The Best Travel Backpacks of 2023, Tested and Reviewed

Ashley Thess

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Best Overall

Mountain Hardware Redeye 45


Best for Backpacking

Osprey Kyte or Kestrel 38


Best Carry-On

Cotopaxi Allpa 35L


Traveling is difficult enough without towing a rickety roller bag behind you. At the airport, experience the time-saving effects of out-pacing the crowd by carrying everything you need on your back. If you’re driving, a travel backpack stows, stacks, and squishes easily into the available space. In some cases, you can reuse your travel backpack as a daypack during your trip instead of leaving your clunky suitcase in the corner, useless and taking up space, until it’s time to leave. However, not all travel backpacks are created equally. Different qualities will perform better whether you’re road-tripping to a camp spot, planning an international adventure, or traveling for work. I tested the best travel backpacks for convenience, organization, and comfort for anything from a weekend away to an epic journey.

Best Overall: Mountain Hardware Redeye 45

Best for Backpacking: Osprey Kyte or Kestrel 38

Best Lightweight: Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 40L

Best Carry-On: Cotopaxi Allpa 35L

Best Laptop Backpack: Matador Seg45

How We Chose the Best Travel Backpacks 

I chose these bags because they are all carry-on sized and fit for a gear intensive-weekend or week-long get away. I chose manufacturers that make reliable products with durable materials for bags that won’t shred or snap on your first trip. The best travel backpacks can withstand some abuse from yanking, schlepping, and sliding on your journey. I took these bags on overnights, weekend excursions, and big trips to determine what qualities perform best on the road, in the air, or wherever your next adventure takes you.

Best Travel Backpacks: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall: Mountain Hardware Redeye 45

Mountain Hardware


Key Features

Weight: 3 pounds, 2 ounces

Materials: 500D CORDURA Nylon

U-shaped top zipper

Back panel access

Removable hipbelt

Padded laptop sleeve

Price: $180


Padded hipbelt, straps, and back panel

Pocket with flap for easy tucking and grabbing


No raincover

Mountain Hardware’s Redeye is built for speed. It’s slim for easy maneuvering in crowded spaces. It also has load lifters, a padded hipbelt, a padded back panel, padded straps, and a sternum strap to carry heavy weight comfortably. You can easily access the main compartment with a back panel zipper and U-shaped zipper on top. A long vertical side pocket features a lip of fabric over the top so that you can tuck or grab something from this pocket without unzipping anything. 

A water bottle pocket on the opposite side has a cinch cord to keep items from falling out. The lid of the bag is also a pocket and there is a padded laptop sleeve. The thoughtful design of the many pockets make this bag the perfect carry on. The zipper pulls have loops making it quick and easy to access all zipper pockets. Handles on the front and back of the top make it easy to grab your luggage off a conveyor belt or out of a car or overhead bin. The removable hipbelt and tuckable straps can further streamline this pack for going through security or checking the bag. 

It’s structured and comfortable when carrying gear, heavy loads, and irregularly shaped objects, making it great for adventure travel too. The full back panel access is particularly great for car camping because you can access the contents of your bag without having to dump everything out or dig to the bottom. There are external attachment points for carabiners as well. Overall, this is the best carry-on backpack for almost any method of travel.

Best for Backpacking: Osprey Kyte or Krestrel 38



Key Features

Weight: 4 pounds

Material: 100 percent recycled 420D nylon, DWR treated without PFAS

Adjustable torso lengths

Included rain cover

Compression straps

Price: $200


Slim profile

Padded mesh on straps, back, and hips



Using a backpacking bag as your travel backpack isn’t new, but you don’t have to sleep in European hostels or pack a tent to reap the benefits. After all, they’re designed to help the wearer comfortably haul heavy loads and built with rugged materials to withstand the backcountry, let alone an overhead bin. The Osprey Kyte (designed for women) and Kestrel (designed for men) are particularly well suited for travel thanks to the plethora of pockets. Both include a brain with zipper pockets on the inside and outside, hip belt pockets, a front stuff pouch, and two water bottle pockets on either side. There’s also a good amount of access to the large main compartment either through the top drawstring closure, vertical side zipper, or the bottom pocket. The floating divider that separates the bottom sleeping bag compartment can be easily undone via two buckles to merge the bottom pocket with the main compartment.

The Osprey Kyte fits in the overhead bin even with a sleeping pad attached to the bottom. Ashley Thess

I lived out of the older 36-liter version of the Kyte for a month and recently took it on a trip to Puerto Rico where I used it as my main luggage, suitcase for a three-day camping trip, and a beach bag. It’s the perfect size for a carry-on (as long as you don’t overfill the brain) and has a generous amount of space for a 36 liter bag. The sleeping pad straps and compression straps are ideal for securing oddly shaped gear, and the vertical side zipper still allows you access to the main compartment even if you have the compression straps cranked with gear hanging off them.

