The precise definition of a nomad is a person who does not stay in the same place for long; a wanderer.
Without a permanent dwelling, nomads can only carry the essentials for life and work on the road. Everything we own must be multi-functional, durable, and of the utmost quality.
If you’re a nomad – the digital or backpacking kind – then you have come to the right place.
The Broke Backpackers have been traveling for years. The way we travel has evolved from hitchhiking to tour leading to the digital nomad life and back again. Basically, we know travel, and we know exactly what makes the BEST nomad backpack.
Your nomad backpack should be roomy enough to carry the absolute essentials- the things you use daily – but small enough to keep you agile and flexible.
It should be comfortable, durable, and feature-rich, so you can organize your entire life in one backpack.
But how do you choose between the plethora of travel backpacks on the market? Well, that’s where we come in.
This is a list of our favorite backpacks that have served us well as backpackers and digital nomads over the years.
Quick Answers: Best Nomad Backpacks Revealed
- AER Travel Pack 2 – Best Nomad Backpack Overall
- Tortuga Outbreaker – Runner Up for Best Nomad Backpack
- REI Rucksack – Best Nomad Backpack for the Adventurer
- Lowe Pro Tactic – Best Nomad Backpack for the Photographer
How to Choose The Perfect Nomad Backpack
Hopefully, we’ve made it clear that your backpack is just as important as your passport and wallet! Before we get to our review, check out a few tips you should consider when choosing a travel backpack for your nomadic lifestyle.
1. Your nomad backpack is carry-on compliant (unless…)
If you are going to travel through airports often, we think you should travel with a carry on backpack. Don’t get us wrong. Sometimes, you have to travel with something bigger, like if you are camping, traveling with tons of photography gear, leading a tour in Pakistan, or heading north for the winter.
Not doing any of those things? Then stick to a carry on backpack! Traveling with a carry on backpack means you get to avoid check-in fees and baggage carousels at busy airports.
Although size limitations vary from airline to airline, generally, any backpack under 45-liters will be carry on compliant. Again, this varies by airline, but most international flights are more lenient (unless you’re flying with Ryan Air).
Furthermore, most airlines allow between 15 to 22 pounds of carry-on luggage, so ideally your backpack’s base weight will weigh less than 4 pounds.
Even if you’re not flying, do you really want to lug more than 30 pounds around with you? Probably not…
Backpackers’ law states if there is space in your pack it will be filled! In other words, if you’re traveling with an 85-liter backpack, you WILL end up packing it full and preceding to lug it around every train, bus, and tuk-tuk that you board.
We get that being a digital nomad means carrying more electronics. Simplify your life and get a travel laptop that can do it all.
Generally, the best travel bags of somewhere between 30 and 45-liters, unless you plan to use air travel check-in. If you have a lot of electronics, camera gear, camping equipment, or clothes (we’ve all been there!), then a larger bag may make more sense.
2. Your nomad backpack is comfortable!
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you want to make sure your backpack is comfortable. There are a few things to look for. First, make sure your backpack is the right size. It’s best to take your measurements at home before you make an online purchase.
Many packs come in XS-XL sizes based on torso length and have adjustable straps to customize the fit even further.
You should also consider the padding on the shoulder and waist straps. On that note, make sure your bag has a waist strap because it will help to distribute the weight from your shoulders to your hips.
Padded straps prevent chafing and rubbing. Look for adjustable straps as well as straps that easily tuck away when your bag is not in use. The best travel backpacks tend to have stow-away systems for the straps.
Finally, check out how the backpack carries weight. Hiking backpacks, for example, carry weight closer to your body’s center of gravity. Many travel backpacks are shaped like
capsules suitcases for organizational purposes, but this also means that you would NOT want to be hiking uphill with it very often.
3. Your nomad backpack is built to withstand your adventures
Maybe your idea of an adventure is an afternoon stroll to the nearest gelato shop. Maybe it’s a 100-mile trek through the uncharted jungle. No matter where you plan to adventure, get a nomad backpack fit for the task.
