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The best travel backpacks in 2021

Published by Business Insider on Thu, 14 Jan 2021


<bi-shortcode id="table-of-contents-sticky" class="mceNonEditable" data-type="h2">Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky</bi-shortcode><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><ul class="summary-list"><li>A travel backpack packs like a suitcase but is small enough to wear on your back as you trudge through the airport or trek around a new city.</li><li>We tested nine of the top travel backpacks and determined that the <a href="https://www.avantlink.com/click.php'tt=cl&amp;mi=17145&amp;pw=184534&amp;ctc=&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tortugabackpacks.com%2Fproducts%2Foutbreaker-travel-backpack%3Fvariant%3D26900597257" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Tortuga Outbreaker</a> is the best you can buy with its generous capacity, functional organizer pockets, and customizable strap system.</li><li>If you're looking for a more traditional suitcase, check out our guide to <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/best-carry-on-bag" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the best carry-ons</a>.</li></ul><p>Basically suitcases you can wear on your back, travel backpacks are the favorite luggage of many a digital nomad, urban explorer, work travelerand me. When you don't want to pack a carry-on or deal with a rolling suitcase, a good travel backpack is a one-bag solution. With plenty of room to fit all the clothes you need for a short trip plus organizer pockets for tech, accessories, and travel documents, it's a great way to travel light.</p><p>To find the best travel backpack, I tested nine of the most popular models on the market for capacity, packability, logical pocket placement, and carry comfort. I wanted packs that felt manageable in size and bulk but still allowed me enough room for all my usual packing needs. I stuck mainly to packs that opened like a suitcaseclamshells, front-loaders, and back-loadersbut I left some room for wildcards. At the end of this guide, you'll find <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/best-travel-backpack#how-we-test-travel-backpacks-8" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">my full testing methodology</a> and <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/best-travel-backpack#the-backpack-glossary-7">a glossary of useful vocabulary</a> to know as you shop for your travel backpack.</p><h2>The best travel backpacks in 2021</h2><ul class="summary-list"><li><strong>Best overall: <a href="https://www.avantlink.com/click.php'tt=cl&amp;mi=17145&amp;pw=184534&amp;ctc=&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tortugabackpacks.com%2Fproducts%2Foutbreaker-travel-backpack%3Fvariant%3D26900597257" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Tortuga Outbreaker</a></strong></li><li><strong>Best for short trips: <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B012BOLDVM/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B012BOLDVM&amp;linkId=e14683cd639b710aec3dee6f11ddcc41https://go.skimresources.com'id=35871X943606&amp;xs=1&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fincase.com%2Fproducts%2Feo-travel-backpack" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored">Incase EO</a></strong></li><li><strong>Best for carrying more: <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B083JMY9V5/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B083JMY9V5&amp;linkId=4eb86508c8ff07cc3fdc51513e95fb80" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored">Cotopaxi Allpa</a></strong></li><li><strong>Most comfortable to carry: <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085PSB6CC/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B085PSB6CC&amp;linkId=b9f106132b711b8c664dc5beaeacefb1" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Osprey Fairview</a>/<a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085PQK8HV/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B085PQK8HV&amp;linkId=28c15d0b2ef746d63794f9457b1284ae" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored">Farpoint</a></strong></li><li>Best duffle-style travel backpack: <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07N46KCDH/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B07N46KCDH&amp;linkId=4cb27b70548489baed08ac27c5f3e51e" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored nofollow sponsored nofollow sponsored">Timbuk2 Impulse Travel Backpack Duffel</a></li></ul><p><em>Prices and links are current as of 1/13/20. We are currently testing more affordable travel backpacks to determine the best budget option. We've added those backpacks as well as a luxury option we're researching to the end of this guide in a section called "What we're testing next."