The Best Travel Backpack – The New York Times

The Best Travel Backpack – The New York Times

The Best Travel Backpack – The New York Times

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After new testing, REI’s Ruckpack 60+ Recycled Travel Pack – Men’s and Ruckpack 60+ Recycled Travel Pack – Women’s, the updated versions of our previous top picks, are our new top picks.
June 29, 2021
Although the global pandemic is far from over, travel restrictions in many places are starting to ease. If the trips you’re planning involve endless terminal corridors, busy subway platforms, cobblestone alleys, and fourth-floor walk-ups—all in a single day—we prescribe a travel backpack. And after carrying multiple packs across thousands of miles for more than three years, we recommend the REI Co-op Ruckpack 60+ Recycled Travel Pack – Men’s and the REI Co-op Ruckpack 60+ Recycled Travel Pack – Women’s for travelers who don’t mind checking a bag. The Ruckpack has it all: a rugged exterior, a capacious interior, comfortable and adjustable straps, and a removable daypack.
Though it may be possible to get these picks into an overhead compartment, they’re really designed to be checked luggage. If carry-on is your only intended use, we have other recommendations.
Thick padding and highly adjustable straps make this the most comfortable and easy-to-fit pack sized for people with longer torsos.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $200.
Thick padding and highly adjustable straps make this the most comfortable and easy-to-fit pack sized for people with shorter torsos.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $200.
With any backpack, getting the right fit is crucial. The REI Co-op Ruckpack 60+ Recycled Travel Pack – Men’s (for travelers with longer torsos) and the REI Co-op Ruckpack 60+ Recycled Travel Pack – Women’s (for travelers with shorter torsos) were the most adjustable and comfortable packs we tested. The thickly padded, stowable straps on the Ruckpack are fully height-adjustable, so they’ll fit a wide variety of torso heights (although these packs no longer come in multiple sizes, as the Osprey packs still do). REI says both Ruckpacks hold about 60 liters, which is plenty of room for nearly every trip. Yet the overall dimensions are still manageable. The main pack unzips like a suitcase, and you can easily fit a week’s worth of clothes, underwear, extra shoes, and toiletries. The daypack, which attaches to the front of the larger pack, has room for camera gear, daily essentials, and a small laptop (in a built-in sleeve). The updated models are made from a tough recycled ripstop nylon that should stand up to wear. But if something does go wrong, REI guarantees these packs for up to a year.

Although it’s comfortable, this backpack is not as adjustable as we’d like. It does, however, have the most spacious removable daypack of any of the backpacks we tested, and it comes with a lifetime warranty. And this pack comes in two sizes.
You save $50 (33%)
The Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Pack – Men’s and the slightly smaller Osprey Fairview 55 Travel Pack – Women’s are excellent backpacks—they’re just not quite as comfortable or adjustable as the Ruckpack. As with all of our picks, these bags have stowable straps, and they can be fully unzipped like a suitcase. Like the Ruckpacks, these bags are made from a strong ripstop nylon. Unlike the Ruckpacks, though, the Ospreys have straps that are not height-adjustable. However, they do each come in two sizes, which might be better for much taller or shorter backpackers (the larger of the two holds 55 liters, the smaller 52 liters). The daypacks that come with both the Farpoint and the Fairview are also slightly larger than the one with REI’s Ruckpacks—something photographers and anyone else who needs to carry more gear throughout the day will appreciate. Osprey also offers a lifetime warranty, the best of any of our picks.
The Explorer offers many of the same features as the pricier bags we tested—a removable daypack, stowable straps, and a main compartment that opens like a suitcase. So this pack is a great deal if you don’t mind sacrificing some comfort, durability, and warranty support.
If you’re not sure about this whole “traveling with a backpack instead of rolling luggage” thing, the less expensive Highlander Outdoor Explorer Ruckcase 45+15 is a great way to try out the concept. This highly adjustable unisex bag has many of the features we liked in our other picks, such as a detachable daypack, stowable straps, and a front zipper that lets you open the bag like a suitcase. But it’s made of cheaper polyester fabric, which isn’t as durable as the ripstop nylon in our other picks. And the Explorer lacks any sort of official warranty support. Also, the daypack is too small to hold most laptops. This bag has all the features you could want and need from a travel backpack, but you may end up having to replace it sooner rather than later.
