Choosing the right backpack is one of the most important decisions you will make before travelling. As frequent travellers ourselves, we know how challenging it can be to find one that suits your needs. You move from country to country, city to city, hostel to hostel – but your backpack stays with you, carrying everything you own. It’s a home away from home! To help you make the right decision, we have compiled and compared the best travel backpacks and daypacks for long-term trips, including the latest options for both men and women.

This is not a sponsored post: we have not been paid by any of the brands featured in this article. The backpacks we recommend are based on our own research and testing. If you make a purchase after clicking a link, we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Why do you need a backpack for travel?

The thing we love most about travel is the freedom it brings – and nothing embodies this better than a backpack. To have all of your worldly belongings strapped inside a 70-litre piece of canvas, with the ability to wake up on any given day and go wherever you like with it, is a wonderful thing.

But, you may ask, why is a backpack better than using a suitcase or other wheeled luggage? When travelling long-term it’s likely you will be on the move frequently, and the greatest freedom that a backpack provides is mobility.

Whether you’re trekking in Peru, schlepping across Bangkok after arriving at 6am, or simply jostling through a busy train station – a backpack makes it so much easier to get around.

You will walk along gravelly roads, cobbled backstreets, up and down hills, and navigate countless flights of steps. With 15 or 20 kilograms of stuff to carry, it’s much better to have the weight spread across your shoulders, back and hips than to drag it behind you.

Since returning from our long-term travel career break, we’ve found that our backpacks are great for shorter trips too. We take them hiking, on short breaks in Europe, or even on long weekends visiting friends. A backpack is something that will stay with you for years, and become one of your most cherished possessions.

So, where do you begin when it comes to finding your perfect backpack?

Don’t miss our ultimate guide to taking a travel career break

How to find your perfect travel backpack

When beginning your search for a travel backpack, there are a few basic essentials you should consider. First of all, though, you should identify what will be most suitable to you as a traveller. Each of the six factors we highlight below are important, but you should think about them in the context of your travel style and what you’re planning do do.

For example, if you’re planning a few months in Southeast Asia and intend to spend most of it island hopping, on beaches and exploring cities leisurely, then you won’t need as much packing space, and a 35-litre backpack would probably be fine.

However, if you’re heading to somewhere like New Zealand or Chile and you’re planning a lot of outdoor activities like hiking and camping, then you will need more space to carry heavy-duty gear. You’ll probably need at least 60 litres.

1.  Size matters

In addition to your travel style and the activities you are planning, there are some other considerations when it comes to backpack size. Here are three more questions you can ask:

  • What backpack size will be most compatible with your build? If you are short and have a small frame, for example, hoisting a large and heavy backpack around is likely to cause you back pain. If you’re unsure about this, drop into an outdoor gear store and try a few backpacks on to see how they feel.
  • What forms of transport are you planning to use? If you will be flying frequently, for example, you may want a backpack that can be used as carry-on. The dimensions and volume limits vary, so check the policies of the airlines you’re planning to use.
  • What are your general packing habits? Do you like to travel light, are do you tend to take multiple outfits even on short trips? Usually, the more someone travels, the more they learn to pack light – but give this careful consideration. Maybe trying packing an old suitcase with what you will take on your travels to give you an indicator.

2.  Weight matters too

Sometimes you will need to carry a backpack for several hours at a time when travelling; even several days at a time if you’re hiking. If you have too much weight on your back, it will cause you much pain and discomfort.

While the weight of the backpack itself will have an effect, and the lighter it is the better – the way a backpack distributes weight is more important. The contents of your backpack will be much heavier than the backpack itself, and how that load is balanced is vital.

A hip belt is essential feature of a large backpack for long-term travel, and ideally you want one that is padded and moulded. Also look out for padded shoulder straps, chest straps and harnesses. The more effectively the load is spread around your body, the more comfortable you will be.

3.  Accessibility

When you’re looking for a travel backpack, you are likely to come across the terms top-loading and front-loading. But what do these actually mean?

