Picking the right carry-on backpack for your travels is essential. As a full-time traveler for the past decade, I have extensively tested a variety of the best carry on backpacks and have found that having the perfect one can make all the difference.
These backpacks save time and money by eliminating the need to check a bag and allow for easy navigation through TSA, hassle-free boarding, and a seamless transition to your next destination. The right carry-on backpack means arriving at the airport prepared and ready to go.
When it comes to choosing a carry-on backpack, there are many options available. However, not all are created equal. To make the most of your travels, look for a pack with a front-loading design that allows for easy organization and effortless packing and unpacking. In this post, I will share my top picks for the best carry-on backpacks and what to consider when selecting.
The Best Carry On Backpacks
Osprey Farpoint/Fairview Travel Pack
MSRP: $220 | Weight: 3 lbs. 2 oz. | Capacities: 40L, 55L, 70, 80L
Removable Daypack, Stowaway Straps, Hip Belt, Sternum Strap, Side & Top Handles, U Zip Opening, Laptop Sleeve, AirScape Panel, Compression Straps, Exterior Loops, Mesh Panels For Organization,
- Excellent Build Quality
- Large Roomy Interior
- Removable Daypack
- Suspension System
- Excellent Features
- Great For “Backpackers”
- Not Versatile For Business or Hiking
- Capacity Includes The 15L Removable Daypack
The Osprey Farpoint/Fairview is well constructed with intelligent design features that are perfect for travel and is well known as one of the best carry on backpacks. The Farpoint is the men’s model of the bag with a frame better suited for men, while the Fairview is for a woman’s frame. It’s a highly functional bag that’s been a traveler’s favorite for years. The bag comes in several larger versions that are not carry-on compliant.
The 40L and 55L are the same backpack, but the 55L includes the removable Farpoint/Fairview Travel Daypack. When removed, the 55L is carry-on compliant and can attach to the front straps for secure carry if it holds valuables. It’s important to note that the 55L is a 40L bag with a 15L daypack which can create confusion.
A large panel makes it easy to access the roomy interior and organize your luggage. More organization features include a sizeable top mesh zip pocket, a side mesh pocket, and two interior compression straps. A rear laptop sleeve offers secure placement and can hold a hydration reservoir.
Other stand-out features include the zip-away suspension, lockable zippers, and an adjustable torso fit. Even the padded carry handles make life easy for placing in overhead bins or quick grabs. The Farpoint or Fairview is an easy decision as one of the best carry-on backpacks. Business travelers will want to look elsewhere, but the travel backpack is the gold standard for backpackers.
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Peak Design Travel Backpack
MSRP: $299 | Weight: 4.5 lbs | Material: 400D Nylon | Capacities: 45L
Laptop Sleeve, Hip Belt, Sternum Strap, Multiple Carry Handles, Peak Design Accessories, Lockable Zippers, Expandable Front Pocket, Two Hidden External Pockets, Two Stash Pockets, Mesh Internal Organization, Soft Pocket, Luggage Pass Through,
- High Quality
- Professional Look
- Excellent Accessories
- Wonderful Carry Handles
- Organization System
- High Price
The Peak Design Travel Backpack is a top-quality carry on backpack perfect for travelers who value attention to detail and a sleek design. The bag features high-quality materials and impeccable stitching; this backpack looks sharp and will undoubtedly last.
Its roomy interior and intelligent organization system, with packing and camera cubes that lock into place, make it an excellent choice for minimalist travelers and businesspeople. The internal laptop/tablet pocket is well-padded and situated close to your back, providing a more rigid and secure carry.
Other features include a hidden luggage tag, theft-deterrent zippers, a lined pocket, stow-away straps, two hidden external zip pockets, and compression straps. With the pass-through luggage feature, you can even attach the bag to a roller handle.
The suspension system on the Peak Design backpack is robust, and the straps are comfortable enough to handle heavy loads. However, the bag is a little heavy due to its extensive features and durable materials, and the non-vented back panel can lead to a sweaty lower back in hot weather.
Overall, the Peak Design Travel Backpack is an excellent choice for the modern backpacker who wants a stylish and functional carry-on backpack. As frequent travelers, it’s the backpack we reach for the most.
