A 40-litre backpack fits effortlessly into any traveller’s arsenal. Ideal for city breaks, week-long holidays or even months of backpacking, these mid-sized bags have become a mainstay for global gallivanters.
But even with their growth in popularity, some backpackers baulk at the idea of travelling with just a 40L bag. While these packs have their disadvantages, the pros far outweigh the cons for most travellers!
I’ve travelled extensively with just a mid-sized bag. Whether it’s been hiking holidays, long international adventures or trips closer to home, a 40-litre pack has always been the best option for me.
To help you decide whether they’re right for you too, let’s take a deep dive into the world of 40-litre bags and run through the best options for travellers!
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Popular 40-Litre Backpacks
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What Is a 40-Litre Backpack?
A 40-litre backpack is a rucksack with a 40-litre capacity. Gear gurus measure the capacity by filling the bag with small balls, usually around a centimetre across. These are then removed and measured by pouring them into a container with a known volume. If the container has a 40-litre capacity and the balls coming out of the bag fill it, you know the bag is 40-litres too!
Pros and Cons of 40-Litre Backpacks
- Generally Fit Into Carry-On Specifications
- More Manoeuvrable Than Larger Bags
- Easier to Store Than Larger Bags
- Lighter Than Larger Bags
- You Need to Be More Frugal With Packing
- Still Big Compared to an Everyday Rucksack
- Rarely Include a Detachable Daypack
Our Favourite 40-Litre Backpacks
Osprey Farpoint/Fairview 40 – The Most Popular 40-Litre Backpack
- Clamshell Opening
- Carry On Compliant
- Lifetime Warranty
- Laptop Sleeve Is Badly Placed
- Bottle Pockets Are Rubbish
- Popular — Osprey’s Farpoint and Fairview series are some of the most popular travel backpacks in the world. Honestly, you’ll see them adorning the shoulders of countless travellers on the backpacker circuit. And, a bag doesn’t get to be this popular without being exceptional value for money!
- Clamshell Opening — One of the biggest draws people have to the Farpoint/Fairview 40 is the suitcase-style opening. This makes the bag super easy to pack and organise!
- All Might Guarantee — Osprey’s warranty is one of the finest we’ve ever seen. They’ll repair or replace any bag with a manufacturing defect free of charge within the ‘reasonable lifetime’ of the pack. They also strive to repair rather than replace to reduce their impact on the environment!
- Comfortable — Osprey’s Farpoint and Fairview series feature padded shoulder straps, a hip belt and internal frame to help distribute the weight of your gear across your body. The carry experience is excellent with the padded back panel protecting you from the contents of your bag.
- Carry On Compliant — As with most 40-litre backpacks, the Farpoint/Fairview 40 squeezes into hand luggage specifications for most airlines. This allows you to skip some dreaded airport queues!
- Price Range: $$
- Best Feature: Clamshell opening and carry on compliant
- Feature To Improve: Laptop sleeve and bottle pockets suck.
- Read full review of the Osprey Farpoint and Fairview 40 (opens in a new tab).
Tropicfeel Shell — Most Sustainable 40-litre Backpack
- Accessories Are Overrated and Expensive
- The Brand — Tropicfeel are one of our favourite backpack brands. They’re known for their disruptive business model which brings sustainability and ethics to the backpack industry. The Shell is made from 100% recycled nylon and 60% recycled polyester — the materials come from both pre and post-consumer sources. Tropicfeel only work with Bluesign certified partners, so you can be sure hazardous chemicals are either completely avoided or handled and disposed of responsibly. They’re open and transparent about their entire supply chain!
- Expandable — In its largest guise, the Tropicfeel Shell is a 40-litre backpack. However, it can be used in a 22-litre and 30-litre mode as well. This versatility makes it an ideal choice for travellers wanting the bare minimum amount of luggage!
- Easy to Pack — Thanks to the top-loading system and clamshell opening, the Tropicfeel Shell is one of the easiest bags to pack and organise. By unzipping the back panel, you can open the bag like a suitcase and efficiently organise your gear. Items you’ll need while on the move, or have to stow at the last moment, can be packed through the top lid of the bag!
