Your flights are booked, your route is planned, and you’re more or less ready to embark on an unforgettable European backpacking adventure. But there is one thing that’s missing before you take off to the airport: you need to pack your bag! With a ton of options out there, it can be extremely difficult to find the best backpack for backpacking Europe. Luckily, I’m here to help.
Why travel with a backpack?
The first thing I need to address before I get into how to select the best bag for backpacking Europe is why you should travel with a backpack at all.
There are numerous benefits to travelling through Europe with a backpack. Namely, it just ends up being a hell of a lot easier and more convenient than a typical wheely suitcase or a duffel bag.
Wheeled suitcases can be an extreme nuisance when travelling throughout Europe, especially when it comes to manoeuvring them onto trains and busses, through busy city streets, up and down stairs and escalators, and over the inevitable bumpy cobblestones.
Duffel bags can be equally inconvenient from a pure comfort level. After about ten minutes walking with a 10+ kilo duffel bag slung over your shoulder, your body will begin to ache and scream in more ways than you can imagine.
The truth of the matter is, you’re most likely going to be doing a fair bit of walking with your luggage while travelling, especially if you’re sticking to a tight backpacking Europe budget. Travelling with a backpack makes this so much easier.
How to find the best backpack for backpacking Europe
If you’ve done any research at all, you have surely found the seemingly endless options for backpacking Europe backpacks. It can be really hard to determine the which will be the best for you.
Generally speaking, bags for backpacking Europe tend to fall into two categories: traditional, top-loading backpacks and the newer travel backpacks. Both bags have their own set of pros and cons and it really depends on your own personal preference and travel style to figure out which works best for you.
For years and years, top-loading backpacks were the only option out there for bags for backpacking Europe. While this is certainly not the case today, they still are a popular option for travellers.
Some of the benefits of top-loading backpacks are that they are designed to be worn for long periods of time, so, therefore, can be very comfortable even if you’re carrying upwards of 15 kilos of weight. They have advanced suspension systems so you can easily adjust them to your body type and you can ensure that the weight is evenly distributed across your back.
They’re also built to be very durable, as they’re typically designed for hikers and not European urban adventurers. This means that they’ll hold up for years on end. They also generally come with a lot of pockets and straps where you can easily stash a number of smaller items without them getting lost.
Another benefit to top-loading backpacks is that if you’re intending to spend a portion of your Euro trip hiking or camping, these bags are a lot easier to transition between urban and rural travel.
However, especially if you don’t really plan to stray away from cities or towns, top-loaders do come with some setbacks. The first setback is the fact that they’re, well, top-loading. If you’re using this kind of backpack for its original intended use, the top-loading function is really more of an advantage, however, for backpacking through Europe, it can be a drawback. It can be very difficult to find your belongings in a top-loader and you almost always need to empty the entire contents of the bag to find the thing you need.
They also have a ton of straps hanging off of them and the suspensions system can’t zip away which makes checking them on a plane can be a bit of a pain. Michael currently travels with a top-loader and it almost always ends up in the “oversized luggage” area and is consistently the last bag that comes out on the conveyor belt.
The other inconvenience about top-loaders that don’t make them the ideal backpack for backpacking Europe is that they’re not overly secure. You’re normally only able to close them with a drawstring which makes it nearly impossible to effectively lock it, which can be a setback if your hostel locker is too small to hold your entire backpack.
In the past few years, a few backpack companies have bridged the gap between the traditional top-loading backpack for hikers and wheeled suitcases used by most urban travellers. Enter: the travel backpack.
While many travel backpacks do have some shortcomings (nothing is perfect, unfortunately), and none on the market as of yet can seamlessly transition between urban travelling and long-term hiking/backpacking. So what is a travel backpack and what makes them a good option for a bag for backpacking Europe?
The most distinguishing feature of a travel backpack is the fact that they open like a suitcase instead of loading from the top. This function makes moving from place to place a lot easier and allows you to organise your items more effectively while travelling.
The second good feature on travel backpacks is that you can zip away the straps, making checking baggage a lot easier check your bag on a plane. It also is a good function if you maybe want to stay in a nicer hotel and feel awkward walking in with a massive pack on your back. With the harness zipped away, travel backpacks tend to look more like duffel bags.
The addition of the main zipped compartment having a zipper also means that you can put a lock on your bag to keep your items secure. This is a really great function, especially if you’re staying in hostels or want to deter thieves while walking through train stations and busy city centres.
There are also some drawbacks to travel packs, however. For one, many don’t have as advanced a suspension system as top-loading backpacks have which means they can be a bit more uncomfortable to wear for a longer period of time. Also, due to their design, it can be a bit more difficult to effectively distribute the weight in a travel backpack than in a top-loader. This, again, can take away from the all over long-term comfort of the bag.
Because of these shortcomings, travel backpacks aren’t great to take with you if you intend on doing a lot of hiking and camping. On the whole, however, I would recommend opting for a travel pack when backpacking Europe rather than a top-loader. They are absolutely ideal for urban travelling and some will do well for a couple days of hiking if you take the time to pack it correctly.
The Best Backpack For Backpacking Europe
If you’re stuck trying to sort through the endless options for backpacking Europe bags, look no further. These are the best bags available for any kind of European backpacking trip.
TOP CHOICE: Osprey Farpoint 55/Osprey Fairview 55
The Osprey Farpoint is probably the most popular backpacking Europe backpack, and for good reason. It is the backpack I’ve used for over two years and it’s perfect for both shorter, two-week trips and months-long backpacking tours.
