The best travel backpack

  • Backpacks are perfect for when you don't need a full suitcase, but you want more than a regular daypack or messenger bag.
  • Based on our research and real-world testing, the best overall travel backpack is the eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible.
  • If you're looking for a bag that will hold a bit more, check out our guide to the best carry-on bags.

The world is shrinking. Thanks to incredibly low prices and fares, travel is becoming more and more accessible to everyone, whether we're talking about quick jaunts out of town or longer trips overseas.

One of the reasons why air travel is becoming more affordable is that low-cost carrier airlines are expanding their reach to serve more people. By charging extra for things like food, drinks, and checked bags, the price of the base ticket can fall drastically lower. Airlines like Spirit and Norwegian have perfected this model, while larger airlines like United and American are starting to offer "basic economy" fares to compete. Those "basic economy" fares tend to start lower but the airlines even charge for carry-on roller bags or duffles.

Although roller bags are great when you're trying to carry as much as possible without having to check a bag, they aren't always the best choice. They can be unwieldy on city streets or on trains, while your standard duffel can be a pain to carry for more than a few minutes, even with a shoulder strap.Advertisement

Enter the travel backpack. This bag is a hybrid duffel-backpack that takes the best of both types of bags and combines them into an easy-to-carry storage system that can fit under the airplane seat in front of you, but that's still able to carry enough for a long weekend.

Backpacks help evenly distribute the weight of your gear and include room for those modern-day essentials like laptops, chargers, and tablets.

Here the best travel backpacks:

Prices and links are current as of 3/5/2020. We also added our pick for the best travel backpack on a budget as well as a new section with related guides.

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The best overall

The best overall
The eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible maximizes storage space so you can pack it to the brim, and it transforms into a duffle bag on demand.

eBags was founded as a retail website in 1998 and began selling products manufactured under its own brand a few years later. Taking advantage of the reviews left on its site, eBags tries to incorporate all of that feedback into its in-house products to make them better.

The TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible is the result of that smart, informed design process. The bag features a massive internal compartment, which is so big that one reviewer said she was able to use it for a week-long trip to Europe. The bag also has a laptop compartment with a separate opening to give you easy access to your computer while also keeping it safe and secure.

The Weekender has an expansion zipper to increase the storage space if you need a little extra room, and it has internal dividers and tie-down straps to keep your stuff in place. An easily accessible pocket on top means you can quickly access essentials, like liquids at security or travel documents.

To make it even easier to carry when stuffed to the brim, the bag has handles at the top and on the side. That way, you can carry it as a duffle if you want to take it off your back at any point. The backpack straps tuck away into the bag if you choose to carry it duffle-style, and there's an attachable shoulder strap.

Since the Weekender comes in eight colors, you're sure to find one you like, too. Overall, this versatile, convertible bag is an incredible option for travelers who want to make the most of their backpack.

Pros: Well-organized, maximizes storage space, great for traveling on foot, sturdy, turns into a duffle

Cons: Slightly rigid, not the most stylish, clips are made of cheap-feeling plastic

The best on a budget

The best on a budget
The Open Story Day Trip Backpack is a great budget-friendly option for short trips thanks to its structured compartments, large capacity, and thoughtful details frequent travelers will love.

While this backpack doesn't have as large a capacity as the others on our list — it's best for one or two night stays or as a supplement to a carryon suitcase — Open Story by Target has jammed so many clever features into this backpack we'd be remiss not to mention it in our guide.

I tested it on a three-day trip to Disney World and utilized it as both my personal item while I flew and my daypack at the parks. For me, trips to Disney mean carrying a ton on my back all day including an emergency kit filled with first aid supplies, a large water bottle, and a full change of clothes for me and my partner — you never know with the volatile Florida weather.

In the past, using lesser backpacks meant fumbling for the item I needed, overstuffing, uncomfortable straps, and being jammed in the back by displaced items. I experienced none of that with the Day Trip.

While it doesn't open flat for packing, the thick nylon construction is structured enough to stand upright and open. You could easily fit two or three days worth of clothes in the main compartment. Also, hidden in there is a zipper RFID compartment.

The front features a large, flat compartment further divided internally that's great for your smaller items like keys, glasses, pens, and chargers. Above it is a velvet-lined pocket meant for sunglasses and other scratchable items which I used frequently as we went in and out of rides, shops, and restaurants.

