When it comes to the perpetual dilemma of carry-on suitcase vs. travel backpack, it all depends on your personal preferences and travel needs. Although, we have to admit, we’re leaning towards the backpack option, not because we feel nostalgic about the good old schoolyard days, but because we’ve found it to be the more practical alternative of the two, especially on budget airlines where you’re more concerned with the weight of your luggage.
Most backpacks tend to be lighter than standard suitcase (they’re often made of sturdy polyester) and smaller, too — usually fitting neatly beneath the seat in front of you. Plus, you can easily take your carry-on backpack from the airport to natural trails, city tours, beach shores, and beyond, while using your hard-shell suitcase as your beach bag is perhaps not the most functional idea.
Another component modern travel backpacks have going for them? Organization. Many of our favorite picks are thoughtfully outfitted with a place for everything. There are padded tech sleeves galore. Your water bottle, passport, pens, keys, and more will all have a designated spot — that means no more scrambling to find what you need in the security line. Some styles even open up with three-sided zippers, just like standard luggage would.
And if you’re a fan of rolling your way through airports instead of having to speed-walk between terminals with 15 pounds of stuff on your back, we have some good news for you. One pick even comes with built-in wheels and a double-locking handle so you can have a suitcase and a backpack all-in-one.
Here, 18 durable and sleek backpack options that will have your back, literally, on your next trip.
Most Durable Backpack: Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack
Meet the travel backpack that just might replace your suitcase: Tortuga's Outbreaker. Made from super-durable waterproof sailcloth and equipped with lockable zippers, it's the perfect pack for an explorer. The lay-flat construction makes for easy packing and thoughtful features like an adjustable suspension system ensure it stays comfortable even when its stuffed to the gills. It's also available in a smaller 35L size and you can buy a set of packing cubes sized to fit perfectly inside.
To buy: tortugabackpacks.com, $299
Best Weather-proof Backpack: Nomatic Travel Pack
After a super successful Kickstarter launch campaign, the Nomatic Travel Pack has become a traveler favorite for its 20-plus thoughtful features. Outside, it's designed with weatherproof materials that will stand up to any conditions you've unwittingly found yourself up against. And inside, you'll find dedicated pockets and sleeves for nearly everything you own. Expansion capabilities also leave room for a few extra souvenirs.
To buy: nomatic.com, $260
Best Laptop Backpack: Lo & Sons Prospect Backpack
This backpack combines leather and recycled polyester to create a sleek, minimalist look. It's a convertible bag that can be worn as both a backpack and a briefcase. Inside, there are several organizational pockets that can hold chargers and other tech accessories, as well as padded laptop sleeve.
To buy: loandsons.com, $189 (originally $378)
Best Anti-theft Backpack: Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 15L
This modern anti-theft bag comes in three colors and the fabric is woven with a hidden stainless steel wire mesh, making it slashproof and ideal for high-volume pickpocketing areas. The zippers are all lockable, and one of the straps also acts as a locking mechanism, so you can secure your bag to the al fresco table you're dining at and enjoy your meal without worry. The bag's interior ID and card pockets feature RFID-blocking technology, too.
To buy: amazon.com, $70
Best Lightweight Backpack: Baggu Packable Backpack
This backpack from Baggu is lightweight and super easy to pack down into your luggage if you think you'll only need something for the return trip to hold all of your new souvenirs.
To buy: shopbop.com, $25 (originally $36)
Most Stylish Backpack: Dagne Dover Medium Dakota Backpack
This sleek neoprene bag is versatile and spacious enough to use as a carry-on or a gym bag. With a simple, wear-anywhere style, it can be worn around the office, taken on a hike, or toted along to dinner. There are two smaller sizes available, as well, in case you like the look but don't need as much space.
