17 Best Carry-On Backpacks for One Bag Travel in 2019


Maybe you’re a one bag travel veteran, and you’re already readily aware of just how critical finding the best carry-on backpack is for your experiences on the road. Or perhaps you’re about to embark on your first trip, and you’re determined to travel the world with carry-on luggage only to relieve some of the nerves.

Whatever the case, sifting through the mountain of options out there is no easy task. Of course, many carry-on bag brands tout themselves as the be all end all. Which means that you’ve got more choices than toppings on a build-your-own pizza menu.

Except some people put pineapples on their pizza. And, in the same vein, not every carry-on is going to be the best carry-on backpack for you.

Do you want a top-loader or do you prefer a front-opening bag? How do you feel about a zippered, or velcro, or snap or drawstring closure? What size are you aiming for? Just how durable does this carry-on backpack really need to be?

From modular to minimalist, I’ve compiled the best carry-on backpacks for one bag travel on the market today. You’ll also find specific features and details to pay extra close attention to while making the decision that’s right for you.

What Is a Carry-On Backpack?

A carry-on backpack is a bag that you choose to bring onto the plane with you to stuff into an overhead bin or below the seat in front of you.

Now I know exactly what image comes to your mind when we talk about carry-on backpacks. The small, out-for-a-day pack that can hardly fit enough gear to get you through one night on the road. That’s not what we’re discussing here.

We’re talking about serious backpacks that can fit everything you need for your entire long-term trip in one place—and still meet airline carry-on restrictions that, airline depending, generally limit you to about 40 liters.

Typically, carry-on backpacks are 30 to 45 liters. Anything smaller is a regular backpack; anything larger you will likely have to check. That may not seem like a lot of room, but with the best carry-on backpack, it’s more than plenty of space.

Alternatively, if you want to bring a daypack, too, you can wear the carry-on backpack on your back and your personal item (your daypack) on your front. Most airlines will allow for one carry-on and one personal item, though this is not always the case for budget airlines that sometimes charge.

What Is One Bag Travel?

One bag travel refers to traveling with just one bag. Not one carry-on bag and a backpack but, rather, one bag for everything. In essence, one bag travel is all about traveling light.

One bag travel is arguably always preferable if possible.

This is because it limits the amount of stuff you have to lug around, which can be a huge (and literal) pain if you’re on the road for quite some time. You’ll also save money on checked baggage fees by carrying your luggage onto the plane with you. Likewise, you’ll save time without having to wait at baggage claim. And you’ll feel a heck of a lot better when you’re not carrying around a bunch of unnecessary items that you have to sift through every time you need to find anything.

With the freedom and flexibility that a single bag offers, you’ll be able to navigate planes, trains, and automobiles better than Steve Martin and John Candy ever could. One bag travel is perfect for backpacking Europe or Southeast Asia, for example.

That said, within your one bag, you should always stuff another packable daypack like the Cotopaxi Batac 16L, Arc’teryx Index or the Tortuga Setout Packable Daypack. This way, when you do go on day adventures, you don’t have to bring everything you own with you.

Backpacks vs. Rolling Luggage

Now that you’ve seen the light of one bag travel, what kind of single bag do you need? A backpack or a classic roller suitcase. There are situations in which either of these options is optimal.

A suitcase boasts a stiff construction that zips open all the way around. This means you can pack in a more organized manner, so your clothes will be easier to access and have, in theory, fewer wrinkles. Plus, rolling a suitcase through the airport is a lot less daunting than lugging a backpack on your back.

Until you hit stairs and curbs, and have to navigate through the city to find your accommodation. That’s when a backpack comes in handy. With a backpack, you’re free to go anywhere your legs take you. Just remember that what you gain in mobility, you also gain in effort as you are now carrying all that weight on your back.

All the more reason to get yourself the best carry-on backpack for comfort and fit to mitigate that extra burden.

Let’s dive into the best carry-on backpack options for every need.

The Best Carry-On Backpacks of 2019

Best Overall Carry-On Backpack

If you’re an organized traveler, the Peak Design Travel Bag is just what you need. Peak Design has been in the pack industry for years, and it places a special emphasis on photography-compatible bags. But don’t turn away if you’re not an avid photo taker.

There are pockets and sleeves galore in the 35 liters (expandable up to 45 liters). The laptop sleeve, hidden passport/document pocket, multiple mesh pockets and dividers all work together to make sure that every single piece of your gear is securely stowed. The side-access pockets and full-panel opening also ensure that all this gear is accessible, while the impressive weatherproof zippers and nylon keep everything dry.

