Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products and services; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Best Overall: Herschel Supply Co. Nova Light at Herschel
"Will serve you well on adventures both abroad and back at home."
Best for Hiking: Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole 20L at Backcountry
"Durable, has a cool design, and is super-lightweight at only 10.9 ounces."
Best Style: Fjallraven Kanken Laptop Backpack at Amazon
"Comes in muted cranberry, a rich mustard yellow, a dark charcoal, and more."
Best Splurge: Tumi Voyager Carson Backpack at Amazon
"Will last, even if it happens to become your everyday bag instead of just your travel one."
Best Expandable: Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L at Peak Design
"A backpack that can go from a carry-on to a daypack."
Best Anti-Theft: Pacsafe Intasafe X 15-Inch Laptop Backpack at Amazon
"Builds on the brand’s reputation for top-quality bags with clever deterrent measures."
Best Foldable: LeSportsac Large Packable Backpack at Amazon
"Great for when you want to bring both a purse and a backpack when you travel."
Best Budget: Swissgear 18-Inch City Backpack at Target
"Ideal for overnight trips when you need a change of clothes and your tablet."
Best Waterproof: Caraa Cirrus Medium Backpack at Nordstrom
"You won't have to worry about shoes or devices getting wet."
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Herschel Supply Co. Nova Light Mid-Volume Backpack
If you just need a basic, lightweight backpack for every day, Herschel’s Nova Light will serve you well on adventures both abroad and back at home. With gorgeous colors to choose from — including Raven Crosshatch, Rosette, and more — it works for the office, on travel days, and for taking in the sights of a new city. The main compartment unzips to show off the brand’s signature cheery red-and-white-striped lining with a pocket to hold tablets and computers, and there are three exterior pockets: one zipped one in front for essentials that need a bit more security (like phones and boarding passes), plus two easy-access sleeve-style pockets on the sides for water bottles and phones or chargers. It holds exactly what you need for a day on the road, as well as room for your in-flight must-haves and a change of clothes.
Best for Hiking: Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole 20L Backpack
A fan favorite in daypacks, Patagonia’s Black Hole Pack will schlep it all for a hiking day while you’re traveling — and it’s eco-friendly to boot. It’s long been a staple of Patagonia’s lineup, partly for its durability, its cool design, and because it’s super-lightweight at only 10.9 ounces. Closing it is secure and easy, with a drawstring and buckle, plus the thin-but-ripstop nylon makes it easy to pack into its included pouch if you want to streamline your storage operations for a day of travel. The straps and back panel are both mesh, which keeps things breathable if you’re working up a sweat on the trail, and if you need a bit more support, there’s a sternum strap to help balance the pack. Even more, there’s a beautiful range of colors to choose from, including a gorgeous Rincon Red to a dual-toned black and olive. The only downside is there’s not a ton of interior organization, but if you prefer to DIY that with cubes and containers, you’re already set.
Best Style: Fjallraven Kanken Laptop Backpack
Fjallraven is known for its lines of colorful backpacks, with gorgeous shades that stand out from other options in the market. The brand’s 15-inch, lightweight laptop bag, for example, is a larger version of their best-selling daypack and comes in muted cranberry (dahlia), a rich mustard yellow (acorn), a dark charcoal, a stormy sea green, and more. Inside, there’s a padded compartment that’s great for laptops from 13 to 15 inches, and there’s plenty of smart details on the exterior, too: padded shoulder straps to make your carry more comfortable, front and side pockets for need-to-reach essentials, and even a removable seat pad. Made from Vinylon-F, it’s durable and easy to care for years to come. If you need to clean it, just use a soft brush and a bit of lukewarm color.
Best Splurge: Tumi Voyager Carson Backpack
As one of the top-quality luggage companies, Tumi's backpacks are just as much of a great investment as their suitcases. The gorgeous Carson is made from technical weave, meaning this lightweight backpack will last, even if it happens to become your everyday bag instead of just your travel one. There’s also pockets for stashing your travel-day essentials, as well as a strap on the back so you can loop it over your wheeled suitcase’s handle, taking the load off your back as you navigate airports and city streets. At 15.75 x 14.25 x 7.75 inches, they’ll also meet most airlines’ carry-on requirements (though always be sure to double-check before you pack). Plus, they’re really chic: the port color works year round and dresses up or down, and the leather trim adds a sophisticated touch.
