Luggage is vocverything. The difference between crumpled, messy or even broken stuff and organised efficiency, between stooping with backache and bouncing up that next hill, between feeling weighed down and feeling like you could jump on (or off) a bus at a moment’s notice.
Buying the wrong bag is one of the easiest travel mistakes to make – and one of the hardest to put up with. To save you from packing pain while on the road we’ve done the heavy lifting for you. Here’s our pick of the best backpacks currently on the market for travellers.
There’s no need to sacrifice flexibility for capacity, Osprey’s Sojourn 80 has a massive 80 litres of space for your stuff but can still be carried as a backpack as well as wheeled along as a trolley. The wheels are sturdy enough to withstand being bashed up and down steps or slung around by baggage handlers, and the straps are adjustable and made with a trampoline-style mesh for comfort. We also like the multiple zipped internal compartments and the robust handles both top and side for grabbing the bag quickly. A great all-rounder that would suit longer trips.
Looking for a cabin bag? The Rolling Thunder Roller 19 is designed to meet all European hand luggage requirements and is light on materials to leave your weight allowance for what you put inside it. There’s 19 litres of room here, with two external zipped compartments for easier organisation, and the handles on all sides make it easy to grab from overhead compartments or under-the-bus luggage holds. A solid, dependable bag for shorter adventures.
The numerous separate zipped pockets both external and internal on Antler’s Urbanite Trolley Backpack will keep the organised traveller happy – it feels like there’s a place for everything. Although designed to be pulled along by telescopic handle too, this bag looks more like a backpack than most trolley bags, and it’s both light and small enough to be worn comfortably most of the time. You still get 32 litres of packable space though, making this bag ideal for trips that last a week or two and take in multiple stops.
Taking that bulky DSLR camera out and about can be a nightmare when you're travelling. Manfrotto have the answer in the shape of their off road hiker camera backpack, which has a separate easy-access camera compartment as well as a camera strap across the chest. The modular dividers make carrying up to three extra lenses easy, while the water-repellent material and fold-out rain protector keep your gear safe and dry. There’s also an external tripod connection, and the bag is small enough to meet hand-luggage requirements yet still has 30 litres of space. Photographers, look no further.
Hiking backpacks should, above all else, be comfortable. The Deuter Act Trail 24 is one of the most comfortable bags we’ve seen: super lightweight and with fully adjustable straps, including mesh hip fins that keep it stable even when scrambling. The two-way zip on the main pocket means you can open the pack from the bottom to retrieve buried waterproofs or snacks, while the opening at its top makes it compatible with hydration systems. There are plenty of pockets too, including both outside and inside the lid and on the front.
In some destinations security is a bigger concern, especially when you're carrying a bag on your back. That’s why the Knomo Cromwell has a roll-top – wandering hands have no chance against this tough cookie. It’s weather resistant too, and has a 27.5-litre capacity with a padded internal pocket for laptops up to 14 inches, plus a chest harness and waist strap to spread the weight. A great carry-on and day bag option.
Going off piste? Few backpacks can keep up with serious adventurers, unless you've got an Evoc. Their protective sports backpacks are built for professionals, with both ski and snowboard attachment systems, a reinforced fixation loop in the hip belt for climbing gear, and a quick-access avalanche equipment pocket complete with emergency plan information. Although this bag is perfect for the most adventurous trips, its 40 litres of packing space, rugged build and focus on ergonomic weight distribution make it a good choice for all backpackers.
Helen Ochyra is a Scotland-obsessed freelance travel writer and author of the critically acclaimed Scottish travel book "Scotland Beyond the Bagpipes", a Times Travel “book of the week” and one of Wanderlust’s “best travel books of 2020”. Helen specialises in British travel and is currently studying towards a Masters in British Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Helen's work has recently appeared in the Times, the Telegraph and Grazia among many others. She lives in London with her husband and two young daughters.