backpacks, acting almost like a safe. It contains an RFID safe pocket to protect your identity and financial security while traveling. Metal weaved into the fabric protects against slash and grab in large crowds. The built-in rain cover keeps devices dry. A dual release security buckle acts as a leash to secure this tech travel backpack when not wearing it. The hip belt and sternum strap allow for weight distribution across your body. Some find these tech backpack features overly complicated, but the Venturesafe backpack is perfect for digital nomads. The 2-year warranty gives you plenty of time to make a final decision. Depending on color, the price ranges from $120 – $170.

Pacsafe Venture X30

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Pros
  • RFID pocket
  • Slash resistant
  • Rain cover
  • 2 year warranty
  • Super secure
  • Carry-on size

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Cons
  • Features add weight
  • Features increase price
  • Overly-complex (for trusting travelers)


Black water resistant Patagonia black hole 28 liter backpack front

Patagonia Black Hole 28

Patagonia Black hole 28 with the top pocket un-zipped displaying the interior

Patagonia Black hole 28

Patagonia Black Hole 25 is a great small travel backpack. The bluesign technologies fabric adheres to sustainable production practices. While the material is water resistant, I wouldn’t advise using it regularly in heavy-rain as it has no zipper storm flaps. The Black Hole is a top-loader, which shouldn’t be a problem for a 25-liter pack. The pack also has a water bottle pocket. With no hip belt and only a small sternum strap, the pack is definitely for minimalist travelers . Patagonia is committed to donating 1% of their profits to environmental protection. You can feel good about owning an environmentally friendly backpack for $90 – $130 (depending on color).

Black Hole 25

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Pros
  • Water resistant fabric
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Great mobility
  • Carry-on size

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Cons
  • For minimalists only
  • No hip belt
  • Requires organized packing



Travel Backpacks You Can Usually Carry-On (35-45L)

These travel backpacks are larger and provide more storage. The ability to hold more gear and provide more features means extra weight overall. All but one pack listed here have hip belts and sternum straps for support and unzip completely for easy packing.


Women’s Osprey 40 liter Backpack, showing the hip belt sternum strap and outside pockets

Women’s Osprey Fairview 40

Mens Osprey Far Point 40 liter backpack in black

Black Osprey Far Point 40

The Osprey Fair View 40L is the women’s backpack version of the Osprey Farpoint 40. Both packs unzip and open like a suitcase. The external storage features – mesh pockets and straps – combine to accommodate everything from water bottles to tripods. As expected for a travel backpack this size, both have hip belts and sternum straps. Both convert to suitcase mode, although this is a bag feature I rarely find convenient. The thing I like least about this bag is the laptop compartment far from the body – an ergonomic no-no. Despite that, these packs are considered some of the most comfortable backpacks for traveling. The women’s version has narrower straps and a wider hip belt to best fit the typical female frame. And of course both bags come with the loved Osprey lifetime warranty.

Osprey Farpoint and Fair View 40

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Pros
  • Affordable
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Ergonomically designed for each gender
  • Accommodates many packing styles

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Cons
  • Few external pockets for organizing
  • Laptop compartment farthest from body
  • Invites overpacking


Black water resistant Timbuk2 40 liter travel backpack

Timbuk2 Wader pack

Un-zipped Wander pack Timbuk2 40 liter backpack with shoe compartment

Timbuk2 Wanderpack

Timbuk2 Wander Pack is one of the most water resistant backpacks on the market. Just like Osprey, Timbuk2 offers a lifetime warranty. This travel backpack is great for those headed to wetter climates or seeking a tech backpack. Uniquely, the bag offers a shoe-sized wet pocket to either contain wet/dirty gear or double protect things you need to keep dry. As is common, it converts to suitcase mode (straps zip into the bag) and completely unzips for easy packing. The bag does have a sternum strap. They make up for the lack of hip belt with four compression straps to keep the bag slim and close to your back. Like many water resistant fabrics, the bag material scuffs easily, but that could be a perk for those who love to have their pack tell a story. The $180 will be worth it to those shopping for a tech travel backpack.

Timbuk2 Wander pack

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Pros
  • Water resistant
  • Spare wet pocket
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Accommodates many packing styles

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Cons
  • Features increase price
  • Material prone to battle scars
  • Invites overpacking


Black and grey Tortuga setout side view with hip belt and sternum strap

Tortuga Setout

Tortuga Setout unzipped like a clam shell for maximum storage

Tortuga Setout

Tortuga Setout 45L is one of the lightest backpacks of it’s size, which has been historically uncommon for Tortuga. Weighing only 3.3 lbs empty means an overall lighter load. As usual, the pack completely unzips, has water-resistant fabric, and quality fasteners. The hip belt and sternum strap are padded for swank comfort. When buckled, the Tortuga harness is the most comfortable harness I’ve ever worn in my entire backpack life. Some people love the clean lines that come from eliminating external pockets, while others miss the ability to organize on the go. The travel backpack meets the maximum legal carry on the limit (MLC) for most airlines. What you save in baggage fees will more than make up what you’ll spend to get one of the top quality travel backpacks. Tortuga offers a 30-day refund, so those interested in this pack can have no regrets for trying it out.

