We knew a couple of dudes once who decided they were going to take a year off of work and just travel the world – no possessions, no home – just roaming like a couple of nomads. When they left, they were grinning from ear to ear. Three months in, they were wondering what in the hell they were thinking!

They left as fiancés…they came back not even speaking to each other. Of all of the things that can go wrong on an adventure like backpacking Europe, the one thing you can control is how handy your backpack is. You have no idea how crucial it gets if you choose unwisely.

It may seem ridiculous now, but believe us, something as simple as one of you over-packing an oversized backpack that slows you down or someone else ends up having to help you lug all the time can be trip dooming and relationship ending! After lugging around an 80 pound backpack for two weeks – hell, two days – you are going to be ready to ditch the whole damn trip and hot tail it back home.

Unnecessary! You’re not the first person, couple, or group to try this. Backpacking Europe is a thing so if you go in unprepared, it’s really your fault. Especially since we’re about to tell you what aspects of a backpack are ideal for backpacking Europe. Simply put, you want a bag that:

  • You can pack a lot into without making it too hard to carry
  • Can withstand a lot of punishment
  • Will fit in airport, train, bus, and shuttle cargo bins
  • And will still be comfortable after weeks or months of travel

Traditionally, if you’re backpacking through Europe you generally don’t want a rolling carryon. Many streets where you’ll be traveling are bumpy, narrow, and crowded – rolling bags can become a pain really quickly! Something you can strap on your back keeps the weight distribution from breaking your fingers or your back.

There are two basic types of backpacks for backpacking Europe: Front or Panel-Loading and Top Loading. You could always use a roller bag or a suitcase or duffel but for the least pain and most useful pack for adventuring across Europe, you’ll want a front or top loader.

Choosing which one depends on the type of travel you plan on doing: Are you hiking mountains? Going on tours of cities? Stopping and staying at a hotel at night? There are pluses and minuses to both. Here are the basics:

Top Loading –This pack is ideal for climbing mountains, taking long hikes, etc. If your backpack tour of Europe is an adventure tour, you’ll want a top loader.

  • Most common pack for backpacking Europe
  • Slim and body contouring for comfort and support
  • Most versatile for traveling between city and countryside
  • Harder to get in and out of a top loader without jostling everything
  • Fully stuffed you may get hit with a baggage fee or have to check it
  • Usually lightweight – but big enough to mistakenly over-pack so beware!

Panel or Front Loading – If you’re going to be hopping on the Eurail or joining groups on tour buses where space is precious, you’ll want a front loading backpack. The front unzips and turns into a traditional suitcase for easy access to your stuff.

  • Made to meet compartment requirements on planes and trains
  • Not as strappy as top loaders
  • Work well in the city or the country (and no one knows whether you’re a tourist or a student!)
  • Usually have lots of zipper compartments for better organization
  • Easier to get to your stuff than a top loader
  • Not as supportive or comfortable as a top loader
  • Zippers can lock but can also break and or rust – and usually do eventually

This list is specifically for women attempting to backpack Europe. We found 5 of the best top loading backpacks and we found 5 of the best front loading ones. Whichever adventure you choose, these packs ensure that if anything ruins your trip, it won’t be the backpack – your backpack will be excellent!

5 Best Women’s Top-Loading Backpacks for Europe

Top of the list, we choose the Swiss-Army knife of travel backpacks. The Farpoint 70 Travel Backpack from Osprey gets a gold star for its all around utility for long multi-week treks across Europe. This version holds 70 liters but it also comes in a 40, 55, 70, and 80 liter version, so remember to stay under 65.

Despite its heft, it has a very light frame further lightened by transfer suspension. The hip belt attaches to the harness for easy carrying and the ventilated mesh panel keeps you from getting chafed. The top load is zipper access – much more secure than typical draw string top loaders and it comes with a removable daypack.

One thing we love about the Aura AG 65 Pack for Women from Osprey is its gorgeous design. It’s shaped to fit the curves of a woman and comes in a lighter weight 50 liter version as well. Another unique feature to this backpack is its antigravity system that makes the pack cling to your back like a glove so it feels lighter than it is.

It is possibly the most comfortable top loading backpack for women (basically the female version of the top selling Atmos male version). There’s space to stow ski poles for hitting the Alps, tons of storage space, straps for a sleeping bag or pad, and an adjustable sternum strap plus safety whistle.

Another good looking backpack for women is the ACT Lite 60 from Deuter. This is a bestseller for women backpacking Europe. Though it’s a 60 liter pack, the SL frame takes the weight off of your back and transfers it to your hips – perfect for long treks.

It has its own air ventilation system that keeps the pack dry and can hold up to a 3 liter hydration system. There are fully adjustable straps and zipper pockets for hiking poles, an ice axe, water bottles, and quick access to your things. For thrill seeking women backpacking through Europe, this is a top pick.

Top loading backpacks are better equipped for long journeys than its front loading counterpart. The Nomad 45 Backpack from Roamm is the epitome of European travel backpacks, made for men and women. People choose to backpack through Europe because you can do all outdoor sports in every country: hiking, skiing, camping, fishing, climbing…anything! And you can’t go wrong with this pack.

