Best Wheeled Backpacks
For travelers who spend a good deal of time in urban areas, or flying a great deal, a wheeled backpack is a great option. A few years before these babies were common place I had a long conversation while lugging a giant rucksack through Bratislava that wheels would be a nice addition for urban travel. Apparently the travel gods were listening and some of the best luggage companies are out there making awesome wheeled backpacks.
The Victorinox CH 22 Tourist Expandable Carry-on is an excellent bag for versatility and urban travel. It seems to have everything a seasoned travel dreams of: front load, comfortable straps and supports, wheels and expansions. If you’re looking for something that can go from rugged terrain to urban jungle, this is your bag.
For something with a bit more color, try the Eagle Creek Activate Wheeled Backpack, which is expandable, wheeled (of course) and has a sleek design that is perfect for flying because there are no lose straps, flaps or hangers on. And since the wheeled backpacks come in bright red and neon yellow, you’ll be able to identify your bag easily on the carousel.
Osprey consistently ranks highly for their quality and design. The Osprey Ozone Convertible is great because it features a zip-off day bag, carry straps, wheels, sleek design and decent colors. It’s another slam dunk for Osprey. My favorite part is the zip-off pack perfect for exploration with the essentials when you can check your big bag behind.
Best Backpacks for Women
Bar none the best backpack for women is the REI Venus 75, which is the pack I use. The frame is curved for a woman’s shape, the hip supports carry more than the shoulder straps, catering to a woman’s lower center of gravity. But while the design features female features, it remains tough, versatile and ready for rugged use. With both top and front-load options, this is great for all packing types, and the compact design makes it perfect for air and train travel. Unfortunately, this pack is no longer available, which is a real shame because it was a slam-dunk design. The replacement seems to be the REI Flash, which by all accounts has the same features and similar design. The big sell here is the claim that it will swivel and twist with your spine, and its lightweight design.
For women who plan on spending serious time with a backpack on, the Ospry Aether 70 is a great option. It doesn’t have the features I love so much in the Venus, but it’ll do. The removable hip belt is an interesting feature but perhaps not the greatest idea for longer expeditions where secure, snug fit is key.
The Terra 65 by The North Face is reported to be a great design, and offer a hydration pouch, female frame and Optifit design. It is lightweight and hardy, but since it is marketed as multi-day and not long-expedition wear I’d reserve this pack for shorter backpacking expeditions.
Best Backpacks for Photographers
Photographs have too much gear. It’s true. We all know it and yet we’re still lugging around DSLRs and tripods because hey, night shots of the Hagia Sophia are worth it. If you’re willing to bring less clothing, then there are travel backpacks for photographers that can handle your gear and your garb.
The Loewpro Photo Sport 200 AW is a great option because you get a top loader backpack for your personal stuff (what more do you need than a toothbrush and a change of clothes?) and then most of the pack is for your photo gear, which is housed in a separate compartment along the base so the weight is evenly distributed.
The Rover Pro AW Series is great because you’ll find enough space for all of your personal stuff as well as a laptop, lenses, a DSLR and a few special pieces like a tripod on the side. This sexy blue bag is pictured above, tripod in place. Check out the waist strap, which adds to the stability needed for clear, crisp shots.
One of the down sides of a photography backpack is that in third-world regions you’ll be quite the prepackaged target for pick pockets or thrives. The Rover Pro AW Series doesn’t look so much like a camera bag that you could be singled out for it, but those looking for cameras will spot them.
Best Tactical Backpacks
This section is sure to garner the most comments and debate, and for good reason. A tactical pack is designed to be durable, strong, versatile and easy to access. You need to be able to get to items quickly and, sometimes, silently. And (apparently) most importantly you have to look cool doing it. A ruck that can meet all of those requirements is hard to find– well, it was twenty years ago anyways. Now there are all manner of tactical backpacks on the market. Now we did get some insight from one Marine, and one Green Beret before suggesting the backpacks below.
The Maxpedition Falcon II Backpack offers a fantastic design, structure and fit, but still offers tactical options like a water pouch, strap on options and is made of nylon– strong and waterproof.
Grey Ghost Gear Wraith Pack Kryptek is a great bag for anyone in love with serious tactical packs. You’ll get superior quality, versatility, durability and of course the tacti-cool points you’re looking for. This comes with the hydration pouch, which is key for serious expedition hikers, backpackers and long-haul explorers.
If you’re looking for something segmented, compartmentalized and yet compact, look no further than the Velox II Tactical Backpack. This epic find is perfect for the hyper-organized (like me). There is a compartment for everything, specially designed to keep your organized and chaos-free. And it’s all easy-access, and yet with a few ratchet straps you’re able to keep it compact.
Best Carry-on Backpacks for Flying
Flying is tough, and it’s tougher when you don’t have the right gear. The Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack is great because it’s versatile and can handle fragile items like a laptop and camera as well as a book, notepad, pens, and a few clothing items. If you’re the kind of person who can travel light, this might even be all you need, and the shape is perfect for fitting into the overhead bin. One of the things I like best is that it is tall and thin, so your elbows wont’ rub against the sides, back or waist support. For someone with a small frame, this is paramount, and if you’re on small planes, trains or buses it’s imperative to fitting down the aisle.
Another great carry-on option is to go with what’s winning awards- the Goruck GR1 is a great backpack, slender and contained. It has a laptop pouch and sleek design, but is durable and sturdy enough to toss around for a person constantly on the road.