- Buyer's Guide
The Best Backpacks for One-Bag Travel
Travel varies for all of us. Some of us dart back and forth across the globe in short bursts for business. Others seek out adventure and travel far and wide for months or even years on end. Some of us do a little of both. But when churning over that one-bag travel backpack to be your companion, five key considerations always spring up.
The lighter a bag is, the less strain there is on your body. You won’t tire as quickly, you’ll be inclined to explore further, and you’ll enjoy the general traveling experience more. Not to mention shedding carry weight helps you avoid overweight baggage fees.
Something to bear in mind though is that lightweight materials can also be expensive, so you may have to pay more for a bag that cuts weight but stills offers reliable durability. While finding a lightweight bag will help you reduce carry weight, it’s also good practice to try and pack less if you can. Every little helps!
The more comfortable your bag is, the happier you’ll be. Traveling is tiring enough without adding an uncomfortable bag to the mix. However, the level of comfort you need will depend on your intended travel. If you’ll be on the go for a long time, have a lot to carry, or will be doing outdoor-type trips, a comfortable backpack with good suspension is important.
Try to look for a bag with a hip belt, great harness and load stabilizing shoulder straps to help with the load and transfer carry weight to your hips. Lighter loads and shorter travel distances however allow for more carry flexibility, and if you need to you can compromise on comfort a bit for other features that are more useful to your needs. It’s always good to try before you buy, so if possible go into a local store and try on different bags to see which ones feel right for you.
Packability and access
This is how easy you can get stuff in and take stuff out. You want to be able to access specific items without having to unpack a lot of your gear in the process. And it’s nice to be able to pack your gear into your pack quickly and smoothly when preparing to skip to new locales.
So consider how the bag opens (for example is it a top-loader, clamshell-style, etc.) and whether it’s right for you. Does it offer easy-access pockets for frequently used items? Do you require a lot of organization? Perhaps you need to keep business and personal items separate? Do you need compression options? These are all useful questions to consider when deciding whether a travel bag is suitable for your requirements.
Travel can be demanding. Your bag may encounter rough terrain or wet weather, but there’s also the strain of being wedged into tight spaces such as overhead luggage bins, or having to endure unforgiving baggage carousels. Plus general wear and tear. The more durable a bag is, the more punishment it will be able to withstand.
However, greater durability can sometimes come at the cost of greater weight, so you’ll need to decide whether durability or weight is a priority. Your travel activities will also dictate the level of durability you need, for instance short business travel trips (where your bag is unlikely to encounter a lot of demanding environments) versus multi-week outdoor adventures.
As with all of the considerations above, the degree of versatility you require in your carry will depend on its intended use. You may want to mix outdoor and urban travel, in which case your bag will need to be able to handle diverse environments. Perhaps you want the flexibility to carry a variety of loads, so a bag with expandability features could be a good fit. Organization and aesthetics are also important here. For example you may want a business bag that looks the part, keeps your work and personal items separate, and can be carried in a variety of ways for easy movement outside of work settings.
Now that you’ve got some key considerations in mind, here are a few of our top picks to suit a wide range of one-bag travel needs.
Osprey Porter 46 ($130)
Affordable and accessible
Osprey’s Porter 46 is suitable for carry-on use, and good value for money. At 2 lbs. 6.45 oz. (1.09 kg), it won’t weigh you down and swallows gear like a champ. A good mix of pockets keep items organized, including a padded laptop pocket. Its stowable backpack straps and hip belt help clean up the exterior if you want to carry it by the side handle or need to check it in for any reason. The StraightJacket compression with foam sidewalls is handy for cinching down the load and protecting your gear, and the main compartment’s panel zip access provides convenient packing and access. And this is Osprey, so you know the harness is super awesome.
Dimensions: 58cm (L) x 40cm (W) x 31cm (D)
The North Face Overhaul 40 ($159)
The versatile North Face Overhaul 40 can handle both outdoor day trips and urban environments. Coming in at 3 lbs. 3 oz. (1.45 kg), it’s comfy to wear and fitted with cushy straps, a padded harness and waist belt. And if you’re inclined to compartmentalize, it offers a healthy arsenal of pockets for organization, including a lay-flat laptop compartment for smooth transitions through checkpoints. At $159, it’s a solid option.
