Choosing a backpack can be so confusing. Do you choose one with wheels, with a day pack attached or just buy a suitcase instead? This article covers the best travel backpacks for women and will help you to choose the right one for you.
As tempting as it may be to just buy a cheap bag, this is probably the biggest investment you’re going to make for your travels so it’s worth investing in a decent backpack especially if you’re travelling for a long time. The last thing you want is for it to break when you’re away. Paying a bit more ensures a sturdier bag and one that will last longer.
Backpack or Suitcase?
It really depends on what type of trip you are going to do. Backpacks are ideal for spontaneous travel and if you are planning on seeing many places (e.g. a 10 day tour around Europe). If you are only going to one place such as a relaxing holiday in the Caribbean then a suitcase may be better.
Have big should it be?
How long are you going for? If you are away for a year and going to be experiencing different seasons, then take a 60 litre bag. If it’s a short city break then a 40 litre. Some people can survive on just hand luggage for three months and others need the biggest bag they can find.
You can always take enough clothes for a week then wash them as you go. That way you may be able to survive on hand luggage for a four week trip. It makes flying cheaper as you don’t have a bag to check in and need to wait for it on the luggage carousel.
It’s also more comfortable travelling with less especially if you have to walk to a bus station or your accommodation. Look at backpacks with a woman’s frame and if you buy it from a shop/store ask them to fit it for you so you know how to wear it properly. Consider your frame size. If you buy a large backpack it could be too difficult to carry and you may not be able to stand upright.
Backpacks are easy to carry and have comfortable straps for your waist and shoulders. They can be easily carried over rough terrain and are perfect for places which don’t have cemented roads. If you don’t want to take a backpack then consider taking a suitcase instead which is more suited towards city travel and places with smooth surfaces (difficult for places off the beaten track).
There are some great backpacks that open like a suitcase which combine the two and even backpacks on wheels which are heavier than a standard backpack. Just find what works for you or have one of each and take whichever one is easier for a particular trip.
Why Choose a Backpack?
- Backpacks are easier to move around through obstructed streets or narrow pathways.
- If there are cobblestones then wheeling a suitcase can be a problem.
- If it’s crowded then a backpack is better than pulling a suitcase behind you.
- No-one can just grab your backpack if it’s on your back so you may feel safer with your belongings.
- If you have to walk up and down flights of stairs (hello Barcelona and Serbia), then having a bag strapped to your back is easier than lifting a heavy suitcase up six flights of stairs.
- There is no danger of your wheels breaking mid-trip.
- You are hands free so it can be easier to look at your phone for navigating yourself around, and hopping on and off transport.
- If streets are flooded as they can be in Venice for example the bottom of your suitcase may get wet.
The only downside is that backpacks can get heavy on your back and make you feel a bit uncomfortable in the heat during hot months.
Suitcases are ideal for city breaks and if you are staying in hotels (with lifts). The downside to taking them on a backpacking trip is that they may be harder to lift into a long-tail boat in Thailand or get stuck in the sand as you pull them.
If you do decide to go for a backpack, there are side loaders and top loaders. The top loaders are mainly popular for camping trips. Most travellers prefer a side loader that opens right up so you can see inside it.
Some backpacks come with their own day packs (small backpack for the day). The general rule of thumb is to keep all of your valuables and important things in your daypack.
Some backpacks also have the daypack attached which can be zipped off and used separately. If you don’t have a daypack then take a zipped bag for walking around during the day.
Material bags can be found practically everywhere but if you’re after something more practical which can be stored in your jacket packet then the Ultra-Sil Day Pack by Sea to Summit is ideal. This day pack is perfect for carrying anything whether you’re on a hike, shopping at a market or spending a day at the beach. It’s strong yet it packs down to the size of a tennis ball so is easy to pack in your main bag.
When I travel with hand luggage I travel with a pink suitcase (of course! It’s easy for me to see everything that I have packed inside as it completely zips open like a suitcase. It has internal pockets where I can store all of my toiletries. It has survived a few countries and being wheeled for up to an hour in some of them.
“I've been in Europe for almost seven months with a small suitcase and light backpack, and I continually switch between the two. I have back problems so for me having a small suitcase and fairly small backpack made it easy to distribute the weight a little more without having any one item super cumbersome. I've got the cabin max bag and I love it. You can fit a ridiculous amount of clothes in it.” – Cathleen Olson
If you are travelling with just hand luggage, check airline hand luggage measurements as it differs from airline to airline.
If you are unsure which backpack to buy, below are recommendations from fellow solo travellers. The only question you’ll be asking yourself at the end is what colour to get.
