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17 Best Digital Nomad Backpacks: An Ultimate Guide to Travel Bags

For the digital nomad, backpacks and choosing the right one for you will be the toughest part of packing for your soon-to-come adventure.

When traveling the globe as a digital nomad, your backpack becomes the closest thing to a permanent home you will have.  Whether you stay in a single place for three days or three months, having the right backpack will make life easier, more comfortable, and more enjoyable.  The right digital nomad backpack for you will do everything you need and fit seamlessly into your nomad life. Whether you are frequently boarding flights, planes, and buses with fast-paced travel, using your backpack on daily jaunts to a coworking space, or escaping from your home base for a weekend adventure, the right backpack will do it all.

In the post, we’ll review the best digital nomad backpacks for every type of nomad – tech-heavy travelers, minimalists, outdoorsy travelers, and those who travel to every climate and place.  Regardless of who you are, we’ll make life easier by helping you find the best backpack for your travels, your gear, and your adventures to come.

CONTENTS OF THE 17 BEST DIGITAL NOMAD BACKPACKS

  • Upfront: The Best Digital Nomad Backpacks, Daypacks, and Duffel Bags
  • Why does having the right backpack matter for digital nomads?
  • What’s in a good travel pack, and what do digital nomads need?
  • Best Travel Bags for Digital Nomads
  • Best Duffel Bags for Digital Nomads
  • Best Daypacks for Digital Nomads
  • Best Collapsible Daypacks for Digital Nomads
  • What should you take?  Travel pack, daypack, or duffel?

THE BEST DIGITAL NOMAD BACKPACKS BY CATEGORY (UPFRONT)


BEST TRAVEL PACKS FOR DIGITAL NOMADS

  1. Tortuga Outbreaker
  2. GORUCK GR3
  3. GORUCK GR2
  4. Osprey Farpoint 40 and Fairview 40
  5. Osprey Farpoint 55 and Fairview 50
  6. Osprey Farpoint Trek 55
  7. LargeX Custom Greenroom136 Rainmaker (34L)
  8. Nomatic Travel Backpack (40L)
  9. Minaal Carry On 2.0
  10. Aer Travel Pack 2
  11. CabinZero ADV PRO 40L
  12. Topo Designs Travel Bag
  13. Tortuga Setout
  14. Pac Safe Venture Safe (45L)
  15. Eagle Creek Global Companion (40L)
  16. Patagonia Black Hole MLC & Patagonia Tres MLC 45L
  17. REI Ruckpack 40
  18. REI Trail 40

WHY DOES THE RIGHT BACKPACK MATTER FOR DIGITAL NOMADS

As a digital nomad, you will spend countless hours moving from one place to another with your backpack – in planes, taxis, buses, trains, and more.  Though these experiences will be amazing and exhilarating, knowing that your entire life is on your back can have the potential for stress.  If the bag is uncomfortable, if the bag becomes disorganized (and it’s hard to find things quickly), or if your belongings get lost or broken while you’re miles from home.

Having the right backpack mitigates all of these issues and allows you to focus on enjoying your travels instead of worrying about your belongings.

The best digital nomad backpacks offer these benefits:

  • Makes staying organized easy, with logical, intuitive pockets for tech-heavy travelers
  • Protects your things with special pockets for delicates (laptops) and valuables (money and passports)
  • Allows for carryon only travel for quicker movement, less likelihood of losing your things, and savings on checked bag fees
  • Durable enough to last years of hard travel
  • Versatile enough to be comfortable and durable in most activities – flying, daily commutes, and even hiking

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A GOOD DIGITAL NOMAD BACKPACK

There is no single “perfect travel backpack” that suits every kind of traveler, but there is a clear list of characteristics that make a backpack better for travel.  Review this list of what the perfect travel backpack would have and judge your options accordingly. 

