How to Choose the Best Carry on Backpacks for Travel

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Choosing from the best carry on backpacks out on the market can be difficult, given a large number of products out there, each with their own different styles, branding, and capabilities.

There is a lot to consider to ensure that you are getting the best value for your money and are purchasing a carry on that will suit your needs and last longer than just a few trips.

Deciding which is the right carry on for you will depend on a range of factors, such as your style of travel, what you need to take on a trip with you, what activities you’ll be pursuing when you are away and even what airline you are flying with.

We’ve put together this guide on the best carry on backpacks out there, to help you decide what are the most important factors you need to consider and which style of bag is best for you.

Top 5 Best Carry on Backpacks

Best Carry on BackpacksPacsafe Venturesafe Exp45 Backpack
- 3.81 lbs
- 21.65"H x 13.78"W x 8.66"D
- Comes in Black or Blue
- 4.8 Rating out of 5
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Best Carry on BackpacksSwiss Gear SA1186 Bungee Backpack
- 1 lbs
- 13.5"H x 18.5"W x 5.8"D
- Comes in Black
- 4.4 Rating out of 5
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Best Carry on BackpacksOsprey Porter 46 Backpack
- 3 lbs
- 23"H x 15"W x 13"D
- Comes in Black, Red, Grey, Teal
- 4.7 Rating out of 5
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Best Carry on BackpackseBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Backpack
- 3.85 lbs
- 22"H X 14"W X 9"D
- Comes in Blue, Black, Purple, Red, Teal
- 4.7 Rating out of 5
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Best Carry on BackpacksThe North Face Borealis Backpack
- 2.6 lbs
- 19.7"H x 8.7"W x 13.6"D
- Comes in Black
- 4.6 Rating out of 5

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Quick Answer: Best Carry on Backpacks

Things to Consider When Choosing A Carry On Backpack

Your Travel Style

Best Carry on Backpacks - streets of Stockholm

There are a lot of different bag styles to choose from, and an important factor in choosing from the best carry on backpacks is to figure out your own travel style.

If you are just traveling away from home for a few days on a short city break, then you might just need a small backpack that can hold a change of clothes and a camera, and that will be comfortable to wear as you walk from sight to sight.

If you love photography, you will need a carry on that can protect your gear and that will be secure from pickpockets.

If you’re on a business trip, you might require something larger to hold your laptop or even your suit, and a duffel bag or wheeled suitcase might even be more appropriate than a traditional backpack.

You need to consider how long you will be away, will you be hiking, will you be outdoors and do you have valuables to protect?

Once you’ve broken down what exactly you need the bag to hold, and how you are traveling, then you can start looking for the best carry on backpacks to actually purchase.

Airline Restrictions

Train station in Europe with carry on bags

Unfortunately, airline restrictions are constantly changing, and weight limits and sizes are always in flux. One rule today, might be completely different in a year’s time.

Different airlines have different rules when it comes to carry-on backpacks, and you’ll need to double-check your flight’s specific restrictions before you head to the airport.

You will also want to check before you make any purchases, particularly if you are flying with budget airlines, as their rules tend to be the most restrictive.

Many European airlines such as Ryanair for example – even have different ranges depending on the size of the bag you wish to place in the overhead compartment.

We can not say this enough, Not all airlines have the same carry on bag size limits. JetBlue and Southwest, for example, allow bigger bags that measure at most 24 inches long, 16 inches wide and 10inches high.

Where United the maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels. Delta passenger carry-on’s should not exceed 45 linear inches (22 x 14 x 9 in) or 115 centimeters (56 x 36 x 23 cm) including handles and wheels.

What Size Carry On Do You Need?

Hiking in China with camera bag

The size will likely be the most integral factor when it comes to choosing from the best carry on backpacks.

Make sure the size you choose complies with airline requirements, and remember too that carry-ons not only have dimension specifications but weight restrictions too, so don’t overpack because many airlines will check this too.

If you are traveling on a short trip, then you may find that a 20-liter rucksack will be a suitable sized carry on for your needs.