Thick padding and highly adjustable straps make this the most comfortable and easy-to-fit pack sized for people with longer torsos.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $200.
Thick padding and highly adjustable straps make this the most comfortable and easy-to-fit pack sized for people with shorter torsos.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $200.

Although it’s comfortable, this backpack is not as adjustable as we’d like. It does, however, have the most spacious removable daypack of any of the backpacks we tested, and it comes with a lifetime warranty. And this pack comes in two sizes.
You save $50 (33%)
The Explorer offers many of the same features as the pricier bags we tested—a removable daypack, stowable straps, and a main compartment that opens like a suitcase. So this pack is a great deal if you don’t mind sacrificing some comfort, durability, and warranty support.
I spent the majority of 2014 through the end of 2019 traveling the world. I’ve lived and worked in over 40 different countries across five continents, including spending months at a time in various European and Asian countries, as well as Brazil, Australia, and many other places. That whole time I lived out of a backpack.
Before I started my extended adventures, I had traveled in Africa, China, and throughout Europe with a variety of terrible backpacks and luggage, so I know what’s best to avoid. I’ve also met dozens of travelers from all over the world, and I’ve talked about backpacks with them—some were also testers for this guide.
In addition to covering travel gear here at Wirecutter, I write about travel and tech for CNET, Forbes, and The New York Times, and I have my own YouTube channel.
Because I am but one man, I recruited some help to test out the packs: five men and five women. Most of our testers are also experienced travelers.
A travel backpack is for people who want to travel around the world unencumbered by heavy, slow-moving wheeled luggage. An internal-frame backpack in the 50- to 65-liter range has more than enough room for all of the possessions you need to travel anywhere in the world for an indefinite amount of time—as long as you’re okay with doing laundry once you get to a destination. Whether it’s clothes, a camera, and a laptop for work as a digital nomad (like me) or clothes, shoes, and gear to enjoy the daytime and nightlife everywhere you go, you can fit all of it (though not your entire wardrobe and office) into one of these packs. (If you’re going to carry heavy jackets, going-out clothes, multiple pairs of footwear, or other bulky gear, you may want something a tad bigger.) A travel backpack is perfect for various travelers: someone who’s trekking through Europe for a few weeks or months; someone who wants the freedom to walk from the train terminal to their hostel without hating life; or someone who wants to be able to explore a city without having to stow their luggage and doesn’t want to be miserable lugging it across cobblestones and down tiny alleyways. A travel backpack is not for business travelers who’d like to maintain appearances, nor is it for outdoor enthusiasts looking to spend six weeks hiking in Patagonia.
After researching 26 models, we found that Travelpro's Platinum Elite 25-Inch Expandable Spinner Suiter is the best suitcase for most travelers who check bags.
However, a backpack can be a very personal choice, akin to picking out a wallet or a purse: You know what you want, and it might be different from what someone else wants. Still, there are some common traits that make a good travel backpack—and ones that turn a good bag into an essential piece for travelers. I used what I learned in my years of near-constant travel, plus what I found out from fellow travelers, to come up with what we think most people would want in a travel backpack. Some aspects might seem obvious, others counterintuitive. But when you’re living out of something you carry with you, the experience rapidly fine-tunes your sense of what you want and need.
If you’re not sure yet how to consolidate your stuff into a single travel bag, check out my columns on why you should pack light and five things you can leave at home. More than any other travel advice, packing light is by far the most transformative. It is the greatest gift you can give yourself, other than the actual travel. Travel gets easier and better with minimal luggage. I can’t overstate this.
If you prefer something that rolls, check out our guide to the best carry-on luggage. And if you want something that you can carry on your back for shorter periods of time, that’s business-casual-friendly, and that you won’t ever need to check, see our review of the best carry-on travel bags.
We’ve tested 47 bags over five years, and we are convinced that the 21-inch Travelpro Platinum Elite is the best carry-on suitcase for most travelers.
After traveling with 22 backpacks, we’d choose to carry the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L or the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L—but we offer other great options as well.