</em></p><p><strong>SEE ALSO:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/best-luggage" >The best checked bags you can buy</a></strong></p><h3>The best overall</h3><img src="https://static3.businessinsider.com/image/5f8d9c0e9e9fe4001900a0a3-400-300/the-best-overall.jpg" alt="" /><p><h3>With a highly adjustable harness system, multiple utilitarian organizer pockets, and a four-to-five-day packing capacity, the <a href="https://www.avantlink.com/click.php'tt=cl&amp;mi=17145&amp;pw=184534&amp;ctc=&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tortugabackpacks.com%2Fproducts%2Foutbreaker-travel-backpack%3Fvariant%3D26900597257" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Tortuga Outbreaker</a> is the only bag you'll need when you travel.</h3><p><strong>Pros:</strong> Incredible organizer pockets, so many pockets (did I mention the pockets), fits four-to-five days' worth of gear, padded and fleece-lined tech pocket, adjustable harness system, wide hip belt, two water bottle pockets</p><p><strong>Cons:</strong> Harness system does not stow</p><p>The Tortuga Outbreaker is absolutely loaded with compartments, pockets, and hidden gems. Basically, you can put a lot of stuff in a lot of places, and that's why we love it. We'll start with the basics. The front-loader bag opens to reveal a main compartment flanked by zipper pockets on either side. On the opposite panel are two large mesh compartments that I utilized to pack small items like socks and underwear. I was able to fit four to five days of clothes in here. But where it really excels is in its organizer pockets.</p><p>Inside the front panel is a deep organizer pocket with wallet-like divisions for cards and pens, a mesh zipper compartment, and a solid compartment perfect for travel documents. On the exterior of the front panel, you get two more zipper pockets, and you'll find a water bottle pocket on each side of the pack &mdash; a rarity for these travel backpacks.</p><p>The tech pocket is one of the most impressive at utilizing its space. The back panel zips open and lays flat for easy screening, and it features two well-padded fleece-lined pockets &mdash; one for a tablet and one for up to a 17-inch laptop. Opposite that, you'll find three large mesh zipper pockets for storing all your chargers and accessories.</p><p>All these pockets really mean you don't have to bother with an additional purse, backpack, or bag. Tortuga's pretty much utilized every inch of space in this backpack.</p><p>The suspension system is also impressive in its adjustability. You can move the entire thing, shoulder straps and all, up or down the pack to get the perfect fit for a variety of torso heights. The hip belt is one of the widest I tested and it does a fantastic job of redistributing weight off your shoulders &mdash; though, admittedly, it's a little dorky looking. Load lifters on the shoulder straps ensure the bag won't sag off your shoulders, creating pressure points.</p><p>One downside to this pack is that the harness system isn't stowable, so you may find things get caught as you try to shove it in the overhead. This bag meets carry-on requirements, by the way.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.avantlink.com/click.php'tt=cl&amp;mi=17145&amp;pw=184534&amp;ctc=&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tortugabackpacks.com%2Fproducts%2Foutbreaker-travel-backpack%3Fvariant%3D26900597257" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Outbreaker</a> is the most expensive pack on this list at $269, but for all you get, I think it's worth it. But if you're not into spending so much money on a travel backpack, you should also consider the <a href="https://www.avantlink.com/click.php'tt=cl&amp;mi=17145&amp;pw=184534&amp;ctc=&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tortugabackpacks.com%2Fproducts%2Fsetout-travel-backpack%3Fvariant%3D16185333219399" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Tortuga Setout</a> which goes for $179. It's similar to the Outbreaker, but holds about a day's less gear, features fewer organizer pockets, the harness system is not as adjustable, and the laptop pocket isn't fleece-lined. You'll make some compromises, but you'll also save $90.