Attributes of the perfect travel backpack:

THE BEST DIGITAL NOMAD BACKPACKS

BACKPACK & BRANDBEST USEPRICESIZEWHERE TO BUY
Tortuga OutbreakerTortuga-Outbreaker-Digital-Nomad-Backpacks Urban$26945L Tortuga.com
GORUCK GR3 GORUCK-GR3-Digital-Nomad-Backpacks - ABrotherAbroad.comHard Use$39545L GORUCK.com
GORUCK GR2 GORUCK-GR2-Digital-Nomad-Backpacks-ABrotherAbroad.comHard Use$37540L GORUCK.com
Osprey Farpoint 40, Fairview 40 Osprey Farpoint 40 - Best Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABrotherAbroad.comHiking$16040L Osprey.com or Amazon.com
Osprey Farpoint 55, Fairview 50 Osprey Farpoint 55 - Best Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABRotherAbroad.comHiking$16055LOsprey.com or Amazon.com
Osprey Farpoint Trek 55 Hiking$22055L Osprey.com or Amazon.com
Greenroom136 Rainmaker LargeX Custom Hard Use, Urban$16334L Greenroom136
Nomatic Travel Backpack  GORUCK-GR2-Digital-Nomad-Backpacks- ABrotherAbroad.comUrban$28040L Nomatic.com
Minaal Carry On 3.0 Minaal Carryon - Best Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABrotherAbroad.comUrban$34935L Minaal.com
Aer Travel Pack 2 Aer-Travel-Pack-Digital-Nomad-BackpacksABrotherAbroad.comUrban$23033L Aersf.com
CabinZero ADV PRO 40L CabinZero ADV PRO - Best Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABrotherAbroad.comMinimalist$20042LCabinZero.com
Top Designs Travel Bag Topo Designs Travel Pack - Best Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABrotherAbroad.comMinimalist$23945LTopoDesigns.com
Tortuga Setout Tortuga Setout - Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABrotherAbroad.comUrban$19945L Tortuga.com
Pac Safe Venture Safe PacSafe Ventureseafe 45 - Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABrotherAbroad.comAnti-theft$19945LPacsafe.com
Eagle Creek Global Companion Eagle Creek Global Companion - Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABrotherABroad.comBudget$15940LAmazon.com
Patagonia Black Hole MLC & Patagonia Tres MLC 45L Patagonia MLC - Best Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABrotherAbroad.comMinimalist$17945LPatagonia.com
REI Ruckpack 40 REI Ruckpack 40 - Best Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABrotherABroad.comBudget, Travel$14940LREI.com
REI Trail 40 REI Trail 40 - Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABrotherAbroad.comBudget, hiking$12940LREI.com
Kelty NomadKelty Nomad - Best Digital Nomad Backpacks - ABrotherAbroad.comHard Use$10045LKelty.com

TORTUGA OUTBREAKER

(45L or 35L| $269 | Perfect for Urban Nomading)

Roomy, well organized, and extremely comfortable, the Tortuga Outbreaker is arguably the best backpack for long-term world travelers and digital nomads.

Waterproof and durable sailcloth outer fabric held together with water-protected zippers creates a water-resistant bag that stands up extremely well to the rain.  Great organization throughout makes it easy to keep everything – from underwear to tablet and laptop – in its proper place.  Extremely padded shoulder straps and back panel, along with a padded, clamshell-style padded pocket for your laptop, make this an extremely great choice for long-term travel.

Pair with the Outbreaker Packing Cubes for an ultimate digital nomad backpack setup for long-term travel.

Click here to purchase at Tortuga’s site


GORUCK GR3

(45L| $395| Perfect for Hard Use and Adventure Travel)

A spacious and tough military-grade and inspired ruck, this “travel ruck” is built to carry 450lbs+, is rainproof, and is made of abrasion and tear-resistant 1000D Cordura nylon throughout and a lifetime guarantee.  If you need a travel bag that can handle abuse and survive the years, the GORUCK GR3 is it.

The clamshell-style design makes everything in the bag easily and quickly accessible, but plan on taking packing cubes as well to stay organized (I recommend any of these packing cubes).  Two of my last four years traveling have been with this “travel ruck,” and I can’t recommend it more.

Click here to check out available colors of the GR3 at GORUCK


GORUCK GR2

 (40L and 34L | $375 | Hard Use and Adventure)

The GORUCK GR2 delivers the same toughness as the GR3, but with all of the organization you need and in a daypack-friendly bag.  This ruck is still built rainproof, abrasion-resistant, tear-resistant, and ready to hold 450lbs loads.  The GORUCK GR2 also has a two-compartment clamshell opening design with all panels lined with mesh pockets and a protected “bombproof laptop pocket” with rigged protection and a “false bottom.”

