22 best travel backpacks for essential belongings

As the world slowly reopens and some feel comfortable booking travel again, it’s time to take stock of your travel gear. While luggage and packing cubes are certainly important, we’re laser-focused on the backpack right now — the elusive bag that is big enough to fit everything you might need while flying but also diminutive enough to comply with the standard size allowance of 22 inches long, 14 inches wide and 9 inches high (including wheels and handles). It’s one of our favorite pieces of carry-on luggage out there, allowing for one-bag travel.

Not only do backpacks allow you to be hands-free as you make your way through airport security and the duty-free shops, but they’re also a bastion of organization, with laptop compartments, battery charging ports and interior and exterior pockets galore, ensuring you’re utterly prepared for the journey ahead. To maximize the backpack’s space, you’ll want to pay attention to its true volume — also known as the amount of usable space within the bag — which is measured in liters. Most travel-appropriate backpacks range from 17 liters (a smaller, slimmer bag) to 45, which is the max we’d recommend for a carry-on.

Whether your travel backpack is carrying a Kindle, laptop, snacks and an airplane blanket or if you’re using it as a true carry-on, packing it like a suitcase with your trip’s wardrobe and necessities, the key is finding the right one for you. In addition to size, you’ll also want to be on the lookout for one that’s lightweight, that’s comfortable to wear and that includes clutch design details like suitcase handle sleeves, cord corrals, locked zippers, key clips and durable materials (or, sometimes, cute materials). It’s also good to know whether the pack is top-loading or panel-loading (otherwise known as “clamshell”).

To get you on your way, we’ve rounded up 22 of our favorite travel backpacks below, ranging from rough-and-tumble, all-terrain options that can go from the airport to the camping trip, to utterly fashionable picks for those heading to date night upon reaching their destination.

Probably the most comfortable backpack on our list, the Dagne Dover Dakota is swathed in a downy neoprene fabric that is not only easy on the eyes but also totally cozy on your back. Available in three sizes, the bag’s medium and large formats are most appropriate for travel, as they contain luggage sleeves and can hold 13- and 16-inch laptops, respectively. Both also come with a shoe bag, a detachable zip-topped pouch and a wild amount of pockets and pouches for stashing everything from your lip balm and cell phone to your keys and headphones.

With more than 1,700 positive reviews and a 4.8-star rating on the Dagne Dover site, the Dakota is a bestseller for the brand. The hardest part is choosing which of the six colors you love the most. (We’re partial to this season’s emerald-hued evergreen!)

Small but mighty is how we like to describe this petite backpack from luggage brand Away. Made with water-resistant nylon, the bag has a clamshell opening that we’re obsessed with, a design feature that makes it super easy to find your glasses, AirPods or any other accessory while crouched over mid-flight.

Boasting three zipped pockets — in addition to a zipped, padded 15-inch laptop compartment with a magnetic lock — the backpack also has padded straps, a top leather handle and a trolley sleeve to comfortably rest on your luggage. Want to personalize it? For $35, you can.

Ladies who love their bags will certainly recognize this brand, originally famous for its quilted texture across dozens of styles — backpacks included. This option is a favorite of ours because not only is it extremely lightweight, clocking in at less than 2 pounds, but it’s also got a handy luggage sleeve and top handle in addition to six interior pockets, a phone pocket, a key ring and a cute detachable pouch. Oh, and despite its petite size, it can fit a 13-inch laptop too. Did we mention you can easily wipe down the nylon exterior?

With nearly 20,000 positive reviews and a 4.7-star rating, Amazon’s top pick for laptop backpacks is perfect for travel too. Boasting a luggage strap, a top handle, an external USB port and loads of pockets, the backpack can host up to a 15-inch laptop and comes with a lock that can be attached to the zippers, fully securing all your stuff. Available in six colors, the bag’s back and strap undersides are lined with a breathable mesh that will keep you cool, even when you’re racing to your gate.

When minimalism meets accessories, the Carry All from luggage brand July is the result. But don’t let all those clean lines fool you — this 20-liter backpack can fit a lot of stuff. In addition to accommodating a 16-inch laptop, which is stored in a separate, zipped and padded compartment, the Carry All’s main section has another zipped divider, perfect for storing shoes or clothes away from your main travel necessities, which all have a home of their own, thanks to internal pockets and dividers. We love the sturdy leather top handle, the comfortable quilted back panel and the secret top pocket with magnetic closure that is a perfect, easy-to-access but also safe spot for your passport.

