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When it comes to packing for a backpacking adventure, we see the same questions asked over and over…
- What’s the best type of luggage for longer trips?
- Will I need a suitcase, backpack or wheeled backpack?
- What’s the best backpack for travelling?
- How much stuff should I take with me?
And rather than give you just our thoughts on the matter, we decided to crowdsource the answers. We dived into our Facebook Community to ask the important questions and as per usual, hundreds of travellers answered the call.
Why the Backpack Rules – According to our Readers
“Backpack all the way! During my first solo trip to India, I felt that I was carrying my life (and karma) in a big trolley that doesn’t climb any stairs!” – Andreia Marques da Silva
“You can’t say you’re a backpacker if you haven’t got a backpack.” – Dave Draycott
“Stuff wheelie suitcases. My niece booked our flights to Bali & Nusa Lembongan with 20kg luggage included, so I decided I may as well take a large 4-wheeler suitcase. Never again! Getting off the fast boat at Nusa Lembongan was a nightmare!” – Lisa Whitten
“Wheels are great until you go to a country where it has stairs, stairs and more stairs. Always use a backpack. When loaded right it doesn’t hurt your back.” – Jen Cartmill
“Backpack. I’ve watched so many people trying to manoeuvre cumbersome wheeled luggage. So silly especially if you’re over-landing for multiple weeks/months.” – Mike Mockus
The overriding message was that a trusty backpack is almost always the best option. Suitcases are bulky and tempt you to overpack. They’re a chore to drag along busy streets or quiet beaches. They’re a pain in the ass to throw into a rickety boat and getting one onto the roof of a minibus is a mission in itself.
But those aren’t the only reasons the humble backpack came out on top. Our readers said they prefer backpacks because they’re much easier to use on stairs. Suitcases or rolling backpacks are great on flat surfaces but they suck when there’s a staircase involved.
They also open up a world of two-wheeled transport opportunities. Good luck trying to grab a motorcycle taxi from the bus station at 4 am with a bulky suitcase. A backpack means you can just hop on the back of a moped and be whisked off to your destination.
It’s also common for travellers to rent scooters or motorbikes while in Southeast Asia. Whether it’s a quiet day getting off the beaten track, or an epic motorbike adventure like the Thakhek Loop or Hai Van Pass, a backpack allows you to easily carry everything you need.
Best Backpacks for Travel — Quick Answers!
- Overall best travel backpack: Osprey Farpoint/Fairview 40
- Best Large travel pack: Osprey Farpoint/Fairview 70
- Best In-between sized travel pack: Salkan Backpacker
- Best small travel pack: Tortuga Setout Divide
- Best anti-theft backpack: Pacsafe EXP45
- Best backpack with detachable day pack: Osprey Farpoint/Fairview 55
Read Next: (Links open in a new tab)
The Best Backpacks for Travel – As chosen by our readers!
40-46 Litre Backpack:
The Most Popular Size for Travel Among Our Readers
When it comes to the size of your backpack, a lot of travellers aim for a capacity of 40-46-litres. Most backpackers can travel for months with just their 40-litre pack. Sure, it’s way less roomy than your wardrobe and you won’t have much space for souvenirs, but being able to travel with a single small(ish) bag is worth the sacrifice. It makes travelling safer and easier.
As long as your gear weighs less than 10kg, you’ll be able to fly with hand luggage only*. Getting on and off buses is easy when you’re not swinging a massive pack around and leaving a dorm room at 4 am is much less disruptive. Even when travelling to areas with low crime rates (like Southeast Asia), you’re still less of a target if you’re carrying less stuff!
*Note: Some budget Airlines like AirAsia have a maximum carry-on baggage weight of 7kg
Osprey Farpoint/ Fairview (40-litre) – Overall Best Backpack for Travel
- Price Range: $$
- Best Feature: Clamshell opening and carry-on compliant.
- Feature to improve: The laptop sleeve isn’t very well thought out.
- Read full review of the Farpoint/Fairview 40 (opens in new window).
By far the most recommended travel backpack is the Osprey Farpoint or the female version, the Osprey Fairview. Both are renowned for being comfortable, durable, quick to pack and small enough to carry easily.
