One of the most stressful things about navigating an airport crowd is dragging your carry-on bag behind you. As if keeping travel documents close wasn't enough, the traveller also has to mind their luggage in a sea of bags. This is why solo travellers, and even people who go on trips locally, reach for a dependable backpack time and time again.
All your essentials are just over the shoulder, your hands are free to push the baby stroller, and it's the only carry-on you have to worry about - what's not to love? We spoke to a Dubai-based travel gear expert to help you single out the best backpack for the holidays ahead.
While you might be able to fit more in a roller suitcase, think again. Frequent globetrotters always advise travellers to pack lightly for good reason. Yaseen Tayyab, the founder of travelling community UAE Backpackers, leads a handful of hiking trips a year to scale summits in Tanzania, Nepal, Italy and elsewhere. In his travels, Tayyab often dons the role of an adventure consultant, advising on the right gear.
"On our hikes, I notice how people with backpacks in the group look super comfortable, compared to the rest, who have hard-shell suitcases and big bags," said Tayyab, who uses his North Face Hydra 38 even on casual travels. "Backpacks fit easily in the overhead cabin, come with you on the Metro, and make putting things away a quick job. It's also great for families with small children, where parents can control the stroller while carrying everything they need."
But, what can a sizeable travel backpack fit? Tayyab's 38-litre bag, he tells us, packs his personal documents, toiletries, gadgets including a laptop, a towel, t-shirts, a couple of trousers and a fleece jacket. "I can fit about 15 to 20 items. If I'm staying for longer, I carry a duffle bag, as well," he added.
The capacity of your bag is one of the factors that should ultimately help you pick. Stick to backpacks between 30 to 40 litres, suggests Tayyab. If you'll be walking with the bag strapped to your back throughout a week-long trip, then anything above 40 litres would prove heavy and cumbersome.
This ties into how comfortable the carry-on is going to be. Chest and waist straps can do a lot to offer relief from a strained back. Tayyab prefers a well-ventilated, padded back support, too. Before shopping our expert recommendations, consider these features, with the travel destination in mind.
Below you'll find the best travel backpacks on Amazon, so make sure to shop with a Prime membership to avail yourself of free, fast delivery.
1. Best Overall: The North Face Surge Backpack
- Looks like an everyday backpack
- Separate compartments for laptop, tablet, sunglasses and water
- Water-repellent fabric
- Waist and chest straps with a padded back
- Capacity might be suitable for shorter trips
Inspired by Tayyab's hiking North Face backpack, we've picked the Surge model for retaining the best qualities of the Hydra in a smaller capacity. All 31 litres of this bag make space for dedicated compartments, which fit your 15-inch laptop, tablet, sunglasses and phone, water bottle and whatever clothes you can roll into the large main pocket. The durable, water-repellent nylon has 360-degree reflectivity to keep you safe at night. It wears securely with the chest and waist straps, and has a padded back that encourages ventilation. You could also set it down anywhere and have it stand on its own, thanks to the bottom compression. Reviewers use the Surge as a travel backpack for a few days away, noting its convenience on the flight. They bring it to hiking, work trips, and international travels.
2. Best Durable Backpack: Oakley Men's Kitchen Sink Backpack
- Large capacity with several pockets, even for shoes
- Fits up to 17-inch laptops
- Chest and waist straps, with a padded back
- Metal accents and buckles can make it heavy
- Doesn't give easy access to the main compartment
Offering a slightly larger capacity is the Kitchen Sink backpack by Oakley. Upon the recommendation of a Dubai-based travel blogger, Parikshit Balochi, Oakley was our go-to brand for a backpack in this list of travel essentials. Balochi depends on Oakley's impressive durability and heavy-duty performance on his holidays. The Kitchen Sink has 34 litres, distributed among specialised pockets for a 17-inch laptop, sunglasses and even sweaty shoes at the bottom. There are clasp links at the chest and waist, together with a moulded back panel. Repeat buyers come to replace their worn-out 18-year-old Kitchen Sink backpacks, so you can be certain of the quality at this premium price tag. Its top shell can be a hassle to flip open and close to access the main pocket, they note. Otherwise, it packs enough to last you weeks in a foreign country.
3. Best Mid-Sized Capacity: Osprey Porter 30 Travel Backpack
- Clamshell main compartment opens up like a suitcase
- Side grab handles for more carrying options
- Compression straps for downsizing
- Several pockets to store luggage trackers, laptop, toiletries, and more
- Waist and chest straps
- Misses a water bottle side pocket
Osprey is another premium brand that should be on your radar, says Tayyab. The Porter has a more minimalistic shell, compared to our previous picks. It's a 30-litre backpack with a simple construction, but this belies all the functions it has to offer. The main compartment zips all the way down to the base, opening up like a suitcase for easy packing. You can stash your toiletries inside the top pocket, while any 15-inch laptop or tablet device goes into the protected rear panel. If you've packed under its full capacity, there are compression straps at the sides to shrink the bag down to a compact size. This backpack is designed with travellers in mind, since it dedicates small internal pockets to luggage trackers. Side grab handles also transform the Porter into a duffle bag. Reviewers love that the interior is securely padded to keep valuables safe in transit. They've successfully tucked it under the seat on flights and used it on week-long trips. Others have backpacked across countries with their Porter, manoeuvring easily through train stations.
4. Best for Media Gear: Peak Design Travel Backpack
- Expands from 35 to 45 litres, as needed
- Fits camera cubes easily, with side pockets for tripod
- Tablet and laptop sleeves
- Clamshell zipper
- Lacks airflow in the back
- Straps could have more padding, say reviews
Designed for creative professionals, the Peak Design 45-litre travel backpack stores photography and multimedia gear quite nicely. Expansion zippers bring the bag to its maximum capacity, though you can make use of the default 35 litres without them. It's got special compartments for your camera, audio and video equipment and small electronics, besides clothes. Like our Osprey option, the bag has a clamshell zipper, offering you a clear view when packing. You're also getting dedicated laptop and tablet sleeves, side pockets for water bottles or tripods and a top pocket to fit quick-access essentials. Rave reviewers tuck away their camera gear with satisfied results, and report no fatigue with the straps. Their only qualm is the lack of ventilation in the back panel, which can be uncomfortable in hot weather, so do rethink if you'll be wearing it for long hours at a time.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh88.25 for 12 months with select banks.
5. Best Large Capacity: Thule Landmark Travel Pack
- U-zip compartment packs like a suitcase with internal straps
- Large capacity with laptop compartment
- Covert cash and passport pocket
- Chest and waist links
- Doesn't have a stand-up design
Flip the Thule Landmark on its side, and it turns into a mini 40-litre duffle bag. U-zip clamshell opening and laptop storage aside, the bag has a covert pocket called the CashStash, keeping your money and passport safe from theft. You'll even find tiny loops at the seams that can be used to secure zipper pulls to the bag, in the case of pickpocketing. It's so secure that your side pocket for bottles is also zipped shut. Once you've packed clothes and other belongings into the main compartment, strap them in with the internal belts, just as you would in a suitcase. This design, however, can make quick retrieval of a jacket or shirt complicated. Similar to our North Face pick, the Landmark has a built-in whistle on the sternum strap. For its large capacity, it's surprisingly lighter than the Peak Design bag. Reviews find it comfortable to carry for longer periods of time, and compare the Landmark to a small suitcase. Several backpackers take this to Europe as their carry-on.
Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.