- Weatherproof — Although the Tropicfeel Shell can’t claim to be a waterproof backpack, it’s reliably water-resistant. You’d have to get caught in a real storm for water to get through!
- Price Range: $$$$$
- Best Feature: Sustainable practices used in the bag's construction.
- Feature To Improve: Torso length is very hard to get right
- Read full review of the Tropicfeel Shell (link opens in a new tab).
Gregory Tetrad/Tribute 40 – Our 2nd Favourite 40-Litre Travel Pack
- Comfortable Suspension System
- Easy to Separate Clean and Dirty Gear
- Protective Padding
- The Laptop Sleeve Is Badly Placed
- The Rain Cover Is Bulky
- No Water Bottle Pockets
- Rivals The Osprey Farpoint — Gregory’s Tetrad/Tribute is the closest rival to Osprey’s Farpoint/Fairview range. The bags are comfortable, feature a fully adjustable suspension system and include a good internal frame. The Tetrad/Tribute also includes a three-in-one cover that’s waterproof, protects your bag from pickpockets and keeps it safe while being stored in planes or buses. The Tetrad is built for men while the Tribute is one of the best women’s backpacks we’ve seen!
- Active Shield Compartment — Inside the main pocket of the Tetrad/Tribute 40, is a zipped compartment for storing wet, dirty or smelly gear. It’s waterproof, odour resistant and easy to clean. While it can make packing other gear a little more challenging, the Active Shield Compartment is a nice addition for more adventurous or long-term travellers.
- Protects Your Gear — A 40L backpack is a waste of time if it doesn’t keep your gear safe. The Tetrad/Tribute 40 features full surround gear guard foam padding for maximum protection. The external compression panels cover the zippers to deter pickpockets and the laptop sleeve is well padded to protect your electronics from knocks and bangs.
- Stretch Pocket — I love a stretchy front pocket! They’re commonplace in hiking packs but seldom make an appearance in travel bags. The pocket in these packs is excellent for storing items like waterproofs or snacks which you might need in a hurry.
- Price Range: $$$
- Best Feature: Active Shield compartment
- Feature To Improve: No bottle pockets
Nomatic Travel Bag (Gomatic in Europe) – Best 40-Litre Backpack for Digital Nomads
- Carry On Space Maximised
- Crammed With Organisational Features
- Very Square Which Can Take a While to Get Used to
- Water-Resistant Materials — The Nomatic 40L Travel Bag is rugged and weather resistant. Rain runs off the outer material and even the zips are waterproof! This makes the bag a great choice for those travelling in the rainy season or backpackers facing unknown weather conditions during their trip!
- Versatile — The 40L Travel Bag is predominantly a backpack. However, Nomatic have developed a proprietary strap system which means the bag can be converted from a backpack into a duffel bag in just a few seconds! This versatility is excellent when travelling around busy cities or through packed airports!
- Organisation — Nomatic’s 40L Travel Bag includes a multitude of organisational pockets and compartments. There are spots for your shoes, laptop, cables, clothes and important paperwork. There’s even an RFID blocking pocket to protect you against digital crime. As well as this, each 40L Travel Bag includes a laundry bag that can be used to keep your dirty gear separate!
- Maximises Carry On Space — While the very square look of the 40L Travel Bag can take some getting used to, there’s no doubting it’s the most efficient use of space. There are no weird nooks or crannies that exist in rounded or shaped bags. Instead, all the space in the Travel Bag is usable, making it super easy to pack and unpack. The bag features a clamshell opening too which allows you to pack like a pro!
- Price Range: $$$$$
- Best Feature: Carry on space maximised.
- Feature To Improve: It's an expensive bag.
Osprey Exos/Eja 38 – Best 40-Litre Backpack for Hiking
- The Lid/Brain Is Removable
- Top Loading Only
- No Rain Cover Included
- Capacity — Okay, strictly speaking, the Exos/Eja isn’t a 40-litre pack. However, it’s close enough… At 38-litres, these packs can deal with day hikes or overnight camping adventures. If you pack light, you can get away with using an Exos/Eja 38 on longer multi-day hikes or adventures too! Osprey also produce 48-litre and 58-litre versions of this pack which are ideal for longer hikes!
