I’ve spent the majority of the last two and a half years backpacking, living, and traveling around Europe.
I’ve visited about 80% of the countries that make up this big and diverse continent and travel around Europe since I’m based in Bulgaria and it’s quite easy to hop around for cheap from Sofia (I love you, Wizz Air).
I have a lot of opinions on what makes the best backpack for backpacking Europe: lightweight and optimized for travel rather than hiking. Unless, of course, you plan to use your backpack for multi-day treks — then by all means, you want a proper hiking backpack (and I’ve included one in this list).
My #1 Pick: Tortuga Setout Backpack
Best backpack for: long-term Europe travelers who want a hyper-organized backpack that can still fit most carry-on restrictions
I’ve had a Tortuga backpack since winter 2015, and its inaugural trip was to the far northern reaches of Swedish Lapland, chasing the Northern lights. It was my first time traveling with a proper backpack and my mind was blown.
Whereas my friend I was traveling with had a heavy, enormous nearly 50-lb. suitcase for a 1-week trip, I felt basically invincible (even when I got stuck in a massive snowbank and had to throw myself chest-first down a pile of snow like a penguin in order to not miss the only train of the day)….
Fast forward to 2018 and it’s held up remarkably well – it lost a few stitches here and there but it’s still in good shape and I’ve now gifted it to my boyfriend, who is ridiculously happy with it. Since I’ve been recommending Tortuga to travelers for the last few years, Tortuga offered to send me a complimentary version of their new backpack so I can see the improvements they’ve made. Let me tell you – as someone who loved the original Tortuga, this is a big upgrade!
Why do I love it so much? Let me count the ways!
- 45L capacity with three equally useful main compartments: one for a laptop and other flat objects, one giant rectangular compartment perfect for packing cubes stuffed with clothing, and one smaller compartment with pockets for passports, pens, odds and ends, etc. that I stash all my extras in – plus one small outer zipper pocket for anything you want quick access to
- Water bottle holder on the outside as well as buckles so that you can strap something like a yoga mat to the outside
- Comfortable to wear, with a padded hip belt and comfort-molding shoulder straps complete with a chest strap so that you can distribute weight perfectly across your body in the event that you need to wear your backpack for longer than usual. Check out more specs and details here.
Runner Up: Osprey Farpoint 40
Best backpack for: Europe travelers who want to hike with their travel backpack
Osprey is a much-loved brand by outdoorsy types, and the Farpoint 40 is also the perfect size for carry-on travel and city breakers. I especially like that it opens from the side like a suitcase like the Tortuga does, rather than packing from the top like most hiking bags do. Honestly, top-loading backpacks are the worst possible way to pack for backpackers. Yes, they fit a ton of stuff, but it also means that you’ll find yourself disemboweling your entire backpack nearly every time you’re looking for a specific shirt. Trust me, I’ve seen this happen in basically every dorm room I’ve stayed in and it’s never pretty.
The main reason that I prefer Tortuga to the Osprey is that it has more pouches and creative places for pockets. On the other hand, the Osprey is specifically designed for hiking, so it’s less about organization and more about ergonomics. It has some handy things like load lifters (the small straps at the top of your backpack straps) which help you adjust the weight distribution of your bag, great for hiking. The mesh back of the Farpoint is great for sweaty hiking days, as it lets your backpack “breathe” more against your back.
Here are the best features of the Osprey backpack:
- LightWire frame suspension: This is a fancy way of saying the Osprey is really ergonomically designed, and the harness transfers the bulk of the weight to your hip belt, which is the easiest place to carry weight.
- Mesh back panels: These prevent sweating on your back, but there are also mesh panels on the hip belt, which helps reduce chafing and sweating.
- Stow-away straps: If you want to use your Osprey handheld like a duffel bag for transport, you can easily store all the suspension straps under a zippered panel. There are top and side panels which make it easy for you to handle.
- Front compression straps: To help you squeeze in that last bit of stuff without going over your carry-on limit!
If I wanted my main Europe travel backpack to also double as a hiking backpack, it’d be a hard call between the Tortuga and the Osprey but I’d give the point to Osprey for being better suited for hiking. Otherwise, if you’re just staying in cities with maybe a few small day hikes thrown in, I’d opt for the Tortuga for its far superior organization system.