If you are traveling on a long trip and only want hand luggage to save on costs, then depending on your airline of choice, you may even be able to take on board anything up to 40 or even 50 liters.


carry on bag in the Galapagos Islands

You may also want to consider the type of material your bag is manufactured from. If you want a bag that lasts, then you may want to invest more money into a brand that makes use of stronger, more durable fabrics, particularly if you want to use the bag on multiple trips or are looking to take it hiking or on long term travels.

If you have laptops or camera equipment, then you will want a material that is sturdy and that provides protection against knocks and bumps. You will want to decide between softshell and hardshell bags, depending on how much protection you need your luggage to actually have.

Recently, you’ll even find some of the best carry-on backpacks are made from waterproof material, and some even act as enclosed dry bags, which can be perfect if you have electronics equipment or are heading to the coast, or island hopping.

You may also want to consider if your bag has a built-in rain cover, or if you can attach one separately. This will be particularly useful if you are using it outdoors once you arrive at your destination.


Best Carry on Backpacks

Security will always be a big factor when it comes to traveling and choosing the best carry on backpacks.

While you will never be able to stop the most determined thief, some of the best carry on backpacks will be designed with security in mind, be it with hard to reach inside pockets where you can keep your valuable documents, or even being made from slash proof fabrics.

You’ll want to minimize the number of zippers, and if possible, purchase a bag that you can securely lock with a padlock.

How Many Pockets Do You Need?

Hiking in the Amazon

Different bags come in different shapes and sizes and with differing numbers of pockets, and for some, this can be a make or break factor when considering a purchase.

Do you need separate pockets for toiletries, or to keep dirty clothes away from your clean ones? Do you want hidden pockets, do you need a pocket just for your laptop?

Do you want a water bottle pocket on the outside to make your drink easy to reach? There are endless designs, but figuring out how many pockets and how much separation you need will help you when choosing the best carry on backpacks.

Hiking Bags

Hiking in the Chilean Antiplano

Small hiking bags can be a great choice when it comes to the best carry on backpacks, particularly if you intend to backpack or undertake outdoor activities.

Many of these will have chest or waist harnesses to take the weight off your shoulders, and they are incredibly durable and easy to carry around.

Many will also have expandable pockets, allowing you to increase or decrease the overall size of the bag depending on how much you want to carry around, which can be a great and versatile feature for diverse travelers.

Duffel Bags and Kit Bags

carry on backpack in Fiji

If you don’t need to hike around with your kit, then a great alternative to hiking rucksacks can be duffel bags and kit bags.

These tend to be more flexible in shape and size but just as durable, and easier to access and to pack. Many kit bags these days are perfect carry-ons, coming in a range of capacities and sizes. Many are often weatherproof, and bags designed by outdoor companies can even be fully waterproof.

While they all have the traditional sling straps that you place across your shoulder, it’s increasingly common to find kit bags that can also be worn as rucksacks too, making them an excellent and utilitarian option to purchase.

Wheeled Bags and Suitcases

luggage at the airport

Many wheeled suitcases are designed to meet airlines’ overhead, carry on specifications, but as noted, these can always change rapidly.

These can be suitable if you are traveling on business, or just intending on wheeling your luggage from the airport to a hotel room, and can be great options for short term travelers.

You’ll also find that some wheeled bags also have the option of being rucksacks too these days, meaning you can have the best of both worlds.

The Best Carry On Backpacks – Our Recommendations

There are hundreds of great bags on the market when it comes to choosing a carry on, but to give you just a few quality options to inspire your purchases, here are some excellent backpacks to suit a range of requirements.

Hiking in Norway


Best Carry on Backpacks

Osprey makes some of the best hiking bags in the business, and their traditional rucksacks, which come in a variety of different capacities, have long been favorites among backpackers for their great warranties, durability and, comfortable designs.

Osprey also makes more specific bags aimed at being utilized as carry-ons including the incredibly versatile Farpoint, which comes in a 40-liter variant that’s perfect for being stored in the overhead compartment and for traveling with.

Our Top Recommended Osprey Carry On Backpacks:

North Face

Best Carry on Backpacks

North Face is a tried and tested outdoor brand that always delivers on quality, and their range of kit bags, although originally designed for expeditions, make for brilliant, lightweight and weatherproof carry-ons, when you purchase the smaller sized capacities, such as 40 or 50 liters.

