Best travel backpack: travel hands-free

The best travel backpacks for everything from weekends away and business trips to backpacking and hiking

Best travel backpack
(Image credit: Waterfield)

Wheeled luggage may be all the rage, but it’s not for everyone. If you want to slip through airports quickly and stay hands-free you’ll be better off with one of the best travel backpacks.

Combining the lay-flat opening clamshell design of a suitcase yet retaining a soft design and shoulder straps, the travel backpack is a relatively new innovation that’s now finding its niche and setting itself apart from the everyday best backpacks.

How to choose the best travel backpack for you

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The most important thing to consider is what you’ll use it for. Some travel backpacks are designed for city breaks, short flights and weekends away while others zero in on being professional-looking travel backpacks designed for business trips, and often building-in laptop sleeves. Then there are outdoor-specific travel backpacks aimed at backpackers and backcountry hikers who simply want easier access to their stuff than a traditional rucksack offers. 

In our search for the next travel backpack, we’ve reviewed and compared backpacks from trusted brands like Tumi, Peak Design, Eagle Creek, Incase and Waterfield Designs. 

So whether you’re after something for the weekend, a business trip or a yomp across the moors we’ve got the perfect travel backpack for you. 

Here are the best travel backpacks to buy today:

Peak Design

(Image credit: Peak Design)

1. Peak Design Travel Backpack 30L

Expandable and versatile carry-on backpack with a magnetic appeal

Specifications

Weight: 1.44kg/3.17lbs
Capacity: 30L
Laptop sleeve: Yes (max. 16-inch)
Dimensions: 53 x 33 x 18cm / 20.9” x 13” x 7”

Reasons to buy

+
Shoulder straps stow
+
Expands by 6L

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks compression straps
-
Hip belt is optional 

Although it’s designed as the ultimate carry-on for three days, the Peak Design Travel Backpack 30L’s comfy shoulder straps can be stowed under magnetic flaps if you need to check it in. There’s also a luggage pass-through for roller bag carry underneath. This smart and efficiently designed backpack’s magnetic appeal stretches to some stash pockets that can take water bottles, but when empty sit flush against the side of the backpack. A third unusual feature sees it expand from 27L to 33L, though a final unique flourish – the ability to both attach compression straps to the outside and then stow them in a magnetic-closing pouch – seems over-engineered. It’s also a shame that there are no compression straps inside the main compartment for clothing, though that area has plenty of zipped pockets for bits ‘n’ pieces. In here is also a secured and padded pouch for a maximum 16-inch laptop, as well as a tablet. Looking great, comfortable to wear and with some sought-after features, the Peak Design Travel Backpack 30L is an excellent example of a professional-looking travel backpack. It’s available in black, sage green and midnight blue.

Eagle Creek

(Image credit: Eagle Creek)

2. Eagle Creek Tour Travel Pack 55L+

An eco-conscious travel pack for backpackers and hikers that’s cleverly designed to be checked-in

Specifications

Weight: 1.88kg/4lbs
Capacity: 55L
Laptop sleeve: Yes (max. 15-inch)
Dimensions: 66.5 x 35.5 x 25 cm / 26” x 14” x 9.75”

Reasons to buy

+
Can easily be checked in
+
Extremely comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-
Check-in cover is a squeeze
-
Very outdoorsy design

There’s no sadder sight than a backpacker hefting 80L around the world. Cue the Eagle Creek Tour Travel Pack 55L+, the perfect sized backpack for efficient and fun long-term travel – as well as for serious hiking – whose ultra-comfy straps can all be zipped-up safely for when it’s time to take to the skies. That’s thanks to a zip-around cover that completely envelopes its comfortable shoulder straps, sturdy hip-belt and adjustable back support system (though it is a bit of a squeeze). Rather cleverly that cover is reversible and elasticated, also acting as a rain cover for the backpack for downlours. The Eagle Creek Tour Travel Pack 55L+’s clamshell opening main compartment – which can also be accessed from the top – houses a padded sleeve for a maximum 15-inch laptop. It also contains compression straps for clothes and a large mesh pocket for sundries. Add grab handles top and sides, a zip to expand the entire bag to 62L litres and a stretch water bottle pouch (not to mention that it’s made from recycled materials) and the Eagle Creek Tour Travel Pack 55L+ surely sets the benchmark for how all backpackers should travel. 