</p></p><br/><br/><h3>The best for short trips</h3><img src="https://static2.businessinsider.com/image/5f8d9c999e9fe4001900a0aa-400-300/the-best-for-short-trips.jpg" alt="" /><p><h3>The <a href="https://go.skimresources.com'id=35871X943606&amp;xs=1&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fincase.com%2Fproducts%2Feo-travel-backpack" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored">Incase EO</a> is everything you'll need for short trips. Its main compartment expands to fit up to three days' worth of clothes, and it can easily transition into a day pack to wear while out and about.</h3><p><strong>Pros:&nbsp;</strong>Expands to fit more clothes and contracts to be used as a day pack, lay-flat fleece-lined laptop pocket, organizer pocket has depth for additional storage, carry-on friendly</p><p><strong>Cons:</strong> Only fits one to three days' worth of stuff, organizer pouches don't zip closed, no hip belt, feels heavy to carry</p><p>The <a href="https://go.skimresources.com'id=35871X943606&amp;xs=1&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fincase.com%2Fproducts%2Feo-travel-backpack" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored">Incase EO</a> is the smallest bag on our list by volume, maxing out at 25 liters, but it fits much more than it lets on. It's definitely an overnighter &mdash; maybe a weekender if you push it &mdash; but it's a well organized little pack that's easily a one-bag solution for light packers and quick trips.</p><p>It's also unique among our selections in that it's compressible. Just behind the main zipper is another perimeter zipper that contracts the bag down, effectively transforming it into a day pack.</p><p>The main compartment opens front-loader-style, and while it'll fit a couple outfits, you'll also want to utilize the space in the organizer pocket to stash some additional clothes. Instead of a flat organizer pocket, you'll get a couple of inches of depth in addition to some internal flat pouches. The organizer pocket does load from the top, so be sure to load it up with your more wrinkle-resistant items. The pouches within the organizer pocket are open at the top, so anything you put in them will simply drop in. I do wish they had zipper closures for added security.</p><p>There's also a small pocket hidden under the grab handle at the top of the bag. It's so well-hidden that I used the bag multiple times before I noticed it was there. It's lined with microfleece, so it's a great place to store sunglasses or other scratchable items.</p><p>The tech pocket comprises the entire back panel, and it fully unzips to lie flat for added TSA-friendliness. The laptop pocket is lined with microfleece for extra protection and fits up to a 16-inch laptop. Opposite that is a pouch to slide chargers and other accessories into, though I wish it had a zipper closure and some more pockets to better utilize that space.</p><p>Because this pack is smaller, it doesn't come with a hip belt or any way to attach one, and this pack ends up feeling pretty heavy when packed to capacity. But the shoulder straps are well-padded with air mesh, and the sternum strap has some flex to it so it doesn't cut into you while you walk.</p><p>Its small size also makes it easy to take on a plane as a carry-on.</p></p><br/><br/><h3>The best for carrying more</h3><img src="https://static6.businessinsider.com/image/5f8d9cd99e9fe4001900a0ac-400-300/the-best-for-carrying-more.jpg" alt="" /><p><h3>Three spacious compartments in the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B083JMY9V5/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B083JMY9V5&amp;linkId=4eb86508c8ff07cc3fdc51513e95fb80" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored">Cotopaxi Allpa</a> allow you to pack more than any 35L backpack we tried, and it still manages to stay a streamlined carry. But it does lack in organizational and tech pockets.</h3><p><strong>Pros:&nbsp;</strong>Easily fits five-plus days' worth of gear, has room for both a 15-inch laptop and a tablet, intuitive compartment placement, meets most airline carry-on requirements, comes with a rain cover</p><p><strong>Cons:&nbsp;</strong>Lacks meaningful organizer pockets, no space for travel documents, tech pocket lacks space for accessories, shoulder straps are not very adjustable, hip belt may hit too high for those with longer torsos</p><p>The <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B083JMY9V5/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B083JMY9V5&amp;linkId=4eb86508c8ff07cc3fdc51513e95fb80" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored">Cotopaxi Allpa</a> structures 35 liters in such a way that lets you pack a ridiculous amount of stuff. I fit my entire five-day packing list including sneakers, a sweatshirt, and all my outfits. I didn't have to compromise or pack "creatively" or stick socks into pockets where socks didn't belong.