We updated this guide in July 2022 to ensure all products tested and vetted by the Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab were in stock and reflected current prices. We removed several outdated options and added new picks from Away, Jansport and J World New York.
A well-organized backpack is a must when it comes to travel. It keeps everything you need within reach and gives you hands-free mobility to hold other items such as a cell phone or carry-on suitcase. It's also a superior way to pack for trips on unknown and various terrains: A rolling suitcase may work great on smooth airport floors, it likely won’t be as agile on cobblestone streets or sandy beach conditions. Plus, it makes the perfect personal item when flying as underseat luggage.
To find the best travel backpacks that can stand up to any trips, the Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab pros evaluate backpacks for durability by measuring tear strength, strap strength and abrasion resistance to make sure the bag can stand up to rough handling for years to come. We also consider the amount of padding in the straps, useful extras and overall weight to find the most comfortable backpacks. Our picks are top performers from our previous tests along with new styles that have exciting features and rave reviews.
Our top picks:
1Best Overall Travel BackpackUnisex Borealis Backpack The North Face Read More
2Best Value Travel BackpackAnti-Theft Laptop Travel Backpack Shrradoo Read More
3Best Weekender Travel BackpackF.A.R Convertible Backpack 45L Away Read More
4Best Carry-On Travel Backpack40L Travel Backpack Asenlin Read More
5Best Travel DaypackDaylite Plus Daypack Osprey Read More
Check out our top backpack picks below and keep reading to learn all of GH experts' ultimate backpack shopping tips to find the best pack for you. Pair your new travel backpack with packing cubes and a hardside suitcase for your next vacation.
The Good Housekeeping Institute has been testing travel products and backpacks for decades. When testing backpacks for travel, we use a specialized abrasion tester (pictured below) to evaluate the fabric's durability. We test each backpack's strap strength and tear resistance too.
We also consider amount of padding on the straps and the pack's weight when empty, then pack each backpack with standard packing loads to ensure each bag will fit everything a consumer may need. Our analysts evaluate each backpack's shape, organizational components and laptop compartment to score the bag's overall design features, as pictured below.
Aside from in-Lab tests, our pros also take backpacks home, wearing them on our commutes and using them on vacations. Then, we send backpacks home with testers to try out on their vacations to give feedback on comfort, ease of packing, organization and more, and circulate surveys to learn the most important qualities in a backpack, from shopping considerations to brand loyalty and beyond. For this roundup, GH analysts tested or vetted all backpacks to ensure top performance or trustworthiness using reliable materials and having innovative features we believe will stand up to travel.
These main considerations are the keys to finding a comfortable and useful travel backpack that will suit your travel style.
✔️ Use: First, you should determine if you plan to use your travel backpack instead of a suitcase or alongside one. If you plan to bring only a backpack, make sure that it’s large enough for a few days' needs and that it evenly distributes the heavier weight with additional support straps. If you plan to use it with rolling luggage, look for a strap that will keep your backpack attached to the telescopic handle.
✔️ Material: Backpacks come in many different materials, from natural fabrics like leather and cotton to synthetics like polyester and nylon. If the fabric denier is listed, note that the higher the denier, the thicker and stronger the fabric is. For long-lasting construction, look for nylon, which is durable and water-resistant. Polyester styles tend to be more affordable, while leather is the most expensive. If the material itself isn't waterproof, opt for a waterproof finish to keep your belongings safe during unexpected showers.
✔️ Opening: Travel backpacks typically have two opening designs: clamshell or top loading. Clamshell means that the backpack opens flat like a suitcase, while top loading has a traditional backpack design. Clamshell is great if you're replacing your suitcase with a backpack since it allows you to easily access your pack's contents without disrupting your packing job. If you plan to use your backpack while sightseeing, a traditional top-loading style is more compact, easier and safer for everyday access.
✔️ Shape: Look at the backpack’s entire volume and profile. You want to make sure it can hold what you need while not being overly bulky. If you plan to bring a laptop or camera with you, make sure the backpack has padded compartments to safely stow these devices.
✔️ Size: Travel backpacks are available in a huge range of sizes from small bags to hold only essentials to massive packs that can fit clothes for multiple days. While it may be tempting to go bigger, the larger the pack, the heavier it is. Therefore, it's best to only buy a travel backpack that fits what you need — not more, not less.
Emma Seymour is a senior textiles product analyst in the Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab. She’s been at Good Housekeeping for over three years. She tested multiple travel backpacks for this story in Lab as well as surveyed backpack users to learn more about what they look for when shopping. She has a degree in Fiber Science and Apparel Design from Cornell University.
Jamie Kim, freelance writer and consumer product expert, specializes in product testing and reviews. She has over 17 years of experience, previously full-time in the Good Housekeeping Textiles Lab where she tested over 15 different backpacks in Lab, evaluating abrasion resistance, ease of packing and more. She holds a degree in both apparel and textile design and mechanical engineering.