If you don’t overfill the brain, this bag is a great carry-on. Ashley Thess

The Osprey’s straps and loops are ideal for attaching oddly shaped gear to the outside of the pack. Ashley Thess

I stored my wet and sandy towel on the outside of my pack to keep the inside clean for snacks and clothes on the beach. Ashley Thess

It’s plush, comfortable, and manageable in crowds thanks to its padded, breathable back panel and slender, lightweight frame. The zippered hip belt pockets are great for snacks, a boarding pass, room key, or other small essentials. I’ve had it for two years and taken it backpacking as well as traveling and the only damage it sustained is two small holes on the front stuff pouch that have since been tastefully repaired with a jackalope from Noso Patches. Osprey’s Kyte might not be the most lightweight backpacking pack, but I appreciate features like pockets, straps, and attachment points more than weight savings when traveling.

Best Lightweight: Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 40L



Key Features

Weight: 2 pounds, 8 ounces

Material: 100 percent recycled polyester ripstop with a TPU-film laminate

Padded, removable shoulder straps

Price: $159


100 percent recycled body fabric, lining, and webbing

Easily accessible main compartment


No hipbelt

Patagonia’s Black Hole Duffel is a weather resistant backpack that can also be carried by reinforced haul handles or the handheld loops on the top and bottom. The cavernous main compartment and wide opening give easy access to all of your items. There is also a mesh pocket on the underside of the opening and another large pocket that is accessible from an outer and inner zipper. The duffel is sold folded into this large pocket and you can re-pack it (I had to watch a video; it is a tight and specific fold) into the 10 x 7-inch pouch for storage.

The backpack straps are easily removed, no de-threading buckles necessary. There are two plastic links at the top where the straps’ links can slip through and then catch in place. The bottom of the straps are buckled into the bottom of the bag. This gives you the option of an uncluttered duffle or convenient backpack. Each strap and corresponding link to the bag features an L or R for quick and accurate reattachment.

There are also hefty daisy chains on the sides to attach gear with carabiners or lash down your belongings in a boat, truck bed, or other means of transport. There’s no hipbelt, but the underside of the bag and straps are padded so a heavy load isn’t painful to carry. Lightweight, stackable, and sustainable, the black hole duffel is one of the best travel backpacks for adventure trips. 

Best Carry-On: Cotopaxi Allpa 35L



Key Features

Weight: 3 pounds, 8 ounces

Material: TPU-coated 1000D polyester

Includes rain cover

Removable hip belt

Padded laptop sleeve

Price: $200


Lifetime warranty and repairs

Available in one-of-a-kind color blocks


Security zippers can be inconvenient

Wide surface area 

The Cotopaxi Allpa can be carried on your back or via one of the four handheld straps on all sides of the bag. These handheld straps are great for yanking your bag out of a pile or down from an overhead bin. I took this bag on a three-day ski trip where I stayed in a hotel and car camped. This bag was perfect in the hotel because of the four mesh zippered compartments to keep everything organized. In the car it was a little more difficult to splay the bag out fully for access to these compartments, but there is a side zipper that allows you to dig into the largest compartment without unzipping the entire bag.

The mesh compartments and wide layout are great for hotel stays. Ashley Thess

The security zippers are a smart idea, but it can be annoying when zipping or unzipping your own bag. Ashley Thess

The backpack straps are able to tuck into the back padding of the pack and the hipbelt can be removed for a streamlined profile. The Allpa also features safety zippers which means there are small straps over the zippers to prevent it from opening immediately when fully closed. To prevent snagging and thieves, the pull tab hits the loop first and must be threaded underneath to fully open the zipper. This simple design sounds smart, but it is a little annoying when you want to zip and unzip your own bag.

The desert color option is spot on. Ashley Thess

The plenitude of pockets and carrying methods make this a versatile and convenient pack for all kinds of travel. The thick and durable material means you won’t have to baby this bag on harsh trips. The rain cover is included but not integrated into the pack so you can leave it behind if you wish, though it is a handy way to protect your stuff from the elements. It is boxy with a large surface area. While the width and thickness is great for packing, you’ll want to be wary of knocking into things if you plan to be on crowded public transport. Luckily the sleek profile won’t catch on anything.

Best Laptop Backpack: Matador Seg45



Key Features

Weight: 2 pounds, 8 ounces

Material: 420D Bluesign PU coated nylon, DWR coating (PFC free)

Five stowable segmented pockets

Removable hipbelt and shoulder strap

Padded laptop pocket

Price: $200


Pockets for organization

Sealed zippers

Optional bulk or segmented storage


No padding on straps

Five segments each labeled with their capacity in liters is what sets this bag apart from other travel backpacks. The 6, 9, 15, 9, and 6-liter pockets keep your clothes and gear separate for easy organization, or can be stowed with internal g-hooks for bulk transport. Whether you plan to divide your things by day of the trip, type of clothing, or another method, it does help keep track of everything. Then, you can keep your dirty clothes separate from the ones you haven’t worn yet. 

