The 4 best travel backpacks for your gap year


Finding the best travel backpack that works for you can be a challenge, the options are endless as well as the price range. You have to find something that is light and versatile and oftentimes websites and retailers just overload you with features and technical stats. In this post I will try to find the best choice for you.

How I Know About This I haven't left my corporate job to go travelling, I never had a corporate job! I made travelling my life. I  lead expeditions to the most remote corners of the globe and have been living out of a rucksack for fifteen years, so I've owned a few. I also continuously review equipment for my website. 

What are Travel Backpacks Best for?

The word ‘travel’ here is to be understood as 'round the world travel/ backpacking/ hostel-hopping/interrailing/light or supported trekking'...and for that you will need to bag yourself the best travel backpack possible. The travel backpack is a bit of a chameleon, whose nature is to accompany you on many different types of adventure.

The travel backpacks have been designed with the gap year traveller in mind. To offer a more flexible, versatile and easy to use option for people staying mainly in travel hostels, who don't need any of the extra kit related to camping.

For longer treks of 3+ days, where you carry your own meals and camping gear, a travel backpack would not be the best choice as these need other specific features and a different type of harness. For those types of activities you would be better off with a hiking backpack

Why are these Travel Backpacks the Best?

Remember that when it comes to travel backpacks the cheapest is not always the best, I have made that mistake before. I bought a cheap travel rucksack that fell apart while in a small town in the Andes and I had to use a potato sack to carry my things until I arrived at Santiago de Chile!

I have selected the best travel backpacks on the market today, and from different price ranges. They are all suitable for gap year travel/backpacking/round the world travel. The materials are made to last and they offer useful features. They are also from top brands that offer lifetime warranty, so you will never have to use a potato sack!

My Best Travel Backpack Picks

How to Choose the Best Travel Backpack

As always, the options are many and inevitably similar. The golden rule to finding the best travel backpack is always to look for comfort and practicality and to understand how to match your activities with the right backpack.

The best travel backpack should:

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Feature internal and external pockets

Feel comfortable and light, durable and flexible

Have lockable compartments

Have a harness that can be zipped away for airline travel

If you feel like all of these features will be redundant for you, think again. Imagine the difference of having to scramble to look for your credit card somewhere in your main compartment, when you could have it in an external, even RFID-proof, lockable pocket.

These small details can make all the difference when you are on the road and without a moment to waste.

Key Features to Look for

The best travel backpacks share a few features that make it unique:

FEATURE

GOOD FOR

Straps

First and foremost, it features shoulder and hip straps that can be zipped away when storing or checking the bag into airplanes. This means that it won’t get its straps stuck somewhere on the conveyor belt, and that it can be carried with a top handle like you do a duffel bag.

Detachable Daypack

Another desirable feature that travel backpacks have and that really doesn’t suit any other kind of backpack is the detachable daypack on the front. This can just be zipped out and carried on a day trek while leaving the rest behind (with this option, it’s best to have a main compartment that can be locked so that you don’t have to worry about the rest of your belongings while you’re gone).

Comfort

In terms of a comfortable wear, the indicators are quite straightforward: they should be made of comfortable, airy material, have great padding and allow as much ‘adjustability’ as possible. These are the key factors which impact the wearability of the pack.

Accessibility

You also want to make sure your stuff can easily be accessed on the go, so it helps if your backpack has a range of access points: a u-zip on the front, a top-loading area, and perhaps a bottom zipper are important features to look out for.

Security

The zips should be sturdy and be able to put a padlock through, so you could lock, at least, the main compartment of the travel backpack.

Buying online

I have been doing this for a long time. It will be cheaper buying online but you wont be able to try it out. If it doesn't fit you can send it back at no extra cost to you. Just make sure that you allow plenty of time.

My Best Travel Backpack Reviews

The following are my top backpack picks based on my own experience and that of other expedition leaders:

Osprey Farpoint 55 Backpack27 - Volcanic Grey, M/L
  • Die-cut spacer mesh hipbelt and harness
  • Dual front mesh pockets
  • Internal tablet sleeve
  • Sternum strap with emergency whistle
  • Zippered panel access

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

Yes, I know I have already raved about this backpack, but I just can’t get enough of it. This is a more capacious version of its 'brand mate' Porter, and it comes with some added perks.

With its removable day bag, lockable main compartment, zip-away harness and straps, sturdy construction and flexible adjustment features, there is almost nothing to reproach this backpack.