The Farpoint comes in four different sizes: 40 litre, 55 litre, 70 litre, and 80 litre. For most backpacking trips, I would recommend the 55-litre option. The main pack itself includes one single compartment with a 40-litre capacity. There are also compression straps to keep your items smashed down and secure. The great benefit to the 55 is the detachable 15-litre daypack. The daypack zips onto the back of the pack, however, I have never actually used this function while travelling. It is much easier to wear the daypack in from of you like a kangaroo.
The pack, like all Osprey products, is incredibly durable and comes with a lifetime warranty. I’ve used my pack quite extensive for more than two years, and besides some marks and blemishes. it looks and functions as if it’s brand new and I don’t see that changing any time in the future.
The main frame and harness are also quite comfortable and fully adjustable, and the suspension is about as good as you’ll get in a travel backpack. If adjusted properly and if it’s not too heavy, you can comfortably wear the pack for a few hours without getting a sore back or shoulders. It also fully zips away to make airline check-in’s a breeze.
Both the 55-litre and the 70-litre option come with the 15-litre daypack, but the 40 and 80-litre options do not. Osprey advertises that the Farpoint 40 complies with EU carry-on standards, however, if filled to capacity, the dimensions are slightly larger than those set by Ryanair. Therefore, it may not be the best bag to take if you’re planning on travelling carry-on only. The frame is also not flexible at all, so it’s not possible to smash down the size of the bag even if it’s not packed to the brim.
The only other main drawback of the Farpoint include the fact that there is only one main compartment, so it can be tricky to organise your items. This isn’t really a problem for me, as I travel with these packing cubes, which have proved to be an invaluable space-saving and organisation addition to my packing habits.
There is also a new version of the Farpoint that is specifically engineered toward women called the Fairview. It looks to be exactly the same as the Farpoint and I would have purchased that one had it been on the market when I was buying my backpacking through Europe backpack.
BEST TOP LOADING BACKPACK: Osprey Kestrel 48 / Osprey Kyte 46
If you’re set on travelling with a traditional, top-loading backpack then you can’t go wrong with the Osprey Kestrel (men’s version) or the Osprey Kyte (women’s version). I would really only recommend travelling with a top loader if you plan to hike and camp either as much or more than you plan on travelling in cities, but these two packs are great options.
Both bags have incredibly advanced suspension systems and, if you distribute your weight well, they can be worn comfortably for hours on end. They are also only as wide as your torso, making navigating both winding staircases and European mountainsides a breeze.
They have a lot of extra pouches and compartments aside from the main one for you to stash some belongings and also some straps to attach items to the outside of the pack.
Because of their length, they don’t meet any carry-on requirements, so you will have to check the bag in on flights. There also is no daypack attached and no option to zip away the harness or any straps. It is also closed with a draw-string, so it is a lot less secure as there is no way to lock it.
BEST ALTERNATIVE CHOICE: Osprey Transporter 40
If you want to easily transition between a duffel bag and a backpack and only want a carry on bag, then the Osprey Transporter is the best backpack for backpacking Europe for you!
This 40-litre bag has no main frame, so it can pack down very small. It also has a backpack harness, complete with a chest strap, that can be easily zipped away and also a shoulder strap if you’d like to treat it more like a duffel bag.
This probably isn’t the best bag to take if you’re planning on hiking a lot or if you’re travelling with a lot of gear, but it is a fantastic option if you’re packing light or only going on a short trip.
Like all Osprey items, it is extremely durable and comes with their lifetime warranty. For a minimalist traveller, the Osprey Transport might be the best bag for backpacking Europe.
OTHER OPTIONS: Deuter Transit 50
The Transit backpack from German company Deuter is another very popular choice when it comes to the best backpack for backpacking Europe. The Transit shares many of the same features of the Osprey Farpoint and is also quite well-reviewed, so it’s a very good option for a Europe trip.
Like the Farpoint, the Transit consists of a main bag and a detachable daypack. It also zips open the same way and the harness can be stored as well. The main bag itself, however, is 50 litres and the daypack is a bit smaller at 8 litres. There are also more small, zippable compartments in the bag than in the Farpoint.
Based on some reviews, however, the suspension system isn’t as advanced as in the Farpoint so it can be a bit more uncomfortable to wear for longer periods. It also does not come with the warranty that Osprey offers, however, it is a reputable company and it is very durable.
OTHER OPTIONS: Tortuga Setout
If you’re looking to combine both style and practicality, then the Tortuga Setout might be the best backpack for backpacking Europe for you.
The Setout tends to be the priciest backpack on this list, but it comes with great reviews from other travellers. This 45-litre pack has all of the main features of the previous two travel backpacks covered, but it doesn’t come with a detachable daypack.
The main bag opens in the front like a suitcase, has a hide-away harness, and also has a laptop sleeve within the main bag, which is a big selling point for many people.
The bag, however, doesn’t have the best suspension system and will probably get quite uncomfortable if you’re wearing if for a longer period of time. This also makes it probably the worst bag to take with you if you plan on including some hiking or camping on your backpacking Europe trip.
Besides this, it is probably the best-looking bag on this list and you won’t stick out like a sore thumb while walking through European cities. It also is a great option if you’re looking to travel carry-on only, as it meets even the most stringent of airline requirements (looking at your, Ryanair). It is also water resistant, which is a great feature to have in any travel bag.
Finding the best backpack for backpacking Europe can be extremely difficult. It’s always a good idea to weigh the options available, evaluate your travel style, and figure out how much space you’ll need.
Are you looking for a backpacking through Europe backpack? Do you have a good one? Let us know in the comments!