- A Pack for Everyone — As we’ve come to expect from Osprey, these packs are available in men’s (Exos) and women’s (Eja) versions. Each model is also broken down into two different torso sizes. In the latest editions of these packs, there’s even more adjustability built into the suspension system, so you can get a properly customised fit!
- Hiking — The Exos/Eja packs are built for hikers. They’re comfortable and crammed full of features to aid your hike. Sleeping pad straps, ice axe loops, trekking pole attachments, an internal hydration bladder sleeve and removable lid are just a few examples!
- Comfort — There’s no point having a 40(ish)-litre hiking bag if it’s not comfortable. The Osprey Exos is the most comfortable backpack I’ve ever used. The shoulder straps have incredible padding. The hip belt does an excellent job of taking the weight of your gear and the Airspeed suspension system feels amazing against your back.
- Lightweight — At 1.2kg, the Osprey Exos/Eja 38 falls into the realm of lightweight backpacking gear — saving you from lugging unnecessary weight down the trail!
- Huge External Pockets — The Exos/Eja features massive external pockets! The water bottle pockets on each side of the pack can each hold more than two litres of water with ease! The stretchy front pocket offers more than enough room for snacks, waterproofs and even a coat or jumper. The latest versions of these packs include hip belt pockets too!
- Price Range: $$$$
- Best Feature: Lightweight and comfortable.
- Feature To Improve: No raincover included.
Pacsafe Vibe 40L — Best 40-litre Anti-Theft Backpack
- Sleek Minimalist Look
- Easy to Pack and Organise
- External Pocket Is Hard To Use When The Bag Is Full
- Limited Adjustability On The Shoulder Straps
- Carry-on size — As we’ve come to expect from 40-litre backpacks, the Pacsafe Vibe 40L fully maximises carry-on space. The main compartment is huge, allowing you to easily store everything you need for a week, month or even extended backpacking adventure!
- Anti-theft features — As a theft-proof backpack, the Pacsafe Vibe 40l utilises a bunch of anti-theft technology such as the Pop ’N’ Lock security clips, eXomesh slashguard lining, slash-proof straps, an RFID blocking pocket, puncture-proof zips, Roobar sport locking system and secured zip tabs.
- Padded Laptop Sleeve — Well placed against your back when you’re wearing the bag, the laptop sleeve can comfortably house up to a 16’’ machine. The padding protects your laptop from knocks and bangs while the security features keep it safe from unscrupulous characters.
- Comfort — Pacsafe’s Vibe 40L is super comfortable. The shoulder straps and hip belt are padded and adjustable. The internal frame helps distribute the weight of your gear, reducing the strain on your shoulders. Internal compression straps ensure your gear doesn’t shift around as you move and external straps keep the bag cinched tight so it never feels unwieldy.
- Water-resistant — The ripstop nylon used in the bag’s construction is heavily water-resistant. It won’t keep your gear dry if you submerge the bag but will protect you from any errant downpour you might encounter while travelling.
- Price Range: $$$
- Best Feature: Anti-theft technology
- Feature To Improve: The external pocket isn't very good
Is a 40-Litre Backpack Right for You?
There is no ‘perfect sized backpack.’ The use case, your travel style, how much stuff you need and whether you’re flying hand luggage only, all need to be considered before choosing the right size bag for you.
If you’re after a bag for commuting or school, chances are 40-litres will be much too big. Similarly, if you want a bag for a multi-day backcountry adventure, 40-litres may be too small.
When it comes to bags for travel, 40-litres fits right into the Goldilocks zone. Big enough for months of backpacking and small enough to carry as hand luggage on most international airlines.
As well as this, 40-litres forces you to pack smart. The limited space means you won’t be able to pack for every conceivable scenario — in fact, you’re likely to need a few attempts at trimming down your travel gear before you’ll get everything into a 40-litre bag. And that’s not a bad thing. It allows you to be light on your feet instead of weighed down by the weight of your possessions — literally and metaphorically.