Check for durability and water resistance. Getting a pack with weather-resistant materials that can handle the elements is just as important in a drizzling city as it is out on a hike. You want to keep your stuff safe and protected from rain, mud, and beyond.
Make sure your nomad backpack also comes with a protective rain cover to keep your bag dry during torrential downpours. In tropical destinations like South East Asia, thunderstorms and downpours are especially prominent during monsoon seasons.
Are you Hiking?
While some of the best travel bags are geared for travel – like the Nomatic below, they’re often not designed for hiking. Some backpacks are designed for both travel AND hiking, but that usually means it’s not the best at either.
If you want a backpack that you can take on the trails, then pay attention to how the backpack holds its weight, the suspension system (if it even has one), the shoulder straps, and waist strap comfort.
4. Your nomad backpack has a laptop compartment
Are you traveling with tech? These days you probably are, whether you’re traveling for pleasure for work.
If this is the case, make sure the sleeve is large enough for your particular laptop or tablet too! While you COULD also carry a laptop bag, it can be frustrating to carry an extra bag when you’re traveling indefinitely.
The most ideal scenario is a digital nomad backpack that serves as both a carry-on, laptop bag, AND a daypack. This means, at minimum, your backpack should have a laptop compartment. The exception to this rule is if you are set on traveling with a hiking backpack.
5. Your nomad backpack is lightweight
Weight is important, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Most ultralight bags sacrifice ergonomics, weather resistance, and durable materials to make the lightest bag possible. It may be in your best interest to get a sturdier pack that weighs a bit more if you plan to carry a lot of heavy equipment.
If you can find a comfortable nomad backpack, built to last, and lightweight, then you have struck gold, my friend. Oftentimes there is a trade-off for durability and weight because hardy materials weigh more. You’ll need to strike a balance between the two.
Weight will matter more if you plan to carry your backpack for long distances. Understand how you plan to use your bag before buying the lightest or most heavy-duty pack!
Best Nomad Backpack Overall
Aer Travel Pack 2 (#1)
The Aer Travel Pack 2 is a well designed bag made for backpackers by backpackers. It has a dedicated laptop sleeve, many pockets of different shapes and sizes, a shoe pocket, and a handle to carry like a duffle bag. You can also slip the back through the handle of a wheeled suitcase if you are traveling with both.
With some strategic packing you can use this bag for long-term travel. It’s the perfect size to use as your carry on, then use it as your daypack when at your destination. Carrying two backpacks with these seperate purposes is not longer necessary with the Aer Travel Pack 2.
You can read the full Aer Travel Pack 2 review here.
- Shoe pocket
- Minimalist design
- Dedicated laptop area
- 33 liters
- Carry on approved
- Small water bottle holder
- No raincover
Is the Aer Travel Pack 2 for me?
The Aer Travel Pack 2 is for anyone that wants the convience of one bag travel done well. If you know how to pack light, the features of the backpack will keep you organized without the checked bag fees.
Tortuga Outbreaker (#2)
With their Outbreaker model, US-brand Tortuga promises to deliver a travel bag that has the portability and ergonomic qualities of a hiking backpack with the organizational stance and ease of packing that comes with a suitcase.
That said, we do not recommend this backpack for hiking… refer to our reviews on hiking backpacks instead.
The main compartment can carry just about anything. Both sizes (35-liters and 45-liters) of the Outbreaker carry 17” laptops, and also tablets of up to 9.7”. It also includes a front organizational pocket, mesh pockets for electronic accessories, and a large main space for clothing too.
It’s quality build, weather-resistant material, intuitive design, and fantastic organization make this the perfect nomad bag for anyone who wants to travel light and in style.
For more information on its features, check out our must-read Tortuga Outbreaker review here.
- Hip Belt
- Made in China
- Urban Travel
Is the Tortuga Outbreaker for you?
This is the perfect nomad bag to keep your things organized and secure. As long as you are not primarily hiking, this is a hard bag to beat.
This bag is another awesome nomad backpack that strikes a balance between durability, comfort, and design.
This pack was also designed to accommodate photographers with camera gear, though you do not have to be a photographer to use it. The Peak Design travel backpack’s main compartment can be accessed from the back, front, and both sides, though its main access point is a full zipper from the back.