At last count there were at least 80 trillion different types and styles of backpacks. No one guide could possibly cover them all. To make matters murkier, if you look into articles about traveling the world with backpacks, there are no hard lines between what constitutes a travel backpack and what constitutes a backpack that you can use for travel. Based on my experience and research, we decided a travel backpack is a bag that can hold between 50 liters and 65 liters, with an integral, removable daypack; that has an internal frame with a hip belt; and that has some sort of cover to contain the straps, for easier storage on planes and trains.
A travel backpack is not a “spend several days away from civilization” backpacking backpack for the wilderness. Those hiking backpacks are similarly designed, but they place greater emphasis on things like ease of access to stuff you’d need on a trail (such as tools and snacks), weather protection, and lighter weight. They minimize use of heavy-duty materials and zippers, and they have a host of external straps and pockets that make them less likely to survive being checked and abused by airline baggage handlers. They also tend to be expensive, because lightweight, water-resistant materials don’t come cheap. For extended-travel use, backpacking backpacks have other annoying qualities, including that they tend to load only from the top and are sealed with a drawstring. This design saves weight and means there’s one less thing to break. But it’s a total hassle when you want something from the bottom of the bag, because you have to unload and reload the entire pack.
Similarly, a travel backpack is not a shapeless duffle bag that offers no support. A duffle is the cheapest way to haul a bunch of stuff onto a plane, but the ergonomics are not suited to walking around a city. A fully loaded backpack, even a small one, easily weighs in at more than 20 pounds. My old Farpoint 55 usually hovered in the mid-30s, though that included a DSLR, three lenses, a battery pack, a laptop, a 360 camera, and other work-related gear. Regardless, that’s a lot of weight to put on only one shoulder.
Adding backpack straps to a duffle can help, but this is still inferior to having a fully supported internal-frame pack that distributes the weight onto your hips, which are much stronger than your back and shoulders. Frameless bags can accommodate more gear in a smaller space and are more likely to fall within carry-on size restrictions. But if you’re going to be doing a significant amount of walking, you’ll want something with a frame.
The picture above is of the Farpoint 55 in 2016, but all of this would also easily fit into our new pick, the Ruckpack 60+. Because all of my electronic gear was stolen in 2017, I now have a lot of new items compared with what you see here, but it’s roughly the same amount of kit.
Here’s what I bring (and this is our standard kit for testing):
Finally, we believe that traveling with a minimal amount of stuff helps you enjoy the trip more, but you shouldn’t feel like an ascetic if you don’t want to. A bag in the 50- to 65-liter range has room for all your essentials, leaving some breathing room for souvenirs, creature comforts, and personal gear. For any extended travel, the key is this: You can’t bring it all with you. So don’t. You’ll have to do laundry, so bring a week’s worth of clothes or less. Literally no one will notice if you wear the same shirt twice in one week. Nearly every place you go will have laundry.
If you’ve never traveled this way, it can seem daunting. But it’s actually easier than you’d think, and the benefits of doing so are legion. I’ve done all of my traveling in the past five years with a 55-liter backpack (and a 15-liter daypack, but that’s all work stuff). I tend to overpack a bit, but 55 liters lets me carry everything in the list above. This varies a bit depending on where I’m headed, but not by much. Some travelers can get away with a 25- to 35-liter bag, but at that point, they’re doing laundry basically every few nights, which isn’t ideal. They also probably don’t need to carry as much camera gear, which I need for my job.
For any extended travel, the key is this: You can’t bring it all with you.
One feature we considered crucial for a travel backpack was an integral daypack: the LEM to the main pack’s CM. I have found this to be incredibly useful and convenient in my travels, and I wouldn’t buy a travel pack that didn’t have one. Many of the travelers I’ve shown this feature to liked the idea, though most didn’t know it was an option. Basically, your clothes and such stay packed in the big bag at the hostel, and you take your camera, laptop, and other necessities out with you for the day—all without having to repack. When you’re in transit, you have the option to wear the daypack in the front (which personally I can’t stand) or attached to the main pack and out of the way.
One of the most important aspects of choosing a backpack is getting one that actually fits your skeleton. This doesn’t have a direct relation to your height, though in a general sense, most taller people have longer torsos than most shorter people do. Then again, I’m 5-foot-11, and my torso is 21 inches. Wirecutter editor Tim Barribeau is 6-foot-3, but his torso is 17 inches. Hollie, one of our testers, is 5-foot-4, with a torso height 1 inch shorter than that of Carolina, who’s 5-foot-2. REI has a guide on how to measure your torso height, if you don’t know yours.