</p><p>The clamshell design allows the pack to open like a book. On the right, you'll find an undivided expansive compartment. On the left, you'll find two smaller mesh pockets on the top half and a big compartment, half the side of the pack on the bottom. There's also a third compartment of the same size that can be accessed externally at the top of the pack.</p><p>A mesh pocket inside this compartment is the only externally accessible organization you'll find on this pack, so we might suggest investing in a travel wallet to store your travel documents.</p><p>Accessed by a zipper on the side of the back panel, the tech pocket has a velcro tablet pocket and enough room for a 15-inch laptop, but it lacks accessory pockets. Directly opposite that zipper is a quick-access zipper that lets you reach into the main compartment without unzipping the whole thing. Just don't mix up the tech pocket zipper with the quick-access zipper or you may have a mess on your hands.</p><p>The harness system is basic, but the contoured shoulder straps are comfortable, and the removable hip belt is streamlined and effectively distributed load weight. The sternum strap is vertically adjustable so you can get the right fit. And the entire thing is stowable within the back panel for storage and fitting into overhead compartments.</p><p>And speaking of overhead compartments, the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B083JMY9V5/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B083JMY9V5&amp;linkId=4eb86508c8ff07cc3fdc51513e95fb80" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored">Cotopaxi Allpa 35L</a> meets all but the strictest airline carry-on requirements.</p></p><br/><br/><h3>The most comfortable to carry</h3><img src="https://static2.businessinsider.com/image/5f8d9d2cc21cfb0019468b97-400-300/the-most-comfortable-to-carry.jpg" alt="" /><p><h3>The <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07YBWM448/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B07YBWM448&amp;linkId=31f7d059c46233a6c6cb5da18e9e0d39" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored">Osprey Fairview</a>/<a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085PQK8HV/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B085PQK8HV&amp;linkId=28c15d0b2ef746d63794f9457b1284ae" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored nofollow sponsored">Farpoint</a> is available in two fits with two torso sizes per fit. Each includes a wide hip belt and contoured back panel, making it an incredibly comfortable carry and a great choice for every body type.</h3><p><strong>Pros: </strong>Available in multiple styles for a great fit; wide hip belt, load lifters, and a contoured frame sheet make it very comfortable to carry; compressor straps hide external zippers; entire harness system hides away; carry-on compliant on most airlines; lifetime repair/replace warranty</p><p><strong>Cons:</strong> Not the most fashionable pack, tech pocket at the front is a bit unusual</p><p>Osprey is best known for its larger hiking and backpacking packs, but it takes those utilitarian design elements that make a great large-capacity pack and applies them to smaller travel backpacks like its <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07YBWM448/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B07YBWM448&amp;linkId=31f7d059c46233a6c6cb5da18e9e0d39" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored">Fairview</a>/<a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085PQK8HV/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B085PQK8HV&amp;linkId=28c15d0b2ef746d63794f9457b1284ae" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored nofollow sponsored">Farpoint</a> line. It results in a pack with a great capacity, logical organization, and the most comfortable harness system I tested.</p><p>Osprey offers two different fits, hence the different names. The brand considers the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07YBWM448/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B07YBWM448&amp;linkId=31f7d059c46233a6c6cb5da18e9e0d39" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored">Fairview</a> to be the women's fit and the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085PQK8HV/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B085PQK8HV&amp;linkId=28c15d0b2ef746d63794f9457b1284ae" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored nofollow sponsored">Farpoint</a> to be the men's fit, but each pack can be worn regardless of gender and may better be assessed based on your body type. The Fairview is better suited for those with smaller torsos and wider hips. The Farpoint is better for taller folks with broader shoulders. I have a small torso, so I went with the Fairview.