How to Choose the Best Backpack for Europe

The Best Travel Backpack for Europe? My 5 Top Picks for 2020

Finding the travel backpack for Europe can be a daunting task, right?

A travel backpack might be the biggest investment you make in your Eurotrip apart from your plane tickets.

And a travel backpack is something you’ll use literally all the time (they don’t call it “backpacking Europe” for nothing)!

So, as digital nomad travel blogger who has been on the road non-stop since 2016, I’m here to help you sort through the many travel backpack options out there and to help you quickly and efficiently find your best bag for backpacking Europe.

Last Updated: December 2019

FYI: you help keep me on the road when you make a purchase through my affiliate links, which provide me a small commission

Quick Summary of the Best Travel Backpacks

Don’t have time to read this full guide and just want to grab a quality bag asap?

That’s cool.

Here’s a quick comparison chart of the travel backpacks for Europe reviewed in this post – honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of these 5 bags!

Click the buy now buttons to check out more details and user reviews for each bag:

[amazon table=”4568″]

Ok, ready to dive deep as I help you decide which is best for you?

Well, first maybe I should explain who I am and how I pick backpacks …

Or if you’d rather skip that part (no worries mate – promise I’m not offended), click to jump straight to a comparison of the best bags for Europe!

READ NEXT: The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Europe (Including EVERYTHING You Need to Know)

About Me & How I Choose My Backpacks

So who am I and why should you trust my travel backpack recommendations?

I’m Nate Hake, a full time traveler since 2016.

I quite literally live out of a backpack and a daypack.

Best backpacks for traveling Europe: me and my backpack

Above you can see me and my 46L Osprey Porter in Amsterdam.

Oh, and I’ve also traveled in Europe a LOT.

I backpack somewhere in Europe almost every summer, and so far I have visited over 35 countries on the European continent.

And guess what?

I’ve learned that a quality travel backpack can be your best friend while traveling through Europe.

So in this post, I’m going to quickly help you find the best travel backpack for Europe for you! We’ll walk through:

  • 4 quick tips for pick the best travel backpack for Europe,
  • 5 great travel backpacks for Europe – or anywhere else!
  • My personal bag + daypack combo that I’ve taken to over 50 countries.

Oh, and if you’re curious, you can also read the full list of what I pack to travel the world here!

4 Tips for Picking the Best Travel Backpack for Europe

Let’s start by covering some of the basic things you should be looking for when shopping for a backpack for traveling in Europe.

Most of these things apply universally to shopping for any sort of travel backpack, but there are a handful of unique considerations when backpacking Europe that might matter:

#1 Sort Out Your Desired Size First

Most importantly, you need to decide how much luggage space you need in your travel backpack.

Personally, I suggest aiming to be as lean possible. You’ll be carrying this bag a lot on your trip, so the less weight you have on it, the better and more comfortable it will be.

Reasons why smaller = better include:

  • Carry-on sized bags help save money on checked bag fees (especially on European budget airlines like Ryan Air).
  • Smaller bags are easier to stuff into the overhead compartments on trains, or into the sometimes small lockers in hostels.
  • You don’t want to be that backpacker who has a huge bag hogging up the corner of the crowded dorm room!

And I know what you’re thinking: but what about laundry?

Well, fortunately, that’s easy and cheap to find when traveling Europe.

Most hostels offer a laundry room or laundry service and, when they don’t, it’s usually just a few blocks away.

Or you could always carry a Scruba laundry bag with you and just do it in the shower!

So leave the extra outfits at home and just plan to do a wash every now and then!

Best Backpack for Travel
Don’t pack too much in your bag or you’ll end up like this …

One thing to note about travel backpack size:

Size is typically expressed in liters or “L”. If you’re an American, like me, this might be hard to wrap your mind around so let me give you some context:

The backpack in the photo of me above in Amsterdam above is a 46 liter bag, which I use as my main bag now and which is about the maximum size you can have before you start to have to check your bag.

Keep in mind when looking at that photo that I’m very tall, so it may look bigger on you.

#2 Make Sure Your Travel Backpack is Comfortable

You’re going to be walking around with this bag on your shoulders a fair amount, so finding a bag that comfortably fits your frame is important.

One thing that REALLY helps distribute the weight of a heavy backpack is a hip-strap.

If you’ve not used one before, it can feel a bit funky the first time, but it works wonders by moving a lot of the weight from your shoulders to your hips.

