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16 best travel backpacks, tried and tested during hiking holidays and city breaks

These travelled with us to India, the Middle East and beyond, so you can trust that they’re up to the job

Tamara Hinson
Monday 25 March 2024 15:36 GMT
From lightweight backpacks to waterproof rucksack designs, the right travel bag can make your trip
From lightweight backpacks to waterproof rucksack designs, the right travel bag can make your trip (iStock/The Independent)
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Considering suitcases have all too often stolen the limelight, the trend of embracing the humble backpack is one we’re fully on board with, and we’ve been busy rounding up the best options on the market.

While suitcases benefit from a smooth set of wheels, they’re often more prone to pitfalls. We’ve lost count of the number of times an over-eager baggage handler has left our suitcase missing a wheel, and we’ve never quite got over the occasion when a faulty latch meant our suitcase appeared on the luggage carousel wide open, our underwear displayed for all to see.

So, what exactly makes one backpack better than another? Small stash pockets at the top of the bag are invaluable for storing items such as keys and spare change, while wide straps are great for spreading the weight.

Look for additional adjustable chest and waist straps, if you’re looking for a bag on the larger side (anything over 25l). We’re also huge fans of backpacks with openings on the sides and at the rear. This will mean you don’t have to rifle through your underwear, toiletries and bug spray to get to the items you’ve placed at the bottom of your bag.

We’ve picked out the best ones to suit any type of traveller, for city breaks, business trips and hiking holidays. Read on to find out which ones really impressed.

How we tested the best travel backpacks

A selection of the backpacks we tested (Tamara Hinson)

We’re proud to say we consider ourselves backpack experts – we know our compression straps from our backboards, and we know precisely which features crank up the comfort and can help lighten the load. We put each backpack through its paces during trips to the Middle East and India, testing their capabilities to the max by filling them with everything from our gadgets and gizmos to the various items we needed for a weekend city break.

The best travel backpacks for 2024 are:

  • Best travel backpack overall – North Face trail lite speed 20l backpack: £105,
  • Best budget travel backpack – Lifeventure waterproof packable backpack: £36.99,
  • Best backpack for versatility – Jack Wolfskin traveltopia weekender: £83.50,
  • Best backpack for expandability – Fjällräven weekender: £185,

North Face trail lite speed 20l backpack

North face back pack-indybest
  • Best: Travel backpack overall
  • Size: 20l
  • Weight: 640g
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Incredibly comfortable
    • Plenty of pockets

This is the backpack of our dreams. After a recent shoulder injury (caused, ironically, by lugging an ill-fitting backpack around Cambodia), this is precisely what we needed – a backpack with wide, contoured straps, which did a brilliant job of spreading the load, and easily accessible dual sternum straps to reduce pressure during long hikes.

We were blown away by this bag’s low weight, given how many added extras there are – from the mesh pockets incorporated into the shoulder straps, the carrying fixtures for hiking poles and the supersized pockets (why are these pockets usually so small?!) to the internal water-bladder pocket.

We also loved the versatility – side compression straps enabled us to reduce the bag’s bulk (this came in especially useful on an airline with particularly stringent cabin baggage policies), while generous use of reflective material ensured we stayed visible, too.

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Lifeventure waterproof packable backpack

Lifeventure waterproof packable backpack.png
  • Best: Budget travel backpack
  • Size: 22l
  • Weight: 150g
  • Rain cover included: No, but waterproof outer
  • Why we love it
    • Tackles rainy weather with ease
    • Reflective tabs
    • Compact design and super lightweight

Let’s face it. As much as we’d love 365 days a year of sunshine, the odd rain shower is unavoidable, which is where this brilliant backpack comes into its own. In a nutshell, if the weather takes a turn for the worse, there’s no backpack we’d rather be wearing. Made from waterproof Cordura ripstop fabric, it’s a bag that will ensure the contents stay dry, while reflective tabs ensure you stay visible.

We also loved the fact we could hang our bike light from the dedicated light attachment, for extra visibility. But, for us, its main USP is its compact design – it’s extremely light and squashes up into its very own pouch, but still felt fabulously comfortable, thanks, largely, to ergonomically contoured shoulder straps and a hip belt.