</p><p>Within each fit, there are also two different sizes &mdash; measure your torso from the base of your neck to the top of your hips to determine what size pack will suit you best. The ability to get the pack that best fits your body contributes to the comfort of your carry in a big way.</p><p>The frame sheet in the back panel is also contoured to help the back hug your lower back and shift the weight of the load away from your shoulders. The hip belt is also wider than the other packs I tested which also makes a difference in redistributing weight.</p><p>The harness system is also ergonomically designed and it's one of the few packs on our list with load lifters to keep the pack tight from sagging away from your shoulders. The entire system stows away thanks to a hidden flap that rolls up and zips over the entire thing.</p><p>As far as the pack itself, it's a front-loader with one large main packing compartment with internal compressor straps. A combination tech and organizer pocket sits in front of that. It's the only pack we tried where the tech pocket is in the front, which provides less security, but the external compressor straps affix in such a way that completely hides the external zippers so no one can get to them without some serious effort. A quick-grab pocket on the front rounds out the pack.</p><h3>Osprey Farpoint</h3><biembeddedobject id="4526cd69-fab9-4a1c-bc3f-1f13b9fce094" class="product mceNonEditable" style="width: 100%; height: 150%;">Product Embed: <br />Product Name: Osprey Farpoint 40 <br />Card Type: button <br />https://produktor.businessinsider.com/productCardService'id=5f8da87dce3d6946dd3b245a&amp;type=button&amp;live=true <br />Width: 100% <br />Height: 150%</biembeddedobject><h3>Osprey Fairview</h3></p><br/><br/><h3>The best duffle-style travel backpack</h3><img src="https://static2.businessinsider.com/image/5f8d9d82c21cfb0019468b98-400-300/the-best-duffle-style-travel-backpack.jpg" alt="" /><p><h3>With one large main compartment, the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07N46KCDH/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B07N46KCDH&amp;linkId=4cb27b70548489baed08ac27c5f3e51e" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored nofollow sponsored nofollow sponsored">Timbuk2 Impulse Travel Backpack Duffel</a> lets you pack a ton of stuff however you see fit, and it throws in some small side pockets and a shoe pocket to further up its utility.</h3><p><strong>Pros:</strong> Large capacity with duffle-style design, both internal and external compression straps, carry-on friendly on many airlines, fits 17-inch laptop, rip-stop fabric</p><p><strong>Cons:&nbsp;</strong>Tech pocket doesn't open flat, overstuffing could lead to lack of carry-on compliance, shoulder straps may be uncomfortable for those with narrow shoulders, lack of organizer pockets, sticky zippers</p><p>The <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07N46KCDH/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B07N46KCDH&amp;linkId=4cb27b70548489baed08ac27c5f3e51e" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored nofollow sponsored nofollow sponsored nofollow sponsored">Timbuk2 Impulse</a> is the largest backpack on our list by volume at 45 liters, and thanks to its duffle-style design, you really get to utilize all that packing space. Rather than being broken up into smaller compartments, a U-shaped zipper flap reveals one large one that you can pack however you like. On the underside of that flap, you'll find three mesh compartments for organizing your smalls.</p><p>It also offers a few friendly details that set it apart from your typical duffle. On either side of the pack &mdash; or the top and bottom if you're wearing it &mdash; are separate zippered compartments. On the bottom, you'll find a water-resistant compartment for shoes or laundry, and on top is a similarly-sized more flexible compartment. Utilizing either of these compartments will cut into the space available in your main compartment though.</p><p>The tech pocket leaves something to be desired. It's accessed by a zipper on the side of the back panel, and though it's spacious enough to fit up to a 17-inch laptop, there are no pockets for accessories, and it doesn't open to lay flat. There's a distinct lack of organizational pockets on this pack and nowhere intuitive to store travel documents, but that's what you get with a duffle-style bag like this one.