Dimensions: 21″ x 12″ x 7″
Mystery Ranch Scree ($179)
Outdoor meets urban exploration
Weighing 3.1 lbs (1.4 kg), the nimble Scree is a solid choice if you’re after a smaller multifunctional pack that can roam the outdoors, tag along for overnight travel trips, and serve as an about-town daypack. Mystery Ranch’s innovative 3-Zip design provides great access, and the tough construction ensures it can handle whatever you throw at it. The pack accommodates a hydration bladder as well as water bottles, has crosshatched webbing on the exterior to attach small extras, and includes quick-access pockets for stashing frequently used items. An added bonus is the adjustable yoke which provides a customized fit for superior carry comfort.
Dimensions: 26″ x 14.5″ x 11″ (66cm x 37cm x 28cm)
Patagonia Headway MLC ($189)
Great access with multiple carry options
The Patagonia Headway MLC provides great organization and flexible carry options for trips lasting 3 to 5 days. The main compartment opens clamshell-style for convenient packing and access. There are plenty of interior and exterior pockets for keeping gear neat and tidy and accessing frequently used items easily. The bag weighs 1,425 g (3 lbs 2 oz) and offers three different carry options including stowable backpack straps, a shoulder strap, and carry grab handles.
Dimensions: 22″ x 16″ x 9″
Arc’teryx Blade 28 ($199)
Short business trips
The Arc’teryx Blade 28 is a sleek choice (and Carry Award winner!) for overnight business trips, and can be carried as a backpack or briefcase-style using the side handle. The understated aesthetics suit urban settings, and the main compartment’s clamshell opening makes packing and getting to gear straightforward. The 1.46 kg (51 oz.) pack is good for storing business and travel essentials separately, with space for a 15″ laptop, clothing and work tools. The build? World class.
Dimensions: 21″ x 12″ x 7″
Tom Bihn Synapse 25 ($200)
EDC meets one-bag travel
The Synapse 25 is a comfortable and versatile backpack that works well as both an everyday carry pack and a carry-on backpack. The bag comes in a choice of fabric options including 400D Halcyon®/420D nylon ripstop weighing 1 lb 11 oz / 770 grams, as well as 1000D Cordura® weighing 1 lb 13 oz / 820 grams. Excellent organization means no shortage of pockets for stashing smaller items while retaining a sleek silhouette.
Dimensions: 20″ x 13.4″ x 9″ / 508 x 340 x 230 mm
Aer Travel Pack ($220)
Sleek urban style with efficient access
With its understated aesthetics and durable construction, the Aer Travel Pack looks stylish for work and holiday trips alike while being tough enough to withstand the demands of life on the go. The main compartment features a handy clamshell-style opening, while dedicated storage for a 15″ laptop, a ventilated shoe compartment, and accessible pockets for smaller items help make packing and retrieving gear easier. The pack weighs 3.9 lbs and can also be cinched down with side compression straps to form a compact daypack.
Dimensions: 21.5″ (55 cm) x 13.5″ (34 cm) x 8.5″ (22 cm)
Business functionality with carry flexibility
Urban-friendly aesthetics, good organization and a range of carry options make the 22L Gregory Covert Extended Mission a handy partner for overnight or two-day business trips. The bag weighs 1.2 kg and can be carried as a backpack, briefcase or shoulder bag, with multiple pockets and compartments for organizing business items and personal gear.
Dimensions: 28cm (H) x 42cm (L) x 15cm (D)
Osprey Farpoint 55 ($240)
Backpacking in search of adventure
The Farpoint 55 offers excellent versatility for outdoor adventures, round-the-world trips and multi-week city stays alike. The M/L size weighs in at 3 lbs. 14.4 oz. (1.77 kg), and is too large to serve as a carry-on (check out the smaller Farpoint 40 for that). However, the stowable suspension system allows for a sleek silhouette when checking the bag in. The Farpoint 55 offers a range of handy features including a detachable 13L daypack (which could be used as carry-on) that can also be attached to the main pack’s harness for keeping valuables and frequently used items within easy reach. The daypack is great for roaming with the essentials when it’s time for sightseeing or a day hike. There’s also panel zip access to the main bag for easy packing and access throughout.
