Backpacks for Longer Trips

Whether you're traveling to Europe, Asia or anywhere else, traveling by backpack is the way to go.

Having the right size pack and packed correctly is essential to getting the most out of your pack.  The packs we research and use should meet most airline size requirements for carry on bags.  The rule of thumb is that you never check a bag if possible.  When traveling with a backpack, it's much easier to get around.  Cobblestone streets are easy to navigate where pulling a wheeled piece of luggage can be a nightmare and boarding trains and busses is a breeze when you do not have to lift your luggage; simply walk on board.  Not only will the right sized pack fit in the airline overhead compartment, but it should also fit most train overhead compartments or even at your feet.

Of course you must be physically able to carry a backpack on your journey.  If you are traveling by air, you should consider airline size and weight restrictions when bringing your pack as carry on luggage. (Airline Size & Weight Restrictions Beating Bag Restrictions)  Properly packed, you should be well underweight, even on a two week vacation.
 (How to Pack)

If you are unable to travel carrying a backpack, you may want to consider a rolling type luggage/backpack with an extendable handle.  These bags when packed correctly can still meet airline requirements for carry on luggage.  Some models actually come with backpack straps allowing you to wear the pack if needed. (Rolling Suitcases / Other)  You will also find
several suitcase options having stowaway straps allowing you to wear the luggage as backpack, but you will be walking around looking like you strapped a piece of luggage to your back.  So if you are planning on going with that option, why not use an actual backpack?  You will find a true backpack to be much lighter and far more comfortable to wear.

There are many options to choose from, so find the pack that's right for you.  When choosing your backpack consider size, weight, bulkiness, features and comfort.  The bottom line is, shop around at your local stores, try them on for the correct fit and select the pack that's right for you.

When purchasing a backpack, keep in mind that some are unisex while others come in men's and women's models. Unisex backpacks may have torso adjustments while ones designed specifically for men have a longer torso length compared to women's having a shorter torso length.  You can read in-depth information on measuring for a backpack at REI.

Things to consider in a backpack

  • Size, weight and comfort
  • Chest and waist straps
  • Side compression straps that can be tightened to stabilize the bag's contents and reduce the size
  • Ability to externally attach your jacket or other items to the top or bottom of the pack using existing straps
  • Daisy Chain attachments on the front (daisy chains are webbing loops sewn to the backpack that let you use straps or clips to attach additional gear using carabineers or webbing straps)
  • Zippered top, front and side pockets (side zippered pockets can be nice, but may not be a necessity)
  • Access to main bag compartment from top and front
  • Main compartment zippers that unzip the length of the pack (provides ease of access for packing and unpacking)
  • External water bottle storage
  • Optional internal area for hydration system that can also double as a laptop or document storage area
  • Loops for attaching hiking poles (if carrying on your bag, you will not be able to bring hiking poles on board your flight)
  • Rip-stop fabric
  • Rain cover (may or may not be included, but can be purchased separately - Backpack Essentials)
Below we review several of the backpacks we have used on our travels
REI Co-op Trail 40 Pack (2018)


Our current pack of choice

These packs are reasonably priced but if you wait for a sale at REI, you can pick one up at an additional discount of 30%-40%, making it an even better deal.


M: 21.5 x 13 x 10 in.
L: 22.5 x 13 x 10 .
M: 3 lbs.
L: 3 lbs. 1 oz.
Fits Torso
M: 17 - 19 in.
L: 18 - 20 in.
Fits Waist/Hips
M: 28 - 44 in.
L: 30 - 46 in.


S: 20.25 x 13.125 x 10.5 in.
M: 21.6 x 13.0 x 10.5 in.
S: 2 lbs. 13 oz.
M: 2 lbs. 15 oz.
Fits Torso
S: 16 - 18 in.
M: 17 - 19 in.
Fits Waist/Hips
S: 26 - 38 in.
M: 28 - 40 in.


  • 40 Liter Capacity
  • Contoured foam in the harness and hip belt
  • Spring-steel perimeter frame provides load support while also allowing the back panel to conform to your torso
  • U-shaped panel opening with 4 zipper sliders offers quick access to gear and total access when fully open
  • Inside the main compartment is a mesh side pocket and a back pocket with its own bungee compression system
  • Padded, mesh-covered straps, belt and back are cool and comfortable
  • Forward-pull hip belt design makes adjustments quick and easy
  • Side mesh pocket with elastic closure
  • Outer pocket for phone or sunglasses; sleeve for hydration reservoir
  • Top has a zippered pocket on the underside for your keys and valuables
  • Two zippered hip belt pockets
  • Special fasteners on the back hold trekking-pole tips down low and pole shafts up high
  • Side compression straps
  • Included rain cover stows in its own zip pocket

The Pros

  • Comfortable to wear and looks great
  • Lighter weight than some other packs of the same size
  • Should meet airline requirements for carry on luggage
  • Double front zippers allow the entire pack to be completely unzipped for ease of packing/unpacking
  • The two upper clips designed for holding hiking poles can be clipped for the poles or for restricting the main zippers making the pack essentially a top loading style pack.
  • Ability to strap down a jacket on the top or bottom of the pack with existing straps

Some Changes in the new year's model

  • Elimination of the small zipped pocked on one side of the bag
  • Replaced the vertical zipper on the front of the bag for the mesh compartment with a top opening mesh area concealed under a flap
  • Addition of side compression straps
  • Larger volume main storage area while maintaining approximately the same dimensions


  • The pack is roomy.  Due to it's design, it's seems to have much more available space in the main compartment than other bags of the same liter capacity.

