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Choose your best travel backpack for solo travel

If there is one item that I think is important to the success of your travels, it’s your backpack. I have been on many different trips over the years and travelled with many different backpacks and I clearly remember which were good choices and which were terrible choices. I can’t say that about any other item! This is because making a bad choice can literally make every travel day painful.

This is why choosing the best travel backpack is such an important decision, especially if you are going on a longer trip or visiting multiple destinations with lots of travel days or if you are on a low budget so you want to avoid taxis. Below you will find my complete guide to choosing the best travel backpacks 2016 so you can make the best decision possible and avoid one of my painful mistakes.

Why travel with a backpack?

So why travel with a backpack at all? This can be a big decision in itself and suitcases definitely have their place. We have traveled with both – a suitcase was essential when we were traveling with babies and toddlers and had a fair bit of gear we needed to take with us. Not just this, but since we often had a kid in a carrier and a day pack, carrying a travel backpack as well would just be too much.

However, now our kids are a bit older, we are firmly back to travelling with backpacks and loving it.

This is because the best travel bags just make our life when traveling easier. As long as you have a backpack that fits well with good weight distribution, then I find them very easy to carry. This is especially the case when you are dealing with stairs, uneven payments, public transport, etc.

Another bonus is that many of the top travel backpacks 2016 are compact enough that there are no problems taking them on board buses, planes etc which not only saves time when arriving and departing a city and is more secure, but also can save a fair bit of money. If you are like us and like to save money using budget airlines, then never paying baggage charges can add up to a huge saving.

Another reason I love backpacks is because the good quality backpacks I own have lasted years and are still going strong. They do not seem to get as damaged as easily as suitcases and I find them far better value. They have a more flexible size and shape so when they are not full, there is more chance that I can take them on board planes. You can also buy backpacks that have detachable day packs to make things even easier. If you pick one of the best travel bags, you should not need to ever buy another one.

How to pick the best backpack for travel

There are quite a few things to consider when picking what is the best backpack for travel for you. An important thing to note is that just because a pack was the best travel pack for your friend/sister/colleague, don’t assume that it will also be the best pick for you. Some of my mistakes were following others’ recommendations and borrowing their packs. Your needs and size will most probably be different so it is important to work it out for yourself.

These are the aspects I recommend considering when picking your travel backpack…

1. Type

There are many types of packs so think about what type is best for your needs. For example, do you want a large travel backpack to carry everything for multiple seasons?? Carry on sized backpack? Day pack? One for your laptop, camera, etc. Are you not sure? (in which case keep reading!)

2. Size

The size of the pack is the MOST important aspect of picking the best backpack for travel. It’s really REALLY important that you pick a backpack that you can carry comfortably. I am not just talking about whether the pack is big or small or how many liters it is, but the size, shape and how it fits on your back.

On my first backpacking trip to Europe, I borrowed a pack from a tall male friend. BIG mistake! It was taller than me when I was wearing it and would nearly topple me over even though it wasn’t that heavy. This is an extreme example of why you need a backpack that fits you well, but even being not quite right for your back can cause issues over time.

That experience was so much different to my next trip to Europe where I spent a decent amount of money on a high quality backpack which was made especially for women. I barely felt like I was wearing a pack and I took just as many things.

On the issue of the number of liters, my advice in general is to pick something that is only slightly bigger than you need. If you a huge shopper when travelling and this is important to you, then you can ignore this advice. However if you are like me and like to travel light, then a smaller pack is the way to go. In my experience, if there is space in a pack then I want to fill it! Better to avoid the temptation.

3. Straps

Straps are also a very important element in the best backpacks for travel – after all these are what will be touching you. Good straps will help ensure a comfortable fit. If the straps are no good then it doesn’t matter what size your backpack is, it will still be uncomfortable (and possibly painful). This is what I look for:

    Padded hip strap. This is absolutely essential for spreading the weight over your body and is why I put it in bold. I find this essential in both the best backpacking backpacks and carry on sized backpacks. This is because a good hip strap makes a huge difference as to whether the backpack is easy to carry or digs into your shoulders and painful. Any hip strap is better than none but padding helps to make it more comfortable on your hips.
    Padded shoulder straps. As with the hip strap, this will make it much more comfortable on your shoulders and less likely to cause bruising (unfortunately, I have received bruises from a pack in the past). Make sure the padding is thick.
    A strap that connects across your chest between the two shoulder straps. This helps distribute the weight more evenly. There is no need for this strap to be padded as it does not sit on you.
    A carry strap is a nice to have. Sometimes it is convenient to carry a backpack like a shoulder bag, or even just to be able to pick it up quickly to move it somewhere and this enables that. It is even more important to have some type of strap if you have a backpack where the main straps have a cover which can be zipped over them for plane trips (something else which is also a nice to have).

4. Frame

There are three options – none, external and internal frames. If the pack has an external frame, you will see big poles sticking out – avoid these! They tend to be heavier and are just not necessary. Internal, lightweight frames are what you should be looking for in the best travelling backpack 2016. However, if you are choosing a small backpack or day pack then a frame may not be necessary at all.

5. Compartments

Another thing to look for in the best backpacks for travel 2016 is mutiple compartments. Just one compartment can be annoying. For one reason because there are always items you need to be able to access quickly that you don’t want swallowed up by the rest of your bag.

However, too many compartments is also a bad thing. I am sure most of us have traveled at some point with someone who has a backpack with many different compartments and then they can never find anything!

I find 3-5 compartments are ideal and at least one should be lockable.

6. Material

Generally, the best backpacks for travel are made with water resistant material. This is essential! It does not have to be fully waterproof but you should be able to get caught in rain without all your belongings getting wet. Look for material which is good quality – thick but lightweight. You should be able to spill some water on your pack without any water getting inside.

Similarly, you also want material that will dry quickly if it is caught in rain. No one wants to be stuck with a wet pack.

7. Access

It’s also important to consider how you can access the compartments in your backpack. I find the biggest problem can be with top loading backpacks where you can only get things in and out from the top. If you are considering this style of backpack, think about whether that will frustrate you.

My favorites are backpacks with a U zip – this is a zip which goes around three sides of the backpack which can give as good as access to your belongings as a suitcase. This makes it far easier and quicker to access everything.

Comparison chart of the best travel backpacks 2016

The following is a comparison chart of all the options for best backpack 2016 which we have reviewed in this guide. You can click the column headings to easily compare whichever criteria you want.


Backpack TypeCapacity Rating
Deuter Aircontact 65+10 Backpack Main75See It5.0
Kelty Women's Redwing 40-Liter Backpack Women/Carry On/Main44See It4.9
Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack Carry On/Main40See It4.8
Kelty Redwing 44 Backpack Carry On/Main44See It4.8
Osprey Porter Travel Backpack Bag Carry On/Main46See It4.7
Osprey Packs Atmos 65 Backpack Main65See It4.7
Osprey Daylite Backpack Carry On/Day Pack12See It4.6
SwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart Backpack 1900 Laptop Backpack See It4.6
Outlander Packable Travel Backpack Carry On/Day Pack20See It4.5
Osprey Aura 65 Backpack Women65See It4.5
Osprey Men's Waypoint 80 Travel Backpack Main85See It4.4
Targus Drifter II Backpack for 17-Inch Laptop Laptop Backpack See It4.2