Maximum dimensions (M/L): 65cm (L) x 32cm (W) x 32cm (D)
Tortuga Outbreaker 45 ($249)
A portable suitcase for round-the-world travel
While the Tortuga Outbreaker also comes in a 35L option ($224), the 45L still falls within maximum carry-on size and is a good choice for longer trips or when you need the option to carry more gear. It’s constructed with four-layer sailcloth to keep the elements at bay, and offers handy access with a clamshell-style opening for the main compartment and a lay-flat laptop compartment for getting through airport security quickly. It’s on the heavier side, coming in at 5.1 lbs (2.3 kg), but the good suspension system keeps you comfortable on the go. The shoulder straps can be moved up or down to accommodate different torso heights for a better fit, and there’s also a removable hip belt to transfer carry weight to your hips. Plus there’s no shortage of pockets for organization.
Dimensions: 22″ x 14″ x 9″
Pacsafe Venturesafe X40 PLUS ($250)
Safety on the move for security-conscious travellers
If you’re after a host of understated security features that protect your gear on the go without drawing unnecessary attention to your bag, this pack is king. With features such as eXomesh® slashguards, an RFIDsafe™ pocket, lockable zippers, and a hook to attach the pack to a secure fixture, you can enjoy peace of mind on the move. But the pack offers a range of other handy travel features too, such as an inbuilt rain cover, space for a 15″ laptop, and a removable divider in the main compartment to separate your gear. It’s fairly lightweight too at 3 lbs. 14.8 oz. (1.8 kg).
Dimensions: 55cm (H) x 30cm (W) x 22cm (D) / 21.7″ x 11.9″ x 8.7″
Arc’teryx Khamski 38 ($259)
Versatility for snow seekers and hikers
Not what you first think of when you think ‘travel backpack’, but the Khamski works super well for adventurous vagabonds who leg it from tarmac to mountain top. At 38L the Khamski is designed for overnight and day trips in the backcountry, with diagonal or A-frame carry for skis and vertical carry for snowboards (or anything else you can latch on). The pack weighs 1.56 kg (55 oz.), with a weather-resistant and durable construction and simple storage for mid and small-sized items. However, it lends itself to general outdoor exploration and hiking too, offering a top-loading design with a full-length side zip for convenient access to gear.
Dimensions: 8″ x 13″ x 27″
Red Oxx Sky Train ($275)
Tough as an ox for demanding use
Travel can be demanding on your carry, which is why the Red Oxx Sky Train is built to take a beating. Made by hand in the USA, the bag comes with a lifetime warranty and features durable 1000D Cordura construction. The Sky Train can be carried in a variety of ways such as using the grab handles, the removable shoulder strap or the stowable backpack straps. The bag weighs 4 lbs (1.81 kg) and provides two compartments that unzip flat for easy packing.
Dimensions: 20″L x 9″W x 13″H (50.8cm L x 22.7cm W x 33cm H)
Tactical chic for urban missions
With its discreet aesthetics, good organization, and multiple carry options the Meridian Transport Case can adapt to changing needs and environments with ease. The bag weighs 43.20 oz. (1.23 kg) and offers a functional design with a range of compartments and pockets to keep your gear tidy and quickly accessible. In addition, the bag can be carried as a backpack, shoulder bag or using the top grab handles, allowing you to alternate accordingly for shorter and longer travel distances and diverse load weights.
Dimensions: 18″ (45.72cm) W x 11″ (27.94cm) H x 6.5″ (16.51cm) D
Alchemy Equipment AEL008 ($320)
Perfect for the plane to your hotel
The AEL008 scores on both the style and performance fronts. This Carry Award winner‘s clean silhouette looks right at home in urban settings, while the versatile and durable design can be carried as a backpack, shoulder bag or duffel. The bag weighs 1.5 kg and is suitable for carry-on use, with a clamshell-style main compartment and internal compression straps. A range of pockets provide storage for your smaller items, and the laptop sleeve features a handy ejecting mechanism. This is a chic piece for transporting your gear from the airport to a hotel or resort. However, you’ll likely want to pair it with a smaller packable day bag for carrying the essentials at your destination.
