Whether you’re globetrotting or planning a weekend getaway, the right bag can make all the difference. And while there are a lot of bags that claim universality, sometimes a bag with a singular focus proves more functional — a la a travel backpack.
Backpacks, as versatile as they are consistent, work well as the primary pack for short weekend trips or as an auxiliary load for longer flights. (They usually abide by airlines’ strict “personal item” size restrictions.) The options on our list vary from small, gadget- and laptop-friendly bags (with trolley slots) to bigger, cargo-centric styles with several compartments for all of your essentials and strapping designed to balance the bag’s weight.
Within all of these, compartments aplenty ease the travel experience. Some have slots for passports and phones; others have loops for keys or zippered pouches for foreign currency; all of them have isolated laptop compartments, and a few have trolley sleeves for sliding the bag over your suitcase’s handle. However, I’m not trying to one-size-fits-all the travel experience. Just as no trips are the same — and no two people prefer the identical itineraries in the same cities — bags are not either, and what works for one may not work for another. (“Who brings their laptop on vacation?” someone might wonder.) And although you may feel tempted to buy a backpack so bold, so brazen that it’ll be unmistakably yours, don’t — get something subtle, loaded with features and sans overt, ugly logos.
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Best Overall Travel Backpack
Tranzpack CNNCT Coated-Canvas Backpack
Once the supplier of bags for the US Army, Eastpak has since — evident by this bag — expanded into civilian gear. Their Tranzpack is made from coated-canvas, features padded shoulder straps and a book-like zipper design that lets the wearer pack it like a suitcase.
Best Upgrade Travel Backpack
Generation Slipstream Backpack
Troubadour turned the mundane middle school essential into a bonafide luxury bag. This option’s cut from lightweight and water-resistant Italian vegetable-tanned leather, and finished with gun metal zipper and even more leather accents. A trolley sleeve lets you secure the bag over a bigger suitcase’s telescopic handle and a separate laptop compartment and general storage area keeps everything organized and protected.
Best Affordable Travel Backpack
Although outdoor leaning, Roark’s 27L pack features travel-friendly features like an invisible passport sleeve, a mesh accessories pocket, a sunglasses pouch, padded laptop storage and an accessible rolltop closure.
Router Transit Backpack
The Transit model is The North Face’s biggest backpack. Clocking in at 41L, there’s room for a laptop, tablet and several more gadgets, plus the rest of the stuff you’d usually pack: a change of clothes, a book, headphones and a water bottle. Plus, a few of the pockets are fleece-lined for added protection.
Away doesn’t just make suitcases. They know the easiest way around an airport is a wheeled suitcase in one hand with a backpack draped down its handle. As such, they’ve constructed the latter from water-resistant nylon outfitted with pockets for a laptop, tickets and a passport, a large center compartment for clothes and other bulky items and an expandable side pocket for a water bottle or umbrella. Best of all, it comes in four colors that match well with the Away suitcase you already own.
Cordura Ripstop Backback
This bag’s cordura ripstop construction renders it durable and weather resistant. Plus, it’s comfortable, too. Padded shoulder straps lessen the load; pockets divvy up the weight; pouches organize your essentials; a buckled front strap secures it across your chest.
Webbing-Trimmed Econyl Backpack
Japan brand Indispensable makes an array of bags that are, well, as the name suggests, indispensable. (Sorry.) This one’s cut from Econyl, a material derived from marine and landfill waste. It’s water- and scuff-resistant and features pockets all over.
Journeyman Leather-Trimmed Canvas Twill Backpack
This bag showcases Filson’s range. Unlike the one that appeared earlier on this list, most of the storage compartments are internalized, offering security and a clean, sleek aesthetic. It’s constructed from the brand’s oil-finished Tin Cloth and lined with soft canvas. There’s a separated laptop sleeve, several more pockets, and a few pouches for smaller personal items.
Herschel’s Tech Backpack emphasizes storage solutions for the gear-savvy. Hidden and overt pockets aplenty make room for a laptop, tablet, earbuds, headphones, chargers, cameras, phones, and, for the international traveler, a passport.
The grail. The I-just-spent-a-flight-ticket-on-this-bag pick. Anson Calder’s sleek, rectangular backpack cut from French calfskin allows for customization, courtesy of the brand’s in-house cases, sleeves and pouches, which can be attached to internal or external loops. Plus, there’s a padded rear laptop sleeve inside to separate your most valuable cargo.
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