Best Travel Backpack 2019
Welcome back! We have updated our popular “best travel backpacks” article to reflect what we feel are the best carry on travel backpacks of 2019! If you are a one bag or carry on only traveler looking for the perfect travel backpack, then you are in the right place!
2.0 Updates – Addition of Tortuga Setout, Nomatic Travel Bag, and Patagonia Headway MLC replaced by Patagonia Black Hole MLC.
3.0 Updates – Addition of GoRuck GR2, Cotopaxi Allpa 35l, AER Travel Pack, and Eagle Creek Global Companion.
4.0 Updates – Addition of Tortuga Setout Divide.
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That old bookbag just not cutting it as a travel backpack anymore? Then you are in the right place! Here, we break down 13 of the best travel backpacks on the market. Keep in mind, the best travel backpack for you will depend on your specific needs. Therefore, we try to point out which packs will be the best travel backpack for different applications, as well as what we feel is the overall best travel backpack available for 2019.
The Tortuga Setout, along with its little brother: the Tortuga Setout Divide, is our top pick as the overall best travel backpack. Meanwhile, the GoRuck GR2 occupies a special place as a very expensive, but amazing niche pack, and the Tortuga Outbreaker still has a place for those who want a truly awesome maximum legal carry on backpack that you could haul on a trek.
After this, the Eagle Creek Global companion and AER Travel pack have joined the Black Hole MLC and Minaal Carry-on 2.0 as great travel backpacks in their own rights. And the Cotopaxi Allpa 35 occupies a strange place on the list as a great pack with a massive disclaimer.
The final packs were those that we couldn’t find a niche for in which we felt they could top any of the packs ahead of them. Still, there are some solid packs among them, and one could be perfect for your needs.
What is a travel backpack?
Before we get started with a breakdown of the best travel backpacks, we need to qualify what we consider a travel backpack in the first place, and what you should be looking for when you choose one.
Not Traditional Hiking Backpacks
As avid outdoor backpackers, Michole and I have no small amount of appreciation for these backpacks. And for years, travelers who had no intentions of ever stepping foot off of the pavement used them. Why? There were no other options! Fortunately, today is a new day, and more and more old-school outdoor companies are adding specially designed travel backpacks to their lineups, and new companies have also emerged specifically to serve those looking for carry on backpacks for urban travelers.
Front loading vs top loading
Traditional hiking packs, such as the Atmos 50 AG by Osprey (my go-to wilderness backpacking pack), are almost exclusively top loaders. This means that they are accessed via a drawstring operated opening on the top of the pack. This is optimal for carrying a large load close to your body over difficult terrain but makes it extremely difficult to get anything out without getting EVERYTHING out. Also. because they are opened with a drawstring, they cannot be locked. Not usually a problem high in the mountains, but more so in a sketchy hostel.
Travel backpacks, on the other hand, are going to be designed more like a suitcase that you wear on your back. They are almost exclusively front loading, which means that you can lay it out flat, open it, and access pretty much anything without needing to move anything else. This also makes them much easier to pack, and the zippers should lock together for a bit of added security.
Carry on size
For starters, we will be looking (almost) exclusively at carry on backpacks. Why? You don’t want to land in a foreign country, planning to take a 6-hour bus ride from the airport to your hostel, only to find out that your backpack is in a different country. Very few savvy travelers and backpackers will be hitting the road with anything but a carry on backpack.
One important note to keep in mind is that budget and European airlines often have smaller carry on sizes than U.S. airlines. U.S. carry on size tends to be 22”x14”x9”. International carry on sizes can be a bit more tricky. Generally speaking, 21”x14”x9” is the rule. However, there are a few outliers with different requirements, such as Air France’s 21”x13”x9”.
Generally, a 45-liter travel backpack is the max for
Another carry on limit to consider is weight. Some airlines, such as Delta, do not have weight restrictions, while others do, and the limits range wildly. Usually, on flights with carry on weight limits, your carry on backpack will surpass the weight limit before it is full, so keep that in mind when deciding just how spacious of a pack you need.
One Bag Travel Backpacks
Since publishing the first version of this article, we became more and more familiar with one bag travel. One bag travel is the idea that you should be able to travel for extended periods of time with only one bag. Like minimalism, there are many who would put stricter definitions on the term, but we like to keep it simple.
Naturally, walking through the airport or the streets of Prague, or the beaches of Thailand will be much more enjoyable with one bag than two. It also forces a rather extreme amount of minimalism on long-term travelers, by limiting the amount that they can carry.
At any rate, a bag’s ability to function as a one bag travel backpack has been figured into our assessment of the packs.
