There are more travel backpacks on the market than ever before — which is great because that means bag manufacturers are finally listening to travelers like us who want comfortable, functional, urban-friendly, and stylish travel backpacks. And I’m here to help you find the best travel backpack for your travel style.
So What Do I Know About Travel Backpacks?
I’ve traveled Europe (and beyond) with a backpack strapped to my back dozens of times since 2008 and I’ve personally tested over 25 of the most popular travel backpacks. In this article, I’ve created a list of the best travel backpacks for multiple travel styles.
What You’ll Find In This Guide: I’ve tried to cover every feature & aspect that you’ll want to consider when choosing a travel backpack that best suits you.
I’ve also tried my best to suggest my favorite backpacks at every price point because I know not everyone wants to shell out $200+ for a backpack.
Table of Contents:
- Why I Travel With A Backpack
- The Best Travel Backpacks For 2023
- Osprey Farpoint: The Best Overall Travel Backpack
- Aer Travel Pack 3: Best Streamlined Minimalist Travel Backpack
- Osprey Porter: Best Affordable Gear Hauling Travel Backpack
- Tortuga Travel Backpack: The Best Full-Featured Travel Backpack
- The Best Travel Backpacks: A Quick Look
- How To Choose A Travel Backpack
- Travel Backpack Accessories
The Best Travel Backpacks: My Top Picks
Alright! Let’s take a look at my list of the best travel backpacks on the market. The backpacks in this list range from around $100 to $300 so there are options at every price point.
Osprey Farpoint & Fairview: The Best “Do-It-All” Travel Backpack
NOTE: The Osprey Farpoint/Fairview was redesigned in 2022 to be a little shorter so now it’s carry-on compliant. There were also a few other welcomed tweaks like moving the laptop compartment to a better position and an upgraded mesh-covered ridged foam backpanel.
The Osprey Farpoint (the Osprey Fairview is the female version) is my current favorite all-around travel backpack and I’ve taken it on multiple trips to Europe.
The Osprey Farpoint is great because it actually has a high-quality hiking-style shoulder harness so it’s comfortable but it also has a suitcase-style opening so it’s easy to pack. It’s also fairly lightweight and the straps can be zipped away so you can check the bag without worrying about the straps getting damaged.
QUICK NOTE: The Farpoint 55L and Farpoint 40L are basically the same backpack but the Farpoint 40L doesn’t have a detachable 15L daypack—i.e. the main bag is the same size on both bags.
Osprey Farpoint / Fairview 40 Travel Backpack Specs
- Size: 22H X 14W X 9D Inches
- Weight: 3.486 LBS
- Price: $185
Osprey Farpoint / Fairview 55 Travel Backpack Specs
- Size: 22H X 14W X 9D Inches
- Weight: 4.234 LBS
- Price: $220
Aer Travel Pack 3: The Best Minimalist & Utilitarian Travel Backpack
The Aer Travel Pack 3 was updated in 2022. I think they made a lot of great improvements so it’s a significant upgrade from the Aer Travel Pack 2.
Coming in at 35L, the Aer Travel Pack 3 is a heavy-duty minimalist travel backpack with great-looking urban/utilitarian styling. It’s also smartly designed with plenty of pockets and organization.
The Aer Travel Pack 3 was designed to be both stylish and functional—perfect for urban travel. And while it can hold a good amount of stuff, its 35L size means it is better suited for minimalist travelers because heavy packers will need more space.
It is also a great backpack for travelers who use it in conjunction with a suitcase. This 35L bag will easily meet any airline carry-on size specifications (it will probably even fit under the seat).
Aer uses high-quality materials and heavy-duty fabrics in all their bags. The shoulder straps have a pretty good amount of padding and they’re curved in a way to make them more comfortable.
I used the Aer Travel Pack 3 on a recent two-week trip to Italy and a week trip to LA. I’ve also used it on a few shorter weekend trips and I’m still a big fan of it.
Aer Travel Pack 3 Specs
- Length: 21.5″ (54.5 cm), Width: 13″ (33 cm), Depth: 9″ (21.5 cm)
- Weight: 4.12 lbs
- Price: $250 via AER SF
Osprey Porter: The Best Gear-Hauling Travel Backpack
The Osprey Porter was redesigned in 2021 and they made a lot of great improvements to the bag.