To buy: dagnedover.com, $135
Best Leather Backpack: Leatherology Parker Backpack
Made with super-soft, high-quality leather, Leatherology's popular backpack is made to be used — not to sit in a dust bag in your closet. There's a separate laptop pocket that's 18 inches wide, and three external pockets make it easy to stow (and locate) smaller essentials like your wallet and keys. It's available in 10 earth-toned colors, and you can personalize it with a debossed or hand-painted monogram.
To buy: leatherology.com, $300
Most Comfortable Backpack: Incase Icon Slim Laptop Backpack
The shoulder straps and padded air mesh back panel give this Incase pack a comfy fit, even when you're carrying it for hours on end. It's slim, but with plenty of room for your tech and other day-to-day must-haves, and it's also available in light gray.
To buy: amazon.com, $133 (originally $150)
Best for Staying Organized: Samsonite Detour Travel Backpack
This pack from Samsonite has a surprising amount of organizational components for its light weight (just under two pounds). There's a padded laptop compartment that comfortable fits a 15.6-inch device, an elastic side water bottle pocket, and three tiers of zip pockets on the front panel. Add in a Tricot-lined top stash pocket for protecting your phone or sunglasses, and you've got a place for all of your travel essentials.
To buy: samsonite.com, $64
Best for Functional Fashion: Longchamp Le Pliage Backpack
This Longchamp style is a classic. Choose your favorite from four colors and don’t leave home without this convenient bag that folds flat and tucks away until you need more space. In durable water-resistant nylon with leather trim, this backpack has adjustable straps and an interior pocket.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $125
Best for Adventure Travel: Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack
This roomy pack from Osprey could fit up to a week's worth of clothing if you use a set of the brand's packing cubes. The front-loading main compartment is easy to access; the front panel is packed with pockets; and there's a separate top compartment for your toiletries. Plus, the shoulder straps and hip belt zip securely into the back on the off chance you're forced to gate check.
To buy: amazon.com, $84
Best Packable Backpack: Zomake Ultra Lightweight Backpack
Designed with extremely lightweight and durable nylon, this Amazon best-seller backpack folds down into a sandwich-sized pouch. Bonus: it's also water-resistant.
To buy: amazon.com, $16
Best Commuter Backpack: Knomo Beauchamp Backpack
This nylon backpack has tons of pockets and a padded 14-inch laptop section inside. Our testing has proven that it's durable, comfortable to wear, and splash-resistant for any unexpected showers.
To buy: amazon.com, $226
Best for Business Travelers: Tumi T-Pass Business Class Brief Pack
Professional enough to wear to conferences and client meetings, this best-selling backpack is fitted with a 15-inch laptop sleeve and the essential Add-a-Bag sleeve that allows it to easily slide onto your rolling carry-on's handle.
To buy: tumi.com, $525
Best Features for Travelers: Eagle Creek Global Companion 40L Backpack
Convenience is the biggest draw of this pack from Eagle Creek. There are pockets for absolutely everything, including a special shoe compartment on the bottom. It zips open like a clamshell-style suitcase so you can easily access all of your items. There's a rain cover included for inclement weather. And for added security, the zippers are lockable. Eagle Creek also offers the pack in a version that's better ergonomically shaped for women to carry.
To buy: amazon.com, $134 (originally $160)
Best for One-bag Trips: eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible
This carry-on comes backed by more than 7,000 thrilled customer reviews. The 22-inch bag unzips all the way around like a suitcase would but it's much more comfortable to carry and has tons of thoughtful features to make packing a breeze — from tie-down straps to a hidden passport pocket.
To buy: ebags.com, $90
Best Wheeled Backpack: Osprey Packs Meridian 60L
This convertible, lightweight bag by Osprey is the ultimate multi-tasker. It can be wheeled or carried as a backpack and it actually zips in half to give travelers a day pack to bring along on shorter side trips.
To buy: amazon.com, $200
Best Simple Travel Backpack: Fjallraven Kånken Water-resistant Backpack
Originally used by Swedish schoolchildren in the ‘70s, the Kånken backpack is now a staple in travel gear due to its functionality, sturdy design, and cool Scandinavian look.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $80
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