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Hands-On with the Best Travel Backpacks for Women 2017

Thule Versant 50 Women's side view

Hands-On with the Best Travel Backpacks for Women 2017

Updated 7/7/17 with one retirement and one exciting new backpack just for women, the Osprey Fairview 55 (available at REI and Amazon)! This may just be one of the best travel backpacks for women…

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.

Compare Women's Travel Backpacks

Five contenders, all in blue and green, bookended by our current luggage. From left to right: Osprey Farpoint 55 S/M, Thule Versant 50L Women’s, REI Grand Voyage 80 Women’s, Kelty Sira 45, Kelty Redwing 44

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

Related: Why you should pack light and how to do it (even with kids!)

 

comparison of travel packs for women harness view

 

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

  PriceVolumeTorso HeightExterior Dimensions
Osprey Farpoint 55 S/M

Our review
Osprey Farpoint 55 S/M front picture$$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

Our review
Osprey Fairview 55 best backpack for women$$Main pack: 42L (S/M)
39L (XS/S)

Day pack: 13L
unknown, but now available in XS/S to fit petite women25H X 13W X 12D (S/M)

50 linear inches
REI Grand Tour 80

Our review
REI Grant Tour 80 front view$$Main pack: 60L

Day pack: 18L
15-19" adjustable26H x 14.5W x 10D

50.5 linear inches
Kelty Redwing 44

Our review
Kelty Redwing 44 front view$44L~18" fixed25H x 15W x 12D

52 linear inches
Kelty Sira 45

Our review
Kelty Sira 45 front view$$45L~17" fixed26H x 12W x 10D

48 linear inches
Thule Versant 50L/60L Women's


Our review
Thule Versant 50L Women's front view$$$50L/60L

(volume of the removable sling pack is unclear, but probably around 10L)
14-18" adjustable50L:
25.6H x 16.9W x 12.6D
55 linear inches

60L
25.6H x 16.9W x 13.4D
56 linear inches

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Reviews of Best Women’s Backpacks for Travel

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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. Though the Farpoint has long been a favorite among travelers of both genders, in the Osprey Fairview vs Farpoint smackdown, there’s a clear winner for female travelers. I have a feeling this may end up being one of the best backpacks for women!

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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 or the Osprey Fairview 70 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
  • Heavy
  • Only one external compression strap (though it connects across both top and bottom)

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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

 

 

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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

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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. I think it will turn out to be the best travel backpack for our trip around the world!

Thule Versant 50L pack and Thule Versant 60L pack comparison; Thule Versant 70L backpack is not shown

Thule Versant 50L and Thule Versant 60L comparison

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The Best Women’s Travel Backpacks of 2017

Best Travel Backpacks for Petite Women

Thule Versant 50L Women’s (our review, read more reviews and buy)

REI Grand Tour 80 (our review, read more reviews and buy)

Best Women’s Travel Backpack for Long-Term Travel

Thule Versant 60L Women’s (our review, read more reviews and buy)

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)

REI Grand Tour 80 (our review, read more reviews and buy)

Best Backpack with Detachable Daypack on Travel Backpacks for Women

Osprey Fairview 55 Travel Pack (buy at REI or Amazon) – travel backpack designed for women!

Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Pack (our review, read more reviews and buy)

Small Best 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″.

Links

REI Backpack Fitting Advice

How to pack light

 

Melissa

30 Comments

  • mykidsintow

    We’re looking for a backpack we don’t have to check in. I dislike having to check bags if I don’t have to. So, that limits us to around the 37L bags, which may be too small. I’ll have to see.
    Thank you for this

    May 22, 2017 at 11:30 pm
    • Melissa

      I actually carried on the Thule Versant 60 that I mentioned in the post! The main pack was not stuffed to capacity and I used the external compression straps to cinch it down. I kept the removable lid with me as a personal item to hold our tablets and headphones.