Basically, top-loading refers to backpacks that only have one main opening at the top, usually with a drawstring. This isn’t ideal, because it means when you need to get something that’s stuffed down at the bottom, you need to take everything else out to reach it.

A front-loading backpack gives you quick access to your belongings, typically with a zip on the front or side. This will make your life a lot easier. It may seem like a minor consideration, but trust me, you won’t think that after you’ve had to stop and rummage through your entire bag fifty times.

4.  Water resistance

While it’s not vital for a backpack to be completely waterproof, you will need at least some protection from the weather. If it’s made of water-resistant materials then that’s a bonus, but at the very least you should choose a backpack that has a water cover.

You never know when you will be caught in the rain, and you don’t want all of your clothes to get soaked through, not to mention your electronics.

5.  Storage flexibility

A good backpack has plenty of pockets, compartments, attachment straps, nooks and crannies for organising your gear. How much of this you need depends on your personal travel style, but pay close attention to the storage capacity and flexibility when choosing your ideal backpack.

Some backpacks have the potential to carry extra capacity through external storage. For example, mesh pockets or panels, extendable top lids and lower straps can allow you to stash things like bottles, sleeping bags, mats and towels on the bag’s exterior.

We would highly recommend buying some packing cubes as an accessory for organising your belongings inside your backpack too. This is one of the best things we bought for our travel career break, and now we never travel without them!

6.  Durability

You will probably use your backpack every day, and you need it to last a long time. That means it needs to be made of material that is strong and durable. You don’t want something that’s going to rip the moment you brush past a tree or fall over on a slippy track.

If there’s one piece of travel equipment you should never go cheap on, it’s a backpack. In general, you get what you pay for, and if you go too cheap you’ll probably get a backpack that falls apart quickly. As a benchmark, you shouldn’t look too far below $100. Needless to say, the backpacks we recommend below are all made of sturdy materials and pass the durability test.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at our picks of the best travel backpacks currently available…

Best travel backpacks for men

Quick comparison table

BackpackOsprey Aether AG 70Osprey Farpoint 55North Face Terra 65Berghaus Trailhead 65Lowe Alpine Airzone Pro
Size70L42L + 13L65L65L35L + 10L
Shop nowView on AmazonView on AmazonView on AmazonView on AmazonView on Amazon

Osprey Aether AG 70

As a rule of thumb with backpacks, you can’t go wrong with an Osprey. Their products are reliable and durable, and have seen us through many testing times! The Osprey Aether AG 70 was my backpack of choice for our  travel career break, and it didn’t let me down.

Although a little heavier than our other picks, the Aether makes up for it with comfort, ventilation and weight distribution. When it’s full, its optimal load transfer makes it feel a lot lighter than other backpacks.

View and buy on amazon
Top featuresTop and front access, suspended-mesh panels for extra storage, moulded hip belt, removable top that can be used as a small daypack

Osprey Farpoint 55

The Farpoint 55 is a smaller backpack by Osprey that is a good option for lighter travellers. Its detachable daypack is flexible and can be clipped onto a front harness to help keep your valuables safe when you’re on the move.

The zip-away mesh backpanel gives easy access to your stuff, and enables you to pack it like you would a suitcase. Note that it’s not quite small enough to be used as carry-on luggage; the Farpoint 40 in the same range is designed for carry-on, and is an ideal choice for shorter trips.

View and buy on amazon
Size55L (42L main pack + 13L removable daypack)
Top featuresRemovable 13L daypack, zip-away ventilated backpanel, lightweight frame, zip access to main front compartment

North Face Terra 65

The North Face Terra 65 is a unisex backpack that is a great choice for travellers who like to get outdoors on the hiking trail. It is a strong and durable backpack with flexible storage, featuring multiple pockets and compartments to organise your belongings.

The Terra 65 uses North Face’s OptiFit technology which allows you to adjust the back and hip belt to your fit. This, combined with its balanced load distribution and ergonomic shoulder straps, provides maximum comfort when carrying weight for long periods of time.

