best gap year  
backpacks for 2017


I know how you’re feeling - you just want to go ahead and buy that backpack for your two-month coach-hopping travels to Mexico, and there are just too many options out there than seem necessary. But fear not my friend, there are the best gap year backpacks for every person, for every type of gap year and every packing style possible. The problem is knowing which one is right for you.

Is it worth investing a little extra cash in a durable, dependable backpack? Yes! Ultimately, what you’re really trying to avoid is your gap year backpack decomposing 2 days into your month-long expedition in South-East Asia, and having to carry all your stuff in plastic bags – or on your head, if you have that kind of skill.

So let’s have a look at the most important things to bear in mind when choosing the best backpack for your gap year.

According to the different purposes they serve, backpacks belong to four main categories: travel backpacks, hiking backpacks, duffel bags and wheeled backpacks.

My top pick for each category are: (epic drum roll):

My Best Gap Year Backpack Picks for 2017

girl with best gap year backpack for 2017

What to Look for in a Gap Year Backpack?

It very much depends on the purpose of your trip and your personal style. If you are going to trek the Inca Trail, or hostel-hopping in Europe, the backpacks you should use are wildly different. There are, however, some general features that are good to keep in mind when choosing the best gap year backpack:


Comfort is, as always, first and foremost with your gap year backpack. Carrying an uncomfortable backpack for hours on end every day is like having a terrible itch you can’t scratch. Your backpack is supposed to enhance and help you experience, not hinder it – or worse, give you back pain or even injuries.

There are some basic features that indicate a comfortable, flexible backpack: wide, padded shoulder straps, adjustable back and hip harnesses, a sternum strap for an extra fitted hold, adjustment straps. Most importantly, it needs to be light.


Capacity is also an important factor to consider. You want to make sure you have enough room for your stuff, but you also don’t want to exaggerate and be carrying unnecessarily large bags for months – bearing in mind that you will always need a day pack for daily excursion, allowing you to leave behind some of the bulk.

Some myth busting is in order here - the capacity of your backpack should not be determined by how long you are going to be away on your gap year, but by the activities you are going to do.

Unless you are carrying camping gear, most likely you won’t need a giant bag; you can carry the same amount that you would on a short trip, and just wash/buy new clothes on the way.

A good starting average for a first time traveller might be 50-60 ltrs; this gives you a great deal of space and strength without having to carry a baby elephant on your back for months. And the more you travel, the better you will get at choosing exactly what to bring and decreasing the weight you carry on your back.


Versatility is also important. Your ideal gap year backpack will give you the options to deconstruct it, reassemble it, carry it, pack it, and store it in many different ways. This means having detachable parts that can be carried independently of the main compartments, external pockets and a water bottle holder so that you don’t need to reach into your bag every time you need a sip.

It might also allow you to lock certain compartments for safety or have secret pockets for valuables. Finally, can be it be comfortably checked into an airplane, or taken on as a carry on bag?


Quality is key! Make sure the materials used, both internal and external, are of high and durable quality. This usually means material that is light but extremely resistant, preferably waterproof, that allows ventilation and feels good when you’re wearing it.

Striking that balance might seem like a ‘mission impossible’ type of situation, but with the cutting edge technology available these days, the search is a lot easier than it sounds!

What are the Different Types of Backpack?

Great question! The categories are mostly designed to fit around the differences in usage and purpose within the wide range of backpacks. Which one is the best gap year backpack for you? Lets look at the different types of backpacks right now:

best travel backpack

Travel backpacks tend to be sturdy backpacks that pack like a suitcase, with the possibility to zip away all external dangling bits so that it never risks jamming the airport conveyor belts.

Sections of it can usually be locked for extra safety, and sometimes they have smaller bags that can be detached for day trips.

best hiking backpack

Hiking backpacks offer that crucial extra comfort for long trips, and are further geared for trips in the wilderness or hiking up mountains.

They feature adjustment straps for an extra close fit, padded straps and back panel, offer flexible packing methods and points of access to your stuff on the go.

best wheeled backpack

Wheeled backpacks are an interesting hybrid, in that they look exactly like backpacks but have wheels and a trolley handle hidden inside the back panel, which can be summoned like superheroes in situations of dire back pain and used as a regular trolley.

These are particularly useful for city trips, interrailing in Europe, or airline travel.

best duffel backpack

The chief feature of the duffel bag is that it can be carried both as a handbag and as a backpack, which is a great asset in terms of flexibility of usage.

A good duffel bag will have sturdy zippers that can be locked, internal compartments, and be made of waterproof material.

A duffel bag is especially good for airline travel, weekend trips and day-to-day commute.

What Size Gap Year Backpack do I Need?

If you have done any preliminary Googling, you will have noticed that many manufacturers offer different backpack sizes – not to be confused with different capacities, which we have looked at previously – and it can be tricky to know what size is right for you.

Getting the right size backpack for your gap year is vital in terms of comfort, and is a major factor in avoiding back injuries. The most important thing to note is that the length of your back, not your overall height, determines your size, so it’s important to get an accurate measurement before any purchase.

To help you avoid pulling a muscle, Osprey have come up with an app that helps you measure your back by just taking a simple full length photo of yourself. How cool!

In addition, some manufacturers have adjustable harnesses which allow you to fix the straps to the back panel at the height you need, which gives you that extra flexibility in terms of sizes that can make all the difference in terms of comfort.

Here's a cool video that shows you how to fit your gap year backpack properly:

What is the Best Gap Year Backpack for Women?

