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I’m absolutely obsessed with getting my gear right for travel. As in, I start browsing forums and reviews, and next thing I know, the entire day has disappeared. My excuse is that this stuff really matters — when my entire life lives on my back, luggage needs to be as close to perfect as possible.
So before I started traveling long-term, I spent days researching the best digital nomad backpacks, slowly narrowing them down to a shortlist. Durability and functionality are vital. It has to be easy to carry, with enough versatility to deal with whatever a travel day might bring. Finally, style matters too, at least for me. I don’t ask for much, right?
BirkSun has put some serious development time into its range of solar backpacks, and hundreds of positive reviews suggest it’s paid off. The main feature of the Boost 2 packs is the waterproof solar panel on the front, paired with a 3000mAh battery that lets you charge any USB device on the go. It’s all TSA-approved for international travel, of course.
Internal compartments keep smaller items organized, while your laptop or tablet stashes in an internal 17” sleeve. The water-resistant material makes the 20L backpack ideal for any digital nomad who loves the outdoors, and the solar charger helps those whose feet outlast their phone battery when exploring a new city.
Given its relatively small size, the Birksun is likely best used as a daypack, rather than being your only piece of luggage.47cm x 33cm, 1.1kg Buy on Amazon
Osprey Farpoint 40
Osprey’s Farpoint 40 is well-known in the digital nomad community, for good reason. It’s strong and sturdy, easy and comfortable to carry, and is backed by an unbeatable warranty. The 40-litre capacity is enough for even the longest of trips, yet still squeaks under the carry-on limits for most airlines.
If you do need to check the bag or stow it for a long-distance bus ride, the back panel with hip belt and harness system can easily be zipped away to prevent damage. The Farpoint has two compartments that can be locked together with a padlock, and the smaller one is ideal for a laptop or tablet up to 15″ in size.
Inbuilt compression straps help keep everything organized, while help squeeze in a couple of extra t-shirts. Want to maximize your carry-on? This is your choice. It’s now the only backpack Lauren uses, for trips ranging from a few days to six months or more.54cm x 35cm, 1.4kg Buy on Amazon
Kopack Anti Theft & Shockproof
The Kopack convinces with its amazing value for money. Priced under fifty bucks, its features include water- and tear-resistant material, plus theft- and shockproof design. The zip faces inwards (towards your back) when wearing the bag, keeping pickpockets at bay.
The backpack comes in two sizes, with the “medium” holding up to a 15″ laptop in the internal padded sleeve, and the “large” holding up to a 17″ notebook. Both open fully for easier packing, similar to the Kånken.
Other useful features include being able to thread your headphone cable through a small hole, so you can listen to music while keeping your device safely out of reach, and the hidden but easily-accessible side pocket for passports or keys.
Coupled with great reviews for the comfort of its straps and padding, it’s a great budget option.40cm x 31cm (M), 46cm x 33cm (L), 0.9kg Buy on Amazon
The Lifepack has a big price tag, but combines most of the features of the other backpacks listed here. The most interesting aspect is the “solar bank”, an inbuilt solar-powered battery that stores up to six smartphone charges, while also functioning as a quality Bluetooth speaker.
There’s plenty of padding to stop your gear from sticking into your back, a hidden passport pocket in the back, plus two slip pockets in the straps to store loose items like credit cards, receipts, or headphones. The rain cover will keep all your belongings safe, and it’ll easily hold up to a 15” laptop.
If you’re willing to make the investment, this backpack will deal with anything from hanging out with friends, to business meetings, to carrying your mobile office around the world.50cm x 30cm, 2.2kg (including solar bank) Buy on Amazon
Fjällräven Kånken Laptop 15”
I’ve been traveling with my Kånken for the last four years. While it doesn’t offer as many features as the other backpacks, it’s served me well across the globe. Personally, I love the full zip of the main compartment, which allows me to pack very efficiently, and the super-comfortable straps that don’t give me sore shoulders on long travel days.
It comes with a 15” laptop compartment in the back, two side pockets, and a zipped front pocket. The material itself is extremely durable (it’s lasted this long on the road already!), as well as water- and dirt-resistant.
Another plus for me is the vintage look of the bag, in a wide range of colors — it’s stylish yet understated, and doesn’t draw too much attention. The model I use has an 18 litre capacity — if you need a little more room, there’s also a 20-litre version that can hold a 17″ laptop. It’s a lightweight, durable, and reasonably-priced daypack option.40cm x 28cm, 0.5kg Buy on Amazon
Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45
The 45L Venturesafe is a slightly bigger, and considerably cheaper, version of the Lifepack. It uses every possible square inch of airline carry-on limits, and since the main compartment opens up completely, you’ll have no problem using all of that extra space either. Pacsafe is known for its focus on security, and this pack is no exception — there are five separate anti-theft mechanisms, including an inbuilt locking cable, plus slashproof material in the straps and main compartment.
Unlike many carry-on sized backpacks, the Venturesafe EXP45 comes with both chest and hip belts to better-distribute weight and make the bag easier to carry.
Several different pockets help keep everything organised, including an internal sleeve that holds laptops up to 15″. Another nice touch: the straps can be easily tucked away as needed, so there’s less chance of them getting snagged or damaged on travel days.55cm x 35cm, 1.8kg Buy on Amazon
We Also Considered
We also considered the following backpacks. They’re both good choices for certain types of digital nomad, but didn’t quite make our final list for various reasons.
The Minaal Carry-On is a favorite with many location-independent travelers, albeit a pricey one. The base price is $299, and you’ll pay extra for a shoulder sling or hip belt.
That said, for the money, you get a great piece of luggage, with excellent weight distribution and a highly-practical yet stylish design. With the shoulder sling and straps stowed away, it can comfortably be carried like a duffel bag or suitcase as well. The padded device compartment holds up to a 15” laptop.
Meanwhile, the Tortuga Travel Backpack costs half the price, and has a 44L capacity. It’s front-loading, so you can pack it like a suitcase, while stowing your notebook in the 17” sleeve.
If you’re like me, packing and unpacking loose items like passports and phone 146 times in every airport, you’ll especially enjoy the large, accessible hip pockets. Given its wide dimensions, the Tortuga isn’t ideal for everyone, but’s a good option for broader-shouldered travelers.
These backpacks are all between daypack and carry-on size, and the best option will depend on your travel style and intended usage.
If you’re a carry-on genius with superior packing skills, the Osprey Farpoint or Pacsafe will be the right choice. Don’t forget, though, that we’ve seen restrictions on the size of electronics that can be bought into the cabin on certain flights already this year, and there’s no guarantee they won’t be expanded again in the future.
Otherwise, it depends on which specific features you prefer. Outdoors a lot? Water resistance and durable materials should be at the top of your list. Spending most of your time in cities and on crammed public transport? Keep anti-theft features in mind.
An inbuilt solar panel isn’t vital for most people, so it’s unlikely to be the deciding factor for many digital nomads either. Outdoor enthusiasts and excessive phone users have been extremely happy with those listed here, however, so there’s clearly a market for them.
So whether you’re traveling for weeks, months, or with no set end date, any of these backpacks will make for a reliable companion on your next journey.
Are you location-independent? What backpack or luggage are you using at the moment?
Images via author (main image), manufacturers (other images)