But what’s right for one backpacker isn’t necessarily right for another. I love travelling with just a 40-litre pack — but you might not. If you consider yourself a light packer, 40-litres may be too much. And if you plan on packing enough outfits to get you into every rooftop bar in Bangkok, 40-litres won’t be anywhere near enough!
The same is true if you’re visiting a lot of different climates on your trip. Do you need to pack for both hot and cold locations? If so, 40-litres could be a little tight — albeit still possible if you’re disciplined.
So before going out and buying one of the 40-litre backpacks on this list, ask yourself the following:
- What do I need the bag for?
- Do I want to travel hand luggage only?
- Am I packing for different climates?
- Can I get away with taking less stuff?
Tips for Travelling With a 40-Litre Backpack
For some, a 40-litre backpack feels too small for trips longer than a week. However, most travellers find they come to love the simplicity and ease of travelling with a mid-sized backpack!
These 40L backpack packing tips will help you make the most of travelling with less space!
- Roll Your Clothes
This is one of the best ways to maximise space in your travel bag. When clothes are rolled, as opposed to folded or stuffed in, they take up way less room!
- Packing Cubes
Some travellers swear by packing cubes, others hate them. However you feel about them, just using one or two can help keep your clothes and other compressible items as small as possible — leaving more room for the rest of your gear!
Unless you’re visiting somewhere like Northern Europe in winter, you probably don’t need a big jumper or coat. Instead, opt for a lot of thin layers over bulky items. Layering is a much more versatile and efficient use of space in your backpack!
- Do Laundry
Washing clothes on the road is a great way of reducing the amount of luggage you’re carrying. This is obvious if you’re backpacking for months on end but it’s great advice for shorter trips too. Finding a laundrette is almost always cheaper than paying to check a big bag or suitcase on the plane!
- Don’t Pack Your Fears
When packing, there are always items we look at and think “Well, I might need that if X, Y or Z happens.” Get those items out of your bag! X, Y or Z very rarely happen. And if they do, you’ll find a new way of dealing with the situation!
40L Backpack FAQs
- Is a 40-litre backpack big enough for travelling?
Yes! A 40-litre backpack is big enough for travelling. A 40-litre backpack is a great size for travellers because it can be taken as hand luggage on most flights while still fitting enough gear for a long weekend, two-week vacation or even months of backpacking!
- How much is a 40-litre capacity?
For most backpackers, a 40-litre backpack can carry enough gear to get you through months of travel. However, some travellers are likely to want more space. It depends on your travel style.
If you prefer to be light on your feet, not have to wait in as many airport queues and are happy to wear the same few outfits for months on end, 40-litres is ideal. If you’d prefer to have more clothing options, don’t mind waiting at baggage claim and aren’t bothered about the extra weight on your back, you’ll probably want a bigger backpack.
- Is a 40-litre backpack carry on size?
Carry on limits aren’t determined by the volume of your backpack but by the dimensions. With that said, most 40-litre backpacks fit into international carry on limits for most airlines*.
*You should always check directly with the airline to avoid nasty oversized luggage fees at the airport!
- Is a 40-litre backpack too big?
It depends on your travel style and personal preference. I love a 40-litre backpack but some travellers wouldn’t be seen dead with anything over 25-litres. For most people, 40-litres is the ideal size!
- How much does a 40-litre backpack weigh?
The weight of your backpack depends more on the construction than the volume. However, most 40-litre backpacks will be 1.5-2.5kg when empty.
Final Thoughts on 40-Litre Backpacks
40-litre backpacks are the most popular size with travellers today. They’re perfect for multi-day hikes, commuting with a lot of equipment and even carrying home your shopping!
I’ve been using my Osprey Farpoint 40 for years and love the versatility a 40-litre backpack delivers. Being able to avoid baggage lines at airports is a big draw, as is being light and manoeuvrable while navigating a new town or city!
Do you use a 40-litre backpack? If so which one? Let us know in the comments below!
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