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When traveling around Europe, your bag should not define your trip (even if you’ve opted for backpacking Europe). Your bag should simply be the tool that enables travel. A carry on is too heavy to haul up a flight of stairs, never mind the whole of Europe. A hiking backpack is ergonomic but disorganized.
What you need is a backpack for traveling, a backpack designed to combine the size and organization of a carry on with the ergonomic design of a hiking backpack.
Unfortunately, many travelers don’t buy travel backpacks because they don't know the difference. Learn what to look for in a backpack specifically designed for travel and how to choose the best backpack for your trip to Europe.
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 instead of 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 one to two weeks of clothing which you can re-wear and wash for longer trips.
Make sure to check carry on size restrictions for your individual airline, especially for budget travel. Budget airlines are the strictest about carry on limits.
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.
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 everything on your person.
Now you can have convenient access for yourself and won't annoy anyone because your clothes are strewn around the room. Win, win.
Petty theft is common in hostels and on trains and buses, and crowded tourist areas are prime targets for pickpockets since they know you have to carry essential documents on your person.
Hiking bags close with a simple drawstring. Those bags are magnets for thieves. For one thing, they’re a breeze to get into, and for another, nothing screams tourist louder than carrying a hiking backpack in the middle of a city.
The smarter option is a theft-proof backpack. You’ll never be 100% theft proof, but lockable zippers can slow a thief down. They also send the message that you’re not an easy mark, so thieves are more likely to skip your locked back in favor of an 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 an easier target.
In Europe you’ll be moving around between accommodations and cities on buses and trains—you’ll be walking a lot and you need an ergonomic backpack.
The best approach is to look for a backpack modeled on a hiking backpack. Unlike traditional backpacks, which dump weight in your shoulders via the shoulder straps, a hiking backpack uses a padded hip belt to transfer most of the weight to your leg muscles, which are far more accustomed to bearing weight.
It may not look as cool, but your shoulders will thank you. When you switch to a hip belt, you’ll never go back
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 on your packing list.
There’s a large main compartment for your main items with zippered pockets for cords and toiletries. You can pack your laptop, tablet, or e-reader in the TSA-friendly lay-flat laptop compartment. And for all the small essentials that demand easy access (like your favorite notebook or sunglasses) you can stow them in the front compartment.
It’s height-adjustable so you can get the perfect fit. For those traveling in wetter climates, it's made with waterproof sailcloth so you know your stuff will be safe in a downpour.
The Outbreaker Backpack is our most ergonomic, most organized, and most adjustable backpack. The 35L will meet carry on dimensions on most European airlines so you never have to check a bag.
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, compact enough for efficiency but large enough for the essentials.
If you need extra packing space, you can expand the backpack from 26L to 34L. Use the two-compartment layout to separate and organize your clothing, the laptop compartment for your electronics, and the front compartment to organize the small stuff.
If you like internal organization, lots of packing space, and comfort but still prefer a lightweight bag, the Setout Backpack is your holy grail. It has all of the packing space and the organization of the Outbreaker in a lighter 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.