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Unfortunately, most backpackers buy hiking backpacks, not travel backpacks, because they don't know the difference. Don't let ignorance ruin your trip. Learn what to look for in a backpack and which one to 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 maximum-sized carry on backpack is small enough to still be comfortable on your back and can be easily maneuvered around trains and hostels. You should 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 be able to save money and time by not checking it. Since you'll have it with you, your airline can't lose or damage your bag.
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.
Petty theft is common in hostels and on trains and buses. Crowded tourist areas are prime targets for pickpockets.
Prevent having your passport, valuables, or clothes stolen by using a theft-proof backpack. Hiking bags close with a simple drawstring. Those bags are magnets for thieves.
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.
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 our most ergonomic, most organized, and most adjustable backpack.
For Light Packers
The Homebase Backpack was designed with the minimalist traveler in mind. For light packers, a maximum-sized carry on is too much bag. Work bags are the right size, but aren’t built for travel.
The Homebase is an ultralight backpack that's ideal for minimalist packers and short trips. It's a mid-sized carry on, which is perfect if you're not a fan of packing more than the minimum.
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 packing space of Outbreaker in a lighter weight package. It's also our most affordable travel backpack.
We created Tortuga after realizing the shortcomings of existing bags during a backpacking trip to Eastern Europe in 2009. 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.