Travel Tips

The Best Travel Backpacks for When You Need All the Pockets and Storage Space

Photo: Getty Images/Tony Anderson
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If you’ve been hanging on to your trusty college backpack for years, and travel is in your near future (and even if it’s not!), here’s your sign that it’s time for an upgrade. Travel backpacks for women have specific features that make them comfortable to wear, easy to organize, and sturdy enough for carrying your laptop or tablet (or both).

Best travel backpacks for women at a glance

Backpacks made with travel in mind are full of features to make life easier when you’re on the go, like padded laptop sleeves for your work trips, locking zippers, wide straps to slip your bag onto a rolling suitcase handle, specialized pockets (including spots for water bottles), and other easily accessible storage spaces of all sorts.

If you’re going on a quick trip and don’t want to check a bag, using a large enough travel backpack as a carry-on can help you avoid dealing with baggage claim. Travel backpacks are a smart choice for longer trips, too. When you’re already lugging some sort of shoulder bag and pulling a wheeled suitcase, it’s awkward to add another rolling bag behind you. So, just sling on a backpack to add hands-free storage space!

Whether your bag preferences run to classic or sleek or rugged, and whether you typically go for simple designs or styles with lots of bells and whistles, you’ll definitely find something you like among these travel backpacks—either for business trips or vacations or both. (Some are even made from recycled materials!) Up ahead are the best travel backpacks for every need.

The best travel backpacks for women

Tumi Voyageur Just in Case Nylon Travel Backpack
Best compact: Tumi Voyageur Just in Case Nylon Travel Backpack — $100.00

Not totally sure whether you’ll need an extra bag on an upcoming trip, or just don’t like bulky backpacks in general? This aptly-named “Just in Case” backpack conveniently folds flat, so you can easily pack it in your suitcase. It could also work well if you need a small, hands-free carry-on—and it has a wide strap on the back to slide over the handle of your suitcase and lighten your load. This sleek backpack is small (about 12” x 15”), super light at only 0.6 lb., and it has a handy large outer zip pocket (no inner ones, though) and adjustable shoulder straps. It’s available in black, “hibiscus” (a dark pink), and dark turquoise.

One traveler shared, “I bought this to use as a carry-on—it’s remarkably roomy for such a small bag! I put in a sweater, a makeup bag, headphones, iPad, a little case with cords and chargers, sunglasses, travel docs, water bottle, wallet, keys, 2 phones – and still had a bit of room left over. The nylon is heavyweight and the gold zippers are substantial. It does not look utilitarian or outdoorsy. It really does fit into a small pouch, which is useful on its own.”

Pros

  • Sleek and compact
  • Lightweight
  • Waterproof
  • Sleeve for sliding over a suitcase handle

Cons

  • Doesn’t have a lot of structure
athleta backpack
Best ergonomic: Athleta Kinetic Backpack — $139.00

Athleta has more to offer than great sports bras and athleisure. They also have a few highly-rated bags and wallets, for example—including this backpack. So far, this is the brand’s only backpack, and it’s made from recycled nylon. Its features include a front zip pocket, two water bottle pockets, a separate area for your laptop, a shoe storage bag, and an ergonomic back panel. Don’t worry too much if you get this bag wet, because it dries quickly. Also, surprisingly, it’s machine washable and dryer-safe. The backpack is about 10” x 18”.

A happy customer noted, “Great bag! I recently traveled with it … The padded straps are a huge plus. I was able to fit my computer, wallet, makeup bag and a puffy fleece (to name a few!) in it. Solid water bottle holders and not such a huge bulky size. I love it!”

Pros

  • Padded straps
  • Machine-washable
  • Made with recycled nylon
  • Laptop sleeve

Cons

  • Some reviewers note the fabric attracts lint and dirt
Most functional: Samsonite Detour Travel Backpack — $80.00

This water-resistant backpack definitely isn’t the most sophisticated or professional style out there, but sometimes you just want something durable and super functional. One really handy feature of this backpack is the full-zip front portion; it has pockets and it opens on three sides; plus, it’s big enough for packing cubes (as one photo shows). Beyond that, the bag has a laptop compartment, lots of pockets (including one for a water bottle), padded back and shoulders, front handles, and a wide strap that fits over a rolling suitcase handle. Bonus: Samsonite offers a limited 3-year warranty.

With more than 100 5-star ratings, this backpack has earned high praise like this: “Someone really put a lot of thought into this backpack/overnight bag. It is fantastic and if you are any kind of traveler I would recommend it.”