Waterfield SF

(Image credit: Waterfield)
The perfect travel backpack for frequent flyers, remote work escapes and weekends away

Specifications

Weight: 1.76 kg / 3.9 lbs
Capacity: 35L
Laptop sleeve: Yes (max. 16-inch)
Dimensions: 57.2 x 40.6 x 19 cm / 22.5” x 16” x 7.5”

Reasons to buy

+
Fits two (or three) laptops
+
No loose straps or buckles

Reasons to avoid

-
Not for hiking or backpacking
-
Expensive

Have laptop(s) will travel? If the clamshell design is a common theme in travel backpacks, so is a laptop sleeve, but two laptop sleeves? That’s much rarer, and we found that the Air Travel Backpack can actually take three laptops. If that’s overkill there’s little else to complain about on this travel backpack that’s carefully designed to suit the needs of those who spend a lot of time in airports, airline cabins and on urban journeys. With a flash of either crimson, blue, black or chocolate full-grain leather on its grab handle and across the front, the Air Travel Backpack is about as big a carry-on as can be and carefully separates clothes (which get compression straps) from tech gear. That latter mobile office section opens clamshell-style, too, making it easy to access laptops in its two padded sleeves during work meetings without going anywhere near your dirty shirts. However, what we love most about the Air Travel Backpack is its streamlined look; there’s no trace of loose straps or buckles and the stretch pocket for a water bottle is invisible unless you use it. Not only could you walk off a plane straight into a business meeting with the super-smart Air Travel Backpack, but you could also live out of it for several days. 

Tumi

(Image credit: Tumi)

4. Tumi T-Pass Business Class Brief Pack Alpha 3

Easy access carry-on backpack that doubles as mobile office

Specifications

Weight: 1.6 kg / 3.5 lbs
Capacity: 25L
Laptop sleeve: Yes (max. 15-inch)
Dimensions: 43 x 20.5 x 30.5 cm / 16.9” x 8” x 12”

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent build quality
+
Lay-flat laptop for airport security

Reasons to avoid

-
Very expensive
-
Not much room for clothes

What makes a bag a ‘travel backpack’ is debatable, but arguably it’s a clamshell opening that mimics a suitcase. However, what that’s used for can differ. Take Tumi’s Brief Pack, which unlike others here is not only aimed at business travellers, but very specifically at those that frequently take a laptop through airport security. A tough work bag that easily stands-up on its own on a scanner belt or in a tray, the Brief Pack has a section that zippers around three sides that flops a maximum 15-inch laptop down ready for inspection. No more putting a laptop into a separate tray. It’s got plenty more going for it as a carry-on, too, with a roomy section for accessories and perhaps a change of clothes, a water bottle pocket and plenty of small pockets on the front for carry-on essentials. Like many of the bags here it’s also got a pass-through strap on the rear that can be slipped over the telescopic handle of upright rolling luggage. 

Incase

(Image credit: Incase)

5. Incase EO Travel Backpack

Tough all-purpose travel pack for staying organised when travelling

Specifications

Weight: 1.4 kg/3 lbs
Capacity: 24L (expands to 33L)
Laptop sleeve: Yes (max. 16-inch)
Dimensions: 38.1 x 12.7 x 54.6 cm / 15” x 5” x 21.5”

Reasons to buy

+
Simple clamshell design
+
Easy to extract a laptop

Reasons to avoid

-
Exterior compression straps are fiddly
-
No water bottle holder

While some travel backpacks go straight for the business traveller and others aim for backpackers, the Incase EO Travel Backpack aims for the rest of us. A simple, fairly boxy design available in black, grey or navy, this 24L bag can be expanded to 33L using a wraparound zipper, though doing so does make this bag slightly too deep. Cue some droop, which is not helped by its soft design or its exterior compression straps, which prove slightly annoying to use. However, core features impress if you travel light. The headliner is surely its clamshell-opening main compartment, which features two sides for storing clothes, each secured not using compression straps, but with zipped webbing closures. There’s another soft compartment behind it for a maximum 16-inch laptop and a large tablet, an organiser pocket across the front that can take a pair of shoes, and a soft pocket for keys, a phone or sunglasses. Build quality is good, though since its shoulder straps are fairly basic and that expansion option brings a saggy look it’s best not to overstuff the Incase EO Travel Backpack. 

Jamie is a freelance journalist, copywriter and author with 20 years' experience. He's written journalism for over 50 publications and websites and, when he's not writing, spending most of his time travelling – putting the latest travel tech through its paces.