  1. £36 from
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Monos metro backpack

  • Best: Backpack for simplicity
  • Size: 18l
  • Weight: 1.08kg
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Elegantly stylish
    • Lots of room
  • Take note
    • Pricey

We’ll be honest, when we come across backpacks that look this glam, our heart often sinks, simply because they’re often all about style over substance. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case with this beauty, which has a Tardis-like interior – we were particularly impressed by the laptop pocket, which had an ultra-soft lining.

It’s another backpack that scores highly when it comes to customisation – the wallet-sized pocket at the top was perfect for stashing smaller items such as keys, and we loved the presence of two small handles that mean it can be carried handbag-style. Additionally, these handles clip together, enhancing the minimalistic design.

The bag’s USP is the detachable metro kit, which attaches to the backpack using Monos’s QuickSnap system (a genius invention that allows it to be attached to other bags in the range). This toiletry-bag-sized pouch (which we filled with our favourite moisturisers and serums) came into its own during skin-drying long-haul flights – we simply unclipped the metro kit from the backpack after we’d stashed it in the overhead cabin.

  1. £205 from
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Chrome hondo backpack

  • Best: Backpack for toughness
  • Size: 21l
  • Weight: 0.96kg
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Incredibly tough
    • Great internal design
  • Take note
    • Its boxy shape might not appeal to everyone

This is one seriously hard-wearing bag. It comes with 1,050-denier recycled nylon shells and extra thick 1,680-denier recycled nylon bottom panels (in our experience, it’s the base of a backpack that is usually the first area to show signs of wear and tear). It also features reinforcement in unexpected (but truly worthy) places, such as over the front pocket’s zip.

Despite its streamlined shape, there’s an abundance of pockets, including two on the side, a padded sunglasses pocket at the top and an internal laptop sleeve. We also appreciated the numerous internal pockets, which were perfect for separating smaller items such as loose change, keys and charging cables. Easily adjustable straps and an ultra-breathable back panel did a great job of cranking up the comfort, too.

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Vango quest 65 backpack

  • Best: Backpack for innovative design
  • Size: 65l
  • Weight: 2kg
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Sturdy compression straps
  • Take note
    • It weighs more than many backpacks

As travellers constantly try to evade ridiculously stringent restrictions relating to cabin baggage, we’d describe this Vango design as pure genius. Why? It comprises a larger backpack and a smaller 20l backpack, attached via a zip. This was music to our ears, because our first thought, after clapping eyes on this bag, was that there was no way it could double as a backpack for short city strolls, but the smaller backpack (which isn’t immediately obvious) means it does exactly that.

Exterior and interior compression straps will come in handy for reducing its bulk when you’re travelling light, and, despite its relatively compact size, there are still all the added extras we look for, including plenty of pockets, an elasticated flight cover and external hooks for securing items such as water bottles.

  1. £84 from
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Fjällräven weekender

  • Best: Backpack for expandability
  • Size: 30l
  • Weight: 650g
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Versatile
    • Comfortable shoulder straps
  • Take note
    • We’d love to have seen more internal pockets

OK, we use the word “tardis” a lot, but it’s truly justified with this bag, which can also be carried duffel-style. The straps are multi-purpose – they clip together using a press stud, compressing the contents and aiding the bag’s compact look, which is quite impressive, considering its 30l size.

Inside, it’s pretty minimal, with a large central compartment and a laptop pocket. Oh, and another strap, which means the bag can be worn over the shoulder, too. Despite the bag’s relative simplicity, it’s got everything we need – the easily accessible pocket on the front is great for items such as passports, and we were pleasantly surprised by the shoulder straps. On lightweight bags, the shoulder straps are often flimsy (at best) but Fjällräven’s had enough padding and width to keep our niggling shoulder pain at bay.

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Osprey sojourn porter

  • Best: Innovative backpack
  • Size: 30l
  • Weight: 1.3kg
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Compact design
  • Take note
    • When full, it’s unlikely to fit under seats on budget airlines

Osprey has created a backpack that is seriously tough (the star of the show is the 460D high-tenacity ripstop nylon) and has more than enough room for a weekend away, but is also a joy to wear. However, it’s the compact design that really sets this backpack apart. To start with, the shoulder straps tuck neatly into a concealed pocket at the rear, while a combination of extended exterior sidewalls and straps not only compress the contents but can be used to cover the front of the backpack, providing extra security.

Although there’s a dedicated laptop pocket, two large central compartments mean you don’t really need one (who needs padding when your laptop’s surrounded by pants and jumpers, after all?), while two handles on the front enable it to be carried duffel-style, too.