Osprey 40 – 46L
“I recommend the Osprey Farpoint 40. I used it for a long trip and loved it!” – Ty Elizabeth
“You can get a bag that works as both! Rolling backpacks they are called. The North Face and Osprey do them. However they are often quite heavy, so not ideal if you are only taking hand luggage. I recently got the Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack which is EU hand luggage size and is relatively light.” – Natalie Sarah
“I have had the osprey porter 40. Perfect size as carry on. It opens all the way up so you can access the entire contents. Packs down like a suitcase and small enough to be carry on. Best bag ever. Took it with me to Japan and Thailand, and to Vietnam next week. I even convinced my boyfriend to buy one.”- Kelly Zapecki
“Osprey 40 is the one I use and love it! I haven't had any problems taking it as a carry on and I love the suspension system (a big reason I chose that one). It opens like a suitcase so it easier to keep organised” – Kayla Sheely Lettko
“I recently got an Osprey Porter 46 and am so excited to use it on my five week-long vacation to Asia! It’s a carry-on size and has so many compartments! Seems like a keeper!” – Karla Luna
“I love my Osprey 46. I have a random Timberland Daypack that I picked up at a thrift store.” – Julie Brock
“I use the Osprey Exos 48. It's been perfect for the last 7 months on the road. Lightweight, comfortable, and great for hiking as well. It's the best pack I've found yet for travelling.” – Jacqui Beaton
Osprey Farpoint 55
“I have the Osprey Farpoint 55. The longest I’ve travelled with it is 6 weeks, but it would have been totally fine for a longer trip. Very comfortable (often walked 30 plus minutes to and from train stations). Osprey’s customer service is amazing! My daypack was stolen from my car when I was using it at home; I called in to find out if I could buy another one (you can’t) and the person I talked to had one at their office and sent it to me. Really impressed as they had no other reason to help me out other than customer service!“ – Laura Hampton
“I have the Osprey Farpoint 55. The good points are that it is durable, you can clip the daypack to the main bag when you are wearing it like a turtle. The main bag is big enough and has pockets. You can open it like a suitcase and not like a top loader. The hip padding is good and you can zip the straps up when you are going on the plane so they won't get ripped or stuck. The bad points are that the daypack is too small, and there is no rain cover built in. The mesh ventilation system isn’t great and you will get really sweaty if you are walking. If I was looking again I would get a separate day bag and main bag so you can choose the right features for you. You will be using them separately anyway.
I would look for one with a proper ventilation system where the mesh is on your back then there's a big gap for airflow. If you are mainly staying in cities or staying in the same place for ages just get one with wheels and save your back. You will have to check the 55 in on the plane. If you are ordering make sure you get the right back size for your height as there are a few different sizes!” – Annelise Bishopp
“I also have an Osprey. Mine is the Farpoint 55 and I love it. It opens like a suitcase (something you definitely want). Also, using packing cubes make it so easy so you can put all clothes in one. You can pull it out to get to other things and clothes stay folded and in one compact area.” – Stephanie Turnbull Weilnau
“I’ve got these backpacks that you can use as a sandwich (which I personally ended up preferring) but also you can zip the daypack to the big bag.” – Rose Figueroa
“I changed from a regular backpack to an Osprey Sojourn 60 litres rolling backpack in 2013 and I absolutely love it. When I still used my regular backpack my back often hurt which is now a thing of the past. I am happy I made the change although my Osprey wasn't cheap. I have the Osprey Sojourn 60 litres in blue.” – Vanessa Schade
“I love my Osprey. I have a backpack that's got the exact same layout as a suitcase.” – Jessica Acuna
“I have the Osprey Ariel 65 and it’s been used for long trips. It is a great bag with front access and lots of clever technology built in. The Osprey Aura is also a great design although there is no front entrance but I’d argue an even more comfortable bag to wear.” – Lucia Paone-Michael
Osprey Ariel 65
“I was able to live out of a 65 litre backpack for about a year and had no issues. I actually was able to fit the majority of my clothes (more than I should have brought) in just a medium sized compression bag from Osprey. You can definitely stay organised if you buy little bags for your different types of clothes, toiletries, etc. Plus the backpack itself should have many compartments of varying sizes. I had no issues with my Osprey Ariel 65. The only downside to a backpack is sometimes having to dig through layers of things to get what you want, but if you have access to the top, bottom, and other exterior compartments and organise it well, it makes it much easier.