The Osprey Porter series of travel backpacks is another super solid travel bag that lets you haul a lot of stuff at an affordable price— it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most popular travel backpacks.
While it’s not quite as comfortable as its Farpoint/Fairview big brother, in my testing I’ve found the Porter to be comfortable enough for city travel. That said, the Porter series excels as a “purpose-built gear-hauling backpack” that’s perfect for city hopping and urban travel. The Porter’s “turtle shell” shape allows you to maximize your packing space so you can fit an impressive amount of stuff inside the bag.
The 46L version is my recommended size for most travelers since it meets (or comes close) to carry-on size. The 30L version is really only for minimalist travelers. In my opinion, the 65L version is probably too large for most people (unless you really need to carry a lot of stuff).
Osprey Porter 30 Travel Backpack Specs
Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack Specs
Osprey Porter 65 Travel Backpack Specs
Tortuga Travel Backpack 40L: The Best Full-Featured Travel Backpack
The Tortuga Travel Backpack 40L is the most full-featured, do-everything, withstand-anything-you-throw-at-it travel backpack out there. It’s built like a tank, smartly designed, and comes in 30L and 40L.
I think Tortuga’s idea when they built the Travel Backpack was to make a travel backpack that includes everything a traveler would want in a backpack. Some might say they included too much but there is no denying that this is a super solid backpack.
Tortuga Travel Backpack 40L Specs
- Size: 21.7 x 13.8 x 7.9 in
- Weight: 4.5 lbs
- Price: $349 via Tortuga Backpacks
Tortuga Travel Backpack 30L Specs
- Size: 20.5 x 12.2 x 7.5 in
- Weight: 4.0 lbs
- Price: $325 via Tortuga Backpacks
Kelty Redwing Tactile: The Best Budget-Friendly Backpack
The Kelty Redwing Tactile backpack tends to get overlooked—probably because it is marketed as a hiking backpack—but it is quietly a solid travel backpack. It’s essentially a hybrid between a hiking and travel backpack so it’s very comfortable and easy to pack thanks to its quasi-suitcase opening. Plus, it comes in multiple liter sizes and a female-specific version.
The main downside to the Redwing is the looks—it looks like an ugly, outdoorsy hiking backpack (because it essentially is a hiking backpack that opens like a suitcase). It’s also not very sleek so you might bump into stuff while you’re walking. So if you can get over that, then you have yourself a solid travel backpack at an affordable price.
Kelty Redwing 44 Specs
- Size: 25″ x 15″ x 12″
- Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz
- Price: $125
- Check Redwing 44 Prices at Kelty.com
Kelty Redwing 32 Specs
- Size: 22″ x 14″ x 11″
- Weight: 2 lbs
- Price: $100
- Check Redwing 32 Prices On Kelty.com
Kelty Redwing 40 (Women’s) Specs
- Size: 23″ x 14″ x 12″
- Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz
- Price: $125
- Check Redwing 40 Prices On Kelty.com
Osprey Atmos: Best Hiking-Style Backpack
If comfort and capacity are most important to you, then I suggest looking at the Osprey Atmos or the female-specific Osprey Aura line of hiking backpacks. Sure, it is a top-loading backpack so it’s a pain to pack/unpack but it’s a joy to wear since it is designed to be worn for hours at a time.
But since this bag is a hiking-style backpack you’ll have to deal with it being a top-loader and it’s also too large to be “technically” considered a carry-on bag.
The Atmos 50L was the first backpack I took to Europe
Note: An even nicer (and more expensive) hiking backpack is the Osprey Aether. So if you have money to burn you might want to check it out.
