Your Guide to Best Travel Carry-on Backpacks

So you are looking for carry-on backpack for traveling? Yeah, nowadays, the travel season covers the whole year. No need to wait until summer or winter breaks to get out and see the world.

But what if you are traveling light, and you don’t want the hassle of check-in luggage? Or you want to keep some important items nearby for a long haul flight?

Smart travelers have the solution. They pack a carry-on travel backpack

Backpacks are perfect for many types of customers. Some associate them with long hikes in nature, while others prefer options suitable for short walks between classrooms in school or college. In recent years, however, consumers have found them perfect for travel, especially on airplanes.

To help travelers, we have provided a guide to the best travel backpacks for carry-on. These include smaller versions such as the best travel backpacks that fit under an airplane seat.

What Is Defined as a Travel Carry-On Backpack

A carry-on bag simply refers to a storage case that is allowed onto a plane. Many of today’s travelers have ditched the old duffel bag or briefcase in favor of a travel backpack that fits carry-on parameters of most airlines.

best travel carry on backpack
Photo by USA Today

Backpacks offer more convenience. Their design is not rigid, like a briefcase, and they are wearable quality, unlike a duffel bag. No need to set the item down and pick it up repeatedly in the airport, reducing the risk of accidentally leaving the bag behind. Of course, there are rules. Travel backpacks of carry-on size need to fit in the overhead compartment. Smaller bags may be categorized as a personal item, which you can either hold or place under the seat in front of you. In most cases, passengers may carry a personal item and a carry-on bag for overhead storage, provided that both meet the airline’s requirements.

Size Matters – How Much Space Does Each Airline Allow

It would be fair to assume that one standard definition applies to all carry-on bags throughout the airline industry. This is incorrect. In reality, each airline has their own separate set of restrictions and accommodations when it comes to carry-on baggage. 

Here are typical rules from some of America’s most popular airlines, to provide an idea of what is allowed and where:

  • Delta: If the backpack can fit under the seat in front of the passenger, it is considered a personal item. Carry-on bags have a maximum allowed size of 22 x 14 x 9 inches (it is 55 x 35 x 22 cm)
  • Southwest: When the item fits easily on a person’s lap or under the seat in front, the passenger may consider it a personal item. Personal items must be no larger than 18.5 x 8.5 x 13.5 inches (47 x 22 x 34 cm)
  • United: Carry-on bags must be no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches (55 x 35 x 22 cm) while a personal item may not exceed 17 x 10 x 9 inches (43 x 25 x 22 cm) in size
  • Jet Blue’s restrictions are almost identical to those of United.
  • American Airlines: Personal items can be as large as 22 x 14 x 9 inches (55 x 35 x 22 cm). Backpacks count toward each passengers total “allowance” of items carried onto planes.

Below we have provided examples of global airline regulations concerning carry-on backpacks for international travel.

Airline nameCarry-On Size Limit (inches) Carry-On Size Limit (cm) Weight Limit (if any)
American Airlines22 x 14 x 956 x 36 x 23none
Qatar Airways20 x 15 x 1050 x 37 x 2533 lb / 15 kg (1st/business)
15 lb / 7 kg (econ.)
British Airways22 x 18 x 1056 x 45 x 25 51lb / 23kg
Turkish Airlines21 x 15 x 955 x 40 x 23 17 lb / 8 kg
Wizz Air16.5 x 17.6 x 9.8 (larger may require a fee)40 x 30 x 20 22 lb / 10 kg
Ryanair15 x 10 x 840 x 25 x 2022 lb / 10 kg

As most airlines have different rules and applicable fees, we recommend consulting a website that provides up to date and accurate information, or check the official website of an airline you are going to use. 

Essential Considerations For Travel Carry-On Backpacks

Savvy travelers understand that a carry-on backpack is a real life saver. It can accomodate all of the absolute necessities that you may need on a trip. 

When packing the carry-on backpack, consider the items you absolutely cannot do without. These could include:

backpack for travel carry on
  • One change of clothes appropriate for your journey
  • Toiletries
  • Makeup
  • Books for recreational reading
  • Mobile devices and chargers
  • Vital work materials, such as thumb drives or files
  • Anything else that you cannot do without and will fit in the bag

Of course, the definition of “vital” can vary from person to person and from situation to situation. Special purchases or gifts, digital music devices, and expensive items should all go in the carry-on bag if possible.

When selecting the best carry-on travel sized backpack, consider the following questions:

  • Will I often transport liquids or other materials, such as shaving cream, that need a special lined compartment?
  • What other items will I need to pack every time I travel on an airplane?
  • How heavy or bulky will my packed items be?
  • Does the traditional look of a backpack contrast too much with professional or luxury settings?
  • How often do I travel?
  • How much should I spend?

Carry-On Travel Backpack Reviews of Selected Top Brands

Depending on your needs and budget, the backpack market has a number of options. These options range from inexpensive and basic, to high end products with a number of cool features. 

Consider your travel habits and what you will need the bag for when checking these products out.

AmazonBasics Carry-On Travel Backpack Review

This backpack’s features, quality, and price pretty much boil down to its self-explanatory name. This series of backpacks provides the basics and little else. 

For carry-on and other travel purposes, the AmazonBasics backpack could be ideal. It does not feature the rugged design or premium quality materials of higher end models, making it most suited for a year of school use or occasional travel. 