  1. £160 from
Prices may vary
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Olpro 44l travel bag

  • Best: For a weekend away
  • Size: 44l
  • Weight: 1.35kg
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Innovative pocket placement
    • Numerous handles offer endless options when it comes to carrying style
  • Take note
    • Not the most rugged of backpacks

This is a brilliant option for a weekend away – especially if you’re someone who likes to separate all your essentials. We loved the presence of two large pockets on the front of the bag, as well as the duffel-style opening – the bag unzips on three sides and opens up to reveal a single central compartment (although a mesh divider allows this space to be divided in two).

This bag’s all about portability – both the sternum and shoulder straps are easy to adjust, and there are side and top carry handles, too. We also appreciated the roller bag handle slot on the rear, which meant we could easily slip it over the extendable handle on our spinner suitcase.

  1. £50 from
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The North Face base camp duffel

  • Best: Duffel-backpack hybrid
  • Size: 50l
  • Weight: 1.19kg
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Durable
  • Take note
    • Although it can be worn easily as a backpack, it’s definitely easier to carry as a duffel

Backpacks that double as duffels make us nervous because they’re rarely comfortable or practical. This base camp bag, however, is our favourite exception to the rule. Yes, as its name suggests, it will serve you well if you’re hiking to a remote mountain, but it’s also great for weekend city breaks, thanks to its generous 50l capacity and the ridiculously tough material (1,000-denier polyester material with an 840-denier reinforced bottom layer).

The ergonomic straps were surprisingly comfortable, and we were able to remove them in a flash on occasions when we carried the bag duffel-style. The interior is simple but roomy – one supersized compartment with more than enough room for everything we needed for a (long) weekend away.

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Montane trailblazer 25l backpack

  • Best: All-rounder
  • Size: 25l
  • Weight: 750g
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Surprisingly light
    • Well-balanced back support
    • Lots of adjustability
    • Deep pockets

When we read about this backpack’s “figure-hugging” design, we feared a serious case of sweaty-back syndrome. However, even when filled to its 25l maximum capacity, this bag felt surprisingly light, thanks, in part, to a well-balanced back support system that kept the bag close to our body while still allowing for breathability.

Montane has prioritised adjustability here. It was a breeze to adjust the back support system, harness and straps, and we were especially thankful for the extra-deep side pockets. Breathability is also obviously a key focus – almost the entire rear is covered with breathable mesh. Our favourite feature, however, was the easily adjustable chest straps, which were elasticated and could be loosened or tightened in a nanosecond.

  1. £75 from
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Berghaus unisex remote hike 35 rucsac

Berghaus unisex remote hike 35 rucsac.png
  • Best: For travellers with lots of kit
  • Size: 35l
  • Weight: 1,020g
  • Rain cover included: Yes
  • Why we love it
    • Lots of bells and whistles
    • Lots of different weather protection
    • Customisable

A backpack that pretty much does everything except cook campfire cuisine at the end of the day, Berghaus’s bag is a true workhorse but it doesn’t come with the bulk or weight we’d associate with this type of backpack.

The easily accessible bivi system (a waterproof hood that can be unfurled over the backpack) meant it was easy to add another layer of protection when the weather took a turn for the worse, and the side compression straps took this bag’s customisation capabilities to new heights. We loved how we could access the contents not only through the top but through size zippers, too.

We were also impressed by the backboard – these can be a godsend when designed correctly, as this one was, providing just enough to create space between our back and the bag, but without adding too much extra weight.

  1. £77 from
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Jack Wolfskin traveltopia weekender

Jack Wolfskin traveltopia weekender.png
  • Best: Backpack for versatility
  • Size: 30l
  • Weight: 630g
  • Rain cover included: No, but water-repellent
  • Why we love it
    • Sustainable materials
    • Lots of pockets

An essential for organised travellers, Jack Wolfskin’s traveltopia weekender is also exceptionally stylish. On the rear of the pack, a large pocket unzips on three sides to reveal two separate mesh pockets in the lid and a built-in laptop/tablet sleeve. The main compartment – accessible through one zip in the centre of the pack’s front (sounds weird, but it works) – is enormous, and the bag’s stiffer sides meant we were perfectly happy stashing more delicate items in the weekender.

It’s got great sustainability credentials, too – the pack is made from recycled polyester and has a water-repellent and scratch-resistant coating made from natural beeswax.

