The Best Backpack for Travel With Kids: 9 Backpacks For Families

September 12, 2023

As a traveling family, we’re always on the lookout for the best backpack for travel with kids. Whether it’s a backpack for myself, my husband, or either of my kids, each member of our family has their own individual needs.

If your family is like mine, then you probably have a variety of different needs for travel backpacks too. And depending on how long you plan to travel, those needs may also impact the choices you make. So how do you sort through all the competing needs to choose the right backpack for you?

Traveling through Europe with our backpacks (July 2019)

Fortunately, I’ve put together this post to help you figure out what to look for in kids backpacks and adult backpacks. And I’ve also compiled my top picks for the best backpack for travel with kids.

Hopefully, this will help you get prepared for your own travels. Whether you're packing for a weekend away to a nearby town, or prepping for a family gap year around the world, having the right adult and kid travel backpack is essential for a successful trip with your kids.

This post was originally published on October 24, 2021.

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Top 3 backpacks for traveling with kids

Don't have time to read the whole post? Here are our top 3 choices for the best backpack for travel with kids:

Best backpack for travel with kids: kids carry-ons

When looking for the best bag for traveling with kids, you want to make sure you choose good bags for your kids to carry. 

Having your kids carry their own things is such a game-changer for travel, especially for air travel. Not only does it allow you to free up space in your own bags, it also gives your kids some autonomy in choosing what they bring with them when they travel. 

You can set certain guidelines on what they should bring. But giving them the power to choose helps build up their confidence as avid travelers. 

Here are our kid-focused carry-on choices for the best backpack for travel with kids.

1. Deuter Junior Kids Backpack

This Deuter kids backpack is really fit more for younger kids, as the top part of the shoulder straps are more narrowly spaced. It’s ideal for smaller necks and shoulders. So I’d say it’s the best backpack for travel with a toddler, especially if you want your toddler to carry their own bag.

Our kids' Deuter backpacks (July 2018)

The bag holds 18 liters, and is a cinch close top-loading backpack. Because it's a cinch close type of backpack, it’s a bit difficult to keep everything organized. Items just get thrown into the bag and packing efficiently becomes a challenge.

There’s the main compartment, plus two open pockets on the side for holding water bottles or small items. Additionally there’s a zipper pouch in the front, also good for holding small items. Again, if your kid is a toddler, this is an option for the best backpack for travel with kids.

Buy your Deuter Junior Kid's Backpack here on Amazon.

2. Osprey Jet 18 Kid's Hiking Backpack

When it comes to available carry-on options for older kids, the Osprey Jet 18 kids hiking backpack can also be considered the best backpack for travel with kids. It’s similar to the Deuter kids backpack, but the straps fit better for kids who are 8 or older, especially around the neck and shoulders. We love Osprey (as you'll see in this post) because of their lifetime warranty.

Osprey Jet 18 (photo courtesy of Tales of a Mountain Mama)

The bag is top-loading, and has a cinch close, much like the Deuter kids backpack. So you’ll still come across the same issue of everything getting thrown into the bag haphazardly. While we haven't used the Osprey Jet 18 for our own family, friends of ours have. You can see their Osprey Jet 18 review here.

Like the Deuter Junior, the Osprey Jet 18 has pockets on the side for a water bottle or small items. The carrying capacity is 18 liters. Again, it’s really meant for holding their devices, some toys, and maybe a couple of books. 

Get the Osprey Jet 18 kids backpack on Amazon or directly on the Osprey website.

3. Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack

Another bag to consider is the Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack. Though not specifically designed for kids, this bag is small enough for kids to use as a backpack. We actually use this backpack for our own kids’ carry-ons.

Using their Osprey Daylite bags for summer camp in New York City (September 2021)

The Osprey Daylite Plus bag holds up to 20 liters. Besides the top-loading main pocket, with a zipper close and not a cinch close, this backpack also has two front pockets and two mesh side pockets. There is also a shove-it pocket, where you can stash a sweater or a kid’s stuffed animal.

The mesh-covered back panel provides well-needed support and airflow, and the size is small enough for our kids to carry on their own. For kids carry-on bags, this is our pick for the best backpack for travel with kids.

Buy the Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack on Amazon or directly on the Osprey website for your next trip.

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Best backpack for travel with kids: adult carry-ons

As for adult carry-ons, my main advice in picking the best backpack for travel with kids is to go with the best fit for your body. My husband and I have quite different body shapes. That means we prefer vastly different backpacks and styles for travel.

As parents who work, though, we do both prefer backpacks with plenty of pockets and organizational options. The bags we’ve highlighted below all have good organizational features, which makes accessing items relatively easy. 

Here are our personal picks for the best backpack for travel with kids.

4. The North Face Surge

During our first two years of travel, I used The North Face Surge backpack for my carry-on. It’s great because it had a variety of compartments to help keep my things organized. In my opinion, it’s the best North Face backpack for travel.