Pros

  • Water-resistant
  • Laptop compartment
  • Center zip fully opens
  • Roomy with lots of pockets
  • Sleeve for sliding over a suitcase handle

Cons

  • Not as stylish as some other options
  • Front pockets have narrow openings
Amazon Basics Slim Carry On Laptop Travel Overnight Backpack
Best for overnight trips: Amazon Basics Slim Carry On Laptop Travel Overnight Backpack — $70.00

This lightweight, slim backpack has earned 1,800+ 5-star reviews at Amazon. It’s even professional enough for work, for those who prefer non-leather bags. There are many compartments—a dedicated laptop sleeve, a front pocket with organizational pockets, and a compartment where you can fit some clothes for an overnight trip. The straps tuck into the padded back so you can carry it via the top handles, and there’s a pass-through panel so you can hook it over a suitcase handle. There’s also a zippered water-bottle pocket on the side. It’s available in a variety of colors.

One reviewer said, “I wanted to buy a smallish backpack that was designed more like a suitcase than a traditional book bag and one with the capability to slip over the handle of my rolling carry-on case (which this one does both vertically and horizontally). This backpack met all of my specifications almost perfectly!”

Pros

  • Straps tuck away
  • Laptop compartment
  • Compact
  • Lots of pockets
  • Sleeve for sliding over a suitcase handle

Cons

  • Only for overnight trips
  • Largest compartment only opens on two sides
  • Not water-resistant
lo and sons
Best for everyday use: Lo & Sons The Beacon Backpack — $209.00

Popular brand Lo & Sons has a wide selection of backpacks, and this one is their smallest. After all, sometimes you just don’t want or need a big bag. While it’s only about 10” x 14”, it has a ton of spaces to organize everything you’d like to carry, including a laptop compartment (for 13” devices), large front pocket, two small “secret” pockets on the back, a slip pocket for folders or papers, and six interior pockets. It has a wide strap that fits over a rolling-suitcase handle, too. The Beacon is water-resistant and is made with nylon with 37 percent recycled content. (Note that it’s not a vegan bag, however, as it has some leather accents.)

Reviewers love this backpack for travel and work alike. One raved, “This is a fantastic bag/backpack! On the smaller side but cleverly designed with easy to use pockets and compartments that kept me organized on my trip abroad. Well made, comfortable to wear and looks great too!”

Pros

  • Compact and styish
  • Laptop compartment
  • Eco-friendly
  • Sleeve for sliding over a suitcase handle

Cons

  • Smaller capacity
north face backpack
Most ergonomic: The North Face Women's Borealis Backpack — $99.00

Rugged-looking and available in a ton of colors, this backpack is designed for women (as opposed to the brand’s original Borealis pack). Fortunately, The North Face didn’t simply add “women’s” to the product name, make it pink, and jack up the price—although there are pink and pink/black options available, plus a pretty pink print. This women’s backpack costs the same as the regular version! Its “FlexVent” suspension system is tailored to a woman’s body and is certified by the American Chiropractic Association. This recycled-nylon, water-repellent backpack’s many features include a padded tablet sleeve, laptop sleeve, and water bottle pocket.

Reviewers frequently mention using this backpack for school, college, hiking, and/or work, but many customers also love it for travel, as this review shows: “This backpack is so versatile. It is spacious, yet compact. It is comfortable and stylish. There is literally a place for everything. I use this as a carry-on for airplane travel with packing cubes for organization and it is perfect.”

Pros

  • Specifically designed for women
  • Laptop compartment
  • Waist belt and sternum strap for support
  • Padded back panel
  • Sleeve for sliding over a suitcase handle

Cons

  • Bulkier
madewell backpack
Best classic: Madewell Travel Nylon Backpack — $138.00

Madewell makes several backpack styles, and this 11” x 14.5” travel backpack is part of its collab with Topo Designs, a company that specializes in outdoor clothing and gear. It’s designed to be a “vintage-meets-technical daypack,” both sturdy and lightweight—and it’s partially made from recycled materials! The backpack has an inner sleeve that’s big enough to fit most 15” laptops, as well as two outer side pockets, a sizable outer pocket, padded shoulder straps, and more.

Pros

  • Padded straps
  • Partially recycled material
  • Side and front pockets

Cons

  • No laptop sleeve
  • Smaller capacity
  • Minimum organization
amazon backpack
Best anti-theft: Baggallini Securtex Anti-theft Vacation Backpack — $89.00

The safety features on this backpack will make you feel a bit more secure while traveling. They include anti-theft, slash-resistant fabric; a cut-resistant strap; locking zippers; and RFID-blocking technology in one of the pockets. The backpack also has a pocket that’s hidden against your back when you wear it. This bag has lots of pockets, plus an opening for charging and headphone/earbud cords. The material is water-resistant, so you won’t have to worry about wet weather. This backpack is about 10” x 13” and available in black, charcoal gray, and “Pacific,” a rich medium blue.