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Helly Hansen Loke backpack

Helly Hansen Loke backpack.png
  • Best: Backpack for a logical layout
  • Size: 25l
  • Weight: 575g
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Bigger than it seems
    • Great for carrying precious tech
    • Quick-access pockets

This is another tardis-like backpack – we were sceptical about its suitability for a trek through a national park but it didn’t let us down. The generously sized handle on the top came in useful when dragging it out of overhead compartments on planes, and the logical layout of the interior, with its padded laptop pocket, made it easy to separate essentials – we used the main compartment for tech, the padded pocket for our laptop and the internal organiser for pens and notebooks.

We appreciated the quick access pocket at the top (as travellers prone to losing keys, the presence of a key hook was hugely appreciated) and the adjustable straps on the sides meant we could reduce its bulk in situations where space was at a premium – such as when travelling on planes or local transport.

  1. £48 from
Prices may vary
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Osprey Eja pro backpack

Osprey Eja pro backpack.png
  • Best: Osprey travel backpack
  • Size: 55l
  • Weight: 900g
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Designed with comfort in mind despite is huge size
    • Low weight and wide load-bearing straps
    • Customisable
    • Plenty of clips
  • Take note
    • Pricey

There aren’t many 55l backpacks we’d be happy to wear for significant periods of time, but this one’s the exception. Everything is designed with comfort in mind, from the ridiculously low weight and the wide, load-bearing straps to the generous patch of breathable mesh on the rear of the bag and on the straps.

What really impressed us was the opportunities for customisation. With lighter bags, these are often in short supply, but favourite features included the removable lid, designed to provide extra protection in rainy weather (when removed, the opening can still be sealed with an internal cover), internal compression straps and plenty of clips from which to hang items such as water bottles.

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Fjällräven Abisko hike foldsack

Fjallraven Abisko hike foldsack.png
  • Best: For easy access
  • Size: 25l
  • Weight: 900g
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Tough and durable
    • Internal zips for extra protection
    • Adjustable straps

Full disclosure – Fjällräven is the reason we embraced the concept of fold-closure bags. This type of design feature has to be done right, and Fjällräven is an expert in the field. We loved how we could easily tweak the tightness of the closure, using the adjustable strap, as well as the way in which the aforementioned strap could be tucked neatly out of the way, by slipping it under the pack’s bungee cord strapping.

In the case of this bag, which has an incredibly tough build, there’s also an internal zip closure for extra protection. We appreciated the generous areas of breathable mesh on the straps and the rear, and the fact that both the chest and hip straps were removable.

The main compartment and side pockets both have toggles, which, when combined with the fold-closure design feature, makes this an incredibly versatile bag. Tighten the side pockets and add extra folds when travelling light, or loosen the toggles when you’re carrying more weight.

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Peak Design travel backpack

Peak Design travel backpack.png
  • Best: For withstanding wear and tear
  • Size: 30l
  • Weight: 1.44kg
  • Rain cover included: No
  • Why we love it
    • Lots of strap options
    • Sleek look
    • Great for weekends away
    • Abrasion resistant

We love additional straps on our backpacks, and Peak Design’s offering has loads of them, including a centrally placed strap on the rear and one on the top. Plenty of pockets crank up the versatility – we found the small one at the top perfect for items such as keys and sunscreen, while the backpack’s main section (which is enormous) had two large mesh pockets that proved useful for stashing sweaty hiking kit.

The sleek look of this backpack – and the presence of an internal laptop pocket – makes this a great option for weekends away, too. Its toughness, courtesy of abrasion-resistant thread, recycled 400D nylon canvas and an additional internal liner, means this is a backpack that will stand up to some serious wear and tear. Bonus points for the full-size zip, too – it extends around three sides of the bag, which meant we could quickly get to the items we needed most urgently.

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The verdict: Travel backpacks

North Face’s trail lite speed 20l backpack is our idea of portable perfection – it’s lightweight and comfortable to carry but had enough room for all the clothing, gadgets and other sundries needed for a weekend on the continent. Meanwhile, Monos’s metro backpack is a rarity – a backpack that cuts the mustard when it comes to capacity and durability but is also wonderfully stylish. Finally, we’ve got to mention Chrome’s hondo backpack – there’s little this bag can’t handle, and it offers fantastic value, too.

Venturing to the great outdoors? These are the best hiking boots for women and men

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