What To Look For In A Travel Backpack


When traveling, a good backpack can be your best friend. It carries your gear, can act as a pillow and might even be a conversation starter. But not all backpacks are created equal. As a freelance writer, I’m often jumping on planes to see new clients, heading to photo shoots in exotic locations, or just generally enjoying the freedom of being able to work anywhere I like. I’ve used dozens of different bags to find the right mix and, even now, continue to search for the ‘perfect’ travel backpack. Here’s what to look for in a travel backpack when assessing what you should sling over your shoulders before taking off.

  1. Does it comfortably carry your gear?

The first thing you need to do when looking for a bag is look at what you normally carry. For me, that’s a laptop, a spare change of clothes (or two), noise-canceling headphones, a Moleskine notebook, a passport and, depending on the length of the journey, my trusty travel pillow. That means it needs enough space to fit everything in without struggling to zip it up. I’ve found that around 20-30 liters is ideal. This mid-size also means that even if you stack it full you don’t exceed most airlines’ carry-on weight limit.

  1. Does it have easy access for things you need most often?

    Laptop Compartments Are Gold

When zipping through transit it can be annoying to have to rifle through your bag to find something. Every security checkpoint you need to take out your laptop, so a separate zip compartment for that is gold. It saves hassle and time. A specific, easy-to-get-to pouch for a passport is also epic. You feel like a pro jetsetter when you whip it out at check-in without even taking your bag off your back. A water-bottle holder is also handy for quenching your thirst on the run.

  1. Is it comfortable to carry?

Comfy straps, plus sternum and waist support.


Good straps with adequate padding and suspension are key. You’d be amazed at how often otherwise good backpacks get let down with cheap or poorly designed straps. They need to be adjustable, so depending on whether I’m in the tropics in just a tee, or New York during a polar vortex in a Marshmellow Man puffer, I can keep things fitting well. A sternum strap and waist strap also help when carrying a heavier load. The key here is they need to be easily be stashed away when you’re not using them. No one likes dangly bits. A bit of breathable back padding is also good. Sweat back isn’t a good look if you’re jumping off a plane straight into a meeting.

  1. Will it fit in across a range of environments?

    Good Quality. Timeless style.

Because I visit different cultures and need to adapt between work and play at a moment’s notice, I need a backpack that’s going to look at home wherever I am. No big Hello Kitty prints, or fluoro fabrics for me. Any weird straps or unnecessary design features are also a no-no. Personally, I like clean and black. You don’t need to follow that rule, but pick something you’re comfortable wearing across a variety of situations. It will save you needing to update your backpack every second month, just to keep up with new trends. Looks aren’t the only thing either. You want something that’s good quality and durable, so you can give it a beating without having to worry about seams busting loose and spilling your gear out for everyone to see. In short – look for good quality and timeless styling.

  1. Some added security

I basically take my home office when I’m traveling, so my laptop itself, plus the information that’s stored in there is worth a lot. If a bag has lockable zips, slash guards and lockable straps, then I’m stoked (hello, Pacsafe). It basically adds some ease to my trip so I can think about what I’m up to next, rather than worrying about losing my stuff. I don’t always use these features, but if I’m walking through a crowd, on public transport, or am just a little unsure of the situation, having a few anti-theft options does wonders for my frame of mind.

That’s it. If you have any things you look for in a backpack, hit me on the comments below. I’m always up for learning more about what others use, so I can apply it to my own travels.
My current recommendations in the Pacsafe range are:
The Intasafe 20L, for creative professionals.
The Venturesafe X 30L, for a little more adventure.
By Tim Hawken



Tim Hawken is an Australian writer who enjoys surfing, Indian food and romantic midnight strolls to the beer fridge. He has clocked up visits to 23 countries on 5 continents (and counting). Find out more about his weird world by heading to his website, or following him on Instagram and Twitter.

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