Outdoor Horizon is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission.

Hiking Backpack vs Travel Backpack: Which Is Better?

For any hike you will likely need a bag of sorts. Many hikers will prefer to use a hiking backpack and think this option superior. However, some tend to wonder whether another option such as a travel backpack would suffice or even be a better choice over a hiking backpack.

A hiking backpack is the better choice for hiking when compared to a travel backpack. Hiking backpacks are especially designed for hiking and are therefore better suited. Travel backpacks lack the support and storage options necessary for hiking, but they may suffice for a short, easy hike.

Each backpack has its own advantages and disadvantages as they each serve a different purpose. There are several things to learn about each pack to understand why the hiking backpack is a better option. Below, we take a detailed look at the differences between the two.

What Is The Difference Between Hiking Backpacks And Travel Backpacks?

The difference between hiking backpacks and travel backpacks is their design and functionality. Hiking backpacks are thinner and more elongated, with features designed for comfort during long hikes. Travel backpacks are designed with central compartment storage for easy access when traveling.

Hiking Backpacks

Materials And Design

Hiking backpacks are more elongated and thinner than travel backpacks, with padded shoulder straps and hip harness to add comfort on long hikes by distributing the weight evenly between shoulders and hips. They are made from softer material as well as designed to fit closer to your body with comfort as the top priority.

Hiking backpacks are made from treated nylon fiber as it is strong, can withstand a range of temperatures, and provides some degree of waterproofing. It resists insects and mold as well. The amount of weight it can hold is determined by its weave and the number of threads per square inch. This is important if you plan on using it to carry above average weight.

Some other materials that are used in the manufacture of hiking backpacks are waxed canvas, polypropylene, and polyester. Of these, the next best is polyester, favored for its lightness and strength. Since it adds to the weight the hiker will be carrying the whole day, the empty backpack weight is an important consideration. Generally, backpacks weigh between 2.5 lbs to a sizable 7 lbs.

Hiking backpacks are not always fully waterproof, although they do offer a good deal of protection from water. Water will occasionally seep in through the zippers and holes. Water-resistant backpacks have layers of polyester lining prevent water from getting in. Some hiking backpacks have a rain cover that is attached to the inside of a pouch and can be pulled over the backpack to cover it.

Comfort Features

The shoulder and hip straps need to be padded and buckles are used to adjust the strap length so that it sits properly on your back. The hip belt is the key factor here as it fastens most of the weight to your hips. A lot of weight is taken off the shoulders with the hip belt fitted right. The backpack needs to have several outer pockets to hold maps, toiletries, or snacks.

Hiking backpacks come in different sizes, although for most hikes the 40 liter to 55 liter capacity is more than enough. A 3 day hike needs a sleeping bag, tent, small stove with food, and fresh clothes. Unless there are sources of clean drinking water near the hiking trails, carrying sufficient water for 3 days is going to add a fair amount of weight.

The lumbar pad is a vital part of backpack design even though it is just a little piece of foam and nylon. It can make a big difference in comfort for your back so if your backpack doesn’t have it, purchase it separately. Some hiking packs also come with sternum straps to spread the weight across the shoulders evenly. Heavy-duty straps are also available separately.

There are also 2 to 3 side pockets, enough to hold a few small objects such as a compass, food, or sunglasses. The lower compartment is designed to hold the sleeping bag, however, with a little squeezing it can accommodate a towel as well as jackets or extra clothes. These pockets are convenient for easy access.

Additional Features

An extra feature on hiking backpacks is the durable zippers, there are 3 types: the plastic molded zipper, metal zippers, and nylon zippers. Plastic molded zippers are the best as they can take a lot of wear and tear. Metal zippers are strong, but they rust and catch on items easily. Nylon zippers are smooth and waterproof. Careful not to overstress the nylon zippers as they are not as durable.

Another feature is the wide range of sizes available. You can find hiking backpacks between 6 to 60 liters. Usually, a 20 to 30 liter pack is sufficient for a day hike, but for longer trips you will need a minimum of 40 liters. This provides ample space for your necessities no matter the circumstances.

Price

The price is largely dependent on the size of the backpack and how many additional features it has. A good quality hiking backpack ranges in price from $100 up to $300. Hiking backpacks are often considered an investment as they are expensive but durable enough to last you a long period of time.

Travel Backpacks

Materials And Design

Travel backpacks are more squarish with one central compartment, to some extent like a suitcase. They can be easily identified by this characteristic look as well as their attention to style. Travel backpacks have a laptop compartment as well as fewer outer pockets. Since these backpacks are often stored in an aircraft baggage locker, they have straps that do not stick out.

Functionality

A travel backpack will most likely spend most of its time stowed away in a car or aircraft baggage locker and not much time being worn on the back, which is the opposite of the hiking backpack. The few external pockets are zip-lockable to be used for storing essential documents, passports, or keys that need to be easily accessed.

Most travel backpacks have 2 zippers, even on the outer pockets so that they can be locked together for security. The center zips open the backpack from the midpoint of one side to the midpoint of the other side. While this provides access to items at the top of the backpack, it becomes difficult to take out anything that was packed at the bottom.

Others open like a suitcase with the zips opening 3 sides of the backpack so that all the space is available while packing. Some travel backpacks do not have a water bottle holder anymore, but you can buy them separately and attach them to any loop on the backpack. Strong top and side handles are a necessity to carry it when it is off your back.

Most backpacks are unisex, although some companies offer backpacks more suited to the female anatomy. Basically, the shoulder straps are shaped differently so that women get a better fit. Check the quality of the backpack straps. The cheaper backpacks use thin straps that cut into the shoulders after some time.

Some travel backpacks have the mandatory laptop compartment located at the front, which means that it is further away from your back. While others have it at the rear so that it is up against your back and more protected.

Price

Prices of travel backpacks are also in a similar price range to hiking backpacks, between $100 to about $400. The expensive ones have special padding that may not be required for you. Higher capacity backpacks of 60 liters and above have pull-out wheels that can be used on a smooth walkway.

Can You Use A Travel Backpack For Hiking?

You can use a travel backpack for hiking short distances. However, they are not recommended for longer or more strenuous hikes. The travel backpack does not provide the storage or comfort that the hiking backpack does, making the hiking backpack a better choice.

A temporary workaround is to use extra padding under the shoulder straps as well as purchase a separate padded hip belt that can be used with the travel backpack. However, this is an emergency measure to be used only if no other option is available. This may not be feasible for all weather conditions.

Final Thoughts

Hiking backpacks are a better choice for hiking over travel backpacks. Travel backpacks can be used if needed for covering short distances. Hiking backpacks are better as they are specifically designed for that purpose and provide the adequate comfort and storage needed.