Best Rated Backpack Brand: Herschel
Herschel is a great all-rounder backpack brand with high scores for durability, design, comfort and value for money. It beat out big competitors like Kathmandu and Macpac to be crowned this year's award winner.
Quick facts about comparing backpacks
- There are many different types of backpacks available including travel, hiking and everyday bags.
- The most important factors to consider when buying a backpack are how you'll be using it, comfort, size and price.
- Backpack prices range anywhere from $20 for a basic everyday pack up to $800 or more for high-end travel and hiking backpacks.
Types of backpacks
Backpacks come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and styles. However, there are a few main types of backpack to choose from:
- Travel backpacks. Designed for everything from weekends away to round-the-world backpacking odysseys, travel bags offer more freedom and flexibility than suitcases. Some models feature an internal frame (external frames are not as practical and are increasingly rare) to help you carry heavier loads and transfer the pack weight to your hips, but there are plenty of frameless models available as well. They generally feature an assortment of storage compartments to help you organise your gear, while some also come with portable daypacks that can be detached for shorter day trips.
- Hiking backpacks. Hiking backpacks come in a wide range of shapes and sizes depending on the types of treks you plan to tackle. Some are daypacks designed for carrying food, water and some spare clothes on shorter hikes, while others are big, heavy-duty packs for carrying everything you'd need on a multi-day adventure. Many heavy-duty hiking backpacks feature internal frames to help transfer the load from your back to your hips, but frameless packs are also available.
- Everyday backpacks. Designed for the commute to and from work or at university, these packs do away with the internal frame altogether. They're lightweight and only suitable for carrying lighter loads, but they can double as carry-on luggage when you're catching a flight or as a handy daypack for short hikes.
- Kids' school backpacks. An essential item for the younger members of the family, kids' backpacks come in all manner of colours and designs. They often feature adjustable straps and multiple zipped compartments, and sometimes come with matching accessories such as drink bottles and lunch boxes.
How to compare backpacks
To find the best backpack for your needs, consider the following factors:
How you'll use it
How you'll use your backpack is a crucial factor that will determine the type of bag you buy. For example, if you're looking for a heavy-duty pack you can take on multi-day hiking treks through rough terrain, you'll need something very different to someone who wants a pack they can strap on their back while they cycle to work.
Think carefully about what your backpack will need to do before you start shopping.
If possible, head in-store to put a backpack through its paces before you buy. If the store allows it, take along all the gear you'll need to carry and load it into the bag. Try a few on to check they're the right size for you, if the shoulder straps are comfortable or dig in, and if there's enough airflow between the bag and your back. Also, check whether the straps can adjust to suit different loads and carrying conditions and if the bag is contoured to match the shape of your back.
Size and storage capacity
The backpack you choose will obviously need to be large enough to hold everything you need to carry around, but this will also need to be balanced with other practical considerations. Check if the bag, when fully loaded, will be lightweight and comfortable enough for you to carry. Also, is it a practical size to take on crowded public transport? Can it fit in an overhead compartment on a plane as a carry on bag?
Check if there are multiple compartments to help you arrange your items and how easy it is to access the space. Traditional backpacks are "top-loaders" but many travel bags open like suitcases for easier access. Look for compartments for special items, such as padded laptop compartments and easy-to-access compartments for those items you need to use frequently, such as your keys, wallet and phone.
Consider what sort of protection the backpack will provide for the items you're carrying. Is it padded to protect against bumps or being dropped, or is there a special padded compartment for items such as laptops? Is it waterproof or at least water-resistant? Are there lockable zippers to help prevent theft?
Quality of construction
Next, take a closer look at how the bag has been put together to make sure it'll stand up to the daily rigours of life on the train, backpacking around the world or hiking through the wilderness. Is the material suitable for how you plan to use the pack? Are the zippers strong and durable? Are the buckles sturdy and secure?
You can pick up a no-frills backpack for everyday use for as little as $30. But if you're looking for a specialist hiking or travel backpack, prices can range anywhere from $50 up to $500, with some even more expensive models available.
In many cases, choosing a backpack will mean prioritising substance over style. But if you're shopping for a bag you can wear into the office every day, you'll also want to consider the way it looks.
Some bags come with wheels so they can be pulled around when you get tired of carrying the weight on your back.
Backpacks vs suitcases
The biggest advantages of backpacks are their versatility and practicality. If you'll be on the move a lot, potentially climbing lots of flights of stairs, a backpack will definitely come in handy. They can also be useful if you'll be venturing off the beaten track a little bit, and they're easier to run with than a suitcase – so you can make it to the gate in time if your connecting flight is delayed.
But if you're travelling somewhere and you plan on staying in one place, a suitcase might be a better bet. Suitcases are easy to wheel around airports, they're easy to pack and unpack, and hard-shell suitcases in particular can stand up to plenty of punishment.
Find out more in our suitcase and luggage buying guide.
Three things to consider
Before deciding on the best backpack for your needs, consider the following:
- Potential for injury. Carrying a heavy load in a backpack, or carrying it incorrectly, can cause back pain and even spinal problems, especially in children. With this in mind, take care not to overload your backpack and make sure to pack it with the heaviest items close to your back. And if you're looking for a travel or hiking backpack to carry a big load, look for a padded waist belt that helps transfer the load onto your hips.
- Backpack sizes. Many general-use backpacks are "one size fits all". However, some hiking and travel bags come in an array of sizes (small, medium, large, etc.) based on the length of your torso. Check the manufacturer's specifications for more details, and get yourself properly measured up in-store if possible.
- Women's backpacks. Some manufacturers now offer a range of women's backpacks. More than just a different colour scheme, these bags are specifically designed to suit women's body shapes and may be well worth a look if traditional backpacks aren't comfortable enough.
Carry-on luggage buying guide
Best rated backpack brand award breakdown
Previous Retail Awards