With other bags getting hyped, it's easy to forget that backpacks are the most versatile travel bag type.
With other bags getting hyped, it's easy to forget that backpacks are the most versatile travel bag type. (Photo: Iswanto Arif/Unsplash)

The Backpack: The Unsung Hero of Travel

Hopefully after reading this, you'll never buy luggage without two shoulder straps again

With other bags getting hyped, it's easy to forget that backpacks are the most versatile travel bag type.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

As a pack tester for Outside, I’ve come to throw away all my luggage that doesn’t have two shoulder straps. Backpacks make everything easier, leaving your hands free for boarding passes and a coffee, and they never bog down in gravel or mud. Here, I’ve picked a few of my new favorites.

Deuter Traveller 70+10 ($289)

(Courtesy Deuter)

Best For: Big trips and long hauls

The Traveller is a backcountry pack with some airport-friendly tweaks. For long walks, it has the same plush suspension and padding that makes Deuter’s designs so comfortable. Storage is split between a bottom compartment and a main pocket (like a hiking pack) and a ten-liter detachable daypack that’s just enough for carry-on essentials. When you don’t need them, the shoulder straps and hipbelt stow neatly away to play nice with conveyor belts and other passengers’ gear.


Cotopaxi Allpa 35L ($200)

(Courtesy Cotopaxi)

Best For: Staying organized

What sets the Allpa apart from most daypacks is the 270-degree zipper running around the pack’s exterior. It opens the bag like a clamshell, exposing three mesh pockets on one side and a single larger pocket on the other. It’s easy to organize your gear and, even more important, see and access everything. There’s also a separate valuables pocket and laptop sleeve. Cotopaxi even includes accessories like a water bottle sleeve, exterior mesh pocket, shoe bag, and rain cover.


Patagonia Blackhole MLC ($200)

(Courtesy Patagonia)

Best For: Avoiding checked bags

The soft-side, 45-liter MLC—an acronym for “maximum limit carry-on”—maxes out the average airline carry-on dimensions with nothing but usable space. While the wheels, handles, and hard sides of roller bags steal overhead bin space that you could use for bringing back more stuff from the duty-free, this soft-side bag is fine to overstuff. The water-resistant fabric looks like an oversized messenger bag, complete with vertical access pockets, shoulder strap, and handle. Of course, it also has backpack straps that hide inside a dedicated pocket.


Pacsafe Vibe 40 ($140)

(Courtesy Pacsafe)

Best For: Stowing your camera

Like most of Pacsafe’s products, this boxy, urban-style pack is full of anti-theft features. The zippers lock and are puncture-proof. The exterior fabric and shoulder straps are slash-resistant. RFID-blocking material lines exterior pockets to prevent identity theft, and the minimalist aesthetic deflects attention. You could use the 40 liters of storage for a weekend trip or drop in a Pacsafe Camsafe Camera Insert and turn it into a camera fortress. Lenses, flash, body, and more fit in the padded case, and the inserts nest perfectly.


Timbuk2 Blink Pack ($119)


Best For: Daily grinds

With a sleek and minimalist design, the Blink Pack won’t draw attention like a rucksack or stand out in a more professional business setting. It’s got everything a messenger bag or briefcase has, but without the one-sided tug. Stuff a few project’s worth of paperwork into the surprisingly large main storage or slide a 15-inch laptop in the padded pocket. The stretchy side sleeve can fit a water bottle or umbrella.


Lead Photo: Iswanto Arif/Unsplash

When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small commission. We do not accept money for editorial gear reviews. Read more about our policy.