The Best Travel Backpacks for Europe: A Comprehensive Buying Guide

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Your Guide to Finding The Best Travel Backpack for Europe!

So you’ve finally done it! You’re travelling to Europe for the first time – hooray! You’ve done the research, you’ve booked the flights, and now you’re all ready to tackle your next adventure.  Then one thing hits you – what bag are you going to take with you? What is the best travel backpack for Europe?

Buying your backpack is an important purchase. It’s something that will carry more than your clothes around – it’ll carry your life around for a short amount of time.

Speaking from experience, Lisa has taken her Osprey on over a dozen flights, and Eric’s MEC backpack has been around for over a decade!

Trust us, these things are built to last. When deciding on which backpack to buy, there are a variety of things you’ll want to consider to make the right decision for you. To help you on your journey to finding the perfect backpack, we’ll dive in below!

If you’re looking for a Europe packing list and want to find out what all we fit into an Osprey Farpoint 40, read our What to Pack for a Europe Trip post.

How to Choose Your Travel Backpack for Europe

This section is going to help get you thinking. Let’s talk about your trip to Europe and your likes and dislikes to determine your backpack capacity and your backpack fit.

Trip Purpose

Ask yourself: What are you travelling to Europe for? What will you be doing? What kind of trip are you planning on having? That will dictate what kind of backpack you should buy.

If you’re hiking around Norway and are in need of camping gear, you’ll likely need a more robust backpack for keeping more gear and a few goodies for when things go wild out in the wild.

If you’re city hopping via planes and trains for the odd weekend trip, then a smaller backpack might be for you. Keep in mind, the length of your adventure will also determine the capacity of the backpack.

Length of Stay/Trip

It seems obvious to mention that your trip length will dictate what you bring, and thus the size of the backpack you take around Europe. That said, it’s important to carefully consider your trip length.

Here’s an example: If you’re backpacking Europe for three months, there’s a good chance you’ll be taking a larger bag with you.

However, if you don’t plan on doing any camping, you won’t need to consider a backpack that can hold a sleeping bag or a roll-up foam mattress.

Best Daypack for Travel

We actually travel with three backpacks. Lisa has her Osprey Farpoint 40, Eric has a MEC backpack which is a 50 litre, and then Eric also has a smaller orange MEC backpack.

This bag has seen it all. It’s been taken on a plane having been filled to the brim and it has been shrunk down to make it onto a flight as a personal item.

Either way, this bag usually becomes our “daypack” when we travel Europe and head our for a day in the city.

It easily holds water bottles, two cameras, and a bunch of other smaller things (snacks, external batteries, extra sweater, etc). We know a thing or two about daypacks and travelling light.

If you’re looking for the perfect daypack for you, then head on over to our huge post on the best daypacks for travel!

Carry-on Baggage versus Checked Baggage

Personally, we try to travel with only carry-on luggage. Once, we travelled for weeks on end in central and eastern Europe in January winter with only carry-on baggage.

Eric actually had too many clothes, if you can believe it. We will dive into how we pack for trips in another post.

We have traveled so frequently that we know what we need and what we don’t need. You’ll start to learn about your travel habits with experience, too!

Only having carry-on luggage saves us money when we fly on cheaper airlines that make you pay extra for a checked bag, and it allows us to be MUCH faster leaving an airport not having to wait for baggage on the carousel.

That said, sometimes we do check bags – but only when we are moving continents – which Lisa and I do more frequently than we’d like to admit.

That said, it can always be a challenge to dictate what a different airline will do or say about the size of your bag.

For example, Eric’s bag can be packed to look smaller than it actually is. As a result, it holds a lot as a 50 litre, but always makes it on in the carry-on container. Except for one time – he had to squeeze it into WOWair’s “baggage checker” at the gate and it was a tight squeeze.

After spending a minute or two playing Tetris with it, it fit into the metal box and the woman just smiled, shook her head, and onto the plane they went! If you’re a dude looking for carry-on luggage, we got you covered with this post on men’s carry-on bags.