They have a clamshell opening style, so can be opened much like a suitcase. This makes them easy to pack and reduces the amount of time you’ll spend digging for items at the bottom!
At 40-litres, there’s plenty of room for all your essentials. The main pocket is massive, easily fitting in your clothes and other bulky items. The laptop sleeve is padded to protect your electronics. However, due to its placement near the front of the bag, it can be a chore to use when the bag is full. It also means the weight distribution is way off if you’ve got an older, heavy computer.
The back panel is well padded and breathable. It protects your back from chaotic packing and helps distribute the pack’s weight. The shoulder straps and hip belt are also padded for comfort and protection. They also help spread the weight of your gear evenly across your body.
As you’d expect from Osprey, the Farpoint/Fairview is an incredibly durable backpack. It’s made from 210D fabric which is thicker and more hard-wearing than most backpacks. My own Farpoint 40 has lasted years of travel. Even after being thrown around on planes, tuk-tuks, buses, trains and boats, it’s only showing a few scuffs and marks.
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Osprey Porter Travel Backpack (46-litre)
- Price Range: $$$
- Best Feature: So much space in the main compartment.
- Feature to improve: It’s not the most comfortable pack to wear for long periods.
For those of you after a little more space but still wanting to travel with just hand luggage, the 46-litre Osprey Porter might be your best bet. It’s small enough to fit inside most carry-on limits (just!) but with 6-litres more capacity than the Farpoint/Fairview, it’s large enough for months of travel!
The padded laptop sleeve gives you a safe spot to store your electronics. However, in the older model, it suffers from the same issues as the Farpoint. It can be hard to get your computer in and out while the bag is full. Plus a heavy machine can really throw off your balance. As of 2017, the laptop sleeve was moved to the back of the pack which is a huge improvement!
The main compartment is massive and rectangular in shape. This makes it super easy to pack, especially because the bag opens like a suitcase! There’s also a ton of smaller pockets both inside the main compartment and on the outside of the pack. These help you keep your stuff well organised and easy to find.
Thanks to the StraightJacket compression system, this bag remains small and streamlined, whether it’s full or empty. Simply tighten the compression straps which cinch the bag in. The straps are connected to foam wings that wrap around the bag for maximum effectiveness. These wings also cover the zips which help deter opportunistic pickpockets.
The padded shoulder straps and hip belt can be tidied away in case you need to check or stow your bag at some point.
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Osprey Kyte (46-litre)
- Price Range: $$$$
- Best Feature: Side zips make this top-loader super easy to pack and unpack.
- Feature to improve: Not carry on compliant.
While the Osprey Kyte is more of a hiking pack than a travel bag, it still comes in as one the most popular bags for travellers in Southeast Asia.
Designed and built for women, the straps and back panel are cut to fit smaller, more petite frames. The thick shoulder straps and Airscape back panel offer a ton of cushioning — ideal if you’re covering long distances with a heavy load! They can be easily adjusted to offer you a customised fit! The waist strap is also well-padded and features a zippered pocket on each side. These are great for quick access items like money, passports or your phone.
Unlike the other backpacks we’ve covered so far, the Kyte is top loading. This means the main way to pack and unpack the bag is via the drawcord entry point. However, unlike most classic hiking packs, it also includes a large zippered entry on the side. This gives you access to the middle of your bag without having to empty it — a godsend in a busy dorm room!
There’s also a sleeping bag access pocket at the bottom of the bag. Using the internal divider you can keep your sleeping bag separate from the rest of your gear if necessary. If you don’t need it, you can remove the divider easily.
As well as the giant main compartment, this bag features plenty of smaller pockets and organisational spaces. There’s no laptop sleeve but that’s to be expected with a hiking pack. However, it does feature an integrated rain cover and reservoir sleeve — both of which can prove super useful in tropical climates!
The biggest downside of this bag is that it’s over the official carry on limits for most airlines. While some travellers have managed to sneak this bag on as hand luggage, most said they need to check the bag.
Osprey also produce a men’s version of this backpack called the Osprey Kestrel which is two litres larger.
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Standard Luggage Co. 35-litre Travel Backpack
- Price Range: $$$
- Best Feature: It’s very easy to stay organised while using this bag.
- Feature to improve: Not so comfortable to carry.