My North Face Surge backpack (May 2018)

In the main top-loading zipper close compartment, there’s a separate laptop sleeve for a 14” laptop. And there are four additional zipper pockets for storing items. Plus, there are two side mesh pockets for water bottles. For moms who have to carry a lot of things, this is the best backpack for travel with kids because it makes things easily accessible and easy to organize. And for parents of babies, it can also serve as a great diaper bag!

In terms of comfort, this backpack is extremely comfortable to use because of the padded mesh back and lumbar panel.There’s also a sternum strap and waist strap to take some pressure off the shoulders. The North Face Surge backpack holds 31 liters, and the bag itself is fairly light. 

You can buy The North Face Surge backpack on Amazon or through the REI website.

5. Thule Landmark 40L

Even though I spent the first two years of our travels using the North Face Surge backpack, these days I travel with the Thule Landmark. 

My Thule Landmark backpack (October 2021)

Because of my work, I now have to carry two laptops (one for personal and one for work). So the Thule travel backpack, which has a carrying capacity of 40 liters, is my new go-to for the best backpack for travel with kids. My husband likes using it too!

The Thule Landmark travel pack is a front loading backpack, with a zipper that opens into a large compartment, giving easy access to all my things. There is a hard case zipper compartment at the top that’s ideal for holding sunglasses or things you don’t want to get crushed. There’s also one side pocket for carrying a water bottle. On the other side is a zipper sleeve pocket that has room for a small laptop and documents.

Buy the Thule Landmark 40L backpack for women and men here on Amazon.

6. Cotopaxi Allpa 35L

While I prefer backpacks with a lot of outside pockets, my husband prefers a more minimalist style of backpack. And in our opinion, the best minimalist backpack for travel is the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L. 

My husband's Cotopaxi Allpa backpack (October 2021)

For the sake of this Cotopaxi Allpa 35L review, I wanted to quickly highlight some of the best features of the bag. Despite the sleek, minimalist design, the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L actually has a lot of storage options. It’s panel loading, and opens into two main compartments, subdivided into smaller compartments. This makes organizing your things fairly easy.

As the name suggests, the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L can hold up to 35 liters, which means you can use it for either a large carry-on, like we do, or a small checked bag.

We like Cotopaxi bags because of their style. And for my husband, it’s also a comfortable bag to carry. And since we try not to carry too many things as we travel around the world, it’s my husband’s top pick for the best backpack for minimalist travel.

Buy your Cotopaxi Allpa 35L backpack directly on the Cotopaxi website or on Amazon.

Best backpack for travel with kids: checked bags for long-term travel

For the first two years of our travels, we carried big hiking backpacks for our checked bags. After lugging those around along with our carry-ons strapped to our fronts, we realized it was better for our backs to get wheeled backpacks for our checked bags.

These days, all four of us have a wheeled backpack that we check during flights. These bags hold our clothes, as well as extra shoes and other personal items. On the topic of checked bags, here are our picks for the best backpack for travel with kids.

7. Osprey Sojourn 80L

Our pick for the best roller backpack for travel has to be the Osprey Sojourn travel bags. Though technically a backpack, we use it primarily as a roller bag.

One of our Osprey Sojourn bags (October 2021)

The Osprey Sojourn is a front loading 80 liter bag, with one main compartment that you load like a suitcase. There are two zipper pockets on the inside of the front panel, and there are also two inner zipper pockets along the sides. The top of the bag also has an outer zipper.

Since this is a roller backpack, there’s a handle that comes up. But if need be, you can also attach the straps and carry it on your back if you happen to be trekking through some muddy ground or bumpy surfaces.

What we like best about the Osprey Sojourn is its simple, yet durable design. The whole bag feels sturdy, including the wheels. We know that this bag will last through multiple flights, bus rides, train rides, and everything in between. And the front loading aspect makes it easy to access things from our bag when we need to. Definitely one of our picks for the best backpack for travel with kids!

You can buy the Osprey Sojourn on Amazon or directly from the Osprey website.

8. Osprey Fairview Wheeled 36

During our first few years of full time travel, we carried our kids’ clothes in our checked bags. This made for some heavy backpacks! 

A purple Osprey Fairview 36, an option for best backpack for travel with kids, in front of a white door with a dark blue sweatshirt hanging on the handle and a pair of blue Keen sandals next to it.
My son's Osprey Fair view 36, ready for travel (October 2021)

Now that our kids have grown bigger, they’re now able to bring their own checked bags. For one of our kids checked bags, we like using the Osprey Fairview 36 liter wheeled backpacks. These are one of the best Osprey backpacks to use for travel, in my opinion.

Although these backpacks are technically for adults, they are small enough for kids to maneuver. They have a handle that extends, so you can pull it behind you. But if you need to carry it like a backpack, there are straps that you can use. It's a good versatile option for the best backpacks for travel with kids.

Buy this Fairview 36L Osprey backpack for travel on the Osprey website or on Amazon.

9. Osprey Farpoint Wheeled 36

Another Osprey backpack for travel that we use is the Osprey Farpoint 36 liter backpack. Like the Fairview, this is technically for adults, but we think they’re the perfect size for kids’ checked bags.