Osprey Atmos/Aura 50 Specs
- Size: 28.35″ X 14.17″ X 14.17″ (XS), 30.71″ X 14.96″ X 15.35″ (S), 32.68″ X 14.96″ X 15.35″ (M), & 34.65″ X 14.96″ X 15.35″ (L)
- Weight: 4.21 lbs
- Price: $240
eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack: Best Cheap Travel Backpack
The eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack is a max carry-on size backpack that’s purpose-built for city travel. It’s much cheaper than most travel backpacks at the max carry-on size range—but this bag only has a basic shoulder harness so it’s not very comfortable for extended use.
eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack Specs
- Size: 22″ x 14″ x 9″
- Weight: 3 lbs, 15 oz
- Price: $100 (but it’s often on sale)
- Check Prices On Amazon
eBags Mother Lode Jr Travel Backpack Specs
- Size: 19.5″ x 14″ x 9″
- Weight: 3 lbs, 5 oz
- Price: $90
- Check Prices On Amazon
Patagonia Black Hole: The Best Duffle-Style Bag
Ok, the Patagonia Blackhole isn’t technically a “travel backpack”… it’s a travel duffle bag. Yes, it has basic backpack straps but we prefer to carry this bad-boy as a shoulder bag.
The Patagonia Blackhole bag has gained a bit of a cult following. It’s basically a soft-sided suitcase with a shoulder strap and it’s a great choice for travelers who don’t want a backpack.
The 45L Blackhole MLC is a sleek and minimalist travel backpack with no dangly exterior straps. It has urban styling so you’ll look like a super-stylish urban dweller. Ohh, and it can hold a ton of gear.
Patagonia Blackhole MLC Specs
- Size: 22.75″ x 18″ x 6.75″
- Weight: 3 lbs. 5.1 oz.
- Price: $199
- Check Prices On REI
What Is So Great About Travel Backpacks?
Traveling with only a backpack gives you the freedom that you won’t experience with a suitcase. It’s a very zen-like way to travel that you won’t truly understand until you do it.
That’s because a backpack makes you think very carefully about what you bring because you’re physically limited to what you can actually fit in your bag. It makes you travel smarter. Sure, it might be tough at first but you really appreciate the light load once you’re on the road.
Traveling light allows you to easily navigate busy train stations, cobblestone streets, endless staircases, and everything else that gets thrown at you.
Furthermore, if you travel with a carry-on size backpack then you also won’t have to worry about expensive checked bag fees or the airlines losing your luggage.
The Complete Travel Backpacks Buyer’s Guide
There are dozens of backpacks designed for travel on a market and we’ve tested a lot of them (as you can see in the photo above). Some are amazing. Some are downright terrible. But there really isn’t one single backpack that is perfect for everyone since every traveler has different needs and requirements — for example, someone doing weekend trips will have different needs than someone doing a 12-month trip through Europe.
That’s why in this guide we’ll try to point out different features so you can choose which are most important to your travel style.
Travel Backpack Sizes
Backpacks are generally measured in liters (e.g. 30L, 45L, 50L, etc.). Be aware that companies measure volume differently so Brand A’s 35L might be different than Brand B’s 35L. Furthermore, bags come in different shapes and configurations so you shouldn’t judge size on liters alone.
As a general rule, the maximum size for a carry-on travel backpack is around 43-45 liters. But you’ll want to check airline requirements and actual bag dimensions since they do vary. That said, most budget European airlines are more concerned about weight than overall dimensions.
So what size travel backpack is best? It depends on your needs. But here are my thoughts on backpack sizes:
- 20L-30L: Backpacks under 30L would be considered too small for anyone doing a trip longer than a day or two. For reference, this standard Jansport Backpack is 25L.
- 30L-35L: There are a handful of travel backpacks in the 30L-35L range. In my opinion, these are still too small for most travelers. Bags in this range are best for minimalist travels or travelers who use a suitcase but still want a smaller backpack for extra stuff.
- 35L-40L: Backpacks in the 35L-40L range start hitting that sweet spot for a lot of lightweight travelers. That said, you’ll still need to be very selective about what you pack because you’ll only have space for the essentials. Example Backpacks:
- 40L-45L: As mentioned before, 45L is about the largest your bag can be before it is no longer considered to be “carry-on” size. But this is the size I recommend for most travelers since it gives you a little extra space.
- Over 45L: If you’re not concerned with sticking to carry-on requirements then you might want to consider backpacks in the 45L-55L range. There are some 55L-80L bags on the market but I suggest avoiding those as they become a little more difficult to lug around. Example Backpacks:
Note: Your trip length doesn’t necessarily correspond to backpack size. That’s because you’ll do laundry on longer trips so the amount you pack on a 7-day trip really isn’t different than packing for a 7-week trip.