At the back is a separate section for your laptop so your tech never has to come into contact with your clothes. It contains a padded sleeve large enough for a 15-inch laptop and a mesh zipper pocket to stow accessories.

The wide straps are comfortable for long wear and mesh padding between your shoulders and at your lower back ups the comfort factor further. My favorite feature on this backpack is a very small one — a tiny zipper pocket on the front of one of the straps. It's great for keeping cash, a key, or anything small you might want to access without taking off your pack. — Jen Gushue

Pros: Budget-friendly, utilitarian pockets, comfortable to wear, 15-inch laptop compartment

Cons: Smaller capacity, doesn't open flat for packing


The best for style

The best for style
The InCase EO Travel Backpack is a sleek, stylish bag that keeps you organized and looking sharp on the road.

If you find the eBags Motherlode too plain for your tastes, the InCase EO Travel Backpack is a much more polished alternative that looks stylish and still holds a ton of gear.

The EO unzips down the middle and opens like a suitcase, giving you access to the main storage compartment. It has two sections: a large packing area that can be closed with a mesh flap and a smaller mesh pocket that sits opposite the main compartment. The small pocket is good for socks or for dirty clothes you won't wear again.

The bag also has an expansion zipper. Even if you don't have a lot to pack, it's easiest to expand the bag, close everything up, and then close the expansion zipper. That way, your stuff is compressed and packed in easily. While the bag holds its shape well, the soft panels mean it's easy to fit under an airplane seat.

The laptop compartment can fit up to a 17-inch laptop, which should be big enough for just about anyone. Unlike many other bags, it also has a separate tablet pocket. The laptop compartment zips apart to lie separately, which can be helpful when going through security.

It also has a front organizer compartment with pockets for pens, chargers, and other accessories. All in all, the EO doesn't hold as much as the eBags Motherlode, but it still fits plenty more than a traditional weekender.

The EO Travel Backpack is made from a weather-resistant material, and it has several easy-access pockets for essentials. It also has a breathable mesh back and extremely comfortable adjustable shoulder straps. If you have to walk far with the EO before you reach your destination, you can use the included chest strap to help with stability. The bag also has padded carrying handles on the top and side to make it easy to grab.

Pros: Stylish, comfortable to carry, fits several days of clothes, protects laptop well

Cons: Slightly tighter than alternatives, backpack straps don't stow away, only two color choices

The best for carrying lots of stuff

The best for carrying lots of stuff
The Tortuga Setout Backpack is a well-designed bag that can fit everything you need, with a removable hip-belt and backpack straps that stow away.

Tortuga represents my favorite kind of company. It's a small, direct-to-consumer startup that makes an excellent project, drawing on its founders' and employees' own experiences and expertise.

The company was founded in 2009 by two friends, Fred Perrotta and Jeremy Michael Cohen, following a trip around Europe when they realized how inefficient and difficult-to-carry most luggage is for city-dwellers and urban backpackers. Duffles are heavy, roller-bags don't do well on uneven terrain or cobblestones, and those traditional "backpacking" bags — or hiking style backpacks — are basically sacks with an opening on top, meaning you have to top-load them, which leads to stuff getting wrinkled and makes it hard to access.

I tested the Setout Backpack and found it to be perfectly executed. At 22" x 14" x 9" on the outside, it's the largest allowable by most airlines' carry-on restrictions, meaning it fits a ton. It's built with a strong-but-thin polyester, meaning you can either overstuff the bag or squish it down to make it fit under an airplane seat.

The bag has useful organizational pockets and compartments, and can easily fit enough to last you a week. There's also a laptop compartment around the back of the bag, that has padded pockets for a 15" laptop and a tablet, and around the outside of the bag, there are pockets for things like pens, cards, notepads, and more.

My favorite thing about the bag was that the backpack straps can be stowed away and the hip-belt is removable. The bag has a soft handle on the side that you can use to carry it just like a normal suitcase.

To learn more about the Tortuga Setout Backpack, you can read my full review here.

Pros: Comfortable to carry by hand or on your back, holds a lot, backpack straps can be stowed away and the hip-belt can be removed

Cons: One of the larger travel backpacks so it may be bigger than you need for shorter trips


The best for work trips

The best for work trips
The eBags Professional Weekender's design is based on decades of customer feedback and research to create the perfect backpack for professional road warriors.

