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The 8 Best Travel Backpacks For Light Packers [Reviewed]

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Whether you’re a business traveler, a backpacking junkie or like to get away for the weekend, traveling light has plenty of advantages. Carry on backpacks are a great way to save money on ever-increasing baggage fees.

Not to mention all that time you’ll save waiting for checked luggage at the airport.

If you prefer not to get bogged down with a lot of stuff while you’re traveling, you’ll need something light, comfortable and convenient. You need something that leaves you hands-free and worry-free as you’re out there exploring the world.

So Why A Backpack Instead Of A Carry On Suitcase?

Maybe you still think a little carry on suitcase with wheels would be better. Guess again! Here are a few reasons why travel backpacks will make your life a whole lot easier:

Travel Backpacks Leave Your Hands Free

When you’re traveling, there are a lot of other things you want to do with your hands besides drag a suitcase behind you. With a backpack, you can walk around, drink your latte, check out the scenery, maybe your email, snap a selfie and (for the very coordinated) chew gum all at the same time. In other words, they are made for today’s ADD world.

Travel Backpacks Are Easier to Stow and Handle

How many times have you had to stow a bulky suitcase in an overhead while trying not to give someone a concussion? If the answer is a lot, you’ll want to consider a backpack. A good one will be flexible and lightweight and give you way less of a workout when you’re putting it away on a plane, bus, train, ox cart or whatever your preferred method of travel is. Plus, most of them have a side handle making it easy to throw up into the overhead.

The World Is An Obstacle Course Your Suitcase Wasn’t Built For

Stairs. Dirt roads. Puddles. Cobblestone Streets. Dog poop. The world is full of landmines when you’re wheeling your suitcase around.

And do you really want to run to your next connecting flight with that thing in tow? A backpack could take valuable seconds off your sprint time.

Backpacks Are Extremely Durable

When you invest in a high-quality backpack, it will more than pay you back in the number of miles it will last. Plus, you don’t have to worry about a broken suitcase or carry-on bag with handles and wheels that come off. Some backpacks even come with a lifetime guarantee. There’s another load off!

Features You Should Look For In A Travel Backpack

There are a lot of backpack options out there. But there are some key features that you’ll want to have for smoother traveling. Here’s what to look out for:

Front-Loading/Clamshell Design

A backpack that zips open in the front will give you easy access to all of your stuff. Avoid top-loading ones with a drawstring. Unless you like taking out all of your stuff to get to your deodorant at the bottom.

Laptop Compartment

Make sure you have a separate, padded compartment for your chargers and other electronics. It will keep them safer, and you can also use it to store other personal items.

Waist Strap

A waist strap is crucial when you’re traveling with a backpack because it distributes the weight over your whole body instead of just your shoulders. This will be a lifesaver for both your back and your shoulders as you explore the streets of Europe.

Weather Resistant Material

The last thing you want is a backpack full of wet clothes. Make sure yours is weather sealed or comes with a rain cover or even better, it is water-resistant.

Lockable Zippers

It’s a wild world out there, baby. Zippers that you can attach a padlock to will give you peace of mind and help you prevent theft.

Related: The 9 Best Waterproof Backpacks for Travel [Reviewed]

So What The Heck Do Liters Mean?

So what size backpack do you need? Most sizes are expressed in liters. Which doesn’t exactly tell you how many shirts you can pack. For the best carry-on backpack, we recommend something in the 40 Liter Range. Here’s a little breakdown on sizes to clear up the confusion.

15-30 Liters

This size backpack is usually meant for day-trippers or commuters. Unless you’re a super minimalist (or nudist) out for a weekend trip, it’s probably too small.

35-45 Liters

This size is great for carry-on and will save you both money and time wasted on checked luggage. If you know how to pack right, it can take you anywhere from weeks or even months on the road. It depends on how Zen you get.

50-65 Liters

Not a light packer and not interested in learning? This size is good when you need a little extra space. However, it’s probably too big to carry on a plane.

70-120 Liters

This size is meant for heavy-duty camping and hiking trips. So unless you need to store a tent and a bunch of other gear, it’s not for you.

So Let’s Get To The Goods

Now that you know what to look for in your travel back, it’s time to go shopping. To make your life even easier, we’ve gathered a collection of 8 backpacks that are sturdy, well-designed and make the perfect carry on.

We’ve broken them into categories depending on the kind of traveler you are.

Check out these 8 travel backpack favorites from well-seasoned travel enthusiasts:

Nomatic Travel Bag 40L

This sleek, modern Nomatic 40L Travel Bag from Amazon is perfect for the business traveler and digital nomad.

Loaded with clever features and a huge array of pockets, it’s ultra-efficient.

Optional accessories like a shirt organizer, laundry bag and toiletry bag make it especially appealing for the professional traveler.

Touted as “the most functional backpack ever,” the Nomatic Travel backpack seems to live up to the name.

