How to Choose the Best Travel Backpack for Europe

Published December 19, 2023

Written by:

Fred Perrotta
Fred Perrotta
Fred Perrotta

Fred Perrotta is the co-founder and CEO of Tortuga. His first backpacking trip to Europe inspired him to start the...

Edited by:

Headshot of Jeremy Michael Cohen
Jeremy Michael Cohen
Headshot of Jeremy Michael Cohen

Jeremy Michael Cohen is a co-founder of Tortuga. He also works as a screenwriter and director. Aside from travel and...

Woman visiting fountain in Rome wearing a backpack

The Tortuga Promise

At Tortuga, our mission is to make travel easier. Our advice and recommendations are based on years of travel experience. We only recommend products that we use on our own travels.

When traveling around Europe, your bag should never ruin your trip. Your bag should make your trip easier, not add to your worries. Even if you say that you’re “backpacking Europe,” you need the right kind of backpack. 

Wheeled carry on luggage is too heavy to haul up a flight of stairs, never mind across all of Europe. A hiking backpack is comfortable but loads from the top, so you have to unpack the whole thing to find what you need.

What you need is a backpack made for traveling. Your backpack should combine the size and organization of a carry-on-bag with the ergonomic design of a hiking backpack.Unfortunately, many travelers don’t buy travel backpacks because they don’t know the difference between different kinds of backpacks. Learn what to look for in a backpack specifically designed for travel and how to choose the best backpack for Europe.

Carry-On-Sized Travel Backpacks

Pack for trips of one week or more without checking a bag.

  • Thick comfortable straps
  • Easy to organize
  • Durable, waterproof fabric
  • Backed by our Worldwide Warranty
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What Size Backpack Should You Buy for Europe?

When you’re on the road, don’t lug around an oversized hiking backpack. You’ll never get anywhere, especially because you won’t be allowed to bring it on the plane with you. You need a bag that works in every travel scenario. A travel backpack for Europe should be carry-on-sized, meaning it fits in the overhead bin on the plane, even if you’ll be riding on more trains than planes.

The exact size depends on which airline (or airlines) you’ll be flying. The carry-on-size rules vary between America and Europe. Make sure to check every airline that you’ll be flying, especially if that includes a US carrier to Europe and European carriers within the continent. 

Check our resource of the carry on sizes and limits for most airlines

The maximum size carry on allowed in the US is typically 22 x 14 x 9?, or 45L in volume. In Europe, you’ll see more variance. Stricter airlines there will only allow bags up to 21.5? (55 cm) tall and 8? (20 cm) deep. 

Make sure to check carry-on-size restrictions for your airline, especially for budget travel carriers like Spirit, Ryanair, and Frontier. Budget airlines are often more strict about the size and weight of your bag. Also, don’t forget to weigh your bag before you leave. A cheap $10-20 luggage scale that you can find on Amazon could save you a checked bag fee each time you fly.

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. We recommend a mid-sized carry on backpack under 40L for maximum flexibility across airlines and regions. This size is small enough to be comfortable on your back and easily maneuvered around trains and hostels. You’ll be able to fit one to two weeks of clothing which you can re-wear and wash on longer Eurotrips.

Get Organized

Important organization features to look for: 

  • Front-loading clamshell that opens like a suitcase
  • Exterior pockets for quick access to valuables
  • Padded laptop sleeve
  • External water bottle pockets

Most backpacks load from the top. To get something out of the middle or bottom of your bag, you’ll have to unpack everything in your top-loading travel pack above it.

You’ll need a better solution than that while traveling, especially when staying in hostels and budget hotels without much personal space.

Use a front-loading bag that packs like a suitcase. Front-loading (also known as 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 else because your clothes are strewn around the room. Win, win.

Prevent Theft on your European Getaway

Important anti-theft features to look for: 

  • Discreet bag style that doesn’t stand out
  • Lockable zippers

Petty theft, unfortunately, happens in hostels and on trains and buses. Crowded tourist areas are prime targets for pickpockets since they know you are likely carrying money and maybe even your essential documents. Plus, you’re distracted by sightseeing.

Hiking bags close with a simple drawstring or buckles. Those bags are magnets for thieves. They’re a breeze to get into and make you stand out as an obvious tourist.

A smarter option is a theft-proof backpack. Your luggage will 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 bag in favor of an unlocked one.

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

Stay Comfortable With a Carry On Backpack

Important comfort features to look for: 

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 with a hiking-style suspension system and a well-padded back panel. When you’re traveling, comfort matters more than the most minimalist options. Unlike traditional backpacks, where all of the weight is on your shoulders, a hiking backpack uses a padded hip belt to transfer most of the weight to your leg muscles, which are far stronger. You need a travel backpack with a hip belt.

Wearing a hip belt saves you from back, neck, and shoulder strain. When you switch to a hip belt, you’ll never go back.

Carry-On-Sized Travel Backpacks

Pack for trips of one week or more without checking a bag.