There is a good amount of external and internal pockets as well as a few hidden ones to keep your things organized. The interior pockets are perfect for storing your electronics, smaller items, and books.
One of my favorite parts about this bag is the side pockets’ materials. They are made from durable nylon, not mesh, which is often the first material to give out on backpacks. I am also a big fan of the easy to stow waist straps for when you are en route or storing your backpack away.
- Durable in every way
- Straps are easy to stow
- Accessibility and pockets
- Urban environments only
- Zippers are not heavy-duty
Is the Peak Design 40 Liter Backpack for you?
If you want an ultra-modern and sleek backpack, look no further than Peak Design’s travel backpack. This is a versatile, urban-style backpack perfect for nomads.
The Tortuga Setout Backpack is essentially a bare-bone version of the Tortuga Outbreaker we reviewed above.
Like its sister, this pack has a book-style opening like a suitcase – and its dedicated laptop and tablet sleeves that protect your tech gear. It also has a volume of 45 liters (with a 35-liter version also available if that’s a little too much), and an overall weight of less than 2 kg.
The backpack shoulder straps can be hidden away, and there’s even a detachable hip belt to help with carrying!
- Suitcase style opening opening
- Dedicated laptop and tablet sleeves
- Detachable hip belt
- Fairly plain design
- Not as feature-rich as the Outbreaker
Is the Tortuga Setout Backpack for me?
It’s not as fully-featured as the aforementioned Tortuga Outbreaker, but it’s more affordable!
Best Nomad Backpacks for Adventurers
REI Co-Op Rucksack for Men + Women (40 liters)
REI’s updated Rucksack 40 is one of their finest backpacks!
The Rucksack is marketed as both a travel bag and a hiking bag – and we completely agree! While certainly a bit more on the camping-side than the travel-side, this bag has plenty of organizational compartments.
REI’s bags are extremely durable, so no matter where in the world you take this bag it’ll stand the test of time (while also being carry-on compliant!)
The main drawback is that there is not a laptop compartment, but we’ve still traveled with a computer and this backpack.
In hiking fashion, this bag has a separate version for women designed with harness straps that curve around the chest, a shortened torso length, and longer hip belt strap.
The hip belt is padded and wide enough to off real support, and the easy-to-remove top lid works great as a day pack or smaller bag to keep valuables when you’re on a plane, bus, or even in a tent!
I love this backpack and think it’s one of the best travel backpacks if you want a backpack that can do it all. This thing can go deep in the woods and under your hostel bunk bed. Oh, it’s affordable too.
- Affordable and high quality
- Good pocket organization
- Great back support
- No laptop compartment
- Preferable for hikers/campers
- Too heavy for ultra-light campers
Is the REI Co-Op Rucksack the best bag for you?
It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the Nomatic, but if you plan to hike a lot on your travels then it’s the better choice.
Best Nomad Backpack for the Minimalist
Update: We no longer recommend this product. As of November 2020, many Nomatic customers have experienced problems with their orders and zero customer support – therefore we do NOT recommend you buy products with Nomatic. Instead, go with one of our other top picks from Tortuga or AER!
The Nomatic Travel Pack is another great offering by Nomatic! This bag is 20-liters, but it expands to 30-liters, so it’s great for the minimalist. This pack still has 20+ features, like an internal divider to separate clean and dirty clothing, a shoe compartment, a compression packing cube, strap system to go from backpack to briefcase, and a few hidden pockets.
If that wasn’t enough, the bag also contains a sleeve for a laptop of up to 15” and a pocket with RFID-blocking technology for the protection of your electronic data!
- Internal divider
- Great for minimalist
- Weight of 1.9 kg
- Still expensive
Is the Nomatic Travel Pack for me?
The 20+10 liter Nomatic Travel Pack is a great alternative to the 40-liter Nomatic travel bag because of its wealth of features for such a small space. If you don’t need a pack much more than a few shirts and your laptop, then this is a great bag for you.
