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How to Choose the Best Travel Backpack for Women in 2019

Women on the Road
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Choosing the best women's backpack is part skill, part inspiration, and part plain hard work, especially if you plan to be living with your pack for months or more.

The Gregory backpack I used across Africa for three years was nearly perfect (like many good things, this model is no longer made).

But styles change and technology improves so it was time to find something new.

how do you choose among the best travel backpacks for women? 

I think it’s safe to say that there’s no “perfect” backpack for all women. We’re each looking for different things, we can carry different weights and our bodies come in different shapes and sizes (which matters a lot when choosing a bag). You’ll also need a different bag depending on whether you're backpacking across Africa for a year or spending a week in Prague.

Since no single backpack will work for everyone, I've put together a list of recommendations with backpacks that are popular and have stood the test of time. Your choice will depend on where you're going, for how long and what kind of activities you'll need it for.  I used plenty of criteria when evaluating my choices - you can click here to scroll down to all the questions I asked during my research.

women's backpack comparison table

Name

Image

Size

Torso length

Fabric

Access

Price

XS/S: 52L 

S/M: 55L

3lb 13oz/1.72kg 

XS/S: 13-17"/33.02-43.18cm

S/M: 16-20"/40.64- 50.8cm

210-denier ripstop nylon/600-denier packcloth

Front

$$

30L

1.63lb/739g

16-22"/40.64-55.88cm

Polyester

Top

$

60L

2lb/907g (short version)

Short: 15-18"/38.1-45.72cm

Regular: 18-21"/45.72-53.34cm


210-denier high-tenacity nylon

Top

$$

50L/65L

4.08lb/1.85kg

Adjustable

Nylon

Top

$$

50L/60L/70L

3.88lb/1.75kg

Adjustable

420D Cordura™ Nylon / 100D Nylon

Front and top

$$$

S/M: 38L M/L: 40L

3lb/1.36kg

S/M: 15-19"/38.1-48.26cm

M/L: 18-22"/48.26-55.88cm

210-denier ripstop nylon/600-denier packcloth

Front and top

$

Regular: 61L
Tall: 62.5L

4.14lb/1.8kg

Adjustable

420- and 630-denier nylon fabric

Top (with vertical front zipper)

$$$$

55L

2.5lb/1.13kg

Top and side

Polyester

Top and side

$$

Image

Size

XS/S: 52L 

S/M: 55L

3lb 13oz/1.72kg 

Torso length

XS/S: 13-17"/33.02-43.18cm

S/M: 16-20"/40.64- 50.8cm

Fabric

210-denier ripstop nylon/600-denier packcloth

Access

Front

Price

$$

Image

Size

30L

1.63lb/739g

Torso length

16-22"/40.64-55.88cm

Fabric

Polyester

Access

Top

Price

$

Image

Size

60L

2lb/907g (short version)

Torso length

Short: 15-18"/38.1-45.72cm

Regular: 18-21"/45.72-53.34cm


Fabric

210-denier high-tenacity nylon

Access

Top

Price

$$

Image

Size

50L/65L

4.08lb/1.85kg

Torso length

Adjustable

Fabric

Nylon

Access

Top

Price

$$

Image

Size

50L/60L/70L

3.88lb/1.75kg

Torso length

Adjustable

Fabric

420D Cordura™ Nylon / 100D Nylon

Access

Front and top

Price

$$$

Image

Size

S/M: 38L M/L: 40L

3lb/1.36kg

Torso length

S/M: 15-19"/38.1-48.26cm

M/L: 18-22"/48.26-55.88cm

Fabric

210-denier ripstop nylon/600-denier packcloth

Access

Front and top

Price

$

Image

Size

Regular: 61L
Tall: 62.5L

4.14lb/1.8kg

Torso length

Adjustable

Fabric

420- and 630-denier nylon fabric

Access

Top (with vertical front zipper)

Price

$$$$

Image

Size

55L

2.5lb/1.13kg

Torso length

Top and side

Fabric

Polyester

Access

Top and side

Price

$$

women's travel backpack reviews

Trying to compile this list was a challenge, mostly because of the huge choice. From cute backpacks (think Hello Kitty) to trendy backpacks (highly impractical for the most part) to work backpacks (not appropriate in this case), dozens of excellent models jump out for just about any use.

