Hands-On with the Best Travel Backpacks for Women
Updated 7/7/17 with one retirement and one exciting new backpack just for women, the Osprey Fairview 55 (available at REI)!
Are you shopping for the best travel backpack for women? I am! I checked out some of the best travel backpacks for women and there really is nothing like feeling a product in your hands and putting it through its paces in your own home. I happened to have the kids’ clothes packed for our upcoming Europe trip, so I even tested out the capacity and loaded comfort once I had narrowed the field to my top three contenders to find the best womens backpack for travel. Thanks to my Amazon Prime subscription, I was able to do side-by-side comparisons of some awesome backpacks for traveling that aren’t available in any local stores. Read on to find out what factors I considered when making my decision, reviews of the best women’s travel backpacks or jump straight to my recommended travel backpacks for women.
Why Use a Women’s Travel Backpack?
We love to pack light, as it gives us the flexibility to move around more easily (and cheaply). More importantly, we need to keep our hands free to take care of our kids, carry car seats or push strollers. A travel backpack may seem like the province of 20-something nomads, but it’s equally helpful for family travel. Read on to learn how to choose a travel backpack and to see hands-on reviews of the best women’s backpack for travel.
How to Choose the Best Women’s Backpack for Travel
Travel Backpack Fit
Fit is the most crucial factor in choosing a travel backpack. The most important aspects to look at are torso height and hip belt adjustability. You can have a friend measure your torso height or you can be sized at a local outdoors store. Some backpacks have fixed sizes, while others are adjustable. When the backpack is reasonable loaded and the hip belt fastened and adjusted, the shoulder straps should wrap around your shoulders to the back without leaving a big gap – the straps should attach to the backpack near the tops of your shoulder blades.
Your backpack’s hip belt is crucial – it puts the weight on your strong hip bones to avoid straining your shoulders and back. Hip belts have a wide range of adjustability, so most backpacks will fit most wearers. However, women with narrow waists should be cautious before ordering a men’s or unisex travel backpack, as many of them start at 28″ (roughly equivalent to a US size 6).
Travel Backpack Capacity
Do you need a travel backpack for a round-the-world trip or for a weekend away? Are you a minimalist packer or do you bring a full wardrobe? Do you need a travel backpack for family travel? Capacity is a very personal choice. My current travel backpack has a capacity of around 32L in the main compartment, plus a detachable daypack; that has been fine for me when traveling solo – it was all I brought for three weeks in Israel in my younger days. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many women looking for a backpack for a round-the-world trip might want 60L (or more!).
Travel Backpack Comfort
Of course the comfort of a backpack is tied to its fit. Assuming that the backpack is properly fitted, a few additional features can make it more comfortable. Ample padding on the shoulder straps and hip belt can prevent the load from pushing on your bony parts. Compression straps, either internal or internal, keep your backpack’s load fixed and centered on your back. Load lifters above the shoulder straps
Travel Backpack Features
Many travel backpacks come with extra “bells and whistles” that all have advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few distinguishing features you might find on women’s travel backpacks:
-Opening style: For me to consider it a travel backpack, there needs to be a zipper opening that exposes most of the front of the backpack. Top-loaders need not apply! That said, manufacturers have come up with so many ways to open their backpacks: luggage-style (like the letter ‘C’), combination panel zipper and top draw string, and panel zipper shaped like the letter ‘U’). As long as you can easily access most of the main compartment, opening style is a matter of personal preference.
-Removable daypack: Usually this is in the form of a backpack, but sometimes it’s a messenger style. These daypacks are often basic but serve their purpose well enough. Some attach with a zipper, some with clips, and others slide into a pocket on the main backpack. Often times these are heavier than a basic packable backpack but not as feature-rich as a “real” daypack, but it can be convenient to only carry one item when you’re walking through the airport or public transit.
-Exterior pockets: Smaller pockets on the outside of the backpack can improve organization, but they either reduce the volume of the main compartment or make the exterior shape odd (and less likely to meet modern standards for a carry-on sized travel backpack).
