Our favorite travel bags and backpacks to take on your next vacation

Hilary Giorgi, CNN Underscored
Updated Tue June 18, 2019

Story highlights

  • Looking for the best travel bags and backpacks for your next adventure?
  • Look no further than these amazing options from REI, Amazon and more.

The weather is finally warming up and that itch to travel is growing stronger and stronger. We understand the feeling, and fully support your need to get out of town.

We also want to make it easy for you. So whether you're looking to sneak away on a summer Friday, take advantage of a long weekend, or take an extended vacation that you've got all booked and waiting, we've got you covered in the luggage department.

As everyone knows, all bags are not created equal. You don't need your carry-on bag for a trip to the beach, and that convertible tote, while cute, will not sustain you on your two-week getaway. To help you find exactly what you need, we've broken things into categories for you: day trip, weekend away and extended stay. And we've picked out some of our personal favorites, as well as some of the best-reviewed bags and those most recommended by industry professionals.

You want simple? No problem. Looking for something with all the bells and whistles? We've got that, too. And who knows, maybe having one of these bags in your collection will even inspire you to get out more. We hope so!

Happy travels!

Day Trips:

MZ Wallace Medium Sutton Bag ($235; mzwallace.com)

Here at CNN Underscored, we're big fans of MZ Wallace. What continues to impress us about the brand is the overall quality of the bags. Each bag, tote and backpack features premium hardware, leather and nylon which helps make the bags incredibly durable. They all can stand the test of drops and spills, and clean up is relatively a breeze. Plus, the leather finishes actually look better with use (its the same natural Italian leather used by Louis Vuitton). But probably the most important feature when it comes to traveling is its spacious interior, which can easily fit multiple items such as your laptop, clothing or wallet. And if you're tight on storage space, the bags can compress down and be stowed inside one of the detachable pouches (the size of about a large clutch) that come with the tote.

REI Co-op Flash 18 Pack ($39.95; rei.com)

If you're going out for the day on a hike, bike ride, or a walk around a new city, you'll want to carry something lightweight, but with enough utility to get you from sunup to sundown. Nothing rises to that challenge better than this REI pack. Small enough to convert into a stuff sack, but large enough to carry your water, snacks, maps and other necessities, this pack is perfect for any day trip. The sturdy and lightly padded back panel provides comfort and support. The single-handed drawstring and weatherproof flap offer easy access. And the hose attachment even provides a way to stay hydrated if you want to attach a water reservoir in the built-in internal sleeve.

Desanissy Small Outdoor Doctor Style Travel Backpack ($37.99; amazon.com)

When you're heading away for the day, you need a bag that can serve multiple purposes. Luckily, this highly reviewed bag from Desanissy checks a lot of boxes. Need to charge your phone? No problem, there's a USB charge port on the side. Worried about the weather turning? All good, this water-resistant nylon will keep all your belongings safe and dry. Need to bring a laptop and a tablet and a water bottle and some snacks or even a change of clothes? Fear not, there are compartments for all those things and more. Seriously, it's hard to find something this bag isn't good for.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel 22-Liter Tote ($79.99; patagonia.com)

If you're looking for something ultra-lightweight and easy to tuck away when you don't need it, this tote is the answer. By using tear- and weather-resistant lightweight nylon, Patagonia has made a tote bag that feels like almost nothing when it's empty and helps reduce the weight of your load when it's full. The main compartment closes securely with a zipper. You can either carry it as a tote with its top handles or convert it to a backpack with adjustable straps. Then, after you're back from your day away and have unloaded your pack, this bag folds up right into its own pocket, making it easy to stow away until your next adventure.

Westward 22-Liter Rolltop Backpack ($168; unitedbyblue.com)

It doesn't matter if you're hiking, trekking through the city, cycling in the hills or even paddling a canoe down the river for the day; whatever the adventure, this Rolltop pack has you covered. First of all, this bag is deep — seriously, I can fit my entire arm in mine — so there's room in here for everything you need. And because of the rolltop opening, you can adjust the size of the bag to be whatever you need it to be. Double points because the rolltop makes this already water-repellent bag even more water-resistant. The straps are comfortable and adjustable, and there are multiple interior pockets and compartments, as well as three pockets and a water bottle sleeve on the outside. What's more, when you buy from this company, you're also doing good for the environment. At United By Blue, for every product sold, they pick up one pound of trash from oceans and waterways. Win-win!

Weekend Getaways:

Herschel Supply Co. Novel Duffle Bag ($85; nordstrom.com)

Getting away for the weekend? You'll need an extra set of clothes or two and maybe a spare pair of shoes, all of which fit in this classic-looking, durable duffle bag. A sizeable inner compartment with a mesh side pocket allows room for plenty of clothes and even your gadgets. Plus, the deep outer side pocket is perfect to tuck away that extra pair of flip-flops or shoes. Use the handles or the adjustable shoulder strap to make carrying easy. More than 80% of reviewers gave this bag 5 stars, and one customer even bought four!

Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack ($269; tortugabackpacks.com)

The folks at Tortuga set out to combine the elements of a rolling suitcase with those of a hiker's backpack, and the result they ended up with turns out to be a pretty solid bag for any weekend getaway. Made with soft and thick padding, this pack is designed to be comfortable to carry. And the compartments inside — which include sleeves for laptops, tablets, chargers and any other gadget under the sun, plus a deep main pocket with room for enough clothes for a week — make this a dream bag for any obsessive-compulsive packer. This bag has won awards as the best carry-on bag, and the 4.5-star rating, based on more than 400 reviews, should make you feel pretty good if you're splurging for this fine piece of luggage.

Travelon Wheeled Underseat Carry-On with Back-Up Bag ($70.34; amazon.com)

Two bags in one? Sign us up. The main wheeling bag has a decent-sized main compartment, perfect for a couple of days worth of items, plus mesh pockets and sleeves on the opposite side for all your accessories. There's also an outer pocket and a water bottle sleeve, and, oh yeah, a bonus bag that folds and fits nicely right inside so you can use it when you need it and pack it away when you don't. Just use one bag or use them both -- either way, this option will get you through any weekend adventure with everything you need and more.

Sole Society Lacie Weekender ($89.95; solesociety.com)

Travel is a great way get out of your comfort zone and find new ways to feel good. But you want to look good while you're doing it, too, right? Enter the Lacie Weekender from Sole Society. Made with vegan leather, this bag is gorgeous. It comes in a variety of color options and, based on all the 5-star reviews of each style, you can't go wrong no matter what you choose. But the folks who bought it don't just love the way it looks and feels, they are seriously jazzed about the utility of this bag. Its large main compartment has plenty of room for your weekend getaway essentials, the metal feet keep it upright and protected, and the handles and convertible shoulder strap make carrying this duffle less of a chore and more of a pleasure.

Extended Stays:

The Carry-On from Away ($225; awaytravel.com)

If you're looking for the perfect small carry-on bag, this option from Away is hard to beat. We recently used this rolling bag for a 10-day trip across the country, and there was plenty of room for clothes, shoes and accessories. With two compartments, one on each side of the case, as well as a separate zippered compartment in the middle, you have a ton of space for whatever you need. The suitcase comes with a laundry bag, and there's a built-in battery pack to keep all your devices charged and ready to go while you're on the move. It comes in a number of colors, size options and customizable features, so you can have exactly what works for you.

Coolife Luggage 3-Piece Set Suitcase Spinner Hardshell Lightweight ($139.99; amazon.com)

Headed out of town for a while or packing heavy? You'll need some sturdy luggage, and for that, Coolife has you covered. This cool-looking three-piece set has a hard-shell design made to withstand the impact of travel without sacrificing aesthetics. Since you have three sizes to choose from — each with a cloth-lined interior and zippered pockets for easy organization — you can employ the Goldilocks method of packing to go big, small, or just right. And when you're back from your travels and putting your bags away until your next adventure, the smaller cases fit inside the largest case for easy and efficient storage. There's a reason these bad boys have a 4.3-star review on Amazon.

TLS Mother Lode Mini 21-Inch Wheeled Carry-On Duffel ($197.99; ebags.com)

Looking for a smaller bag that packs a lot of punch? Meet the ultimate wheeled carry-on duffle. Reviewers have used this bag for trips as long as 14 days, and more than 5,000 reviewers have raved about the utility. When you take a peek inside the bag, the reasons become pretty clear. Inside the duffle on one side are customizable drawers, with an easy-to-move divider to help you organize everything you're packing like the expert traveler you are. And on the opposite side are two mesh pockets for even more storage. Plus, there are three extra pockets on the outside of the bag for easy access to all your essentials. A built-in stabilizing bar keeps your duffle from tipping over, even when it's stuffed to the brim, and the multiple durable handles make it easy to grab and go. Oh, and did we mention it comes in a variety of colors and has a lifetime warranty?

Travelpro Maxlite 4 Expandable 21-Inch Spinner Suitcase, Black ($101.50; amazon.com)

If you're going to take travel advice from anyone, a pilot is probably a good choice. The Travelpro brand was created by former pilot Bob Plath, who spent years in the air jetting around the world. He took his experience with various pieces of luggage, combined all the things he liked, and came up with something new and completely unique. Today, pilots, flight attendants and airline crew members all use these bags. It's easy to see why. With 360-degree spinner wheels, comfort grip handles, enough storage for two weeks of travel and a lifetime warranty, all for a reasonable price, this bag is hard to beat.