A black Osprey Farpoint 36, an option for the best backpack for travel with kids, standing upright in front of a bed and next to a white side table with a desk lamp.
My daughter's Osprey Farpoint 36 (October 2021)

The Osprey Farpoint 36L has the same features as the Fairview, including wheels and backpack straps. In fact, the two styles are almost identical. The Fairview is designed more to fit women, while the Farpoint is designed for men. But if you’re using it mainly as a wheeled checked bag, there’s no difference. Both backpacks are some of the best Osprey backpacks we’ve used for travel with kids.

Buy your Farpoint 36L Osprey backpack for travel on the Osprey website or on Amazon.

Curious about the worldschooling lifestyle? Read my posts here.

What to look for in the best backpack for travel with kids

When choosing the best backpack for travel with kids, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, like any travel gear you buy, make sure you choose bags that are durable and high quality. Second, pay attention to the volume and storage capacity of the bag.

Using our Cotopaxi daypack while exploring the Vatican City (June 2019)

You also want to consider the type of travel you’ll be doing. And make sure you choose a bag that feels good on your body.

Not all bags are created equal. And if you’re going to be investing money into a backpack, you want to be certain you’re choosing wisely. Here are a few tips for picking the best backpack for travel with kids.

Go with bags that are durable and high quality

In the past, I used to just buy backpacks that were cheap. But now that I travel full-time, finding a backpack that will last overrides my desire to save money.

Walking through the Hanoi airport (May 2020)

When choosing the best backpack for travel with kids, look for bags made with durable material. Nylon and polyester can be quite durable if they’re thick enough, as is canvas. Check the thickness of the material, and also look at the size of the zippers and clasps.

Similar to durability, make sure that the quality of the bags are high. Take a look at the stitching. Examine how the bags are designed. And again, check the feel of the fabric. 

Buying a bag that’s durable and high quality will ensure that it will last for many trips with your kids. This will make your travels much more sustainable as well since you’re not constantly buying new backpacks.

Pay attention to volume and storage capacity

Two other things to look at are the volume and storage capacity of the backpack. In terms of volume, this really depends on your preference. I suggest looking for backpacks that offer more than 16 liters of volume for carry-ons and more than 30 liters of volume for checked bags. 

Our checked bags for full-time travel (August 2021)

In terms of storage capacity, I personally prefer backpacks with plenty of pockets rather than one giant pocket. That helps me keep all my must have travel items organized and easily accessible.

However keep in mind your and your kids’ ability to carry weight. You can buy a 70 liter backpack, but if you have a bad back, it may not be the best backpack for travel with kids for your particular situation. In that case, it might be better to find a similar sized backpack with wheels.

Additionally, a 19 liter backpack may be a good size for your kids. But you might want to consider what you put into the backpack to make sure it doesn’t become too heavy for them.

Consider the type of travel you’ll be doing

We prefer using backpacks versus suitcases for travel because we never know what type of travel situation we’ll find ourselves in. We could be engaging in tropical activities in Puerto Princesa, Philippines, or taking a city break in Paris, France. Having a backpack means you don’t have to worry about the terrain too much.

Using a Cotopaxi daypack while exploring Yogyakarta (August 2019)

With that said, because we do long term travel, that means we do need to check some of our backpacks. That’s why we also like having wheeled backpacks. They allow us to roll our checked backpacks around instead of carrying all that weight on our backs. During our stint in England with kids, for example, having a rolling wheeled backpack was great for moving old city streets.

Think about the type of travel you plan on doing, and take that into account when deciding your family’s best backpack for travel with kids.

Choose the best backpack for travel with kids that feels good for you

The best way to find the best backpack for travel with kids is to try a few backpacks on and see what feels good for you. If you’re ordering your backpack through Amazon, they generally have a generous return policy which allows you to return items you don’t want. 

Getting ready for travel with my Thule Landmark backpack (October 2021)

Consider what feels good on your shoulders, on your back, and how the weight is distributed across your body. Every person is built differently, so a backpack that feels right on one person may not necessarily feel good on another person. This is why my husband, kids, and I all travel with different backpacks.

Take some time to try on a few backpacks to see what feels best for you and your kids. Here are a few backpack suggestions to get you started.

Read more posts about the travel essentials we like to bring with us.

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Taking time to find your best backpack for travel with kids

When you’re a full-time traveling family like us, you want to invest some time and money in finding the best backpack to travel with kids. Finding a brand and style that fits your family’s needs and travel style is key.

Even if you’re not planning to travel full-time, investing into a good backpack is still helpful. It will save you money in the long run, and save you discomfort and back pain.

Hopefully our list of the best backpack for travel with kids will be helpful in your backpack shopping. Do you have a favorite backpack? Share it with me in the comments!

Need packing advice? Read these posts:

9 Best Essential Travel Items For Families

Why We Love Packing Cubes for Family Travel

3 Reasons Why GRAYL Is The Best Portable Water Filter For Travel

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