The range and approach of backpacks for women differs brand by brand, but the main difference is of course in the fitting of the back. A woman’s backpack will typically have more comfortable, larger hip harnesses and a smaller back core, as well as chest straps that can fit around the breasts rather than over them.

In most cases these packs will be far better in fit and comfort for women than the men’s or unisex versions, but ultimately, whether or not you should get a women’s backpack entirely depends on your particular fit. The advice is once again to try on as many as possible – with actual loads in! – to find what is best for you.

My Best Gap Year Backpack Picks for 2017

Travel Backpacks

The following are my best gap year backpack picks for 2017 based on my own experience and that of other professional travellers:

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





This backpack is the perfect meeting point between comfort and adventure, with sturdy interiors and flexible accessing to your stuff. It has external pockets, a lockable main compartment with a laptop sleeve, and is made of top quality materials.

This backpack’s winning feature is the removable day bag, which can be used for all day trip needs and allows you to leave behind the mammoth load of all the rest of your stuff. As mentioned for travel backpacks, the Farpoint’s shoulder straps and hip belt can be zipped away when storing or checking in the bag at the airport, turning it effectively into a smart suitcase. 

While perhaps not quite as heavy-duty as the hiking backpacks, the Osprey Farpoint is a great alternative for your gap year, especially for those of you who are interested in backpacking and inter-railing. The only cons are the absence of a raincover (you can purchase one in addition to the backpack) and of an external water bottle holder. The Osprey Farpoint is a unisex backpack.

Hiking Backpacks





The Axiom Diran backpack is the best gap year backpack for all the hiking adventurers out there. Its flexible structure lets you access and pack contents from the top, middle and bottom of the pack, making sure you never have to throw all your stuff out on the soggy ground in a panic because you can’t find that last power bar at the bottom of the bag.

It also has plenty of side pockets, external lash points, and even a drinking pocket with a hose that allows you to drink hands-free. As the two numbers in the model name suggest, its capacity can be expanded allowing a bit of extra flexibility to your packing.

The harness is fully adjustable and its fit can be changed on the go, however it cannot be stowed away, which makes it a bit tricky to check into an airplane. It might seem bulkier than travel backpacks, but it has that extra padding on the straps and in the back panel for that long-term comfort.

The women’s version of this backpack is the Diran ND 65:75.

Gregory Pack Baltoro 65 Mens Backpack
  • Individually customizable system back
  • Response A3 Suspension: Independent rotating and adjustable shoulder strap and hipbelt panels adaptable for different forms of the body and keep cargo balance on any terrain
  • Ultracush Back Panel: Ventilated Panel with a multilayer EVA foam and silicone grip insert for maximum support and stability





This is a further option in the hiking backpack category, but a standout one. What makes the Baltoro series so special is the fully adjustable ‘Response’ suspension system harness which makes it ergonomic, extra comfortable, and clever weight-distribution technology to fit you even in the most awkward conditions and positions.

It’s a toploader, but it can also be opened through a front zipper, allowing you to access your stuff almost like a suitcase. 

It features a water-resistant pocket, a raincover, and a handy external bottle pocket. In short, this is the king of hiking backpacks.

Even though it’s slightly more expensive than other gap year backpacks in its category, the features it provides are unique in the field.

The women’s version of this backpack is the Deva 60.

Duffel Bags

The North Face Base Camp Duffel Bag - Black/Tnf Black, XX Large
  • Water-resistant pocket on top
  • D-zip opening and water-resistant zipper flap
  • Detachable, adjustable, alpine-cut shoulder straps
  • Four compression straps
  • Shoulder straps are more ergonomic fit and minimise twisting





A flexible option, the North Face duffel bag can be used as a carrier bag and as a backpack with its padded straps. The zippers are sturdy and can be padlocked and access to your stuff is easy and immediate.

The use of water resistant material makes the rain cover redundant and makes the bag easy to carry through all weathers. 

This is perhaps the most fashionable choice of gap year backpacks on the list, however this Base Camp model comes with considerable less comfort than the Lowe Alpine and Osprey; simply because it is not designed for long adventures, but more so for weekends, sleepovers and short gap year trips.

Wheeled Backpack

Samsonite New Paradiver Light Duffle on Wheels 55cm Backpack Black
  • Durable PU coated 600 x 600 denier polyester. Exterior has two large zipped side pocket
  • Carrying handle on top for easy access and easy lifting.
  • Material Info : Softside. Wheel Handle Monotube. Wheels : 2 wheels. Ergonomic backpack straps.
  • Cabin baggage meets the IATA recommendations and can be taken on board an aircraft. Recommend checking with your airline for the latest cabin luggage allowance. Integrated ID tag.
  • Zipped main compartment. Ribbons in the main compartment.





It’s a backpack, but it comes with wheels! This is great for some much needed back relief for those long journeys on your gap year.

The trolley handle disappears into the back harness to convert into a simple gap year backpack, which packs exactly like a suitcase, and it meets carry on bag requirements for most airlines.

On the downside, this backpack is less comfortable than a hiking or travel backpack, because of the construction of the back panel, and is also not as fully adjustable as the other bags on this list. 

The Paradiver is best for city travel, not for wilderness – it would be hard to drag these wheels through the desert!


After looking at this spectrum of gap year backpacks, you can see why choosing the best backpack for your gap year is all about finding the perfect match for your usage, your size, and your personality.

For example, while a travel backpack would serve you well on a backpacking trip across South East Asia, or coach hopping through Central America, or even Interrailing through Europe, but for city trips, hostel-hopping or long weekends, a duffel bag or a wheeled backpack might be a better choice.

As with all your travel gear, it needs to be right for you – so have fun with it and make sure you pick the best backpack for your gap year.