8 Best Travel Backpacks for Extended Trips
Backpacks are getting larger and larger. Some are so stylish you could tote one wearing a business suit and not get a second look. Our review focus is those big boys: backpacks that keep travelers supplied with clothing and essentials for extended trips. If you find suitcases bothersome and you want a one-bag solution, you’ll find it among the best travel backpacks profiled in this review.
Our Top Travel Backpack Picks:
The Anatomy of an Extended Trip Backpack
Unlike hard- or soft-sided luggage, mega-backpacks have less structure; some styles have almost none, performing like duffel bags with little more than interior straps to keep contents from shifting. But that doesn’t mean that these bags don’t have plenty of bells and whistles, features that make them so popular, the backpack manufacturing industry is experiencing a Renaissance.
Some backpacks are referred to as rucksacks and knapsacks, and the luggage industry gives credit for their expansion from school and sport use to mainstream luggage to a guy named Dick Kelty who loved to hike but found every mens travel backpack too small for his needs in the 1950s. Manufacturers like L.L. Bean, JanSport, Deuter, North Face and Kelty himself promoted them as adventure bags, still a fitting description today.
Yes, Size Matters
According to ReportLinker.com, today’s backpacks are segmented into three sizes. For purposes of this extended trip backpack focus, we will only consider categories #2 and #3 (40-liters and above) when profiling candidates for the best backpack for travel:
- Category #1: Up to 40 liters; designed to hold supplies, gear and goods for the day. Considered the best travel backpacks for folks going about their everyday tasks, these won’t hold very much.
- Category #2: 40 to 65 liters: These extended-size bags are large enough to hold hefty items like sleeping bags, stoves, small tents or several days’ worth of clothing.
- Category #3: Over 65 liters: These are the largest capacity bags on the market and often come with padded straps and belts to help distribute huge loads throughout the body.
Backpack Buyer Production and Sales Hubs
Who buys the most backpacks? The U.S. tops the list with sales that exceed $2.7 billion annually. Europeans are the second largest market with China poised to surpass both down the road if projections are accurate. UK backpackers generate $100 million in sales per year, so for a small island, this population is well represented.
More than 50-percent of all backpacks are made by four U.S. companies: North Face, Timberland, Eastpak and JanSport, but competition driven by diversification into areas beyond sports- and school-related uses has spawned a broader field. Thanks to that competition, the average purchase price is around $40, though for elite brands and high-end manufacturers, you can plan to spend four times that amount.
Trends Driving the Backpack Market
Backpacks are coming into their own electronically, so for folks who must stay in touch when they venture forth, built-in battery chargers and cables are already being engineered into backpacks and will ultimately become the norm. But innovation doesn’t stop there when it comes to the best backpack for travel: Gregory Mountain makes backpacks with removable solar panels that are extremely popular with folks taking long camping trips.
Functionality doesn't take a back seat to fashion. If you like to see and be seen, Chanel, Prada and Louis Vuitton have jumped on board the design train, churning out irresistible designs. Seeking a travel backpack for women? They’re out there. Sadly, not all innovations on the backpack market are upbeat and fun: Bullet-proof bags, in response to a growing epidemic of school shootings, give anxious parents new tools for protecting their kids.
6 Tips for Picking the Right Backpack
Backpacking is wildly popular in Australia, so we turned to an Aussie website for advice on how to choose the right backpack:
- Follow the Australian Physiotherapists Association warning: “Backpacks for growing bodies should never exceed 10-percent of the child’s weight.” This weight warning also goes when you shop for a travel backpack for women.
- Strap adjustments are critical. Audition backpacks before buying and work the straps so the bag sits comfortably against the back. Avoid loose straps. The pack’s weight needs to stay below the waistline or you risk putting too much stress on your spine.
- Use your torso length (measure your C7 vertebra to your hip bone) to gauge the optimal backpack size for your body. This simple measure can mean the difference between comfort and discomfort once you’ve packed.