-Rain cover: Travel backpacks may come with an attached rain cover, a detached rain cover that stores in a special pocket or with no rain cover at all. We’ve never had them on our backpacks and never felt the need for them, but then we usually travel when the weather is decent. If your backpack’s rain cover fully encloses the backpack, it can provide protection for the harness if you have to check your bag.
-Stow-away harness: Some travel backpacks feature a zippered panel to fully enclose the harness when checking. My current backpack has this feature and I love it! When not in use, the harness cover rolls up and stores in its own pocket with Velcro. If your travel backpack doesn’t have this feature, make sure to fasten all of the buckles before checking it.
What I’m looking for in a travel backpack
- Torso height 16″ (probably a little less) and overall height short enough for my comfort
- Preferably short enough to be carried on (we generally fly major carriers, which have more generous allowances than budget carriers)
- Main compartment capacity close to 45L
- Front panel opening
- Removable daypack and stow-away harness would be nice, but not required
- When packed with the kids’ clothes (2 eBags medium packing cubes and one slim), there’s still enough space for my clothing too
I bought all of these backpacks with my own hard-earned money, but this post contains affiliate links that help keep this site going at no expense to you. Please consider clicking through when you make your purchase. Check out the full disclosure for more information. Thanks!
Comparison of Top Women’s Travel Backpacks
|Price||Volume||Torso Height||Exterior Dimensions|
|Osprey Farpoint 55 S/M|
|$$||Main pack: 39L (S/M)|
Day pack: 13L
|~16" fixed (S/M)||24H X 13W X 12D (S/M)|
49 linear inches
|Osprey Fairview 55|
|$$||Main pack: 42L (S/M)|
Day pack: 13L
|unknown, but now available in XS/S to fit petite women||25H X 13W X 12D (S/M)|
50 linear inches
|REI Grand Tour 80|
|$$||Main pack: 60L|
Day pack: 18L
|15-19" adjustable||26H x 14.5W x 10D |
50.5 linear inches
|Kelty Redwing 44|
|$||44L||~18" fixed||25H x 15W x 12D|
52 linear inches
|Kelty Sira 45|
|$$||45L||~17" fixed||26H x 12W x 10D|
48 linear inches
|Thule Versant 50L/60L Women's|
(volume of the removable sling pack is unclear, but probably around 10L)
25.6H x 16.9W x 12.6D
55 linear inches
25.6H x 16.9W x 13.4D
56 linear inches
Reviews of Best Women’s Backpacks for Travel
Osprey Farpoint 55 S/M Review
The Osprey Farpoint 55 (here) is probably the most popular travel backpack around, and with good reason. It has so many features a traveler could want: quality that will last forever, internal and external compression straps, a really nice removable daypack (padded laptop sleeve and all!) and even a zippered panel to keep your harness safe in flight. For better or worse, Osprey does not offer a women’s-specific version of this backpack (update – see below for their new women’s specific line, the Fairview!); instead, they offer size S/M and size M/L. The two primary differences between the sizes are the harness height and the capacity. Osprey advertises on their website that the S/M can work for torso lengths 15″-19″; however, with a fixed harness, I don’t understand how it’s supposed to work for such a range of bodies! This smaller size also has about 3L less capacity than the M/L size – not a huge issue, but it leaves the main compartment with a capacity of only 39L.
What I liked:
- Great quality
- Nicely designed daypack
- Stow-away harness
- Internal compression
What I didn’t like
- Main compartment capacity is less than I prefer
- Harness is just a little too tall for my comfort
- Way too tall for carry-on with discount carriers and many EU carriers
- Continuously bonked the back of my head since it’s so tall
- Daypack may be hard to attach if the main backpack is very full or bulging in the middle
Osprey Fairview 55 Review
I guess I’m not the only one who would prefer a travel backpack made for women! Osprey answered the call and has released the new Fairview line! It now comes in an XS/S size that fits 13-17″ torso heights and waists down to 24″. Both the XS/S and S/M models feature a women’s specific backpack harness fit. Note that the main pack of the Osprey Fairview 55 XS/S is only 39L, while the Osprey Fairview 55 S/M has main compartment capacity of 42L. They’re still a little too tall for carry-on worldwide unfortunately, but you might be able to get away with it on more generous airlines.
