Best Carry On Backpacks to Help You Pack Smart

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Best Carry On Backpacks

Finding the best carry-on backpack for your next trip is crucial. After three years of full-time travel, we’ve tested a lot of different carry on backpacks. I’ve traveled with a backpack on countless flights, buses, metro systems, trains, and taxis. In that time I’ve found that perfect backpack is invaluable.

These backpacks best serve travelers who do not want to waste the time or money of checking a bag. The right carry on backpack means you can breeze through TSA, board your flight, and hit the next destination with ease. Nothing can make a trip more laborious than arriving at the airport unprepared or having the wrong baggage. These carry on specific backpacks are designed for the modern day traveler. We love that many of packs on this list feature front-loading designs. With a front loader, you can easily sort your luggage and it makes packing and unpacking a breeze

However, there are loads of different airline approved backpacks out there, but which do you go with? In this post, I share what to look for in a great bag and reveal the best bags currently on the market.

Best Carry on Backpack Picks

The decision is not easy, but I’ve compiled the list below for you to quickly jump to a pack that catches your eye. Or read on to help make your decision about what piece of luggage to use on your next trip.

Best Carry On Backpacks

Osprey Farpoint 40L

I’ve talked about the Farpoint 55L before on this best travel backpacks post; however, the 55L is too big to be carry-on approved. In comes, the 40 liters sized version of the bag.

It’s probably one of the best travel bags out there. Extremely versatile and fully capable of being carried around on a back in length. The side handle of the bag is an added bonus, making it easy to grab out of an overhead bin and carry it off of a plane. Osprey is one of my favorite backpack companies because of their All Mighty Guarantee.

Check the prices here!

Cabin Max Metz Backpack

This pack comes in at 44 liters and is designed for European travel. The pack was specifically designed to adhere to European carry-on baggage requirements.This means it is slightly too big for the American market, but you’ll likely have no problems carrying the bag on U.S. flights since it is not a hard bag. It’s a cheap bag that is well reviewed and surprisingly well constructed.

The bag is designed similar to a traditional suitcase, which is its greatest strength and weakness. My only complaint is that it is a hideously designed bag, but it does sell for less than $50. If you care about style or fashion, don’t bother with this carry on backpack.

Check the prices here!

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Cinch Pack

This bag brings some great minimalist aspects along with a tough weatherproof design. You could use this as your go to bag for short jaunts on the plane, as a daypack or throw it in your luggage to bring back some souvenirs at the end of your trip. I love bringing backpacks like this to carry on the plane as I return home or decide to take a day trip. It is more of a daypack, but I still love it as a carry on backpack.

Check the prices here!

eBag TLS Mother Lode

This bag is described as spacious with plenty of organization to boot. It’s an easy contention for one of the best carry-on bags around if not for its comfortability. However, as I talked about previously there is no one solution fits all in finding a bag.

This bag is tremendous for those looking to have a great bag to carry on the plane and then onto their hotel. I wouldn’t plan on spending a few hours with the pack on because it may become uncomfortable.

Check the prices here!

Kelty Redwing Backpack

This is the pack for those on the go or the more adventurous we would say. If you plan to hop off the plane and then go for a hike this is likely the bag for you.

Kelty along with my favorite bag brand, Osprey build packs that are meant to last and hold up the elements. So, the price tag on this bag is about double that of the previous two bags. However, it comes with quality, comfort, and a good warranty.

Check the prices here!

Timbuk2 Uptown Travel Backpack

We don’t always want a utilitarian bag. However, this bag is super stylish and we love its features like a dedicated laptop sleeve. It’s a full package as I like the style, organization, comfort, and size of this bag. That dedicated laptop sleeve also unfolds from the backpack for quick access in the TSA security line.

However, if you decide to go this route there are a plethora of stylish bags to choose from. Granted these bags tend to be less practical with less organization and nonwaterproof exterior.

Check the prices here!

Osprey DayLite

This backpack rocks. It’s slim, lightweight, durable, and it’s designed to clip on to a full-size pack. With two mesh pockets for water bottles and an inner pouch for a water bladder, it’s also easy to stay hydrated with this pack. That photo earlier with me and this bag hiking through Turkey are why I love this bag.

It carries weight, like most ospreys, really well. Even though the straps are slim I regularly carry six-eight kgs in it all day never notice the weight on my back. It’s smaller than most of the bags on this list, but if you’re looking for a great carry-on bag that can double as a daypack this is the one for you. If you’re wondering I can fit my 13″ Mac Air inside too.

Check the prices here!

Helly Hansen Duffel 2

If you’re looking for the best value on this list of duffels bags for travel then the Helly Hansen is for you.  The Helly Hansen Duffel 2 is easily my favorite bag on the market and the one I currently carry. The sleek design and 30L size means it can easily fit in most overhead compartments.