That means measuring your torso and making sure that the bag you want can fit someone your size are both vital steps. And even then, there’s no guarantee that the pack you want will fit and be comfortable until you try it on. To choose the most comfortable fit, check the specs, since each model has different distances between the shoulder straps and hip belt.
For our first version of this guide, we narrowed our choices to 11 possible contenders. For that initial round of testing, I poked and prodded the different packs to sort out whether they had any obvious flaws or issues. For the next update there were only two new packs that sparked interest. To test out the newest contenders, I carried one on a three-day trip to San Francisco and the other on a week-long trip to Seattle and Portland, Oregon, as well as on a three-week visit to several islands in the Caribbean. For this most recent update, REI had replaced our previous pick, the Ruckpack 65, with our current pick, the Ruckpack 60+. Since they are largely the same design, I tested the 60+ around my house to make sure there weren’t any hidden differences.
To test the first guide’s round of packs, I hijacked a friend’s party to have everyone there test the finalists (thanks, Stephen and Carrie!). This coincided with another friend’s visit from London. So all told we had 10 people: five women (ranging in height from 5-foot-2 to 5-foot-6) and five men (ranging in height from 5-foot-6 to 6-foot-2). Two of the men and two of the women were not heavy travelers. The rest had traveled a lot, using a mixture of luggage types.
We tested each backpack for overall fit and comfort. If anything annoyed or excited a tester, I made a note of it. We didn’t do any long walks or hikes with the packs, because this was deemed to be less important, given the focus of this guide. Also, if the fit is right, all of these packs have all of the features to make them comfortable (padding, wide straps, and, in most cases, a suspension system).
Choosing the winners was mainly a matter of disregarding the packs that people most disliked.

Although it’s comfortable, this backpack is not as adjustable as we’d like. It does, however, have the most spacious removable daypack of any of the backpacks we tested, and it comes with a lifetime warranty. And this pack comes in two sizes.
You save $50 (33%)
The REI Co-op Ruckpack 60+ Recycled Travel Pack – Men’s and the REI Co-op Ruckpack 60+ Recycled Travel Pack – Women’s are the best travel backpacks because they’re comfortable to wear and highly adjustable. Like their predecessors, which were our top picks in the previous version of this guide, the current versions of the Ruckpack have enough space to keep you supplied for a week—or more—of travel. As with those of our other travel backpack picks, the Ruckpack’s daypack attaches to and becomes part of the larger pack—to get you from the train station to your hotel or hostel. The main pack’s straps can be stored behind a zippered panel if you want to check your bag. (Overall, the Ruckpack’s dimensions—like those of all of our picks in this category—make it technically too large to qualify as a carry-on, but you can, of course, detach the daypack and bring it on board with you.)
The biggest advantage the Ruckpack has over the competition is its thickly padded and highly adjustable straps. Specifically, you can adjust the shoulder straps for height, ensuring the correct distance between those straps and the hip belt for your torso. So getting a good fit, crucial for any pack like this, should be easy for people with just about any torso size. The Ruckpack comes in two models (one marketed toward men and the other toward women), which you can choose between by measuring your torso. The men’s model—available in black or blue—is for those with torsos between 17 inches and 21 inches. The women’s model—available in black or reddish orange—fits torsos between 15 inches and 19 inches. This year, REI updated the material it uses on the packs to a recycled, 210-denier ripstop nylon (the previous version also used ripstop nylon), which should hold up well against wear.
Capacity-wise there isn’t much difference between the Ruckpack and the Osprey Farpoint. However, the Ruckpack has more organizational pockets, both on the inside (three are accessible via external zippers) and the outside (on the hip belt, for instance). This is especially convenient if you want to quickly stash items or get to them without having to open the main compartment.
All but the heaviest overpackers should be able to fit everything in the Ruckpack that they need for a weeks-long, or perhaps even a months-long, journey—likely with enough space to fit an extra hoopy towel, backup lederhosen, or an emergency kimono. The same is true of the Farpoint and the Fairview, but the Ruckpack’s extra padding and better adjustability make it easier to carry over long distances.
