If your aim is to travel light then our pick of the best sling bags, backpacks, totes and crossbody bags will ensure you can do just that
Whether you’re planning a long-haul adventure, a stylish city getaway, a festival abroad or a rainy commute, there’s a travel bag available to suit. But how do you choose the best one?
This will largely depend on where you’re headed, and what you’re planning to pack. Those who need only a few items will prefer a compact option that’s light and easy to manoeuvre through crowds, while tech-focused travellers will be looking for bags that are both padded and waterproof. Adventurers heading off the beaten track will want a bag that’s designed to keep items safe and secure, with plenty of compartments for maximum organisation. Personal preference plays a part, too: do you want a bag that looks good, or something that’s functional?
To help you choose the right travel bag for you, we’ve looked at backpacks, totes, crossbody bags and more. Before you read our reviews of the best bags available right now, check out our handy buying guide for insights into the key considerations when choosing a new travel bag.
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How to choose the best travel bag for women
What types of travel bags are there?
Virtually any bag can constitute a travel-worthy one, but the size, shape and overall style of bag you opt for will depend on the type of trip you’re taking. A travel bag that conforms to airline cabin requirements is the most beneficial option for a city break or short international trip, so all the bags included in this roundup are carry-on friendly.
A wheeled suitcase with either a hard or soft shell will be a common choice for city breaks or a week away, since it’s easy to manoeuvre through airports and along flat surfaces.
Backpacks are a versatile option for more adventurous travels, spreading the weight evenly across your back while keeping your hands free.
Crossbody bags again allow for your hands to remain free, and are great for keeping your belongings secure in crowded places. Sling bags can also easily make the transition from day to night, eliminating the need for packing a few different bags.
Duffel-style bags can be carried on the shoulder or via handles, and their cylindrical shape makes them a good choice for stuffing beneath seats on trains and planes.
Tote bags offer a generous capacity and are usually structureless, meaning they can be easily compressed when they’re empty or half-full.
What features should I look for in a travel bag for women?
For travelling, you want a bag that delivers security, accessibility and pockets – lots of pockets! Pay particular attention to the following:
Material – Your main options here are soft, hard and waterproof. While most bags aren’t able to be fully submerged in water, a bag made of a water-resistant material will prove handy for inclement weather and will be durable, too. This will also be the best choice if you plan to carry tech and electronics. Canvas and cotton are lightweight and flexible but are also more absorbent, while leather is sturdiest but will be heavier when the bag is empty.
Security – There are a variety of closures available: zippers, buckles, magnets or popper fasteners. Regardless of type, you want a bag that can be closed securely (even when it’s full to capacity) while also proving tricky for sticky fingers to burrow their way in.
Pockets – Separate compartments are super handy for keeping items organised: a padded section for your laptop, an internal zip pocket for any valuables (we’re thinking phone, wallet and passport, for example), side pockets for water bottles, and an easy-access outer pocket for those items you need to keep to hand.
Handles or straps – A variety of handles will mean you can switch carrying styles, which will bring relief when one part of your body gets tired. It’s important to check whether carry straps are made from a durable material, if they’re padded and if they’re comfortable to hold for long periods of time.
READ NEXT: The best lightweight wheeled luggage
How we test travel bags for women
At Expert Reviews, we know how important hands-on testing is when recommending products. We’ve put these bags through the wringer, checking the seams and closures for their strength and durability, then assessing the ease and security of access.
We fill each bag to its capacity with an array of clothes, shoes and electronics, and test the resulting weight and manoeuvrability, including how comfortable the bag is to carry. Finally, we use each bag for outings of various lengths to determine how well it performs overall in real-life settings.
The best travel bags for women to buy in 2023
1. Ethnotek Premji Pack 20: Best travel backpack for daily use
Price when reviewed: £87 | Check price at Ethnotek
The Ethnotek Premji is a slimline, lightweight backpack that offers decent capacity thanks to its myriad of zips, clips and straps. We’ve used our Premji Pack as our favourite catch-all backpack for years, and aside from a little compression of the shoulder strap’s padding, there’s no noticeable wear or tear at all to the bag’s heavy-duty ballistic nylon material.
You’ll find a padded laptop pocket inside the main section, while the front panel unzips to reveal different-sized pockets for notebooks, pens and all manner of flat objects. There’s an elasticated water bottle pocket on one side and a slip pocket on the other for quick-access items. Useful snap-lock double-sided straps let you load up either side of the bag with yoga mats, scrunched up jackets, camera tripods or any other bulky items, too.
In addition, the beautiful designs on offer are a result of Ethnotek’s partnerships with local artisan communities from Vietnam, India, Guatemala, Ghana and Bali, who design each of the patterned textiles that make the bags unique. The Raja Pack (£219) even allows for interchangeable front panels, enabling you to switch out the design in a flash.