Lisa’s Osprey Farpoint 40 is a VERY popular bag for many reasons. It’s small, but also deceptively big. It’s never given her an issue taking it as carry-on baggage – and that’s across no less than 10 airlines in Europe, from WOWair to Lufthansa to Air Berlin. Rest in Peace, Air Berlin!

How to Size and Fit Your Travel Backpack

Having a backpack that fits you properly is vital to both your physical health, as well as the backpack’s longevity. 

Backpack fitting rule of thumb: the pack’s straps and suspension system (shoulder straps, chest strap, waist straps) should be based on your torso length, not your overall height.

It’s also important to note that around 80% of the overall pack weight should be sitting on your hips using the waist straps – NOT on your shoulders.

Shoulder straps provide stability and support, waist straps bear the load of the weight. Got it? Awesome!

To measure your torso height, you’ll generally want to start at the base of your neck/top of your shoulders. For those of you who know anatomy, aim for your C7 vertebrae.

Shoulder straps should sit snug against your chest and the top of the straps (not the top of the backpack overall) should sit at the base of your neck, as described.

The bottom of your torso is roughly measured by the top of your hip bone. The hip straps, which are usually padded and adjustable, should sit snugly around the waist and be comfortable enough to walk in if you were looking for your Airbnb or hotel.

While there will be sized backpacks that cannot be changed because of their internal frame size or their profile – backpacks are becoming more and more accommodating with adjustable shoulder and waist straps to fit multiple body types and torso lengths.

Features to Consider When Buying Travel Backpacks

Once you’ve got the size determined for your travel needs, you can begin to think about the features of a backpack and what you would personally enjoy to have on a backpack. Everyone has varying preferences.

Unless you’ve travelled with a backpack before, you might have a harder time determining which styles and accessories will work best for you. We’ve given a few things to think about below when purchasing a backpack for a trip to Europe.

Style of Backpack Opening

Here’s the great backpack debate: Top Loading or 3/4 Zipper Opening? This one is more of a personal preference but it’s definitely dependent on what you pack and how you pack it

Often, you’re going to find backpacks that are top loading meaning that the only entry into the main bag is through the top.

This top can be closed up and hidden underneath another cover or flap – typically acting as even more storage.

This is the kind of backpack Eric has. He’s fine with stuffing things he doesn’t need strategically into the bottom while keeping the more frequently used items on the top.

What To Read Next – Why You Need a Travel Cord Organizer for Your Next Trip

Lisa’s Osprey Farpoint 40 is a 3/4 Zipper where the whole bag opens like a clam shell and folds flat on the floor. This allows you to see everything in the bag and pack according to your preference for clothes, toiletries, etc.

In short, you can take out what you need without having to root around in EVERYTHING. You must choose your fate, backpack buyer: top-loading or 3/4? Let us know!

Backpack Straps

Extra straps on a backpack can be a great thing or a terrible thing, depending on who you ask and their purpose of the trip. Often, hikers and campers will use external straps for securing foam sleeping mats, ski poles, or other accessories.

For day or city trippers around Europe, these straps, when not tucked away properly, can cause a headache at airports and on buses. Straps can get caught in the weirdest places and this can lead to backpack damage.

Occasionally, if Eric checks his MEC backpack, he has to place it into a plastic bin and take it to another area where the airlines check the “awkward and over-sized” baggage.

A small detail in the grand scheme of a trip. Eric always makes sure that his MEC backpack is giving itself a hug. He clasps together the waist straps around the front of the bag. This way, there are no extra straps to get caught on conveyor belts and airplane doors.

Exterior Pockets on a Backpack

You’ll need to consider what you bring along on your travels and where it will go in the backpack. Think about your habits.

Do you need quick access to your water bottle? Do you frequently require quick access to a map? Do you need a quick but secure pocket for a smartphone, wallet, or keys?

Often, backpacks have exterior pockets everywhere from the top, to the sides, to the padded waist straps that are right at your front.

These are the kinds of things you’ll want to trial with a new backpack. Don’t be afraid to test out the pockets with real items you will bring on your trip.

Backpack Ventilation

The non-glamorous side of backpacking. You will, at times, have a sweaty back. There’s nothing more embarrassing (and equally prideful?) than showing up to a hostel for check-in, throwing off your backpack, and exposing your back sweat stains for all to see.

