Best travel backpacks on the market

As I was planning for my Belize trip, I decided it was time to invest in a new travel backpack. Up until now, my go-to pack has been my Deuter ACT Lite backpack for longer trips when I’m constantly on the move or my Osprey Porter 46 for casual weekend trips.

Yet for my month in Belize, neither of these seemed to fit the bill.

While my Deuter served me well on the John Muir Trail, traveling with any backpacking backpack is just plain frustrating. It’s always disorganized, and I’m always pulling everything out just to find that clean pair of socks (which always happen to be at the very bottom). It’s the worst. Plus, you usually have to check this type of pack because of its size and with the multiple access points to the bag’s interior, it’s nearly impossible to keep the contents locked up if that’s something you are worried about.

I’ve also loved my Osprey Porter 46 since I first got it several years back. It’s perfect for a casual weekend getaway, and I’m always amazed at how much stuff I can cram inside. My only complaint about this bag is that it can become quite taxing on the shoulders with a heavy load. It’s not the type of bag you want to be carrying around when you are moving around frequently or have long distances to walk in the airport.

There were several things I wanted if I was going to make a purchase. My new travel backpack had to:

  • be large enough to carry a month’s worth of stuff, but small enough to carry-on
  • be front-loading and have pockets to keep things organized
  • be comfortable to carry when packed to the brim

After researching all of the travel backpacks on the market, these were the 6 that stood out as the best carry-on travel backpacks currently available.

The Best Carry-on Travel Backpacks

1) REI Grand Tour 80 Women’s Travel Pack

This is the only women’s specific travel backpack on the list, and it is also the biggest with a capacity of 80 liters. At $189, this bag is a great deal. It has the same type of padding as backpacking backpack to maximize comfort and also has a small removable daypack with a neoprene laptop sleeve.

Shop: REI Grand Tour 80 Travel Pack at REI ($189)

 REI Grand Tour 80 Women's Travel backPack

2) Osprey Meridian Wheeled Convertible Luggage – 22″

This Osprey Meridian travel backpack offers a lot of versatility. First, it’s got wheels, making that long walk to your gate way more enjoyable. But then when you are traveling over rougher terrain, you can throw it on your back making use of its fully padded hip belt. The main compartment, which fits in an overhead bin, is 40 liters with 4 interior pockets to help you stay organized. The detachable daypack which easily unzips is 20 liters and large enough to carry your laptop, camera, and other essentials that you’ll want access during your flight or take with you on day trips. The only downside with this bag is when it is stuffed full, you are going to have a tough time zipping the detachable daypack back in.

Shop: Osprey Meridian at REI

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3) GoRuck GR2

This 40 liter travel backpack was inspired by the packs used by the military. It’s made of super durable, water-resistant materials and is perfect for people who tend to be tough on their gear. While the pack itself is compact, it has exterior compression straps and webbing allowing you to strap additional gear to the outside if needed. It’s got a hefty price tag, but it comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Shop: GR 2 at GoRuck ($395)

GoRuck GR2 travel backpack

4) eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender

This 54 liter, lightweight travel backpack that comes in 6 different colors is the ultimate steal. While it packs just like a suitcase, this bag has a myriad of pockets, an adjustable laptop sleeve, and a full expansion zipper that adds extra volume when you have a large load. The waist belt is a little flimsy, but for $99, you’re not going to find a better travel backpack.

Shop: eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender at Amazon ($99)

ebags TLS MotherLode travel backpackebags TLS MotherLode travel backpack

5) Tortuga Backpack

The Tortuga Backpack was first incepted in 2009 and has quickly turned into one of the most popular travel packs out there. Even with it’s sleek design, this 44 liter pack holds enough that many travelers report using it on a year-long round the world adventure. The Tortuga is made of top-notch components for long-lasting use and has quick access pockets for travel documents, toiletries, a water bottle, and a laptop.

Shop: Tortuga Backpack ($139)


6) REI Stratocruiser 26″ Wheeled Backpack

This bag is similar to the Osprey Meridian but slightly bigger at 71 liters. The detachable daypack also just slides into the front pocket, rather than being zipped in. Despite being lighter than the Osprey, the bag seems to be well made and able to withstand a thrashing. Several interior pockets aid in organization and an outer pocket provides quick access to liquids when you are going through security. There are two downsides I see with this bag. The first is the detachable daypack is so small that you won’t be able to fit much in it besides a laptop, a small camera, and a couple of magazines. Second, this travel pack is slightly bigger than the legal carry-on size. The sneaky traveler may be able to finagle their way onto the plane with it, but you’ll have to be ready to throw it under the plane if you are caught by a flight attendant with a good eye.

Shop: REI Stratocruiser 26″ Wheeled Backpack ($299)


So which one am I sporting down in Belize? After much thought, I settled on the REI Stratocruiser.  It was a bit of a risk since there was a chance I would be forced to check it, but the wheels and the little bit of extra space are what sealed the deal for me. I did end up ditching the detachable daypack in lieu of something bigger, since I’m lugging around a few more electronics than I typically travel with. So far, the bag is working out great, but stay tuned…I’ll be posting a full review once I’ve put some more miles on it.

What kind of luggage do you like to travel with?

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