- Read full review of the Standard Luggage Co. Travel Backpack (opens in new window).
When it comes to maximising carry on space, no one does it better than the Standard Luggage Co. Their 35-litre backpack pushes the limits of carry-on compliance without ever overstepping the mark. And once you arrive at your destination, you can expand the bag up to 45-litres for a little extra space!
Its rectangular shape allows you to use all the pack’s space for maximum packing efficiency. The full perimeter zip helps by giving you easy access to every corner of the bag! There are small internal pockets to help organise your smaller gear, as well as a padded laptop pocket that is easy to access whether the bag is full or empty.
The back panel is padded and features ventilation channels that allow air to flow between your back and the bag. The shoulder straps and hip belt are also lightly padded for your comfort.
Made from 1680D nylon, this isn’t the lightest pack on our list but it’s one of the most durable. The fabric is treated with a DWR coating to protect against light showers. But if the rain really starts pouring, there’s also a rain cover.
As far as looks go, this bag is not the most aesthetically pleasing. It looks more like a suitcase with straps than a backpack. While it’s certainly a great travel bag, if you’re concerned about standing out, this probably isn’t the backpack for you.
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Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45 – Best Theft Proof Backpack (45-litre) – Best Theft Proof Backpack
- Price Range: $$$
- Best Feature: Made from recycled materials.
- Feature to improve: Security features mean this pack in on the heavy side.
If security is a concern for you while travelling, consider investing in an anti-theft backpack. Not only will these keep your gear safe but they’re often as comfortable and easy to use as standard travel bags.
Our favourite anti-theft backpack is the Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45. It’s made from discarded fishing nets and other nylon waste, so it’s good for the planet too. The Venturesafe is chock full of anti-theft features such as a slash-proof lining, lockable zips and cut-resistant straps.
Its 45-litre capacity and suitcase opening style mean there’s plenty of room for your gear. Whether it’s a short weekend, week-long break or months of shoestring travel, this bag has you covered. It also fits within most carry on criteria but be careful not to cram it too full as it’s right on the limit.
Inside, the bag has a few small pockets for organisation but the majority of the space comes from one large compartment. There’s a padded laptop sleeve and internal compression straps to ensure all your belongings are safe and secure.
The internal frame distributes the weight of the bag across your body. The hip belt and sternum strap also help to deliver the most comfortable carrying experience.
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50-60 Litre Backpack
In our poll, the least mentioned backpacks were those in the 50-60 litre range. It appears that backpackers tend to be all or nothing! However, there were a few recommendations in this range.
REI CO-OP Recycled Travel Bag (60-litre)
- Price Range: $$$
- Best Feature: Can be used as a hiking pack while on your travels.
- Feature to improve: It’s expensive — you can get a similar spec Osprey backpack in the same price bracket.
Available in both a men’s and women’s model, the Recycled Travel Bag from REI is popular among our American readers. With its 60-litre capacity, the bag is large enough for most travellers. It also includes a 20-litre day pack which brings the entire capacity up to 80-litres. The daypack can be attached to the main bag or used as a stand-alone — ideal for keeping your valuables with you on planes, trains and buses.
Made with thick ripstop nylon, REI’s Travel Bag is durable but a little on the heavy side. It’s built using materials that meet the Bluesign Criteria. This means there are fewer toxic chemicals used in the supply chain and that all factories are run using ethical practices. REI also use as much recycled material as they can in their bags.
The hip belt and shoulder straps are comfortable and well padded. In the women’s model, the shoulder straps curve differently around the chest. The hip belt is also more adjustable to accommodate a larger range of body shapes. The back panel is well cushioned and ventilated on both the male and female versions.
When checking the bag on planes or having to throw it under a bus, the straps can be zipped away. In this duffel bag mode, it’s much easier to manoeuvre in a tight space and you don’t need to worry about the straps getting caught on anything.
Osprey Farpoint/Fairview (55-litre) – Best Backpack With Detachable Daypack
- Price Range: $$$
- Best Feature: Detachable daypack.
- Feature to improve: Increased ventilation around the back panel would be a great addition.
Osprey’s Farpoint and Fairview 55 are celebrated for all the same reasons as the Farpoint/Fairview 40. They’re comfortable, durable and easy to pack. The main pocket is massive and allows you to utilise all available space. Its clamshell opening style also makes it quick and easy to find anything you need.
