When you’re traveling or doing any adventurous outdoor activity, you want the peace of mind that your backpack will be able to survive the trip.
You need a sturdy bag to keep all of your essential items like a water bottle, travel documents, and clothes safe.
Choosing the right backpack that ticks all the boxes of your essential needs can be tricky. That’s why knowing what the top backpack brands are is half of the battle.
While there is no definitive winner, there are a few qualities to look for in a bag for the winning contenders.
Based on these points, you can make an informed decision on your pick. Keep reading to find more info on the best backpack brands that will give you quality bags again and again.
What to Look For in a Good Backpack and Backpack Brands
Backpack companies across the board often make products that vary significantly in quality and price. This can make it tricky to decide which popular backpack brands to choose.
The following points are great places to start your search.
Many quality backpack brands have a limited lifetime warranty if purchased from an authorized retailer. This warranty allows the buyer to return the bag if there is any manufacturing defect.
In turn, the company will either offer to repair, replace, or refund the damaged product.
Whether you’re using your pack for hiking or as a camera backpack for travel, you’ll need to be comfortable while wearing it.
A good quality backpack brand will prioritize comfort by adding padding and sternum and hip straps to prevent the bag from swaying. (more on this below)
Padded Hip Belt and Shoulder Straps
Since most of your pack’s weight is going to be carried on your hips, make sure that the hip belt is padded to make supporting the weight more comfortable.
Padded shoulder straps make carrying the load much more comfortable as your pack will be pushing downward on your shoulders.
This strap helps bring the weight forward by connecting the two shoulder straps over your chest.
It also helps distributing the weight and relieves your shoulders from some of the weight, saving you from some excessive shoulder pain.
Lumbar shaped packs make carrying the load much easier as they help distribute the weight more evenly.
A comfortable backpack has a ventilated mesh backing that allows air to circulate through. This reduces sweating on your back and trust me, no one likes a sweaty back when out on a grueling hike.
Some even provide a structured arc for some extra space between your back and the backpack to provide for some “breathing action” along your back.
Storage Capacity or Size
Storage space is important depending on what you’re planning on using the bag for and how long your trip will be.
Most packs for everyday use hold about 20-30 L capacity, while large backpacks or rucksacks can hold up to 50 L.
If you’re a traveler also using your backpack to carry electronics, you need to look for bags that cater to that.
These bags must be at least water-resistant and have enough pockets and compartments to hold your camera, laptop, and cellphone, and be easily accessible.
Your backpack should be comfortable enough to allow you to carry at least 20-30 pounds. It should be proportional to your body; meaning, the shorter you are, the smaller your backpack should be.
Why size is really important? Not only because it will dictate how much you can carry with you, but also because a correct sizing proportion between body and backpack helps balance the weight properly. This reduces back pain or topping over due to weight.
As a general rule of thumb, you should not carry more than 30% of your weight.
When trying out different backpack sizes, you should ask a sales representative to put some weights inside the pack so you know what 20-30 pounds feels like on your back.
Check out Gregory’s sizing diagrams, which greatly help visualize the important components of backpack fitting and sizing.
Also, size dictates if you can use your backpack as a carry-on on your flight or not.
The best travel backpack companies know that a light backpack is important. The idea is that your backpack should not add too much weight, in addition to the gear you’re already carrying.
Your ideal backpack weight should range from 2+ lbs to 4 lbs. While this weight difference doesn’t sound like much, those extra pounds could fatigue your body faster when walking long distances or traveling long term. Of course, you should aim for the lightest backpack possible.
Additionally, for example, if you’re flying with your backpack as a carry-on bag, you don’t want the backpack weight to account for a high percentage of the maximum weight you can carry on that flight.
Look for a backpack made with lightweight materials, but keep in mind that usually, super lightweight fabric backpacks tend to be more expensive.
You should try to get a backpack that is waterproof or at least water-resistant. One of the worst things that can happen is getting all your things wet when you’re suddenly caught in a downpour.
Also, the material should dry quick enough to prevent creating a bad “environment” inside your bag. Many packs come with a cover you can put over them in case of rain.
Backpacks come with internal and external frames. External frame backpacks tend to be bulky, ugly, and have rods sticking out that can get caught on anything along your way.
And who would want that? These days, you should buy an internal frame backpack. Internal frames tend to look better, be lighter, and more comfortable.
Loading Method and Compartments
Many backpacks are top loading (you access everything from the top), but these are not the most efficient in terms of searching for stuff.
If you need to get something that is packed at the bottom, you have to take everything out first.
