There's nothing quite like a sturdy travel backpack. It comes in handy wherever you go, whether that's toting it around an airport, exploring new city streets or hiking a new trail.
“Backpacks are the easiest way to carry personal items and essentials in one place,” travel expert Valerie Joy Wilson tells us. They also make versatile carry-ons, which is why travel pro Misty Belles of Virtuoso Travel often reaches for them when she's flying with her kids or heading somewhere she knows she'll be more active.
That said, travel backpacks come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors and patterns, and shopping for the right one can get overwhelming. As Wilson puts it, "everyone is different, and what’s essential can vary from one traveler to the next, so one backpack will not fit everyone’s needs."
That's why we talked to several travel pros to help us — and you! — select the right travel backpack for whatever type of journey you embark on.
What to look for | Best budget | Most versatile | Best daypacks | Best for carry-ons | Best for work | Best eco-friendly | Best for one-bag travel | Best for organized packers | Most durable | Best expandable | Most stylish | How we chose | FAQs | Meet our experts
Best budget travel backpacks
Material: Water-resistant polyester | Dimensions: 12 x 18 x 7.8 in. | Weight: 1.56 lbs | Capacity: 30 L | Laptop pocket: 15.6 in. | Other features: Luggage sleeve, USB port, anti-theft pocket, key hook | Colors available: 24 | Warranty: Lifetime through company website
Amazon's No. 1 bestseller in laptop backpacks deserves that spot — not only is it currently under $25, but it's built like many of the higher-end travel backpacks on this list. It has a breathable, padded back panel and shoulder straps so you can stay comfortable wearing it and it also has a luggage sleeve should you need to securely set it atop your suitcase. We like the USB charger port for convenience, as well. The construction is durable, boasting a water-resistant exterior and metal (not plastic) zippers. It's versatile, too: Its svelte silhouette betrays how much it can pack in, and it works for both air travel and commuting to work.
Material: Waterproof polyester | Dimensions: 17 x 31 x 42 in. | Weight: 2.2 lbs | Capacity: 17 L | Laptop pocket: 14 in. | Other features: USB port, antitheft pocket, chest buckle | Colors available: 15 | Warranty: N/A
This backpack is ideal for a traveler that enjoys a bag with a softer, less industrial design, but still wants a bag with simplicity and organization. It comes with a separate shoe compartment, built-in charging port, interior pocket, anti-theft pocket and even a laptop sleeve to keep your things ultra-organized.
"This bag is the perfect size to use as a free airline personal item. Lots of organization built in and the way the bag is designed you are able to utilize every inch of space," reports one Amazon reviewer.
Material: Recycled polyester | Dimensions: 19.25 x 13 x 8.25 in. | Weight: 2.6 lbs | Capacity: 35 L | Laptop pocket: 17 in. | Other features: Water-resistant, padded laptop pocket, padded shoulder straps, mesh and organizer zip pockets, luggage sleeve, adjustable compression clasps | Colors available: 2 | Warranty: 1-year limited warranty
We like that this Target pick sports specs and features that befit a more expensive backpack. But at just under $50, this fits both our quality and budget requirements. First, the size: It can hold 35 liters, the biggest capacity of our budget picks. Its exterior is soft but waterproof and made of durable polyester and the bag itself has everything you'll need to travel without worrying about your goods: a trolley sleeve, side compression straps and a padded laptop pocket, for instance. Plus, the zip closure goes all the way around the bag, making it easy to access whatever you need without having to dig.
Most versatile travel backpacks
Material: Coated water-repellent nylon | Dimensions: 16 x 12 x 6 in. | Weight: 1.76 lbs | Capacity: 18 L | Laptop pocket: 15 in. | Other features: RFID-blocking, elastic side pocket, padded shoulder straps and laptop pocket, luggage sleeve, tote handles | Colors available: 4 | Warranty: 5-year limited warranty
This one is for any last-minute trips — or just about anything else. One TODAY editor raves about this backpack's versatility, saying it works equally well as a weekender tote and carry-on.
"The backpack has five additional interior and exterior pockets for holding the essentials. I use the zippered inner pocket to store everything I want to keep safe and clean, like my passport, disposable masks and antibacterial wipes."