Tortuga Setout

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Pros
  • Most comfortable harness on market
  • MLC
  • Light for its size
  • 3o day refund
  • Hip belt pockets
  • Sleek profile
  • Accommodates many packing styles

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Cons
  • Quality increases price
  • Few external pockets for organizing
  • Invites overpacking


Minnal carry on in black shown of back

Minaal carry on

Minnal carry completely unzipped from the bottom with internal pockets

Minaal carry on

Minaal 2,0 Carry-on backpack is a great option for traveling light at only 35 liters. Minaal is proud of its sleek design with few exterior doodads. They make up for the lack of exterior organizing features with plenty of internal compartments. Uniquely, the hip belt is optional. Of course this travel backpack converts to suitcase mode and completely unzips to make packing easy. I love that the laptop compartment keeps my precious cargo suspended off the ground and away from side and top impacts. This tech-friendly backpack also comes with a rain cover. Small-framed travelers sometimes find the bag bulky, especially as it lacks compression straps. One water bottle pocket user wasn’t a fan of the bungee strength, but everyone else has been happy. This $299 pack is great for minimalist traveling. While expensive, hardcore travelers are grateful for the huge number of features in a reasonable pack size.

Minaal Carry-on

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Pros
  • Feature-rich
  • Internal organizers
  • Great size/feature compromise
  • Tech-friendly
  • Sleek profile
  • Minimalist

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Cons
  • Quality increases price
  • Bulky on small frames


Patagonia Black Hole MLC is the only travel backpack that fits a 17-inch laptop. The backpack is made of TPU-film laminate and a DWR (durable water repellent) to keep contents dry. Like the Timbuk2, a water resistant compartment can be used to keep sensitive gear more secure from water or to keep wet and dirty gear separated from the rest of your kit. Like other bags, this travel backpack completely unzips for easy packing and unpacking and converts to suitcase mode. The lack of hip belt on this 45L pack risks it being bulky and heavy, especially for smaller-framed people. Part of its $199 price tag goes to environmental protection so the world’s playgrounds last as long as your pack will.

Black Hole MLC

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Pros
  • 17-inch laptop capacity
  • Water resistant shell
  • Water resistant compartment
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Accommodates many packing styles
  • MLC

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Cons
  • Quality increases price
  • Invites overpacking
  • No hip belt


The North Face Overhaul comes with a lifetime guarantee. I love the fleece-lined pockets that protect sunglasses and phone screens. All bags should have these! As is popular for bags in this class, a water-resistant compartment can either protect equipment or keep wet/dirty gear separate. Like many travel backpacks, this comes with a sternum strap and hip belt to provide support. While the Overhaul converts to suitcase mode, it does not completely open like a suitcase. Less organized travelers might struggle. Security-conscious travelers didn’t like the inability to lock the zippers. The majority of reviewers found the pack comfortable. At $160, it’s well within expected price and features.

North Face Overhaul 40L

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Pros
  • Fleece-lined pockets
  • Affordable
  • Lifetime guarantee
  • Water-resistant pocket
  • Accommodates many packing styles

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Cons
  • Requires organized packing
  • Invites overpacking
  • Can’t lock metal zipper parts


Black pacsafe vibe 40 with sternum strap and hip belt

Pacsafe Vibe 40

Interior of Pacsafe Vibe 40 liter backpack un-zipped

Pacsafe Vibe 40

Pacsafe Vibe 40L is exceptionally light, especially given the eXomesh Slashguard stainless steel wire mesh embedded into the fabric. The RFID pocket provides identity and financial protection. In the name of security this travel backpack only has one exterior stretch pocket for your personal effects. The backpack unzips completely for easy packing. A hip belt and sternum strap increase comfort. Some find the harness lacking in comfort – something to consider if security is not a big priority for you. This pack is great for digital nomads looking for a large travel backpack with plenty of security. For $140, this pack will keep your devices safe on your travels.


Pacsafe Vibe 40L

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Pros
  • Super secure
  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • RFID protective Pocket
  • Accommodates many packing styles

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Cons
  • Harness uncomfortable for some
  • Limited exterior pockets
  • Overly-complex (for trusting travelers)



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Travel Backpacks You Can Sometimes Carry-On (50-54L)

These backpacks are extra large and have more storage than most people need. I recommend using these backpacks if you are planning on taking a lot of equipment or are an especially large individual. However, if you can go with a smaller backpack by packing efficiently, your back will thank you.


