What’s a Travel Pack? Finding the Right Backpack for Travel

One of the most difficult parts of traveling is figuring out how to carry all your stuff with you - how do you fit it all without having to haul around multiple bags, and how do you keep it organized?

Fortunately, there are lots of backpacks designed specifically for travel. Unfortunately, they’re not all created equal. In this article, we’re going to cover what a travel backpack is, how these backpacks differ from other types of backpacks, and what features of a travel backpack will guarantee an awesome trip. 

travel pack

Why a travel pack?

A travel pack is a backpack that is designed for someone who’s traveling in the traditional sense; staying in hotels or AirBnB’s, rather than hiking. It's designed for carrying comfort and convenience - so unlike a suitcase, you don't need two hands to carry it around. It also has more flexibility than a suitcase, as you can use your travel backpack at your destination (especially if it converts to an everyday carry backpack, as a Knack Pack does). And, a travel pack should comfortably fit into the overhead compartment on any plane, so that you never need to spend money on checking it. 

How is a travel backpack different from other backpacks?

The main difference between a travel backpack and other backpacks is the opening. Hiking backpacks and most other types of non-travel backpacks are top-loaders; they have one opening at the top into which you drop your stuff. Travel backpacks tend to either open like a book (i.e., the opening's hinge is on the bag's side) or open like a clamshell (i.e., the opening's hinge is on the bag's bottom). Both these types of openings are easier to pack into and allow you to see the main compartment more clearly when opened. 

Another key difference is the shape. A travel pack usually has a rectangular shape, which is the most efficient shape when it comes to maximizing packing space and ease. Backpacks that are not designed for travel come in a variety of shapes. A hiking backpack, for example, is usually long and tubular, and is optimized to hold a lot of stuff rather being optimized for ease of packing and unpacking.

A final point of difference is the suspension system the bag uses. Serious hiking backpacks have load adjuster straps at the top of the shoulder to cinch your backpack closer to your back; load-bearing waist belts; as well as internal or external frames. Internal frames can be made out of plastic poles or plastic sheeting which is the same size as the back panel. Frames help with weight distribution, but in turn add weight to your pack.

While some travel packs have a frame, most don't due to the added weight and the need to have a stow-away shoulder strap back pocket (which makes it very challenging to add a frame). However, a
 typical travel backpack will have many of the same features that make carrying a heavy load more comfortable, like well-padded shoulder straps, a hip belt, and a padded back panel.

The problem with most travel backpacks

Most travel backpacks are great for hauling everything you need with you to and from your destination, but they’re not great for the everyday excursions during your time at your destination. For example, if you’re visiting European cities, you don’t want to haul a mostly-empty, brightly-colored 50L hiking pack covered in exterior pockets into castles or restaurants. Doing so would label you as a tourist, and take away from the authenticity of your experience. 

When we designed Knack Packs, we wanted them to be suitable for both everyday use and travel. Knack Packs are travel backpacks that can collapse into slim-line everyday backpacks. And to make them appropriate in an office or a fancy French restaurant, the bag's minimalist design took inspiration from apparel trends and materials. 

With a 2-in-1 expandable backpack like the Knack Pack, you don’t need to carry a separate daypack inside of your travel backpack. 

man with Knack travel backpack

What to look for when buying a travel backpack

We’re going to dive into the specific features that make a backpack great for travel. In summary, here are our favorites:

  1. The right size
  2. Easy-access opening
  3. Separate compartments
  4. Lots of organization pockets
  5. Stowable shoulder straps
  6. Durable material
  7. Antimicrobial lining
  8. A laptop pocket
  9. A waist strap
  10. Security features

The right size

Size is one of the biggest considerations (pun intended) when choosing your travel backpack. The size that you should bring depends on the length of your trip, the purpose of your trip, and your packing style

In general, 25-30 Liter backpacks are best for shorter weekend trips, while 30-45 Liter trips are best for longer trips. Bringing a Large expandable backpack gives you the flexibility to add more space when you need it. For an in-depth guide to choosing the best size backpack for travel, check out this article.


Easy-access opening

Top-loader backpacks are like big black holes - it's hard to put things inside in an organized fashion, and it's even more difficult to get them out. Opt for a backpack with a clamshell opening, an 3/4 opening, or a book opening (which is like a suitcase opening). We built our Knack Packs with a separate, hidden expandable suitcase compartment, which opens like a suitcase, so that you can easily pack and unpack while keeping your travel items away from your everyday items. 


Separate compartments

Being able to separate your clothes from your everyday stuff, and your dirty clothes from your clean clothes, will make your life on the road a lot easier. Look for a backpack that has separate compartments so that you can organize your travel backpack to your liking. Knack Packs have multiple compartments, including the expandable suitcase compartment, which is designed to keep your clothing compact and secure. 