Here, though, I'm concerned with long-term travel, or at least longer term, say a few weeks. (Anything less and I'll simply use a carry-on bag). 

click here for my ultimate long-term packing list!

best travel backpack for europe: thule versant 60 women's

The Thule Versant's sleek design keeps it from looking out of place in a more urban setting, making it a travel backpack Europe won’t scoff at.

Both the shoulder straps and hip belts are adjustable to get a near-perfect fit. The hip belt is designed for custom pockets (sold separately) including a camera holster or normal zippered pocket. The top of the pack can be unclipped and transformed into a small sling bag for daytime urban outings, and the main backpack has an extensive U-shape zipper that allows full access to your gear since the flap opens like that of a traditional suitcase.

While it may look relatively unobtrusive on the Continent, the real aim of this pack is the trail. If you’re looking for a for-women waterproof pack that’s also chock-full of hiking features, the Thule Versant 60 makes an excellent choice. It has a waterproof roll pocket on the hipbelt, as well as a removable partial rain cover (that still lets you access your water bottle). The waterproof bottom liner means you can set your bag down on wet ground and still keep contents good and dry.

It comes in three sizes (including a smaller 50L backpack for travelling lighter), so you can make your choice based off your needs without sacrificing functionality. You only have two color choices: deep teal, which blends in with the wilderness, and a royal blue that stands out. Is it the best backpack for Europe? I'm sure there are others, but if you're planning for several weeks of travel or more, this pack has everything you need at a reasonable price. 

PROS

 Designed for women
 Waterproof roll-down hip pocket
 Removable partial rain cover
 Waterproof bottom liner
 Sleek design
 Adjustable torso
 Adjustable hip belt
 Removable lid (turns into sling bag)
 Front-loading (suitcase-style)

CONS

 Abnormally long straps
 Not enough exterior pockets

best carryon backpack for international travel: osprey farpoint 40 travel backpack

Osprey Farpoint 40 travel backpack

Here’s a short Osprey Farpoint 40 review. There is a larger female-specific version of this bag reviewed below (the Fairview 55), but if you want something that you can carry on to almost any budget airline and  still take out for the day, the Farpoint 40 is possibly the best airplane travel backpack.

A friend of mine was able to bring it on board with both Ryanair and Wow Airlines (just don’t pack it too heavily!). Like the Fairview, it opens like a suitcase, ideal if you’re taking a RTW trip and you like your things organized.

You can unroll the back panel to zip up and hide the shoulder straps if you need to. It also comes with a shoulder strap to convert it into a messenger-style bag (although I'd find that too heavy).

The main compartment flap has a full-sized mesh zipper pocket and the compartment itself has compression straps to help squeeze your clothes. There are two additional zippered pockets: the central one features a padded laptop sleeve and more storage, and the smallest front one is good for little items like lip balm or perhaps a phone. Just keep in mind that if the main compartment is too full, it lessens the space in the outer pockets. If this is to be the best backpack for flying, you can't let those pockets stick out too much).

And while most backpacks for plane travel wouldn’t last a day on the trail, the Farpoint has comfortable straps, mesh padding and good hip support. Additionally, it comes in a small torso size for shorter women (although it’s technically a man’s bag). You can get this 40L travel backpack  in red, grey or powder blue.

PROS

 Carry-on size
 Front-loading (suitcase-style)
 Laptop pocket
 Back/straps ventilation
 Flap to zip up shoulder straps/hip belt in transit
 Side and top handle and removable messenger strap

CONS

 Small capacity
 Water bottle pockets only work with lightly-filled pack
 Men's backpack

best backpacks for travelling abroad: arc'teryx bora ar 61 backpack

This is by far the priciest bag on the list, but for a reason: if you haven’t quite committed to ultra-minimalist travel and you want to explore the world, this might be the best rucksack for travelling when you need space, a sleek look and plenty of packing features.

While it doesn’t have a U-zipper, it does unzip down the front, allowing you better access to the bottom of the bag. It’s hydration-compatible, incredibly durable and virtually waterproof. You’ll easily carry the load because of the rotating and gliding hip belt that moves both sideways and up and down to keep the weight on your hips, a unique feature not found in most other backpacks for travelling abroad. You can adjust the shoulder straps up and down, as well as in width (since we weren’t all built with similar shoulders) to get a premium fit.