The cons? Over-compartmentalization can sometimes limit the amount of gear you can bring if you’re continually trying to shoehorn items into dividers and pockets.

Still, while the overall design is a little boxy, this backpack will hold its shape and sit upright even when empty, which can be a pro or con depending on your travel style.

Pros  Cons
  • Impressive pocket and organizing system
  • Side access and full front panel opening
  • Collapsible design
  • Weatherproof
  • Comfortable and stash-able shoulder and hip belts
  • Bag style is capsule-like and an acquired taste
  • Over organizing may limit the amount of gear, as opposed to an open cavern bag design

Peak Design Travel Bag Specs:

Features Details

35L expands to 45L

Dimensions 21″ x 15″ x 5.75″
Weight 4.5lbs
Fabric 400D Nylon
Quality Great
Cost $$$


Best Carry-On Backpack for International Travel

Tortuga Outbreaker in blackNo bag can match space efficiency, durability or style that the Tortuga Outbreaker brings to the table. The front-loader main compartment makes this backpack pack just like a suitcase, and it has plenty of open space for all the clothes you could possibly need for a successful one bag travel jaunt. But you organizers out there needn’t worry; there are ample pockets for stowing gear, as well.

Gear such as laptops and tablets will find dedicated sleeves, while anything and everything from underwear to toothbrushes can find a home in one of the many accessory pockets. Plus, the nearly indestructible sailcloth exterior will stand up to all the rigors of international travel.

But what the sailcloth boasts in durability it lacks in rigidity. So all the space and compartments available to you can be a bit bulgy, especially if you’re an over-packer. Keep an eye on size, and utilize the padded shoulder straps and removable belt to distribute the extra heft this bag has.

Click here for my full Tortuga Outbreaker review.

Pros  Cons
  • Incredibly durable sailcloth material
  • Practically identical bag available in 35L and 45L
  • Intuitively organized pockets and sleeves
  • Plenty of open space for clothing storage
  • Can easily expand beyond official carry-on size restrictions with a lot of gear stuffing
  • A little on the heavy side

Tortuga Outbreaker Specs:

Features Details  



Dimensions 20.3″ x 12.9″ x 8.2″  22″ x 14″ x 9″
Weight 4.6lbs 5.1lbs 
Fabric Waterproof Sailcloth Waterproof Sailcloth 
Quality Superb  Superb 
Cost $$ $$$ 


Best Carry-On Hiking Backpack

Osprey Farpoint 55 in redFor hikers, this is absolutely the best travel backpack for carrying on. Osprey sets the gold-standard when it comes to hiking packs, and their Farpoint bag is an example of it. But, even if you’re more of a city traveler, this bag may be just what you need.

First of all, this bag is superbly comfortable. You’re in no way hefting a bulky box on your back, as Osprey’s finely tuned mesh hip and shoulder straps work in tandem with a low-profile frame to distribute the weight as evenly as possible.

The Farpoint’s proclivity for excellence continues with regards to space and organization. The full-front panel access makes stashing all your gear a breeze. You’ll even find a dedicated sleeve for your laptop and tablet amongst all the pockets, as well as a stash pocket on the stowable hip belt.

Pros  Cons
  • Detachable daypack that can function as “personal item” for flights
  • Osprey’s lifetime warranty
  • Rugged and comfortable design for hiking
  • Stylish enough for the trail or city travel
  • Much fewer internal pockets than competitors

Osprey Farpoint Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 55L w/ Detachable Daypack
Dimensions 25″ x 13″ x 12″
Weight 3.9lbs
Fabric 210D Nylon Ripstop
Quality Great
Cost  $


Best Carry-On Backpack for Women

Osprey Fairview 55 L in blackTake a look at the features for the Osprey Farpoint above, convert it to a bag designed for women, and you have the Fairview! This is a wonderfully versatile bag that shines on the trail, and it’s also a perfectly sound option for city travel. The bag is truly chock full of handy, intuitive and useful features.

Osprey’s incredibly comfortable mesh shoulder and hip belt make toting this bag over pavement or dusty trails simple, and the hip belt even has its own stash pocket when needed. The bag material itself is also designed for durability and its ripstop nylon should hold up to everything from airport jostling to rocky adventures, and still look good for your occasional city visits.

