Backpacking Italy

What Size Backpack For Travel? What's The Best Backpack For Travel?

The most essential item for Travel Backpackers is a reliable backpack. But with so many options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. Generation Nomad doesn't sell backpacks so we can give an unbiased but educated opinion to help you narrow down what exactly you need for travel backpacking.

Backpacking Backpack

Understanding Backpack Sizing - What Size Backpack For Travel?

Before diving into the specifics of choosing a backpack, it's crucial to understand backpack sizing. Backpacks are typically measured in litres (liters), referring to their carrying capacity; their volume.

For readers who are more familiar with imperial measurements instead of metric measurements, it's helpful to equate liters to something familiar. For instance, a gallon jug holds around 3.7 liters of liquid. Therefore, a backpack with a capacity of 20 liters would be equivalent to approximately five and a half one-gallon jugs in terms of volume. Additionally, if we consider that a medium-sized rolled-up t-shirt occupies roughly one liter of space, a 20-liter backpack could accommodate approximately 20 rolled t-shirts.

It's important to note that backpack capacity doesn’t always directly correlate with backpack dimensions. While the capacity indicates how much you can potentially fit into your travel backpack, the backpack's dimensions provide better understanding of what items can be accommodated. For instance, certain 15-liter daypacks may lack the length to comfortably fit a 13” laptop. Therefore, when selecting a backpack, it's essential to consider both the volume and dimensions to ensure it meets your specific needs and requirements.

(A Swedish Friend with a 24L Daypack)

 

What Is A Backpacker? How Many Liters Backpack For Travel?

The term "backpacker" can refer to a hiker, a traveler, or a camper. Since Backpacker Travellers fall in the middle of the two in regards to the amount of accessories they need and the size of their backpacks, their needs are often overlooked by companies. With backpacks on the market that range from 5L to 100L in volume, let's briefly look into what is ideal for each type of backpacker.

Backpacks for Hikers:

Hiking backpacks are designed to carry essentials for day hikes or multi-day treks. They prioritize comfort, weight distribution, and ventilation to accommodate long hours on the trail. Hikers need backpacks on the smaller end. Think 10L to 50L depending on if they are doing a day hike or a multi-day trek.

Backpacks for Campers:

Camping backpacks are geared towards carrying gear for overnight camping trips. They offer ample storage space for tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, and other camping essentials. Campers need backpacks on the larger end since they need to bring around so much to survive a night the wild. Think 50L to 100L depending on the amount of gear they need and how many people they are carrying for.

* If Hikers need backpacks that are 10L to 50L in volume and Campers need backpacks that are 50L to 100L in volume, where do Travellers fall in the mix? *

Backpacks for Travellers:

Travel backpacks are specifically designed for globetrotters and digital nomads. They combine the convenience of luggage with the portability of backpacks, making them ideal for navigating airports, train stations, and streets of foreign cities. The average Backpack Traveller needs between 40L to 70L in volume.

 

(A friend with a 40L travel backpack)

  What Is A Big Backpack For Travel Called? What Size Backpack Do You Need For Travel?

There simply isn't a term for the big backpacks for travel. When browsing websites for the backpack or backpacks for your trip, you'll probably come across the following terms:

Small Daypack (10-30 Liters):

What is a travel daypack? Daypacks are smaller backpacks that are ideal for day trips, city explorations, or short hikes. These backpacks are lightweight and compact, perfect for carrying essentials like water, snacks, a camera, and a light jacket.

Medium Travel Backpack (30-50 Liters):

They offer enough space to pack clothes, toiletries, and other essentials all while complying with typical airline carry-on restrictions.

Large Travel Backpack (50-70 Liters):

Designed for longer trips. They often come with multiple compartments and organizational features.

TIP: The average Travel Backpacker needs between 40L to 70L in volume for their belongings on a backpacking trip. Unless you are a professional photographer for National Geographic (or something like that), don't consider anything more than 70L of backpack space. It will be too big and too uncomfortable to travel with. It is better for activities like camping.

 Backpacking Travel Sizes

How to Choose the Right Backpack Size for Your Travels

Now that you know a Travel Backpacker looks to carry around 40L to 70L in volume for their backpacking trip. Consider the following factors to help you narrow down your selection even further.

Personal Comfort:

Choose a backpack size that feels comfortable and manageable for you.

Climates & Seasons: 

If you are traveling in colder climates, you'll need to bring around more clothing.

Technology: 

Will you be bringing around a laptop, camera, or drone? You'll need more space.

Airline Restrictions:

If you're planning to use your backpack as carry-on luggage, ensure it complies with airline size restrictions. Generally speaking, backpacks under 45L/50L in volume count as a carry-on and don't need to be checked.

Considering all those things, I find it always easier to bring two backpacks instead of one big one. I always travel with my laptop and I prefer not to check my bags. No matter what the climate is, I find it the most comfortable to divide the weight into two bags. Personally, I travel with a 40L main travel backpack and 20L daypack. However, there are many people that would find it easier to just get one backpack of 60L (40L + 20L).

If you bring just one large travel backpack, you'll need a little fold up daypack. Even though a little fold up daypack is great for all travelers, you can get away without it if you are bring two backpacks with you.

 

Front Loading Backpacks vs. Top Loading Backpacks. Are Backpacks Safe For Travel?

What is the difference between a hiking backpacking and a travel backpack? Travel backpacks often are front loading backpacks while hiking backpacks are often top loading backpacking. But what is the difference between Front Loading and Top Loading? Think of it like the difference between front and top loading wash machines.

Front-Loading Backpacks:

Front-loading backpacks, also known as panel-loading or suitcase-style backpacks, feature a zippered panel on the front or side of the pack that allows for easy access to the main compartment. This design resembles that of a suitcase, making it convenient for organizing and accessing your belongings without having to unpack everything.