The GR2 is a perfect weekender backpack, and the 34L version is my go-to daypack.  Pair this bag with a collapsible duffle (like the GORUCK Kit Bag or the Northface Base Camp duffel), and you’ll still have a carry on friendly setup that can expand to fit all of your gear and gives you a great daypack/weekend pack for daily commutes and varied adventures

Read more in our full GORUCK GR2 review

Visit GORUCK.com to learn more about the GORUCK GR2


FARPOINT AND FAIRVIEW

(40L and 55L | $160 | Best  for Hikers and Outdoorsy Travelers)

OSPREY FARPOINT 40 and FARPOINT 55 (FOR MEN) | OSPREY FAIRVIEW 40 AND FAIRVIEW 50 (FOR WOMEN)

The Osprey Farpoint (men’s line) and Fairview (women’s line) are classics among the backpacking and long-term travel community for their all-around performance and durability.  Carry on size, comfort, and small details common to outdoor and backcountry backpacks make this series perfect for urban travel, trekking, adventure travel, and the flights, buses, and trains in between.

If you’re a traveler that splits their time between urban travel and outdoor, the Osprey Farpoint or Fairview may be perfect for you

FARPOINT 40 and FAIRVIEW 40

Carry on size and outdoor adventure and travel friendly

FARPOINT 55 AND FAIRVIEW 55

The same backpack as the Farpoint/Fairview 40, with an added zip-off daypacks with laptop/tablet sleeve, perfect for daily use between travels.  To travel carryon only, zip off the daypack, and you’re ready to travel

FARPOINT 55 TREK AND FAIRVIEW 50 TREK

If you will absolutely spend more time on the trail than in the city, consider getting the “trek” version of this pack designed to carry more like a backcountry backpacking backpack.  An adjustable, ventilated back panel, extra padding on the shoulder and hip harnesses, and trekking friendly quick access pockets on the outside.

Click here to learn more about the  Osprey Farpoint/Fairview Trek series at Osprey.com

Osprey packs are guaranteed for life

Click here to order the Osprey Farpoint or Osprey Fairview on Amazon with free shipping or Osprey.com

Hikers and trekkers, click here to learn more about the Farpoint/Fairview Trek

Also consider: The Osprey Porter 30 as a daypack, the Farpoint 55, Osprey Porter 46, and the REI Trail 40


 

GREENROOM136 RAINMAKER VX42 WILDCARD (34L LARGEX)

(34L, 27L, or 22L | $163 | Water-Resistant, tough, urban, or adventure bag for DNs )

Greenroom136 is a boutique maker of tough backpacks that are intuitively designed to fit every piece of tech you have and put together with some of the most durable materials available.

I was lucky enough to meet the company’s owner in Kuala Lumpur. He shared that he (a traveler and consummate entrepreneur at heart) designs his bags for others that split their lives between traveling and hustling their way to building an empire.  Sounds like a solid digital nomad to me.

The Rainmaker is a clamshell-style opening bag with protected pockets for laptops, tablets, tech, and the rest of your travel gear.  The Padded and mesh vented straps are reinforced with car seat belts for strength.  Mesh panel style pockets dot the bag to keep everything else organized.  Waterproof VXPac fabric is used throughout. Lastly, the shop will custom modify the bag to any specification you wish.

Either travel minimalist with the 34L Rainmaker or go for the smaller 27L Rainmaker and pair it with a compressible duffle bag for a solid travel setup.

Click here to learn more about the 34L VX42 Rainmaker at Greenroom136

Or check out the standard, 1000D Cordura nylon outer Greenroom136 Rainmaker, with less water resistance but made with the toughest fabric on the market, available here at Greenroom136’s online shop

Or click here to check out the standard 1000D Cordura Nylon Rainmaker at Greenroom136


NOMATIC TRAVEL BACKPACK (40L)

(40L| $280 |Best Urban Nomads with Lots of Tech)

An obsessively designed travel bag perfect for carry-on-only urban adventures.  Heavily water-resistant fabric and water-resistant zippers.  Multiple compartments for shoes, clothes, small tech, laptop, dirty clothes, and more make this bag perfectly easy for a weekend getaway during our months traveling the world.

Click here to learn more about the Nomatic Travel Bag 2.0**


MINAAL CARRY ON 3.0

(35L| $349 | Urban Digital Nomads and Minimalist Travelers)

Another sleekly designed urban pack with a tough outer fabric, tons of well thought out tech, and security pockets finished with a clamshell-style padded laptop pocket.  A wrap-around zipper allows the Minaal Carry-on.  Top this bag off with packing cubes, and you’ll be ready for any flight, bus, or train-based adventure.

Discover more about the Minaal Carry-On 3.0 at Minaal’s site


AER TRAVEL PACK 2

(33L|$230|Minimalist and Weekender Urban Travels)

A stylish and thoughtful piece of gear with all of the important elements to make travel comfortable and easy.