It’s an easy to pack bag and should be able to handle a few short trips. The Helly Hansen is waterproof and looks sharp. However, it’s slightly heavy and could definitely be constructed just a tad bit better. It’s not the toughest or best-constructed duffel bag, but you do get a lot of bag for not much money.

Check the prices here!

Burton Day Hiker

I love multi-functional products so the Burton Day Hiker is a slam dunk for me. We’re big into snowboarding so I needed a pack to wear while on the slopes, but I can’t carry a dedicated bag while traveling. The Day Hiker serves as a bag perfect for the slopes with a carrying strap for a snowboard, but it also has features like a laptop sleeve, multiple pockets, a roomy interior, and water bottle holders. It was designed by Burton to serve as a slope to the street backpack that way you can use the pack year round.

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35L Flight Approved Backpack by Standard Luggage Co.

This minimalist 35L travel backpack is the perfect carry on for those looking to pack everything needed for their trip. It’s not flashy or complicated, but the simple design is the perfect bag for travel needs. With a clever design, the bag can expand to 45 liters from 35 thanks to an expandable zipper. My favorite aspect of this bag is that is designed to open like a clamshell suitcase making for easy access. For digital nomads or business travelers, the removable laptop sleeve serves as a great asset. Other great features include a top and side handle, compression straps and two exterior pockets.

Check the prices here!

Eagle Creek Global Companion 40L Backpack

This is a great backpack from Eagle Creek. They’ve specialized in travel products for a while now. The bag has a plethora of pockets and even a special one for shoes in the bottom of the bag. It’s another great version of a clamshell-style backpack which provides easy access to your luggage. Other features include lockable zippers and a rain cover for bad weather.

Check the prices here!

Tortuga Setout Travel Backpack


This is the bag I am currently carrying. It’s been one of my favorite bags I’ve ever carried and it’s been wonderful with our snowboard season as dealing with a snowboard bag is already a pain in the butt. The bag is about 40 liters in size with a front loading compartment and several compartments. The compartments are well thought out with room for my socks, toiletries, electronics, and essentials. The bags highlights for me include a padded laptop sleeve, detachable straps if you decide to check the bag, and convenient side handle. To only sweeten the deal it’s one of the best looking backpacks on this list.

Check the prices here!

Features in a Carry-on Backpack

There are five things to consider when purchasing a new backpack. That is size, comfort, value, organization, and capacity. Size in regards to the exterior size of the bag, which is number one when it comes to adhering to airline carry-on luggage rules. Comfort because you’re going to be wearing this bag, so if you have any plans to be walking around comfort is crucial.

It’s no secret that everyone loves a good value, but with certain items, it pays off to go to the top of the line items. It all really comes down to the intended use and your budget. The organization, by this I mean pockets and compartments. Does it have 30? Or does it have one? Both numbers are a bit exaggerated but can be crucial depending on your travel style and what you plan to carry on the plane, like a drone and electronics.


When it comes to selecting your bag this is rule numero uno. Selecting a bag that adheres to size regulations for carry-on backpacks is all that matters, otherwise, you’re checking your bag. Game Over. The size of your bag goes beyond adhering to airline regulations. You should consider whether the backpack will slide under the seat in front of you, or whether the bag will fit comfortably on your back.


Do you plan to carry your bag around the city or even hike with it? Then you’re going to want a bag that is well designed and fits on your back. I knew a comfortable backpack was crucial for me. However, these bags tend to come with a higher price tag. If your travel plans are more in the realm of off the plane and straight to the hotel then a cheaper bag with less comfort may be ideal for you. Leaves more money for a splashier hotel room too. For example, a camel ride requires a lot of added comfort.


Comfort value is all up to the intended use. How long does this pack need to last? Does comfort matter? Are you going to beat it to death? What are you going to pack for it? Is your boss or a client going to see you carrying this bag? Or does it just need to make it from point A to point B? A cheaper bag typically means fewer features and less durability. While the higher end bags can break a budget; however, going with a well-constructed product is never a bad idea if you can afford.


As the list of must-have-items continues to grow so do the number of compartments in our backpacks. You should have in mind how you will stay organized with what you intend to carry in your backpack. We knew that a good backpack with sufficient organization to carry a drone, laptop, and camera was needed. It was difficult and ended up costing us more, but at the end of the day, we have everything we need from my carry-on backpack. Had I gone with just the other four points I would have been disappointed.


The capacity of the bag refers to how much you can fit inside the bag. Size should be considered with how long the trip will or whether the backpack is intended to compliment checked luggage.

What Type of Traveler Are You?

At the end of the day, the pack you choose is all about what type of traveler you are. Are you a minimalist? A Techie? Stylish? Are you planning to just use your carry-on to travel with for three days or three weeks? The biggest piece of advice is to remember what it is you want and search until you find it. I hope one of these carry-on backpacks points you in the right direction for your luggage needs.


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