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Cotopaxi Allpa Travel Pack
MSRP: $220 | Weight: 4 lbs. 3 oz. | Capacities: 28, 35, 42L
Weather Repellant Exterior, Ventilated Back Panel, Hip Belt, Sternum Strap, Top & Side Handles, Clamshell Opening, Shoulder Carry Strap, Padded Laptop Sleeve, Padded Phone Sleeve, Carabiner Lash Points, Exterior Water Bottle Pocket, Rain Cover,
- Fun Colorways
- Excellent Quality
- Clamshell Opening
- Great Internal Organization
- Little Bulky
- Loses Its Shape
Cotopaxi’s Allpa Travel Pack is a stylish and durable carry-on backpack for one-bag travel. Its clamshell-style main compartment, numerous interior compartments, and mesh pockets offer excellent organization and easy access to your belongings. The front pocket is perfect for quick-grab items like toiletries, a wallet, or tech accessories, while a padded laptop sleeve on the back keeps your laptop safe and secure.
In terms of carrying options, the Allpa has four exterior handles for easy grabbing, and an over-the-shoulder strap for messenger bag-style carry. The traditional backpack suspension system is comfortable and sturdy, with a hip belt and sternum strap to distribute the weight evenly. While it may not be the best suspension system for long hikes, it is more than sufficient for most travel situations.
The only downside to the Allpa is its bulk when fully packed. It extends horizontally off the back rather than vertically, which can make it less attractive and harder to close. Despite this, it is still an excellent choice for a short trip or any other travel adventure.
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REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 Pack
Price: $149 | Weight: 2 lbs. 13.5 oz. | Fabric: Nylon 210D | Capacities: 18, 28, 40, 60L
Stowaway Strap Panel, Hip Belt, Sternum Strap, Side Handles, U Zip Opening, Laptop Sleeve, Vented Back Panel, Compression Straps, Exterior Loops, Mesh Panels For Organization, Hydration or Laptop Compartment, Trekking Pole Attachment, Lockable Zippers
- Suspension System
- Hiking Pack Features
- REI Guarantee
- Compression Straps
- Zip Away Straps
- Rain-fly Placement
- Stiff Side Pockets
The REI Co-op Ruckpack is a versatile carry-on backpack that is perfect for travelers who want to blend the features of a hiking pack with the convenience of a travel bag. Its robust suspension system and features like a laptop compartment, hydration reservoir, rain cover, and trekking pole straps can handle everything from short hikes to multi-day backpacking trips.
Available in three sizes (28L, 40L, or 60L), the REI Co-op Ruckpack offers plenty of room for all of your belongings. The 60L size is too large to be carry-on compliant unless it’s empty. Its lie-flat feature and large zip opening make it easy to access everything you need, and its sleek design makes it suitable for city hopping and adventure travel.
If you’re planning a trip on the Camino De Santiago or any other adventure-filled journey, the REI Co-op Ruckpack is a terrific choice for a carry-on backpack.
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Tortuga outbreaker Backpack
MSRP: $349 | Weight: 5 lbs 1 oz. | Capacities: 35L, 45L
Front Loading Panel, Two Front Pockets, Hip Belt, Sternum Straps, Two External Water Bottle Pockets, Suspension System, Internal Mesh Pockets, Laptop Pocket, Top Pocket With Key Lanyard, Water Resistant Material, Height Adjustable
- Excellent Suspension
- Roomy Interior
- Internal Organization
- High Quality
- Quick Access Pockets
- Bulky Style
- Stiff Exterior Material
Tortuga’s Outbreaker carry-on backpack is a top-quality travel backpack with features and innovative design elements. Its boxy shape and durable, water-resistant exterior material give it a sleek and stylish look, while its excellent suspension system ensures a comfortable carry.
One of the standout features of the Outbreaker is its front-loading panel, which makes it easy to access the main compartment and its well-organized interior. The main compartment includes a top mesh panel pocket and side pockets for easy organization of essentials like socks and underwear, and packing cubes can help maximize the bag’s capacity.
The Outbreaker comes in two sizes that comply with carry-on requirements for most airlines: the “international” 35L and the “USA” 45L. While the 45L size is perfect for use internationally, the smaller size is an excellent choice for those who must adhere strictly to carry-on size limits. Overall, the Tortuga Outbreaker is an ideal carry-on backpack that will surely be a hit with any traveler.