Pros:

  1. Ease of Access: The wide opening provides easy access to the entire contents of the backpack, allowing you to find items quickly and efficiently.
  2. Organizational Options: Front-loading backpacks often come with multiple compartments and internal organization features, such as mesh pockets or compression straps, making it easier to keep your belongings organized.
  3. Suitcase-Style Packing: With its suitcase-style design, front-loading backpacks allow for neat and organized packing, similar to how you would pack a suitcase. This makes it ideal for travelers who prefer a more structured packing experience.

Cons:

  1. Limited Overstuffing: The zippered panel restricts the backpack's ability to overstuff or expand beyond its dimensions, which may limit the amount of gear you can carry.
  2. Less Secure: Since the main compartment opens fully, there's a higher risk of theft or items falling out if the zipper isn't properly secured. You'll definitely need a cable combination lock.
  3. Heavier Construction: Front-loading backpacks often have a more rigid construction to support the zippered panel, which can add weight to the pack.

Top-Loading Backpacks:

Top-loading backpacks feature a single opening at the top of the pack, usually secured with a drawstring closure and a top lid or flap. This design is reminiscent of traditional hiking and camping backpacks and is favored by outdoor enthusiasts for its simplicity and versatility.

Pros:

  1. Generous Capacity: Top-loading backpacks typically offer a larger main compartment with fewer internal dividers, allowing for greater capacity and flexibility in packing bulky or irregularly shaped items.
  2. Versatility: The single, large opening makes it easy to stuff gear into the backpack quickly, making it ideal for outdoor activities.
  3. Lightweight Construction: Top-loading backpacks often have a simpler, lighter construction compared to front-loading packs, making them more suitable for extended outdoor adventures where weight is a concern.

Cons:

  1. Limited Accessibility: Accessing items at the bottom of the pack can be challenging since you need to remove or rearrange the contents to reach them. Not ideal for Backpacker Travellers. 
  2. Disorganized Packing: Without internal compartments or dividers, packing can be less organized, and finding specific items may require more effort.
  3. Potential for Overstuffing: The large opening allows for easier overstuffing, which can lead to discomfort and strain on your back if the pack becomes too heavy or unbalanced.

Where To Buy Backpacks For Travel?

When it comes to purchasing backpacks for Travel Backpackers, several retailers and companies stand out for their wide selection, quality, and reputation. One of the top destinations for backpack shopping is REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), known for its extensive range of outdoor and travel gear. REI offers a diverse selection of backpacks from well-known brands like Osprey, The North Face, Gregory, Cotopaxi, Berghaus, and Patagonia catering to various travel needs and preferences. The equivalent of REI in the UK is Outside.

Sometimes you get better offers if you purchase directly from the brand instead of going through a retailer like REI or Outside. However, what is so great about retailers is that you can pick and choose the backpacks you are interested in and compare them side-by-side. REI and Outside both have physical locations so you can try on backpacks in person.

Travel Backpack Physical Features To Consider

1. Size and Capacity

The size and capacity of your backpack are perhaps the most critical considerations. Opt for a backpack with sufficient storage space to accommodate your belongings without being overly bulky. Aim for a capacity between 40 to 70 liters, which strikes a balance between storage capacity and portability. Remember that you'll need to carry your backpack for extended periods, so choose a size that fits comfortably and distributes weight evenly.

2. Comfort and Fit

Look for a backpack with padded shoulder straps, a supportive hip belt, and a contoured back panel. Adjustable straps allow you to customize the fit to your body, ensuring optimal comfort and weight distribution. Consider trying on different backpacks to find one that feels comfortable for your unique physique.

3. Durability and Construction

Opt for a backpack made from high-quality materials such as ripstop nylon, known for their durability and water resistance. This is the same material used in luxury tents and even our compression packing cubes. Reinforced stitching, robust zippers, and reinforced stress points enhance the backpack's longevity, ensuring it can withstand the demands of backpacking across Europe.

4. Accessibility - Front vs Top Loading

Efficient organization is essential for keeping your belongings accessible and orderly while traveling. Consider features such as front-loading or panel-loading access, which allows you to easily access your belongings without unpacking the entire contents of your backpack.

5. Weather Resistance

Look for a backpack with a durable water-resistant coating or a built-in rain cover to protect your belongings from moisture and precipitation. While no backpack is entirely waterproof, these features can help keep your gear dry during unexpected rain showers or inclement weather conditions. Add a minimalist fully waterproof layer such a backpack cover

6. Carry On Compatibility

Consider a backpack that meets carry-on size restrictions if this is important to you. Opt for a backpack with dimensions that comply with airline regulations for carry-on luggage, allowing you to avoid checked baggage fees and expedite your journey through airports and train stations.

Brief Recap: You'll want 40L to 70L of volume for your belongings while backpack travelling. Whether you prefer one or two backpacks is a personal preference based really on comfort and if you want to carry-on your bags for flights. Most backpacker travellers opt for a front-loading backpack than a top-loading backpack due to ease of finding your belongings in a backpack.

 

WRITTEN BY

MARK CIPOLLINA

I’m Mark, the Founder of Generation Nomad, Avid Travel Backpacker & Digital Nomad. I am passionate about helping others discover the world through my experiences. I solo backpacked for months at a time, lived abroad, and even speak two foreign languages. Besides collaborating on the best lightweight travel accessories for Travel Backpackers, I also love sharing my travel photography.
Favorite Trips: Spain, Egypt & Vietnam 
Favorite Cuisines: Italian, Peruvian & Japanese
Quote: “Be a circle and just roll with it” 
Back to blog