    In fact, the pack is actually much roomier in the main compartment than the previous year's model; both of which have a 40L capacity.  We packed both models with the exact same items packed in the same way and this newer model had much more available space after being packed.

  • Lightweight and extremely easy to back with it's full length double zippers allowing you to unzip the entire pack.
  • Packed correctly, can easily meet all our travel needs for a two week or longer trip.
  Previous Year Model: REI Co-op Trail 40 Pack (2017)
This is the previous model that has been replaced by the 2018 model.


REI Co-op Ruckpack 40
  • 40 Liter Capacity
  • Rugged, durable ripstop nylon withstands whatever the road throws your way
  • Lightly padded shoulder straps provide carrying comfort
  • Zippered back panel cover protects straps while in transport
  • Ventilated mesh back panel promotes breathability
  • Waist belt stows away when not in use
  • Full-zip design makes packing and unpacking easy
  • Hidden daisy chain on the front of the bag lets you lash gear when you need it, and conceals when you don't
  • Easy-access side panel keeps travel essentials convenient and well organized
  • Access port on the left side of the pack accommodates a hydration reservoir tube (reservoir not included)
  • Sleeve along back panel can hold a 3L hydration reservoir or a 15 in. laptop
  • Dual bottle holders keep water handy while you're hiking
  • Included Rain Cover stows in its own zip pocket
  • Compression straps and load-lifters keep the weight of the pack close to your back for stability
  • Trekking-pole attachments tuck out of the way when not in use
  • Side and top handles make it easy to grab and go
  • Sternum-strap buckle doubles as a survival whistle
  • Lockable zippers keep bag contents secure while traveling
  • Available in male and female versions
  • Dimensions: 24 x 13 x 10 inches
  • Weight: 4 lbs. 3 oz.

The Pros

  • Feature packed
  • Made from durable ripstop material
  • We liked the zippered back panel covering the shoulder and waist straps should you have to check your bag, but it's not something we could not live without
  • Included rain cover

The Cons

  • Not the best looking back (in our opinion)
  • The pack is slightly heavier than other packs of the same size
  • The pack is over padded limiting the main compartment storage area.  In fact, we tested packing the same clothing in this pack compared to the REI Trail 40 pack mentioned above and the Karrimor Trail 35 pack listed below and found there was really no difference between it and the Karrimor which is 5 Liters smaller.  Compared to the REI Trail 40, the 40 had much more room available after packing.
  • The rain cover and back panel covers add additional weight and seemed to contribute to the lack of space in the main compartment


  • We returned this pack due to the weight and lack of available space compared to other packs of the same volume.

Kelty Redwing 32 Liter Backpack
  • 32 Liter capacity
  • Approximate Weight is less than 2 Lbs
  • The pack has multiple compartments including 2 side zipper compartments, large front zippered compartment for documents, top zippered compartment, separate external compartment between front storage and pack, separate internal hydration system storage area, 2 external compartments for water bottles and hiking pole loops.
  • Waist and chest straps.
  • Approximate Size in inches: 22 H x 14 W x 11 D
  • Available in several attractive color combinations

The Pros

  • Comfortable to wear and looks great
  • Lightweight weighing only 2 Lbs. when empty
  • Meets airline requirements for carry on luggage
  • Gear may be accessed from the top and the front when fully unzipped
  • Soft sided pack so it easily fits into cramped overhead compartments where rigid luggage may not fit

The Cons

  • Thin nylon shell is not as durable as other packs made from heavier rip-stop material
  • Does not come with a rain cover (Backpack Essentials)
  • For longer trips, the 32 Liter capacity may be a bit cramped, but packing correctly and conservatively is doable on a 2-week trip

Karrimor Trail 35 Liter Backpack
For a slightly larger pack, we recommend something around 35 Liters in size.  This will give you a little more room than the 32L pack described above but also increases the size and the weight when fully packed.  Leaving on your journey and packing the same essentials as you would with the 32L pack, you should not have any problems with the packs weight and size, especially when meeting airline requirements.  If you are not traveling by air where size and weight are not an issue, than this pack may be a better option.  Again, packed exactly as the 32L model when leaving on your trip will give you 3 extra liters of room for you to bring back items you may collected on your trip.

This pack is older and no longer available.  We used this pack on multiple trips up to several week in length.  Even after years of use and multiple trips, the pack looks great and has virtually no wear.  We have found the backpacks from Karrimore to be of excellent quality, durability, reasonably priced and highly recommend them.


  • 35 Liter capacity
  • Approximate Weight is 2-3 Lbs
  • Superwick channeled back system allows more airflow between the pack and your back
  • The pack has multiple compartments including 2 large side zipper compartments, large front mesh compartment and a large top zippered compartment with area for storing rain cover
  • Separate internal hydration system storage area
  • Bottom rings for attaching hiking poles
  • Rain cover included
  • Chest strap
  • Rip-stop fabric
  • Top bungee straps for attaching external clothing 
  • Padded waist belt with small zippered pockets
  • Approximate Size in inches: 25 H x 16 W x 10 D

The Pros

  • Comfortable to wear and looks great
  • Large side and top zippered pockets
  • Meets airline requirements for carry on luggage
  • Extremely durable rip-stop material
  • Soft sided pack so it easily fits into cramped overhead compartments where rigid luggage may not fit
  • Easy to strap clothing such as your jacket to the top or under the exterior front straps

The Cons

  • Slightly heavier than the 32L model
  • Gear may only be accessed from the top
  • When fully packed, it may be slightly larger and heavier than some airline size requirements
  • Extremely padded hip belt makes the pack bulkier but does offer more stability around the waist area