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How to Choose the Right Travel Backpack

Planning an exciting trip soon? As an experienced backpacker and traveler, I know one of the most important gear purchases you’ll make is choosing the perfect travel backpack to hold all your essentials on the journey ahead.

Having the right backpack for your travels can literally make or break your entire trip experience. An uncomfortable, poorly fitted pack can leave you sore and frustrated on the road. But the right backpack will become your most trusted travel companion, keeping you organized and comfortable mile after mile.

In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know about finding the ideal travel backpack for your body type, trip plans and packing needs. By the end, you’ll know exactly what to look for and which top-rated backpacks best fit your travel style and adventures.

Let’s dive in!

Key Factors to Consider When Choosing a Travel Backpack

With so many backpack options out there, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start. Here are the most important factors to keep in mind:

Backpack Size and Capacity

One of the first decisions – how big of a backpack do you need? The capacity, measure in liters (L), determines how much gear the pack can hold.

As a general guideline:

  • 30-50L: Great for shorter trips of 3-5 days
  • 50-70L: Good capacity for trips of 1-3 weeks
  • 70L+: Extra large backpacks for extended journeys of 3+ weeks

Make sure to choose a pack that fits everything you need without being too big and bulky. Overpacking a backpack can throw off the center of gravity and make it uncomfortable to lug around.

Backpack Frame Type

Travel backpacks come in three main frame types:

  • Internal Frame: Frame is built into the backpack and helps keep the load close to your body. Offers excellent stability and weight distribution.
  • External Frame: Rigid frame is exposed and helps transfer weight to the hips. Very durable but less customizable fit.
  • Frameless: As name implies, no solid frame. Lightweight but less support for heavy loads.

Consider your carrying needs, balance, and typical pack weight to choose the frame type that’s right for you.

Padding and Support System

Well-padded, breathable shoulder straps, back panel and hip belt will make your pack much more comfortable, especially for long days of wear. Look for adjustable, well-shaped shoulder straps that contour to your body. Sternum and stabilizer straps also help distribute weight.

A sturdy hip belt is key for transferring pack weight onto the hips and legs. Make sure the hip belt sits snugly around your hip bones.

Ventilation and Breathability

Backpacks with ventilation channels, mesh padding and internal frame space help air flow to your back. This keeps you cooler and drier as you work up a sweat on the trail. Proper ventilation can make a big difference in comfort level.

Compartments, Pockets and Organization

The more compartments and pockets your backpack has, the easier it will be to stay organized and find what you need on the go. Look for separate sleeves for a hydration bladder, laptop, clothing layers, toiletries, etc. Quick-access pockets on the hip belt and top lid also come in handy.

Durability and Water Resistance

Make sure the fabrics and zippers used in the pack construction are durable and abrasion-resistant. Waterproofing is also helpful in case you get caught in the rain. Look for quality craftsmanship for a long-lasting backpack.

Fit and Adjustability

One of the most important factors is how the backpack fits your body. Be sure to try on packs in person with weight inside to test the fit. Here’s what to look for:

  • Torso Length: Measure yours to find ideal pack torso size. Should match within an inch or two.
  • Hip Belt: Should wrap snugly around your hip bones to transfer weight properly.
  • Shoulder Straps: Contoured straps should fit comfortably without digging in.
  • Adjustability: Load lifters, sternum strap, and removable pads help you dial in the fit.

Take the time to get professionally fitted by an expert at the store. An adjustable pack tailored to your body is essential for all-day carrying comfort.

Additional Features to Consider

Some other nice extras that come in handy on certain trips:

  • Hydration sleeve and ports
  • Attachment points for tools and gear
  • Integrated rain cover
  • Detachable daypack
  • Lockable zippers
  • Trekking pole holders
  • Embedded tech like GPS

Think about which features would be useful for the adventures you have planned.

How to Choose the Right Size Travel Backpack

One key decision is choosing the appropriate backpack capacity and size based on your torso length and typical packing needs. Here are some general size guidelines:

Torso Length Backpack Size

  • Under 17” 30-50 liters
  • 18-19” 50-60 liters
  • 20-21” 60-80 liters

Measure your torso by having someone measure from the C7 vertebrae to your iliac crest while standing. Refer to the chart above to find your recommended backpack capacity range.