The Fairview is in fact sleek enough to look at home for any and all city travel that you have on your itinerary – especially the ‘misty grey’ color- whether you use it as a whole or detach the daypack for a jaunt. That handy little daypack boosts the overall bag capacity from 40 to 55 liters and is easily detachable to serve as your “personal item.”

Pros  Cons
  • Detachable day pack
  • Osprey lifetime warranty
  • Very comfortable and durable design for hiking
  • Sleek design that works well for city travel
  • Fewer internal pockets for organization than other bags

Osprey Fairview Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 55L w/ Detachable Daypack
Dimensions 24.6″ x 13″ x 11.8″
Weight 3.8lbs
Fabric 210D Nylon Ripstop
Quality Great
Cost $


Best Carry-On Backpack for Men

Aer Travel Pack 2 in blackStylishly designed, intuitively organized and thoughtfully furnished, you’ll find a spot for just about everything you need for a successful trip in the Aer Travel Pack 2. Aer already proved their bag design prowess in the original travel pack, and have truly outdone themselves to bring you this gem.

First off, the organization in this pack is absolutely first-class. The main compartment functions perfectly for clothing and related items, while your smaller items can find a home in one of the many pockets provided in the dedicated organization panel. Everything from your laptop to your shoes can fit in the dedicated 13″-computer sleeve or shoe compartment.

All this organization comes wrapped in the tried and true Cordura material that will withstand travel to every corner of the planet. Aer has, however, presented this durability in a sleek envelope that, while perhaps a little boxy for some tastes, will feel right at home in the urban landscape.

Take note here: This is just for urban travel and not designed to hit trails or mountain tops. Please also note that, at 33 liters, it’s a little on the small side compared to other backpacks on this list, so you’ll have to pack very meticulously.

Pros  Cons
  • Fantastic organization
  • Dedicated shoe compartment
  • Sleek and stylish design
  • Very organized interior
  • Phenomenal durability
  • Capacity is smaller than other packs
  • Exclusively designed for urban travel, not a suitable hiking bag

Aer Travel Pack 2 Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 33L
Dimensions 21.5″ x 13.5″ x 8.5″
Weight 3.7lbs
Fabric 1680D Cordura
Quality Superb
Cost  $$


Best Carry-On Laptop Backpack

Nomatic Travel Bag straps view

Digital nomad on the road? The Nomatic Travel Bag is designed with you in mind. From laptop, tablet and electronics pockets aplenty to a sleek and durable exterior, this is the perfect bag to take your career on the road.

Let’s start with the obvious: electronics space. The padded laptop sleeve can accommodate any computer up to 15 inches, and there’s an adjacent smaller sleeve for your tablet. The bag also features a dedicated compartment full of pockets for other electronics.

The dark side to storing all your electronics in one bag is, of course, the danger of leaking fluids or petty thievery. But Nomatic tackles this. For any water bottles, toothpastes, sun screen etc., Nomatic has provided a slick waterproof internal pocket. As for security, the zippers to the main and laptop compartment are partially hidden to prevent easy access to your valuables. On top of that, these features are wrapped up in in a very sturdy duraflex tarpaulin material that is hardwearing and weather resistant.

However, the primary back panel is, for a reason unbeknownst to me, a different material that can allow some water to seep in. This is a distinct negative that can compromise your bag’s weatherproofing, so be aware before laying your bag down on a wet surface.

Pros  Cons
  • Packable laundry bag
  • RFID blocking pocket
  • Dedicated shoe compartment
  • Internal waterproof pocket
  • Very space efficient
  • Boxy shape can be an acquired taste
  • Back panel utilizes material that is not weather proof

Nomatic Travel Bag Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 40L
Dimensions 21″ x 14″ x 9″
Weight 4.45lbs
Fabric Duraflex Tarpaulin
Quality Superb
Cost $$


Best Lightweight Carry-On Backpack

Topo Designs Travel Bag in navyThe Topo Designs Travel Bag has massive amounts of storage, organizational pockets, nicely padded shoulder straps, all armored in durable and water repellent nylon clocks in at only 3.65 pounds.

The full-front opening reveals a spacious main compartment where you can easily stash all the clothes you need for an extended stint abroad. But additional mesh pockets and a dedicated organization compartment are both ideals for storing everything from toiletries to socks.

Have more delicate or valuable items such as computers or laptops? The dedicated laptop sleeve can fit up to a 15″ computer, and the security pockets are great for passports and other important documents. Even more on the security front are the heavy duty YKK zippers plus security loop that can easily be locked up for your travel days.