There is also a large main compartment for you to store shoes or gear that you want to keep away from your clothes. Other storage options include a zippered water bottle pocket, small top pocket, and laptop sleeve. The backpack straps are stowable; the bottoms unclip and can be tucked inside the back of the bag and the tops remain attached so you can’t lose them. There are handheld loops on the top and right side of the bag as well as a removable shoulder strap. 

The hipbelt is not padded and is simply looped on. Given the size of this bag, you can really load it up and regret it once the thin nylon strips start to dig in. The looping means they are easily removed but it also means they can easily twist, causing more issues like taking the time to straighten them or dealing with the discomfort. The backpack straps have minimal padding so they don’t alleviate much pressure. The shoulder strap is also only nylon, though thicker than the hipbelt, with no padding. 

This travel backpack also includes security loops for the zippers, though they’re much easier to close fully without going through the trouble of tucking the tabs under the locking loops. The pull tabs on these zippers feature a rubber coating over the knot, but one fell off during testing, though it seems this is purely aesthetic. If you plan to pack mainly clothes, like for a business trip, and don’t need a lot of heavy or oddly shaped items, then this pack will serve you well. However the lack of padding, structure, and suspension makes the Seg45 difficult for gear-intensive trips.

Things to Consider Before Buying One of the Best Travel Backpacks


When you’re carrying a heavy backpack all day through crowded areas, comfort is key. You’re going to be picking up and putting down this bag for the duration of your trip and possibly hustling with a lot of luggage and maybe kids. Padded straps, hip belts, load lifters, suspension, and multiple carry methods are all ways to make your load more comfortable. While the Osprey Kyte and Kestrel, Mountain Hardware Redeye, and Cotopaxi Allpa all have hipbelts to assist in carrying the load, the Patagonia Black Hole has plenty of padding to keep you comfortable and the Matador Seg45 has the option of switching to a shoulder strap if your back gets tired.


Pockets, easy access to compartments, and dividers are methods that assist in organization. Decide which are most inline with your travel style. If you plan to road trip or car camp frequently, multiple access points to the main compartment is helpful when you just need your headphones but your bag is at the bottom of the pile. Simply sneak them out through an alternate access point. The Seg45 offers five individual pockets for keeping track of what you’ll need throughout the journey. 

Airport Compatibility 

All of these bags are carry-on compliant by being within the standard 22 x 14 x 9-inch dimensions. However, if you need to bring a pocket knife or full-size liquids, consider how the bag will perform while checked as well. This is when the tuckable straps and removable hipbelts on some packs will come in handy. If you utilize the external loops to attach additional gear, keep in mind how these hanging items will affect stowability.

Best Travel Backpacks: FAQs

Q: Can a 45L backpack be a carry-on?

Yes, a 45L backpack can be used as a carry-on, but it is the maximum size. If the bag is oddly shaped or overfilled you could have trouble. When you travel internationally or plan on using crowded public transportation opt for a 35 or 40 liter travel backpack if possible.

Q: How do I keep my travel backpack organized?

Thoughtfully designed pockets or the segmented structure of the Seg45 are great ways to keep your bag organized. However, if you prefer to take stock of all your clothes at once consider rolling them to keep them taut, but visible right when you open your bag. Utilize smaller pockets for tiny items so they don’t sink to the bottom of your bag.

Q: What is the most comfortable travel backpack for women?

The Osprey Kyte is a very comfortable backpacking bag designed for women that performs well while traveling. If you’re worried about carrying all of your belongings on your back over the course of your trip, I would recommend a backpacking bag like the Kyte. It is designed to make load hauling easier by distributing the weight across your hips and shoulders. To make the best travel backpacks even more comfortable, find out How to Pack a Backpack.

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Final Thoughts on the Best Travel Backpacks

Traveling can be stressful, but having your luggage on your back means you’re less likely to lose it and you can maneuver more nimbly in high-pressure areas. The best travel backpacks are comfortable and keep you well-organized. When traveling internationally consider the Cotopaxi Allpa with security zippers and thoughtful pockets. If you’re camping try the durable, water-resistant Patagoina Black Hole Duffel. 

Best Overall: Mountain Hardware Redeye 45

Best for Backpacking: Osprey Kyte or Kestrel 38

Best Lightweight: Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 40L

Best Carry-On: Cotopaxi Allpa 35L

Best Laptop Backpack: Matador Seg45

The post The Best Travel Backpacks of 2023, Tested and Reviewed appeared first on Outdoor Life.

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