REI Grand Tour 80 Review
Update: Sadly as of July 2017 this backpack has been discontinued! If you really need huge capacity, check out the excellent Thule Versant 70 Women’s here.
If you’re a card-carrying member of Overpackers Anonymous, the REI Grand Tour 80 (here) is the women’s travel backpack for you. Honestly, it’s a great backpack and I would put it as my #2 pick for myself. The torso height adjusts from 15″-19″ so it will comfortably fit nearly all women. It has both internal and external compression straps to make it easy to pack your load well. They daypack slips into a front pocket and then clips into place for security, or if you don’t have the daypack in there you can use the external compartment for jackets. Other than the daypack slot, this backpack is light on organization. That huge pocket on the side is actually full of a rain bag big enough to hold this entire monstrous bag and protect it from both inclement weather and rough baggage handlers.
What I liked:
- Excellent torso adjustment makes for a very comfortable backpack
- Enough room to pack for an entire family
- Daypack should be pretty easy to slide into its compartment even when the main backpack is pretty full; it also has a hidden zipper pocket that goes against your back to stash passports or other valuables
What I didn’t like:
- It’s just SO big – the main backpack is nearly double the capacity of my current backpack, which has almost been enough for our family travels
- Too tall carry-on, and also tall enough that it periodically bonked the back of my head
- Only one external compression strap (though it connects across both top and bottom)
Kelty Redwing 44 Review
Our family is very familiar with the Kelty Redwing 44 (here), as it’s basically the little brother of the Kelty Redwing 50 backpack that Ronnie carries. Note that I said “little brother” – the women’s-specific travel backpack in this line is the Kelty Redwing 40 Women’s backpack. I didn’t try that travel backpack, as the capacity is lower than my needs. As you can see from the pictures, the two Redwing backpacks are very similar in structure – large central compartment, an organizer section on the front, side pockets for shoes and a compartment for small items at the top. Both of these backpacks also have similar harness heights around 17″. There is no removable part for a daypack.
Note: After ordering all of these backpacks, I saw that the *new* Kelty Redwing 50 has an adjustable harness that fits from 15.5″-21″. It’s possible that it may fit better than the Kelty Redwing 44, but I’m still at the very bottom end of the fit range and unfortunately didn’t have an opportunity to try it.
What I liked:
- Great Kelty quality
- Side pockets for shoes!
- Stash pocket for a jacket is accessible just by unfastening the hook
What I didn’t like:
- The harness is way too tall for me; the Kelty Redwing 40 Women’s pack also lists the same harness specifications of 14.5″-18.5″ despite being fixed
- The main compartment capacity is only ~40L
- If there’s anything even remotely heavy in the top pocket, opening/closing becomes very cumbersome due to the shape of the zipper
Kelty Sira 45 Review
I couldn’t find many reviews of the Kelty Sira 45 backpack, as it was just released within the last few months. This is more a backpack for trekking than traveling, but it has a cool “shark’s mouth” opening style that would work great for travel: a zipper most of the way down the front, but also a draw-cord collar that unsnaps to give great access to the main compartment. The front has big stretchy stash pockets, but there’s no removable daypack.
What I liked:
- Great access to the main compartment
What I didn’t like:
- Harness was too tall even though it’s a women’s specific design **dealbreaker
- Hip belt is way too rigid and very uncomfortable for me – YMMV **dealbreaker
- No internal compression straps
Thule Versant 50L Women’s backpack / Thule Versant 60L Women’s backpack / Thule Versant 70L Women’s backpack Review
I’ve heard of Thule before because they make bike racks for cars and they recently acquired Chariot, maker of high-end bike trailers. However, until I started shopping for a women’s travel backpack I had no idea that the company offered them! The Thule Versant 50L Women’s backpack is a good, but very expensive all-around choice and there is a size for everyone: the torso height is fully adjustable from 14″-18″, and you can order the pack in 50L, 60L or 70L versions. The 50L and 60L use the same frame, but the 60L has additional depth in the fabric; thanks to external compression straps, a properly loaded 60L can have the same packed dimensions as the 50L. The backpack has a stretchy stash pocket in front and a messenger-style removable daypack on top that is secured with clips – it’s nice not to have to fumble with zipper on top of a fully-loaded (possibly bulging) backpack. The overall height is slightly shorter than my rolling carry-on suitcase, so on major carriers it may be possible to stow this in the overhead bin. While Thule doesn’t have measurements for the volume of the removable sling pack, I’d estimate it around 10L which leaves 40L or 50L in the main compartment, depending on which model you’re considering. The bottom of the bag is waterproof and it comes with a removable rain fly that covers the remaining 3/4 of the backpack.
