How To Choose The Best Travel Backpack

If your next trip is going to look something like this, you really need to make the right choice when it comes to a backpack…

No, not all of those activities are backpack-friendly, and they really aren’t so much the star of the show here, but you better believe that any trip of this sort is going to require a good backpack!

When God Created Backpacks…

choosing the best travellers backpack

When you select a backpack you should keep in mind that not all backpacks are created equal.  Some are designed to fit more inside (like your entire life), while others are prized for their high durability and will hold up against anything weather-wise, and for super long time.  Still others are jam-packed with pockets and compartments to the Nth degree, while others have features you might not expect, if you aren’t a backpacker – like wheels.

So when you choose, be sure to choose according to the kind of usage you want from it, and the kind of trip you are planning.  Consider the activity you will use it for, as well as the weight and volume of the stuff you want to carry.  Think about when you might need to carry them, and for how long.  This aspect of planning a trip is certainly as important as planning out the budget of the trip itself.  While some don’t mind getting “lost”, others prefer to plan it out.  We are more the planner types here at Beach Baby!

Although backpacks are often the choice for cross country or back country travellers vs a piece of luggage, nowadays, if you want to skip the lines at the airport while waiting for your luggage, a backpack can be your best friend.

Types of Travel Backpack

Best Foldable Ultra Lightweight Men and Women Handy Daypack

Soft Backpacks

These are traditional backpacks, and in my opinion the best travel backpacks if you travel a lot.

A soft backpack can be put on shoulders, and you are good to go.  Make sure you buy one with the waist belt, as that helps to lessen the burden on your shoulders, and may avoid back pain if you are carrying it for a long time.

They come in both front loading and top loading models.  So take your pick according to your convenience.

When to buy Soft backpack:

  • You are going backpacking in the countryside, and you are physically fit to carry your bag on your shoulders.
  • The terrain you are travelling across may not be feasible to carry wheeled luggage.
  • You do not want to check in luggage at the airport.
  • You travel light, and do not want to bring breakables home.
  • You do not mind carrying a separate day bag for your handy items.

When not to buy Soft backpack:

  • If your travel includes long hours of carrying your luggage.  So buy a wheeled backpack, unless you want to go soul searching like ‘Into The Wild’.  Better opt for rolling backpacks if you are not going across the countryside, and you have to keep your luggage by your side for a long time.
  • If you want to check in your luggage, they are not a good option for you.  You might need quite a few locks to manage the safety of the zips.  Plus the way the baggage is handled, you may just pray for the safety of your belongings.

Internal Frame Backpacks

TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack review

For those long journeys when you are travelling alone or with fellow travellers, and you want to be able to carry your own baggage for long distances.

Internal frame backpacks come with an internal support structure that helps balance the weight on your hips, and takes support from shoulder straps, thus making it easy to carry them for a long journey.

When to buy Internal frame backpack:

  • For long journeys when you have to carry your own baggage.
  • You weigh comfort more than money, as these bags can be expensive as compared to normal backpacks.

When not to buy Internal frame backpack:

  • Uncomfortable to carry on airplane, as they might not fit every overhead bin because the internal structure makes it hard to squish them.
  • You have a small frame (physically), as most of these bags are on the longer side.

rockland luggage 17 inch rolling backpack

Rolling Backpacks

Rolling backpacks have great features of both worlds.  They give you both the flexibility of travelling with wheeled baggage, and carrying your baggage on shoulder straps when required.

When to buy Rolling backpack:

  • if you are ready for the tradeoffs of comfort, with having to carry the added weight of wheels and retractable handle.
  • if you carry your baggage for a small amount of time, and roll it most of the time.

When not to buy Rolling backpack:

  • if you pack to eat up every inch of space available in your bag, as the wheels and handle may take up a lot of internal space in rolling backpacks.
  • if you will be carrying your baggage most of the time.

Congratulations!  The difficult part is over.  Now you know what kind of bag you want for your travelling needs.  Consider the features you want in your backpack.  Do not overwhelm yourself with features, just look for basic ones that you will need.  Weigh comfort more than usability in backpacks.

Further considerations


Size of the backpack

If you are travelling by plane, then you should not choose a size larger than 14” X 21” X 9,” and in case you have a rolling backpack, consider that the wheels are no bigger than 14” X 20” X 9”.  But at the present time, when regulations keep changing in budget airlines, you should always check with your airlines before you make a decision.

Other than airlines, make sure if you have a small stature, then you do not buy a long bag.  If you are purchasing the backpack at the mall, or wherever, be sure to try it out first!

Weight of the Backpack:

Although you may put less items in the bag if you want to travel light, but the weight of the bag itself is quite heavy, then obviously you need to have a strong back to carry the combined weight of a giant backpack, along with everything in it.  

Construction of Backpack:

  • Most rugged backpacks are meant for rough handling.  So buy the ones that can handle the abuse you are going to put them through.
  • Seams should be very neatly and closely stitched.  If you look at the seams by pulling the joints, it should be difficult for you to see the stitches.  Go for durable fabrics.
  • If you are buying a backpack for outdoor travelling, then obviously you would want it to be made of weather resistant fabric.
  • One thing that most of us ignore, is the sturdiness of zippers.  In the front of open backpacks, the zippers have a lot of pressure, so make sure they are of good quality.
  • Shoulder straps should have foam, so they do not dig into your shoulders.

Additional Features:

You may want to check the various features in travel baggage.  For some it may be an added advantage to have more zippers, but for someone like me, it is a disadvantage when I need to find a single item, as I have to go through all the compartments. Moreover, if you want to ‘check in’ your bag at the airport, you may have to buy more locks for the zips.  So check the features like zippers, expandability, usable space, etc. before you click ‘buy’.

Now that you have made a list of your choices of best travel backpacks on the basis of their type and size, it is time to compare them on the basis of their features.  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind while comparing:

Pockets: Built in pockets or zips help in keeping frequently used items handy.

Compartments: Compartments help in organizing stuff in a travel backpack.

Expandability or compressibility: You may want to increase or decrease the size of your backpack, so check for the ease with which you can use these features.

Daypack: Few backpacks also allow you to zip off a removable day pack, so if you do not want to carry a separate day pack, you may want to consider this feature.

Quality and cost:

Though some people might consider these to be different…. cost and quality go together.  Mostly, unless you are just paying for a brand, cheap bags mean low quality, and reasonable cost can get you a bag with good quality material.  When you are backpacking, the last thing on your mind is to go hunting for a new bag in the middle of your travel.

Airline regulations for carry-on backpacks:

If you want to escape the waiting time for luggage at the airports, and the cost associated with them, then you may carry your backpack with you.  For this, check the airline you frequent with for the dimensions of the bag they allow as carry-on baggage.

Tips for Buying Backpacks

Finally, few tips to consider while buying backpacks:

  • Do not buy over costly backpacks.  If you are paying over $300 for a backpack,  unless you are looking for a specific special feature, chances are that you are just paying for an overpriced brand.
  • Always check for size with your airlines.
  • Never buy cheap backpacks as they offer low quality.  The backpack may fall apart more quickly than you would have anticipated it to – it pays to read customer reviews for the backpack you are thinking of buying
  • For keeping organized, always consider investing in some good packing cubes. They help to compress your clothes, organize them and you may easily find your stuff without having to take everything out.

We hope this quick guide to choosing the best travel backpack has helped you on your journey!

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