Comparing Travel Backpacks Vs. Hiking Backpacks
As you look at backpacks you’ll start seeing two main styles — travel and hiking. I recommend travel backpacks but plenty of people use hiking-style bags.
In this sub-section, I’ll talk about the main differences between the two styles — as well as the pros and cons of each backpack type.
Clamshell/Suitcase Opening vs Top Opening Travel Backpacks
The most obvious difference between the two styles is how the bag opens. Travel backpacks zip open like a suitcase and hiking backpacks have a single opening at the top (usually closed with a drawstring). So what does this mean?
Basically, travel backpacks are easier to pack/unpack — simply unzip it like a suitcase and get whatever you need. Top-loading hiking backpacks are a pain to pack since you have to pull everything out if you need to access anything in the bag.
Travel Backpack Suspension System (Shoulder Straps, etc.)
The main benefit of hiking backpacks is that they’re generally more comfortable than travel backpacks because they’re designed to be worn for long periods of time (i.e. for hiking mountains).
In general, hiking bags have a more advanced shoulder harness and hip belt, and the bag is designed to sit closer to your body. But the design isn’t as practical for travel. In fact, some people actually prefer comfort to practicality — it’s all personal preference.
That said, some travel bags have an advanced shoulder harness and hip belts but in general travel, bags can be less comfortable than hiking backpacks.
Travel Backpack Size & Layout
Travel backpacks tend to be
Hiking backpacks tend to be long and skinny so it’s harder to utilize the space in your bag as well as the boxier travel backpack. But, this shape is actually more comfortable since it keeps the load tight against your back. So there is a trade-off.
Travel Backpack Weight
Hiking backpacks tend to be quite a bit lighter than travel backpacks because they’re usually just a single “tube” without any extra frills.
Final Thoughts: Travel Vs. Hiking Backpacks
Despite a few shortcomings, I prefer travel-style backpacks because they’re more practical for urban travel.
Travel backpacks also tend to be a little more stylish since most hiking-style bags are brightly colored. That said, I see plenty of people using hiking backpacks so it really comes down to personal preference.
Travel Backpack Suspension System (aka How Comfortable Is It?)
Your bag’s comfort is largely defined by its suspension system — i.e. the shoulder straps and hipbelt. Ok, it’s also defined by how much stuff you pack but a more advanced harness system lets you comfortably carry more weight.
The image above shows the two most common shoulder strap styles. The bag on the left has a “hiking style” harness and the backpack on the right is a bit more of a traditional backpack-style harness.
As you can see, the shoulder straps on the hiking-style backpack (left) are positioned lower on the bag and curve up and around the shoulders. This style generally conforms to the shoulder so it keeps the bag from pulling away from your back.
On traditional backpacks (right) the shoulder straps don’t conform to your shoulders as well so the bag has a tendency to pull away from your back — which can put more strain on
That doesn’t mean traditional backpacks aren’t comfortable but they’re usually not as comfortable as hiking-style harnesses — especially when you’re carrying a heavy load.
Some travel backpacks come with a hip belt — which helps distribute your bag’s weight to your hips from your shoulders. That said, many travelers forgo a hip belt on smaller bags because it helps keep things streamlined since the hip belt does add bulk. It’s personal preference but I feel it does make the backpack more comfortable if you’re a heavy packer.
You’ll also want to look at the amount of padding found on the shoulder straps because some bags have a ton and some have very little. It’s a balancing act since padding adds to the comfort of the bag but it also adds a lot of weight/bulk to the bag.
Recommended Travel Backpacks With A Hiking-Style Harness:
The Osprey Farpoint and Osprey Fairview (women’s version of the Osprey Farpoint) are travel backpacks but have hiking-style shoulder harnesses and hip belts — it’s a solid mix of both worlds.
The Tortuga Travel Backpack is another travel backpack that incorporates a more robust shoulder harness and hip belt.
The AER Travel Pack 3 has been redesigned to have a more robust harness system.
And the Kelty Redwing line is great for budget travelers.
Gender-Specific Travel Backpacks
Most travel backpacks are unisex and only come in one size. This is generally fine for most people but there are a handful of backpacks that come in small, medium, and large sizes — which is nice if you’re shorter or taller than average.
So, if you really want your bag to be as comfortable as possible then you might want to look into backpacks that come in multiple size options.