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eBags TLS Mother Lode
MSRP: $119 | Weight: 3 lb. 15 oz. | Capacities: 45L
Laptop Sleeve, Tablet Sleeve, Sternum Strap, Clamshell Opening, Two Exterior Pockets, Compression Straps, Top Handle, Side Handle, Bottom Handle,
- Great Price
- Multiple Compartments
- Lots of Organization
- Cheaper Materials
The eBags carry-on backpack is a spacious and well-organized travel backpack that is perfect for trips. While it may not be the most comfortable or stylish option on the market, its affordable price makes it an excellent value for a carry-on-compliant backpack.
The eBags backpack has a roomy interior that opens like a clamshell suitcase, making it easy to access your belongings. Its multiple compartments and organization features, as well as a laptop sleeve, help keep everything organized and within reach. While the flimsy straps may not be ideal for extended periods of carrying, they are sufficient for most travel situations.
Overall, the eBags carry-on backpack is a solid choice for travelers who need a spacious and functional bag at a budget-friendly price. While its appearance may not be to everyone’s taste, its practicality and well-thought-out design make up for it.
Check Prices From eBags Mother Lode
Nomatic 40L Travel Bag
MSRP: $289 | Weight: 3.42 lbs. | Material: Tarpaulin | Size: 40L
Laptop Sleeve, Tablet Sleeve, Sternum Strap, Duffel Bag Carry, Nomatic Travel Accessories, Theft Deterrent Zippers, Tech Pocket, Water Bottle Pocket, Phone Pocket With Cord Pass Through, Luggage Pass Through, Laundry Bag, Separate Shoe Compartment,
- Excellent Organization
- Carry-On Size
- Tech Focused Design
- Super High-Quality
- Smart Carry Feature
- Organization Consumes Bag Interior Space
- Not Great For Extended Travel
The Nomatic Travel Bag is a versatile carry-on backpack that is perfect for short trips or as a support bag for extended journeys. Its patented strap system allows it to convert into a duffel bag, and its pass-through system for attaching to the handle of a wheeled suitcase makes for seamless travel.
The bag’s exterior is made of tarpaulin material, providing water and abrasion resistance. The backpack features various pockets and organization features, including a top pocket, laundry bag, phone pocket, water bottle pocket, side panel for electronics, shoe pocket, and laptop/tablet sleeve.
Nomatic also offers a suite of accessory bags to help travelers create a customized organization system. At 40L, the Nomatic Travel Bag is best suited for 3-5 day one-bag trips, and its sleek design and intelligent features make it an excellent choice for business travelers and backpackers alike.
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Topo Designs Travel Bag
MSRP: $229 | Weight: 3 lbs. 1o oz. | Capacities: 30L, 40L
Front Loading Panel, Two Front Pockets, Hip Belt, Sternum Straps, Suspension System, Internal Mesh Pockets, Laptop Pocket, Water Resistant Material,
- Organization Pockets
- Laptop Sleeve
- Heavy Zippers
- No Water Bottle Holder
- Mixed Support
Topo Designs launched their latest pack, the Travel Bag, and it’s a slam dunk for a carry-on backpack. The interior features a double zipper U-entry, one large compartment, a medium-sized compartment, two small pockets, and two mesh pockets. The exterior features a rear laptop sleeve, a front compartment with organization and U-entry, a vertical pocket with organization, and external loops.
The exterior is heavy-duty nylon, and the bag uses robust zippers that are the best we’ve seen on a travel backpack, albeit a bit clunky. Regarding suspension, it has side handles on both sides of the bag, a detachable shoulder strap, and straps with a hip belt and sternum strap. The support and straps are detachable and stored inside a zippered compartment for travel.
It’s a decent size at 40L and should be enough for minimalistic travelers in one season for multiple weeks. If you’re an adventure seeker and like to hike, the support system is lacking compared to top-loading packs. The colors and style are better suited for younger travelers, depending on your style.
They offer a black if you prefer a more neutral bag, we have the olive color pictured above. It’s loaded with features and space and has a lifetime guarantee. I love this pack and have taken it on several trips to Europe and Asia.
