The best travel backpacks 2018: carry all of your luggage on your back

The 12 best packs for your next holiday or business trip

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Do you prefer travelling with a backpack instead of a suitcase? You've come to the right place!

Choosing a backpack is not a decision to be taken lightly. After all, if you've decided that taking your luggage into your own hands is how you want to travel, your backpack is going to be with you 24/7, and it can have a huge impact on your trip.

How to choose the best travel backpack for you

When you’re buying a new backpack, the most important thing to consider is what you’ll use it for. If you're going to be backpacking extensively, including lots of hillwalking, we've got you covered. 

Lightweight and built for comfort when worn for long periods, we've reviewed and compared backpacks from trusted outdoor brands like Berghaus, Patagonia, Lowe Alpine, Osprey and Howies.

However, most travellers don't need outdoor-specific gear like that. 

For city breaks, short flights and weekends away, we've found backpacks from Incase, Knomo and Solo New York that fulfill niche needs. If you're travelling with work, you'll want something that looks professional. 

So we've included business traveler-grade bags from brands like Samsonite, Thule, Tumi and Eagle Creek, all of which include laptop sleeves and plenty of pockets for electronics. 

Even if you prefer to travel with a suitcase, but can't bear to check-in luggage, we've found wheeled luggage that converts into a backpack. 

The Lowe Alpine Cloud 35 is one of the best all-rounders we've 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 12 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
-Expensive

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.

6. Samsonite Pro-DLX 5

Reasons to buy
+Wheels as well as backpack straps+Laptop & tablet sleeves
Reasons to avoid
-Only two wheels-Very formal look

Aimed at frequent business travellers. This formally-styled backpack from Samsonite measures 48x33x20cm and weighing 2.6kg, its takes 28 litres of gear, and includes compartments for a 10.1-inch tablet and a 17.3-inch laptop. 

However, it's how it works around the airport that impresses most; the backpack straps can be packed away, and it can be dragged around on its two wheels using a pop-up telescopic handle. It's also got a RFID-protected pocket to protect against payment and identity fraud through skimming of credit cards and passports. 

7. Knomo London Mayfair Nylon Beauchamp Backpack

Reasons to buy
+Holds a 14-inch laptop+RFID-protected pocket
Reasons to avoid
-Carry-on size only

Want to travel in style? Available in black or cherry, this slim full-grain leather backpack is the perfect carry-on. The front's two zipped pockets take passports, phones and cards, but you'd be wise to store most about in the right-hand side’s RFID-protected pocket. 

Inside there's a compartment for a 14-inch laptop, another for a tablet, and a zipped pocket, though there's just enough room in its belly for an extra layer or a pair of shoes. It’s one for an overnight stay, or as a carry-on for inflight gadgets. 

8. Eagle Creek Universal Traveler Backpack RFID

Reasons to buy
+Versatile business/leisure design+Lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-Top-opening only

Styled more like a casual hiking backpack, but with the kinds of features that business travellers will demand, Eagle Creek's Universal Traveler Backpack RFID easily lives up to its name. Measuring  34.5x52x23 cm and weighing 820g, it takes 35 litres gear in its main compartments. 

There is room for a 17-inch laptop, and a tablet, with other pockets for electronics also designed-in, including RFID-protected pockets. There are also a couple of mesh pockets on the side for stashing a water bottle or two, which together with some decent shoulder straps and a breathable back panel make this backpack as at home on a short hike as it is in airports and hotels.

9. Tumi T-Pass Business Class Brief Pack Alpha 2

Reasons to buy
+Build quality+Attaches to larger luggage
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive

Made from ballistic nylon and with excellent quality zips, this one's made not only for the long haul, but the long-term. Much like the Samsonite Pro-DLX 5, this is a business traveller-grade backpack with a professional look. Yes, it's incredibly expensive, but with room for a 17-inch laptop, plenty of organiser pockets, and embossed leather grab handle, it's well made and on-trend. 

It measures 42x20.5x30.5cm, weighs a hefty 1.72kg when empty, and takes 25 litres only, so it's best suited to being carry-on luggage or, at a push, just big enough for an overnight trip. The design highlight? A rear pass-through strap that can be slipped over the telescopic handle of upright rolling luggage for keeping all of your luggage together as you travel to the airport and the bag-drop desk.

10. Incase EO Travel Backpack

Reasons to buy
+Carry-on size+Takes a suit
Reasons to avoid
-Soft-sided

Another great hybrid design, this bag has three compartments, two of which open exactly like a suitcase. The middle area has a zone for clothes that can easily fit a suit and other clothes, while there is a soft compartment behind it for a 17-inch laptop (or a couple of shirts). 

The front of the bag is of a more traditional backpack style, with organiser pockets for batteries, phones, pens and earphones. There's even a soft pocket for storing keys, coins, phones or sunglasses. It's all soft-sided, so it's not going to give your stuff much protection, but the whole bag can be reduced in size using a wraparound zip, while four compression straps keeps everything as small as possible.

11. Thule Crossover Rolling 23-inch Carry-On

Reasons to buy
+Converts from rolling case to backpack+Large capacity
Reasons to avoid
-At the limit for carry-on luggage

If you're undecided whether to buy hard-sided rolling luggage or a backpack, here's a solution. A hybrid between the two, Thule's Crossover behaves much like business-oriented rolling luggage, with hard ballistic nylon build quality, a couple of very solid wheels, a telescopic grab handle, a large 38 litre compartment, and a 15-inch laptop compartment on the front of the bag. 

Just behind that is a zipped compartment out of which spring two backpack straps, whose ends have clips that attach to loops on the sides of the case. However, at 59x39x23cm this case is right on the limit. Wear it on your back during check-in and at the gate before you board the plane, and you should be OK.

12. Solo New York Varsity Elite

Reasons to buy
+Opens like a suitcase+Waterproof compartment
Reasons to avoid
-Small size

The designers of this relatively small backpack obviously understand the needs of those taking short trips. That's obvious from its unusual waterproof compartment especially for shoes or dirty clothes, which is accessed from the bottom of the bag. It keeps a lot of gear nicely out of the way. 

Elsewhere in this 54x35x18cm backpack is a compartment for a 17.3-inch laptop, and a separate area for a tablet, but it's a further design flourish that impresses most. Unlike most backpacks that open only from the top, this one opens in a U-shape on its front, just like a small suitcase. However well designed it is, the Solo New York Varsity Elite is nevertheless a small bag that suited only to short trips.