Personalization costs $50, and the brand offers a five-year warranty.

Amazon knows a thing or two about a thing or two, which is why we’re not surprised that the brand features a beloved utilitarian carry-on travel backpack under its Amazon Basics umbrella that fits all your needs. Comprising top and side handles, it also has waist and sternum straps. Plus, its padded straps can tuck into the back pocket, converting to a briefcase. Boasting three compartments for storing all your belongings, the bag’s main section has a clamshell opening for suitcase-style packing as well as zippers that can expand your storage area.

With more than 6,000 reviews, a 4.5-star rating and a $55 price tag, this is a bag worth considering.

Actress Shay Mitchell launched the luggage brand Beis with the goal of making affordable, fashion-forward travel accessories — and she surely succeeded with the cult-favorite Backpack. Boasting more than 1,400 positive reviews from Beis shoppers, the clamshell-style bag’s front panel has three zipped compartments, while the interior features elastic compression straps that allow for packing bulkier items like clothing and shoes. The rest of your small accessories — pens, phone and gum, for example — can be stored in the backpack’s front pocket, and the laptop heads to a separate padded sleeve in the rear. In addition to a luggage sleeve, two water bottle pockets also flank the bag’s exterior. Oh, and it comes in all-black or a pretty two-tone cream hue.

Up to the task for your biggest outdoors adventures, this backpack from Swedish adventure brand Thule is equally prepared to head straight to the boardroom, thanks to its convertible nature that allows it to transition from backpack to briefcase in a snap. Hyperorganized, the ultra-durable backpack also has lots of fun selling points like a crush-resistant pocket for sunglasses and your phone, two hidden side pockets for your passport and money and lots more stash spots for your keys, cords and everything else. Even your water bottle can be tucked away in a side zipper pocket.

Our favorite detail, however, was that one reviewer raved that despite having the backpack fly off Disney World’s Space Mountain ride, it was found the next day without a scratch and with everything inside intact. Want to spend a bit less? Check out the brand’s equally spacious Subterra Backpack that features fewer pockets and will save you a hundred bucks at checkout.

Rugged and luxe all at once, this backpack from STM Goods can seamlessly take you from the airport to your next adventure in a snap. Swathed in a 360-degree “foam fortress,” the 30-liter backpack can accommodate a 17-inch laptop in an ultra-protected section that is separated from the main compartment in order to keep your most prized tech possession up and away from the impact zone. But what’s truly genius about the bag is the main section’s customizable shelving options that can easily accommodate a weekend’s wardrobe — or can be removed via Velcro and zippers. We’re also obsessed with the fold-open flaps that are loaded with pockets, and the detachable pouch that is about to be your new go-to Dopp kit.

Cool and refined, this hip backpack checks off all the boxes. Luggage sleeve? Check. Separate laptop compartment? Check. Myriad extra pockets? Check. And all those design details are ensconced in a simple silhouette that comes in four fabrics and colors — ranging from a water-resistant navy to a coated canvas black — making it the perfect backpack for the businessman heading out for a quick work trip.

A critically hailed favorite, this Cotopaxi Allpa backpack is loaded with bells and whistles that are bound to impress. First of all, the 35-liter bag can be packed like a traditional suitcase with zippered mesh compartments but strapped on like a traditional backpack. Second, it’s got a padded laptop sleeve. And beyond that, it’s got a bunch of other great design details like four grab handles, a sternum strap and a removable hip belt, not to mention a slew of carabiner loops.

Mamas need travel backpacks too! And what we love most about this diaper pack option from Dagne Dover is that it works for parents and nonparents alike. Comprised of the aforementioned super-cozy neoprene material, the Indi has an extra-wide top-panel opening, can be attached to your stroller, thanks to handy built-in clips and included straps or slid onto your suitcase, thanks to a handy luggage strap. It also comes with a changing pad, a shoe bag and a matching neoprene zipped pouch. Inside, the 17-liter backpack can hold a 15-inch laptop and includes multiple pockets for corralling everything from a baby’s bottle to your phone and a stash of clean pacifiers.

