Backpacks are the ideal travel bag. They’re easy to carry, can cram into the overhead bin or under a plane seat, and provide easy accessibility to your items no matter where you are. But not all backpacks are created equal. That’s why SmarterTravel’s editors have tested all the newest ones to find the best travel backpacks, and judged them on the following Editors’ Choice Awards methodology:
For the best new backpack for travel category we sourced 14 different backpacks from 10 different brands. The backpacks had to be a new style released this year, and had to be over 32-liters in volume size. We ranked each style on a variety of metrics, including packability, style, usefulness, price, size, and durability. These rankings were determined by a pack test and road test in which testers traveled with the backpack on the road. From this, a winner and two finalists were determined.
Meet the outstanding winners, finalists, and runners-up of the best new travel backpack category for 2018.
Gold: REI Ruckpack Series
The REI Ruckpack Backpack is the ultimate backpack. It has tons of pockets and an easy-to-access main compartment. Complete with technical features like a survival whistle, rain cover, and hydration bladder compartment, it still looks sleek—not fussy. REI Ruckpacks come in two larger options: 40-liter and 65-liter sizes available in both men and women’s styles. And smaller 28-liter and 18-liter day packs are also available.
The women’s style includes features like shaped harness straps and shortened torso length, while the larger 65-liter option (not carry-on friendly) is actually two packs in one thanks to an included day pack. The clamshell main compartment ensures you don’t have to dig for that pair of socks, and we also love the bottom compartment for packing dirty clothes or shoes separately. Given the variety of options to choose from, its inherent functionality, and its sleek design, we’ve chosen it as the winner for our best backpack category.
Silver: Eagle Creek Wayfinder Backpack
Eagle Creek’s cleverly designed Wayfinder Backpack is a sturdy carry-on-sized companion for just about any adventure. The pockets are specifically designed for your laptop (up to 17 inches), tablet, phone, and powerpack, including a passthrough for earbuds so you can listen to your tunes even when your phone is stowed away. A generous main compartment (40 liters) is accompanied by numerous other sleeves and compartments to keep you organized—including an exterior pouch with a drain hole for a rain jacket or other wet clothing. The waterproof fabric is made of recycled materials, and the backpack is available in both a “unisex version” and one that’s slightly tailored to better suit a woman’s body. It’s comfortable to wear and serves as a decently sized carry-on bag.
Bronze: Timbuk2 Never Check Duffel Backpack
The Timbuk2 Never Check Duffel Backpack is a travel backpack for the non-backpacking crowd. This sleek and chic duffel hybrid offers much of the traditional functionality of a carry-on while ditching the wheels for multi-carry options. Zip it fully open to reveal a surprisingly roomy clamshell construction interior, including two zippered compartments for easy access. Stay organized on the road with exterior pockets that can take the place of a separate personal item.
Choose among a variety of carrying options: Haul it as a duffel with the shoulder or hand straps, or hook on the stowable back straps and transform it into a comfortable backpack complete with padded back panel. While it’s not a backpacker’s backpack—there’s no hip belt to help distribute weight for walking longer distances— it scores big on space, organization, and style. It’s a practical option for business and leisure travelers.
Finalist: Aer Travel Pack 2
The Aer Travel Pack 2 has a lot of features that help create a more comfortable travel experience: a separate, roomy shoe compartment, thickly padded shoulder straps and back panel, and enough pockets for organization. What it does better than most backpacks, however, is keep it sexy. This is a very sleek bag with a nylon exterior of military-grade fabric—and that’s its best quality. The Aer Pack 2 is among the best-looking bags in its category, but loses points on utility: The zipper jams around the corners, and that’s too important a feature to overlook. This bag is a finalist for style and comfort, but not as much for its function.
Finalist: Baboon Go-Bag
Baboon’s Go Bags are stylish and functional backpacks that look more like a duffel. Available in a 40-liter and 60-liter size—we tested the carry-on version (40 liters)—the hybrid duffel-backpack is durable and lightweight. The additional handles and loops made it easy to pick up during any transfers or when waiting in a security line. There are also three interior pockets for convenient organization, plus the waterproof material gives you peace of mind.
The larger size could be difficult to carry on your back when it’s full, as the bag doesn’t have traditional technical features of most backpacks, like a back panel or hip belt. When packing for a three day weekend, it was a little difficult to find the best place for a pair of shoes; whatever you back at the very top, you feel on your back. We can’t rave enough about the style of this bag though, which is available in eight bold colors so you won’t misplace it.
Finalist: Gregory Proxy
The Gregory Proxy 65 backpack is fantastic for camping and long hikes. It has all the components you would need for outdoor adventure and is durable enough to endure rough terrain. It’s suitable for a range of activities, like hiking to day trips for its comfort and spaciousness. You can easily fit enough for more than a three-day trip, including shoes and toiletries. Its useful mesh pockets separate items as well as the waterproof section for things like damp bathing suits or wet/muddy hiking boots.