Again, however, the con is that over-compartmentalization can complicate packing.

Pros  Cons
  • Excellent water repellent finish
  • Lightweight for such a large bag
  • Duffle strap for versatile carrying
  • Load lifter straps
  • Some color options are a little overt

Topo Designs Travel Bag Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 40L
Dimensions 22″ x 16″ x 11″
Weight 3.65lbs
Fabric 1000D Nylon
Quality Great
Cost $$


Best Small Carry-On Backpack

Tortuga Setout DivideIf you scoff at large bags and all the extra items that you don’t need, then the sleek, brilliantly designed and expandable space that the Tortuga Setout Divide offers makes it the best carry-on backpack for you.

The expanded 34-liter space is divided between the main compartment, additional organizational pockets and a 15″ max laptop sleeve. (Did I mention that the brilliant false bottom in the laptop compartment will protect your computer from any impact?) And, once you reach your destination, you can simply unload your gear, zip up the internal compression zipper and, viola, you have a sleek 26-liter bag for day to day excursions.

But contradicting this plus is the strange design decision to include a hip belt for such a small, slim, bag and, at the same time, exclude weatherproof zippers. These two design drawbacks, however, don’t overly detract from bag’s overall winner characteristics.

Pros  Cons
  • Expandable from 26 to 34L
  • Hidden water bottle pocket
  • Very sleek and minimalist exterior
  • False-bottom laptop compartment
  • No weather proof zippers
  • A hip belt is a little overkill for such a small bag

Tortuga Setout Divide Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 26L expands to 34L
Dimensions 20″ x 13″ x 6″
Weight 3.8lbs
Fabric 900D Polyester
Quality Great
Cost $


Best Durable Carry-On Backpack

Cotopaxi Allpa in blackIf you foresee excessive rain, mud or rough bag handlers, including yourself, in your traveling future, then feast your eyes on the Cotopaxi Allpa 35. This sturdy little bag is sure to stand up to even the roughest treatment, and the interior is meticulously organized to make packing easy.

TPU coated 1000 Denier Polyester is certainly nothing to sneer at. It will hold up to drips, drops and drags with ease and, when the clouds come out, there’s a rain cover. While all this protection does add to the overall weight, you’ve got a practically bombproof bag.

Once inside the suitcase-style zippered bag, you’ll find a main zippered mesh compartment for your larger items (clothes), as well as several smaller zippered mesh pockets on the opposite side for all your additional gear. (All external zippers feature security mesh to hinder anyone that might try to open your bag and slip out any valuables.)

Notice all the zippers? If you’re in a hurry or simply don’t like zipper-ing constantly, then this can be a hindrance. The intuitive organization, however, overshadows this handicap as there seems to be a custom spot for just about every piece of gear, including your laptop.

Pros  Cons
  • Heavy duty TPU coated polyester
  • Theft-proof webbing across all openings
  • Very durable
  • Wonderfully organized- practically packs itself
  • Heavy for its size
  • Hip belt seems to be an afterthought and is minimally useful

Cotopaxi Allpa 35 Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 35L
Dimensions 20″ x 12″ x 13″
Weight 3.5lbs
Fabric 1000D Polyester
Quality Superb
Cost $$


Best Carry-On Luggage Backpack

Eagle Creek Global Companion in blueTried-and-true luggage toters needn’t despair at the thought of switching to a backpack for one bag travel. The Eagle Creek Global Companion is a smartly designed backpack that opens and packs just like a standard piece of luggage.

In the luggage department, the full-perimeter zip opening allows the bag to flop open just like any suitcase, and there are two large mesh compartments for packing the bulk of your gear. Clothes, toiletries and duty-free booze all fit nicely here, just like a suitcase! But don’t fret if you need a pocket or two for organization.

The exterior of the pack gives you access to a wide range of velcro and zippered pockets, including a dedicated shoe compartment to keep your smelly footwear away from your clothes. There’s also a small, quick-access pocket right on top which is ideal for documents during airport transit, along with side-panel mesh pockets for any gear you want to keep separate. Just be aware that any gear your store in these pockets will cut into your main compartment space and limit what you can pack.

The Global Companion bridges the gap between typical luggage packing and backpack mobility for an ideal one bag travel option.