When trying on packs, the hip belt should wrap snugly around your hip bones, and the shoulder straps should contour comfortably without gaping or pinching. Take the time to load up the backpack with weight and walk around the store. The pack should feel balanced and stable on your frame.

Don’t hesitate to test out multiple sizes. An adjustable pack with removable pads and straps allows you to really customize the fit. Finding your perfect size match is worth the effort for maximum comfort.

Ranking the Best Travel Backpacks of 2023

After researching dozens of travel packs and testing many out personally on the trail over the years, these are my current top-rated backpack picks:

Osprey Farpoint 55

My top overall choice, the Osprey Farpoint 55L is versatile, lightweight and durable. The adjustable harness and suspension system provide excellent support for comfort. The stowaway back panel adds rear access to the main compartment. Perfect for trips up to 2 weeks.

Deuter Aircontact Lite 65+10

Featuring Deuter’s innovative aircontact back system, this ventilated 65L pack has a detachable daypack. Outstanding for organization with the extra pockets. Very lightweight yet comfortable carry even at higher weights.

Gregory Deva 60

This women’s-specific 60L backpack has a well-designed harness system with adjustable torso length, shoulder width, and hip belt size for a customized fit. The ventilated back panel and lumbar pad make it great for hot conditions.

REI Co-op Trail 40

A streamlined, affordable option, the REI Trail 40 pack is a simple yet functional top-loading backpack for shorter trips up to 5 days. Has basic tie-down straps and pockets without going overboard. Can’t beat the price point.

Kelty Redwing 50 Reserve

Known for its affordable, reliable packs, the Kelty Redwing 50 hits a nice balance of size, features and durability. A sleek summit-bag design with pockets for organization and hydration compatibility. Great for new backpackers.

Osprey Aether AG 70

On the larger end of the spectrum, this high-capacity 70L Osprey pack offers incredible support and stabilization courtesy of an anti-gravity suspension system. Highly adjustable for dialing in the perfect fit. Built to handle heavy loads.

Thule Versant 60

A lightweight yet feature-packed 60L backpack, the Versant offers easy access via the side zippered panel and hideaway hip belt and harness. Made from waterproof tarpaulin fabric to protect your gear. Removable lid converts the bag from 60L to 50L.

Granite Gear Crown2 60

Weighing under 3 lbs, the ultralight Crown2 60L is a great pack for ounce-counting trekkers and thru-hikers. The redesigned RE-FIT hip belt allows easy adjustment and custom fit. Overall a streamlined, minimal yet rugged pack built for big miles.

Tips for Getting a Proper Backpack Fit

Since comfort is key, taking the time to get fitted properly for your travel backpack is worth the effort. Here are some tips to dial in the ideal fit:

  • Try It On In-Store: Always test packs out in person with weight inside before buying. Walk around and climb stairs to judge comfort.
  • Load It Up: Add 10-15 lbs of weight when trying on a backpack to test how it carries while loaded down.
  • Adjust the Torso: Use the slider or Velcro to get the torso length right so the hip belt sits properly on your hip bones.
  • Cinch Down Hip Belt: Tighten the hip belt so that it hugs your hips snugly. This transfers weight from shoulders to hips.
  • Tweak Shoulder Straps: Adjust shoulder straps so they contour to your shoulders without gaping or pinching. Use load lifters as needed.
  • Check Overall Balance: Make sure the pack sits upright without pulling you backwards. Proper weight distribution is key.

An expert at a reputable gear shop can help get you set up with the right adjustments. A dialed-in fit makes all the difference for comfort on the trail.

Choosing the Best Travel Backpack for Your Adventures

With so many excellent travel backpack options out there today, it can be a bit overwhelming to pick out the perfect one your needs. By taking into account your intended destinations, length of trip, packing requirements, body type and preferences, you can narrow down your choices considerably.

Think through where you’ll be traveling, how much you need to carry, and what features will make your time on the road most enjoyable. Test out several top contenders loaded up to make sure the fit and carrying comfort is just right.

Investing in a thoughtfully designed, customizable backpack that’s sized right and fits your body will help ensure that your bag feels more like a trusted companion than a cumbersome burden on your adventures. I hope these tips have helped shed some light on what to look for in your ideal travel backpack. Let me know if any other questions come up as you start your search! Happy travels!