When it comes to finding the best travel backpacks, beauty and utility are in the eye of the beholder. Finding the best backpack for you will obviously depend on the type of travel you need it for. If you’re looking for a backpack for your around the world trip, you probably won’t find it here. However, if you’re looking for the best backpacks to take on a week long trip, a weekend trip, a day trip, or just for a few hours walking around a city, chances are the perfect backpack for you can be found below.
Minaal – Backpack
Minimalistic and streamlined in design, practical and professional in utility, the Minaal backpack may very well be the perfect carry-on travel backpack. And it’s not just me who thinks so. When Minaal launched a campaign on Kickstarter with a goal of raising $30,000 to put their backpack into production, they brought in over $340,000. I’d say that’s a serious stamp of approval.
With limited branding, no-expense-spared construction, no unnecessary external bells and whistles and the ability to neatly stow away the shoulder straps and carry like a duffle bag, Minaal says they aim to attract the ProTraveler, “the dedicated traveller who wants to remain professional on the road, instead of looking like a backpacker.” I’m sold. Price: $299
Kelty – Redwing 44
Kelty, the Colorado-based maker of great outdoor gear from camping lanterns to tents to sleeping bags, is best known for their line of quality backpacks. For a backpack perfect for multi-purpose use, whether hiking, traveling or just taking a day trip, go with the Redwing 44. This light weight pack has a bunch of handy storage compartments and a divider to separate shoes or dirty clothes. If you need more convincing, Outside magazine calls the Kelty Flyway (what the Redwing was called before a minor redesign), “the most do-it-all piece of luggage we’ve found” and the best bag for packing for a winter lodge escape. Price: 119.95
Oliberté – Krabu
As the world’s first fair trade certified shoe company, Oliberté produces its shoes and bags in its own factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But what exactly does fair trade mean? In Oliberté’s own words, ”This means that at the facility we are meeting or exceeding rigorous standards for empowerment, economic development, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship.”
The leather used to make their shoes and bags, like the Krabu backpack shown here, is sourced from local Ethiopian farmers (the cows that become the leather lead long, natural, free range lives producing milk and providing transportation). The final product is a artisan crafted, unique and tough backpack with a large main compartment with a small zipped leather interior pocked, outside snap pocket and metal ring for connecting extra goods with a carabiner. Price: $240
Patagonia – Refugio Pack 28L
Patagonia thought of everything when they designed their 28L Refugio Backpack. The backpack is streamlined and straightforward, yet packed with helpful compartments and pockets to keep all of your things organized while traveling. A separate, padded laptop pocket makes accessing your laptop super easy, whether while going through airport security or while the backpack is stowed under the airplane seat in front of you. The laptop pocket, when not in use, can also be used as a hydration pocket. On the outside, the backpack is made of a highly durable fabric and a water repellent, ripstop nylon bottom for extra protection. Price: $115
Osprey – Daylite Backpack
Weighing in at just one pound, Osprey’s simple and lightweight Daylite Backpack is an excellent choice for day trips that can take your from the city and into the wilderness. The backpack’s sleek design features comfortable mesh shoulder straps (that tuck away in a pocket), two mesh side pockets (great for keeping a water bottle or snacks handy), a small organizational pocket at the top, and a 13-liter main compartment that opens wide for easy access to your things. Best of all, the Daylite features a breathable, slotted foam back covered in mesh and an external sleeve for a hydration pouch (sold separately). Plus, if you’re looking for a larger back, this backpack was designed to attach to Osprey’s larger packs, like the Osprey Aether. Price: Starting at $47
REI – Vagabond Tour 40 Pack
The sleek, streamlined and affordable REI Vagabond Tour 40 Pack cuts out all the clutter and gives you just what you need. With no excess straps, buckles or external pockets, this backpack is incredibly light weight at just 2 lbs. 8oz. The front features a large zip-open panel that allows you to pack it like a duffle bag, and on the back, a zip-close cover conceals the shoulder straps allowing you to carry it like a duffle bag. Price: $119
Wheelmen & Co. – Babylon Backpack
Usually backpacks that are big on style suffer in substance and functionality. That’s not the case with the Wheelmen & Co. Babylon Backpack, which looks incredible and over performs when it comes to usability. A 1000D nylon exterior shell and a polyurethane-coated twill lining (which makes the backpack water-resistant) forms the bones of the Babylon’s well thought out and rock solid design. Inside, the yellow interior brightens the space and makes it easier to find what you’re looking for, and a fully padded sleeve serves as the perfect spot for storing your laptop. On the outside, two large exterior pockets with vertical zippers make excellent places to stow a book or any other item you want to keep handy, padded shoulder straps and an adjustable chest strap make the Babylon comfortable and secure to wear, and adjustable straps at the sides (near the top) can be left loose to take advantage of the backpack’s surprisingly big interior storage space, or cinched to create a slimmer profile. I own and use this backpack often and can attest to its equally matched beauty and brains. Price: $129
Standard Luggage Co. – Carry-On Backpack
If you want the space and professional look that comes with a suitcase, but the versatility, mobility and convenience that comes with a backpack, the Carry-On Backpack from Standard Luggage Co. is for you. With backpack straps that neatly hide away (seriously, you’d never know they were there if you didn’t know where to look), this bag can also be carried like a duffle bag via the soft leather side handle, and like a messenger bag by clipping on the included shoulder strap.