Front of a Tls mother load 54 liter backpack in blue with no hip belt

Ebags Tls mother lode 54

Un-zipped Tls mother load with orange interior showing its 54 liter size

Ebags Tls mother lode 54

EBags TLS Mother Lode Convertible is a very large travel backpack. At 54L, it’s the largest one I’m willing to review. It sometimes meets carry-on requirements, especially if it’s not fully packed. Four compression straps help keep the bag slim. A sternum strap helps balance out the weight, but I find the hip belt inadequate… especially for such a large bag. It unzips completely for easy packing and converts to a duffel. The orange interior lining will help find your gear more easily, unless you own lots of orange things! The pack is also water resistant to light rain. This is a great travel backpack for large framed people looking to travel on a budget as the pack starts at $130.

TLS Motherlode 54L

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Pros
  • Affordable
  • Contrast lining
  • Compression options
  • Accommodates most packing styles

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Cons
  • Doesn’t always meet carry-on limits
  • Invites overpacking
  • Ineffective hip belt


Deuter Transit 50 liter travel backpack with detachable day pay shown

Deuter Transit 50

Back of the Deuter transit 50 liter backpack with sternum strap and padded hip belt

Deuter Transit 50

Deuter Transit 50L is actually two backpacks in one – a large main bag and a small removable daypack. The main bag can be converted to a duffel style with a shoulder strap, but only a large framed person would be comfortable with that loaded configuration. Many people have gotten away with this bag as a carry-on, using the small daypack under the seat in front of them. Others have been asked to check it, though. As you’d expect at this price point, the pack completely unzips for easy packing, has a separate shoe compartment, and features a hip belt and sternum strap. There are no external water bottle pockets, but I recommend a collapsible water bottle anyway. If you are tall or need to carry lots of gear, this high-quality pack is one of the best bargains at $180.


Deuter Transit 50

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Pros
  • Removable day pack
  • Accommodates many packing styles
  • Unzips completely
  • Designated shoe compartment
  • Affordable given quality and size

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Cons
  • Doesn’t always meet carry-on limits
  • No water bottle pouch
  • Invites overpacking



My Travel Backpacks:

I used to carry a North Face Borealis (28L), because I did what I think everyone should do: use what you already have! It served me well, despite taking a beating through dozens of countries.

For awhile, I carried the Tortuga Homebase (32L). I like it and still use it sometimes. It holds its shape best if you max it out.

A friend just gave me the Osprey Porter 30. I’m loving it. I’ve tested it through multiple travel scenarios and am probably wearing it right now!


Final Thoughts

Remember… the most important “feature” is the size of the bag. Stay small! Pick the backpack features you care most about, and ignore everything else.

♣ Safe Travels!

Chime in below and tell us all which travel backpack you love (… or loathe)!

Need to know how to shop for a bag? Read How to Pick a Good Travel Backpack
What should you take? I explain the pros and cons of every item on my RTW Packing List.



13 comments

  • September 23, 2018 at 8:11 am

    I’m torn. Esteem porter 30 or farpoint 40….farpoint seems like the most popular of the two but oddly enough I Find it very ugly when worn (especially when full)…

    • September 30, 2018 at 5:39 pm

      I love the Porter 30. I personally find that I’m happier with less and that I just fill additional space with stuff I never use. So if you think the bigger bag is ugly, that’s another vote for staying small!

  • August 30, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    Wow I didnt know that there’s so many backpacks to choose from. I can tell though that most of them are well equipped for traveling.

    • August 30, 2016 at 7:08 pm

      I’m always finding even more. Really to research the Deuters soon!

  • August 30, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    OMG I think you covered every backpack scenario for most people. Such a great roundup of the good and the bad (in the case of mountain warehouse ventura). Will be bookmarking this post to refer people to, well done!

    • August 30, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it, Sara. I dream of organizing it a bit more for side-by-side comparisons of packs. So many words to write, so little time. Someday, maybe! 🙂

  • August 28, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    I don’t do RTW travel, but I’m a minimalist packer none the less, and I love the Paladin and Porter packs for keeping everything tidy and compact, and not allowing for overpacking, while at the same time allowing for cramming just one more thing in the pack when need arises. You really can’t go wrong with either of those packs.

    • August 28, 2016 at 6:11 pm

      Have you used both packs? Last-minute or one-off cramming is what I love about my Borealis – being able squeeze stuff in the external bottom straps has been a lifesaver!

  • August 28, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    We have just come make home after one year of full-time travel and our Deuter backpacks were fantastic and were able to hold everything we need in all our travels. I do like the looks of the Minaal backpack you listed.

  • August 28, 2016 at 1:40 am

    This is quite a comprehensive list of backpacking bags. I’m not a backpacker, but I really do like carry something small and efficient. It’s so much easier to travel if you’re traveling light. Thanks for the info!

  • August 28, 2016 at 1:09 am

    Ahhh so many good bags to choose from. For me, buying bags is always a hit and miss. I’ve read so many good reviews about certain bags only to be disappointed with them once I try it out. Thanks for your honest tips.

    • August 28, 2016 at 7:06 am

      Amen! I think any bag is bound to have bits that aren’t amazing. I feel like size makes or breaks 80% of the satisfaction, hey.

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