Wear them proudly, it means you’re travelling… or you’re carrying too much stuff, in which case, see the section on “backpack capacity” again!

Luckily, lots of backpacks today have sophisticated ventilation systems built into the straps and the back padding, allowing for air flow to minimize these effects.

Know your body – do you run hot or cold? Eric is naturally a very warm person (even in the winter) so a decent ventilation system was something he looked for over other features.

Top Pack/Flap for Backpacks

Lots of traditional hiking backpacks have a lid compartment. This serves many functions: as top cover to repel water, as a pocket for storage, and as a means to secure and store things (like a foam sleeping pad) in-between the main backpack and the lid.

Do you need a backpack with one? Does your backpack have enough outside pocket storage to not need this top flat? These are the questions you should be asking yourself.

Sometimes, personal preference comes into play. Eric likes the lid on his backpack to cover and secure the entry into the main compartment of the bag.

However, sometimes he overfills the top lid pocket and it makes the overall length of the bag a little too long. This is only because Eric keeps city maps and will not throw them away. Souvenirs, right? To each their own.

List of the Top Backpacks for Travelling Europe

Whatever your style, we’ve got a backpack for you below! We’ve arranged them in order from smallest to largest so that you can get an idea of what each one holds compared to the next.

From the small and sleek to the large and rugged adventure packs, here’s hoping you can find what you need for that big trip to Europe!

Incase EO Travel Collection Backpack

The Incase is a “jack of all trades” if you need a smaller piece of luggage for your trip. The side clips undo to reveal expandable storage space that increases the entire volume of the bag which is a plus if you gain gear/clothing while you’re travelling.

Inside, you’ll find separate vented mesh dividers that keep everything neat and tidy.

Carry it like luggage with the handle or toss it on your back – the choice is yours. Electronics are stored away neatly into the low profile this bag offers.

This is a good looking bag, so check out more photos and the reviews of the Incase.

Osprey Stratos 36 Backpack

With a name like Osprey, you know this has to be a good backpack. The Stratos 36 for men (and the Sirrus for women) are both great bags for their size, features, and versatility.

36 litres isn’t overly large that your bag becomes a burden when you’re hopping on planes or catching buses, but it’s large enough that you have plenty of gear to sustain you for a few weeks or months in Europe.

The Osprey comes with a large main compartment that can be accessed after unsnapping the top lid – which features zippered storage on the top and underneath.

You can also get into the main with side access zippers. This is a handy feature!

There’s compression straps to keep the bags profile small, and the padded shoulder and waist straps make the adjustable Stratos a very comfortable bag for any torso.

Most buyers comment on the breathability of the straps and overall ventilation system on their back.

If you weren’t already impressed – the Stratos comes with zippered hip pad pockets, a rain slip cover, hydration integration, sleeping bag compartment, and front panel zippered pocket for those quick grab items.

Ospreys are the real deal – their brand speaks for itself. Have a look at the Osprey Stratos and never look back.

Osprey Farpoint 40 Backpack

The original. The legend. The undisputed carry-on backpack winner champion (in our opinion, at least). The Farpoint 40 fits as carry-on size luggage for every airline Lisa has ever travelled on.

The side zipper allows the bag to be opened up completely, meaning you can see all the contents at a glance.

The lack of bulky straps makes this bag the perfect companion for a weekend trip, a few weeks away, or an extended itinerary of city hopping.

But don’t worry, the Farpoint has a very sturdy waist strap for added support and comfort. This strap can also be neatly zipped away. Click here to check out the prices and reviews for the Osprey Farpoint 40.

Kelty Redwing 44 Backpack

The Redwing is a backpack known to be a reliable daypack for the trail and a valuable asset for nights abroad in Europe. 

It’s top-loading, but the top lid can also detach and become a pack to sling around your shoulder for an even smaller “day sling” pack.

Unique to this backpack are the larger side pockets. They have zippered access and allow for quite a bit of extra storage.

The front pouch is stretchy – perfect for that map grabbing. As for the straps and suspension system, the back panel, the straps, and the waist belt are “Hex Mesh”.

