If you’ve got a trip coming up, finding the best travel backpack can be key. I’ve tried many types and brands in my years of tour guiding, including Rick Steves, Eagle Creek, Eddie Bauer and some smaller brands. I always suggest using a backpack, because a travel backpack is easier to get around with than a rolling bag. It also means you MUST pack light! Here is a round up of the best travel backpacks that I’ve tried this year.
Overall Best Travel Backpack
I saw this backpack come up on my feed last spring and I was intrigued. I’ve never found a travel backpack in the right size range that really functioned perfectly and was durable as well.The backpack was still in development, but I sent Cotopaxi an email and they sent me a sample to review.
I was impressed with how quickly they got me the backpack and how beautifully it was presented. They were on Kickstarter at the time, so I had low expectations. I am an architect, you may remember, so I am a sucker for beautiful design and presentation.
This backpack came with me on every trip from June through October. It was tossed around, sat upon, loaded up and generally manhandled in a rough and careless way. After many miles, I can give you my honest opinion, this is now my favorite backpack.
This travel backpack is beautifully designed. I got the black, gray and turquoise bag, colors that look great together. It is sleek without being boring, with a pop of color on the outside and a bright, cheery gray-yellow interior.
The Allpa has tons of well-designed compartments. When it is unzipped, it opens flat but everything is neatly packed in a mesh zippered section. One large section has compression straps, and that’s where I put my pants and flat-fold times, as well as my pillow. The opposite side has a smaller zippered section where I put my cubes for tops and undies. Two zippered pockets on this side were where I put my jewelry and medications. Tidily tucked under the front cover, a separate section fit my toiletries bag and electronic cords, which made those things easily removable for airport security.
On the back of the bag, near the straps, a long zipper opened to the bottom of the main compartment, which came in handy for grabbing my rain jacket. The zipper on the opposite side opens to a compartment meant for a tablet, but is where I stored my laptop, paperwork and receipts. I like this feature because I was able to fly through security, quickly removing and replacing my laptop in the bag.
Basically, every thing that I pack had a specific place which made it super easy to find my belongings on the fly.
The backpack is designed with no zippers or pockets on the main body, which is nice because it keeps it compact. I had no problem fitting it into airplane overhead compartments, or keeping within airline bag guidelines.
The construction of the bag is heavy-duty, with big, tough zippers, thick cordura fabric and a water resistant front panel. I get caught in the rain occasionally, so the laminated front is a big plus. It did actually work, keeping my things dry. The straps and back panel are well padded, making it very comfortable to wear, even when packed to the gills with several bottles of wine.
The weight of a bag can contribute to the overall weight in a significant way. While this bag is not as heavy as a rolling bag, it is a little on the heavy side for a backpack. The hefty structure and padding are not light. If it were me, I might have used slightly less padding to save on weight.
The laminated cover panel is a great idea and looks slick in black. That panel got scratched almost immediately, though, and has shown wear and tear after dozens of flights. I’m not particularly fussy about that sort of thing, but if you’re the kind of person that gets bent out of shape when you have water spots on your car, this will be an issue.
It would be nice to have a slot for a water bottle on the side. I know, that’s probably asking too much from a bag that is practically perfect, but just saying’.
In the end- the Cotopaxi Allpa is the best travel backpack I have found. It performs better than the more expensive Tom Bihn Tristar that I have been using for ages. I will probably keep it in regular rotation when I am on the road for extended periods of time.
Best Ultralight Backpack
As I wrote in my article on ultralight packing, a light bag can reduce the weight that you carry since the bag can be a big part of the overall weight. I looked into getting a super light travel backpack for going to Thailand, and I liked my choice so much that I also took it to Italy for guidebook research.
The G4Free travel backpack is a pretty simple bag. It’s just a sack that you can cinch at the top, and a flap that secures with buckles. Because it lacks any real structure, you need to compartmentalize your possessions with packing cubes or sacks. It’s not the handiest arrangement but it works.
This backpack is light, really light. It folds into itself, and would make a good choice for an additional, souvenir bag. It expands depending on how you cinch the straps and fits a surprising amount.
The price is right on this backpack, it is less that $20 sometimes! Although I cannot guarantee the lifespan, the fabric has been durable enough for two long trips to Thailand, Cambodia and Italy.
If you need padding or structure, this bag is not for you. It’s basic and has no compartments, save a zippered pocket on the front and water bottle slots.
The size of this bag is small, it may not be big enough for big packers, but maybe that’s a good thing. It will help you pare down what you bring!
In the end- The G2Free backpack is a great, cheap, lightweight option for anyone on a shorter trip looking to optimize the weight of their bag. It made me feel like a footloose vagabond, tossing around a rucksack like a teenager.
Always a Great Travel Backpack
I have a bunch of the Rick Steves backpacks, and I’ve used them for years. They are solidly designed and very practical. The newer models are smaller than previous versions, so if you have an old one, you may consider upgrading to the current version that fits on all airlines. A well priced, good choice for any length of trip.
I cannot vouch for personal use of these backpacks, but this community of travelers is a wise one, so I’d trust their judgement. I am sure you’ll find the best travel backpack for you among these suggestions.
Osprey Porter 46L– Osprey is a brand I see often on the road. Their bags are economical and well built. This model is a little bigger than what I choose, but would work well for those looking for a light, economical model that is bigger than the ultralight I suggest above.
Bags Weekender– This is a very cool backpack with lots of functionality. It works with the Ebags packing cube system. It’s a little more bells and whistles than I need, but if you are the type to organize your underwear by color, this may be for you.
Fjallraven Travel Pack– This backpack is a direct competitor to the Cotopaxi, with a design that seems almost identical. Fjallraven is a very popular line in Europe and is known for good quality. I would bet this is lighter than the Allpa.
Tom Bihn Aeronaut-Tom Bihn makes great bags that will last forever. They are made of super durable fabric, I own about six bags from them. They are not cheap, though. The Aeronaut is their classic backpack, with a big center compartment and two side end compartments. It’s a greta bag, I’ve just never bought it as the two sizes are too small and too big.