Given the size of this bag, if you’re traveling for longer than a week or to multiple climates, plan on bringing a compact, compressible duffle bag.  I recommend the GORUCK Kit Bag.

Click here to discover more about the Aer Travel Pack 2


CABINZERO ADV PRO 42L

(42L| $200 | Onebag, Minimalist Travel)

Reasonably priced, adventure-focused carry on bags with sleek exteriors, logical compartmented organization, and plenty of flashy colors (above and beyond the standard black urban bag).  The Cabin Zero ADV (adventure) pro has a tough build, water resistance, a lot of organization, and will pass as a carry on for almost any flight.

Also, checkout out the panel strap laden and minimalist yet tough 44L Cabin Zero Military ($125), the water-resistant Cabin Zero 44L Urban pack ($150), and the simple yet functional and stylish Cabin Zero 42L Classic Pro ($175). All great options.

Cabin Zero in 42L and 44L size**


TOP DESIGNS TRAVEL BAG – 40L

(40L EXPANDABLE TO 45L | $239 | Urban Travel Bag with Lots of Organization)

A practical carry on travel bag with large main compartments and plenty of small pockets to keep documents and tech organized.  Durable materials (1000D Nylon, YKK zippers) mean this bag will last through travels and abuse.  Fun colors add a stylish yet fun touch.

Pair with packing cubes for maximum function and organization.

Checkout the Topo Designs Travel Bag – 40L at Topo Designs**


TORTUGA SETOUT

( 45L/35L | $199/$179 | Urban Travelers)

Much of the function of the Tortuga Outbreaker at a lower price point.  Less water-resistant and durable fabric (but still great) and slightly less robust shoulder straps. 

This bag still delivers many small storage spaces, a clamshell opening main compartment, and an extra clamshell-style pocket for your laptop. If you like the design of the Tortuga Outbreaker and don’t need as much water resistance and tech organization, save yourself $100 and go for the Setout.

Don’t forget the special Setout Packing Cubes to stay organized.

Click here to learn more about the Tortuga Setout


PACSAFE VENTURESAFE  EXP45

( 45L | $199 | Best for nomads concerned with security)

If you obsess about the safety of your gear and the potential for theft more than anything while traveling the world, the PacSafe then the Venturesafe EXP45 ECONYL® Anti-Theft Carry-On Travel Pack is the pack for you.  This bag takes all of PacSafe’s luggage anti-theft technology and wraps it in the long term travel-friendly carryon sized bag

Cut resistant fabric reinforced with stainless steel wire mesh, “Roobar” locking system secures all zippers at a single point, reinforced anchor point for strapping your bag to a secure object, and tough recycled nylon (made from fishnets)  makes this the pack to choose for

If you are traveling with extra gear but still want to keep everything safe, check out the 55L Venturesafe EXP55.

Click here to discover all sizes of the Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP


EAGLE CREEK GLOBAL COMPANION (40L)

(40L| $159 | Budget Friendly, Long Term Travel Pack)

A great-priced, practical pack with solid organization perfect for any adventure and perfectly sized to fit as a carry-on for nearly any flight.

Click here to learn more about the Eagle Creek Global Companion 40L Travel Pack


 

PATAGONIA BLACK HOLE MLC & PATAGONIA TRES MLC 45L

(45L | $179 | Minimalist and “One-Bag” Travelers)

A minimalist and functional carry-on sized convertible travel pack and “travel-briefcase,” the Patagonia Maximum Legal Carry-On (MLC) is a simple, practical bag that’s perfect for staying on the move and organized.  The Patagonia MLC is perfect for backpacking Southeast Asia, urban travels, and situations where you don’t have to wear the bag for long periods but need to stay well organized when you’re not moving.

The MLC comes in two variants – the heavily water-resistant MLC Black Hole made of TPU laminated ripstop polyester and the MLC Tres made of uber tough 630 denier recycled nylon.

Add a set of packing cubes, and you have an excellent carry-on option.

Read our full Patagonia MLC Review to discover more about this great bag

MLC at Patagonia and REI Online


REI CO-OP RUCKPACK 40 RECYCLE PACK (MEN’S AND WOMEN’S)

(40L | $149 | Adventurous travelers splitting time between urban and outdoorsy environments)

A perfect hybrid backpack with everything you need for travel and outdoor adventures.  All of this in a single airplane-friendly carry-sized bag made of recycled fabrics.