Best Expandable: Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
If you like to do a little shopping when you travel — or if you want to have a lightweight backpack that can go from a carry-on to a daypack — Peak Design’s 45L Travel Backpack is just the solution. It expands from a 35-liter capacity that will hold your essentials as you explore a city to a 45-liter pack that’ll hold those essentials, plus a few changes of clothes and an extra pair of shoes. There are plenty of organizational features, with clever details like a mesh panel that divides the main compartment, tuck-away shoulder straps, carry handles on almost every side, and magnetic catches that keep a hip belt tucked away until you need it. Better yet, the fabric is waterproof, so a rain shower won’t ruin your gear or clothing. Thieves won’t find the pack easy to get into either: there’s zipper tabs that deter pick-pocketing, a hidden pocket for passports, and a laptop compartment that sits closest to your back, meaning it’s safe from others’ hands and easy to access even if the rest of the bag is packed full. It’s a little heavier than some of the other options, but the comfort of the bag more than makes up for it.
Best Anti-Theft: Pacsafe Intasafe X 15-Inch Laptop Backpack
If you’re going to bring a computer that costs a month’s rent with you, it’s a good idea to get a lightweight backpack that’s built to keep it safe on the road. Pacsafe’s new Instasafe X Anti-Theft laptop backpack builds on the brand’s reputation for top-quality anti-theft bags with clever deterrent measures, like puncture-proof zips that lock, a pocket for cards (with individual slots) that has RFID-blocking technology, and slash-resistant straps so thieves can’t cut them and run off with your bag. The backpack holds both a 15-inch laptop and a 10-inch tablet in their own padded pockets, so you can bring all the gear you and your family will need on the trip. There’s also a dedicated pocket just for your power bank, so you can keep your phone charging while you’re on the go. Plus, at just 1 pound and 13 ounces, it’s not going to weigh you down.
Best Foldable: LeSportsac Large Packable Backpack
LeSportsac’s famous travel bags are just as great in foldable form — although, with the cool street-style vibes of this version, you might not want to keep it hidden away in your suitcase for long. Made from lightweight nylon (it’s just 9.6 ounces), the water-repellent material will keep things a little drier than cloth if you get caught in a storm. Still, it’s not just your basic nylon string bag: there are two side pockets with mesh for water bottles for you and a friend (or a water bottle and a phone), as well as a zip pocket in front for essentials like keys and passports. It’s great for when you want to bring both a purse and a backpack when you travel: when you transfer your things into your bag for dinner or a night out, just fold this backpack back into its own pouch. If the camo doesn’t suit you, the black is minimalist and cool — or there’s a cheetah print, navy blue, and a fun city-themed version adorned with colorful airline tags, too.
Best Budget: Swissgear 18-Inch City Backpack
A great value, this Swissgear backpack is a little larger than your standard backpack, which makes it ideal for overnight trips when you need to bring a change of clothes and your tablet, too. Inside, there’s a sleeve for your tablet that’s protectively padded, plus a large main compartment. On the exterior, pockets are designed for travel, with spaces for your passport, pens, sleeves for credit cards, and zippered pockets to hold on-the-road essentials like charging cables and packs of gum. There’s also a water bottle holder so you can stay hydrated as you go. One smart bonus feature? The mesh straps that let air breathe as you haul across town or through the airport terminals. All in all, this budget-friendly backpack will become your trusted travel buddy, no matter where you’re heading to.
Best Waterproof: Caraa Cirrus Medium Backpack
Caraa might have started as an Instagram sensation with its Studio backpack, but it’s Cirrus is perfect for traveling. It’s just 1.5 pounds, meaning it’s light to start with, and it somehow still feels lightweight even when it’s loaded up with a day’s worth of gear. It’s cleverly designed with plenty of pockets throughout to keep frantic travel days organized — there’s even an elasticated mesh pocket for a large water bottle inside, where it can be supported by whatever else you’re packing with you. While it’s not technically anti-theft, there are some clever thief-deterring measures, like a zippered pocket on the back large enough for a passport and wallet, so you can keep your important things where would-be pick-pocketers can’t get them. The bag is also waterproof, so if you’re caught in a storm, you don’t have to worry about shoes or devices getting wet. Even more, the backpack comes with a wet bag, so if your vacation involves the beach, you’ll have a spot for your suit on the way home.
Before making their final recommendations, our writers considered 45 different lightweight backpacks overall, screened options from 32 different brands and manufacturers, read over 120 user reviews (both positive and negative), and tested 2 of the backpacks themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.