The Ruckpack also has numerous well-thought-out features that make it easy to live with when you are on the go. There are storage straps to attach items to the exterior or to compress the bag so the overall size is a bit smaller. The main zippers are lockable (though the ones on the day pack aren’t, oddly). There are handles on the top and the side to aid in tossing the bag in the back of a cab or above the seat on a train. And (as with the Osprey packs) the Ruckpack has a rain cover, and the whole face opens to allow you easy access to your stuff.
The daypack, easily the weakest aspect of this Rucksack’s predecessor, is much improved and finally quite usable. It’s deep, albeit fairly narrow, and it’s rated by REI to hold 20 liters (up 5 liters from the previous version). I was able to fit all my camera gear inside, though not quite as comfortably as in the Osprey packs (it was close, though). One nice, very welcome touch is a new water-bottle pouch on the side.
REI has a one-year “100% Satisfaction Guaranteed” return policy. If you don’t like the bag, the company will replace it or refund your purchase. This is not quite as epic as Osprey’s lifetime guarantee, but you’ll certainly have long enough to discover any issues the pack may have.
Although the pandemic prevented us from testing the new version of the Ruckpack on any extended trips, I did thoroughly test its quite-similar predecessor. I brought it with me on a week-long trip by train to Seattle, and I took it for three weeks of island-hopping across Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, Barbados, and Antigua. Initially, I thought the smallish daypack would be a dealbreaker, given how much hardware I tend to bring with me while walking around. Most people, however, don’t bring as much gear with them in a daypack as I do. Even better, the current version we’re recommending has a much larger daypack, so this is even less of an issue. I also thought the main pack was a bit large, something that's also addressed with this new model. In all, nearly every complaint we had with the Ruckpack 65 has been addressed in the 60+ (with only a couple of steps backward, which we’ll discuss in the next section).
I liked the greater adjustability of the Ruckpack 65 enough that I chose it—instead of my beloved and well-traveled Farpoint 55—for a four-month adventure across Asia and Europe. I’d lived out of the Farpoint for five years of traveling through dozens of countries, so replacing it was a big deal. I like the 60+ even more, so this bag will be my new go-to choice.
The daypack is very good, but the way it attaches to the main pack isn’t. The Osprey’s daypack zips on, so it feels very secure. The previous Ruckpack had an admittedly odd marsupial pouch. The Ruckpack 60+ has a clip that loops around the daypack’s top handle, and then the top two compression straps pass through loops on the daypack, before clipping back onto the main pack. This makes the daypack feel fiddly and not particularly secure—not loose, per se, but wobbly, like it’s strapped on with some leftover rope. It doesn’t feel like the two packs make up a singular unit, which is the ideal. Also, once the packs are strapped together, you can’t open the main pack. As the title above states, this isn’t a dealbreaker. But it’s a peculiar design choice for something that is otherwise so well-thought-out.
The Ruckpack is available in two models, one for people with longer torsos and one for those with shorter torsos. However, the adjustable straps should allow it to comfortably fit torsos of just about any size. If you’re on the higher or lower end of the range, though, it’s possible the Osprey packs might work better. (The Ospreys aren’t adjustable, but they do come in four sizes: two for the Farpoint and two for the Fairview.) For most people, though, it will be easiest to get a comfortable fit with the Ruckpack.
Also, the daypack’s zippers don’t have the standard holes for easy locking. Instead, you have to thread the lock through the holes in the pull tabs. This isn’t a huge deal, but it’s an odd oversight.

Although it’s comfortable, this backpack is not as adjustable as we’d like. It does, however, have the most spacious removable daypack of any of the backpacks we tested, and it comes with a lifetime warranty. And this pack comes in two sizes.
You save $50 (33%)
The Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Pack and the identical (but sized for smaller torsos) Fairview 55 Travel Pack are lightweight, easy-to-carry, full-featured travel backpacks with an included daypack that’s the best we tested. These bags had been our main pick since the first version of this guide came out, five years ago. But they were outclassed by the adjustability and the superior padding of the straps on the REI Co-op Ruckpack 65 (the predecessor to the current REI Co-op Ruckpack 60+). The daypack that comes with the Ospreys is a little larger—travelers who plan to cart lots of extra camera gear or other daily essentials may especially appreciate this. The Farpoint is available in a dark gray or red, and the Fairview comes in a light gray or a tealish green. (We had people in a diverse range of sizes test both models. But because the differences existed only in the torso-length sizing and colors, the remainder of this review will focus on my experience using the Farpoint.)