Pros  Cons
  • Wide-open cavernous main compartment
  • Dedicated shoe compartment
  • Can accommodate large 17″ laptops
  • Urban and hiking capable
  • False bottom laptop compartment
  • Hip belt isn’t removable
  • Exterior pockets can cut into available space in the main compartment

Eagle Creek Global Companion Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 40L
Dimensions 21.5″ x 13.75″ x 8″
Weight 3.6lbs
Fabric 450D Geo Ripstop
Quality Superb
Cost $


Best Modular Carry-On Backpack

Mission Workshop Radian in blackThe Radian is a modular, adjustable and customizable powerhouse of a backpack that can be fine-tuned to fit just about any adventure you have in mind.

I am truly blown away by just how much you can adjust this bag to suit your own personal style. The roll top can be used with or without the velcro and with or without the Duraflex strap. Or just unzip the entire front panel and pack it like a suitcase—your style, your choice.

The harness system continues this trend by being incredibly plush, fully adjustable and allowing for a removable expedition waist-belt for serious adventuring. You additionally have the option to fold up and store the entire harness system behind a stretch back panel, which is absolutely perfect for a smaller, snag-free bag to throw in the overhead bins.

The inside of this backpack is a straightforward cavern, with minimal additional pockets, though you do have a few organizational pockets on the underside of the main zippered flap and a massive laptop sleeve that can fit larger, 17″ computers. You can also purchase Arkiv accessories: separate pockets, folios and sleeves that can be attached to any of the four exterior points.

All these features are wrapped up in an ultra-durable Cordura or HT500 Textile that can handle the traveling punches and are weatherproof to boot.

Pros  Cons
  • Rolltop backpack
  • 4 exterior attachment points for Mission Workshop’s Arkiv accessories
  • Entire harness system can be zipped up and stored for easy loading in airplane bins
  • Very adjustable and comfortable harness system
  • Large laptop compartment
  • Wider than most bags on the list
  • Very heavy
  • Expensive

Mission Workshop Radian Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 42L
Dimensions 22″ x 14″ x 6″
Weight 4.7lbs
Fabric 500D Black Cordura or HT500 Textile
Quality Superior
Cost $$$$


Best Minimalist Carry-On Backpack

Minaal Carry-On 2.0One word to describe the outside of the Minaal Carry-On 2.0: Slick. No overt bulging pockets and no unnecessary straps whipping to and fro. Just clean and uncluttered durable nylon that looks great and keeps your gear safe.

You do, however, have two small easy-access pockets on the top of the bag, both of which, along with the main compartment, boast durable and weatherproof YKK zippers.

The clean and uncluttered approach continues inside the main clamshell opening where you have completely open space to play within one half, and two large mesh pockets for organization in the other half, and that’s all. The secondary, organizer section contains several smaller mesh pockets that are perfect storing important items such as phones, passports, etc.

Speaking of secure, Minaal’s suspension system keeps your devices loaded into sleeves and secured with velcro in the middle of your back. This system both prevents them from impacting the ground if you drop your bag and keeps the weight perfectly distributed.

For added security, you can also extend a zippered cover to secure the harness straps. But this cover must be very carefully stowed in order to avoid an annoying bump on your shoulders.

Pros  Cons
  • Minimal exterior baubles and straps
  • Secure laptop suspension system
  • Clean and slick design
  • Detachable hip belt
  • Included rain cover
  • Harness cover needs to be meticulously packed to avoid uncomfortable pressure on your back

Minaal Carry-On 2.0 Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 35L
Dimensions 21.6″ x 13.7″ x 7.87″
Weight 3.12lbs
Fabric 600D Nylon
Quality Good
Cost  $$$


Best Budget Carry-On Backpack

eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible in red

While I certainly believe that making the investment for a premium backpack is well worth the initial heartache in the beginning, this is not always practical. Enter the TLS Motherlode Weekender from eBags.

The main compartment of this bag lives up to the “motherlode” name with a massive clamshell opening for all your bulky gear. A nifty fold-down divider can aid in organization, while the opposite side of the bag also offers mesh pockets for storage. Compression straps are also present in this portion of the bag to keep the bulk of your gear nice and secure.

A separate organization compartment features a massive 19″ laptop sleeve that is suspended to keep your computer from impacting the ground in the case you drop it. The additional pockets here are also a nice complement to the exterior zippered pockets.

The best part? You can convert this backpack to duffle or to a briefcase, too, for the ultimate one bag travel experience. Simply stow the shoulder straps into a dedicated pocket, or attach the removable shoulder harness for duffle mode.