This backpack doesn’t have a super strong outer shell, so it might not be best to keep toiletries in the waterproof section for fear that they may get crushed. The pack is geared more towards adventure seekers over anyone else, and would be best used for a single-use trips, like hiking, rather than something you can use on a mountain one day and bring to the office the next. Note that due to its size the Gregory Proxy is too big for a carry-on, but can fit a lot and provides helpful weight distribution via shoulder and hip straps.
Finalist: Tortuga Setout Divide Backpack
The Tortuga Setout Divide fits as much as a suitcase but never needs to be checked. Awkward hip straps make this bag slightly uncomfortable to carry, but with lots of inner pockets and a large compartment that opens on three sides, you can squeeze a surprising amount of stuff in. It also has laptop sleeves, zipper locks, and pockets on the shoulder straps. The Tortuga Setout Divide is a useful option if you’re only bringing one bag on a trip, but isn’t very comfortable to carry on your back.
Finalist: Eddie Bauer Adventure Trail Pack
Eddie Bauer’s Adventurer Trail Pack is an attractive, sporty backpack that’s ideal for day hikes or short overnight camping trips. It’s comfortable to wear thanks to a well-padded and ventilated back, a waist band for support, and numerous straps and clips to help you compress your load. The material feels sturdy and is resistant to rain (though not waterproof). It currently comes in only one color, “true blue.” It’s tough to get to things near the bottom of the pack because the only access is via the top (and the zipper doesn’t go very far down on either side.) It comfortably holds three days of stuff, but not much more. And while it’s too large to use as a personal item, it fits most airlines’ carry-on size restrictions.
Finalist: L.L. Bean AT Expedition Backpack
The L.L. Bean AT Expedition Backpack is the backpack to choose for a long weekend away—when you need enough room to pack for activities like a light hike, a night out, and a Netflix binge night in. While it’s not the most stylish of bags, it allows you to pack much more than a weekender bag does. Similar to Mary Poppin’s magical purse, it fits more than seems possible. However, it’s inconveniently a bit larger than the standard carry on. The weight distribution is its best feature, and the back insert allows the weight to be shifted to your lower back and less on strain on your shoulders.
Finalist: Osprey Ozone Duplex Women’s Travel Pack
The Osprey Ozone Duplex is one of the most comfortable, form-fitting bags we tested. It also provides two bags in one—a cargo bag and a detachable daypack. Its clothes-compressing capabilities and a side strap for duffel bag-conversion makes it seem convenient. But the features we appreciate about this bag (two bags in one, and straps for added comfort while wearing) also could use some improvement—there is an excess number of hanging straps everywhere, giving it somewhat of a sloppy look. Since it does meet carry-on requirements and you can fit so much in it, this bag is ideal for traveling on budget airlines with hefty baggage fees. Its comfort and the detachable daypack make it an ideal choice for an international trekking trip, but it might not be the best fit for the average traveler.
Finalist: L.L. Bean AT Day Pack
The L.L. Bean AT Day Pack for men is a multi-functional carry-on and daypack that can fit about a weekend’s worth of clothes. Our favorite feature is the top pocket which easily detaches to lighten your load if needed, but also provides security and extra pockets for your travel day essentials. The large and flexible mesh pockets on both sides are useful for storing like layers, a water bottle, snacks, and umbrella. Features like a ventilating back panel, a hydration bladder compartment, and comfortable hip and shoulder straps also make this a technical pack. While it’s 40 liters, it doesn’t fit too much more than the essentials for a weekend. But if you’re looking for one pack to take with you on a hiking trip, this is it.
Finalist: Eagle Creek Global Companion Travel Pack
A common problem with most backpacks is trouble accessing items at the bottom of the main compartment. Eagle Creek’s Global Companion solves this problem by zipping all the way around, so you can pack it and open it like a suitcase. The main part of the pack is split by mesh dividers into two zipping smaller compartments, like built-in packing cubes. While organized travelers might love this feature, it does cut into your usable space—and other parts of the bag, namely the exterior pockets, feel similarly cramped. While the backpack has some handy features—such as a rainfly, a safety whistle built into the sternum strap, and a well-padded hip belt with a zipper pocket for your phone—its overall design doesn’t make the best possible use of space.
Finalist: L.L. Bean Carryall Travel Pack
The L.L. Bean Carryall is a utilitarian solution for a casual two-night getaway, whether it’s a short-flight away or within driving distance. The amount of compartments is perfect for storing everything from socks to laptops to shoes. The main compartment has the shape of a packing cube and zips shut to create different storage areas and keep clothes separate for supreme organization.
We do wish there was more boning so the backpack had a bit more shape. Similarly, this bag is suited for a casual getaway as the clothes inside probably wouldn’t stay wrinkle-free. This bag, as most L.L. Bean products, holds up against the elements, over packing, etc., and is lightweight, comfortable to carry, and fits most airline’s carry-on size requirements.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Editors’ Choice Product Awards 2018
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Travel Shoes for Men
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Travel Shoes for Women
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Travel Gadgets
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Travel Pillows
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Carry-on Bags
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Packing Accessories
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