</p><p>The suspension system isn't the most comfortable, but it's perfectly serviceable. I found the shoulder straps to be a bit wideset for my narrow shoulders, but someone broader than me shouldn't have an issue. The sternum strap is vertically adjustable and the hip belt helps disperse the load weight quite well. It felt lighter than some of the smaller-capacity bags I tested, even when fully packed.</p><p>The Timbuk2 Impulse is carry-on friendly with many airlines, but if you overpack it, it could easily lose its shape and put you over the limit. The bag does have built-in compression straps both externally and internally that you should absolutely utilize to help the bag stay compact. Overpacking could also lead to sticky zippers, and the zippers on this pack are stiff and the best of times.</p><p>The entire harness system can be stowed in the back panel of the pack for stowing it away, but the clips that attach the shoulder straps are dependent on a small metal latch that doesn't seem the most durable. I haven't had an issue with it yet, but I'll update if I do.</p></p><br/><br/><h3>What else we tested</h3><img src="https://static1.businessinsider.com/image/5f8d9e0cc21cfb0019468b9e-400-300/what-else-we-tested.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><strong><a href="https://www.avantlink.com/click.php'tt=cl&amp;mi=17145&amp;pw=184534&amp;ctc=&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tortugabackpacks.com%2Fproducts%2Fsetout-travel-backpack%3Fvariant%3D16185333219399" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Tortuga Setout ($180)</a>: </strong>The Tortuga Setout is the little sibling of our top pick, the <a href="https://www.avantlink.com/click.php'tt=cl&amp;mi=17145&amp;pw=184534&amp;ctc=&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tortugabackpacks.com%2Fproducts%2Foutbreaker-travel-backpack%3Fvariant%3D26900597257" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Tortuga Outbreaker</a>. Despite also being a 35L pack, I was able to fit about a day's less gear than the Outbreaker. The Setout's tech pocket is less impressive and it has fewer organizational pockets than the Outbreaker. Its suspension system is also less adjustable, so you make have to live with a slightly less comfortable fit. The distinct advantage, though, is that it's $90 cheaper. You'll make some compromises to save a few bucks, but they're minor compromises at best. This is still a wonderful pack.</p><p><strong><a href="https://www.avantlink.com/click.php'tt=cl&amp;mi=10248&amp;pw=184534&amp;ctc=&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.rei.com%2Fproduct%2F174500%2Ffjallraven-splitpack%3F" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Fjallraven Splitpack ($175)</a>: </strong>The Fjallraven Splitpack has a clamshell construction, but instead of the zipper being around the perimeter, it's up the middle, splitting the pack in half vertically. It's made of the brand's sturdy G-1000 Heavy Duty Eco polyester-cotton blend, and it feels like it's built to stop a speeding train. It holds a ton, but it lacks external organizer pockets and there's nowhere to safely stow a laptop. Poorly padded straps and the absence of a hip belt made it very uncomfortable to carry, and it doesn't meet airline carry-on requirements, so it was disqualified.</p><p><strong><a href="https://go.skimresources.com'id=35871X943606&amp;xs=1&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.speckproducts.com%2Fspeck%2Fbackpacks%2Ftravel-backpack%2FST-BPTVL.html%23" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Speck Travel Backpack ($150)</a>: </strong>Speck loaded up this pack with all the bells and whistles including an external USB port and a built-in TSA-approved lock. I was able to fit four days' worth of gear in it, so it's got an impressive capacity, but all those extra add-ons made it feel much heavier when empty than the other picks on our list, and ultimately they're not necessary.</p><p><strong><a href="https://www.avantlink.com/click.php'tt=cl&amp;mi=10083&amp;pw=184534&amp;ctc=&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.patagonia.com%2Fproduct%2Fblack-hole-duffel-bag-40-liters%2F49338.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Patagonia Black Hole Duffel ($130)</a>: </strong>Patagonia's reputation speaks for itself, and this duffel backpack is built to last. Insider's VP of Commerce, Breton Fischetti, has had his for over a decade, and it's still in perfect condition. But the lack of tech pocket, the barebones suspension system, and the fact that it doesn't meet airline carry-on requirements were all strikes against it.