Material: 600D water-resistant recycled polyester, polyester and foam interior | Dimensions: 11.5 x 7 x 16.25 in. | Weight: 1.75 lbs | Capacity: 21.4 L | Laptop pocket: 15 in. | Other features: Padded memory foam straps, luggage sleeve, removable insert with dedicated laptop sleeve and water bottle pocket, memory foam-padded shoulder straps | Colors available: 3 | Warranty: 1-year warranty (third-party purchases not covered)
Shop TODAY's senior partnerships editor Francesca Cocchi Zabloudil is a huge fan of Lo & Sons' weekender bags for how spacious and space-efficient they are, in addition to being impeccably constructed of high-quality materials. We were delighted to find out that their Hanover 2 travel backpack also checks off those boxes.
The design is simple but minimalist chic, and its exterior betrays an inside that's extremely space-efficient. It has both a TSA-friendly removable laptop sleeve and multiple stash pockets, and it can fit both a laptop and tablet, as well as a few books and your toiletries and cords.
Best daypacks for outdoor travel
Material: Not listed, water-resistant "hammock-like" material | Dimensions: 12.6 x 7.9 x 19.7 in. | Weight: 2.43 lbs | Capacity: 40 L | Laptop pocket: 16 in. | Other features: Laptop pocket, two side pockets, two hip pockets, latching loop, trekking pole, bottom and side buckles, whistle buckles | Colors available: 9 | Warranty: N/A
If you're looking for an option that's built for a trip where you'll be spending most of your time outdoors, this is a good option, particularly for its hydration system. The backpack is weather-resistant and can withstand most of what the trail might bring, including sharp objects and water. The multi-compartments and roomy interior will give you the convenience to carry all your essentials without feeling extra weight due to its lightweight construction.
Material: 300D recycled polyester, PFC-free DWR | Dimensions: 16.93 x 10.24 x 7.87 in. | Weight: 1.1 lbs | Capacity: 13 L | Laptop pocket: 13 in. | Other features: Tech/reservoir sleeve, dual-side compression straps, two side bottle pockets, harness that doubles as trolley sleeve | Colors available: 11 | Warranty: All Mighty Guarantee lifetime functional repair
Ali Garland, travel expert of blog Travel Made Simple, is a fan of Osprey's daypacks, like this slim, 18-liter one with a built-in water reservoir sleeve. In fact, "My husband has a bigger Osprey he uses as his main bag when we travel," she says.
This pack is best if you're traveling light, and especially if you plan to be on your feet for most of your travels; in addition to its hydration-friendly design, it only weighs a little over a pound.
Material: 1000D recycled nylon, 420D recycled nylon | Dimensions: 11 x 17 x 4.5 in. | Weight: 1 lb | Capacity: 20 L | Other features: Flat top with two side-release buckles, drawstring closure, laptop sleeve, two adjustable side bottle pockets, four side compression straps, top carry handle, key clip, travel bag attachment loops | Colors available: 21 | Warranty: Lifetime warranty
This pick is a daypack that's designed mainly for trails, but it's stylish enough that it can double as a work bag, school backpack and even, as writer and frequent traveler Bridget Shirvell calls it, a "day out in the city" pack.
Shirvell says that for its design quality, durable feel and the company's limited lifetime warranty and repairs program, it's very much worth its price point. It also has pockets, but not too many pockets that she's having to search through them for longer than she'd like to, especially in an airport line. And don't let the skinny, tall shape fool you: In addition to her 13-inch Macbook, "I also easily fit several books, headphones, charging cables, my water bottle, a snack and essentials (including sunglasses, a hat, my wallet and more)," Shirvell says.
Best carry-on backpacks for air travel
Material: Ballistic nylon shell with water-repellent finish, polyester lining | Dimensions: 12 x 18 x 6 in. | Weight: 1.7 lbs | Capacity: 22 L | Laptop pocket: 15 in. | Other features: Padded laptop sleeve, adjustable sternum strap, luggage sleeve, inner tech cord pocket, side zip pockets, key fob | Colors available: 2 | Warranty: Not listed
This backpack from Land's End comes with triple compartments for easy organization. It's also water-repellent matter if it starts raining, this bag will keep your shoes and clothes dry. It has a trolley sleeve to put on top of your carry-on and enough pockets to keep small things neat and tidy. The cherry on top is that the brand lets you personalize it with your initials for a cool $8.