With a sharper look than many traditional travel bags and backpacks, the eBags Professional Weekender is perfect to take with you from your hotel to your meetings. This bag is ideal for those shorter business trips when you don't want to lug around a full-sized wheeled carry-on, but can't fit everything you need in a briefcase or traditional backpack.

The clothing compartment is designed for shorter 1-2-day trips, but it can be overstuffed to fit more. At the bottom of the bag, accessible from the back, is a crush-proof "AC-Adapter garage" to hold any heavy objects you want to keep away from the rest of your gear — or, alternatively, delicate objects you're worried about breaking. You can also remove the compartment altogether to give the clothing compartment more room to expand.

The laptop section is isolated from the rest of the bag's contents, so there's no need to share your dirty laundry with the boardroom when you pull out your computer at a meeting. An organizer pocket helps you keep track of your essentials, too.

What's remarkable about this bag is how adaptable it is. The backpack straps are removable, and there's a handle on the side so that you can carry it as a briefcase. There's also an adjustable shoulder strap. When opting for backpack mode, there's a breathable "Airmesh" back with well-placed padding to make it a comfortable carry.

If you're bringing a roller bag as well, there's a handy pass-through panel on the back so that you can place it around the roller bag's handle. All in all, this bag is the ultimate business trip backpack.

Pros: Clean, professional look, well-organized

Cons: Some reviewers complain about plastic clips, no external compression straps

The best for long treks

The best for long treks
The Deuter Transit 50 is made for walking, and the lightweight suspension system makes it a breeze to carry around all day.

The Deuter Transit 50 is a large, smart travel backpack that's perfect for shuttling between cities, backpacking across Europe, or carrying your stuff while hiking the trails. The bag has a few features that make it a great candidate for carrying on long hauls and stuffing it in an overhead compartment.

The bag's best feature is an advanced suspension system that makes it easy to carry as a backpack. The generously-padded shoulder straps and back support are vented and allow air to circulate, helping you stay cool when carrying it for hours on end. Several adjustable straps and pads allow you to form the bag perfectly to your body, while the suspension's ergonomic design avoids discomfort.

The waist straps have foam hip fins, which sit against your body to distribute the bag's weight and save your back and shoulders. When you're ready to board a flight, the entire suspension system can be tucked away and hidden. A carrying handle on the side and a removable shoulder strap mean you can carry it as a duffle bag for shorter distances.

The main compartment is spacious and can be completely unzipped. There's no need to shove everything through the top opening when you pack, as is often the case with similar hiking-styled bags. Compression straps in the main compartment and around the bag help stabilize the load. A zippered compartment at bottom of the bag is great for laundry, shoes, or wet clothes.

The secondary storage compartment on the front of the bag has a hidden trick — It's a detachable daypack with a main compartment and a small pocket on the very front. You can pack extra items in here when it's attached to the main bag, or detach it and leave the larger pack in the hotel for a lighter load while exploring.

While it's easy to carry a laptop in this bag, it doesn't have a dedicated, protected pocket so you may want to invest in a laptop sleeve. The bag also includes a rain cover for those times when you get stuck in gross weather.

Pros: Comfortable for carrying heavy loads, adaptable for different needs

Cons: No laptop pocket


Check out our other travel gear guides

Check out our other travel gear guides
The best carry-on luggage

Even though overhead bins are shrinking and regulations are tightening, travelers still want to be able to love their gear. You need to be able to rely on your luggage no matter where your travels take you. These are the best carry-on suitcases you can buy.

The best checked luggage

Buying the right piece of luggage can help eliminate, or at least lessen, the many challenges that come with travel. There are thousands of different brands and styles of luggage to choose from, and no one suitcase is right for everybody. The one you choose will depend on many factors including how frequently you travel, what you are packing, and your budget. This is the best checked luggage.

The best dopp kits

Dopp kits are sophisticated travel bags that hold all your toiletries when you're traveling on the go. A good one will be made of a tough, leak-resistant material to ensure any spills won't reach the rest of your suitcase's contents. These are the best dopp kits.

The best packing cubes

Packing cubes are a great solution for messy packers. Not only do they help you store your things in an orderly manner, but they also help you fit more in your suitcase. These are the best packing cubes.

The best travel pillows

For those who tend to have trouble getting settled in economy seats, and who might not find the traditional travel pillow useful when nodding off, now is a great time to try a new pillow. There are a ton of fresh, innovative options today, as well as fresh takes on the classic U-shaped travel pillow. These are our top picks for the best travel pillows.