Backpacking is a great way to explore a new destination. If you’ve read our content regularly you’ll know I love traveling in Europe, and I especially enjoy the freedom of trekking across the continent with my whole life in a backpack.
A backpack works better than a suitcase when I travel from city to city, especially if I take the train with an abundance of stairs (looking at you, Hampstead Station). Many of the smaller European cities or older ones, such as Bruges, lack the infrastructure for rolling suitcases. Choosing the best travel backpack for Europe, however, is both an art and a science.
And for those of you who don’t care about the art or science of it and want to cut to the chase, this next section is for you:
Our Top Three Travel Backpacks for Europe
All the backpacks on this list are excellent choices; however, if you want to be a little more exclusive, these are our absolute favorites.
The Best Travel Backpacks for Europe
Here are 10 of the best travel backpacks for Europe based on our identified criteria. We’ve chosen a decent spread of brilliant backpacks, so you should be able to find one that suits your preference and price range.
I’m going to open this list with a confession; we’re pretty keen on Osprey bags at ViaTravelers. I’ve owned a couple of Osprey bags over the years, and they’re among the best backpacks I have ever owned. There are a few Osprey bags on this list based on our personal experiences alone.
The Osprey Porter 46L is a prime example of a top-tier travel backpack. It can be packed lightly to fit under the seat or in an overhead compartment or expanded to gain extra space if you’re willing to check it. And it has a laptop compartment that can carry a 16-inch laptop.
Like most Osprey products, it is made of quality materials. It is bluesign-approved and made of recycled heavy-duty materials. It has a stowaway harness and a hip belt so that you can carry it or stow it away.
Its straps compress the inside to maximize space, improve ergonomics and provide extra padding. It also has mesh and line pockets to help you organize your stuff. Four loops on the front allow you to attach a smaller daypack.
The pack weighs 3.7 pounds empty and, as the name suggests, has a capacity of 46 liters. Most bags made by Osprey tend to be moderately priced, but you get a lot of bang for your buck with this one.
- Sustainably made
- A versatile backpack that can be a carry-on or checked
- Has a hip-belt
- Pockets for organization
- Loops for attaching a smaller daypack
- Not a good choice for extensive hiking
- Minimal padding on shoulder straps and hip belt
- Zippers can get caught
The 40L version is lightweight and streamlined and meets carry-on requirements for most airlines. It has an adjustable torso fit and sternum strap, and padded top and side handles.
Its 4mm lightweight frame transfers the load from the harness to the hip belt. It also has a zipped laptop compartment that can accommodate up to a 16-inch laptop and an easy-to-access zip toiletry pocket.
Two compression straps secure the contents, and loops allow for the attachment of external gear. It has four exterior pockets.
The Fairview weighs 3 pounds and 7 ounces, and the Farpoint weighs 3 pounds and 8 ounces, and maybe just a smidgen more on the spendy side based on the price vs capacity scale. If you can find one for less than $200, it’s a good deal.
- Reliable, durable bag
- Comfortable harness system
- Meets carry-on requirements
- Easy access toiletry pocket
- The design is less sleek than some options
- Items can fall out of the stash pocket
- Difficult to access the top packet when the backpack is full
See Related: Best Packing Cubes for Travel
These larger backpacks carry 50 or 60 liters and will need to be checked on most airlines. Both styles weigh a little more than four pounds and they’re also a bit more expensive than the other Osprey bags on this list.
These are some of the most comfortable packs on the list. Both have adjustable shoulder harnesses, straps, hip belts, and dural upper and lower compression straps.
They have an internal hydration sleeve with an exit port and two tall mesh side pockets for water bottles. Plus they feature an excellent anti-gravity suspension system and a removable internal sleeping bag divider.
To top it off, the fabric of these practical packs is 100 percent recycled and has a water-repellent finish. They also feature a rain cover made with bluesign-approved materials.
- Works well for an extended backpacking trip while still providing some travel backpack features
- Excellent suspension system
- Good adjustability
- Not carry on compliant
- The bag’s weight is prohibitive for some people
- A bit more expensive than most
4. Peak Design Travel Backpack
This high-quality, rugged pack with top, side, front, and rear access weighs about 4.5 pounds. It collapses to a 30 liter backpack if necessary to meet international carry-on requirements or you can expand it to the full 45 L.