Material: Abrasion-resistant recycled polyester | Dimensions: 19 x 12.6 x 7.7 in. | Weight: 1.74 lbs | Capacity: 26 L | Laptop pocket: 15 in. | Other features: Two water bottle side pockets, laptop pocket, luggage sleeve, front webbing key loops | Colors available: 3 | Warranty: 100-day return policy, limited 1-year warranty
Away's backpack is another pick that has a versatile design and can hold all of your travel must-haves, and its constructed with the same attention to detail that's feature on their famous hardshell suitcases.
The bag is a favorite of Shop TODAY associate editor Emma Stessman: "It's my go-to for both work and travel, especially when I need to bring my laptop along. It's super roomy so I can fit my laptop, gym clothes and anything else I need for the day. There are two spots you can keep your laptop — in the sleeve in the main compartment or a hidden back zippered pocket. Plus, it has a bunch of other pockets so it's easy to keep everything organized."
Material: Premium nylon twill, ultra-microfiber vegan leather | Dimensions: 11.5 × 16.5 × 6 in. | Weight: 2.4 lbs (nylon), 3 lbs (vegan leather), 0.6 lb (detachable kit) | Capacity: 18 L | Laptop pocket: 15 in. | Other features: Hidden back pocket with magnet closure, waterproof wet pocket, detachable toiletry kit, top carry handles, luggage sleeve, felt-lined interior tech sleeve, separate zippered laptop pocket | Colors available: 9 | Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
I (Sales) use this bag myself for work: I just remove the detachable dopp kit, insert my laptop in the dedicated zippered compartment, and stuff all my other essentials (including a book, 32-ounce bottle and perhaps a change of clothes for the gym) in the main compartment, with plenty of room to spare. But however little you pack in it, it keeps its shape because of the semi-rigid construction. Its flexible capacity, combined with the fact that it's airport-friendly (the separate laptop compartment is helpful, along with the attachable dopp kit and luggage handle sleeve), makes this one of my favorite all-around travel bags.
Best travel backpacks for work trips
Material: Polyester | Dimensions: 19 x 12.6 x 7.7 in. | Weight: 2.3 lbs | Capacity: 26 L | Laptop pocket: 16 in. | Other features: TSA-friendly removable laptop sleeve, padded back and shoulder straps, padded carry handle, quick access pocket, file compartment, headphone port | Colors available: 1 | Warranty: 5-year warranty
While this budget pick only comes in one color and has no luggage handle strap, we think its functionality and sleek, unisex design more than makes up for it. Besides its versatile shape and color scheme, the bag's removable laptop sleeve also makes it great for business trips that involve air travel. Its interior also has an organizer section and a file pocket, and it has two zippered outer side pockets and one front pocket for quick access to your small essentials.
One reviewer reported, "I searched high and low for a replacement laptop bag and landed on the Solo. I'm happy. Plenty of storage space and the build quality seems good. I wanted a bag that looked professional in a business setting and not like a school bag, and this fit."
Best eco-friendly travel backpack
Material: Recycled slash-proof polyester, nylon | Dimensions: 16 x 9 x 12 in. | Weight: 1.6 lbs | Capacity: 15 L | Laptop pocket: 20 in | Other features: TSA-approved lock, hidden zippered passport pocket, 2 padded tech pockets with Velcro straps, two water bottle holders | Colors available: 2 | Warranty: 180-day guarantee
The Compass Backpack is made from recycled water bottles and is slash-proof, which is a nice feature when hiking through the woods with sticks and thorns. The backside pocket can also keep valuables like a phone and passport safe and out of sight.
Best backpack for one-bag traveling
Material: 450D recycled twist dobby polyester, PFAS-free DWR | Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 in. | Weight: 3.4 lbs | Capacity: 40 L | Laptop pocket: 16 in. | Other features: Zipper laptop sleeve, stow-away harness, padded top and side handles, "shove it" front pocket, hip belt, external gear attachment loops, adjustable chest strap with stress whistle | Colors available: 4 | Warranty: All Mighty Guarantee
Nomadosaurus directors and outdoor travel experts Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem, as well as Albelda of The World Or Bust, recommend Osprey's Farpoint 40 travel backpack as a good carry-on solution. The brand highlights this lightweight pack by noting that it's made for "fast-moving" individuals, further emphasizing how you can continue to be on-the-go and ready with all of your goods.
