As I triumphantly grabbed my favorite T-shirt from the depths of my backpack, I looked around to discover the wreckage. The entire contents of my backpack were strewn across the floor of the hostel.
It was the third time that week I’d found myself in this position, and I’d only just begun my trip around Europe. As I began shoving everything back in, I cursed my top-loading bag with its single drawstring opening. Why did I buy this backpack again?
Perhaps this problem could be easily avoided for someone more organized. But I decided it was easier for me to change my bag than my habits.
When my next trip rolled around, I did my research beforehand. I bought a comfortable, easily accessible panel-loading travel backpack. And I’m never going back.
Why buy a travel backpack?
Finding the right backpack should be at the top of your to-do list before gallivanting around Europe.
Travel apps may have made many aspects of backpacking a lot easier than they used to be, but unfortunately there are no shortcuts when it comes to carrying your gear.
Whether you’re taking a short city break with friends or setting off on a several month long solo-backpacking extravaganza, you and your bag will be spending a lot of time together. So you need to make sure the backpack you choose will be your perfect travel partner.
Europe’s geography can be extremely varied, ranging from mountains, to cities, to beaches. There are countless bags on the market. It can be overwhelming to find the one that fits your needs.
That’s why we’ve scoured the market and made a list of the top bags for every type of traveler.
Click here to join our team!
Top features to look for in a travel backpack
Top-loading or panel-loading
Top-loading bags allow access from the top, like traditional backpacks.
Panel-loaders, also known as front-loaders, open from the front, like a suitcase.
For hiking or shorter trips, top-loading bags should suffice. But for longer-term travelers who need daily access to their stuff, a panel-loader can be a godsend.
For light or short-term travelers, 40-liter (40 L) bags should be perfect. They can often fit on planes as hand luggage, which is ideal for jetting around Europe on cheap flights.
If you’re backpacking for a while or generally prefer to have a little more wardrobe choice, a 60 or even 70 L bag might be more suitable.
Don’t overlook the usefulness of pockets and dividers in your travel backpack. You might need your phrasebook within easy reach when you forget which of the 20 versions of thank you you learned is the right one for a situation.
Some bags also come with a cover to tidy away your straps. This feature is useful for checking your luggage onto airplanes.
Comfortable shoulder straps and hip straps are a must when choosing your bag.
Don’t forget to consider side handles for lifting your bag onto public transportation.
The Best Travel Backpack for Europe: Choose from These 8
Best for backpacking: Osprey Farpoint 70, $200
The Osprey Farpoint came out a couple years ago and is still one of the most popular bags on the backpacker scene. And for good reason.
I used the 70 L (60 L bag with a 10 L detachable day pack) during a year of backpacking and haven’t seen another bag to top it yet. The durable material and comfortable design make it great for hostel hopping.
The 40 and 50 L bags are also great options for shorter trips and light travelers.
- Top and side handle
- Detachable day pack that zips onto the front
- Unfolding strap cover to tidy away hanging straps when checking your bag
- When overfilled, it’s difficult to attach the day pack
- There are no pockets on the outside
Best carry-on backpack: Tortuga Setout, $199
The Tortuga Setout is the perfect carry-on bag for shorter trips and city travel.
Its structured frame allows for easy access and convenient organization. There are various compartments and pockets to cater for a laptop, electronics and papers. That makes this bag perfect for digital nomads!
With a stylish design and comfortable hip belt, it’s also ideal for urban travelers, perhaps those that prefer the European coffee culture to roughing it.
- Carry-on size
- A range of pockets and dividers for organization
- Straps can be unclipped and put away if you want to carry the bag like a suitcase
At 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds), the bag itself is a little heavy.
Best hiking backpack for men: Osprey Atmos AG 65, $270
The Osprey Atmos AG probably has the most effective ventilation system on the market and pioneering “anti-gravity” (AG) hip straps. This bag is perfect for wilderness adventures, from hiking in the Alps to camping in Iceland.
The separate sleeping bag compartment makes organization easier in this traditionally top-loading bag. There’s an array of compartments, mesh pockets and gear loops.
- Effective ventilation system
- Anti-gravity to keep weight off your shoulders
- Built-in raincover
The inwardly curved back panel that provides the ventilation takes up some space in the main compartment.
Best hiking backpack for women: Osprey Aura AG 65, $270
The Aura is a women’s version of the Atmos. It comes with a specially designed fit for females as well as different color availability.
This bag maintains the excellent AG weight distribution system, high quality fabrics and comfortable fit, making it an excellent choice for hiking or backpacking. It’s available in 50 and 60 L.
The Aura has the same features and drawbacks as its male counterpart, the Osprey Atmos AG 65.
Best value backpack: Osprey Porter 46, $140
The Osprey Porter is perfect for backpacking and traveling across Europe’s varied geography.
The robust, roomy design stores a surprising amount while still fitting most airline’s carry-on specifications. The detachable handles make it optimal for throwing on planes, trains or buses.
The low price tag doesn’t mean low quality! This bag is a comfortable fit and comes with Osprey’s usual lifelong guarantee.
- Detachable shoulder and hip straps
- Various internal and exterior pockets for organization, including a laptop pocket
- Side duffel style handle
- Fits as a carry-on for most airlines
The hip strap isn’t as robust as some other bags on the market.
Best for city breaks: Eagle Creek Expanse Convertible International Carry-on, $179
A hybrid backpack/wheeled luggage, this sleek bag is perfect for European city trips and weekend breaks.
The structured frame, sturdy wheel mechanism and smooth pull-out handle make rolling your bag from the hotel to airport easy as pie. In a few simple steps the bag transforms into a backpack, giving you more freedom and allowing you to travel hands-free.
- Can be used as carry-on luggage
- Wheels and pull-out handle
- Zip-away backpack straps
Compact size means it’s not ideal for longer trips.
Best for winter sports: Mammut Trion Pro 50 + 7, $199.95
Whether you’re planning on summiting snow-capped peaks on your Europe trip or just sliding down them on your skis, this alpine summit bag could be the one for you.
The material is almost fully waterproof, and the specialized design allows you to easily carry, clip and access all your outdoor gear.
- Removable lid pocket provides an extra seven liters of rainproof space
- Detachable hip belt and gear loops
- Ski straps, lash point, ice tool holder and strap for carrying ropes
- Both top-loading and panel access
The strap padding is quite thin, meaning the bag isn’t ideal for heavy loads.
Best all-rounder: Kelty Redwing 44, $124.95
The Kelty Redwing 44 is an affordable, lightweight, versatile backpack that tops it for us as best all-rounder.
It’s possible to open the bag partially like a top-loader or fully as panel-loader, making both packing and traveling super convenient.
The medium size works for a variety of trip lengths, and there are several organization options. It has both pockets for electronics and loops for trekking poles, making it great for both digital nomads and adventurers.
Whether you’re working from a desk in a Vienna cafe, touring Russia’s cities or hiking the Dolomites in Italy, this bag has your back!
- Fits on most planes as a carry-on
- Plenty of internal dividers, pockets and water bottle sleeves
- Panel/top-loading hybrid with zipper that allows for access either way
There’s no strap cover panel, so the straps are left hanging if you check this backpack as luggage.
Sure, people say it’s important to find the right travel buddy for a long trip. But just as important as the pal walking next to you is the bag on your back.
Of these eight best travel backpacks for Europe, which will you choose to be your European travel partner?
Hanna Greeman is a language lover and global traveler. After graduating in Spanish and Italian from the University of Bristol, she has lived in Colombia, Peru, Italy, Australia and Thailand, and traveled across four continents. When not working as a freelance writer, catch her salsa dancing, reading or seeing live music.