What I liked:
- Great torso adjustment – easy to use, fits well, very comfortable
- Short enough to squeeze through generous carry-on rules
- Nice capacity in main compartment
- Thule bags are always extremely high quality
- Removable sling pack would be handy for carry-on if forced to gate-check the backpack, or can be separated to act as smaller “personal item”
What I didn’t like:
- Price: this is (by far) the most expensive bag I tested (but then, your backpack is your single most important piece of gear)
- Backpack straps on removable daypack might have been more practical
- No internal compression straps, only external
Which backpack did I choose for family travel?
Of the five top women’s travel backpacks that I purchased and tried (excluding an REI backpack below that I had already returned for its small size), my favorite was the Thule Versant. I love the adjustable torso height that makes for a custom fit – and if need be, Ronnie can just move the harness up 2″ and carry it while I carry a kid!
Thule can’t provide an exact breakdown of the volume in the main compartment and the removable sling pack on top, but I’d rather not overload that top compartment. I think removing the daypack will dramatically increase the chance that I can carry the whole bag on. That would have left me with a main backpack of only ~40L, which is a little less than I was hoping for. What’s a girl to do? Order another backpack, of course.
While my initial testing included only the Thule Versant 50L Women’s, I subsequently ordered the Thule Versant 60L pack as well! As I mentioned in my Thule backpack review above, the only difference between the two versions is extra fabric in the depth dimension. However, if I don’t need the full capacity and I load/compress correctly, the 60L Thule Versant Women’s shouldn’t take up any extra room compared with the 50L version. As you can see below, the frames are identical in size. As the kids get older (but at least one isn’t old enough to lug her own stuff) and our trips get longer, I think I’ll be very happy with the added flexibility to go up to 60L on some trips. For now I’ll try leave 10-20% of the backpack empty at the start of a trip.
The Best Women’s Travel Backpacks of 2017
Best Travel Backpacks for Petite Women
Best Women’s Travel Backpack for Long-Term Travel
Thule Versant 70L Women’s (read more reviews and buy; same features as the 50L and 60L, but taller — great capacity, no chance of carry-on)
Best Backpack with Detachable Daypack on Travel Backpacks for Women
Osprey Fairview 55 Travel Pack (buy at REI) – travel backpack designed for women!
Small Travel Backpack for Women: Best 40L Backpack 2017
REI Trail 40 Womens
The REI Trail 40 backpack was actually the first backpack for travel I ordered in this search, and I loved it! The fit on a petite woman is perfect and it’s extremely comfortable. The price is very reasonable as well. Unfortunately, the capacity just isn’t large enough for our current needs. This would be a great budget backpack for a solo female traveler who packs light.
Osprey Fairview 40 Travel Pack for Women
Just like the brand new Osprey Fairview 55L I mentioned above, Osprey has updated their 40L backpack for women to bring better sizing and fit. With it’s new shorter profile, you should be able to take the Osprey Fairview 40 backpack as a carry-on even in the EU! While it’s a little more expensive than the REI Trail 40, it also has some nice travel backpack features: zip-away harness, padded side carry handle, and minimal loose straps on the front to get snagged. Check this out if you’re looking at small travel backpacks for women!
Kelty Women’s Redwing 40
The “little sister” of the venerable Kelty Redwing series could make another great choice if you don’t need huge capacity and are average height rather than petite since the harness height is fixed at 17″.