View and buy on amazon
Top featuresBreathable foam back, moulded hip belt, J-zip for quick access, padded shoulder harness, multiple pockets

Berghaus Trailhead 65

The Berghaus Trailhead 65 is the lowest-cost men’s backpack in our list, and provides excellent value for money. We have always found Berghaus products to be sturdy and reliable, having used their backpacks, hiking shoes and t-shirts on our travels.

The Trailhead 65 is a lightweight large backpack that uses Berghaus’s BioFit adjustable back system for comfort, and features side and bottle pockets for extra storage. A lower zip gives quick access to your stuff on the move. For long-term trips, it pairs well with the Berghaus Twenty Four Seven daypack.

View and buy on amazon
Top featuresAdjustable back system, curved hip belt, hydration compatible, top lid and side pockets, multiple attachment points

Lowe Alpine Airzone Pro

Lowe Alpine’s Airzone Pro is a halfway house between the larger backpacks highlighted here and the smaller daypacks. It’s designed for trekking, but doubles up really well as a lightweight option for travellers who prefer not to carry a lot.

The tensioned mesh and cut-out space at the rear lifts the pack away from your back, allowing air to flow freely. The Airzone Pro is ideal for backpacking in places like Southeast Asia, where you will mainly carry light clothes for hot weather.

View and buy on amazon
Size35L + 10L
Top featuresTensioned mesh back for ventilation, internal pocket for hydration bladder, expandable volume, extra storage pockets, rain cover

Best travel backpacks for women

Quick comparison table

BackpackOsprey Fairview 70Osprey Ariel 65Lowe Alpine Atlas 65:75Berghaus Women’s Trailhead 60Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT 50
Size57L + 13L65L65L + 10L60L50L + 5L
Shop nowView on AmazonView on AmazonView on AmazonView on AmazonView on Amazon

Osprey Fairview 70

At 1.7kg, the Osprey Fairview 70 is incredibly light for a backpack of its size. Its design is similar to the Farpoint, but ergonomically crafted to fit women.

The Fairview features a zip-away ventilated back panel allowing you to pack it like a suitcase but carry it on your back, and you can attach a sleeping bag or mat to the straps at the bottom. The removable daypack can be neatly clipped onto your front when carrying valuables.

View and buy on amazon
Size70L (57L main pack + 13L removable daypack)
Top featuresZip-off 13L daypack, stowaway back panel, removable sleeping pad straps, padded laptop and tablet sleeve

Osprey Ariel 65

The Osprey Ariel AG 65 is the women’s version of the Aether AG 70. It’s a more heavy-duty backpack than the Fairview, and packs in tons of features that are great for long-term travelling or multi-day hiking.

This is one of the best travel backpacks for carrying heavy loads, with outstanding load balancing, ample storage and quick front access via a J-zip. The top lid can be detached and used as a small daypack.

View and buy on amazon
Top featuresTop and front access, suspended-mesh panels for extra storage, moulded hip belt, removable top that can be used as a small daypack

Lowe Alpine Atlas 65:75

The Lowe Alpine Atlas 65:75 is an excellent value, versatile backpack that will stand the test of time. We know this because it was Lisa’s backpack of choice for our one-year round-the-world trip, and it’s still going strong long afterwards.

The adjustable back system with compression straps provides comfort and flexibility when carrying different load weights. You can pack a lot into it, and the customisable main compartment is great for organising your gear.

View and buy on amazon
Size65L + 10
Top featuresCustomisable main compartment, top and bottom access, adjustable ventilated back system, rain cover

Berghaus Women’s Trailhead 60

The Berghaus Trailhead 60 is the women’s version of the Trailhead 65. It is a simple yet sturdy backpack that provides outstanding value for money – you’ll struggle to find anything better at this price.

The Trailhead is all about comfort, with adjustable top tension straps, a pre-curved hip belt and Berghaus’s BioFit back system. A bivy divider in the base compartment allows you to keep wet and dirty clothes separate from your clean ones.

View and buy on amazon
Top featuresAdjustable back system, curved hip belt, hydration compatible, top lid and side pockets, multiple attachment points

Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT 50

Jack Wolfskin’s Highland Trail XT series fits neatly into the category of trekking backpacks that are also great for backpacking trips. At 50 plus 5 litres this is a moderately sized backpack, with dual, accessible chambers for flexible storage.