If you’re a balanced adventure and will be splitting time between streets and trails, the Ruckpack 40 is a great option

Click here to see the men’s Ruckpack 40 at REI.com and click here for the women’s REI Ruckpack 40

Or, read our full REI Ruckpack 40 review


 

REI TRAIL 40 (MEN’S AND WOMEN’S VARIANT)

(40L | $129 | Nomads that prefer outdoor adventures)

When it comes to carry-sized backpacks made for (and perfect for) hiking and trekking, the REI Trail 40 is hard to beat. Light in weight, comfortable shoulder harness, minimalist, and outdoor activity-focused organization, this bag is solid for a nomad who plan to spend most of their off time adventuring.

I personally used this bag for the first year of my travels, do the “digital nomad thing,” and doing the Everest Base Camp Trek, and motorbiking the Ho Chi Minh Trail on the side.  This bag was perfect for all of the above.

However, I recommend padded laptop protection (like a simple **neoprene sleeve**) and a large Ziploc bag for waterproofing

  • Key Features:
    • Lightweight
    • Contoured shoulder straps and back panel designed for hiking
    • Fabric and line made from 100% recycled material
  • Price: $129
  • Size: 40L | 22.5” x 13” x 10” |3lbs 1oz
  • Pros
    • Excellent for hiking and trekking
    • Comfortable
    • Great value
  • Cons
    • Hydration bladder pouch doubles as a laptop pocket, but you’ll likely need extra protection for your laptop
  • Note
    • For laptops, consider bringing a padded laptop sleeve
    • Consider pairing this with a compressible travel duffle that can be strapped to the outside for expandable storage or leave behind storage (I recommend the **REI Road tripper Duffel or the GORUCK Kit Bag**)
  • Click here to discover more about the REI Trail 40 backpack

 

AMAZON BASICS CARRYON TRAVEL BACKPACK

( ~40L to ~50L| $45 | Budget friendly carry-on stravel pack)

A great value backpack for the money.  If you’re ready to travel but on a budget, this ~$50 pack is the best you can get for the money.

Keep in mind, the zippers and stitching are lighter and “medium-duty quality” compared to the rest of the packs on the page

  • Key Features:
    • Expandable design adds an extra 10 liters
    • Stowaway shoulder straps
    • Zippered laptop sleeve/pocket
  • Price: $45
  • Size:  39L expandable to 48 Liters | 15.75 x 21.5 x 8.25 | 3.7lbs
  • Pros
    • Price.  Can’t beat ~$45 for a carryon travel bag
  • Cons
    • This bag is made of lighter, cheaper materials and clearly won’t last forever

Discover more about the Amazon Basics Carry-on Travel pack at Amazon.com


 KELTY NOMAD

( 45L| $100 | Military grade travel pack at a great price)

The Kelty Nomad is a well-organized, full-sized carry-on travel pack made with tough, military-grade materials and created by a company that is known for reliable, tough, and functional military and outdoors bags.  At a price tag of ~$100 (on discount, normally $200) this bag is an EXCELLENT option for long-term travelers that will likely abuse their bags a bit and want something that will last a lifetime.

  • Key Features:
    • Internal, padded laptop sleeve in dedicated zippered pocket
    • Stowaway shoulder straps and removable, padded waistbelt
    • Laser cut webbing on front of pack allows for attachments for more space and organization
    • Carries as a backpack or briefcase thanks to top and side handles
    • TSA carry on sized
    • Heavy duty YKK zippers
    • 860 denier ballistic nylon throughout
  • Size: 45L | 22”x14”x8.5” | 4.8lbs
  • Pros
    • Price.  For the quality, $100 is hard to beat
    • Tough, military grade materials and build
  • Cons
    • A tad heavier than most bags, thanks to the tough materials