The bulk of the bag is a slightly different shape to the 40-litre models but it’s around the same capacity. The extra space comes from the detachable daypack. This 13-litre bag is ideal for keeping your valuables close to hand or carrying day to day items while out exploring. It attaches to the main pack using Osprey’s Zip and Clip system. This means it’s quick to secure and won’t fall off as soon as your back is turned. It can also be attached kangaroo style if you prefer having a bag on your front too.
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The Backpacker by Salkan (45-litres) – Best Mid Sized Travel Backpack
- Price Range: $$$$$
- Best Feature: Simply stunning looks.
- Feature to improve: It’s a really heavy bag.
- Read full review of The Salkan Backpacker (opens in new window).
The Backpacker by Salkan is actually two bags – The Main Pack and The Daypack. The Main Pack is 45-litres but can be expanded up to 55 should the need arise. The Daypack is 20-litres and is attached to the Main Pack with a series of metal clips.
Both are made from a thick canvas-like material. It’s durable and treated with a water repellent coating. They also both contain a padded laptop sleeve and stealthy stash pockets for items like your passport or phone.
The Main Pack has a large U-zip opening on the front. This means it opens like a suitcase, allowing you to pack, unpack or find what you need in a hurry. But it also has a drawstring opening at the top. This allows you to turn the bag into a top loader should you wish. The Daypack can only be used as a top loader.
When it comes to comfort, the shoulder straps and hip belt have incredible padding. The back panel is also well-cushioned. The whole back system is adjustable so you can get a fully customised fit, no matter your height.
Inside, there are a few small pockets but the bulk of each bag is the main compartment. The Main Pack has a ton of space and is built to house Salkan’s own packing cube set. There’s also a stowable rain cover for those days where a water-resistant coating just isn’t enough.
65+ Litre Backpack
Sometimes You Just Want Extra Space!
I like to travel light. A small bag and just enough stuff to get me through. But a ton of people in our poll said they feel the complete opposite. A lot of folks said they liked having a larger backpack — after all, you don’t have to fill it to the brim!
You can still pack a 65-70 litre backpack with 10kg worth of stuff so that you’re not busting your back. The advantage with a bigger bag is, that if you accumulate more stuff you’ll still have that extra room and won’t end up carrying plastic bags around with your 40-litre too! Here are some of the makes and models you recommended…
Osprey Farpoint/Fairview (70-litre) – Best Large Travel Backpack
- Price Range: $$$$
- Best Feature: Straps on the main pack are easy to stow away when checking the bag.
- Feature to improve: Can be unwieldy and hard to fit into storage spaces when full.
Osprey wins again — with a few respondents saying that this is the best bag they’ve ever owned! The backpack comes with a detachable daypack which is ideal for flying and sightseeing.
Much like the other Osprey packs in the Farpoint/Fairview series, the 70-litre model has a clamshell opening style. It features a full-frame that helps to distribute heavier loads across your back and shoulders. The straps are lightly padded but if you’re carrying heavy loads, you’ll wish the padding was thicker. As for the back panel, the mesh padding is both comfortable and breathable.
When you’re not lugging the bag around, you can stow the straps away making it sleeker to transport. With loads of compartments, incredibly durable zippers, durable materials and a detachable daypack, it’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular backpacks for travellers.
Inspired by the success of their Farpoint/Fairview series, Osprey stepped it up a notch with the Farpoint Trek. Available in both 55-litre and 75-litre models, this reimagined version of their classic Farpoint sets a new standard for hybrid backpacks. As at home on long isolated trails as in busy cities, you can read more about the Farpoint Trek in this full review!
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Gregory Tetrad (75-litre)
- Price Range: $$$$
- Best Feature: The main pack can be used as an effective hiking backpack while travelling.
- Feature to improve: Daypack could be more secure when attached to the main pack.
The Gregory Tetrad is another favourite among our American readers. Its 75-litre capacity means the days of jumping on your bag to get it closed are over. There’s a ton of space in the main compartment, as well as a few smaller organisational pockets. It even features an internal waterproof section you can use to keep your dirty gear away from the rest of your stuff.
