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8 best travel backpacks 2023: Cabin-sized rucksacks tried and tested on hiking holidays and city breaks

From lightweight backpacks to waterproof rucksack designs, the right travel bag can make your trip

Tamara Hinson
Tuesday 16 May 2023 09:42 BST
<p>These travelled with us to India and The Middle East, so we could put them through their paces </p>

These travelled with us to India and The Middle East, so we could put them through their paces

Our Top Picks

Considering suitcases have all too often stolen the limelight, the trend of embracing the humble backpack is one we’re fully on board with.

For one thing, while suitcases do have the benefit of having a smooth set of spinner 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/bug spray to get to the items you’ve placed at the bottom of your bag.

We’ve picked the best ones to suit any type of traveller, whether it’s a city break, business trip or hiking holiday. Read on to find out which ones really impressed.

How we tested

Extensively, in a nutshell. We put these backpacks through their paces on 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.

And 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.

The best travel backpacks for 2023 are:

  • Best travel backpack overall – Montane trailblazer 25l backpack: £100, Montane.com
  • Best Osprey travel backpack – Osprey Eja pro backpack: £230, Osprey.com
  • Best waterproof travel backpack – Lifeventure waterproof packable backpack: £36.99, Lifeventure.com
  • Best travel backpack for added extras – Peak Design travel backpack: £219, Peakdesign.com
  • Best travel backpack for versatility – Jack Wolfskin traveltopia weekender: £110, Jack-wolfskin.co.uk

Montane trailblazer 25l backpack

Montane trailblazer 25l backpack.png
  • Best: Overall
  • Size: 25l
  • Weight: 750g
  • Rain cover included: No

We’ll be honest, when we read about this backpack’s “figure-hugging” design, we feared a serious case of sweaty back syndrome. But even when filled to its 25l max, 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 – all too often these are too shallow to secure the average water bottle, but these ones were more than up to the job. 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 nano-second.

  1. £100 from Montane.com
Prices may vary
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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

A backpack that pretty much does everything except cook campfire cuisine at the end of the day, Berghaus’s unisex remote hike 35 rucsac is a true workhorse, although 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, and we were also impressed by the backboard – these can be a godsend when designed correctly, as this one was, providing just enough stuffiness to create space between our back and the bag, but without adding too much extra weight.

  1. £73 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Jack Wolfskin traveltopia weekender

Jack Wolfskin traveltopia weekender.png
  • Best: For versatility
  • Size: 30l
  • Weight: 630g
  • Rain cover included: No, but water-repellent

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: For innovative design
  • Size: 25l
  • Weight: 575g
  • Rain cover included: No

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.

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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

There aren’t many 55l backpacks we’d be happy to don 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. But what really impressed is 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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Lifeventure waterproof packable backpack

Lifeventure waterproof packable backpack.png
  • Best: Waterproof backpack
  • Size: 22l
  • Weight: 150g
  • Rain cover included: No, but waterproof outer

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, too. 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. £32 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Fjallraven Abisko hike foldsack

Fjallraven Abisko hike foldsack.png
  • Best: For easy access
  • Size: 25l
  • Weight: 900g
  • Rain cover included: No

Full disclosure – Fjallraven is the reason we embraced the concept of fold-closure bags. This type of design feature has to be done right, and Fjallraven 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 added extras
  • Size: 30l
  • Weight: 1.44kg
  • Rain cover included: No

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 of this backpack – 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, and 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

Montane’s trailblazer 25l backpack is our dream backpack – an incredibly comfortable pack that doesn’t just have loads of space, but endless opportunities to organise whatever we decided to stash in it. We loved the innovative design of Fjallraven’s Abisko hike foldsack (as well as its slick look), while Berghaus’s unisex remote hike 35 rucsac gets a gold star for the abundance of genuinely useful features, such as the main compartment’s side access.

Venturing off to the great outdoors? These are the best hiking boots for women and men to keep feet comfy on long treks

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