The shoulder straps and hip belt come off so you won't have to worry about getting them tangled or broken by the baggage carousel, but do keep in mind that it’s unlikely to pass as a carry-on even though it’s otherwise a great international travel backpack. 

This pack has loops and hooks for ice axes and trekking poles (in case you're also going trekking), space for a one-liter water bottle, and a ventilated back panel so you won’t be sweating in the heat. So if you're leaning towards the sporty side of backpacking, this bag will be your friend both on the mountains and the city.

PROS

 Unique front zipper
 Hydration-compatible
 Waterproof
 Rotating/gliding hip belt
 Attachments for ice axes/trekking poles
 Adjustable strap width
 Adjustable torso
 Back/straps ventilation
 Removable shoulder straps/hip belt
 Sleek design

CONS

 Limited color selection
 Expensive

great travel backpacks for longer trips: Osprey aura AG 65

A woman-specific bag with an adjustable torso so you can get the right fit, this is one of those cool backpacks (both figuratively and literally) you’ll be glad you invested in, especially if you plan to spend considerable time outdoors.

The mesh anti-gravity back panel offers ventilation for those long, hot days, and with Osprey’s “All Mighty Guarantee,” this is one of those durable backpacks for travel. Osprey packs are among the most highly-respected travel backpack brands (and - fun fact - the most popular one for those hiking the Appalachian Trail), so you won’t be the only one sporting this pack.

I wish it came in more colors (the light grey might look dirty quickly) and the top-loading feature makes it a pain to get to anything at the bottom of the bag (unless you're like me and use packing cubes for everything). That said, it has a dual-zippered front pouch that’s perfect for items you need regularly.

This isn’t a travel backpack with a daypack attached, but the floating lid can be removed to save weight. I tend to think you’re better off with buying a separate, higher-quality daypack anyway.

The hip belt is adjustable and includes hip pockets for your phone, lip balm and other small items. Like all good travel backpacks, there are loops for trekking poles, straps for your tent or sleeping bag, and plenty of internal pockets to help you organize your gear. Women say it’s the most comfortable backpack for travel because of the anti-gravity system, but keep in mind that with a bag of this size it’s very easy to overpack - resist the urge.

PROS

Adjustable torso
 Designed for women
 Anti-gravity back panel
 Back/straps ventilation
 Removable lid
 Adjustable hip belt
 Attachments for trekking poles
 Straps for tent/sleeping back
 Under warranty

CONS

 Limited color selection
 Top loading

Best waterproof backpack for travel: Mountain Hardwear Scrambler Dry Pack

This bag is made primarily for one thing: to keep your things dry.

While I would rarely choose a backpack for its water resistance, you may have a lot of gear you need to keep dry and if that's the case, this is one of the most highly rated waterproof travel backpacks.

There are loops for trekking poles, internal organizational pockets, and fairly cushioned shoulder straps. The hip belt is more for keeping the pack close to your back than for adding any extra support, so it would be good to keep your pack light (made easier by the 30L capacity). It has a drawstring closure at the top for easy access, and a clip-over rain cover.

PROS

Waterproof
 Inexpensive
 Attachments for ice axes/trekking poles

CONS

Small capacity
 Not designed for extended hikes
 No hipbelt support
 Top loading

A GREAT women's travel pack: north face terra 55 

This bag, designed for women, has an adjustable torso, always practical given our physical differences - and which happens to make this one particularly comfortable.

The back panel offers great ventilation and the straps are well-padded, but sleek. While you can access the pack contents from the top, there’s also a large side zipper to access the contents.

There are plenty of zippered compartments, including two on the front for small items, a generous sleeping bag compartment you can get into through a bottom zipper, and hip pockets.

The price is attractive, especially for the size of the pack and the durability of its materials. It’s not an overly complicated bag with bells and whistles, but it has what you need in a women’s travel rucksack. It’s one of the best backpacks for women who are looking for a simple, comfortable design that works for you instead of against you, and at a price that won’t break the bank.