Material: ShoreTex (upcycled ocean-bound plastic-derived durable fabric) | Dimensions: 11 x 17.25 x 7.5 in. | Weight: 2.8 lbs (bag), 0.75 lb (closet) | Capacity: 17 - 29 L | Laptop pocket: 16 in. | Other features: Removable hanging closet, expandable, four secret pockets, luggage strap, padded back support and shoulder straps, water-resistant base, "workzone" pocket with drop-proof laptop and cable storage | Colors available: 6 | Warranty: 2-year warranty
Similar to a toiletry bag, this backpack can be hung on a hook and unfolded to display all of the items within easily. Plan and pick out your outfits seamlessly, thanks to the multiple pockets, that make organizing a breeze when packing.
Best travel backpack for organization
Material: ShoreTex (upcycled ocean-bound plastic-derived durable fabric) | Dimensions: 11 x 17.25 x 7.5 in.| Weight: 4 lbs | Capacity: 27 - 35 L | Laptop pocket: 17 in. | Other features: Removable hanging closet, expandable, four secret pockets, luggage strap, padded back support and shoulder straps, water-resistant base, "workzone" pocket with drop-proof laptop and cable storage | Colors available: 6 | Warranty: 2-year warranty
This backpack comes highly recommended for those who want to remain organized while traveling, because it has a laptop compartment and adjustable internal compartments that are complete with velcro dividers.
Most durable travel backpacks
Material: Water-resistant 600D polyester with PU5 coating | Dimensions: 9.1 x 10.6 x 5.5 in.| Weight: 1.5 lbs | Capacity: 15 L | Laptop pocket: 15 in. | Other features: Adjustable chest straps, removable waist band, lined laptop/hydration pack compartment, customizable camera storage, GoPro mount | Colors available: 1 | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty
Road trips often mean hopping in and out of the car as you travel to different locations. The Daytripper backpack is ideal for that since it has protective compartments for cameras and lenses, along with a designated spot for a laptop or hydration bladder for when your family gets thirsty while touring a new place.
Material: Water-repellent recycled polyester and canvas, premium leather, antimicrobial lining | Dimensions: 16 x 14 x 6 in.| Weight: 2.7 lbs | Capacity: 24 L | Laptop pocket: 15.6 in. | Other features: Luggage sleeve, RFID protection, tote handles, wide-mouth opening, padded laptop sleeve, external side pockets, detachable backpack straps | Colors available: 2 | Warranty: Limited 2-year warranty
I (Sales) own this! It's the sturdiest bag I've ever had — you can feel how thick and protective it is, and it's water-resistant too. I like the opening at the top because I can see everything immediately when I open it, and the useful easy access pockets on the front. The straps are super soft so my shoulders don't get tired when I fully pack this, and I like that it has a laptop sleeve and that the straps are detachable, and that it can be carried as a tote (which I do half the time).
Best expandable travel backpack
Material: Weatherproof recycled 400D nylon canvas external shell, 900D waterproof bottom liner | Weight: 3.17 lbs | Capacity: 27 - 33 L | Laptop pocket: 15 in. | Other features: Padded laptop and tablet sleeves, expandable, expandable side pockets, rear access, stow-away carry straps, luggage sleeve, stow-away chest strap, protected luggage tag holder, threat-deterrent zipper pulls | Colors available: 3 | Warranty: Lifetime guarantee
"We've recently started using the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L and have to say this is a pretty revolutionary bag as well. Might just be our new favorite!" the couple from Nomadosaurus said. Carry-on approved, this backpack can hold up to three packing cubes and has a top pocket, two side pockets as well as internal pockets galore.
Most stylish travel backpack
Material: Recycled cotton fibers (washable) | Dimensions: 2.0 x 16.5 x 8.5 in. | Weight: 2.35 lbs | Capacity: 30 L | Laptop pocket: 15 in. | Other features: Padded laptop sleeve, padded shoulder straps, adjustable chest strap, padded back panel, trolley sleeve | Colors available: 12 | Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
This whimsical backpack was a Shop TODAY Travel Awards winner, earning best splurge carry-on in the carry-on and weekender bag category. "I’ve had two versions of the weekend travel bag over a decade and each one has lasted me years," said Shop TODAY associate editor Shannon Garlin. "I used it as a carry-on/personal item when I moved to and from Asia, and jammed it with things. The fabric is extremely durable and so is the zipper. It also fits under the seat even when it’s packed to the brim."