Why You’ll Like It:

  • Pockets, Pockets and more Pockets
  • Shoe Compartment
  • Highly Weather-Resistant
  • TSA Checkpoint Compliant

Osprey Farpoint 40 (Men)

Lightweight and comfortable, this Osprey Farpoint 40L Men’s Backpack is popular among budget travelers the world over.

It has a front-loading main compartment and a lockable laptop sleeve, which makes it both convenient and secure.

Backpackers who like to rack up the miles will also appreciate its well-padded back panel, shoulder straps, and full-size hip belt.

Another plus: It comes with a lifetime guarantee!

It does have a few less organizational compartments than the Nomatic. But if you like to travel light and stress-free, this durable backpack may be just what you’re looking for.

Why You’ll Like It:

  • Lightweight & Medium Price Point
  • Comfortable Suspension
  • Lockable Zippers
  • Lifetime Guarantee

Osprey Fairview 40 (Women)

The Osprey Fairview 40 Women’s Backpack has all the features of the Osprey Farpoint, but with a fit tailored explicitly to women. When you’re out exploring the world, a backpack that jostles around can make your road-weary fast.

So why not buy one specially made for you?

Even better, this backpack transforms into a duffle with its shoulder strap making it super functional.

For all you world-traveling gypsies out there, this may be the one.

Why You’ll Like It:

  • Tailored to Women
  • Compression Straps
  • Lightweight & Medium Price Point
  • Comfortable Suspension
  • Lockable Zippers
  • Lifetime Guarantee

Tortuga Set Out (35-45L)

Weighing in at under five pounds, the Tortuga Set Out Backpack is lightweight and versatile.

Equally suitable for globetrotting or urban adventures, it has a laptop compartment at the back and lots of pockets for organizing.

Another nice feature is a cushioned hip belt with two zipped pockets for things you want quick access too.

Don’t need the harness or hip belt? You can take them off and stow them. It also turns into a duffle bag.

Want a bag as multifaceted as you are? This may be the winner.

Why You’ll Like It:

  • Lightweight
  • Plenty of Pockets
  • Hip Belt with Pockets
  • Removable Harness and Hip Belt
  • Multi-Functional Use

Standard Luggage Carry On

This versatile Standard Luggage Carry-On Backpack can be used as a backpack, suitcase or shoulder bag.

It has hideaway backpack straps, a hip strap and a dedicated laptop sleeve. Other excellent features include stylish color accents, a rain cover and even a safety whistle. This is also one of the best backpacks to double as your work bag.

Whatever travel situation you find yourself in, this baby has you covered.

Why You’ll Like It:

  • Full Perimeter Zip for Easy Packing
  • Professional Looking
  • Multi-Functional Use
  • Dedicated Laptop Pocket

Active Roots Foldable Daypack

Weighing slightly less than 10 ounces, this incredibly light Active Roots Lightweight Daypack is also durable enough to handle your adventurous side.

It has a capacity of 34 liters and seven pockets, which means you’ll have plenty of room for everything you need for a day trip.

When you’re not using it, fold this feather-light pack and stow it in your luggage.

Active roots also have a 30-day money-back guarantee and donates to environmental charities. What else could you ask from a daypack?

Why you’ll Like It:

  • Super Lightweight
  • 7 Pockets
  • Good for the Planet
  • Super Compact

Related: The Complete Carry On Luggage Size Guide

AER Travel Pack 2

For shorter trips, the AER Travel Pack 2 offers 33 liters of well-organized space. It has plenty of storage pockets, stows away easily for air travel and even provides a shoe compartment.

For a quick round-tripper, this one is solid and well designed.

Why You’ll Like It:

  • Well Organized
  • Expandable Water Bottle Pocket
  • Quick Access Laptop Pocket
  • Shoe Compartment

Peak Design Travel Backpack

If you have a bit more to spend, this Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L is an extremely well-designed travel backpack. It has lots of smart storage spaces and thoughtful features like magnetic pouches and hidden straps.

Optional accessories include a toiletry bag, electronics pouch and packing cubes.

All that and this sturdy, well-made pack weighs in at under 5 pounds. In this case, you get what you pay for.

Why You’ll Like It:

  • Clever Storage
  • Thoughtful Details
  • Lightweight
  • 100% Recycled Nylon Canvas Shell

Now that you have the lowdown, you may want to invest in some packing cubes to go along with your other travel gear. These go a long way with helping you stay organized and packing like a pro.

Wherever you travel, it’s an experience you want to remember. Not the stuff you dragged around with you. So toss your duffel bag weekender and grab a good travel backpack. Check for features like laptop or tablet sleeves, side pockets, side handles and more to fit your travel needs.

Here’s to keeping it light in body and spirit as you head out on your next adventure.

You might also be interested in: The Definitive Guide to TSA Pre-Check

8 Best Travel Backpacks (Summary)

Honorable Mentions Top Picks:

Sherry De Alba

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