Have pack, will travel! Our guide will help you find the best backpack for every situation
Maybe you’re old enough to remember when travel luggage meant a half-ton suitcase that gave you a hernia for every passport stamp. Backpacks were for hikers and wheels were for cars. Real travellers had suitcases and bruises.
Thankfully, those days are gone and travel backpacks are everywhere, sometimes even with wheels. They’re the ideal luggage format, whether you’re hiking or honeymooning or something in between. Hands-free, weatherproof, customisable, dotted with secure zipped pockets, and far more stylish than the towering crusty packs of old stereotypes.
Here, we’ve rounded up the best backpacks for different types of traveller, from business trippers to interrailers. Before we reveal our favourites, here’s a quick buying guide.
READ NEXT: Best suitcase
How to choose the best travel backpack for you
How big should a travel backpack be?
How long is a piece of string? It really depends what you’ll be using it for. A camping holiday will call for a backpack somewhat bigger than, say, a work trip. Here’s a rough guide.
10-25l: Daypack size. Perfect for keeping your cash, passport, phone and other essentials on you as you wander around a new city for the day.
30-40l: Ideal for a long weekend away, or a work trip where you need your laptop and a change of clothes. A 40-litre pack could be big enough for a whole week if you’re not expecting much change in the weather.
50-60l: This is a suitcase-sized backpack, big enough to accommodate all you need for a week away. Unlikely to be small enough to keep with you on a plane, though. Argos has a handy carry-on size guide here.
70l+: Difficult to carry unless you’re tall or an experienced hiker, so look for detachable trolleys and wheels to help you lug it around.
What other qualities make a good travel backpack?
Lots of compartments: Most of the bags in our rundown have a secondary zipped compartment at the top. But also look for extra pockets, laptop sleeves and securely zipped compartments inside and even on the straps. These all help you organise and access key items such as your passport, phone and travel documents.
Multiple access points: Don’t bother with a cheap duffel bag that only has one opening at the top. All your stuff will sink to the bottom and you’ll never be able to find your socks. The best travel packs have multiple “in” points, including side and front zips that open like a suitcase.
Security features: Look for zips that you can padlock and access points that lie against your back while you’re wearing the pack.
Water-resistance: All the packs in our rundown have a water-resistant finish to help protect your belongings when the heavens inevitably open. Most aren’t fully waterproof, though, so look for packs that include an additional waterproof cover.
Ergonomic design: Backpacks are made to be carried. Even 30-litre weekend packs should have a padded back, broad padded shoulder straps and an optional chest strap to help spread the load and protect your back. Straps should be adjustable to fit. Larger packs should have an internal frame and a hip belt.
READ NEXT: Best camera bags
The best travel backpacks you can buy in 2022
1. Osprey Transporter Zip 30: Best travel backpack for city breaks
Price: £60 | Buy now from Blacks
The Transporter Zip’s outer shell is made from TPU-treated nylon that Osprey also uses for its hardcore expedition bags. It’s tough and water-resistant but also lightweight and sleek, almost leathery.
The main bucket-style compartment is Tardis-like in its spaciousness, and there are oodles of smaller compartments to organise your stuff. These include laptop and tablet sleeves, a pocket for your glasses and internal water bottle pockets that you can reach from outside using the smooth, robust zips.
Most importantly, Osprey’s bag is comfortable enough to wear all day. The back is padded and the shoulder straps are broad, padded and adjustable. There’s also a chest strap and detachable hip belt for extra support. Hard to fault.
Key specs – Capacity: 30l; Main material: Nylon (water-resistant); Hand luggage suitable: Yes; Colours available: 3; Weight (empty): 990g
2. Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45 Econyl: Best travel backpack for business trips
Price: £152 | Buy now from Amazon
Security specialist Pacsafe has festooned its 45-litre backpack with anti-theft features such as lockable zips, a lockable steel cable that wraps around the bag, and even steel mesh slash-proof fabric. Your laptop, prototypes and top-secret documents are definitely safe in there.
Pacsafe’s safety concerns extend to the environment, too. We love that the bag’s ‘Econyl’ nylon outer shell is made from recycled plastic like discarded fishing nets. It’s water-resistant and easy to clean, too, so should last years.
The Venturesafe EXP45 is at the top end of pack sizes that meet cabin bag restrictions, so be careful not to overfill it. The side compression straps help to squash it down to size. It also gets rather heavy when fully packed so you’ll definitely need the padded hip belt to help spread the weight.
