How to Choose a Travel Pack

Woman walking at airport with two travel packs

Blending the comfort of a hiking backpack with the travel-friendly features of traditional luggage, travel packs provide everything today’s globetrotters and adventurers need for relaxed, easy, and organized travel, no matter if it’s a weekend away or a year on the road. Travel packs are available to accommodate the needs of weekend warriors, eternal explorers, and everyone in between. Let us show you how to choose a travel pack.


Similar to selecting a daypack or a backpacking pack, the capacity – or how much the pack will hold – is an important characteristic to consider when you’re learning how to choose a travel pack.

Think about what type of packer you are. Are you the type of person who brings a special outfit for every outing? Or are you the type of traveler who only packs a few key items and makes them work for all situations? Keep in mind:  the smaller and lighter you keep your pack, the more mobile you are. Also, people who buy big packs tend to fill them – even if they don’t need to.

A general rule of thumb is that packs 35 liters and under are suitable for overnights and quick weekend getaways. Travel packs between 35 and 55 liters are ideal for long weekends and, in most situations, work well as carry-ons (typically, most travel backpacks around 43-45 liters and under will qualify as a carry-on). Travel bags 55 liters and above are best-suited to long trips and heavy packers.

View from commercial aircraft window, looking over rocky coastline

Carry-on Compatible

The ability of a traveling backpack to qualify as airline carry-on luggage is an important consideration for travelers looking to lighten their load and simplify their trips. As mentioned earlier, 45 liters is commonly the largest bag that will meet carry-on size requirements. In general, most airlines allow travelers to use bags smaller than 22 x 14 x 9 inches, or less than 45 inches cumulatively (the number arrived at by adding the dimensions together). However, there is no definitive standard for carry-on luggage and every airline has its own restrictions on size and weight; if you fly one airline in particular and want to use your travel pack as a carry-on, make sure it meets your airline’s standards.


While the shoulder harness and hip belt found on traveling backpacks make them perfect for walking through cities, catching buses, and hustling through busy airport terminals, they can also get caught in baggage carousels and conveyors. Additionally, shoulder straps and hip belts can hamper a pack’s ability to be used as more traditional luggage. Convertible travel packs allow shoulder straps and hip belts to stow out of the way by tucking the straps into the pack’s backpanel – keeping them out of harm’s way when checked and making the duffel’s numerous handles easier to use when carried conventionally.

Detachable Daypack

Travel packs with a detachable daypack offer maximum versatility. These adaptable bags provide a large piece of luggage for transporting necessities to a destination and setting up a basecamp while the smaller, detachable pack is perfect for day trips. Detachable packs can also be great while flying, as you can stash the big bag overhead and use the smaller bag to keep creature comforts like snacks, magazines, and a laptop or tablet handy while in the air.

Wheeled Travel Bags

Heavy loads and long travel days make wheeled travel bags an appealing option for many travelers. A wheeled pack is best suited for smooth surfaces which allow for easy rolling; however, many wheeled packs can be carried as a duffel when the going gets rough. Offering the ultimate in flexibility are wheeled packs that convert into backpacks which can be comfortably carried on a traveler’s back when the terrain is no longer ideal for rolling.

Adjustable Torso

Just like a backpacking pack, a travel pack with an adjustable torso will fit better and be more comfortable if you carrying it for long periods of time. This is especially true if you’re taller or shorter than average.


Because of the anatomical differences between women and men, travel bag manufacturers have developed travel packs specifically tailored to women. In general, women’s-specific travel packs have shorter torsos and slightly smaller capacities than men’s packs. It’s also common for women’s travel backpacks to have shorter, narrower, and differently shaped shoulder straps and hip belts.


Laptop or tablet sleeve – For those who travel with multiple devices, a pack with a laptop or tablet sleeve is a nice touch. Exterior access to the laptop sleeve makes getting to your computer easy to grab, either for watching a movie or presenting it to airport security. Laptop and tablet sleeves located near the backpanel keep packs in balance and offer additional security to valuable electronics.

Lockable zippers –Whether traveling internationally (you’ve heard about Rome’s notorious pickpockets, right?) or simply concerned about security, lockable zippers provide your valuables added protection. Packs with two zippers that can be locked together help avoid unwanted access to your bag. Lockable zippers on each compartment are preferable, but just having a single secure place to put your most valuable items can make the difference between a dream trip and a nightmare.  

Included raincover – Raincovers are waterproof covers that fit over a travel backpack and prevent the pack and its contents from getting soaked when the weather takes a turn. Raincovers can be purchased for almost any pack, and some packs come with them from the manufacturer.

The Takeaway

Travel packs come in a wide variety of sizes and with an extremely diverse set of features to accommodate all types of travelers—including you. If you want to learn more about how to choose a travel pack, check out our travel product videos where an expert walks through the features and benefits of specific packs.

Get a travel pack for your next trip!

Shop Travel Packs »

Questions? Talk to a gear specialist.