If you’re the kind of woman who eats life, you need this 45 liter backpack. It holds the largest water bottles, has side pockets for tent poles, tripods, extra gear, whatever you need. The lightweight frame keeps the pack light even when its jam packed. It even comes with an ambidextrous hydration sleeve so you keep your fluids up while you walk.

Last on our list of the best top loading carryon backpacks for women backpacking Europe is the Redwing 44 Backpack from Kelty. This compact bag looks smaller than the average top loader but it holds up to 44 liters. How does it fit so much in such a small pack? Pockets! Lots and lots of pockets.

Inside of the top loading zipper pocket is a large interior slip. There are a total of seven exterior pockets including zip locking side pockets, handy front pockets, a pouch in the front and accessories to accommodate a hydration system. It uses suspension technology to lighten the load, a ventilated mesh back panel to keep you cool and comfy shoulder and sternum straps to make it easy to carry.

5 Best Women’s Front/Panel Loading Backpacks for Europe

Sounds menacing, but that straight-jacket compression is a lifesaver when you’ve been lugging this 46 Liter Porter Travel Backpack from Osprey around for a couple of weeks. The sides of this backpack are padded with foam and compress to stabilize and pack in big loads. It comes in black, castle grey, diablo red, hoodoo red (a brighter red), and mineral teal.

One of the pros of a front loading backpack is that you can access your stuff more easily through the large zippered front panel. There is a top panel where you can stow your fluids and inside are two large zipper pockets to better organize your things. Very organized with straps and zippers to secure it all, this is one of the easier to carry front loading travel backpacks.

We said earlier that you don’t want a wheeled backpack traveling through Europe but we draw an exception at the Ozone Convertible Wheeled Luggage from Osprey. This pack conveniently turns into a rolling pack when it’s useful and turns back into a backpack when it’s not.

You have liquid pockets on the top and pockets conveniently located so you can get to your TP and toothbrush no problem. We love this pack’s versatility. You can roll it along, strap it to your back, or carry it like a piece of luggage holding the third side handle. Plus there is a detachable day bag for spontaneous adventures.

Backpacking Europe can be daunting at times, especially in the summer. You’ll need to stay hydrated. If you’ll be traveling in places far from shops and stores where you can refill your water bottles, you will need the 40 Liter Hiking Backpack with 2 Liter Water Bladder from OXA. Whatever type of excursion you have planned, you can pack all you need in this bag.

There are a total of 14 pockets inside and outside of this small carry-on (FAA approved btw). There is an electronics panel for storing laptops and iPads as well as quick access toiletry pockets. This pack comes equipped with its own 2 liter hydration bladder and a rain cover. We love the blue but it comes in orange and black as well.

You can tell by looking at it that this backpack is unisex. Its color scheme is good for outdoorsy men and women. We love the Highline 30 Liter Backpack from Roamm for its compactness combined with its extraordinary roominess and back support.

Sometimes smaller front loading backpacks don’t offer as much support as the more intensive top loaders. Not so with the Highline. This pack includes Roamm’s trademark Airwave suspension technology to redistribute the weight so that you can store more things. The pack is waterproof and comes with a rain cover, reflective strips, and stow space for helmets, poles, and snow pickets.

Finally, the 44 Liter Carryon Backpack from Hynes Eagle is an ideal bag for trekking through Europe if you plan on flying to certain places. First of all it’s cute. We like the purple bag pictured above but it also comes in blue, dark blue, grey, and khaki.

It’s totally waterproof, fits in under seat or overhead bins easily, and has 4 carrying positions (backpack, wheeled luggage, trolley strap, and luggage). The sternum strap is adjustable and the waist strap removable when you want to change carrying position. Multiple large and small pockets help you to keep everything neatly organized.

5 Must-Read Tips for Backpacking Europe

If this is your first time attempting a trip like this, do not leave this page without committing these 5 tips to memory – they may just save your trip!

#1. Pack Light

Just because your backpack is built to hold 80 pounds worth of stuff, do you really need that much? And if you only weigh a hundred pounds or even 200, how is that going to work, carrying at least half of your body weight around for weeks and weeks? Pack light for two weeks even if you plan on backpacking for a couple of months – all you have to do is make more frequent stops to a laundromat.

#2. Pack Right

It may be tempting to pack everything but the kitchen sink. You don’t need the world on a trip like this. It is Europe after all – there are stores and restaurants and hotels if necessary. But the goal is to pack everything that you need without overdoing it. We found three lists that can help you out:

#3. Don’t Go Over 65L or Under 35L in Size

You can find top and front loading backpacks that max out at 30 liters and some that go all the way up to 100 liters. For women, generally you’ll want a pack that holds at least 35 liters of stuff but try to stay at or under 65 liters to avoid overweighting your pack.

#4. Make it Easy – Buy a Eurail Pass

At some point during your trip, you will probably need to hop on the Eurail. You may think you won’t need a pass – you’re walking or hiking everywhere! Yeah right, just make it easy on yourself – buy a month or two month Eurail pass, just in case.

#5. Spend the Dough – Get Travel Insurance! 

You’ve flown a thousand times and never bought travel insurance. This is the exception. You can get away without travel insurance, but when you go on a trip like this, you’ll want to protect yourself in case of injury, theft, or lost or damaged goods. It’s better safe than sorry!

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