Plus carrying it on your hips and back makes your life infinitely easier. I swear I barely even noticed having 30 pounds on my back unless i was running, the key is getting a lightweight backpack that fits great (which is why i love my Ariel!).” – Morgan McGuinness
“I had a 32L back pack for 3 weeks in Indonesia. It was more than enough. I now am using a 75L Osprey convertible backpack with a trolley option which I really like! I think it also comes in a smaller size too.” – Kerri Tyquin
“I have a 55L Macpac Aztec genesis hiking/travel hybrid. (it’s labelled as a 70L because it’s 55 + 15 detachable daypack) I modified the bag slightly so every section is lockable – this is why I picked a hybrid pack. The included daypack wasn’t suitable for my laptop and other electronics so I paired it with the STM Drifter daypack. (Note: both brands are from Australia/New Zealand – so availability globally is more limited). Both bags accompanied me for 18 months continuous travel; and for the 18 months after that they’ve been used for shorter trips (between 3-5weeks; anything shorter I only have my daypack). I also used it for walking El Camino de Santiago. My backpack fits me like a glove these days.” – Catharina Stam
“I highly recommend the Minaal Carry On 2.0. It looks good, is lightweight, and the right carry-on even on European flights. I used it for 2 months of hiking/backpacking through Asia and Pacific Northwest. I love that there's space for my laptop, kindle, shoes, and clothes (with packing cubes) and compartments for toiletries, and top pockets for essentials (passport, wallet, keys). I purchased the full set with cubes and a hip belt. I've brought it trekking for the summer in Asia and winter in Europe, and it still looks good as new. I'm under 5'0, and my boyfriend is 5'11” and we both have one. It's our default bag for all of our trips, short or long, weekend weddings to long hikes through the jungle since it looks normal enough versus a hiking backpack. It's a suitcase replacement for us.” – Hannah Kwan
Gregory Deva 80L
“I love my Gregory Deva 80L. They make smaller versions too. For me, I didn't like how the osprey bags came up so high behind my head limiting my range of motion. The Gregory bag is shorter and wider, so even though my 80L bag is huge, it's super comfortable to wear. Also, It opens from the top like most backpacks, but I love that the whole front also unzips so you can access your stuff easily. I purchased through REI and was able to customise it. The bag, the arm straps and the waist belt are all different sizes, so it's a perfect fit! I also really like that it's got plenty of support straps to balance the weight properly, or make the bag seem not so huge when I need it for shorter trips and don't need 80L.” – Jessica Weissman
Caribee Jet Pack 75
“My backpack is a pink Caribee bag. As well as wanting this colour, I was looking for a bag that zipped completely open. It makes it easier for me to find everything that I have packed rather than having a top loader. I store all my clothes in the big section and my shoes and toiletries in the smaller compartment. My first aid kit gets packed in the pouch. I love the fact that it’s pink as it’s easy to spot on the baggage carousel.
There is a strap which fits round my waist when I’m walking and it comes with a small daypack that zips onto it which is perfect for checking in on my luggage on a plane, and keeping a smaller bag with me for my hand luggage. It even has a rain cover which kept everything dry during the rainy seasons. I’ve had it for years and it’s been to numerous countries with me. The pink one now seems to have been discontinued but other colours are available.” – Lisa Eldridge
Caribee Wheel Bag
“I recommend a backpack with wheels! I took a back pack on my first trip and it killed my back and I hated it! A suitcase was a bit impractical especially in sandy, rural places etc, but one with wheels is the perfect combo and best thing I ever brought for travelling. I have a Caribee wheeled travel bag.”– Corinne Powell
”I recommend a Caribee wheely bag. I have one of these and am currently travelling with it through Bali, Thailand and Cambodia. I haven’t had to use the straps yet.” – Cara McGlue
‘I have a Kathmandu backpack that has wheels and opens up like a suitcase. It's awesome and comfy! 70L and the front is a backpack that you buy separately that attaches.’ – Rhianan James
“I went travelling for five weeks to SE Asia with a wheelie soft case, similar to a backpack on wheels with no problems at all. Same with all my trips. I have been traveling with a Tortuga air and a smaller backpack. I love the air because it opens like a suitcase and I keep everything contained in cubes. I brought mine to Thailand and I loved it. I pack pretty small but there is a bigger version. The secret is a backpack that opens flat like a suitcase, so you don't have to pull everything out. I lived out of it for 2 months.” – Allyson Ni Choillte
“I recommend Berghaus Motive 60 + 10. Then you have a little day pack too. The Osprey Farpoint 55 has a day pack as well.” – Tracey Jayne Molamphy
Depending on how much you want to pay, here are my recommended brands for suitcases:
Antler – A British brand with nearly 100 years experience.
Delsey – US luggage designed for personal and business travel.
Eminent – A Taiwanese company with good priced suitcases.
Karabars – A UK Retailer with unusual curved luggage.
Samsonite – Known for their quality and free delivery in the UK.
Whether you decide to go for a backpack or a suitcase, this is an investment for your solo trips so make sure that you invest in a good brand and one that works for you.
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