Trust me, your shoulders will thank you at the end of the day for using the waist-strap!

On the other hand, backpacking Europe isn’t the same as trekking through Nepal or Patagonia.

Honestly, you will seldom carry your travel backpack more than a kilometer or so at a time, so it’s not like you need to bother getting an expensive and bulky hiking backpack (which often have way more features for comfort like padding).

#3 Don’t Sacrifice Durability for Price

I’ve seen so many backpackers in hostels with tears in their bags, ripped straps, or just generally discolored and gross looking backpacks.

Backpacks take a beating and it’s important to buy a brand that gets good reviews over the long haul.

So even if you are trying to travel cheaply in Europe, you’ll save money by buying a backpack that lasts longer.

#4 Consider What Features You Want: But Don’t Overthink It

Traditional hiking backpacks have a ton of pockets, as well as the main compartment that is usually accessible only from the top.

Some people like this because it helps them to organize – they designate a pocket or compartment for toiletries, other compartments for shirts and underwear, other compartments for pants, etc.

Personally, I think a lot of compartments and pockets are constraining, and I find that having fewer, larger pockets is more versatile and makes packing easier and quicker.

Also, note that some backpacks also are designed with an option for a built-in waterproof cover.

While a nice feature, I personally don’t think this is necessary if you just need a backpack for travel in Europe.

Sure, it rains, but you’ll be inside most of the time (again, this isn’t Patagonia) and it’s almost always possible to quickly find cover in Europe.

Whatever you do, don’t overthink small features like pockets. The truth is that you’ll find a way to pack your stuff in most bags, so it’s size, comfort, and durability you should be focusing on when picking your backpack.

The Best Backpacks for Traveling Europe: 5 Great Bags Compared

So with that in mind, here’s a rundown of some of the best backpacks for traveling Europe, starting with our top ranked bag:

#1 – Tortuga Setout Backpack (Top Overall Choice)

The Tortuga Setout, one of the best backpacks for Europe

Our writer Hedy reviewed the Tortuga Setout Backpack and, wow, were we blown away by the versatility and durability of Tortuga’s super-practical travel backpack.

Check out her full video review of this great backpack for Europe here:

In fact, we were so impressed by Tortuga that we’ve moved the Setout to our top pick for the best backpack for travel in Europe.

Why?

Well, simply put, the folks at Tortuga seems to have thought everything with the Setout backpack. Heck, they even made a separate fit for men and women!

The Setout packs like a suitcase but has the mobility of a backpack. You don’t pack it from the top, which means you can stay organized even as you bounce from hostel to hostel (those top-down backpacks can become a real mess after awhile!).

Plus, both the 35L and 45L sizes are carry-on compliant for most airlines, which means you’ll avoid checked bag fees to boot!

Yes, it’s a bit more expensive than some other bags, but it’s built to last for years to come. So if you’re planning more than just one trip to Europe, it’s worth the investment.

Note that Tortuga isn’t a huge corporation – they’re a small but well-regarded business built by two travelers, so you can only buy direct from their website.

Pros: Carry-on friendly, men and women’s fit, packs like a suitcase, high quality materials, supporting small businesses

Cons: Price means it’s an investment

#2 – Osprey 46 L Porter Backpack (My Own Bag!)

Best backpacks for traveling Europe

Click image to see pricing 

The Osprey 46 L Porter is the most up to date version of the travel backpack I’ve used for the past several years (if you want a more detailed take on it, check out my full Osprey Porter 46 L review here).

I love it because it’s relatively affordable, it’s the perfect size for backpacking around Europe, it has a waistband for easier carrying, and it only has one large compartment that is accessible from the front, not from the top.

It also has some nifty compression straps that help to keep your profile small. Plus, I happen to think it looks pretty stylish (I have the black version) compared to other backpacks that scream “I’m a scruffy backpacker who hasn’t showered in days” to everyone you meet.

One other really cool feature about this bag is that it converts from a backpack into a duffel bag by folding the straps into a compartment in the back (though it does mean the straps are not as comfortable as other bags).

This is great for protecting your bag if you have to check it while flying, or for leaving it in hostel luggage rooms or other places where the straps tend to get easily caught on things.

Lastly, I love Osprey because they have a lifetime guarantee – Osprey will repair any bag they’ve ever made for any reason!