Loading and unloading the bag is easy thanks to the U-zip entry system. You can lay the pack down and open it like a suitcase, allowing you to make the most of the space.
The shoulder straps are well padded with strategically placed ventilation holes to ensure plenty of airflow. The hip belt is home to incredible cushioning and when secure, this takes a lot of weight off your shoulders. The back panel is also well ventilated and has comfortable padding along its entirety. It can be fully adjusted to suit your torso length for maximum comfort.
As with many of the large capacity travel bags, the Gregory Tetrad has a removable day pack. This smaller bag has a padded laptop compartment so you can always keep your valuable electronics close.
The women’s version of this bag is known as the Tribute. It’s designed to fit the female body shape more effectively but is slightly smaller in capacity.
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25-35 Litre Backpack
The Case for Packing Light!
How much stuff do you really need? Is it possible to just travel extensively with just a small backpack? A ton of people who got involved in our poll said that taking a lightweight backpack that fits under a plane seat is the BEST and ONLY way to travel!
Such free and easy travellers suggested that with some careful packing and rolling of your clothes, you could easily fit everything you need in a 30-35-litre backpack packed to the maximum 7-10kg.
Why would you want to do that you may ask? Carrying less stuff means you’re more nimble when travelling around the region. A super-heavy bag will not only slow you down as you trek from the bus to your next hostel, but it’s also bad for your back and shoulders.
Osprey Nebula/Nova (33-litre)
- Price Range: $$
- Best Feature: Great laptop sleeve — you don’t need to remove your computer for airport scanners.
- Feature to improve: Lacks padding on the straps and hip belt.
Originally designed for commuting and using in cities, the Osprey Nebula/Nova has become a clear favourite for light packing travellers. The men’s model (Nebula) is 33-litres, while the women’s version (Nova) is 32-litres — both fit easily into hand luggage limits.
Aside from the capacity, the two packs differ very little. The women’s version has a slightly shorter torso length and the straps are shaped to be more comfortable for women. However, if you’re a man with a slight frame and short torso, you may find the Nova more comfortable than the Nebula. It’s worth trying both to see which is your favourite.
As you’d expect from Osprey, the Nebula/Nova is comfortable and hardwearing. It’s made from robust, abrasion-resistant nylon that’s thicker in areas of high wear. This tough material makes the bag a little heavier than a typical 30-litre backpack. But at just 1kg, it’s not the heaviest backpack on our list.
It features Osprey’s Airscape back panel. These foam ridges deliver high-level comfort while reducing sweaty back syndrome by allowing air to flow through the channels.
The padded laptop sleeve is in the rear of the pack, sitting against your back as you walk. It has its own dedicated zipper so you don’t need to fight through the rest of your gear to get at your computer. It can be unzipped and opened right out to save you from removing your laptop while going through airport security.
Note: Some airports will make you remove all laptops and electronics regardless.
The main pocket offers plenty of room for your clothes and bulkier items — packing cubes can help you make the most of the space! There are also a ton of small compartments to help you stay organised and ensure you can get at smaller items without having to dig through all your luggage. On the front is a stretch pocket that can be used for items you might need in a hurry — I always choose to store waterproofs and jumpers in these pockets.
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Tortuga Setout Divide (26-34-litre) – Best Small Travel Backpack
- Price Range: $$$
- Best Feature: Expandable.
- Feature to improve: At 1.7kg this is a really heavy bag for its size.
- Read full review of the Tortuga Setout Divide (opens in new window).
If you’ve never travelled with just a small backpack before, Tortuga’s Setout Divide is a great place to start. It’s 26-litres as standard but it can be expanded up to 34-litres by undoing just one zip. 8-litres might not sound like much but it makes a massive difference to how much gear you can carry. In either guise, it fits into most carry on specifications.
The bag opens like a suitcase, making it easy to use all the space in the large main compartment. There are internal compression straps to help cinch all your gear down, allowing you to fit more in.
At the back of the Setout Divide is a large padded laptop sleeve, capable of storing a 15-inch machine. There’s also room in there for tablets, folders and large books. On the front, there’s a small pocket for items that can get lost easily. The middle features a larger compartment with a ton of small pockets and dividers — ideal for pens, small notebooks and other items you might need in a hurry.