One of the almost 200 5-star reviews reads, “Bought for trip to Greece. I’m small (5 ft.) and wanted something smallish, lightweight and secure. This fit the bill perfectly. Was great to carry water bottles and other essentials while sightseeing and it held what I needed on the flight.”

Pros

  • Anti-theft features like RFID-blocking technology and locking zippers
  • Lightweight
  • Water-resistant
  • Compact
  • Lots of pockets

Cons

  • Straps aren’t padded
  • Smaller capacity
Most stylish: Troubador Ridge Explorer Backpack — $325.00

If you’re a traveler who is tired of digging through your bag to find stuff on the road, this pocket-friendly backpack is for you. The Troubador Ridge Explorer has a space for quite literally everything, so you’ll never lose your Air Pods or charging cable again.

The 25L body is large enough for storing your main belongings, keeping them safe and cushioned while you’re on the go. Then there’s a plethora of pockets: three large main ones in the front for organizing your wallet, headphones, and other personal items, two retractable water bottle holders on the sides, and a 16-inch padded laptop zipper for your computer. Layer on the classy design and chic leather detailing and you couldn’t ask for a better commuter backpack. Available in navy and black.

Pros

  • Sleek design
  • Waterproof fabric and zippers
  • Laptop compartment
  • Breathable back panel
  • Lots of pockets
  • Sleeve for sliding over a suitcase handle

Cons

  • Expensive
everlane
Most eco-friendly: Everlane The ReNew Transit Backpack — $85.00

Part of Everlane’s ReNew collection, which features shoes, bags, outerwear, and activewear made from recycled polyester and nylon from plastic bottles, textiles, and fishing nets, this backpack offers everything you need while on the go. This particular travel backpack is 100% recycled polyester! It has an unusual but interesting structure for a backpack—very modern and … rectangle-y. Pockets abound, with spaces designed for a 15” laptop, water bottles, passports/tickets, and magazines and notebooks—plus a luggage-handle strap. If you like your travel bags in neutrals rather than brights, take note: This one’s available in black, “warm charcoal,” and “warm quartz.”

In one review, titled “Great travel backpack,” a customer raved, “This is a great, sleek backpack that fits so much and is super functional. All of the pockets are convenient whether you’re driving, walking or on a plane. Highly recommend!”

Pros

  • Made with 100% recycled polyester
  • Laptop compartment
  • Lots of pockets
  • Sleeve for sliding over a suitcase handle

Cons

  • Smaller capacity
  • Doesn’t have much structure
lululemon backpack
Most sporty: lululemon City Adventurer 17L Backpack — $128.00

Lululemon has four backpacks in its City Adventurer line, and this 17L size is a recent addition. Available in a pretty pale pink and four neutrals, including black, this bag is made from water-repellent fabric and has reinforced straps. The laptop pocket is padded and can fit devices up to 16” (giving it a bigger compartment than many backpacks), and the backpack has handy pockets, including an expandable one for clothes. (The company suggests using that one for “your sweaty gear,” but bear in mind that the bag isn’t machine washable!)

One reviewer said: “I love this backpack! I use it for work mostly, but would also work great for travel. There are so many pockets inside that fit loose items (lip balm, hair ties etc.) and a water bottle pocket on the interior. The bottom pocket is great for storing shoes, or other toiletries.”

Pros

  • Water-repellent
  • Laptop compartment
  • Bottom compartment to larger items like shoes
  • Sleeve for sliding over a suitcase handle

Cons

  • Reviewer says the straps slide
  • Smaller capacity
swiss backpack
Best for electronics: SwissGear Laptop and USB Power Plug Backpack — $90.00

SwissGear parent company Wenger also makes Swiss Army knives, so it’s not surprising that this bag is super functional. It boasts tons of features you won’t find in a typical travel backpack, such as shoe storage; a crush-resistant sunglasses compartment; ergonomically contoured straps; a ventilated back panel; insulated (!) water bottle pockets; designated pockets for your cell phone, ID card, memory stick, and pens; and even a USB port for charging your devices (battery pack not included). Its more common features include a padded laptop pocket, padded tablet pocket, water bottle pocket, and luggage-handle strap. Bonus: SwissGear provides a 5-year warranty.

With 200 reviews, this backpack has earned a 4.5-star rating. One reviewer shared, “This is the best backpack I have ever owned. It is a beast! I was able to fill it with two days of clothes, a computer, chargers, toiletries, a book, snacks, a wallet, and more, and flew without having to roll a bag, or check any luggage.”

Pros

  • USB power port
  • Laptop compartment
  • Padded straps
  • Lots of pockets, including a crush-resistant compartment for glasses
  • Sleeve for sliding over a suitcase handle

Cons

  • Not as stylish as some of the others
  • Reviewers say it won’t always sit upright

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