The ventilated back panel allows for breath-ability and the load lifter straps help keep the weight on your torso. Read the reviews of the Kelty Redwing 44!

Black Diamond Elixir 45 Outdoor Backpack

The Black Diamond Elixir is rated as an “outdoor” backpack but don’t let that stop you from making it your Europe trip companion. The “ReACTIV” suspension system features padded and breathable shoulder straps with an open air back panel for extra coolness.

The classic lid can be used to store those quick-grab items, and the main compartment seems large for a 45 litre.

On the outside, there’s a zippered front pocket with mesh and elastic internal pockets. The hip straps also have zippered pockets.

For those hiking trekkers looking to take along a sleeping pad, there’s retractable loops for external storage. See more photos and all the features here.

Osprey Men’s Atmos 50 AG Backpack

Osprey bags are always full of interesting features. Even though this backpack has a traditional lid and top access, this bag allows for entry into the bag from either the top OR the bottom.

Just undo the bottom front zipper. The padded waist strap is essential to the bag’s overall function with the “anti-gravity” suspension system of adjustable straps at the shoulders.

The side pockets are huge and allow for a water bottle to sit in two orientations, and the ventilation system is definitely a selling feature on this backpack!  Check out how awesome the Atmos 50 AG is.

The North Face Terra 50 Backpack

This slimmer and well-ventilated backpack provides travellers with a pack that is perfect for long-term travel around Europe but small enough so that you don’t end up bringing too much.

The Terra 50 has an updated shoulder harness but is still known to fit as a carry-on on airplanes. The pockets on the hip pads are perfect for train tickets and there’s a handy handle on the top of the pack.

The deep side pockets are great for tripods or water bottles. The classic lid design opens to reveal a large 50 L compartment and has a designated laptop/e-reader.

There’s even a front bottom pocket where you can store things that you don’t want touching your clothes in the main pack – a wet jacket, sandals, dirty laundry, etc. There’s not a lot of straps and buckles, minimizing the profile of the bag. Check out the Terra 50 and why others love it.

Deuter ACT Lite 50+10 Hiking Backpack

The Deuter ACT 50 is a great pack for a week long trip, or a super scaled down hiking trip. Its suspension system is easy to adjust for various torso lengths. The AirContact ventilation system means that you stay cool and dry even with a tight and secure fit to your back.

The frame is a light aluminum that’s flexible and stable. This allows an even greater transfer of the weight into the hips for a proper fit and to keep your back free from pain.

With separate bottom, side, and top lid pockets, this backpack makes a great adventure buddy. Don’t delay – check here to see all the features and the price.

Mountaintop 60L Hiking Backpack w/ Rain Cover

If you need the space, the Mountaintop 60 L has it all. Where do we even begin on a bag that has so much going on?

Let’s start at the main compartment – which offers a bottom zipper for quick access as opposed to just having top-loading access. The top lid features a zippered pocket on the top and underneath for extra storage.

This Mountaintop has a separate bottom pocket for a sleeping bag and comes with an elastic rain cover that can be grabbed or stored away into its compartment in seconds.

The suspension system is fully adjustable for torso lengths and the bag has padded waist straps with zippered pockets for items like your phone.

It’s compatible with a hydration system, has compression straps and loops for extra gear, and even a shallow front panel for your jacket, guidebook, whatever you need!

The Mountaintop will take care of you – check out the colours and get yourself a great Mountaintop backpack.

That’s it! We hope this post is helpful for you as you adventure out to buy your first backpack for that big trip to Europe! Just remember – these are a few ideas and styles. Do your homework, think about what you like and dislike – you’ll be just fine with whichever one you choose.

If you aren’t, then you’ll quickly learn for next time and be an even better traveller, now won’t you. We all learned somehow! If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below – we’d love to talk backpacks with you!

As always, Happy Backpack Waddlin’,

Booking Your Trip Soon? This Is How We Do It:
  • Compare flights on Skyscanner
  • Check for Hotel Deals or Book A Hostel
  • Get A Rental Car (depending on the destination)
  • Research plug types and possibly get a travel adapter
  • Go over our packing list
  • Pin it for later!