It also has quick-access pockets for items such as glasses, keys, or passports and side pockets for water bottles. It also has a padded laptop sleeve and works well with Peak Design packing cubes.
The main area has a zippered mesh sleeve that can divide into two compartments. The weatherproof recycled shell is Fair Trade Certified and carbon neutral.
Shoulder straps and a hip belt tuck away. It also has a luggage pass-through that allows you to hook it to a rolling bag.
This durable backpack is a bit pricey, but it’s tough as nails and has a lifetime warranty. It has held up great so far in my travels across Europe and even in the harsh terrain and weather of Costa Rica.
- Good organizational system
- High-quality and durable materials
- Size flexibility from 30 to 45 L
- Professional appearance
- High price
- Heavier than many other backpacks
5. Nomatic Travel Backpack 40L
The Nomatic Travel Backpack 40L allows you to switch between a duffel bag and a backpack. It also has a TSA-ready laptop sleeve that allows you to leave your laptop in the bag while passing through security. It meets the carry-on requirements for most airlines and is built to last through many journeys.
The pack has various innovative features designed to help you work remotely or stay organized, such as a dedicated waterproof water bottle pocket, passport pocket, and phone pocket with a cord pass-through. The main compartment opens wide for easy access and packing. It has a separate shoe compartment.
The backpack also has anti-theft zippers and weighs about four pounds. Overall, it’s a solid bag that’ll survive the rigors of any backpacking trip, but it’s quite expensive for a 40-liter bag.
- Flexibility to shift from backpack to duffel bag
- Excellent for those who work remotely while traveling
- TSA-ready laptop sleeve
- Excellent organization system
- The features take up a lot of the packing space
- Higher price
6. PacSafe Venturesafe Backpack
The PacSafe Venturesafe backpack is an excellent anti-theft backpack and is particularly suited for those who will be staying in hostels. It has securable zippers that you can lock with a padlock, and the fabric is cut-resistant, with recycled fishnets making up its external fabric.
It has two lockable main compartments; one that opens up suitcase-style and another with easy access. Its padded laptop sleeve will handle a 15-inch laptop or notebook.
It also has interior zippered pockets and two side pockets. It also has three attachment points for a sleeping bag, yoga mat, or jacket, which I’m a big fan of.
Best of all it’s really designed with walking in mind. It’s fairly light at 3.8 pounds and the adjustable padded shoulder straps allow for better weight distribution. A hip belt and sternum strap also are adjustable and can be tucked away if you need to check the bag.
- Anti-theft features, including lockable zippers and cut-resistant fabric
- High quality
- Versatile, allowing for attachments
- If you lock the zippers and lose your key, you won’t be able to access your stuff
7. eBags TLS Mother Lode Travel Backpack
The TLS Mother Lode is a solid option at a reasonable price and not just for the undeniably (and frankly unnecessarily) awesome name. For a 54-liter backpack, it’s an absolute steal.
It has a front compartment with interior pockets and a large main compartment with compression straps. It also has a removable, adjustable sternum strap, two quick-grab zip pockets, and a zip water bottle pocket. It also has a laptop compartment that can handle laptops up to 19 inches. You can customize the interior to match your own packing style.
Weighing about 4 pounds, the TLS Mother Lode is spacious yet carry-on compliant on most airlines. Mother Lode also offers a similar option in a rolling travel backpack.
- Affordability – a great price-to-capacity ratio
- Organization options to fit all packing styles
- Option for a similar pack in a rolling backpack style
- Pushing towards the heavier end of the scale
- Some reviewers say the straps are poorly designed
8. Topo Designs Travel Backpack 30L or 40L
The Topo Designs Travel Backpack comes in two sizes: 30L or 40L. Both are carry-on backpacks with versatility; they can be carried as a backpack, over the shoulder, or with grab handles. The packs are organized for one-bag travel and they have a pass-through panel to secure them to a rolling luggage handle too.