Pros: Converts to duffel bag, light weight, simple design, affordable, durable 

Cons:Only a handful of pockets, shoulder straps not as comfortable, small hip harness

#3 Osprey Fairpoint 55 (Best Large Bag for Europe)

Best backpack for traveling Europe

Click image to see pricing

Need a little bit more space, but not too much?

Then I suggest upgrading to the Osprey Fairpoint 55.

It has almost 10 liters of extra space to fit in those extra shoes, clothes, or whatever else it is that you need on your trip, plus a good hip and harness strap system to allow you to comfortably carry that extra weight.

Also, if you need even more space (though again, I prefer to keeps things light), there is a 70 liter version.

This is also definitely one of the most popular backpacks for traveling Europe. So if you want a safe bet that many others seem to like, this is a good choice.

I’ve seen this exact backpack many times in hostels all over the European continent! So obviously a lot of other people think it’s one of the best backpacks for traveling Europe. Just be sure to tag yours so it doesn’t get taken by the wrong person!

Pros: Extra space but not enormous, backed by Osprey guarantee, solid construction 

Cons: Not very lightweight, bigger

#4 Witzman Travel Backpack Canvas Rucksack (Best Budget Travel Backpack)

Best backpacks for travel in Europe

Click image to see pricing

If budget is important to you, the Witzman backpack might be your one of the most affordable backpacks for traveling Europe you’ll ever find.

It’s unique but is only about a third of the cost of the other options mentioned here. And it’s a pretty stylish travel backpack for men especially.

Again, my advice is that’s ideal to spend a bit of money on a quality backpack, but if you just don’t have that much dough, the Witzman Travel Backpack is the best reviewed of the budget backpack options.

It’s super rugged and also more stylish than the other options here. In fact, it’s so stylish I now kinda want to try taking some Instagram photos with it on! The main issue with this bag is that it’s really more of a duffel or rucksack that converts to a backpack as opposed to a true backpack. That may be fine for traveling Europe, where you don’t really need to have a bag on your back as much as other places.

Pros:Very affordable, durable, style

Cons:Less comfortable as a backpack

#5 – Tortuga Outbreaker (Best Carry-On Backpack for Europe)

Tortgua Outbreaker, Our Top Carry On Backpack

The Tortuga Outbreaker might have been our pick as the overall top backpack for traveling Europe if it wasn’t for the hefty price tag of $299.

But if you’re willing to invest in a high-quality bag for the long-term, and you want something that is carry-on friendly, you can’t find a better premium bag than the Tortgua Outbreaker.

This shockingly comfortable bag comes in both 35L and 45L sizes, and fits clothes for up to a week of travel, plus a 17 inch laptop in a special padded compartment.

It has plenty of space on the inside, plus an incredibly smart front pocket organizer with space for things like your passport, wallet, keys, and more. It even has a little zipper pocket on its hip belt that functions like a fanny-pack – great for easy access as you’re walking around European old towns!

Most importantly, though, the bag is built from seriously high-quality materials.

No wonder the Tortuga Outbreaker consistently raving reviews from users.

The bottom line?

The Tortuga Outbreaker is definitely an investment. But, if you’re a serious traveler, this comfortable backpack will be your trusty companion for many trips to come.

Oh, and be sure to read our full Tortuga Outbreaker review here.

Pros: Super durable, carry-on friendly, awesome organization system, comfortable padding system

Cons: Price requires an investment, small so not as much space for your gear

Bonus: the Best Daypack for Traveling in Europe

Most backpackers in Europe carry a daypack in addition to their main backpack.

This makes a lot of sense since a lot of times you’ll need something to carry your camera and other essential items while you are out exploring for the day.

It also gives you extra space to pack things if you are trying to carry on a plane (since daypacks can fit under the seat in front of you, and usually count as a personal item).

There is only one daypack for Europe that I feel comfortable recommending at the moment: The Osprey Daylite Daypack.

At 13 liters, it’s the perfect size for packing your camera and other items (I even fit my drone in there!).

It’s lightweight so it doesn’t hurt my back, and it has a small hip strap that can be useful at times.

It’s also very water resistant and has a little pocket in the back where I can slip my laptop or a book. 

Best of all, it straps into my main Osprey Porter 46 backpack through their proprietary locking system, meaning it’s possible to attach the two bags together and just carry them as one!

Oh, and again – in case you couldn’t tell that I love Osprey by now – it comes with Osprey’s incredible lifetime guarantee.

Don’t Forget To Pack These Critical Items!