Discover more about the Kelty Nomad at Kelty.com

DIGITAL NOMAD BACKPACKS COMPARISON CHART

PACKPRICESIZEWHERE TO BUY
Tortuga Outbreaker Urban$26945L |22”x14″x9”| 5.1lbsTortuga.com
GORUCK GR3 Hard Use$39545L | 22″x14″x9″ | 5.2lbs  GORUCK.com
GORUCK GR2 Hard Use$37540L | 12.5″x22”x9” | 4.8lbsGORUCK.com
Osprey Farpoint 40, Fairview 40 Hiking$16040L | 21”x14”x9” | 3.17 LBSOsprey.com or Amazon.com
Osprey Farpoint 55, Fairview 50 Hiking$16055L | 25”x13”x12” | 3.9 LBS.Osprey.com or Amazon.com
Osprey Farpoint Trek 55 Hiking$22055L | 28”x15.5”x12” | 4.3lbsOsprey.com or Amazon.com
LargeX Xustom Greenroom136 Rainmaker (34L) Hard Use, Urban$16334L | 12.2″x17.3″x9.8″ |Greenroom136
Nomatic Travel Backpack (40L) Urban$28040L | 9″x 21″ x 14″ | 3.4lbsNomatic.com
Minaal Carry On 2.0 Urban$34935L | 21.6”x13.7”x7.9” | 3.1lbsMinaal.com
Aer Travel Pack 2 Urban$23033L | 21.5”x13.5”x8.5” | 3.7lbsAersf.com
CabinZero ADV PRO 40L Minimalist$20042L | 21.7″x13.8″x7.9″ | 3.5lbsCabinZero.com
Top Designs Travel Bag Minimalist$23945L | 14″x22.5”x7.5″ | 3.7lbsTopoDesigns.com
Tortuga Setout Urban$19945L | 22″x14″x 9” | 3.9lbsTortuga.com
Pac Safe Venture Safe (45L) Anti-theft$19945L | 21.7”x13.8”x 8.7” | 3.7lbsPacsafe.com
Eagle Creek Global Companion (40L) Budget$15940L | 14”x21.5”x8” | 3.5lbsAmazon.com
Patagonia Black Hole MLC & Patagonia Tres MLC 45L Minimalist$17945L |21″x16 x6.7″| 3.1lbsPatagonia.com
REI Ruckpack 40 Budget, Travel$14940L | 25”x14.5”x9”| 2.2lbsREI.com
REI Trail 40 Budget, hiking$12940L | 22.5”x13”x10” | 3lbsREI.com
Kelty NomadHard Use$10045L | 22”x14”x8.5” | 4.8lbsKelty.com

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A GOOD DIGITAL NOMAD BACKPACK

There is no single “perfect travel backpack” that suits every kind of traveler, but there is a clear list of characteristics that make a backpack better for travel.  Review this list of what the perfect travel backpack would have and judge your options accordingly.  Keep reading to read more about each characteristic in-depth after the best digital nomad backpacks full list

Attributes of the perfect travel backpack:

  • Airplane Carry-On Friendly (size and shape), generally less than 45 liters and 9”x14”x22”
  • Still roomy enough to store everything for one year around the world
  • Comfortable, padded, and breathable shoulder straps, back panel, and removable hip belt
  • Durable build and materials: heavy-duty cloth, heavy-duty zippers
  • Good Organization: Logical pockets for items like laptops, tablets, documents, clothes, etc.
  • Laptop protection: False bottom, padding, rigid support
  • Comfortable back panel, straps, and how the bag generally sits
  • Fits your style of travel and adventure (urban, outdoors, minimalist, tech-heavy)
  • Water-resistant materials and zippers
  • Secure design and secure storage for valuables (passport, cash, credit cards, smartphone) with a little anti-theft protection
  • Good value for the price
  • Appropriate size and organization for your length of travel
  • Intuitive design makes it easier to access pockets and wear comfortably
  • Sleek exterior: No loose straps to catch on conveyor belts, or pockets exposed for pickpocketing
  • Clamshell style opening to access all contents easily
  • Optional: Size and design helps bag double as both carryon luggage and a daypack

CARRY ON SIZE: USUALLY 45 LITERS OR LESS

Traveling with a carry-on travel backpack and not checking your bags saves time, money, effort, and worry. 

  • Being able to skip check-in at the airport will save at least an hour for each flight, and you won’t have to worry about arriving 2 hours before departure (to check bags)
  • You’ll save ~45 minutes not waiting for bags to come off the plane
  • You don’t risk having an airline lose your bags or send them to the wrong country (which has happened to me twice)
  • You’ll save thousands of dollars in checked bag fees

If you’re traveling long term and absolutely can’t squeeze your belongings into a 45-liter bag, consider getting a carry on sized travel bag and a collapsible duffle to pack your overflow items.

After the first year of travel, many digital nomads set up a base in a single city and travel for days or weeks on shorter trips to explore.  Having the duffle bag will give you optional space for the big moves, but your primary, carryon sized travel backpack will be perfect for most adventures – weekend or weeks long


Durability

Materials, stitching, and build quality should last years of travel abuse

When you’re miles from home, in Southeast Asia or rural South America, it’s hard to replace a good digital nomad backpack.  Your best bet is to invest in a quality backpack upfront.