Additionally, a few companies are starting to offer backpacks with female-specific designs — which usually means the shoulder straps are shaped to better fit the female anatomy. Again, plenty of women have no issues with unisex backpacks so don’t worry too much if your perfect bag doesn’t have a “female” version. To learn more, check out my guide to the best travel backpacks for women.
Travel Backpack Configuration, Pockets, & Layout
Most travel backpacks consist of one large compartment and then a handful of smaller pockets to help keep all your smaller stuff organized.
Bag makers have a tough job of striking a balance between organization and weight — i.e. more pockets = more bulk.
I tend to prefer more minimalist bags that just have a few well-thought-out pockets because some backpacks really go overboard with the organization.
I’ve found that one or two exterior pockets really come in handy when you’re traveling — especially a top exterior pocket for storing your phone, sunglasses, and other small things you access frequently.
You should also pay attention to the laptop compartment (assuming you’re traveling with a laptop or tablet). The most important thing is being able to access the laptop from the exterior of the bag — i.e you don’t need to unpack the bag to remove the laptop when going through
The location of the laptop compartment is also something to consider. Most bags put the compartment against your back—which helps keep the laptop protected and keep the weight against your back.
Some backpacks put the compartment in the front of the bag—which probably isn’t as safe and the distance from your back might add extra strain to your load.
Travel Backpack Weight & Bulk
Most travel backpacks range from a lightweight 2.5 lbs to a honking 7 lbs+. Obviously, the heavier bags are physically bigger but they also tend to have more padding and pockets.
The super-light bags are physically smaller but they also cut back on padding and pockets. They might also use less-durable fabric.
One important thing to remember is that most budget airlines are usually more concerned with the weight (and not the physical size) of your carry-on bags. For example, I scored a super cheap flight from NYC to Copenhagen and they charged people extra if their carry-on bag was over 22 lbs (10kg). This is becoming much more common since bag fees are a huge money-maker for airlines.
So, with that in mind, a heavy backpack might force you to pack less if you’re trying to stay under any kind of weight limit.
Travel Backpack Structure and Internal Frame
The best travel backpacks have a bit of rigidity/structure and this helps distribute the weight of the bag across your entire back and it helps keep the load tight against your body.
There are generally two ways bag manufacturers add structure: through a lightweight internal frame (i.e. internal poles) or through a large plastic sheet built into the back of the bag.
The lightweight internal frame provides more rigidity/stability with heavier loads but the plastic sheet method also works pretty well in most cases. This isn’t something you really need to be concerned about but I wanted to let you know.
Stowable Shoulder Straps & Hip Belt
While not a deal-breaker, I like it when travel backpacks have
First, this allows us to safely check the bag because you don’t have to worry about the shoulder straps being ripped off in baggage carousel conveyor belts.
And second, I like to stow away the straps before I board the plane so I can move through the narrow aisles and put the bag in the overhead compartment or under the seat with ease.
Travel Backpack Materials/Fabrics
Just about every travel backpack is made out of some kind of synthetic material — usually nylon. Why nylon? Because it is lightweight and durable.
As you look at backpacks you’ll notice that manufacturers will throw all kinds of impressive-sounding fabric names at you. For example:
- Osprey Farpoint: 210D Nylon Mini Hex Diamond Ripstop
- Osprey Porter: 420HD Nylon Packcloth
- GoRuck RE1: 1000D CORDURA®
- Tortuga: X-Pac Waterproof Sailcloth
- AER Travel Pack 3: 1680D Cordura® Ballistic N
What does all this mean? Well, it’s partially marketing (I mean, they all sound pretty impressive). But it also gives you an idea of the thickness/weight/durability of the fabric.
The number — 210, 420, 1680, etc. — conveys the thickness/weight of the fabric (higher=heavier) and the rest tells you what kind of fabric it is (Ripstop, CORDURA, Ballistic Nylon, etc.). But a high number doesn’t automatically mean it’s “better”
But honestly, I wouldn’t get too hung up on the fabric details since any bag I mention in this article is going to be plenty durable for your trip.
Of all the things that can fail on a backpack, the zipper is probably the most common failure point. The gold standard of zipper manufacturers is YKK so most of the best-quality bags use these. While it’s not a dealbreaker, I prefer bags that use YKK zippers.