It’s comfortable to wear thanks to the padded shoulder straps and chunky hip belt. The straps have ventilation holes to allow maximum airflow and the hip belt is removable — we suggest leaving it on though as it can reduce the pressure on your shoulders by up to 80%! It also has a couple of handy pockets that are perfect for carrying your passport and wallet.
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What’s the most popular travel backpack brand?
Osprey definitely came out on top as everyone’s favourite backpack brand! As well as creating well designed, durable and incredibly well-priced backpacks, it was their customer service and All Mighty Guarantee that stood out.
“Should you find any defect in the way your pack has been built, we will repair or replace it without any charge, within its reasonable lifetime.”Osprey’s All Mighty Guarantee
Note: Some readers have told us that Osprey refused to honour the lifetime warranty for products bought on Amazon. With this in mind, we contacted them for clarification. They informed us that they stand by their guarantee no matter where the bag was purchased.
What to consider when buying a backpack
1. Accessing your stuff easily
When it comes to traditional backpacks, the number one complaint is that it’s a pain in the ass to get at your stuff — especially if you’ve crammed the bag full. It’s Murphy’s Law that the pair of shorts you want will be wedged right at the bottom, leaving you to empty everything else out first.
Look out for bags with a clamshell design. They open like suitcases, making it easy for you to find those shorts without throwing clothes everywhere! They’re also easier to pack and organise than a traditional backpack.
2. What size backpack do you need
When it comes to packing for travel, the old adage still rings true: Put all your clothes and luggage in a pile. Next to that, place all the money you’ll need.
Now, take half the stuff and twice the money.
Honestly, you won’t need as much stuff as you think. Stuff is cheap when you’re travelling. Most things can be bought easily if you find you really need something.
If you’re struggling with what to take on your travels, use this handy packing list as a guide!
However, everyone is different. Some people can travel with a single 25-litre backpack. Others will travel with a 100-litre monster. It’s different for everyone. I personally travel with a 40-litre Osprey Farpoint and a collapsible daypack. But you’re not me and may want a bucketload more space in your bags!
3. Taking two backpacks (Large and a small)
Most travellers opt for a two bag approach. One large backpack for carrying the majority of their clothes, toiletries and belongings. Plus another smaller travel day pack which they use while exploring during the day.
The two-bag method is also important when it comes to security. Usually, when backpacking, you’ll be asked to store larger backpacks underneath (or sometimes on the roof of) buses, trains and in the hold on planes.
During these times, it’s best to have a smaller bag with your valuable and important items — your phone, passport, wallet, camera, medicine, etc. While theft or lost luggage is rare, it can happen. And it’s most likely to happen when you’re separated from your bag. Keeping your important items with you ensures they remain as safe as possible.
4. The price
In our poll, people said it was best to invest in a backpack — and I wholeheartedly agree.
Spending more on your gear is one of our top budget travel tips too! Cheaper bags break and will need to be replaced on the road. They can also be harmful to your back. Finally, a more expensive, good quality bag can last a lifetime.
I’m not saying you should go out and spend a few hundred dollars straight away but don’t waste your time on a $20USD bag. You can often find popular travel backpacks on sale for less than $100USD.
If you decide you want to take a big bag (50-litres or above), look out for bags with a padded back panel or suspension system. You’ll also want to ensure that your bag has padded straps for maximum comfort and support. Without these features, a heavy bag becomes a real chore to carry.
Good straps and a suspension system will distribute the bag’s weight across your shoulders, back and hips. Less strain means you’re able to move more easily and you’ll feel fresher when you arrive at your hostel — as fresh as you can ever be while travelling between towns and cities!
All good backpacks come with some form of manufacturer warranty. Osprey’s famous All Mighty Guarantee, while not quite the lifetime warranty it used to be, is still a fine example of a company standing behind their product. They will repair any defects or issues with your pack caused at their end. They say that this warranty is only valid within the “reasonable lifetime” of the pack.
If the backpack you’re looking at doesn’t offer a good warranty, it’s probably not worth spending a ton of money on — if it breaks, you’ll be left high and dry.
Have we missed your favourite backpack from our list? Tell us what you use and why you love it in the comments below!!
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