Let us count the ways we love this lacquered backpack. Enveloped in MZ Wallace’s signature quilted texture, the Metro Backpack Deluxe dropped the shiny, airport-friendly fabric this month, and we think it’s one of the sexiest travel backpacks out there. Beyond looks, however, it’s highly functional for travel too, with a magnetic luggage sleeve that can be used for storage when not attached to a suitcase, three exterior pockets, six interior pockets and a 15-inch laptop compartment to boot. If the airport security line is your runway, this is the backpack for you.

Need proof that travel backpacks can be dainty? Look no further than this sweet and chic leather option from Cuyana that can be carried as a tote or a backpack and can fit a 13-inch laptop. Available in black, caramel, stone or black crocodile (for an extra $100), the Italian-made bag features two roomy front pockets and two interior pockets (one zippered, one not). Our favorite design detail, however, is the uber-feminine adjustable straps.

Lo & Sons Rowledge ($279, originally $465; loandsons.com)

Part tote, part backpack, the Lo & Sons nylon Rowledge is the perfect option for any woman racing from the office to the airport, as the straps tuck into the back pocket to give you a convertible bag. Available in seven color combinations, the water-resistant backpack comprises an easy-access 13-inch laptop compartment on the back exterior and a collection of cleverly arranged pockets and holders on the interior for everything from pens and snacks to earbuds, phones and more. We love that the bag’s hardware and interior jacquard print lining are customizable. Trust us, this looks like a designer bag on the outside, but it’s a workhorse on the inside.

Have you ever seen a prettier laptop backpack? We think not. Made from faux leather, the Kaya can accommodate a 15-inch laptop in its back compartment, while the front area is ready to host your book, snack or that extra pair of socks. We love the braided border detail, the dainty zipper pulls and the extra-wide luggage sleeve that will keep your bag ultra secure when racing through the airport.

Meet Amazon’s No. 1 bestseller in laptop backpacks. With more than 52,000 reviews, the bag is divided into three compartments, and in addition to being able to accommodate a 15-inch laptop, it’s got loads of key design details you’ll want. Think of a top handle, hanging clasps, a USB port and adjustable straps, not to mention a ton of pockets for storing all your things. Boasting a 4.8-star rating, the backpack’s highlight is a padded mesh backing that will keep you as cool as can be, no matter how many times your flight is delayed. Did we mention it’s less than $30 right now? Done and done.

Italic is one of the fastest-growing online companies for a reason. The brand offers a vast array of products that have one thing in common: All are produced in the same factories as luxury competitors (Prada, Miu Miu and All Clad, among others), albeit for 50% to 80% less. The producer of the Rafa travel backpack’s past clients include Away, Boss and ISM. Sleek and simple, the nylon-and-leather backpack can accommodate a 15-inch laptop in a separate back compartment and includes a sturdy leather top handle, a luggage sleeve and a few well-placed pockets.

Parisian luggage brand Delsey has multiple laptop backpack options, our favorite of which is the Maubert 2.0. Priced affordably, the 17-liter bag is eco-friendly, with fabric and lining made from recycled water bottles and vegan leather. Beyond that, the top-panel backpack is hyperorganized, with the main compartment divided to hold a 15.6-inch laptop in a padded sleeve, and all your other things (phone, pens, books and snacks) in the adjacent section. And fear not, the bag includes zippered pockets galore as well as two mesh side pockets for bringing a water bottle with you to fill up after security. Want a bigger option? Check out the Chatelet Air Soft Backpack, which is 10 liters larger.

No surprise here: Herschel knows its way around a backpack! For travel, the Tech Backpack is tops, offering three main compartments, each outfitted with a variety of mesh and zippered pockets that will deliver your most organized journey ever. Accommodating a 16-inch laptop in a padded and fleece-lined compartment, the 30-liter backpack has a mesh luggage sleeve and other perks like a key clip and hidden passport pocket.

Rockland Double Handle Rolling Backpack ($80; amazon.com)

More than 10,000 Amazon reviewers agree that this rolling backpack is worth the purchase. Featuring a telescoping and fabric handle, two back inline wheels and two zippered front pockets, the backpack’s main selling point is a big clamshell main compartment that you can pack suitcase-style. The bag also features backpack straps and can fit under most airline seats.

A fancy rolling backpack if we’ve ever seen one, this Matein is packed with selling points. In addition to having a fully water-resistant bottom panel, the bag has a two-height telescoping handle and lockable zippers, the top-panel backpack has three compartments, including a clothing section that can open 180 degrees and has an elasticized belt for easy packing. A separate padded pocket can hold a 15.6-inch laptop too.

Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2022.

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