A good option is to have a front panel loading backpack. These ones have a zipper along the length of the backpack that allows you to get into any part of your backpack without much difficulty.
There are also bottom loading backpacks, that make packing much easier and accessible.
The ideal backpack should have more than one access/loading point.
Additionally, having multiple compartments helps organize and separate your things better. Some backpacks offer the flexibility of adding or removing compartments based on your need.
Lockable Zippers or Straps
If you care a lot about security, make sure each compartment of your backpack has two zippers that can be locked together.
I’ve never bought a zipper backpack, though. All my backpacks have been with straps and clips. Thankfully, in over 10 years of travel, I’ve never had a security issue.
While style is the least important factor when selecting a backpack, let’s face it; style plays a big part on your decision-making.
Just keep in mind that while you choose something you like in terms of design, it should also be efficient and comfortable.
If not, your “fashion statement” will cost you some headaches and back pains along your trip.
Of course, the price will play a huge part on your decision-making.
Just keep in mind that backpacks range from $50 to $300+, and that not necessarily the most expensive pack will be the best pack.
You will see that a $100-$200 pack can do better than a really expensive pack if it fits all your needs.
Generally, you will travel with a backpack and a daypack.
Daypacks are much smaller and are used to keep all the things you need during the day accessible (and even things you rather not leave alone on your backpack).
But when carrying both packs, the backpack is used as usual, and the daypack is generally used in the front.
Carrying both packs this way might look weird, but it helps balance the weight on your body. You’ll see it is a common practice among backpacker to do this.
Best Backpack Companies and their Recommended Backpacks
Here are some of the best backpack makers in the game today. These brands offer decades of expertise and have refined their craft to provide the best packs time and time again.
I’ll start with the actual backpack company I’ve traveled with for over 10 years.
- Their famous Gregory Lifetime Warranty—which can quickly repair a pack when it is damaged.
- Lightweight, stylish and high quality backpacks.
- Sustainable company.
- Women specific design alternatives.
- Can be pricy
- Many backpacks are water-resistant but not waterproof
Since 1977, Gregory Backpacks has been relentless in its pursuit of building high-performance, high-quality packs, bags, and adventure travel gear. And in this modern age, they also build them as responsibly as possible.
From my personal experience using Gregory for over 10 years, this company offer great quality backpacks with some of the lightest frames.
I value having a light backpack, because that means the pack itself is not adding much weight to my back.
Gregory offers all kinds of backpacks that check most if not all of the “what to look for points” mentioned previously. The hard choice is selecting the size and style you want!
Some of their packs include odor-fighting fabrics and their dynamic FreeFloat suspension to keep you balanced and comfortable. (highly recommended)
They also offer women’s specific backpacks. Which means their hip-belt is angled to fit the shape of a woman’s hipbones and the shoulder harness is shaped to work with a woman’s bust to allow for a smooth wrap over the shoulder.
In the end, as they say on their website, Gregory’s goal is for you to “wear it, don’t carry it.”
My top pick would have to be the Zulu 40, which has been my long-time companion.
Officially, the backpack’s 40 liters are big enough for short adventures (like a weekend trip), but I’ve packed up to two weeks’ worth of clothing in it, so it’s not small at all while being compact. (Of course, packing light is essential to achieve this!)
The Zulu 40 is light and agile thanks to the FreeFloat dynamic suspension. And paired with the adjustable torso length, the comfort of the FreeFloat suspension is truly unmatched.
It has six external pockets and top and front access. It also comes with a hydration sleeve and rain cover, among other excellent features.
- Anti-Gravity suspension system
- Lifetime warranty
- Limited pocket space
- It can be a bit difficult to adjust
Osprey’s founder, Mike Pfotenhauer, became an entrepreneur at the young age of 16. Mike first established the brand in 1974 after he sewed his first backpack with the help of his mother.
Today, almost 50 years later, Osprey is a trusted backpack brand worldwide and a company that actively works to reduce its carbon footprint, whether in energy consumed, materials used, or waste mitigated.
The Osprey brand’s main order of business is in backpacks and their accessories, and they clearly understand and dominate this high-demand niche.
Their Anti-Gravity suspension technology is a game-changer that shifts the weight off of your back and disperses it more evenly.
The mesh backing also hugs your body to allow more airflow and comfort that doesn’t feel like the bag’s weight is tugging or holding you back.
The Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Backpack is a convertible rucksack you can use as a travel duffel bag.
It handles up to 50 pounds of luggage in its large main compartment and also has a lockable, making it a perfect carry-on bag for a long weekend.
With a 15” laptop compartment, this bag is versatile and a superb option for working travelers.
