Hauling all of the clothing, toiletries, and gear you need for a monthlong trip in a backpack might sound like a nightmare, especially if you’re used to rolling luggage. But there are plenty of instances when traveling with a backpack is easier, especially if you’ve got plans to hop on buses or trains, or are going to cities where paved roads (and therefore surfaces for easy luggage-rolling) are in short supply.
The challenge is to find a travel backpack that’s big enough to fit everything you might need, yet is still comfortable to carry. So to help you find the best carry-on and travel backpacks for long trips, we spoke with 14 frequent and intrepid travelers, who spend weeks on the road (or the hiking trail) at a time, about the bags they’re most excited to pack up and strap onto their backs. While not as sleek as their wheeled counterparts, these backpacks will serve you much better on longer and more adventurous journeys. Just don’t forget the packing cubes.
Like several of the experts we talked to, JourneyWoman editor-in-chief and frequent backpacker Carolyn Ray is a longtime fan of Osprey’s backpacks for longer, more rugged trips. The Osprey Porter has been her “go-to pack” for years at this point, and she most recently used it during a three-month journey across Mexico. The 65-liter bag has a bucket-style opening, which gives you easy access to all your stuff with one quick zip around. It also has loops on which to attach a smaller day pack.
James and Susan Feess, bloggers at The Savvy Backpacker, have tried many backpacks in their time. But Osprey’s classic Farpoint is the one they keep returning to. It’s just about the perfect backpack for long-term travel,” they tell us. “It has some of the best and most comfortable shoulder straps and harness we’ve used. It’s lightweight, it has a detachable day pack, it looks nice, it is pretty affordable, and we like Osprey’s lifetime warranty.”
Washington Post reporter and inaugural New York Times 52 Places traveler Jada Yuan also cites Osprey as her top travel-backpack brand. When spending her year abroad reporting for the Times, she used the 40-liter Fairview, which is the women’s version of the Farpoint above — but not before trying and failing to travel with a set of rolling luggage. “I don’t know how I got through 16 stops of my trip before buying the Osprey Fairview,” she recalls. “My back and shoulders hurt all the time. I needed something with strong lumbar support, a waist belt, and a chest strap so that I could make it through the trip without getting crippled.” The Fairview, she says, is perfectly bare-bones: “Just one giant cavity, plus a zippered section for your laptop and a bunch of straps on the outside for carrying, say, a bulky jacket that won’t fit anywhere.” She took it across Europe, Africa, and Asia, noting that with the addition of zipper locks, it was relatively secure against thieves. Yuan traveled with the overhead-compartment-friendly 40l version of the bag, but non-minimalist packers could definitely upgrade to the 55l version. “Or go up to 65l,” Yuan suggests. “No one ever checks.”
Though loyal to Osprey, Ray also pointed us to Gregory’s line of travel backpacks, which she likes for their style, practicality, and fit. Her pick is the 60-liter Deva backpack, with a breathable back panel that makes multiday hiking more bearable. “Whether I’m hiking the Camino de Santiago or the new ‘Canadian Camino’ in Prince Edward Island, these packs are so comfortable that I almost forget I’m wearing one,” she says.
Award-winning CNN travel journalist Oneika Raymond swears by High Sierra’s affordable frame backpacks, which can be used for long trips as well as backpacking. She’s used hers while traveling from Bolivia to Botswana, and tells us that the pack is “lightweight, relatively inexpensive, sturdy, and stylish,” with an ergonomic design that fits her body perfectly. “I like it because it has a top compartment, which I typically reserve for undergarments, and the bottom front compartment, which I’ll reserve for shoes,” she adds. “Because the middle compartment is very large, it’s ideal for clothing. I can pack quite a lot of things in the bag, but because it’s tall and narrow, it still remains sleek and fairly easy to carry.”