One note about capacity: To measure it, Osprey uses a different method than REI does. So despite the Farpoint and Fairview being rated as 55-liter, and the daypacks as being 15-liter, they’re very similar in size to the REI Ruckpacks.
The Farpoint is made from thick, 210-denier (a unit of fiber density—basically, how sturdy it is) mini hex diamond ripstop nylon, similar to what the REI Ruckpacks use (although the Osprey’s ripstop is not recycled). Its big zippers are lockable. And its shoulder straps and hip belt are wide, but not as well padded as those of our other picks. Like the other travel backpacks we considered, the Osprey has a cover (it stores in the bottom of the pack) that you can zip up to cover the strap when checking the pack as luggage. Thick padded handles on the top and side let you carry it as hand luggage in a pinch.
As on our other picks, the front of the Farpoint zips open, allowing access to nearly the entire interior of the bag. Compared with most other packs we tested, this one doesn’t have many organizational pockets (a common Osprey shortcoming). Instead, there’s just a single pocket behind the lid.
The Farpoint’s daypack is one of its best attributes. Though the daypack is also a little short on organizational slots and pockets, it is the best-integrated daypack we found. It easily holds a 15-inch MacBook, and it’s comfortable to wear over long treks. The Farpoint daypack is a little wider and deeper than the Ruckpack’s daypack, but it’s also slightly shorter. The Farpoint daypack has two exterior pockets for water bottles of average size, whereas the Ruckpack daypack has a single, larger water-bottle pocket.
The daypack also zips onto the main pack, a method we found to be sturdier and more elegant than the Ruckpack’s multi-clip-and-loop method. And the Farpoint daypack can be doubly secured by the main pack’s compression straps. Alternatively, you can clip it to the shoulder straps and wear it on the front of your body.
The Farpoint main pack has 3-inch-wide shoulder straps. However, they aren’t nearly as well padded as the Ruckpack’s straps, so the Farpoint is not as comfortable to carry over long distances. The daypack’s straps are the same size as the main pack’s, and they’re wider than the Ruckpack daypack’s straps, which makes hauling heavy gear over long walks easier.
The Farpoint comes with a lifetime warranty. Osprey’s All Mighty Guarantee states, “Osprey will repair any damage or defect for any reason free of charge—whether it was purchased in 1974 or yesterday. If we are unable to perform a functional repair on your pack, we will happily replace it.”
The Farpoint has also been thoroughly tested. It’s the pack I used for years on nearly all my travels before I wrote the first version of this guide. Other than some sun bleaching on the daypack, I’ve seen no issues, and I adore this bag. But I think most people would prefer the better straps and adjustability of REI’s Ruckpack.
The Osprey Farpoint 70 and Fairview 70 are just slightly larger versions of their Farpoint 55 and Fairview 55 counterparts—anything we’ve said about the Farpoint 55 and the Fairview 55 also applies to them. And they would work well for those who want to go with the Osprey but need more room in the main pack for, say, clothes for multiple climates, bulky items like ski parkas, and the like.
The Explorer offers many of the same features as the pricier bags we tested—a removable daypack, stowable straps, and a main compartment that opens like a suitcase. So this pack is a great deal if you don’t mind sacrificing some comfort, durability, and warranty support.
The Highlander Outdoor Explorer Ruckcase 45+15 is not as durable or comfortable to carry as our other picks, so we wouldn’t recommend it for frequent travel. Still, this Highlander Outdoor model matches the Ospreys and the REI Ruckpacks in all the main features we like: It has a removable daypack, stowable straps (so you can check the backpack as luggage), and well-padded straps. If you want to see whether this type of packing fits your traveling style, this backpack is the perfect, more-affordable entry point.
The straps on the Highlander Outdoor bag are well padded. And, perhaps best of all, the shoulder straps are adjustable, so the pack can fit a wide range of torso sizes. The Highlander fit me and our tester Carolina just fine, though it didn’t fit as nicely or feel as comfortable as the Ospreys or the Ruckpacks. But it also costs less than our other picks.