PROS

 Adjustable torso
 Designed for women
 Incredibly comfortable fit
 Back/straps ventilation
 Side zipper access
 Bottom zipper sleeping bag access
 Sleek design
 Inexpensive

CONS

 Limited color choices
 No bells and whistles

Best lightweight travel backpack: Granite Gear Crown2 60

This is one of the best light travel backpacks designed specifically for women. Given its light weight (2lb for the short version, you can dedicate the rest of the pack to the things you actually need to put inside. However, with 60 liters of space, it’s not the best small travel backpack despite its minimal weight.

It’s top-loading, which some women find irritating, but the RE-FIT adjustable hip belt with water resistant side pockets allows you to keep items you need often readily accessible, as well as exterior stretch pockets for larger must-have items. This bag is hydration compatible, and the bonus lid can be removed.

The well-padded shoulder straps have load-lifter straps, as well as a removable sternum strap. It has a roll-top closure and cinch straps to help you get the tightest possible fit, overall making it one of the best lightweight backpacks on the market right now. As with most lightweight bags, you’ll sacrifice some framing and durability in order to keep the weight low, but even so, the bag is comfortable to wear and tough enough for prolonged use. Plus, it’s under warranty so you don’t have to worry about the thinner material not standing up to use.

PROS

 Lightweight
 Designed for women
 Removable frame sheet
 Adjustable hip belt
 Removable lid
 Hydration-compatible
 Load-lifter straps
 Under warranty

CONS

 Possibly less durable fabric
 Top loading

front loading travel backpack: osprey fairview 55

Most serious backpacks are still top loading, so when you find a quality bag that’s also easy to pack, it’s exciting.

The Fairview is the female-specific version of the popular Fairpoint, which is one of those great travel backpacks that open like a suitcase. This one has a daypack with a padded 15-inch laptop pocket that unzips from the main pack for those smaller trips (the daypack is top-loading). This is a great feature I've often enjoyed with other backpacks.

The full backpack’s main storage compartment features a mesh zippered pocket perfect for travel underwear and socks. The pack also has internal compression straps to keep your clothing and contents from shifting.

Another useful packing feature is being able to zip up the shoulder and waist straps inside a panel to prevent them from getting caught in the baggage carousel, along with a handle that makes it easy to lift it off when it rolls around. There are two front mesh pockets (although if the bag is really full, you’ll have a hard time fitting larger water bottles). All good - and I do love that detachable daypack!

PROS

 Front-loading (suitcase-style)
 Designed for women
 Laptop pocket
 Detachable daypack
 Flap to zip up shoulder straps/hip belt in transit
 Side and top handle
 Main compartment locking zippers

CONS

✗ Water bottle pockets only work with lightly-filled pack
 Daypack has small capacity

how to choose a travel backpack By asking the right questions. these questions.

Reviews are essential to get started on our quest for the right backpack, but each of us has different needs so if we want to narrow it down, we'll need to ask some of these questions.

How heavy should my backpack be?
Some backpacks are extremely light but the trade-offs are sturdiness and comfort. The lightest backpacks won't have much heavy padding, and they'll be light on straps and pockets. Still, when an airline limits you to 8Kg/17lb, and some do, you don't want half that weight going into the structure of a backpack.

Should it fit on board?
It should but won't always. That's because airline rules about what you can carry on board are becoming increasingly stringent. Still, if you can go small, do it. Backpacks can be cut easily and their content plundered, so I'd rather sacrifice a bit in size and make sure mine stays within sight. Carry-on dimensions vary from one airline to another but whatever the size, it's always going to be smaller than you'd like.

What is the ideal size for a women's backpack?
It depends on the adventure. An expedition won't require the same gear as a city hop. Just don't make the beginner's mistake of carrying a huge pack - you'll regret it, and not just because it doesn't fit on board. What ultimately decides the size of your backpack is, believe it or not, your body weight. If you're fit, your full backpack shouldn't weigh more than 1/3 of your weight. The rest of us should aim for 1/4 of our ideal body weight (those of us on the chubby side should use our ideal, not our real weight). Badly out of shape or have health problems? Aim for something even lighter. Weight is more important - your huge backpack stuffed full of fleece will be easier to carry than your small pack filled with books. Of course small and light is best... but if your strength is failing and you need something easy to pull behind you, then yes, wheels.