No Roll Ons
Seriously, do I even need to explain this one? Role ons weigh about a million pounds. Furthermore, roll on luggage is the first thing that airlines will force you to check if they start running out of room in the overhead compartments. Finally, everyone else will be judging you as you wheel it along behind you. (Okay, Michole says that it’s just me judging you. Still, judgment passed.)
The Best Travel backpacks of 2019
With all of the technicalities and qualifiers out of the way, let’s get to what you came here against!
A 45l pack, measuring in at 22″x14″x9″ and weighing only 3.3lb, the Tortuga Setout is as big a pack as we have on the list, but is surprisingly light for its size. And while it is technically over the limit for international and budget airlines, it is a fairly soft-sided pack, so it easily packs down as long as it is not stuffed full. Furthermore, when packed to its full capacity, the Tortuga Setout provides amazing packing flexibility, particularly for long, cold weather trips.
However, for those looking for a smaller pack, Tortuga recently introduced the Setout 35l, which measures 21.5″x13.5″x7.5″ and weighs in at 3.4lb. The Tortuga Setout 35l is identical in every way to the larger Tortuga Setout, save for its smaller size.
The Tortuga Setout checked every box that we look for, and is the travel backpack that we chose as our one bag carry on backpack for three months in the Swiss Alps. Other packs on the list outperform the Setout in certain areas, but none did so without glaring weaknesses in others.
Tortuga has also recently released the Setout Divide. While in many ways it is the 35l Tortuga Setout, it is very much its own pack, and we
The most recent travel backpack added to our list, the Setout Divide is the long-awaited “smaller version of the Tortuga Setout.” I use quotes because, to be an exact clone of the original Tortuga Setout in so many ways, the new Tortuga Setout Divide backpack is very much its own pack. In fact, I think that it is the most unique backpack of all of the travel backpacks that we reviewed. Rather than simply being a sized down version of the
GoRuck is a company with a cultlike following and a special forces background. They are fast becoming known as designers of the highest quality, and highest priced backpacks on the market. Their midsized bag is the GoRuck GR2. Available in a 34 and 40l variant, this is apack that really shows how little those volume ratings matter. These are big travel backpacks, so don’t let their smaller liter designations fool you!
These are heavy backpacks with heavy pricetags to boot. But what do you get in return for that? Bomb proof backpacks literally built for a war zone. And they have some of the best laptop compartments of any travel backpack that we reviewed.
Big sister to the Setout, the Tortuga Outbreaker is as solid a pack as it was in our first review. Although the GoRuck GR2 has since taken the crown as the toughest travel backpack, the Tortuga Outbreaker offers something of a middle ground between packs like the GoRuck and the Setout. A truly maximum legal carry on sized backpack, the Outbreaker will hold all you need to pack and more. Furthermore, its suspension system and shoulder straps are best in class for travel backpacks, making it our top choice if you need a travel backpack that you wouldn’t mind carrying on a trek or two.
Patagonia is a blue blood outdoors company venturing into the urban pack realm with the Patagonia Black Hole MLC. Founded by Yvon Chouinard, the dirtbag philosopher king himself, Patagonia has a cult following amongst climbers, surfers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. This is largely due to Chouinard’s background and the company’s take on environmentalism. Whcih Chuinard describes as: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
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If there is one brand on this list that could match Patagonia’s ethos, it is Cotopaxi. With a focus on “paying it forward” and eradicating poverty throughout the developing world, it is hard not to see Cotopaxi as a company with whom you would like to spend your dollars. Although, the above-mentioned reports of their warranty make me question that ethos.
Described as “The ultimate adventure backpack,” its appearance definitely screams, “let’s go outside!” Bright colors with accents and a glossy finish definitely remind me of old school climbing gear. One of the smaller packs on the list, the Cotopaxi Allpa is a lot like a smaller, more manageable version of the Patagonia Black Hole MLC. While the Black Hole is great for hauling technical gear to a location, the Cotopaxi Allpa is a travel backpack that you would not mind wearing on a day hike or out to the crag, something that we can’t say for too many travel backpacks.
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The story of Minaal is very similar to that of Tortuga. In their own words, “We’re two guys from New Zealand, who realized how dissatisfied we were with our travel gear, and thought it’d be a great idea to quit our jobs to make our own.” One successful Kickstarter campaign later, they are doing just that.
The Minaal Carry-on 2.0 has many similarities with the Tortuga packs. It does well at most of the same things that they do. However, the Minaal Carry-on 2.0 is much more geared for the minimalist packer. If you are the type to travel the world with two pairs of clothes-one for wearing and one for washing, then this might be the best travel backpack pack for you. It is also one of the most stylish travel backpacks on the list, and its small outline will make it just as comfortable in the boardroom as in the airport terminal. This, along with its organizational features, make it a great travel backpack for business travelers.
