Planning a trip that will take you away from elevators and smooth pavements? If you need to carry your luggage for more than a few minutes per day, backpacks are the best option.
They aren't all created equal, however, and finding the right travel-specific backpack isn't always easy.
Here are four of the best full-sized travel backpacks I've come across recently. If you're looking for a bag that doesn’t need to be checked, consider one of these carry-on sized options instead.
Osprey Farpoint 55
Osprey has a few different backpack ranges, but the best for travelers is the Farpoint. Available in 40, 55 and 70 liter versions, it's front-loading, with a neat, semi-enclosed design for the daypack on the larger models.
The daypack can be clipped onto either the front or back of the main bag, allowing wearers to keep their electronics and other valuables in front of them as they walk.
The harness mechanism is relatively strong, with padded straps that allow it to be carried comfortably for extended periods. Be careful with over-stuffing, however – although there is plenty of room in the main bag, packing both it and the daypack completely full will leave the Farpoint unbalanced and sticking out at the back.
With durable, water-resistant fabric and lockable zips, it's as secure as any other backpack. The main bag holds 45 liters, with the daypack providing an additional ten.
The Farpoint 55 is generally too large to be used as carry-on luggage. If you leave the daypack at home, however, and don't put too much in the main bag, you might be able to just get away without checking it. No promises, though!
Kelty Redwing 50
This hybrid top/front loading backpack is intended to be at home on both light hikes and urban travel.
With an exterior pocket for maps and small electronics, shoulder, sternum and (removable) hip straps, and over-sized side pockets, the Kelty Redwing 50 is a good multi-purpose backpack that isn't so large that it becomes unwieldy.
The single metal bar provides stability, and the unusual U-shaped zipper lets the pack work as both a top and front-loader, depending on your needs at the time. Overall it's a well-designed piece of luggage, at a competitive price.
There are a couple of aspects that aren't ideal, however – a lack of lockable zips provides less security, and it's relatively wide given the capacity. These are small concerns, however, and don't detract from this popular backpack that comes with an impressive warranty.
Do be sure to try before you buy, however, as the most recent model has straps placed closer together than in the past. This can affect the fit around the neck for some people.
Macpac Gemini Aztec 75
Macpac is a long-respected outdoors brand in its home market of Australia and New Zealand, and the company's travel packs are no exception. I've been using its backpacks for several years, and recently upgraded to the Gemini Aztec 75.
It's a plain-looking black backpack with a full-length front zipper, super-comfortable harness that came straight from the company's hiking range, and no hanging straps to get caught in baggage belts.
The harness zips away to avoid damage in transit, and all of the exterior zips can be secured with standard luggage locks. On the inside, the sleeping section can be zipped apart to give one large compartment from top to bottom, a configuration I much prefer.
The sturdy water-resistant canvas has easily handled everything I've thrown at it so far. In terms of extras, the bag ships with a shoulder strap and detachable daypack, both of which I removed after leaving the store and have never reattached.
It's a strong, reliable, no-fuss piece of luggage that, if it's anything like the other backpacks I've owned from Macpac, should last for many years of travel.
The main bag has a 60 liter capacity (the daypack adds the other 15), which is more than enough for even the longest trips. Macpac doesn't have a US distributor, so you'll need to purchase online -- check the exchange rate and shipping costs before you buy.
REI Vagabond 40
REI has a well-deserved reputation for selling quality outdoor gear, whether it's self-branded or from other major suppliers.
The Vagabond 40 is a great travel backpack for those who don't carry lots of gear – it has a full-length front zip, and a comfortable padded harness (including the hip belt) that zips away when not in use. It has lockable zips for security, a side pocket for water bottles or similarly-shaped items, and is well-priced.
While the handles can be used to carry the bag for short distances, it is probably worth investing in the shoulder strap (sold separately) if you plan to often leave the harness zipped away.
Although the bag is marketed as being carry-on size, it's actually slightly larger than many airlines will allow. Despite that, you'll probably get away without checking it much of the time, especially if it's not completely full.