They have multiple straps, allowing you to wear the bag over one shoulder or as a backpack.

Our Top Recommended North Face Carry On Backpacks:


Best Carry on Backpacks

Pacsafe is the original anti-theft backpack company that has over 20 years of innovation, millions of miles traveled. They have spent most of their lives traveling the world seeking out adventures from trekking through Asia, hitchhiking through Europe and sailing the high seas.

They are the pioneers and leaders of anti-theft technology for the traveler, with smart innovations that secure people’s valuables on the go.

The lockdown technology allows your bag to be easily locked to a pole/fixed anchor point so you can know your bag will stay where you want it as you explore worry-free.

The turn & lock security hook allows you to keep your bag safe from a snatch and grab that can happen while traveling. The full locking zipper system allows your bag to be 100% locked without the possibility of being opened all secured by Pacsafe’s cut resistant technology.

A good backpack for traveling can be hard to find but when you do find one it becomes part of you’re must-have travel gear that you cannot live without.

Our Pacsafe VentureSafe backpack has traveled around the world with us, it does not matter what adventure we go on our Pacsafe bag goes on it with us.

We love the carry-on size with a large main compartment for our travel essentials. The stretch pockets are a must for any traveler who carries a water bottle, and the adjustable shoulder strap, waist belt offer the comfort of a larger hiking bag build into a carry-on.

The straps can be stowed away for protecting during traveling. One thing I love about Pacsafe is that they only make travel bags, that’s their focus and their love. Pacsafe backpacks are built for every traveler.

Our Top Recommended Pacsafe Carry On Backpacks:


Best Carry on Backpacks

eBags recognizes that every travel journey is unique. Whether a traveler is exploring a city in Europe, trekking Machu Picchu, cruising the Caribbean or off on a business trip in NYC, their carry on bags is as unique as their journey.

eBags has quickly become America’s #1 online bag and luggage store building travel bags around the traveler’s needs while selling some of the most popular brands on their website.

Off of customer reviews and their research on the most popular brands, they convert those bags into a more affordable travel bag under their eBags name. So if you are looking for a great quality carry on backpack for the quarter of the price, you’ll need to check out what eBags has to offer.

Our Top Recommended eBags Carry On Backpacks:

Timbuk 2

Best Carry on Backpacks

Timbuk 2 bags was founded in 1989 by a bike messenger who taught himself to sew custom made classic messenger bags.

From there the rest is history, today they make premium backpacks for work, travel and the weekend in laptop backpacks, carry on backpacks, briefcases, messenger bags, and totes for 9 – to – 5s or side hustles.

All carry on bags are designed to give you maximum flexibility for your daily adventures. Hoof it or bike it, carry it all and look good doing it is Timbuk 2’s motto. Timbuk 2 offers a lifetime warranty on all bags.

Our Top Recommended Timbuk 2 Carry On Backpacks:


Best Carry on Backpacks

Tortuga is a great brand that produces backpacks specifically designed as a carry on bag and made to measure to certain airline rules and requirements.

Their sleek designs are stylish, and also offer a great level of protection and plenty of different pockets and compartments to keep all your clothing and gear incredibly well organized.

Check Out The Top Recommended Tortuga Carry On Backpacks Today

Other Carry On Items We Love

Not finding what you are looking for? Check out our favorite places to go shopping for travel gear.

  • Shop Columbia – The industry leader in outdoor apparel and products; You can find anything from great jackets, gloves, hats, shirts, and travel pants.
  • Shop REI – They offer some of the best outdoor gear around. We love REI since they have a year Love it or hate it no questions guarantee.
  • Shop Moosejaw – Has a huge selection of outdoor gear at killer prices.

More on Travel Gear:

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About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.

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2 thoughts on “How to Choose the Best Carry on Backpacks for Travel”

  1. I just get the cheapest one.
    Preferably one of those given away by free, with some company’s or school district’s logo on it.

  2. I prefer carrying a backpack instead of a suitcase. I prefer to travel light. And less hassle when traveling too. I purchased an Osprey Fairview last week 🙂


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