</p></p><br/><br/><h3>What we're testing next</h3><p><ul><li><strong><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01J24H87C/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B01J24H87C&amp;linkId=1e9a875f483b6359031f63e0e557e41c" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">AmazonBasics Carry-On Travel Backpack ($39)</a></strong>: Like much other luggage, travel backpacks can be prohibitively expensive, so we're currently investigating packs for those who don't want to plunk down over $100 for a pack. This AmazonBasics pack was the cheapest one we could find, and we like how it appears to be laid out, but we want to put it through the same stress tests as the other packs to ensure it holds up.</li><li><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07G74B2LX/ref=as_li_tl'ie=UTF8&amp;tag=biipgf_080217_best-travel-backpacks-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=B07G74B2LX&amp;linkId=aeb778b533af33725d4ab14b1ac5dfd3" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored"><strong>Hynes Eagle 40L Travel Backpack ($40)</strong></a>: This is another budget pick we want to stress test. It's more aesthetically pleasing than the AmazonBasics pack and has small design features we like such as a water bottle pocket and stowable shoulder straps.</li><li><a href="https://go.skimresources.com'id=35871X943606&amp;xs=1&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.peakdesign.com%2Fproducts%2Ftravel-backpack%2F" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored"><strong>Peak Design Travel Backpack ($300)</strong></a>: This pack was recommended to me by Insider's Senior Transportation Reporter <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/author/david-slotnick" target="_blank" rel="noopener">David Slotnick</a>. He's been using it for years and relies heavily on it in his frequent travels covering his airline beat. This is a high-end luxury travel backpack, and it's the most expensive one we've ever considered, so we'll be putting it through its paces to see if it's worth the money.</li></ul></p><br/><br/><h3>The backpack glossary</h3><p><p>Unlike the <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/best-backpack-students" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Jansport you wore in middle school</a>, travel backpacks have a lot of component parts, many of which are designed to make the backpack more comfortable to carry and less strenuous to your back. But if you don't know the vocabulary, you may have a tough time understanding what you're buying. Here are a few must-know vocab words to give you a better understanding of backpack anatomy.</p><p><strong>L:&nbsp;</strong>Backpack capacity is often expressed in liters, so if you see a backpack advertised as 35L, that means its total capacity is approximately 35 liters in volume. While the liter measurement can give you a general idea of how much stuff your backpack will hold, the way your pack's pockets and compartments are structured ultimately play a huge role in how much you'll be able to fit. We tested 35L backpacks that maxed out at three days' worth of stuff and some that could easily hold five or more days' worth.</p><p><strong>Clamshell:</strong> A clamshell backpack features a zipper on three sides with the fourth side acting as a hinge. Clamshell packs open flat like a suitcase and have two equal compartments.</p><p><strong>Front-loading:</strong> A front-loading backpack opens similarly to a clamshell pack, but instead of the zipper being located in the middle to create two equal compartments, it's located at the front to create one large packing space.</p><p><strong>Rear-loading:</strong> A rear-loading backpack is exactly the same as a front-loading backpack, except the zipper is located at the back panel instead of the front panel.</p><p><strong>Top-loading:</strong> Your middle school Jansport was a top-loading backpack. Instead of opening fully flat, you load your items in from the top. We've found that top-loaders provide a worse experience on a large scale than clamshells or front/back-loaders, so we've chosen not to include them in this guide.</p><p><strong>Shoulder straps:</strong> These are simply the straps that go over your shoulders with which you carry your backpack. They are, in essence, what make a backpack a backpack.