Dimensions: 55cm x 35cm x 25cm
Mission Workshop Vandal ($325)
Expandability for urban adventures
The Vandal merges sleek urban style with great expandability, allowing it to shrink or grow with changing carry needs and handle diverse loads with ease. The pack weighs 4.4 lbs. (2 kg) and can expand from 1,800 cu.in. to 4,000 cu.in. (29L to 64L). It can be used in either a rolltop or flap-down configuration and fits up to a 17 inch laptop. Further features in this pack’s favor include a lifetime warranty and weatherproof construction.
Dimensions: 15″ x 21″ x 6″
GORUCK GR2 ($395)
A bombproof build for demanding use
If durability is a key priority, the GORUCK GR2 should definitely be on your radar. This former Carry Awards’ winner is built to take a beating, the pack is constructed from 1000D Cordura and tough enough to handle demanding use on a daily basis. Suitable for carry-on use, the GR2 opens flat for easy packing and offers multiple compartments, pockets, and internal and external MOLLE for organization. Two size options are available, 34L and 40L, weighing 4.35 lbs and 4.75 lbs respectively. This is one tough bit of kit.
Dimensions 34L: 12.5″ (W) x 20.5″ (H) x 9″ (D) / 40L: 12.5″ (W) x 22″ (H) x 9″ (D)
Tom Bihn The Hero’s Journey ($480)
A modular multitasker
The thoughtfully designed Hero’s Journey is actually two bags in one. The main bag suits maximum carry-on size and the smaller Top Pack qualifies as a personal carry-on item. At your destination they can be zipped together to form a 55L backpack. Alternatively the Top Pack can be used as a day bag at your destination, with the remainder of your gear stored in the main pack. The Hero’s Journey includes a removable hip belt, plus a removable shoulder strap for the Top Pack (which can also be carried as a waist pack or daypack). Carry options are also available with the main pack which can be carried as a backpack, duffel or shoulder bag (a shoulder strap is not included). The main bag weighs 3 lbs. 1 oz. (1.39 kg), while the Top Pack comes in at 1 lb (445 grams). It’s also worth considering that the price tag is pretty hefty, but you get a lot of bag for your buck. Tom Bihn make carry to last.
Dimensions Main Bag: 22″ x 14″ x 9″ / 55.5cm x 35.5cm x 23cm
Dimensions Top Pack (Pocket or Daypack Mode): 14″ x 9″ x 5.5″ / 35.5cm x 23cm x 14cm
Dimensions Top Pack (Shoulder Bag Mode): 14″ x 9″ x 7.5″ / 35.5cm x 23cm x 19cm
Outlier Ultrahigh Duffelpack ($750)
Ultralight urban luxury
If you’re keen to shed the carry weight while still maintaining some slick city style, the Ultrahigh Duffelpack is a fine choice. Constructed with Ultrahigh Dyneema Composite fabric, the bag comes with two Double Action straps and weighs a total of 1045 g with the straps (775 g without). Lightweight while still retaining strength and durability, the bag provides a versatile expandable design with a maximum 50L volume closed and 78L open. In addition to its expandability and rolltop compression, the bag can be carried as a backpack, duffel or unrolled shoulder bag (stylist mode). The wide opening also makes packing and access simple. An obvious flag, this is an expensive investment, top tier hardware and materials come at a price. 😉
Dimensions: 10″ (W) x 21″ (L) x 20″ (H)
SDR D3 Traveller Duffel ($985)
Discreet and off the grid
Need to fly under the radar? The D3 Traveller Duffel is a discreet and ultralight bag that will help you avoid drawing unwanted attention to yourself. The bag weighs 1.10 lbs. (500 g) and offers a great balance of strength, light weight and low-key design. Plus it’s easily packable for storage or carrying in another bag. The bag is constructed with two layers of weatherproof SDRT Grade Dyneema, with one of the layers suspended inside the other for support, protection, and to create a relaxed exterior even if the bag is fully packed. The downside? This is a couple of notes off a grand, so you better be sure you need this kind of delicious performance.
Dimensions: 21.5″ (L) x 10.5″ (W) x 10.5″ (H) (57cm x 27cm x 27cm)
*If you found this article valuable, you might also like:
*Feature image via Tom Bihn.