- Seek a bag with a sternum strap if you intend to carry gear around your workplace in your backpack. This simple strap stabilizes contents and prevents shoulder-strap slide, a situation that's particularly troubling for women.
- Find the proper-sized backpack that’s loaded with padding—especially the hip belt--since it sits atop your hip bone and will be the first area that starts aching if you choose a bare-bones bag with no padding.
Proper Packing Techniques
The largest backpacks on the market require special attention because you’ll carry so much. Always pack weighty items closest to the spine. Traveling with your laptop? It belongs there, too, even if it’s not the heaviest item you carry.
Compression straps can be invaluable, whether you’re seeking a mens travel backpack or one that suits women: The more interior compression straps your backpack has, the more stability you’ll enjoy as you use them to tether your clothes, electronics, toiletries, travel wallet and other essentials.
You don’t have to spend a fortune for an extended-trip, high-capacity backpack that meets our 40-liter criteria if you select the G4. It’s roomy enough for “your hammock, clothes, towel, journal and a couple beers if needed,” says the manufacturer. But if a party is the last thing on your mind because you’re traveling on business, this versatile backpack won't drive you to business class; it costs less than a tank of gas.
Lightweight, fashioned of water- and tear-resistant nylon and featuring adjustable, breathable padded shoulder straps, this backpack comes in 7 vibrant colors. There’s a main compartment, interior and exterior pouches plus a spandex pouch for odd-shaped items. A third strap with chest clip helps distribute the load evenly. When not in use, the G4 hides in a storage pouch/travel wallet--and for women, there’s an extra measure of safety that’s so simple, it’s ingenious: The chest clips serve as whistles so wearers can deal with dangerous situations on a mountain or in a board room!
- This top-loading bag features a drawstring lock.
- That third strap helps bear the weight load so your skeletal system isn’t stressed.
- Side pouches constrain small items like a cell, digital camera or medicines.
- The inner compartment’s fabric divider is an organizational plus.
- There is no hip strap, essential for a backpack measuring 40-liters or more.
- Shoppers return these backpacks complaining of seam rips and tears in the nylon fabric.
- This bag isn’t water-resistant, despite manufacturer claims.
- Zippers could stick or break with little provocation after less-than-strenuous wear.
At 55-liters, the Osprey Farpoint flaunts its capacity. Designed to handle up to 50 pounds of contents, going to Europe for an extended stay with just this backpack is possible and you don’t have to compromise style for utility. Fabricated of industrial-strength polyester, Osprey prides itself on exceptional straps and belts: the hip belt and harness system make it easy to tote lots of weight and a separate daypack attaches to the harness for extra storage.
Osprey backpacks feature “sleeping pad straps” that attach quickly if needed and loops on zippers offer portals for TSA-approved locks (not included). Everything folds down for storage when the backpack isn’t in use. At the other end of the price continuum from the G4, you get nearly double the capacity and construction that’s legendary.
- Get the “All-Mighty Guarantee” that covers damage and defects back to 1974 purchases.
- The 55-liter capacity and safety/security features alone justify the price.
- The LightWire frame suspension/hip belt system helps balance weight loads.
- Mesh back panel, harness and belt are designed to serve as ventilation systems.
- You’ll pay 8-times as much for this backpack as you would for the G4.
- Problems detaching the daypack and reattaching it have been reported to Osprey.
- If you like to replace items for newer styling periodically, you may not want to spend this much.
- Consumers complain the 55-liter capacity is actually a pairing of a 40-liter backpack and 15-liter daypack.
At 65 liters, packing for business, pleasure or a little of both is easy. At half the price of the Osprey, this hot seller features a rugged internal frame that supports big loads. Pass-through side pockets allow you to stuff your travel wallet, skis, baseball bats or the gift you’re taking to a destination wedding inside with room to spare. Use this bag strictly for recreational pursuits and you’ll love extras like the hydration sleeve designed to hold a water bladder (sold separately).