The Highland Trail backpack uses an X-shaped aluminium frame to optimise load-spreading, so it’s comfortable when carrying heavy gear. It also features plenty of straps and pockets for extra storage space.

View and buy on amazon
Size50L + 5
Top featuresDual-chamber, front and top access, compression straps on sides and base, adjustable back system, hydration compatible, integrated rain cover

Best travel daypacks

Quick comparison table

BackpackOsprey Daylite BackpackBerghaus Twenty Four SevenNorth Face BorealisDeuter Speed Lite 20
Size13L20L / 25L28L20L
Shop nowView on AmazonView on AmazonView on AmazonView on Amazon

Osprey Daylite Backpack

At a little more than half a kilogram, the Osprey Daylite is a great lightweight daypack for short hikes, trips to the beach or wandering around cities. It features a multi-functional internal sleeve to help organise your stuff, and is hydration compatible.

The Daylite is designed to clip onto Osprey’s Aether AG and Ariel AG large backpacks, making for the perfect pairing on a long-term travel adventure. Alternatively, the Osprey Daylite Plus has the same features and a bit more space at 20 litres.

View and buy on amazon
Size13L (or 20L if you choose the Osprey Daylite Plus)
Top featuresFront pocket, side mesh pockets, interior sleeve, clips onto Osprey's Aether, Ariel, Farpoint 80 and Sojourn models

Berghaus Twenty Four Seven

Lisa and I both used the Berghaus Twenty Four Seven daypack until we unfortunately lost them in a distraction theft incident. We were gutted as it had been perfect for us! It’s a compact, lightweight daypack that does everything you need it to do when backpacking.

The Twenty Four Seven comes in either 20 or 25 litres, both with plenty of storage options. With internal pockets, external zip pockets and bottle pockets you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to stashing your belongings away.

View and buy on amazon
Size20L / 25L
Top featuresHeight-adjustable chest strap, grab handle, internal pockets, external zip pockets, bottle pockets, hydration compatible

North Face Borealis

The North Face Borealis is a classic daypack that is reliable, durable and will last you for years. At over a kilogram it’s a little heavier than the other options we highlight, making it suitable for shorter trips. If you carry a laptop on your travels this is the perfect option, featuring a safe pouch compartment.

The Borealis comes packed with many features that go above and beyond most daypacks. Its hip belt and sternum strap provide extra comfort when you’re carrying a bit more weight, and it has multiple pockets and sleeves for keeping your things safe.

View and buy on amazon
Top featuresTwo main compartments, front pocket, laptop pouch, removable sternum strap, stowable hip belt, hydration compatible

Deuter Speed Lite 20

The Deuter Speed Lite 20 is a small, simple and stylish daypack that makes a great companion for almost any type of trip. Its V-shaped structure is designed for comfort and free movement.

The Speed Lite has simple storage options, with a main compartment and smaller wet laundry compartment, as well as a zipped external pocket for valuables and stretchable side pockets. It can also pack compactly into your large backpack when you don’t want to use it.

View and buy on amazon
Top featuresErgonomic padded shoulder pads, stretch side pockets, zipped valuables pocket, wet laundry compartment, hydration compatible

Zomake Ultra Lightweight Packable Backpack

While the Zomake Ultra Lightweight Packable isn’t a durable backpack that will see you through tough weather and multi-day treks, it’s a great little cheap accessory that’s super convenient for sightseeing and light walking.

We take our Zomake daypacks with us on travels even when we have our large backpacks and daypacks with us too. It packs down into almost nothing and adds very little weight to your backpack.

View and buy on amazon
Top featuresFoldable pouch, internal and external zip pockets, side pockets, adjustable straps

Do you have any thoughts on the best travel backpacks for long-term trips? Let us know in the comments below.

Check out our guide to the best hiking boots for travel

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We review and compare the best travel backpacks and daypacks for 2019. Including prices, features and options for men and women. #travelbackpacks #bestbackpacks #rucksacks #backpacks #travelgear