In addition to the the roomy central compartment that opens clam-shell style to allow for easy packing, the bag is jam-packed with thoughtfully designed pockets for optimal organization. Two of the absolute smartest features, however, are the integrated sleeve on the bag’s back that allow it to be slipped over the handle of a rolling suitcase for easy combined carrying (see 2:23 in the video above) and the interchangeable leather accent colors that allow for a touch of customization (see all the orange leather pieces in the bag above? You’ll get a spare set in blue). Price: $179
Tanner Goods – Wilderness Rucksack
Tanner Goods is one of my favorite companies — and man, do they know how to work with leather and waxed canvas. Exhibit A: the Tanner Goods Wilderness Rucksack, a stylish backpack made to last out of heavy waxed canvas, premium wool felt, Horween Rich Chromexcel leather, and finished off with brass rivets, studs and buckles. With its classic, masculine and less-is-more look, this is an ideal day pack to carry your essentials while strolling around a European city (and to look good while doing it).
All of Tanner Goods’ products purchased online are handmade to order specifically for you (so you may need to wait two or three weeks after purchasing while they make it). But like all the bags, belts, wallets and other leather accessories this Portland, Oregon based company is known for, it’ll be well worth the wait. If you want to see and hold Tanner Goods products, you can visit their flagship store in Portland, their smaller shop in Downtown Los Angeles, or at one of these retailers. Price: $450
Just Porter – Sable Rucksack
Another successfully funded Kickstarter backpack project, Just Porter came out of the gate with not just one backpack, but three. The Sable Rucksack, the largest of Just Porter’s three offerings was designed specifically to give you fast access to your most important belongings (ex. a quick access laptop compartment that separates your computer from everything else you throw in your bag). The clean design also features nifty magnetic closures that glide shut and are easy to open, water resistant materials and a roll to seal top closure.
But buying a Just Porter backpack won’t just make your life a little better. For every backpack sold, Just Porter will give a backpack containing school supplies to a child in need. It’s a win win. Price: $195
Osprey – FlapJack Backpack
Osprey makes so many great travel backpacks, I had to include a second one on the list. Available in 5 colors, the Osprey Flapjack Backpack is ideal for the city backpacker heading out on a day trip. The backpack’s design features a large flap that buckles shut, securely sealing off your bag’s contents from anyone who wishes to get inside while you’re wearing it (it’s a lot easier for a pickpocket to get into a standard backpack then it is get into this one). For smaller items, or essential documents like your passport, the zippered pocket on the front flap allows fast access to frequently used items. Inside the top-loading Flapjack, you’ll find a padded interior pocket that’ll fit a large laptop, as well as a large zippered interior pocket ideal for storing important documents while traveling. Price: $99
Goertzen Adventure Equipment – Original Ruck Sack
One of the toughest and most original backpacks I’ve ever seen, the Goertzen (pronounced GURT-zen) Original Ruck Sack is as real as it gets, hand-made to order, American craftsmanship. Designed and built with leather and canvas by Joe Goertzen in Missoula, Montana, this is a bag you’ll be able to (and proud to) hand down to your grandchildren.
If you want something specific and a bag that’s even more one-of-kind than then the Original Ruck Sack, Joe welcomes custom orders. Simply email or call him to talk about your needs and Joe will create a bag that’s just right for you. Try finding another backpack maker that’ll do that. Price: $175
Stephen Kenn – The Encounter Collection Backpack
If you read my posts, 12 great weekend travel bags or 10 Best Travel Kits For Men, you know that Stephen Kenn knows how to make great looking bags out of leather. Like his travel duffle, his backpack is made using vegetable tanned leather and crafted by hand in Downtown Los Angeles. The backpack’s main compartment is unique in that it opens wide and closes with two strong magnets on both sides and two buckles at the top. If you’re looking for a backpack and that you’ll be proud to carry for the next several decades, this is it. Price: $725
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