While we’re on the exterior of this bag, it’s worth mentioning that the 900D polyester does feel a little thin and flimsy to the touch ,which may compromise its overall durability. (Notice that most of our bags are well over 1000D in material thickness.)

Pros  Cons
  • Budget friendly
  • Fold down shelf in main compartment for additional compartmentalization
  • Very large, suspended, laptop compartment accommodating up to 19″ computer
  • Convertible between backpack, duffel, and briefcase
  • Material is a little thin and frail feeling

eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Specs:

Features Details
Capacity ~50L
Dimensions 22″ x 14″ x 9″
Weight 3.9lbs
Fabric 900D Polyester
Quality Good
Cost $


Best Carry-On Duffle Backpack

Timbuk2 Wander PackThere comes a time in nearly every traveler’s life when shoulder straps seem to snag on everything in sight. Duffels tend to hold the upper hand in this case, and the Wander Pack from Timbuk2 beautifully bridges this gap.

Easily unclip the shoulder harnesses from the bottom of the pack, and stow it in a dedicated pocket. Although you don’t have a shoulder strap in duffle mode, the two beefy handles on the sides of the bag are sufficient.

Directly behind this shoulder strap stowage pocket, you’ll find a zippered 15″ laptop compartment that comes complete with a very handy key clip, so you’ll never have to dig again. You also have a quick access pocket, perfect for everything from plane tickets to snacks, that also has another mesh pocket inside for even more.

The main, clamshell-open compartment reveals the bulk of those 40 liters. One side is left completely open for you to pack at will, while the opposite side features two mesh pockets for some slight organization. The Wander Pack also has a wonderfully isolated compartment at the base of the bag to keep smelly shoes or dirty clothes separate.

I must, however, point out one small nick in this bag’s armor. When in backpack mode, the straps can occasionally become unfastened from the bag when trying to pick it up.

Pros  Cons
  • Mesh pocket within exterior zip pocket (pocket within a pocket)
  • Handy key clip sewed into laptop compartment
  • Shoe Compartment
  • Stow-able Shoulder Straps
  • No dedicated shoulder strap for ‘duffle’ mode
  • Shoulder harness straps in backpack mode have finicky attach point that sometimes comes undone

Timbuk2 Wander Pack Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 40L
Dimensions 22.8″ x 15″ x 7.5″
Weight 3.7lbs
Fabric 420D Ripstop Nylon
Quality Good
Cost $


Best Carry-On Convertible Backpack

Standard Luggage Carry-OnPerhaps getting the best carry-on backpack is just a little too restrictive for you, and the best carry-on backpack or suitcase or shoulder bag has more appeal. In that case, I recommend the 35-liter carry-on bag from Standard Luggage. While the name may be lacking zip, the bag itself is full of excellent features and a seamless conversion method.

The secret to this backpack’s convertible dominance lies in the easy-to-adjust harness straps. When you’re ready for a change from backpacking, you can stash the straps in the back panel and hook up the dedicated shoulder strap. Or remove all the straps, and you have a briefcase.

Apart from the back panel for stashing straps, you’ll also have two separate YKK zippered pockets where you can stash travel books, tickets or anything else you need readily accessible. Also accessible is the laptop sleeve, complete with a dedicated tablet pocket to make those security screenings as easy as possible.

The suitcase style full-perimeter zip opening reveals an excellent spacious compartment, complete with compression straps. On the opposite side, you have several additional mesh zipper pockets. More space required? Simply unzip the perimeter restrictors and an extra 10 liters is yours for the taking.

While I do wish this bag included a separate compartment for shoes or dirty clothes, I certainly can’t argue with its wonderful simplicity for packing and converting between modes for one bag travel.

Pros  Cons
  • Easy conversion from backpack to shoulder bag to briefcase and bag
  • Expandable capacity
  • Included rain cover
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Literally looks like you’re carrying a suitcase on your back in backpack mode

Standard Luggage Carry-On Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 35L expands to 45L
Dimensions 21.5″ x 13.5″ x 7.5″ (9.5″)
Weight 3.7lbs
Fabric 1680D Nylon
Quality Good
Cost $


Best Hiking Crossover Carry-On Backpack

REI Co-op Ruckpack 40Need a backpack that can look at home from city cafes, but instantly shift into full hiking mode to take on the elements. Enter: the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40.

The low-profile design with just a top quick-access pocket and side water bottle spot, plus subtle colors, mean that Ruckpack easily traverses the cityscape. And I’m pleased that REI resisted cramming every zipper and mesh pocket conceivable onto the exterior of the bag, which would almost certainly ruin its urban aesthetic.