So why aren’t we recommending it for everyone? Well, the daypack is small and less comfortable to wear. The pack’s straps also have a coarser texture than those on the Ruckpack or the Farpoint, and the zippers seem of lower quality. The Highlander’s 600-denier ripstop polyester exterior fabric won’t hold up as well over time as the nylon exteriors of our other picks. A lot can be forgiven at this price, but looking at the materials, it’s clear what the extra money buys you with the REI Co-op and Osprey packs.
The Highlander bag also doesn’t offer any sort of official warranty: Its website merely says, “We hope you are happy with your Highlander experience, but if you aren’t satisfied with any of the items you ordered, you can return them to us for a full refund, please get in touch with us and fill in the form below.” But because the company is UK-based, US customers may end up spending more to ship the bag to the UK for service than the bag itself is worth. It’s not quite as simple and comforting as REI’s one-year “100% Satisfaction Guaranteed” policy or Osprey’s All Mighty Guarantee.
Finally, Highlander doesn’t seem to have any US distribution (other than online), so it seems you can’t go to a store to see whether you’ll find this bag comfortable to use. Yes, you can return it to Amazon if you don’t like it, but that’s an extra level of hassle for most people. This is a good backpack at a great price, especially for infrequent travelers. For more-seasoned globetrotters, however, we think the REI Ruckpacks and the Ospreys are better choices.
During our research, we checked out a number of companies that make great packs, but none of those packs met all of our criteria. In most cases this was because the company specialized in top-loading bags, bags with wheels, bags that were too big, or very large bags that didn’t include daypacks. These brands included Black Diamond, Berghaus, Dakine, Eagle Creek, eBags, EMS, Ferrino, Gregory, High Sierra, Kathmandu, Kelty, Minaal, MEI, The North Face, Ortovox, Outdoor Research, Patagonia, Rick Steves, Timbuk2, and Victorinox.
The bags we did test included the following:
The Deuter Aviant Access Pro has many of the features we liked in the REI Co-op Ruckpack: The Deuter has a strong, 600-denier polyester exterior, is height-adjustable, and has well-padded shoulder and hip straps. What we didn’t like was that its daypack is even smaller than the Ruckpack’s and unable to fit larger laptops. However, the Aviant is more expensive than the Ruckpack, and it doesn’t come with an integrated rain cover (you can purchase separately). A built-in RFID tag does let you include contact info, but we don’t think this high-tech (but unnecessary) option is worth the extra expense. The Aviant is available in 55-liter and 65-liter sizes for smaller torsos, and in 60-liter and 70-liter sizes for larger torsos.
Thule Versant 50L in men’s and women’s: This pack has some interesting features, like a waterproof bottom and lots of adjustability. It doesn’t come with a daypack, but the top of the pack comes off and converts into a sling/shoulder pack. Personally, I find sling/shoulder packs annoying and uncomfortable, especially when they’re loaded with 15-plus pounds of batteries, a camera, a laptop, and more. If you prefer a sling to a daypack, however, the Versant is worth checking out.
Thule Landmark 60L in men’s and women’s: The Landmark 60L is a well-made and sturdy pack, with a wide main-pack opening and most of the same features that we like in the other packs here. But the daypack is rather annoying. This pack is top-loading, so it’s nearly impossible to sling it off one shoulder to quickly grab something inside. To get anything out, you almost always have to remove the daypack completely. Another thing to keep in mind is that Thule counts both the main pack and the daypack toward its total of 60 liters, so the main pack is actually 40 liters. The Landmark 70L has a 50-liter main pack, so that will be closer to the size of the Osprey Farpoint 55.
Geoffrey Morrison
Further reading
by Signe Brewster
Our photo and travel teams have spent thousands of hours testing the must-haves and the nice-but-not-necessities for documenting your next adventure.
by Ben Keough
Packing for the vacation of a lifetime? Don’t forget to put a good camera in your bag. We have picks for travelers (and vacations) of all kinds.
by Liz Thomas
We tested 34 pairs of travel underwear and found ExOfficio’s Give-N-Go Sport Mesh 6″ Boxer Brief and Patagonia’s Active Hipster panties are the best around.
by Erin Lodi and Arriana Vasquez
If you want to shoot sharp photos while using a slow shutter speed, we think the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ 263AB100 tripod is the best choice.
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