Another nice feature that some bags offer
Top and Side Handles on Travel Backpacks
While not a deal-breaker, another nice feature I like is the sturdy handles on the top and the side of the bag. These are super helpful when you’re carrying your bag on a narrow plane/train aisles or moving your bag without having to put it on.
In our opinion, I’m not too concerned with having a backpack that is overly weather-resistant — especially in Europe where it’s unlikely you’ll be caught in heavy downpours.
Yes, it’s nice when backpacks take steps to help keep the elements out but you should buy a cheap rain cover if you’re really worried about protecting your backpack from the rain (almost every bag has an accompanying rain cover that’s usually sold separately but some bags come with them).
Note: No bag is fully “waterproof” — but some are more water-resistant than others.
Backpack Style and Aesthetics
Travel backpacks come in multiple different styles — some are sleek and urban, while others are full-on outdoorsy (and kinda ugly).
I’m usually not too concerned about what my bag looks like, but I understand that some travelers prefer a bag with urban styling since those bags don’t scream “tourist”.
That said, the cooler-looking backpacks tend to be less comfortable than hiking-style backpacks — but there are a few that strike a nice balance of form and function.
Travel Backpack Prices
Unfortunately, well-made travel backpacks aren’t cheap and some are downright expensive. For a new backpack, expect to spend a minimum of around $140 but some bags cost $350+.
If you’re on a tight budget I suggest buying used (Craigslist, eBay, borrow your friend’s old bag) or checking out REI Garage for closeout deals on previous year’s models.
Match Your Backpack To Your Travel Style
One of the most important things to consider when buying a travel backpack is knowing your travel style because different bags are designed for different uses.
- If you plan on using both a backpack and a suitcase then your backpack can be smaller.
- If you’re doing business travel then you might want a bag that’s sleeker and a bit more stylish.
- If you’re just visiting one or two cities then you might not need a large backpack.
- Are you a barebones minimalist traveler? Look for a sleek and utilitarian backpack.
- Will you have easy access to a washer and dryer? Consider packing less and using a smaller backpack because you can wash your stuff halfway through.
- Are you traveling in the winter? A slightly bigger bag will let you carry those bulky items.
- Are you a fashionista with a lot of clothes but plan on using Uber/taxis as opposed to public transportation? Then go ahead and get a bigger backpack because you won’t be wearing it for long periods of time anyways.
- Are you visiting somewhere that requires you to wear your backpack for long periods of time? Then you might consider a hiking-style backpack with an advanced shoulder harness system.
- Do you have a bad back? Then you might want a suitcase.
Summary Of The Best Travel Backpacks
Here’s a quick wrapup of my favorite travel backpacks:
- Osprey Farpoint Travel Backpack: Redesigned in 2022, the Farpoint is a super comfortable travel backpack with excellent shoulder straps. It has tons of smart features and is available in 55L and 40L versions. This is probably the best overall travel backpack. Available via Osprey or Amazon.
- Osprey Porter 46: High-quality backpack that hauls a lot of gear for a very solid price. Available via Osprey or Amazon.
- Tortuga Travel Backpack 40L: Heavy-duty maximum-sized carry-on backpack with a great suspension system and it will hold up to whatever you throw at it. Available via TortugaBackpacks.com.
- AER Travel Pack 3.0: Stylish-looking urban travel backpack that’s great for traveling light. See on Aer SF.
- Kelty Redwing: A super comfortable backpack that blends the features of a travel backpack and a hiking backpack. Solid price as well. Available at Amazon or REI.
- Patagonia Black Hole Duffle: The Blackhole is a duffle bag that can convert to a travel backpack. It can hold a ton of stuff and it’s a good choice for people who don’t want a traditional “backpack”. Available via REI.
Tips For Packing Your Travel Backpack
Regardless of what kind of backpack you choose, I highly suggest using packing cubes. Packing cubes make it easy to compartmentalize your clothes into different cubes so you can keep everything easily accessible. Trust us, these things will make backpacking much easier.
FYI: Most brands make packing cubes specifically designed for their bags but they’re often kind of expensive.
Backpacking Europe Packing List
Now that you’ve found the perfect backpack for travel it’s time to start packing! I put together quite a few different packing guides to help you out.
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Thanks For Reading! — James