But REI still holds true to their outdoors heritage with the Ruckpack’s harness. The shoulder straps and hip belt are designed with the trail in mind, and they work in tandem with the breathable backing to keep you comfortable.

Heading inside, the Ruckpack features a rather unique opening method where the top of the bag zips open, but the zippers continue down the whole back length of the bag to fully expose its innards. While this can be useful to fully plan out your backing in the primary open compartment, I’ve found it to make the actual packing a little more cumbersome. The Ruckpack backpack, like any other backpack, is functionally designed for top loading, but you’ll have to slowly zip up the back as you add gear. Also, once fully loaded, you’ll need to be careful how you open the bag or you risk spilling gear.

Pros  Cons
  • At home in either urban or hiking environments
  • Stash-able harness and hip belt
  • Budget friendly
  • Rain cover included
  • Laptop compartment is unpadded and offers minimal protection
  • Bit of an oddball opening/packing method that takes some finesse

REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 40L
Dimensions 24″ x 13″ x 10″
Weight 4..2lbs
Fabric 210D Ripstop Nylon
Quality Excellent
Cost $


Best Rolling Carry-On Backpack with Wheels

Osprey Sojourn carry-on with wheelsFor making that infinity walk from security to gate G523, there’s nothing better than having a pair of wheels. But when curbs, uneven pavement and tight maneuvering come into play, having a backpack is absolutely gold. Osprey has figured out how to have both for the ultimate one bag travel experience: the Sojourn rolling backpack.

When you’re rolling, you’ll have Osprey’s highroad chassis. This means big wheels for a smoother ride and improved clearance, a fiberglass base to trim some weight, and a telescopic handle. All these features work together to make a very stable platform to take all that weight off your shoulders.

But when circumstances demand some shoulder toting, you’ll find Osprey’s backpacking prowess shine with the harness and hip belt system. Taking cues from their famous anti-gravity system, you have a breathable and comfortable mesh backing that partners perfectly with the mesh hip belt to distribute all the extra weight. All of this stashes behind a fabric cover when you decide to roll.

The full-front opening allows you to pack this bag just like a suitcase, and the plethora of internal pockets makes organization simple. I’m particularly fond of the compression straps to help keep all your gear tight and organized while transitioning from backpack to suitcase mode.

While this bag is significantly heavier than your average backpack, the rollers should be taking this weight the vast majority of the time.

Pros  Cons
  • Roller suitcase and Backpack
  • Osprey’s superb warranty
  • Osprey’s superb harness system
  • Internal compression straps
  • Very heavy
  • No spinner wheels

Osprey Sojourn Specs:

Features Details
Capacity 45L
Dimensions 22″ x 14″ x 9″
Weight 8lbs
Fabric 420D nd 1680D Nylon
Quality Good
Cost $$$


What Makes a Carry-on Backpack Great?

Finding the ultimate traveling pack for you means that you need to consider which features are the most important. These are the seven most pivotal design features so that all you need to do is check off what you uniquely need.

1. Size

First things first, find a carry-on backpack that meets most carry-on limits.

We’ll start with the maximum sizes that you could possibly pick, based on airlines. I’ve compiled a few of the most common airlines below, along with their carry-on bag limitations in inches.

Airline Size (Inches)
Air Canada 21.5 x 15.5 x 9
Alaska Airlines 22 x 14 x 9
American Airlines 22 x 14 x 9
Delta Airlines 22 x 14 x 9
Icelandair 21.6 x 15.7 x 7.8
JetBlue Airways 22 x 14 x 9
Lufthansa 21.6 x 15.7 x 9
Southwest Airlines 24 x 16 x 10
Spirit Airlines 22 x 18 x 10
Sun Country Airlines  24 x 16 x 11
United Airlines  22 x 14 x 9
Virgin Atlantic 22 x 14 x 9

You may scratch your head and wonder just how much gear you can fit into 22 x 14 x 9, so let me break it down into liters for you. The majority of airlines’ carry-on bags range from 30 to 45 liters and, trust me, that’s plenty of space for the coveted one bag travel.

But here’s the rub: Just what size bag works for you? This will mostly depend on your body type/size, and what kind of packer you are.

Please don’t underestimate the importance of picking a bag that fits you properly. This can make a world of difference in comfort and mobility. Very generally speaking, women can usually get by with a 30-liter pack, while men are generally comfortable with a 40-liter one.