Enjoy multi-position, torso-adjustment features that can be customized. Open-cell foam pads and molded panels contour this backpack to your body and waist belt straps adjust from 28-incheds to 70-inches. Teton offers a limited lifetime warranty, one reason this bag and brand has become a consumer favorite over time.
- Comes in 3 popular color mixes: navy, grey and hunter green.
- The sturdy hip strap evens the load, no matter how heavy it may be.
- The 4000 features 6 compartments, a main compartment, mesh pouches, gear loops and 4 compression straps.
- Bendable aluminum framing and thick lumbar pads maintain the shape of this backpack for years to come.
- Some purchasers dispute the 65-liter claim, saying capacity is closer to 55-liters.
- Velcro straps don't always stay in place.
- Despite claims to the contrary, campers say this bag is more suitable as luggage.
- Ripped seams have been reported when this backpack was returned.
There’s a reason they call this the granddaddy of backpacks: It’s constructed to hold 90-liters of contents so if you’re heading for a long European trip, not only can you bring enough clothing to get you through your itinerary without stopping to do laundry, but the price is affordable, too.
Teton’s largest internal frame backpack is strap-rich: the thickly-padded wishbone waist pad covers hips independently giving the wearer excellent skeletal support. A free poncho glazed with a 2000mm water-resist coating comes with each bag; it doubles as a tarp, tent or shelter should you get stuck in a downpour. The recipient of 5-star reviews from campers, travelers, men and women, this backpack comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
- You’d be hard-pressed to find a more affordable, expansive bag for extended trips.
- The aluminum framework helps you navigate any terrain, despite the load.
- Compression straps and wishbone waist pad in concert with the frame get high marks.
- That free tarp with carry bag could come in handy if weather turns bad.
- 5500 Teton purchasers say the waist belt may not tighten enough for slim people.
- Fabric could rip and fray where it’s stitched to the aluminum frame.
- The limited lifetime warranty gives Teton the option of saying no to replacements.
- There are no zippered, waterproofed interior pockets to contain liquids.
If you take frequent extended trips and need the ultimate in expandability, this Terra Peak backpack is your solution because clever cords allow you to tailor the silhouette of this bag to suit the contents you pack. Why is this important? When you stow items in huge, unstructured space, contents can shift like they do in clothes dryers.
Comparably priced with the Teton Sports Grand, this backpack features an adjustable internal framing system designed to reduce fatigue and spare muscles and bones from stress. Adjust the sternum strap up or down for a better fit using the SBS buckle. Shoppers buy this 5-pound bag for its expansion capability, compression straps and exterior mesh pockets.
- Includes an elastic bungee cord system, trekking pole attachment, elastic bands, hypalon loops and internal and external pockets.
- Hydration compartment offers easy access to a water bladder when you're on the move.
- Padded, breathable mesh back and shoulder strap panels cushion and cool the body.
- Get adjustable sizing at a cheaper price by ordering the black or navy models.
- Terra Peak’s backpack cover is necessary to keep driving rain from infiltrating bag contents.
- The manufacturer only warranties this product for 2 years.
- Comes in 8 colors; only 4 come with the backpack cover that keeps contents dry.
- The $40 color differential may be deal breaker if you're on a budget.
Purists debate the difference between the 3 top nylon fabrics used to make high-impact goods: Ballistic, Cordura and Ripstop. “The most trusted brand is Cordura Brand nylon,” say the folks at LoadedPocketz.com, which is why you may wish to take a second look at this Mountainsmith backpack fabricated of Cordura.
This bag features a tuning-fork waist belt frame that fits over the hip bone. The U-shaped zipper offers easy access to the main compartment that holds 60-liters of contents. Like other high-quality backpacks, the aluminum suspension system adds shape and strength to the bag that offers “intuitive features” like a mesh stash pocket, phone-sized waist belt pocket, EVA back panel padding and lash points to stow tools.
- The interior is lined with sturdy 210D nylon-embossed fabric.
- Cordura is considered the ultimate textile for longevity and strength.