However, it is also a good fit for hikers or urban backpackers because of the detachable daypack that fits a few clothing items or extra hiking essentials for shorter trips.
- Lifetime warranty
- Lightweight design
- Many backpacks are water-resistant but not waterproof
The North Face is a brand I love and admire for breaking boundaries between the outdoor adventure world and streetwear.
North Face has been a trusted brand among adventurers since the 1960s. Doug Tompkins, the founder, was a young climber in 1966 when he began the small retail store.
Soon, the shop grew and started manufacturing all kinds of outdoor gear, from backpacks to tents and outerwear.
Their packs are also padded and usually have an adjustable sternum strap to reduce shoulder strain and provide optimal comfort.
The North Face unisex adult Surge is a versatile rucksack, whether you’re a digital nomad or an adventure-seeker.
The comfortable sternum strap and removable waistband secure the bag to you while you’re moving around.
The flexible back and shoulder padding also reduces pressure on your spine and shoulders when wearing the pack for long hours.
It is also great for office or college use because it has convenient pockets inside and out to store any electronics, smartphones, or notebooks. The back compartment also has space for a 14” laptop for a commuter on the go.
- Lifetime warranty
- Customizable designs
- Many backpacks are water-resistant but not waterproof
Different from the backpacks mentioned previously, Timbuk2‘s backpacks are designed more for everyday use and with a casual style.
The idea for Timbuk2’s first bag started in 1989 by founder Rob Honeycutt when he was a bike messenger in San Francisco.
The intention was to make a more accessible and functional messenger bag for everyone to use. More than 30 years later, the brand has expanded to more than their Classic Messenger Bag.
Timbuk2 bags are ideal for the ever-moving digital nomad. They are durable and water-resistant, so they never hold you back from an adventure.
The company is also big on sustainability (as everyone should be) and uses raw materials that break down without polluting the environment.
As part of their sustainable ethos, they have a lifetime warranty on their products or offer a 20% discount on further purchases when you donate your used Timbuk2 bag back to them.
The Timbuk2 Spire Backpack is a rolltop laptop bag for a traveler who’s often on the go. The rolltop and fold-over front is water-resistant and keeps the inside dry.
This is an important feature because the bag can hold electronics like a 15” laptop and tablet.
The back allows free ventilation and has a removable sternum strap which keeps things secure.
There is plenty of space to store any miscellaneous items, and the front webbing allows you to hook a lock, light, or snap links.
- Various styles and colors
- Only has a limited lifetime warranty
- Not suitable for many outdoor activities outside of an urban setting
Herschel Supply Company is a family business started in 2009 by two brothers.
The backpack brand strives to add value through its bags to everyday travelers, whether it be students, workers, or urban globetrotters.
The brand quickly became popular and saw many young people, particularly hipsters, pick it up for its timeless and simple retro design.
While there are many colors, the classic black bag with brown leather straps is a tell-tale signature of the brand and remains a favorite.
The Herschel Retreat Backpack is a stylish bag that comes in various colors. The bag is sturdy, with padded straps and thick canvas on the outside.
The inside is also padded and lined to protect the student or young professional’s 15” laptop or tablet.
The drawstring closure and magnetic straps make it easy to open and close your bag to quickly grab your wallet or cell phone on the go.
This is helpful because the bag has almost no outside pockets except for a small front pocket.
- Good brand for hikers
- Good weight distribution technology
- Some bags lack storage space for long trips
- Only offers a limited lifetime warranty
While the Deuter brand first started in Germany in 1898, it was only in 1910 that the brand expanded to manufacturing backpacks.
Back then, they were producing gear for the armed forces. Today, they sell all types of products for worldwide explorers and daredevils.
Their bags, made from sustainable materials, have about 21 backpacks manufactured almost entirely from eco-conscious approved products and components.
The best way to be sustainable is to recycle and consume less. This is why Deuter offers a warranty to fix and repair any of their products to lower the production of more materials.
Deuter Futura 30 is a versatile and ergonomic backpack great for hiking trips. The dual-density foam offers both comfort and gear stabilization so you can remain hands-free.
Deuter’s ventilation technology allows this pack to reduce back sweat by at least 25%, while the integrated detachable rain cover keeps your contents dry.
The truth is, there is no ultimate one best backpack brand on the market. There are only the best brands for you and your travel needs.
They also go the extra mile in ensuring their customers are comfortable and satisfied with their backpacks.
These six brands outshine in their field, so no matter which bag you choose from them, you’re bound to find a winner.
Should none of these previously mentioned backpacks call your attention, feel free to browse for more backpack options at REI.
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