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Searching For the Best Travel Bags

Stefan Loble

Traveling in Cuba with my Tortuga MLC backpack.


When it comes to luggage, I’m a bag curmudgeon.

Like many other things related to travel, I haven’t found the bag that does it all for me just yet.

I am still on the hunt for the best travel bags out there.

What follows is a discussion of what I look for in luggage bags as an avid traveler who likes to pack light, travel widely, and go off-road as much as possible; plus a suggestion in each of the most popular categories.

Roller Board Luggage

GRO Roller Board Luggage

Roller board suitcases are enormously popular. I don’t like them because I’m always going over bumpy terrain, carrying things at my destination (on a hike or a bike), and I like to have my hands free.

But for a roller board-friendly travel scenario, I find G-RO bags the most interesting. They are impressive with their large, lightweight, all-terrain wheels, and the bags are also water-resistant and expandable. At 9 pounds they’re not the lightest option, but the idea is you won’t have to lift them as frequently. If you have to check it, the battery in this bag is removable to comply with new TSA regulations.


MLC Daypack by Tortuga

MLC stands for “maximum legal carry on,” which are most often travel-oriented backpacks that are the largest allowed by the airlines. The fine details vary, especially with international carriers, but in general a MLC bag will work on most flights.  

The idea came from 20-year-old backpackers traveling around Europe who originally used mountaineering backpacks, but didn’t like the outdoor look and feel. MLC travel bags are lightweight, allow for lots of organization, and are tough enough for extended time on the road, all in an overhead bin-friendly size.

We think the best travel backpack currently on the market are made by Tortuga. At the 45 liter size, there are two options: 

  • The Outbreaker: fully equipped, zips open like a suitcase, has lots of pockets. And is a nearly waterproof backpack for all weather conditions. 5.1 pounds.
  • The Setout: fewer pockets, slightly less weather resistant, but at 3.3 pounds, much lighter.

I think both can be ideal carry on backpack options because they have a more urban aesthetic, and are made by a company 100% focused on travel. Both bags come with a hip belt, which is critical for me.

Large Backpacks

Deuter Hiking Backpack

For larger loads, the consensus is the
best travel backpack is made by Deuter.

Designed for outdoor use, they are top loading and have a more robust suspension for carrying more weight. Katherine, one of our team members, swears by the Deuter ACT Lite 70+10 SL for getting her stuff from one destination to the next (she works remotely while traveling full-time). One of the much loved features is that, in addition to men’s sizing, they produce travel backpacks for women.

Large Duffle Bags

Patagonia Large Duffle Bag

For me, our most exciting trips often require bringing along gear. Wetsuits, ski gear, hiking boots, etc. These items immediate necessitate going beyond carry on. When I’m checking a bag, I like to make it a duffle to combine with the backpack I already have with me on the plane.

I use the Patagonia Black Hole as a good option for a travel duffle bag. Honestly, I think duffle bags are frequently over-engineered. I have owned some very strong, more basic duffle bags that lasted a really long time but weren’t as heavy.

At The Higher End

If you’re looking for style, Satchel & Page makes stylish leather bags meant to go the distance. For women and men, Lo & Sons has a range of options from purses and totes to backpacks. Katherine uses their OMG bag, and another team member carried their Claremont Camera Bag as her purse on a European trip. 

Carry Isn't Easy

Bags are hard, and when I talk to people, I find that they usually own a lot of them for different scenarios.

Despite my constant search for the perfect bag, it’s worth noting that the world carries stuff without fancy technical bags most of the time. I am inspired by the way other cultures get stuff from A to B. I mean, just look at some of the resourceful examples below!

Alternative carry solutions from around the world.

That said, I’m curious: what are you carrying?

Bluff on, 

Stefan Loble


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