Should it load from the front, like a suitcase?
Traditional backpacks, especially those used for trekking, load from the top. When you need something from the bottom, everything has to come out. Front loading means you can fill it like a suitcase, with all your belongings at your fingertips. If you can't get a front-loading backpack, at least try to find one with plenty of outside pockets so you'll have the stuff you need the most close by without having to dig through everything you own - or use packing cubes.

What about comfort? How much does that count?
I like wide, contoured, soft straps that divide up the weight across my back and don't cut my armpits in half: the cushier the better. In addition to wide and soft straps, a good backpack for women should have a chest strap (sternum strap) to keep the shoulder straps together (located a bit higher than it would be for a man for obvious reasons). A hip strap to make sure your hips work harder than your shoulders to carry the weight is absolutely vital - don't forget that your hips should take the majority of the weight, not your shoulders or back.

Wheels or not?
An interesting option is a backpack with wheels, which you can carry on your back but pull behind you as well. I haven't found any comfortable enough to carry long distances, although they're heaven when you need to dash through an airport at high speed - in other words, across a supremely smooth surface. If you're backpacking around Africa or South America, you won't have too many smooth wheeling opportunities. And don't forget there's a weight penalty for wheels because they need a strong frame. But if you're staying in modern cities and big hotels with elevators, you might want to try one of these out.

Internal frame or external frame backpacks?
The external frame seems to be able to carry a lot of weight easily around your hips, although it won't work too well if you're using it for sport or very rough trails where you're scrambling because its center of gravity can tip you. In hot countries they tend to sit off your back, though, so they'll be cooler than the form-fitting more stable internal frame packs. This is a generalization of course but it should be kept in mind. Kelty external frame backpacks are well-thought of, and I used to own a Karrimor external frame in my late teens - great if you actually need to carry more weight than you should. These days, at least for travel as opposed to trekking, the external frames are in the minority.

An integrated daypack?
Many backpacks have travel daypacks attached to them (like my old Gregory backpack) and granted, if you fill both to the brim you'll be way over every airline weight and size limit. The idea is to detach the day pack and use that as your purse/briefcase/bag, while using the rest of the backpack as your carry-on luggage, if you're allowed. Unfortunately there's a price to pay for this convenience and often the integrated daypack isn't half as good as a daypack you'd buy separately.

Lots of pockets!
That's a matter of personal choice and for me a women's backpack needs plenty of these - I love to stuff all those little pockets full of things, while other backpackers would rather pack small bags and put them inside the backpack. In the absence of pockets, I use small pouches or tiny packing cubes. Granted, it will be a lot harder to steal something from inside your pack than from pockets on the outside. But I like the convenience of reaching for something easily. Just not something valuable.

How do you slip the darn thing on?
The words 'slip on' may not quite apply to backpacks but if you can't get your pack onto your back relatively easily, you can hurt yourself and pull a muscle. My preferred method is to set my pack upright on a rock or ledge at about the height it'll be on my back, with the shoulder straps a bit loose. I then just slide my arms through the straps, clip on the hip strap snugly to keep the bulk of the weight on my hips, pull on the shoulder strap adjusters to tighten them and walk off. But you at least need to be able to lift it.

A cover for shoulder straps
Many backpacks have a zippered cover into which you can tuck all the straps. You can then carry the pack around like a suitcase or if it's really light, like a shoulder bag. This is a great feature because it keeps straps from getting caught in loading ramps, forcing baggage handlers to rip or even cut them off. Your backpack wouldn't be of much use without straps!

Do I need a plain cover?
This isn't usually part of the backpack but you'll need it anyway - a waterproof cover (a waterproof backpack is even better if you're headed into the rains). Keep it handy because you never know when you'll be hit by a downpour. And speaking of waterproofing, place your delicate gear - laptops, phones and music - into a dryliner or waterproof pouch so even if the outside of your pack gets wet, your valuables won't. If you don't have a cover and it pours, you can always get a large garbage bag and snuggle that over your backpack in a pinch. The cover has another function - it helps protect your pack from thieves by keeping all those zippers and openings hidden.