Key spec – Dimensions: 28 x 48 x 14cm; Capacity: 20l; Pockets: 9; Colourways: 20+; Material: 90% recycled PET, 10% cotton
2. Florrie & Bird Leather Sling Bag: Best sling bag for travel
Price when reviewed: £33 | Check price at Florrie & Bird
Sling bags are a perfect option for festivals, dog walks, plane travel or even an evening out – but they need to be comfortable, lightweight and spacious enough to hold the essentials. The Florrie & Bird sling bag is a lovely little option that wins extra points for its versatility, since its design means it can be worn over the shoulder, as a crossbody or even around the waist as a bumbag.
At first glance, the compact design doesn’t appear to offer much space inside. Nevertheless, we still managed to fit in a phone, slim wallet and a few extras such as keys, earbuds and gum without issue. An internal zip pocket is useful, the gold hardware on the outer zip eye-catching, and the bag itself is made from gorgeously butter-soft leather that sits comfortably against your side or hip, or under your armpit.
Arriving with a thin leather strap in a matching colour (which can extend to a maximum of 100cm), there are plenty of interchangeable material straps in different patterns on offer, too. If you’re in need of a little more room, the standard sling bag is also available in large.
Key spec – Dimensions: 24 x 12.5 x 3.5cm; Pockets: 2; Colourways: 17+; Material: Leather
3. Mous Extreme Commuter Backpack: Best stylish bag for tech travellers
Price when reviewed: £220 | Check price at Mous
If you travel with tech – as many now do – you’ll probably be looking for a bag that can adequately protect your laptop, camera equipment, chargers and precious backup hard drives. Enter Mous and its “extreme” backpack that’s designed for keeping technology safe.
Thickly padded on all sides, the sturdiness of the bag is immediately apparent. It’s made with impact-absorbing AirFoam technology, meaning a dropped bag won’t result in damage to any electronics stored inside. Although the front “Fidlock” magnetised clasp did take some getting used to, it’s a satisfying, secure-feeling mechanism that brings reassurance.
There are tons of pockets and compartments of different sizes to help with organisation, including a zip pocket lined with microfibre up top, a hidden compact pocket behind the shoulder straps and a padded laptop sleeve that can be accessed independently from the zippered main compartment.
Price-wise, this backpack is certainly an expensive option at £250, but it’s a seriously sturdy bag that promises durability – there’s even a limited lifetime warranty of 25 years. A slightly smaller 18-litre version is priced at £220.
Key spec – Dimensions: 48 x 33 x 17cm; Capacity: 25l; Pockets: 12; Colourways: 1; Material: Carbonated nylon and a PU coating
4. Chrome Ruckas Tote: Best versatile tote bag for women
Price when reviewed: £95 | Check price at Chrome Industries
Those who hoard canvas tote bags for their travels will love the Chrome Ruckas Tote, which easily converts into a backpack with just a quick pull on the handle straps, but otherwise lays neatly flat, whether against your side or packed inside a larger suitcase.
Weighing just 0.5kg when empty, the bag can hold a surprising 27 litres – although since the straps aren’t padded, that maximum capacity may feel a little heavy on the shoulders.
The interior offers three compartments of reducing size, including a padded sleeve for a laptop, while a spacious and zippable front pocket on the outside is accompanied by two side pockets.
All three colourways (white, black and pale green) come with the same bright yellow interior, making it easy to see what you’ve packed inside, and the bag is made from weather-resistant recycled poly liners to keep your possessions safe and dry.
Key spec – Dimensions: 40 x 29 x 13cm; Capacity: 27l; Pockets: 6; Colourways: 3; Material: Recycled poly liners
5. Fjällräven Kånken Weekender: Best lightweight 3-in-1 travel bag for women
Price when reviewed: £185 | Check price at Fjällräven
We love the structure-less design of the Kånken Weekender bag from Fjällräven. Despite being roomy enough to hold 30 litres, it barely weighs anything, and the oblong shape can easily be squished down when not in use – or when small spaces require it.
The Weekender bag is divided into three sections: a padded laptop pocket, a spacious central compartment and a separate zipped area, perfect for splitting up clean and dirty laundry or storing a pair of shoes. There’s also an expandable outer front pocket with a key hook, which can easily hold useful quick-access items such as your phone, wallet and passport.
Thanks to the variety of straps, you can choose to distribute the bag’s weight in three ways: via two holdall grab handles, a removable crossbody duffel-style strap, or thin shoulder straps that can be secured away with popper fasteners when not in use. It’s weather-resistant against any sudden storms and can easily be hand-washed if it gets a bit dingy (as the lighter colourways are prone to do).
As a lightweight but still hard-wearing bag, it’s certainly weekend-worthy, and it also meets Ryanair and EasyJet carry-on requirements, which is always a benefit!
Key spec – Dimensions: 44 x 30 x 20cm; Capacity: 30l; Pockets: 5; Colourways: 6; Material: Polyester and cotton