- The YKK zippers are a great feature; they are versatile and less prone to breaking.
- Backpackers love the reflective cord trim, compression gear strap and multi-point ladder adjustment suspension system.
- The Apex costs as much as the pricey but popular Osprey 55.
- Due to the backpack’s shape, it may not hold a full 60-liters’ worth of contents.
- Availability could be tricky; these sell out fast and may not be in stock.
- There’s a $50 difference in colors; you'll have to settle for burnt ochre if you're on a tight budget.
One of the original brand-name backpack makers, North Face’s image is legendary, thus fans are favorably disposed to the 65-liter backpack on reputation alone. The Terra 65 features the company’s Opti-Fit suspension system designed for maximum comfort. The hip belt not only distributes weight but it’s lined with soft tricot. This proprietary feature has recently been re-designed and improved.
The shoulder harness is sleek, “cushy” and padded to distribute weight comfortably, and while the bag weighs only 4 pounds, the 600D polyester shell holds up under extreme circumstances. You get 7+ pockets of varying sizes to secure items of all sizes and while color availability is limited to black, navy and brown, it’s the North Face logo on the bag that may be your decision maker.
- Brand reputation and guarantees are this backpack's claims to fame.
- The signature Opti-Fit suspension system and hip belt features are legendary.
- This backpack has more pockets than competitors; shoulder harnesses beat other brands for cushioning and comfort.
- Sturdy textiles are used for both the 600D poly shell and ultra-soft tricot liner.
- If you dislike side-loading backpacks because contents spill out, think twice before buying.
- Few color choices make this bag less stylish than competitors.
- There’s a $40 color differential between colors despite no change in exterior design.
- Consumers return this bag for waist strap tears, rips and flimsy plastic closers.
Can a backpack that costs 1/3 the price of high-end competitors compete with big brands? The answer is yes if you’re a product produced at Xiamen, Fujian’s Suretex manufacturing company, a relatively new entity eager to make a name for itself in this super-saturated industry. This 50/60-liter bag is spacious and features a unique “detachable back-carrying system,” so if your bag tends to attract soil like a magnet, you can detach and clean the panel, refastening it when you’re ready to get it dirty again.
Constructed of water-resistant nylon fabric, many features recommend this inexpensive bag: comfortable shoulder straps, mesh side pockets, 2 front zipper pockets, metal framework that holds its shape and distributes the carry load. Fabricated in six colors, this backpack is a good choice for shoppers who want to carry a lot but not spend a lot to do so.
- Comes with a rain cover to keep contents dry even during heavy rains.
- The adjustable straps and metal frame help distribute the heaviest loads.
- Gear straps, cord loops and slots provide clever ways to secure items of all sizes and shapes.
- Two separators sewn into the interior compartment make organizing contents a breeze.
- The bag’s limited warranty only lasts 3-months and then you’re on your own.
- Tote the backpack without its rain cover and your contents could get wet.
- This bag will more likely hold 50-liters than 60, so be aware of this before you buy.
- The manufacturer doesn’t disclose the type of frame metal. Assume it’s not aluminum.
Conclusion: The Winner Is…
It’s no easy job to compare a backpack that costs nearly $200 to one that sells for around $20, but we accepted the challenge. High-end products like Osprey, North Face and Mountainsmith deliver wear and tear protection that lasts many years into the future, but if you’re the sort who can’t bear to part with a bag just because it’s old, justifying replacing your backpack as newer models arrive on the scene (some with electronics capacity without today’s high price tags), could be hard to face.
The G4 is so bare bones, choose it only if your budget is in the basement. The Suretex makes a good compromise if a short warranty or mystery metal framework don't concern you. We eliminated the cheaper Teton in favor of its older brother: The backpack that survived our scrutiny is the Teton Sports Grand 5500 Backpack (#4) which re-defines high-capacity at 90-liters and makes top-ten lists frequently for engineering, structure, price and features. Few downsides and plenty of benefits make the 5500 a solid choice that is likely to do everything you ask of it; maybe more.