Key specs – Capacity: 45l; Main material: Recycled nylon (water-resistant, slash-proof); Hand luggage suitable: Yes (but check airline limits); Colours available: 1; Weight (empty): 1.81kg
3. Lowe Alpine AT Roll-On 40: Best travel backpack with wheels
Price: £133 | Buy now from Amazon
There are quite a few backpacks-with-wheels on the market, but Lowe’s clever cabin bag was the best we tried, thanks to its smooth, sturdy wheels and wide, rubbery trolley handle that made it easy to pull along at speed, even on rough ground.
The lightweight aluminium trolley is easy to fold down and works much like a standard backpack frame when you want to don the detachable harness. The harness doesn’t feel like an afterthought – the straps and back are padded – but you wouldn’t want to walk miles with it on either. It’s a travel hybrid, not a rambler’s rucksack.
Key specs – Capacity: 40l; Main material: Nylon (water-resistant); Hand luggage suitable: Yes; Colours available: 1; Weight (empty): 2.37kg
4. Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack: Best travel backpack under £30
Price: From £29 | Buy now from AlpineTrek
Osprey isn’t kidding with the ‘Ultralight’. This daypack is on the dinky side – just 18 litres, about the capacity of a carrier bag – but even so, its 90g weight is amazing. It even folds in on itself like a cagoule for easy storage.
The pack actually feels quite robust. The nylon shell is thin but strong and rip-proof, the back and adjustable straps are padded for comfort, and compartments include a zipped stash pocket for valuables and a side pocket for water bottles. You even get a waterproof cover. Perfect for hot-weather trips, when you want to carry a few bits but need to keep your load as light and breathable as possible.
Key specs – Capacity: 18l; Main material: Nylon (water-resistant); Hand luggage suitable: Yes; Colours available: 4; Weight (empty): 90g
5. Ortlieb Atrack: Best waterproof backpack for all-weather adventures
Price: From £185 | Buy now from Ortlieb
This indestructible pack from Ortlieb is guaranteed to survive underwater for up to half an hour. At last, you can fulfill your dream of barrelling over Niagara Falls wearing a backpack. You may not survive it, but at least your luggage will be dry.
The main zip is on the back (ie, worn against your back), so the bag keeps out pickpockets as well as water. When we opened it up we were pleased to find zipped compartments and internal strapping to keep things in place, so it’s not quite the duffel bag we thought at first glance. The strap system is also well designed, with full adjustment and padding for comfort.
Key specs – Capacity: 25l, 35l, 45l; Main material: Nylon (waterproof); Hand luggage suitable: Yes; Colours available: 3; Weight (empty): 1.56kg (25l)
6. Osprey Arcane Large Day Pack: Best travel daypack for commuters
Price: £80 | Buy now from Ellis Brigham
We’re itching to describe Osprey’s sleek, sober new pack as “smart casual”. (Sorry, Osprey.) It’s true, though. This smallish 20-litre bag would fit in anywhere: city commute, overnight with a friend, hike through the woods or urban getaway. It looks elegant but feels rugged and built to last. There’s even a quick-release security hook to shackle the bag safely to your chair leg, whether in a job interview or continental cafe.
The exterior is made from recycled polyester packcloth that feels soft but very durable, and the big zip, which goes all the way round, is smooth and satisfyingly chunky. We like the stretchy outer pocket, which is just big enough for a modest water bottle, but we’d have liked a few more sections inside. Most of our stuff ended up jumbled together in the main section. The padding is structured enough to protect a laptop, but it won’t protect your back when it’s full of books.
Most retailers only have the bag in Stonewash Black, but Osprey has four other colours on its website.
Key specs – Capacity: 20l; Main material: Recycled polyester packcloth (water-resistant); Hand luggage suitable: Yes; Colours available: 1 (plus 4 more from manufacturer); Weight (empty): 744g
7. Lowepro ProTactic 350 AW II: Best travel daypack for photographers
Price: From £139 | Buy now from Amazon
Keep all your camera kit safe and close at hand with this pack from pro photography specialist Lowepro. The outer shell is tough and solid-feeling but really light, and we found it far more comfortable than lugging around our DSLR in a shoulder bag.
Once all the velcro dividers are in place, there’s not a huge amount of room inside, so you’ll certainly want another bag too if you’re travelling. But the dividers are vital for cushioning and separating specific bits of kit such as lenses, flashes, a tripod and even a drone, all of which are easy to reach via multiple zipped access points. The main opening is worn against your back for security and the pack includes an all-weather cover to keep out rain, dust and sand.
Key specs – Capacity: 16l; Main material: ‘FormShell’ nylon (weather-resistant); Hand luggage suitable: Yes; Colours available: 1; Weight (empty): 2.12kg