Its pricetag ~ $50 makes it more expensive than many discount store bags, but far better priced than almost any other known name brand. AmazonBasics backpacks come in a traditional and convenient clamshell design. As one of the least expensive of its type on the market, don’t ask too much from it, and don’t expect the most comfortable wear. However, for the cost, it’s a great budget travel backpack of carry-on size.

North Face Travel Backpack Carry-On

The North Face Overhaul is the famous outdoor brand’s option for travel backpacks of carry-on size for business or personal use. With a price hovering around $160, the Overhaul is at the more expensive end of the scale, but it delivers on design and style. It has the durability of a backpack designed for long term school use, but a more sophisticated look that emphasizes muted colors and designs. 

The Overhaul’s designers kept airplane travel in mind during the development of the Overhaul. For example, it features a special zippered pocket for laptops than opens easily for TSA inspection. A lined pocket can accommodate toiletries while protecting other items in case shampoo or other products leak.

Other features that make the Overhaul perfect for travel are the shoulder straps and hip belt that tuck into the bag to make it more conveyor friendly. 

Despite the Overhaul coming from a brand identified with outdoor adventure, remember that this backpack is not the best option for heavy duty hiking. Its somewhat limited durability relative to its competitors in the field makes it most suitable for urban walking, business use, and occasional travel.

Osprey Travel Backpack Carry-On

Osprey offers three options in carry-on backpacks of travel size. 

First, they designed the highly regarded Fairview 40 specifically for the physical shape and needs of women. The Fairview reflects its feminine influence both in its design and its function. 

While weight distribution and compartment space are not completely ideal, it does have design features, such as tuck away straps, that make it great for carry-on use.

The Osprey Farpoint 40 serves as a true workhorse in the category of travel backpacks. It comes in four sizes and offers superior durability for its class. Users can tuck away straps when needed, such as when placed on a TSA scanner conveyor. Reviewers also noted that, even when full, the Farpoint 40 provided considerable comfort.

For those who need to carry more while they travel, the Porter 46 provides significantly more room than most packs in the travel category. While the 22 x 14 x 9 dimensions help it to remain at or just beyond the carry-on rules of most airlines, the pack can handle larger and heavier loads.

One of the drawbacks comes from its strap design. It fits best on people with broader shoulders who can presumably better handle the higher weight capacity. Smaller people may find the expanded size more clunky and awkward to use. Extra handles and straps enable the Porter 46 to function like a duffel bag or small suitcase when convenient.

Tortuga Air Travel Backpack

With five available types, Tortuga has a large selection of travel style backpacks, each with its own characteristics. 

The Outbreaker 35L serves as one of the best rated selections from the Tortuga line of carry-on backpacks. Like other models, it features a box shape that can fit more items, but does not feel uncomfortable to carry like other large capacity carry-on backpacks. The Outbreaker also features a number of compartments designed to accommodate the majority commonly carried items, such as laptops or toiletry bags.

There are some minor issues reported, however. One is that, in some cases, the Outbreaker’s water bottle compartments may not fit a water bottle when the main compartment is full.

The Setout 35L has served as one of the main workhorses for Tortuga. The company offers separate designs for men or women. For women, the backpack has comfortable straps curved to fit snugly against a woman’s torso. Men’s packs feature a rigid foam that slowly conforms to the user’s specific shape. It also has a rugged hip belt to help spread the load.

Appearances for the Setout 35L remain muted. Experts suggest that those traveling abroad especially not use carry-on backpacks with standout designs or colors, as these may attract thieves or other unwanted attention. The Setout’s minimalist design schemes reflect that ideal.

If a company had the aim of designing a backpack specifically for carry-on use, it would look a lot like the Tortuga Setout Divide. The Divide serves as a kind of “little brother” to the 35L. Its smaller capacity enables it to fit within the carry-on parameters of almost every major airline, and most of the regional ones. 

One feature of difference in the Divide is a neat hideaway water bottle pocket, but some users have raised minor concerns about the straps and belts.

If the Divide serves as the little brother of the 35 L, then the Setout 45 L is definitely the elder sibling. While a fully loaded Setout 45 L may only fit parameters of just over half of airlines’ carry-on restrictions, it has a number of design features handy for traveling. 

Like other Tortuga backpack types, the Setout 45 L features male and female specific designs. Its heathered exterior maintains its look even when scuffed or dirty and it has a number of specific compartments perfect for travelers. 

Some users have reported the same minor complaints regarding the straps and belt as the other backpacks in the Tortuga range.

Travel Carry-On Backpack With Wheels – by High Sierra

Not everyone loves the look of wearing a backpack, even if they desire the convenience. When walking into a five star hotel or a professional setting, even a high-end backpack looks too casual.

For those who need a more versatile option, High Sierra offers a number of travel carry-on backpacks with wheels. The Chaser fits within most airline carry-on requirements, and may even class as a personal item for some. 

Also, we found some nice products that you can find on Aliexpress – check them out for your next air trip!

Carry-on backpacks offer tremendous convenience for travelers over large, check-in baggage options. They are more convenient, less likely to get lost or stolen, and provide ample space for all emergency, must-have items that you take on board.  Let our guide to carry-on travel backpacks help you to decide which selection best fits your needs and budget. Your journey to the ideal backpack for you begins here.