What should I look for in a travel backpack?
No matter what you'll be using a travel backpack for or what you consider essential, there are certain features you should think about when shopping.
Size and weight
Your travel style, destination and personal preferences play a big role when you're choosing between a backpack and a suitcase, says expert traveler Jeremy Albelda of the travel blog The World or Bust. "Backpacks offer more mobility and versatility, while suitcases provide better organization and protection for fragile items," he explains.
“Backpacks should be small enough to fit the carry-on requirements for airplanes, which are generally 15 by 8 by 20 [inches] maximum," explains Wilson. "Generally, a 30- to 40-liter backpack [capacity] is suitable for short trips, while a 40- to 60-liter one is better for longer journeys."
But whatever you do, always check with your specific airline. "Airlines are fairly strict on the number of bags you can bring, as well as the size, so make sure any bag you purchase fits domestic flight requirements," Belles advises. "International flights tend to be more forgiving and provide a bit more space for carry-ons."
“Start by looking for smart, well thought-out compartments for organizing your items," Wilson says. "Think about what you will typically pack and how you will need to access it."
For instance, Belles says she prefers backpacks with several compartments instead of one large opening — that way, "I can organize based on what I might need during the flight," she explains. Specifically, she goes for backpacks that have separate padded compartments for her laptop and iPad, "as well as a front pocket where I can quickly access things like my passport."
And this advice goes for those going on a road trip, too. Lots of pockets help you easily find your wallet, laptop or cell phone, even when the car is overloaded with suitcases or there are snacks everywhere. Plus, if you're a parent with multiple kids, it'll make travel that much easier: "When [my kids] were smaller, I could dedicate a compartment to each of them," Belles says.
"Look for something lightweight and durable with an excellent warranty," Wilson advises. She adds that families traveling to theme parks should try to find something that’s easy to carry and will be comfortable for long days on the move.
For those going to a national park or on an outdoor backpacking trip with friends, you’re going to want to find a bag that’s waterproof for those splash-and-dash summer showers. Frequent traveler and hiking aficionado Garland lists some of the features she goes for: "Rain cover, lots of pockets for organizing, [a] good side pocket that can hold a water bottle (more important for daypacks) or even shoes like flip flops or ballet flats, [and] good waist strap."
Questions about travel backpacks, answered by experts
How do I decide between a backpack and another type of bag for my personal item?
Short answer: It really depends on what type of travel you're embarking on and what type of traveler you are. And that can even vary depending on what stage you are in your life. Belles provides an example: "When flying with my kids, backpacks are substantially easier. ... I could dedicate a compartment to each of them. When I’m traveling to someplace where I will be more active, like Colorado or South Africa, I also rely on a backpack to keep me mobile and moving faster," she explains.
But if you're in doubt, you'll rarely go wrong with a backpack for carrying on.
"They hold a great deal more, but also keep you organized," Belles says, adding, "They distribute the weight across your back so that you don’t end up lopsided as you can with totes, while also freeing up your hands to manage other things, like children."
If I'm only traveling with a backpack, how do I pack clothes in it?
Belles typically steers clear of packing clothes in a backpack, unless it's an emergency. But if you must, she offers the following advice: "As a rule ... I am a “roller” for day-to-day outfits, workout wear and anything more casual. Business or cocktail attire is left hanging or packed in tissue paper to avoid wrinkling."
How we chose the best travel backpacks
In order to find the best travel pillows on the market, Shop TODAY gained expertise from multiple experts. From there, we researched extensively and even tried a handful of the products ourselves, taking special note of each one's durability, ease and other factors. We also took into account the number of verified star ratings and positive reviews, and items that are atop bestseller lists at online retailers.
Meet our experts
- Jeremy Albelda is a travel blogger, documenting his travels on The World or Bust.
- Misty Belles is the vice president of global relations for Virtuoso Travel, a travel advising and planning company.
- Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem are the creators of Nomadosaurus, a travel and photography blog, that first started when they showcased their journey from continent to continent-without flying.
- Ali Garland is the creator of Travel Made Simple, a travel blog that helps travelers kickstart their trip on the right foot, whether domestically or internationally, solo or with a group.
- Valerie Joy Wilson is a solo female traveler, documenting her travels on her blog, Trusted Travel Girl.