One more thing before you travel to Europe:

Don’t forget these items that should be on every backpacker’s packing list …

Compression Bags

A great way to fit more items in your travel backpack is to use compression bags to squeeze the air out of your clothes.

I personally use these fabric compression bags, but these plastic bags are a high-rated option that give more compression.

European Travel Plug Adapter

If your electronic devices are from the USA/Canada/Australia/UK, you’re going to need an adapter to be able to charge them!

This is a solid one that also works in many different locations around the world.

A Retractable-Cable Lock

Why this specific type of lock?

Because the retractable cable comes in handy when you need to secure your travel backpack (for example in a dorm where the hostel doesn’t have a locker, or the locker won’t fit your bag).

Here is a highly-rated and affordable one to try.

Travel Neck Pillow

Photo of woman with travel neck pillow on airplane

Backpacking Europe = a LOT of time spent on trains, planes, and buses (not to mention hostels without adequate facilities).

I wouldn’t dare try it without a travel neck pillow in my backpack.

Because I’m obsessed with perfection, I had our writer Hedy test out 5 of the best travel neck pillows.

The winner of our test?

The TRTL Travel Neck Pillow … by a landslide. It’s comfortable, lightweight, and fits easily in a backpack.

Travel Umbrella

An umbrella is one of those things you don’t think to pack and then later realize you need it … but only when you REALLY need it.

So safe yourself some trouble and just pack one now.

And I’ll help you get the best one quickly, because another one of our writers (Lydia) actually tested out the best umbrellas for travel.

Her top choice?

The Rainmate Compact Travel Umbrella. It’s lightweight yet durable, packs down small, but gets the job done at an affordable price.

Travel Insurance for Europe

Are you covered in case of an accident during your backpacking trip through Europe?

If not, you could be in for a real crisis if an emergency happens.

That’s why I always add travel insurance to my packing list.

World Nomads is the most popular choice for backpacker insurance in Europe, and I’ve personally used them many times in Europe.

A House Sitting Membership

What’s house sitting?

Well, it’s where you watch someone’s home (and usually their pets) while you stay in it without paying.

It’s cheaper than a hostel, you don’t have to crash on a couch, and you get MUCH more space to unpack your travel backpack than you would anywhere else.

Read our post on How to Use Housesitting to Never Pay for Accommodation to learn why many think it’s the ultimate hack to backpacking Europe.

Or check out Trusted Housesitters if you want to start browsing available properties now.

***

That’s it for this guide on the best travel backpacks for Europe!

Here are some related reads to help you plan your Europe trip:

Do you have an opinion on the best travel backpacks for Europe?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

And if you have any questions or need further help to choose your best bag for travel in Europe, just let me know! I’m always here to help my readers. 

Planning to travel or to go on a #backpacking adventure to #Europe? Check out this guide on how to choose the best #backpack for Europe. From choosing a small or carry on sized bag that can fit all of your essentials to finding a backpack that you can carry around comfortably, this will help you pick the right backpack for your #EuroTrip!

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4 thoughts on “The Best Travel Backpack for Europe? My 5 Top Picks for 2020”

    1. No, just inside the daypack! I only travel with my ASUS flipbook usually. Sometimes (like when I was in Mexico), I managed to also fit a full on laptop in there. It’s bigger than it looks!

  1. Christy Abate

    My son is traveling to Europe for 15 days in June. I want to get him a good sized backpack that he doesn’t need to check in at the airport. What do you recommend?

    1. Hi Christy! That sounds like a great trip for your son! June is such a wonderful time to travel to Europe (in fact, I’m going myself for that month!).

      While carry on requirements vary by airline, the Witzman backpack listed in the article is 21 inches, which is compliant for most airlines as long as you don’t over-stuff it. It should be totally fine for most major international carriers, but some of the budget carriers in Europe like Wizz Air and Ryan Air can be strict about carry ons (though usually it’s actually cheaper to check your bag on those airlines anyway, since they charge for carry-ons).

      If you wanted to be extra safe, they also have a 18.5 inch option which you will see available on Amazon. I always say that lighter is better, but it does depend on how much space he’ll need.

      The Osprey 46 L, which is my personal favorite bag, also CAN be carry-on compliant but it depends on the airline and how much you stuff into it (it can expand quite a bit beyond its official dimensions if filled to the brim).

      Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions! And I hope your son enjoys Europe as much as I do!

      Thank you,
      Nate

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