Always consider your packing style, too. How long are you gone for, how much are you taking and do you want extra space for a souvenir or two?

2. Opening Style

Once you have a size, one of the more important items here is the opening style. Do you like top loaders, front loads, side zips, drawstring tops or a combination?

Think about what will be most comfortable, natural and practical for you, and simply look for a bag to match.

3. Weight

We already know that the more you cram into a backpack, the more it’s going to weigh you down while you dash through the airport. But consider this: The backpacks themselves can vary drastically when it comes to weight, and some may feel like you’ve already packed a brick or two, even when empty.

The variation in weight is mostly thanks to the different materials that are used in the bag construction, along with different harness constructions. In general, I’ve found that reliable brands that incorporate a sturdy and supportive harness system typically produce slightly heavier bags. Whereas the lighter bags lack this helpful feature.

To a lesser extent, materials also play a role here where, once again, the more durable, water-resistant and long-lasting constructions are, typically, slightly heavier. But this is not always the case. Higher price tags on backpacks can often indicate high-quality materials and construction that have been fine-tuned to not break your back.

So my best advice? Be sure to note what type of harness system the backpack uses, along with the overall weight of the bag. And just remember that, while quality material may weigh more, I guarantee it will pay out in the end.

a woman walking through an airport with a Topo Designs Travel Bag
Topo Designs make a great lightweight bag!

4. Materials and Fabrics

Now the list of potential backpack materials is about as long as my arm, so let’s take a minute to break them down and label what’s good, how it’s good and what to steer clear of.

In the durability department, you’ll often find high-density ballistic nylon or Cordura to both be solid options. These are proven to hold up to the rough life of a travel backpack and keep you on the move without a tear-jerking bag tear mid-trip. They are often presented with a weatherproofing treatment for better protection.

For ultimate durability and water resistance rolled into one, pay particular attention to sailcloth. Yes, this is the same material ship’s sails are made from, so you can certainly appreciate the battering they must withstand. They must also hold off the rain from constant storms and mists, yet be light enough to be manipulated into place. You can bet the backpacks made from this material are, therefore, just on this side of indestructible and weatherproof.

5. Zippers

Bah! Zippers are zippers, you don’t have to worry about those, right? Sorry to break it to you, folks, but you do need to pay attention to zippers. Just like any other component, zippers are a dime-a-dozen these days, and some are of higher quality than others.

My best advice is to try to find a backpack with the classic YKK brand zippers. This company has been in the game for a long while, and it knows how to make zippers last for the long haul. We’re talking about durable and water-resistant zippers that won’t break when you overstuff your backpack or let water seep in.

6. Backing Support

Not only can it be a little embarrassing but, more importantly, it’s also incredibly uncomfortable to travel with a sweaty back.

So what can you do? Keep an eye open for mesh backings that allow for some airflow back there. Or better yet, look for backpacks that utilize a harness and, ideally, boast mesh backing to lift the pack itself off your back.

Besides keeping you from sweating so much, backpacking can also help to distribute the weight more evenly on your back. This keeps your backpack from inducing shoulder and back pains that you certainly don’t need when you’re already cramped up from sleeping on planes and buses all the time.

7. Harnesses and Shoulder Straps

Most backpacks may look very similar to one another but, trust me, they are almost all built for very specific and very different functions. The differences are usually in the shoulders and harness systems.

The Tortuga Oubreaker's hip belt keeps the bag securely attached
The Tortuga Oubreaker’s waist belt keeps the bag securely attached

Let’s start with the most obvious, male vs. female packs. The two sexes traditionally have different body builds, and backpack manufacturers often accommodate this by producing packs that are specifically designed to fit male and female body types. So, first of all, make sure you’re looking at a pack that’s designed for you.

The next set of differences come with function. The whole kit-and-caboodle of shoulder strap suspension system, waist belt and bag framing comes with heavy hiking and outdoor use in mind. Meanwhile, more casual bags that lack the beef of a waist belt and overt frame are meant for casual wear. Think: city and business travel.

So once again, take a close look at the bag you’re considering, and see if your planned activities are in line with the manufacturer’s intent.

Go Forth and Prosper!

There you have it—the essentials of one bag travel from start to finish to make sure you get the very best carry-on backpack on the market.

From price, quality, material and function, the 17 aforementioned bags boast everything and anything you’ll need on your next adventure. Just remember: Your backpack should be as unique to you and your needs as the travel stories you’re going to come home with.


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