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Why Use A Carry-On Backpack?
A carry-on backpack is a convenient and practical choice for travelers, offering a range of benefits, including reduced stress, time savings, cost savings, and increased comfort.
Whether you’re a frequent traveler or just taking a short trip, a carry-on backpack is worth considering. Here are a few key reasons to consider choosing a carry-on backpack over traditional luggage:
There is Less Stress With Carry On Backpacks
One of the main advantages of using a carry-on backpack is the reduced stress that comes with not having to worry about checked baggage. There’s always a risk that your checked bag could be lost or delayed, which can significantly inconvenience you and cause unnecessary stress. With a carry-on backpack, you have the peace of mind of knowing that your belongings are always with you.
Another benefit of using a carry-on backpack is the time you’ll save. By not having to wait in line to check your bag and then wait at baggage claim, you can quickly gain an hour or more on each flight. It is beneficial when you’re short on time to catch a connecting flight or want to enjoy your destination as quickly as possible.
Carry On Backpacks Save Money
Using a carry-on backpack can also save you money on checked baggage fees, which are becoming increasingly common even on international flights. These fees can add up quickly, especially if you take multiple flights.
In addition to the cost savings, using a carry-on backpack can save you money on transportation costs by eliminating the need to hire a taxi to transport heavy luggage. This all means you save more money for future trips!
Finally, carrying a backpack can be more comfortable than lugging a heavy suitcase. With a pack, the weight is evenly distributed across your back and shoulders, making it easier to carry for extended periods. It is handy if you’ll be doing a lot of walking during your travels.
Features to Consider When Choosing a Carry-on Backpack
When it comes to selecting a carry-on backpack, there are a few key features to consider to ensure you choose a bag that meets your needs and preferences. These include size, comfort, value, organization, and capacity.
By considering these key features, you can find the perfect carry-on backpack for your travels. Whether you’re a frequent traveler or just taking a short trip.
Size is a crucial factor when choosing a carry-on backpack, as you’ll need to ensure the bag meets the size restrictions set by airlines. In addition to size regulations, you’ll want to consider whether the backpack can fit comfortably on your back.
The size of the bag will also impact the number of items you can pack, so it’s essential to consider the length of your trip and the amount of stuff you’ll need to bring. The sweet spot for a carry-on backpack is 40-45L. It’s enough room to pack for almost any trip, but remain compliant with most airline regulations.
Comfort is another critical factor to consider when choosing a carry-on backpack. If you plan to carry the bag around the city or go on a hike with it, you’ll want a well-designed bag that fits comfortably on your back.
More comfortable bags tend to come with a higher price tag, so it’s essential to weigh the importance of comfort against your budget and intended use. If you are mainly using the bag to get from the airport to your hotel, a cheaper bag with fewer comfort features may be a good choice.
Value is a consideration that depends on your intended use and budget. A cheaper backpack may have fewer features and be less durable, but it may be sufficient for your needs if you use it sparingly.
On the other hand, a higher-end backpack with more features and durability may be worth the investment if you use the bag frequently or for more demanding activities. It’s essential to consider the long-term value of the pack when making your decision.
Organization is another crucial factor to consider when choosing a carry-on backpack. Look for a bag with multiple pockets and compartments to help you keep your belongings organized and easily accessible. Consider your travel style and the types of items you’ll be packing when selecting a bag with the right level of organization. If you pack many small items or electronic devices, you’ll want a bag with more pockets and compartments to keep everything organized and easy to find.
Finally, consider the capacity of the carry-on backpack when making your selection. The bag’s capacity refers to the amount of stuff it can hold. Consider the length of your trip and the number of items you’ll need to bring when selecting a bag with a suitable capacity.
A roomier bag with more capacity may be a good choice if you are away for an extended period or need to bring many items. A smaller backpack may be sufficient for shorter trips or if you’re a minimalist traveler.
Plan Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Credit Card: If you’re a responsible credit card user, I highly recommend looking at these travel rewards credit cards and earning points and miles for your purchases
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Rent a Car: We use Discover Cars to find the best deals on car rentals. See our rental car tips here.
- Travel Adapter – Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Shoes – Allbirds are the ultimate travel shoe. They are sustainable and last forever while looking good. Read our full Allbirds review.