  • Thick comfortable straps
  • Easy to organize
  • Durable, waterproof fabric
  • Backed by our Worldwide Warranty
Shop at Tortuga

The Best Travel Backpack for Europe

The Tortuga Travel Backpack combines the ergonomics and portability of a backpack with the obsessive organization and easy packing of a suitcase. With the Tortuga Travel Backpack, you have a compartment or pocket for everything on your packing list.

There’s a large main compartment for your clothes with zippered pockets for cords, toiletries, and other small stuff. You can pack your laptop, tablet, or Kindle in the TSA-friendly, padded laptop compartment. You can stow all the small essentials that demand easy access—like your favorite notebook or sunglasses—in the front compartment.

The Travel Backpack is height-adjustable, so you’ll get a perfect fit. The bag is made with a waterproof sailcloth to keep your stuff safe on rainy European days without the need for a rain cover.

The Tortuga Travel Backpack is our most ergonomic, organized, and adjustable weather-resistant backpack. The 30L size will meet carry on dimensions on most European airlines, so you never have to check a bag.

We started 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 by travelers.

Best Travel Bag Accessories

Having a great travel backpack is the beginning to ensuring you have a fantastic trip to Europe, but we recommend a few other travel accessories to help make it even easier.  

Packing Cubes

Embarking on a European adventure often brings the hassle of disorganized luggage, turning your journey into a stress-filled ordeal. Tortuga Packing Cubes are here to rescue you from the chaos, organizing your belongings into convenient cubes within your backpack. No more rummaging or repacking. Just seamless, straightforward access to your essentials, allowing you to focus on exploring and savoring every European moment.


Navigating the streets of Europe should be an adventure, not a hassle marked by bulky bags or the anxiety of leaving essentials behind. Tortuga has created the Travel Sling and Packable Backpack to be your perfect companions for European escapades. 

These sleek, lightweight, yet spacious packs are designed to secure all your necessities without the burden of having to carry all of your belongings. Enjoy unrestrained exploration, from spontaneous shopping to café hopping, all while your belongings stay accessible and safe. 

Travel Pouches

Navigating through Europe’s iconic cities, you’re not just juggling experiences, but also a mix of different currencies, train tickets, boarding passes, and your all-important passport. Each transaction, every hotel check-in, and all airport security checks turn into a pocket-patting dance, where you’re frantically checking for your valuables. 

Enter the Tortuga Passport Pouch, a zippered pouch for your passport, cards, and cash. Imagine swapping the constant rummaging and heart-skipping moments for a smooth, organized breeze through airports, train stations, and hotel check-ins. 

Europe Trip Planning Resources

Comparing Travel Backpacks

9 Essential Tips for Backpacking Across Europe Based on Personal Experience

Travel experts, we want to learn your tips for traveling across Europe with only a backpack for up to two weeks. What backpack features are most important? What is your advice for making the trip easier?  Here is what 9 thought leaders have to say.

  • Essential Backpack Features for Comfort
  • Prioritize Durable Backpack and Flexible Plans
  • Lightweight Backpack and Flexible Itinerary Tips
  • Minimalism and Ergonomic Backpack Design
  • Choosing the Right Backpack and Packing Light
  • Prioritizing Durability, Comfort, and Size
  • Backpack with Minimal Compartments and Airtight Bags
  • Importance of a Breathable Backpack
  • Backpack with Compression Straps and Digital Document Storage

Essential Backpack Features for Comfort

There are four things I must have in my backpack when I go backpacking. The most important is having adjustable straps so I can make it fully fit my back like a glove. Then, I make sure it has a separate bottom compartment. This makes it so much easier to access the stuff at the bottom of my backpack. Also, I like to put lighter items at the bottom and heavier items closer to my back to reduce the strain on my back. I also make sure it has a bottle pocket on the side that I’m able to easily reach without taking my backpack off. Lastly, I look for quick-access side pockets so I can store my phone and small items.

Jasmine Cheng, Travel Blogger, The Wandering Girl

Prioritize Durable Backpack and Flexible Plans

When traveling across Europe with just a backpack for two weeks, prioritize a durable, 40-50 liter backpack with comfort features and compartments. Pack light, focusing on versatile clothing, and roll items to save space. Bring travel-sized toiletries, electronic essentials, and secure your documents. 

Stay vigilant for security and safety, and maintain flexibility in your travel plans. Invest in local connectivity and consider budgeting tools. Prioritize hydration, food safety, and adapt to changing weather. Utilize regional transport passes and learn basic local phrases for a memorable European journey.

