The 5 best travel backpacks

Which backpack will enhance, rather than hamper, your travels?

TODO alt text

Which backpack will see you travelling with a grin rather than grimace on your face? Each bag we’ve selected for our top five is fit for purpose, be that purpose a cycle commute, a week canyonning, a hike up Mount Snowdon or just a trip to your mum’s for the weekend… The pick of our bunch is the Lowe Alpine Cloud 35. 

Of course before you decide which backpack to buy, you should consider your specific requirements, namely what you’ll be using your bag for and how much money you have to spend. We’re here to help!

How to choose the best travel backpack for you

We’ve tested five backpacks from well-known, quality brands. These range from the Berghaus Arrow 30, our cheapest backpack at £55 which is ideal for hikers through to the Patagonia Stormfront Pack 30L, the most expensive at £230, which is the one to go for if you need a completely waterproof bag which you can use for adventures on the water. 

When you’re buying a new backpack, the most important thing to consider is what you’ll use the backpack for – is it hobby specific or just a general use or commuting bag? Decent backpacks, including all those we’ve tested, are designed with specific end users in mind, so you need to have a good idea of what you want before you start looking. 

Not all backpacks just one job of course, our top pick, the Lowe Alpine Cloud 35 is the best all-rounder we tested. It’s ideal as both a commuter backpack and a travel backpack that’s both roomy and cabin sized. It’s design is nothing short of excellent, with a compartment for everything and an ability to make even the scattiest of people feel organised. At a lower price point, the Howies Broad Haven is another, smaller, good all-rounder.

Our testing has been done over a period of weeks, using each of the bags as intended. We’ve been getting fit walking, hiking and bike riding, but sadly, budgets didn’t stretch to a week on the water for the Patagonia Stormfront, so we used it in our daily lives, in the rain and gave it a shower and a bath – it’s definitely 100% waterproof. 

All of the bags we’ve tested are comfortable to wear and perform well for the purpose they were designed. Some, outperformed, namely the Osprey Radial, a bike commuter backpack, that is so comfortable to ride in, that we actually took it on a little run and it was super comfy for that purpose too. See which backpack from our test best fits your lifestyle, capacity needs and budget…

The 5 best travel backpacks to buy today

1. Lowe Alpine Cloud 35

Travel luggage meets commuter backpack: brilliant all rounder

Reasons to buy
+Compartment for everything+35L capacity makes it good for longer trips as well as everyday
Reasons to avoid
-No waist strap

This backpack has a lot going for it – with a 35L capacity you can use it for your travels (cabin compatible too) and also as your commuter backpack, thanks to the TSA approved laptop sleeve, padded cable vault and multiple internal load organisation options. There really is a place for everything including tablet sleeve, phone pocket, security pocket, lower pocket that’s ideal for anything wet, dirty or smelly. There’s even a sternum strap with whistle key clip. Using this backpack makes being organised easy. The moulded back system makes the Cloud 35 comfortable to carry and encourages a good posture. As you can use for both travelling and commuting the price tag seems fair.   

2. Osprey Radial 26

The best bike commuter backpack

Reasons to buy
+Exceptionally comfortable to wear+Repair or replace lifetime guarantee
Reasons to avoid

This beauty makes easy work of a bike commute – the trampoline suspended mesh backsystem meant that we arrived at our destination without any dreaded wet patches on our back. The pack sits comfortable and moves closely with the body making it comfortable to ride in and also to run with – the ventilated stretch yoke and load lifters on the harness combined with the elastic hipbelt certainly do their job. This good looking backpack, complete with reflective details for visibility at night, has loads of little compartments for stashing and separating your stuff, as well as a padded laptop and tablet sleeve. We like the built-in high vis raincover and LidLock helmet attachment too – it’s very well designed and made.

3. Berghaus Arrow 30

An ideal bag for hikers

Reasons to buy
+Affordable quality+Handy rain cover
Reasons to avoid
-No front pocket

You’ll be impressed by the comfort offered by the Berghaus Arrow 30 – it’s super comfortable to walk with and is an ideal bag for hikers thanks to its rain cover, hydration pack compatibility and walking pole attachment points. It utilises Berghaus' Flow backsystem with vented foam comfort and features both a waist and chest strap for even distribution of weight. It’s classically styled, very well made, ideal for both day trips and multiday adventures and is a good price. This bag is ideal for short backpacking trips, as well as a day bag for walkers.

4. Howies Broad Haven

Perfect for everyday commuting and weekends away

Reasons to buy
+Lots of separate handy pockets+Reflective details for night visibility
Reasons to avoid
-No waist strap

This backpack has been very well thought out indeed. It’s has an approximate capacity of 18L but it feels like much more thanks to its clever design – large zip compartments with a pocket for everything and separate lower zip section (ideal for anything dirty, smelly or your lunch). The padded laptop pocket makes it a good choice for a work bag too. It’s a well-made, ergonomic back and the understated technical design features reflective details and piping to keep you visible at night and comes with a packable "Keep Right" arrow on the rain cover – great for keeping you safe on the cycle commute!

5. Patagonia Stormfront Pack 30L

The ultimate waterproof backpack

Reasons to buy
+Keeps your gear 100% dry+Comfortable to carry
Reasons to avoid
-Very Expensive

If you need a backpack you can travel with which will keep your gear dry even if it takes a swim, Patagonia’s Stormfront Pack is it. Canyoneers, canoeists, anglers and photographer on the go spring to mind immediately. 100% nylon, 100% waterproof welded construction and an easy-to-use, fully waterproof TIZIP main zipper protect the interior of the pack. The 30L backpack itself is ultra-simple – one large main compartment with a little mesh pocket and an external, water-resistant stash pocket. It’s really comfortable to carry with adjustable, low-profile padded shoulder harness and removable waist belt. A brilliant choice if you need the 100% waterproofing, if not then it’s very expensive for what is essentially a very well made yet basic bag.