What is the best size backpack for travelling?

By far one of the most challenging problems in the world of backpacking lies in the fundamentals of the name – the backpack itself.

Tokyo Temple With a Daypack

There are so many questions, problems and solutions that all stem from travellers, much like me and (I’m assuming) you, looking for the best backpack choice before biting the bullet and dishing out the cash. 

But if there’s one question that stands on the number one spot of the podium as the most asked and most important question about the backpack, it’s the title of this post – “What is the best size backpack for travelling?”.

The best size backpack for travelling 

The first thing that you’re going to want to know is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question – I know, boo, hiss.

But that’s probably a good thing and the answer depends enormously on what you’ll be planning to do on your trip. Backpacks come in all different shapes and sizes, from tiny daypacks that you’ll struggle to fit your lunch in, to enormous trek packs that you’ll be able to fit all of your lunches for a full year into.

So – we’re going to answer the question of what the best-sized backpack for travelling is with another question – what are you planning on doing on your trip? 

If you’re planning on hiking the Rockies, sleeping in a tent and taking it all with you, chances are that you’re going to be looking for as much size as possible and a 70L or even 80L backpack will work the best for you. Conversely, if you’re just looking to travel to Prague for a weekend, a small 20L backpack will almost definitely cater for your needs exploring the old town.

Adam with the Farpoint 70 and Fairview Trek 70L

The one-size-fits-all approach – a 40L backpack

If we’re being honest, there is a loose one-size-fits-all approach for most travellers, I just said that there wasn’t in an effort to sound a little dramatic. 

The truth is, if you’re looking for a versatile backpack for travelling Europe, South East Asia or even South America, a 40L backpack will (probably) be the perfect size. There’s a number of reasons to choose the 40L pack which, if you’d like to read on, I’ll briefly cover, starting with the carry-on policies of major airlines. 

The perfect size for a carry-on

For the most part, that 40L backpack that may seem way too small to fit your life into is just small enough to sneak on a plane without checking it into the hold luggage. 

Unfortunately, not all airlines share the same maximum carry-on sizes and whilst some are incredibly strict (I’m looking at you, RyanAir), others are much more relaxed in their approach. With a 40L pack, you’ll be much more likely to effortlessly slip through security and on to the plane without having to check your luggage.

That saves a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of stress over lost luggage and tampered-with bags. 

The perfect size to transport 

A backpack has to serve two main purposes, one of those is to fit in all of the stuff you need for a trip, the other is to make carrying them a breeze. 

The problem with backpacks that are a little larger than the perfect 40L size is that they start to become a bit cumbersome to carry. By that, I mean that the packs get heavy and bulky and incredibly awkward to maneuve. 

You know those pics you see plastered over Facebook when people are heading to Thailand for the first time with a bag the same size as a small child? They never look comfortable do they – they look prepared, sure, but never comfortable. Do you know why that is? It’s because they aren’t comfortable – they’re a massive burden and have been since they arrived from the Blacks sale. 

We’re constantly taught that bigger is better and the more stuff you can pack into your backpack when travelling the better – but that’s so far from the truth. With a larger pack comes more inconvenience and with more inconvenience comes frustration and ultimately, you’ll have a worse time trying to cart an unholy amount of unnecessary stuff around with you. 

Trust me when I tell you, you don’t need a big backpack for global travel, it will slow you down and you will hate yourself for it.

The perfect size to pack 

I mentioned that a backpack has two purposes with the first and main purpose to fit in all of the stuff you need for a trip.

This is where most new backpackers, think they need a larger backpack to travel – but the truth is, with some clever packing, the 40L backpack is the perfect size to pack. You’ll be incredibly surprised at just how small of a space you can fit everything you need for 3, 6 or even 12 months. 

If you have a 70L backpack, you will fill all 70L, but half of what you’re carting around you won’t actually need or use. If you’ve only got 40L to pack, you have to be selective with what you’re taking with you, that means you’re taking less, but using everything – it’s a much more efficient way to travel. 

Long story short – a 40L backpack is more than enough space and, with a bit of practice with life on the road, you can get your life into an even smaller pack.

Adam in Shinjuku

The best 40L travel backpack 

I’ll leave you with just one last bit of information which, in my mind, is the most valuable – and that is the best 40L travel backpack that you can buy today. 

It’s no secret that Osprey makes some of the very best gear out there today and with a 40L travel backpack in the Osprey Farpoint 40 (you can see our full review here) that ticks all the right boxes, it’s the must-have pack that all backpackers should own.

Farpoint 40 backpack in black

It’s cost-effective, it’s carry-on sized (for most airlines), it’s good looking, it comes with a handy padded laptop sleeve and it’s one of the toughest packs we’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. 

For new and experienced backpackers alike, the Farpoint 40 is the best 40L travel backpack available today.

Author’s choice

Farpoint 40 backpack in black

The Osprey Farpoint/Fairview 40L backpack is our pick for the best-sized travel backpack.

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