Hint: You can get even more organized by using packing cubes, which are like drawers for your travel pack. Learn more about how our new packing cubes and inserts are making One Bag travel easier than ever.

Lots of organization pockets

Pockets give everything a place, and keep them in place, even though the inevitable jostling of travel. When you know where everything is, you’ll avoid that sinking feeling of having lost something important. Knack Packs have pockets for everything you can think of, including:

  • Soft, lightweight mesh pockets so you can see what is in them
  • Fleece-lined tablet pocket
  • A separate padded laptop pocket
  • A secret passport/valuables pocket
  • Pen loops
  • Hidden, zip away water bottle pocket
  • Large mesh pocket in the travel compartment for dirty clothes or delicate clothes.

travel backpack with pockets

Stowable shoulder straps

Because you’ll likely take your travel pack on the plane, being able to tuck the shoulder straps out of harm's way is a big plus. Whether you’re bringing your backpack as a carry-on, or checking it, stowing the shoulder straps will ensure that nothing gets snagged and nobody gets tripped. All Knack Packs come with shoulder straps that can be unclipped and stowed in a separate pocket behind the back panel. 

In addition, having stowable shoulder straps together with a trolley sleeve makes it much easier and neater to slide your backpack onto your wheeled luggage handles (if you’re not traveling with one bag). The Knack Pack's hidden trolley sleeve is designed to fit all popular sizes of luggage handles so wheeling around the airport is a breeze.

Durable material

Your travel backpack will go through the wringer, and you want to be sure it’s made of quality materials so that it keeps your stuff safe, and so that you can use it for a long time. All Knack Packs use water-resistant, stain-resistant, tear-resistant, and abrasion-resistant polyester (Series 1) or nylon (Series 2) fabrics to keep your clothes and tech dry, and to ensure your bag will look sharp no matter what you put it through. Here's a little more about the fabrics that we use:

Nylon and polyester have very similar performance (neither is better than the other - just different). Fabric performance depends on the yarn weight, coatings, and how the fabric is woven. Both nylon and polyester are easy care, wrinkle-resistant and mold- and stain-resistant. Polyester tends to hold color better, fades less, and repels water better without added treatment. Nylon tends to be stronger and more elastic than polyester however, strength and abrasion-resistance is strongly impacted by yarn size and fabric weave. Overall, they're both extremely high performance, strong, and lightweight fabrics, which is why we use them in our Knack Packs. 

We also use top-tier hardware (instead of cheap plastic) everywhere on the bag. From the Duraflex buckles to YKK zippers, your Knack Pack won’t give out on you when you need it the most. 

Antimicrobial lining

From damp clothes to dirty laundry to food that you forgot about, there’s a lot of potential for bad odor when traveling. All Knack Pack linings are treated with an antimicrobial coating to ensure that mold and mildew won't ruin your trip. 

A protective laptop pocket

Your laptop is one of the most expensive pieces of technology that you during your trips, and you should do everything to prevent it from accidents. Having a bag that keeps your laptop safe will give you peace of mind. 

Knack Packs have a separate, padded, zip pocket with a sling bottom to protect your laptop from accidental drops and bumps. The zip laptop pocket is accessed from the side which saves time in TSA lines and helps you breeze through security with less hassle.

More of an iPad person? Knack Packs also have a microfleece-lined interior pocket for tablets. And the Series 1 Knack Pack has a cable garage for easy access to all your cables and chargers. 


A waist strap

Waist straps (sometimes these are also called hip straps) take the load off of your shoulders and put them on your hips, which protects your back, neck, and shoulders from strain and makes for more comfortable carry. The waist strap should be adjustable for your body type, and should be removable for when your load isn't as heavy and you want to use your travel pack as an everyday carry backpack. 

Security features

The primary purpose of a travel backpack is to keep your stuff safe, which is why features like lockable zippers and RFID-blocking fabric should be taken into consideration when shopping for your next bag. Of course, we included these safety features in our Knack Packs. 

backpack with lock



 Can you bring your travel backpack onto the plane?

Traveling with just a carry-on bag removes the worry that your bag and all your belongings will get lost in transit. Plus, it’s convenient to be able to access all of your stuff during the flight. In general, bags and backpacks under 50L are allowed on the plane, but be sure to check with your airline for their latest requirements on carry-on size limits. A 45 liter backpack is about the largest size of backpack that you can bring onto the plane before you start having issues fitting it into the overhead bin. 

What makes a great carry-on backpack? Review our deep dive on finding the best carry on backpack for you. New to carry-on only travel? Check out this guide to traveling with a carry-on only.

What is the best backpack for travel

The Large Expandable Knack Pack can hold 3-4 days' worth of clothes (more, if you’re strategic), a 17” laptop, and all of your other travel gear. From travel to work, Knack Packs are designed for a seamless One Bag life for simple organization and convenience on the go. Shop all Knack Packs here!

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