Amanda Obrien, Digital Publisher, The Boutique Adventurer

Lightweight Backpack and Flexible Itinerary Tips

As an Andorran resident and an avid traveler, I’m no stranger to backpacking across the beautiful landscapes of Europe. What I’ve learned is that for a successful two-week backpacking adventure across Europe, it’s best to opt for a lightweight, comfortable backpack with good back support to ease the load. It also helps tremendously if the backpack has multiple pockets to assist with organization. To make the trip easier, pack versatile clothing that you can mix and match or layer, and don’t forget essentials like a travel adapter, compact toiletries, and a first-aid kit. Leave room for unexpected discoveries by having a flexible itinerary. Lastly, engage with locals, try authentic cuisine, and cherish the mixed bag of experiences you encounter—it’s all part of the adventure!

Peter Lucas, Owner, Relocate to Andorra

Minimalism and Ergonomic Backpack Design

In my extensive travel experience, which includes jetting high-profile clients across continents, I’ve found that minimalism can enhance the journey. When backpacking across Europe for up to two weeks, I swear by a backpack with an ergonomic design that distributes weight evenly—look for padded shoulder straps and a robust hip belt. Multiple compartments for easy organization and quick-access pockets for essentials like passports and tickets are a must.

My top advice is twofold. First, embrace a capsule wardrobe made of versatile, quick-drying fabrics. Second, digitize important documents and store them securely in the cloud, reducing the need for physical copies. With less clutter and smart features in your backpack, you can focus more on the experience and less on the logistics.

Fahd Khan, Director of Marketing and Technology, JetLevel Charter Flights

Choosing the Right Backpack and Packing Light

When traveling across Europe with only a backpack for up to two weeks, it’s crucial to choose a backpack with the right features. Opt for a 40-45-liter backpack with padded shoulder straps, a waist belt for comfort, and multiple compartments for organization. Compression straps are handy to keep your load compact, and lockable zippers add security. Ensure the backpack is made from durable, weather-resistant material. To make the trip easier, pack light by selecting versatile clothing items and plan for laundry stops. Use travel-sized toiletries and bring a universal power adapter. Store digital copies of essential documents and invest in travel insurance for peace of mind. Lastly, research local customs and transportation options to navigate Europe effectively.

Jim Campbell, Owner, Honeymoons

Prioritizing Durability, Comfort, and Size

For packing for a backpacking trip across Europe, features like durability, comfort, and size should be your top priorities. Look for lightweight yet strong material that won’t wear down quickly (canvas or nylon are great options). Make sure there’s enough space for all the items you plan on bringing, but not so much that it will weigh you down when you’re walking. Plus, fully adjustable straps will help to keep the bag comfortable when carrying heavy loads.

Mo Pristas, Charterguru, Charterguru

Backpack with Minimal Compartments and Airtight Bags

Take a backpack with a minimum of compartments. It is best if there is one main compartment and two small pockets on the sides of the backpack. As a rule, you can put a bottle of water in such pockets. 

The backpack should have straps to support the waist and back. These belts help distribute part of the load from the lower back. 

It is best if the back of the backpack is rigid so that a full backpack does not cause discomfort on your back. If you have a thin back, then after filling the backpack, it may lie disproportionately on your back, which can cause discomfort. 

If you have a backpack with one compartment, it is best to divide clothes and everything necessary into categories and put them in airtight bags. This will protect against moisture, rain, or other problems. Resealable bags are a must-have that I always use.

Iana Varshavska, Digital Marketer and Yoga Therapist, Yanva

Importance of a Breathable Backpack

When traveling across Europe, having a breathable backpack is of paramount importance. The continent’s diverse landscapes and varying climates can subject travelers to a wide range of temperatures and conditions, making it crucial to have a backpack that allows for proper ventilation.

A breathable backpack helps prevent excessive sweating and discomfort during long hours of exploration, ensuring that travelers remain cool and dry. It also minimizes the risk of odors and mold, which can accumulate in a non-breathable bag, and provides a more comfortable and hygienic experience. The enhanced airflow within a breathable backpack can help regulate the temperature of items stored inside, protecting sensitive belongings like electronics, documents, and perishable goods.

Danielle Hu, Founder and Online Business Coach, The Wanderlover

Backpack with Compression Straps and Digital Document Storage

The importance of finding a backpack with compression straps that doesn’t compromise on padding and hip belts can’t be overstated. The straps allow you to cinch down your bag, keeping it compact and well-balanced. This is invaluable for navigating tightly packed buses and crowded streets, and ensuring that your backpack doesn’t become a bulky burden. But it’s equally crucial that these straps don’t compromise on padding and hip belts for comfort, especially during long days of exploring. You also want to keep digital copies of your important identification documents on your phone. It’s a practical way to safeguard your essential information while reducing the risk of losing physical documents.

John Murphy, Owner, eBike Generation

Fred Perrotta

Fred Perrotta

Co-Founder, Tortuga

Fred Perrotta is the co-founder and CEO of Tortuga. His first backpacking trip to Europe inspired him to start the company. For over a decade, he’s traveled the world from his home base in the Bay Area while working remotely. When he’s on the road, Fred enjoys both walking and eating as much as possible.

Read more from Fred

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