How to Choose the Best Travel Backpack for Europe

Unfortunately, most backpackers buy hiking backpacks, not travel backpacks, because they don't know the difference. Ultimately, a hiking backpack can ruin your trip. Learn what to look for in a backpack specifically designed for travel and which one to buy for Europe.

What Size Travel Backpack for Europe Should You Buy?

When you're on the road, don’t lug around a comically-oversized hiking backpack. You'll never get anywhere.

You need a bag that works in every travel scenario. A travel backpack for Europe should be carry-on-sized, even if you'll be riding on trains, not flying on planes. Carry on bags should measure no more than 22" x 14" x 9" to fit within airlines' carry on luggage regulations.

A large carry on backpack (40-45L) is small enough to still be comfortable on your back and can be easily maneuvered around trains and hostels. You will be able to fit 1-2 weeks of clothing, which you can re-wear and wash for multi-week or longer trips.

When you do take your bag on a flight, you'll save money and time by not checking it. Since you'll have it with you, your airline can't lose or damage your bag either. 

Stay Organized

Most backpacks load from the top. To get something out of the middle or bottom of your bag, you'll have to unpack everything above it. You'll be staying in plenty of hostels and budget hotels without much personal space, so unpacking everything every time you need anything won't work.

Instead, use a front-loading bag that packs like a suitcase. Front-loading (aka panel-loading) backpacks open like a book so that you can easily reach anything in your bag without unpacking.

Now you can have convenient access for yourself and won't annoy anyone because your clothes are strewn around the room. Win, win.

Prevent Theft

Petty theft is common in hostels and on trains and buses. Crowded tourist areas are prime targets for pickpockets.

Hiking bags close with a simple drawstring. Those bags are magnets for thieves. Prevent having your passport, valuables, or clothes stolen by using a theft-proof backpack.

Deter theft with a lockable backpack. You'll never be 100% theft-proof. Your goal should be to look as secure as possible so that you're not the easiest mark. Thieves will skip your locked bag for someone else's unlocked one.

Use a simple TSA-approved padlock to prepare your backpack for Europe. When a potential thief sees that little lock, he'll move on to another, easier target.

When you're shopping for a travel backpack for Europe, remember to choose one that's carry-on-sized, easy to access, and lockable. The right bag will never slow you down but will help prevent petty theft.

Stay Comfortable

In Europe you’ll be moving around between accommodations and cities on buses and trains -- you’ll be walking a lot and you need a comfortable backpack. Get a backpack with thick padded shoulder straps that will distribute the weight and not dig in. Your shoulders will also thank you to get a backpack with a padded hip belt to transfer most of the weight to your stronger leg muscles.

The Best Travel Backpacks for Europe

For Organization Enthusiasts

The Outbreaker Backpack combines the ergonomics and portability of a backpack with the obsessive organization and easy packing of a suitcase. With the Outbreaker, you have a place and a compartment for everything.

It’s height-adjustable so you can get the perfect fit and it's made with waterproof sailcloth so you know your stuff will be safe in a downpour. It even has a TSA-friendly lay-flat laptop compartment. The Outbreaker Backpack is our most ergonomic, most organized, and most adjustable backpack. The 45L will max out carry on dimensions on most airlines so you never have to check a bag. For stricter airlines, like RyanAir, 35L will be a better choice.

For Light Packers and Short Trips

The Setout Divide Backpack was designed with light packers in mind. For short trips, a large carry on is too much bag. The Setout Divide is just the right size for a weekend or week-long trip.

Expand the backpack from 26L to 34L for extra packing space when you need it. Use the two-compartment layout to separate and organize your clothing.

The Best of Both Worlds

If you like internal organization, lots of packing space, and a hip belt but still prefer a lightweight bag, the Setout Backpack is your holy grail. It has most of the organization and all of the packing space of Outbreaker in a lighter weight package. It has the right amount of features for most travelers at a more affordable price range. 

We created Tortuga after realizing the shortcomings of existing bags during a backpacking trip to Eastern Europe in 2009. Mine was large, cumbersome, and disorganized. Jeremy’s shoulder strap broke on the first day due to cheap materials. We couldn’t find the perfect travel backpack, so we made it. If you're heading to Europe, you need a backpack designed for travelers. Compare travel backpacks here to find the right choice for your trip.