Its many handles and straps allow you to carry the pack in different ways, the external pockets allow flexibility in packing, and it feels light and comfortable on. The only things missing are a raincover and a water bottle holder, but both of those can be purchased separately for reasonable amounts.

Eagle Creek Deviate Travel Pack 60L W
  • Ultra durable
  • Ultra-light carry
  • Contoured moisture-wicking Air Mesh padded back panel, shoulder straps, and hip belt for a comfortable fit
  • Sternum strap with safety whistle
  • Large panel load opening for easy access to main compartment

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

Made with excellent, durable and light materials, this Deviate bag is a slightly more expensive option than its competitors, but for a reason. It features an RFID pocket which blocks others from stealing your credit card details, a padded pocket for your electronics, and a detachable daypack. The main bag is lockable, it is carry-on size, and can be accessed via the frontal u-zip as well as the top. 

It even has a hydration pocket with a hose that you can drink from hands-free! You won’t need anything much bigger than this for your travels, so this pack might be great for anyone looking for compromise between size, capacity and practicality.

Sale
Berghaus Men's Motive 60+10 Rucksack - One Size
  • Discreet styling and strategically positioned zips for enhanced security with lockable zip sliders
  • Biofit back system for ease of comfort with zip-away harness cover for when not in use
  • Padded detachable shoulder strap and removable daysack with multiple features
  • Hidden security pocket for valuables
  • Daysack can clip to main pack harness

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

This is a versatile bag - you can clip a shoulder strap (supplied) on and turn the bag into a holdall instead of a backpack. A cover conceals the shoulder straps and waist belt, which is well useful at airports as you don't have to go somewhere else to drop your bag, making check-in easier

The zip of the main compartment is lockable and runs the full circumference of the backpack. allowing great access to your things, it manages to fit in more than you would initially think, but it doesn't have any compartments or external pockets, making the organising of your stuff more challenging. Packing cubes are recommended.

There is a comfortable harness with good padding on the straps and waistband. This backpack has the male and female version - the difference being the male one suits a broader shoulder, but it only comes in one back size. Therefore, it has an adjustable harness so it can fit different back lengths

It also comes with a detachable 10 litre daypack that can be a bit small for some outings but perfect for a trip to the beach or a night out. The daypack has a clever security zip pocket inside for small items and valuables.

Vango Freedom 80 Plus 20 Rucksack
  • Removable daysack - Perfect for hand luggage
  • Flight cover - Stow away straps and hip belt when travelling
  • AirForce back system - Quick Adjust
  • Compatible with most hydration reservoirs
  • Pack Size: L43.0 x H70.0 x W40.0cm

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

This travel backpack is the perfect compromise between price and quality, their good quality materials and sturdy zips are made to last. I would never recommend a 80l travel backpack. It's just not necessary, but this one feels more like a 65l. Maybe the liner inside makes it seem a bit smaller...

The harness is well designed, comfortable, well padded and adjustable so it can fit different back sizes. The main compartment is lockable and comes with an internal string pouch to avoid all your stuff from falling out. It opens like a suitcase allowing ease of  access to your belongings. It doesn't have any external pockets, 

This travel rucksack comes with a 20 ltr day bag, which I think is big enough to carry for what you need on day trips . As mentioned before as a must for travel backpacks - the Vango Freedom shoulder straps and hip belt can be zipped away when storing or checking in the bag at the airport. 

And the Winner is…


While all of these travel backpacks offer different features that will appeal to different travellers, I think that the best travel backpack who offers best value for money and becomes my TOP PICK is the Osprey Farpoint 55.

It has a 13 litre detachable day pack, which is the perfect size for day trips. It's very easy to attach to the main bag. It can also be clipped onto the front harness of your backpack so that it sits at the front – keeping your valuables more secure and within easy reach. 

The stow away harness is incredibly comfortable and it distributes the weight amazingly well while the day pack is attached, so you never feel out of balance.

Its a unisex travel backpack and its capacity can accommodate most activities and lengths of trips without being excessive, also its functionality is exceptional. This is a very lightweight travel backpack weighing a mere 1.77 kg. It offers flexible carrying options and is available in two sizes and a selection of colours.

But whichever way you decide to go, each of the travel backpacks on this list has the potential to turn into your trusted gap year travel companion.

These are only my picks and those of my colleagues in the expedition industry. I never accept money from manufacturers. I do receive a commission from amazon if you click my links, at no extra cost to you.