This backpack loads from the front and has sternum straps and a hip belt and the zippers are particularly sturdy. It also has an exterior laptop sleeve and internal mesh pockets. Plus, it’s made with recycled nylons, so it has a low carbon footprint too!
The suspension system is adequate for leisure or business travel but inadequate for an extended backpacking trip. If I have any real complaints about this bag, it’s that it doesn’t have a pouch for a water bottle, and honestly, the 30L is a bit small for the price. See if you can get it on sale.
- Multiple options for carrying it
- Low carbon footprint
- Sturdy zippers
- No water bottle pocket
- Reviews about its stylishness are mixed
- A bit small for the price
See Related: Best Warm Winter Backpacking Destinations
9. REI Co-op Ruckpack
REI is one of the best dealers and manufacturers of hardy outdoor gear and luggage. The recycled REI Co-op Ruckpack comes in men’s and women’s styles and has some features of a hiking backpack even though it is a quintessential travel backpack.
The men’s and women’s styles have similar features but are made to fit different body shapes for maximum carrying comfort. The men’s style comes in either a 28L or a 60L, which makes it a little hard. to find a carry-on version unless you’re good at packing light.
The women’s harness straps curve differently around the chest, and the hip belt strap is longer to accommodate hips up to 48 inches wide. The women’s version does still come in a 40L, which is the perfect size for one bag travel.
Both styles are made with bluesign approved, ripstop nylon with a water-repellent finish and a stowable rain cover. They have lightly padded should straps and a sternum strap that provides stability.
Load-lifters also add stability. The packs unzip fully for easy packing and unpacking and have an easy-access side panel. A laptop sleeve accommodates a 15-inch laptop.
The bag also has side and top handles for easy grab-and-go and attachments for trekking poles. The zippers are lockable, which is another huge bonus for travel.
I know I harped on about Osprey bags at the beginning of this piece, but having recently acquired one of these and carted it around the Amalfi Coast, this might be one of the best travel backpacks on the market right now. It’s a well-made, optimally-sized bag at a heck great price.
- Great for trips that include some extended hiking and backpacking
- Good suspension system
- REI quality and guarantee
- Excellent value
- Lockable zippers
- Some reviewers say the side pockets are stiff
10. Cotopaxi Allpa 35 L Travel Pack – Del Dia
The Cotopaxi Allpa 35L is a colorful backpack made of repurposed fabrics. If looks could kill!
The best thing about these is that each backpack is literally one of a kind – no two bags share the same colors or patterns! It meets carry-on bag requirements for most airlines while still providing considerable space.
Its suitcase-style opening makes packing and unpacking easier. Its interior is organized with one large zippered mesh compartment and subdivided into smaller compartments. It also has two zippered pockets on top.
Although it is a travel backpack, it has an excellent suspension system, a padded hip belt, and an adjustable sternum strap. It has a small compartment on top for passports and other small essentials and a laptop sleeve that you can access externally to make security checkpoints easier.
It also has grab handles and theftproof webbing on all external zippers. It weighs 3 pounds, 5 ounces and they’re pretty good value for money.
- Good organizational system
- Excellent suspension system
- Colorful and unique!
- You can’t choose your colors
Why Choose A Travel Backpack?
Oh, so you are interested in the art and science of it all, eh? Well then:
A travel backpack is a little different than a traditional hiking backpack because it has features specifically designed to help you travel easily. Good travel backpacks combine the portability of a backpack with the organization you need for travel, and the best ones are designed by people who travel frequently.
They don’t typically have a metal frame like some of the hardcore hiking and mountaineering setups, and they tend to have a larger interior space than hiking backpacks. You’ll also have to search harder to find a travel backpack with sternum support straps or a hip belt.
Nonetheless, some of the best travel backpacks do have straps and a hip belt. Anything to distribute the weight of your pack evenly across your back will make it easier and more comfortable to carry for longer.
Is a Travel Backpack Suitable for Me?
Although some backpacks can attach to roller handles, travel backpacks work best for those who can pack light. Here are some tips I’ve gained from experience about packing light.
- Pack lightweight underwear that dries quickly.
- Wear your heaviest clothing, such as jeans, on the plane.
- Consider clothing with odor-control treatment so you can wear it more often in warm climates.
