In search of the best backpacks for travel, we put four carry-ons to the test.
Sparkhill by Brooks
22 litres, $248 (at MEC)
The best thing about this backpack is the small top pocket. It’s ideal for the bits and pieces you use regularly, easily accessed, just the right size. I use it for my earbud holder/charger, my power pack, and sometimes a laptop power cord. It beats rummaging, or opening bigger sections and it’s better than having separate, and therefore confusable, pockets as well.
The front vertical zipper is not that useful, but the chest strap has a nicely machined metal hook that’s easy to do and undo and the padded laptop sleeve behind the back panel is handy—although, it would be handier if a shoulder strap flap didn’t obstruct the end of the zipper.
Blade by Arcteryx
28 litres, $270
This backpack has got a side handle and a top handle in addition to back straps, which makes it not only convenient to hold in different situations, but also easy to anchor at different angles depending on which of the many, many nooks, crannies, and sleeves you want to open or close. It took me more than a week to notice the little pocket round the back that ended up being ideal for earbuds (it’s too narrow for much else, though the company suggests it’s good for passports). There are zipped interior sections that make it good for separating clothes and it has lots of interior pockets to distribute your various electronic and cosmetic amenities.
Everyday Backpack by Peak Design
30 litres, $380
I love to travel with a single bag, and I like to take that bag onto the plane with me. This backpack, with its foldable, Velcro inserts made for photographers to stow lenses and whatnot allows you to portion out your 30 litres very specifically, with space for your adapters and wires, your toiletries and your socks, your clean clothes and your laundry. It has side flaps for even more specific packing, a slot in the back for a laptop (up to 15”) and a laddered clasp system for when you overstuff it on your way back home.
The Vandal by Mission Workshop
29 litres, $430
This backpack, however, is a revelation. It comes as a pretty standard 29l bag, with some small zipped pockets on the bottom, and two front zippered envelope-like spaces that will hold anything but are especially good for things like laptops. But there’s another zipper—on the top under the main flap—that lets you expand it to more than double its size. Perfect for the optimist who buys way too many souvenirs. Also good for laundry.
And best of all, it’ll still fit in the overhead bin.