Women's versus men's backpacks
Some women will prefer men's backpacks. If you're relatively flat-chested the men's sternum straps may not bother you but if you're busty, the strap on a woman's pack is placed higher - which makes it more comfortable. If you're getting a man's pack, make sure those chest straps are adjustable. If you have slim hips and are taller than average, a man's pack may actually fit you better than a woman's version. A shorter framed woman would probably prefer a woman-specific backpack.

Backpacks on a truckThe size of the backpack depends on the trip - the Camino requires something far more voluminous than a few days away

What color should my backpack be?
That's not an easy question to answer. I look for several things: a pack that doesn't show dirt too much, but is distinctive enough to see when the backpack goes flying off the top of the bus past my window (as it once did in the rural Philippines - I barely had time to scramble off to be reunited with it as the bus sped off into the distance). On the other hand if it's too bright and shiny it may look desirable and worth stealing so backpack beauty needs to strike a delicate balance.

What now?
If you're buying your pack in a shop instead of online, take advantage of the fact by running a few tests before you leave:

  • Put some heavy things into the pack and walk around the shop with it. Walk a lot.
  • Are you comfortable? Does anything pull, tug or pinch? If it does, adjust it properly.
  • Make sure your straps are the right length and ask the salesperson for help if you can't resize them yourself.
  • Lean your head back. If it hits the backpack, the pack is too tall.
  • Look at the buckles and straps to make sure they're sturdy. Buy a few extra - you never know when one might break.
  • Know the backpack's weight. Some can weigh several pounds or kilos so remember your weight allowance. A heavy backpack just means you'll be able to take less stuff with you.
  • Make sure it's a snug fit around your hips, because this is where most of the weight will be carried.
  • Consider a pack with a mesh back to avoid the pack sitting directly on your back, causing you to sweat from heat.
  • And once you choose your travel backpack, sew something reflective on it. You'll be glad you did if you're ever stranded on a busy road at night.

Each of us is different and my perfect pack won't be yours. The best women's backpack ranges provide plenty of choices, but you may have to try a number of them before you decide. In addition to the ones I've mentioned, popular packs include different models of the Kelty backpack, the Swiss Army backpack and High Sierra. There are plenty more.

Just don't skimp: along with your women's hiking boots and hiking sandals, this is one of those pieces of equipment you'll be wearing the most. Spend the extra hundred dollars if it means getting the perfect pack.

Packing a backpack for travel

First things first, decide what you need to take with you. This is obviously different depending on what kind of trip you’re taking: if you’re hiking in a remote place or if you’re hostelling in urban European cities. Check out my packing list below to help you decide what to include.

click here for my ultimate long-term packing list!

Next, be harsh with your packing. Even the fanciest bag with the best suspension system is going to hurt your shoulders and back if you pack too much stuff. Plus, you won’t have any room to bring home treasures. Lay everything you want to take on the bed. Take half the stuff away. And then half of that. And what you're left with just might be what you can manage to carry.

Once you know what you need to take with you, invest in packing cubes. Seriously! These are the ones I use and love, and I wouldn’t pack a bag without them. Especially if you have a top-loading backpack, you’ll appreciate that you aren’t aimlessly digging through your bag to find that one item: simply organize the packing cubes and search for the specific cube holding said thing.

Not to mention these bags allow you to compress your items, giving you more space for the things that don’t fit in cubes (like your cooking gear). Depending on what kind of travel you’re doing, you may want a toiletries bag that you can hang in the shower, or an electronics organizer that keeps cords, chargers and memory cards safely stowed away.

Make sure if you’re planning a real hike that you invest in quality dry bags. If your bag doesn’t come with a rain cover, buy one. While yes, you can tuck your phone into a standard ziploc, high-quality waterproof gear will give you peace of mind and possibly save you hundreds of dollars.

If you’ll be boarding a plane, put items that you’ll need to show to airport security (laptops, spare batteries, toiletries, etc.) in an easily-accessible pocket, and please read the rules: don’t show up with a huge tube of sunscreen that the agent will throw away. Not only does it slow down the security process, big tubes take up too much space and weight. In fact, you could just purchase small toiletries upon arrival at most destinations.