Key build and durability points to look for in your backpack:

  • Durable cloth/material: 1000D Cordura nylon, ripstop nylon, sailcloth, etc.
  • Large, high-quality zippers: YKK zippers are a solid sign of quality.
  • Thick, padded, reinforced shoulder straps
  • Heavy-duty thread and stitching throughout, redundant at stress points: if you pull the fabric at the seams, the thread/stitching shouldn’t stretch much under the stress

Good Organization

Plenty of well thought out pockets, suitable for your average packing list, and easily accessible anytime

The best backpacks on the market (and all of the ones on this list) were designed by long term travelers that know what the average packing list is like and what items need special pockets (laptop, smartphone, underwear, toiletries, etc.), as well as where to place them for easy access.

Think about your packing list and consider how well the pockets will help keep you organized.  Additionally, think about if the bag allows you to access those time-sensitive needs (passport or credit cards while at the airline counter) while keeping them safe.

Remember, few bags are perfect for keeping your goods organized constantly, so packing cubes will become your best friend.


Specialized Laptop Storage and Protection

Most digital nomads will travel with a laptop – that is expensive and difficult to repair/replace – so having a dedicated space that protects your laptop is essential.

Ensure the dedicated pocket offers some padding and either offers rigidity (to protect the screen and laptop from flexing) or has space for a clipboard or protective sheet.

Additionally, a “false bottom” on the laptop pocket, giving a few inches between your laptop and the ground, is a great feature.

Regardless of how good the laptop pocket is, I recommend taking a lightly padded laptop sleeve (like a neoprene laptop sleeve**) for some shock absorption and a simple clipboard or piece of Kydex plastic as a frame sheet to protect your laptop from flexing.


Comfortable back panel, straps, and how the bag generally sits

If your adventures go as planned, you will spend more hours wearing this bag than you can count.  Having a comfortable bag will make the difference between pleasurable and miserable memories. 

Check these areas on the backpack for comfort:

  • Shoulder straps: Amply padded, contoured, and easily tightened/loosened
  • Supportive, Ergonomic Back Panel: Should be padded enough to be comfortable and rigid enough to avoid having anything in your bag poking you in the back.
  • Padded waist straps: Great for relieving the stress from your shoulders during long wear, but if they’re not padded, they’ll dig into your hips.

Padded handles on the top and sides

You won’t always wear your backpack.  Sometimes you’ll be standing in line at a counter or waiting for a bus.  Having those durable and padded handles means you don’t have to take the bag on and off constantly, and carrying it by hand will be more comfortable


Fits your style of travel and adventure (urban, outdoors, minimalist, tech-heavy)

The “perfect travel” is different for all travelers.  Whereas many would love to spend a year in urban Paris, I need motorbiking adventures once a month. 

This is where the perfect backpack for each of us starts to vary heavily.

Think about what you want to do the most during your travels: hike, do city tours, live in the mountains, work your days away on a beach, etc.

Look for a pack that is comfortable and functional during those activities and in those places.

A digital nomad that spends months in Patagonia will benefit from having a worthy hiking pack. In contrast, a digital nomad traveling Indonesia with Bali as her base may prioritize water resistance.

Think about what you want your travels to be like, the activities you want to do, and where it will happen, and judge your backpack options accordingly.


Water-Resistant

Very few bags are completely waterproof, but having some degree of water resistance goes a long way, especially in the potentially wet climates of the Southeast Asian rainy season, whether the sky can go from sunny to monsoon to sunny with little notice.

Water-resistance is generally dependent on the bag material – 1000D Cordura nylon in the GORUCK GR3 is very rain resistant. In contrast, the TPU ripstop nylon of the Patagonia Black Hole MLC is completely waterproof, leaving only the zippers exposed and the same case with Tortuga’s Proprietary Xpac sailcloth on the Tortuga Outbreaker

Know that there is plenty of great water-resistant options. If you’re in a place with a high likelihood of rain, plan accordingly, but check for at least a little water resistance in your bag


Secure design and secure storage for valuables (passport, cash, credit cards, smartphone)

Losing an expensive item, like a laptop or phone, or a difficult-to-replace item, like credit cards or a passport, while traveling can be heartbreaking.