Eagle Creek is yet another outdoor gear manufacturer, but one that has shifted more toward urban travel over the years. And that is definitely the target for their new Global Companion 40l carry on backpack. Of all of the old school gear manufacturers to give it a shot, we feel that Eagle Creek made the most well-rounded travel backpack.
The Eagle Creek Global Companion is a solid, all around pack that definitely draws from the company’s outdoor roots. A strong contender, the Eagle Creek Global Companion’s versatility, ability to double as an outdoor pack, and a low price point make this a great, low cost travel backpack.
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AER Travel Pack 2
AER is one of the better-known indy bag manufacturers. Their Fit Pack is among the most popular edc backpacks around. But as a startup focused on making onebag, carry on backpacks, they will undoubtedly be judged against Tortuga and Minaal.
As this list grows with each iteration, it gets harder and harder for packs to distinguish themselves. Like a few other travel backpacks on the list, that is the AER Travel Pack’s biggest issue. It is not that it is a bad travel backpack. However, at $220, it seems like a slightly more expensive version of the Tortuga Setout. A slightly more expensive version that will hold less gear, and does not have a dedicated tablet compartment, hips straps, or stow away shoulder straps.
Nomatic, as a company, is our third and final Kickstarter funded, scratch your own itch style company. Like the guys from Tortuga, AER, and Minaal, they were not happy with the current travel bag selection and thought they could do better. An innovative and very well made travel backpack, the Nomatic Travel Bag is definitely not a bad backpack. It just doesn’t distinguish itself from the competition
While the Carry-on 2.0, Setout, Setout Divide, and Outbreaker might all fill slightly different niches, I can’t see what niche the Nomatic Travel Bag could fill, that one of them is not already filling better. And if it were supposed to fill the carry on duffel/carry on backpack niche, I would still take the Patagonia Black Hole MLC.
If you know anything about backpacks, you are undoubtedly familiar with Osprey. They dominate the trails in the United States, and they are making moves to dominate the airlines and hostels as well.
Owing to a unique design and Osprey’s brand name recognition, it is no surprise that the Farpoint is one of the most popular bags on our list. The Osprey Farpoint comes in a 40l, 55l, and 70l model. The 70 is too big for our purposes, so we will focus on the 40l and the 55l. I know what you are thinking, 55l is too large for carrying on, right? Actually, the Osprey Farpoint 55 is the Osprey Farpoint 40, with a 15l detachable day bag…. Sort of. The Farpoint 55’s main bag actually over carry on size limit for even some domestic airlines.
Like most of the travel backpacks this low on our list, the Osprey Farpoint is not a bad travel backpack, and it is only due to a few strange design choices that it is not a strong contender to be the best travel backpack that we reviewed. As it is, it is a victim of those choices and extremely stiff competition.
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One of the biggest brands on our list, North Face apparel has become so common that many forget the company’s roots lie in making outdoor gear that keeps people alive in the harshest elements on the planet. Like Osprey and Patagonia, they are now taking lessons learned in the backcountry and applying them to a travel backpack.
At 21”x12″x7,” and 3.2lb with a claimed volume of 41l, the North Face Overhaul 40 is legitimate carry on sized backpack by the standards of almost any airline. That said, we don’t think it lives up to its claim of being a 41l backpack. It is also the only top loading travel backpack to make out list, and this does nothing to make it feel roomier.
However, great looks, outdoor potential, and a solid price-point make the Northface Overhaul a great option for a large commuter bag or outdoor bag that doubles as a carry on travel backpack.
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The Osprey Porter, like the Farpoint, is one of the most popular travel backpacks on the market. Personally, I think this is largely due to Osprey’s name recognition and being one of the first bags to fulfill the role, rather than it actually being a great travel backpack.
On the other hand, the Osprey Porter does come in a range of sizes and colors, and it is backed up by Osprey’s highly thought of “Almighty Guarantee.” Frankly though, I can’t see many other reasons to choose the Porter over other travel backpacks on the list, but perhaps your needs are different than ours!
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Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45
Tom Bihn makes a number of travel backpacks with interesting features, which are widely regarded as being very high quality. So, why no Tom Bihn on the list? For one, they take the nickel and dime for accessories approach, which I was not thrilled about with Minaal, to an entirely different level. But mainly due to the lack of a laptop compartment in their best carry on backpack. The Tom Bihn Aeronaut would have found its way onto the list, but for the lack of a dedicated laptop compartment, which was a total dealbreaker for us.
Until Next Time!
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We participate in affiliate programs to help us fund this blog. Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase a product using our link, we will earn a small commission. Don’t worry! This comes at no additional cost to you, and we will never base our reviews on whether or not we earn a commission off of a product. With that said, if you find our review helpful and decide to purchase one of the packs below, we would be very appreciative if you use our links to do so. It will help us bring you more awesome content in the future!