The Tortuga Setout Laptop Backpack is the smaller version of their first Setout! This bag is a 25-liter laptop bag perfect for the ultra-minimalist. It still has plenty of organizational-features and a secure area for your laptop, easy to lock zippers, and a luggage handle pass-through.
If you are pretty set on travel ultra-light, you could make this work as a nomad backpack, but ultimately, this bag was designed to be a laptop bag/day pack for air travel. Still, we applaud the nomads that travel with just 25-liters of gear.
Read our complete Tortuga Setout Laptop Backpack Review here.
- Minimalist design
- Dedicated Laptop and Tablet Area
- 25 liters
- Pricey for a 25-liter bag
- Too small for some
Is the Tortuga Laptop Backpack for me?
It is not as fully-featured as the aforementioned Tortuga backpacks, but it’s perfect if you want to keep it ultralight. That said, most travelers will need something bigger.
Best Laptop Backpack for Weekend Travels
The EO travel backpack is known for making stylish business backpacks. The EO accommodates a 17-inch laptop and has tons of options for internal organization.
The main compartment has plenty of storage space, and it expands 35% to fit all of the clothes you may need. You can also maintain a slimmer profile if you are just using it for layovers and weekend trips.
- Fits up to a 17-inch laptop
- Padded back panels
- The zippable laptop compartment makes security checks a breeze
- Only for minimalists
- Not as feature-rich as other bags
Is the Incase EO Carry on for me?
This is an excellent travel backpack for air travel and nomads on business. Sometimes slimmer is better, so you can travel without bulk.
Best Nomad Backpack for the Photographer
Over the years, we’ve looked at a ton of camera backpacks, yet we always come back to the LowePro because they are designed with professional photographers in mind. This means this bag can safely and securely fit 2 DSLR’s, up to 8 lenses, and a laptop.
The bag allows for customization, so you can create compartments personalized for your photography needs. The only drawback is its weight, but that’s the price you pay for ultimate durability and customization. You can guarantee the LowePro 450 AW is 100% carry on compliant.
The LowePro 450 comes at a hefty price tag, but it’s worth it. Not only do you get this amazing camera bag, but it also comes with a bunch of accessories including a bottle pouch, and a rain case. If you are looking for the best camera backpack – this is it!
- Tons of awesome features
- Dedicated laptop sleeve
- Only good for hardcore photographers
Is the LowePro 450 AW the best bag for you?
While pricey, this bag has everything you’ll ever need as a photographer. If you are a nomad traveling with a ton of photography gear, then this is the bag for you.
Update: We no longer recommend this product. As of November 2020, many Nomatic customers have experienced problems with their orders and zero customer support – therefore we do NOT recommend you buy products with Nomatic. Instead, go with the AER Travel Pack 2!
Considering the company is named Nomatic, it should come at NO surprise that they make one of the best nomad backpacks.
Nomatic Travel Bag is 40L of backpack-engineering-perfection. This is a carry on compliant backpack designed for modern, tech-savvy travelers – NOT for hikers/campers. (There is a 30-liter version of this pack as well!)
Not to be confused with the Nomatic Travel Pack (which we cover later) this brilliant piece of equipment comes with over 20 unique features including a shoe compartment, water bottle container, and a secure valuables pocket. Watch the video above to learn more about this bag’s design and features.
Also, read our full review of the Nomatic Travel Bag to learn why we think this is the best backpack for digital nomads.
- Modern and efficient
- Perfect Size
- Best organizational system
- Urban environments only
- Too much organization/flash for some
Is the Nomatic Bag 40 Liters for you?
If you are a modern traveler who spends a lot of time in urban environments, the Nomatic Travel Bag is going to be one of the best travel backpacks for you. This pack was designed specifically for people who live on the road. As long as you aren’t hiking or camping, it’s nearly impossible to beat this bag.
Final Thoughts on Our Nomad Backpack Review
We’ve listed our favorite backpacks, specifically designed to help nomads organize their life on the road, the top pick being the 40-liter AER Travel Pack 2. While we love to hike, most of these bags are not designed for the trails, but for people who work digitally and travel frequently.
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