Runner Up: Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45
Best backpack for: Europe travel if you’re more concerned about pickpockets and theft than ergonomics and weight
My travel daypack is a Pacsafe, and I use it in conjunction with my Tortuga backpack as my home-away-from-home when I’m on the road. I pile all my electronics and valuables in my Pacsafe Citysafe Backpack and wear that on my front where I can keep an eye on it, while my Tortuga backpack holds all my clothes and other random bits. I usually buy Priority boarding for a few dollars extra when flying Ryanair or Wizzair and use that bag as my personal item and my Tortuga as my carry-on.
However, if you just want one carry-on travel backpack for Europe that also has some kickass security features baked in, this is the bag for you. The Venturesafe has the following security features:
- eXomesh Slashguard: A flexible steel wire mesh concealed and built into the bag to prevent slash-and-run would-be thieves
- ToughZip Zipper: An endurant zipper that prevents tampering and breaking
- Roobar Anti-Theft Anchor Lock: A head-scratching anchor lock that lets you lock up your zippers or even attach to cable to make your bag even harder to get into. You can even add a padlock for added security. My CItysafe backpack has something similar and I absolutely love it – it makes me feel really safe from thieves.
- Interlocking Zippers: Zippers that slide in neatly to lock together, making it virtually impossible for any but the most nimble-fingered thieves to tamper with without your knowledge.
Basically, the Venturesafe backpack makes it so cumbersome to pick your pocket that no thief would bother – they’d move onto another, far easier target.
However, there is a disadvantage – all of these security features make the bag a bit heavy – about 1.8 kg or 3.9 pounds without anything inside it. Amazon reviewers have rated it not quite as comfortable as other bags due to the fact there are no load lifters and the shoulder straps aren’t the most comfortable. So this is a bag more about security than functionality or comfort.
For me, I’m a huge fan of Pacsafe, but I’d probably get a smaller Pacsafe daypack or purse rather than have my entire backpack (which is mostly just clothes and random tidbits, none of which are that valuable) be protected.
Runner Up: Kelty Redwing 40L Backpack
Best backpack for: Europe travel if you’re on a budget and don’t want to spend too much
Unfortunately, buying a backpack for Europe travel can be quite expensive, with most decent backpacks costing from $125-300 USD or more. On the other hand, the backpacks that are in the $50-ish range don’t have things that I consider absolute necessities like waist and shoulder straps.
Trust me – I tried using a Cabin Zero bag which was cute but didn’t have these, and I had so much pain in my shoulders from the poor weight distribution that I promptly ditched it the first chance I got. Especially if you’re traveling on an extended trip, you need these things for your comfort and back health.
Technically, this is a woman’s backpack – if you are after a men’s backpack or a unisex version of this backpack, check the Kelty Redwing 44 Backpack instead.
The best features are below:
- The most affordable backpack suited for Europe travel I could find
- Back and shoulder straps and load lifters to help with weight distribution and alignment
- 40L capacity makes it easy to take as a carry-on bag on budget flights
Runner Up: Osprey Volt 60L Backpack
Best backpack for: long-term European travelers who don’t mind checking their bags, who value capacity over organization
If you mostly travel overland (taking few flights) and really want a heavy-duty backpack that can fit a lot of stuff in it, an Osprey 60L backpack is what you need.
It’s not too big to be totally unwieldy, but it’s also able to fit all your creature comforts in it.
Osprey bags are also designed to distribute weight evenly for hiking, so if you have a lot of multi-day treks planned this is a fantastically ergonomic bag.
Allison Green is a former educator turned travel blogger. She holds a Masters in Teaching and a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. Her blog posts merge her educational background and her experience traveling to 60+ countries to encourage thoughtful travel experiences that both educate and entertain. She has been a speaker at the World Travel Writers Conference and her writing, photography, and podcasting work has appeared in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, CBC Canada, and Forbes, amongst others. Now based in San Francisco Bay Area where she grew up, she has also lived in Prague, Sofia, and New York City.