</p><p><strong>Hip belt:</strong> Positioned at the bottom of the pack, a hip belt wraps around your waist, just above your hips. A properly positioned hip belt helps shift the weight away from your shoulders making larger loads easier to carry.</p><p><strong>Sternum strap:</strong> A sternum strap crosses your chest and connects one shoulder strap to the other. It should sit just below your collarbone, and like the hip belt, it aids in weight distribution.</p><p><strong>Frame sheet:</strong> A frame sheet is sewn into the back panel of a backpack and helps the backpack maintain its shape once fully loaded. It may be contoured or padded for extra comfort and can also help with weight distribution.</p><p><strong>Load lifters:</strong> Load lifter straps help pull the top of your backpack closer to your shoulders. Not every pack has them, but if yours does, you'll find them coming over the top of the shoulder straps. Packs without them tend to fall away from your shoulders which adds strain.</p><p><strong>Suspension/harness system:</strong> Every entry above from shoulder straps to load lifters is part of your backpack's suspension or harness system. It's everything that contributes to how you carry your backpack and how the load's weight is distributed across your body.</p><p><strong>Compression straps:</strong> Compression straps can be located externally to help cinch down a packed backpack to make it smaller, or internally to help keep clothes in place if you haven't packed your backpack to capacity.</p></p><br/><br/><h3>How we test travel backpacks</h3><p><p>In order to test travel backpacks, we first researched the major players in the market, searching for large-capacity, front-panel, back-panel, or clamshell backpacks that fully unzipped and opened flat like suitcases. From there, we received testing samples of our top nine choices.</p><p><strong>Packing and capacity: </strong>I tried to test backpacks with similar capacities, and most of them fell within the 35L to 40L range. A backpack with a 35L capacity was not disadvantaged for being unable to hold as much as a 40L-capacity backpack, but the configuration of pockets, compartments, and packing spaces played a key part in how easily each bag packs and how much it can hold.</p><p>I made a packing list for myself for the equivalent of a five-day trip: clothing, shoes, tech, and toiletries. I assessed how well I could fit all my essentials into the pack and how logically the compartments were placed. If I couldn't fit my full five-day haul into the pack, I noted how many days' worth of gear at which the pack maxed out. The first things I ditched were extra shoes, but I always made room for toiletries and full outfits. I packed with the assumption that I would re-wear jeans, so if you plan to bring a new pair of pants for each day of your trip, the number of days' worth of clothes you'll be able to pack will reduce dramatically.</p><p><strong>Carry-on capabilities:</strong> Many of these backpacks can quickly exceed airline carry-on size requirements, especially if you overpack them in a way that distorts their shape. Our top five picks all meet most airline carry-on requirements when fully packed, though there's no guarantee you'll get away with overstuffing them.</p><p><strong>Carry comfort</strong>: Because I tested these travel backpacks amidst the pandemic, I wasn't doing much actual traveling, so I did my best to simulate a travel experience. I fully packed each suitcase as outlined above, strapped the backpack onto my back, and walked around the block &mdash; half a mile &mdash; and up and down the stairs in my apartment building to test how comfortable the packs were to carry.</p><p><strong>Durability: </strong>To test durability, I pushed each fully packed backpack (sans my laptop) down a flight of stairs three times &mdash; forwards, backwards, and sideways. I noted any scuffs, scratches, tears, or broken hardware. I also tugged on the zippers in every direction to test their strength and how well they could withstand stress.</p><p><strong>Long-term testing</strong>: Though our initial testing period lasted roughly four months, we acknowledge that other issues could crop up with long-term use. We are continuing to test each of our top picks and we will update this guide with any issues we encounter.</p><h3>My five-day packing list:</h3><p>Socks x6<br />Underwear x6<br />Bras x2<br />Jeans x2<br />Sweatshirt x1<br />Sweatpants x1<br />Buttons down x4<br />T-shirt x5<br />Sneakers<br />Sandals<br />13-inch laptop<br />Phone charger<br />Laptop charger<br />Dopp kit of toiletries</p></p><br/><br/>
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