Save yourself the stress by ensuring the bag has a few dedicated pockets that are still easily accessible for you but still hard for pickpocketers to access while you’re wearing the bag—extra points for lockable zippers.


Good value for the price

I will warn you now that most amazing bags will not be cheap.  But the benefits, durability, and stress-free experience you’ll receive will be worth it.  I’ve broken three backpacks that were ~$100 during my travels – once in the middle of a week-long hike through Patagonia and once in the middle of a three-month motorbike tour.  Though I could stitch up these packs and repair them using extra rock climbing equipment, the experiences were miserable.

Since then, I have invested in extremely well-built bags – the GORUCK GR3, GORUCK GR2, and Tortuga Outbreaker, among them.  These bags have been much more comfortable, much more functional, and have never broken on me.  At the rate that they’re wearing out, I’ll have them for at least two more decades before anything goes wrong.

I am not saying that you should spend a lot on a bag or go cheap; I am saying consider the value you are getting for what you’re for a bag.  Invest in something that gives you immense benefit for the price.  Even cheap backpacks cannot be worth the money.


Sleek exterior – no loose straps or pockets exposed for pickpocketing

Compression straps are good and useful but should be secured.  Too many loose straps can get snagged on conveyor belts in the fantasy world that checked bags travel through.  Save yourself some headache (and your bag some damage) by avoiding bags with too many straps or at least securing yours before you travel.


Clamshell style opening

I underestimated how much more convenient a clamshell-style opening backpack was over a top-loading backpack until I switched to my new travel bags.  I highly recommend it.

Essentially, a clamshell-style opening pack unzips and splits in half, exposing everything in the bag almost immediately.  This makes it easier to access anything in the bag very quickly.


Optional: Doubles both carryon luggage and a daypack

For truly minimalist travelers, being able to unload your travel pack and use it as your daypack for a hike or day of work at a coworking space is clutch.  Don’t forget the packing cubes to keep your gear organized.

QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN FINDING THE RIGHT BACKPACK FOR YOU

This list is filled with “perfect packs,” but perfect for who?  Each pack is perfect for a different type of traveler with specific preferences.

Ask yourself the following questions and take note of the answers to rule out packs that aren’t right for you and find the perfect pack for your adventure.


  • How often will you move when traveling?
    • If you’re frequently moving, prioritize comfort and durability.
  • How much tech are you taking?
    • If you’re taking more tech than the average traveler, aim for a pack with more dedicated pockets and protection or plan on buying extra protection and tech pouches
  • Are you able to pack all of your belongings into a 45L carry-on bag?
    • Best case scenario, you can travel with only a carry-on backpack.  If you can’t, consider taking a compressible duffle bag to use when your load gets bigger (in colder climates and carrying outdoor equipment) and empty when your load gets lighter (mailing things home, discarding clothes as you move to warmer climates). 
  • Do you need a durable daypack for daily use or will a lightweight compressible daypack work?
    • Compressible daypacks are fantastic and functional for the average traveler, but if you’re carrying 15lbs of laptop + tech to the coworking space daily, you may need a sturdier daypack.  Option 1) take a travelpack that doubles as a daypack (like the GORUCK GR2) or 2) take a simple yet sturdy daypack that packs down like a Jansport school bag or the Fjallraven Kanken.
  • How varied will your travel be – urban, hiking/camping, aquatic? Does your bag need to do anything special?
    • Like those from Aer or Tortuga, Chic urban bags are awesome for city travel and general backpacking (between working as a DN). Still, hard use bags like the GORUCK GR3 or Northface Base Camp Duffel will result in less headache.  Think about what you want to spend most of your time doing and ask if your prospective bag will excel with you or survive the experience.  Water resistance, abrasion-resistant outer, special tech pockets, and even trekking worthiness will vary from bag to bag regardless of how good the bag is generally.  Get a bag that excels at what you need
  • What seasons will you be traveling in?  How will this affect how much you pack?
    • If you’re traveling in the summer heat, a healthy packing list is light – shorts, t-shirts, flip flops, and adventure-ready sandals – making it easy to use a smaller, carryon sized pack.  If you’ll be traveling in the winter and cold weather – perhaps Europe or cool evenings trekking – then your bag will be larger, filled with rain shells, insulating layers, and durable pants.  Plan accordingly.

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Carlos is an adventure traveler, Crossfit Trainer, and Strength & Conditioning Coach dedicated to helping others travel better to far off destinations for pure adventure experiences, and stay fit and adventure-ready along the way. Click here to learn more about Carlos's story.