      May 23, 2017 at 7:30 am
      • Amy Cancryn

        Oh that’s cool. In going to take a look at it

        May 23, 2017 at 8:16 am
  • The Curious Creature

    Wow this is such a comprehensive post!! I need a travel backpack and this makes it so much easier to choose.

    May 24, 2017 at 2:40 pm
    • Melissa

      Excellent, I’m so glad it’s useful!

      May 24, 2017 at 2:49 pm
  • Renee

    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s been insane trying to choose the right backpack. Now I have a great guide.

    May 24, 2017 at 3:34 pm
  • trilingualtraveleram

    It’s so important to have a traveling bag that fits everything you need but doesn’t hurt your back! This post is a really good resource for trying to pick out a bag…it looks like you’ve thought of just about everything!

    May 24, 2017 at 4:49 pm
  • Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad

    I’m starting to look at investing in a new backpack for my next travels! This is a really good guide. Bookmarking to come back to it. 🙂

    May 24, 2017 at 4:49 pm
  • Candiss

    Ohhh! I am definitely saving this for later as I am likely to be in the market for a new travel bag soon!

    May 24, 2017 at 6:28 pm
  • Travel Textbook - Lucy

    Picking the best pack can be hard — thanks so much for the advice!

    Lucy x

    May 24, 2017 at 10:56 pm
  • Becky the Traveller

    Such a great post. My current backpack is 55l and it’s perfect for my travels but I have had it a while now and poor thing it’s getting old. I love how you have made this easy to read and compare the different styles. Also useful to have torso size, never really considered this before.

    May 25, 2017 at 6:44 am
    • Melissa

      I’m so glad you found it helpful! What’s your current pack? Any favorite features?

      May 25, 2017 at 8:39 am
  • Lapinayviajera.com

    I’m not a backpack person but your post is worth considering to finally get my own soon.

    May 25, 2017 at 8:10 am
    • Melissa

      I wasn’t always, but I made the switch about 8 years ago and haven’t looked back!

      May 25, 2017 at 8:40 am
  • waitingforrain28

    This is super helpful. I have a cheap backpack that serves me fairly well at the moment, but I am getting more into longer hiking while I travel, so I need something that is put together a bit better.

    May 26, 2017 at 7:22 am
    • Melissa

      Hopefully you can find a great one! It’s such a personal choice based on your body and needs.

      May 26, 2017 at 2:16 pm
  • Bon-Bon

    Not a backpack fan but this is really good reviews. I will forward to a good friend who use backpacks:)

    May 26, 2017 at 6:42 pm
  • Dana M

    Wowzers, I didn’t need a new backpack but I definitely want one now! Thank you for the useful tips!

    May 29, 2017 at 9:44 pm
  • Kyla

    What a fantastic, comprehensive post! I love that the Thule 60L is the same height as the 50L, it provides so much more flexibility. I don’t know if I have enough self control to not stuff it all the way full 🙂 I have a top loading pack right now and keep debating about whether I want to change up for a front load…I was looking at the FarPoint, however after your review I think I’ll be looking at something a bit different. Thanks for this!!

    June 3, 2017 at 7:27 am
    • Melissa

      I’ve heard that some people carry on the Farpoint, but seeing them side-by-side it’s hard to imagine. I would have considered it more seriously if they made XS/S rather than S/M.

      June 3, 2017 at 7:49 am
  • Melissa Olson Downham

    Perfect timing as I need a new backpack!

    June 3, 2017 at 8:06 am
    • Melissa

      Whatcha thinking about?

      June 3, 2017 at 8:08 am
  • kad8585

    So helpful!! You want to invest in the right backpack because you don’t want to hurt your back and you don’t want to waste a ton of money. Such a helpful review that I will use when I need a new one. 🙂

    June 3, 2017 at 8:08 am
  • kad8585

    Such a great review because they can be so expensive but worth the investment if you make the right choice. Thanks!

    June 3, 2017 at 8:10 am
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