Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Travel Backpacks

By Hayley Thomas ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday May 5, 2022
testing travel backpacks is good fun, even if you're just traveling...
Testing travel backpacks is good fun, even if you're just traveling around your home hood.
Credit: Hayley Thomas

Where?


Our travels have taken us from Alaska to the South Pole, from the streets of Santiago to the cobblestone squares in Moscow and the artistic alleys of Denver. For this review, we assemble a collection of the industry's leading travel backpacks and put them through the rigors of our various domestic and international adventures. These trips range from off-road excursions and expeditions to business trips and weekend getaways.

travel backpack - travel bags aren't just for airplanes. in truth, we travel every...
Travel bags aren't just for airplanes. In truth, we travel every day, even if that just means going to the store and back. And having the right bag as a companion can make all the difference.
Credit: Hayley Thomas

How?


We use the smaller backpacks on a regular basis for trips to the office, the gym, bike rides to the library, and numerous urban, suburban, and wilderness-based adventures. We take the bigger backpacking-style bags on longer hikes. And we take our soft-suitcase-style backpacks on flights, drives, and weekend trips. Then we mix it up to ensure each one is pushed to their limits. We assess the fit and comfort for a range of body types, study the packs' special features, learn all about their construction, and cross-reference reported specs against our own measurements.

We pack and unpack these travel bags, carry them half empty and overstuffed, toss them in and out of multiple modes of transport, push their limits on hikes, and dress them up for business trips to the urban wilds. This review is a roundup of our notes and experiences out there in the urban, suburban, domestic, and international wilds.

travel backpack - here we are in saint george utah at our favorite coffee shop with...
Here we are in Saint George Utah at our favorite coffee shop with the stylish Topo Global Travel Bag.
Credit: Hayley Thomas

Testing Metrics


Our testing criteria consists of five main categories. We created repeatable tests and scenarios for all five categories to put each bag through a similarly rigorous journey. Our metrics were as follows:

Comfort


This metric made up 25% of each bag's total score. First, we assess the anatomy of straps, buckles, structures, and padding. Then we carry each bag in as many ways as possible over months to suss out exactly which were the most comfortable, which need tweaking or breaking in, and which should maybe go back to the design room floor for a second iteration.

travel backpack - the rigid foam makes this pack super comfy to wear for long periods...
The rigid foam makes this pack super comfy to wear for long periods of time.
Credit: Hayley Thomas

Features


This metric also makes up 25% of each product's overall score. We read up on the features of each bag on their respective manufacturer's site and then put every feature to use, over and over again. We pack, unpack, and repack in different configurations to see which features are exceedingly useful and which leave us lukewarm or get in the way.

travel backpack - stuffing the backpack straps away makes carrying the patagonia mlc...
Stuffing the backpack straps away makes carrying the Patagonia MLC briefcase style much more comfortable.
Credit: Hayley Thomas

Packing and Accessibility


Like features, this metric is assessed by doing A LOT of packing and unpacking with different kinds of loads. All manner of weights, shapes, sizes, and fragility were placed in our bags and hauled around, from delicate camera gear to heavy, durable climbing gear to lumpy bumps of clothes and shoes. This metric makes up 25% of each bag's final score.

travel backpack - this pocket on the nomatic helps keep you organized during travel...
This pocket on the Nomatic helps keep you organized during travel and is easily accessible on the go.
Credit: Matthew Blake

Volume to Weight Ratio


This metric comprises 15% of the final score and is more objective. We weighed each bag and recorded that info. Then we divided the volume (liters) by the measured weight (pounds) to get a number that allowed us to compare the bags head-to-head. Bads with a larger capacity and a lower weight give us a larger number and thus score higher in this metric.

with its removable daypack, the fairview is a great travel backpack...
With its removable daypack, the Fairview is a great travel backpack for the adventure seeker!
Credit: Hayley Thomas

Durability


While we cannot determine the full nature of each product's durability over the course of just a few months (albeit rigorous), we can and do determine quite a bit by not being gentle on our gear and using it through all manner of weather patterns, travel settings, and terrain. We also sit down and inspect each bag with an eye for detail, investigating each zipper, pocket, strap, panel, and stitch. This metric is 10% of the final overall score.

the minaal 3.0 is a great example of a pack the was built to last.
The Minaal 3.0 is a great example of a pack the was built to last.
Credit: Matthew Blake

We hope our months of testing both internationally and locally, urban and forested, on planes, trains, automobiles, and bikes help you find your perfect travel bag. After all, traveling is more fun with the right companion, both animate and inanimate!

Happy trails.

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