- Use packing cubes to organize items. If you tend to overpack, buy compression packing cubes.
- Bring layers rather than a heavy coat.
- Light, weather-resistant jackets are your new best friend.
- Lay everything you plan to bring out, then consider what you can do without.
- Pack your bag only two-thirds full to leave room for souvenirs.
- Pack frequently used items, like passports, sunscreen, daily medication, and water last. This way, they’ll be closer to the top of your pack and easier to reach quickly.
- Pack your bag a day early and then walk with it around your town. If you can’t carry your backpack around comfortably for that hour, you’ve packed too much.
What Makes a Travel Backpack Suitable for Europe?
Multiple factors are critical in choosing a backpack for Europe. Let’s take a peek:
A main advantage of a backpack is being able to carry it on flights. In Europe, the maximum carry-on size is about 40 liters. Carrying the pack on the flight is crucial to my peace of mind, so I try to keep my travel backpack to under 35 liters, just to be safe.
Another way to look at size is through measurements. Generally, the travel backpack should be no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches to ensure it makes the cut on carry-on luggage.
Yet, just having the right size backpack doesn’t guarantee you can carry it on the plane. The pack will also have to meet weight requirements.
Aim for about 20 to 25 pounds. For many of us, that’s all we can comfortably carry anyhow.
To fit everything in a travel backpack, you’ll have to travel light. Remember that airlines can be finicky, so be prepared to pay even if you’ve taken the same pack on the same airlines before. As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Top Loading or Front Loading?
Travel backpacks offer a choice of top loading or front loading, both of which Europeans use. Each has advantages and disadvantages. A top-loading backpack tends to be lighter.
It also has no zippers in the main compartment, so you can overstuff it without worrying about breaking a zipper. Top-loading packs also tend to be slimmer and fit better. Because top-loading backpacks were originally designed for serious backpacking, they tend to have more advanced support.
The disadvantage of a top-loading backpack is that you’ll have to take everything out to access your stuff unless you are very specific about how you pack. They also have straps that can get caught in airport conveyor belts should you have to check the bag.
Because they close with a drawstring, thieves can access the contents more easily. Also, they generally aren’t built for carrying a laptop.
A front-loading backpack works better if you’re taking your laptop with you. They are easy to organize and provide easy access to your stuff. The disadvantages are that you have to worry that overstuffing will break the zipper; they tend to be less waterproof than top loaders and may be less comfortable or fit less well.
Wheeled or Not?
Another decision is whether to go with a wheeled backpack. Again, consider the advantages and disadvantages and your personal preference.
Wheeled backpacks work well for those who have difficulty carrying the weight on their shoulders all the time. They give you the option of carrying the back on your shoulder or rolling it. The downside is that they tend to weigh a lot more than standard travel backpacks.
Some also have a fixed back system, which means you can’t adjust them to be comfortable for your height. Because of their lack of adjustability and extra weight, they are poor choices if you plan to do much hiking with your pack.
See Related: The Complete Backpacking Checklist for Travelers
What is the ideal size of a travel backpack for Europe?
If you’re seeking a carry-on backpack, you should keep it under 40 liters to ensure it will work on all airlines. To ensure it will fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment, it also should measure less than 22 x 14 x 9 inches.
If you are willing to check your backpack, you can carry a larger backpack. If you plan to do extended hiking, you probably will seek a 50L or 60L pack.
Are there gender-specific travel backpacks for Europe trips?
Yes, a few of our best backpacks for Europe have separate styles for women and men. It’s not virtue signaling, either.
The styles will generally have the same features but are designed for differences in body shape. Carrying the wrong kind of backpack for a prolonged period can wreck your back, shoulders, neck, arms, hips, and even your knees!
Should I opt for a wheeled backpack or a regular backpack for my trip to Europe?
Both wheeled backpacks and regular backpacks have advantages and disadvantages. If you anticipate that you’ll have trouble carrying your backpack, then opting for wheels may be sensible.
That said, some of the smaller and older European cities lack the infrastructure to accommodate wheeled backpacks. One option may be to choose a regular backpack that can attach to a rolling bag handle. Ultimately, only you can decide which option will be the perfect backpack for you.