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Summary: If you’re looking for the best carry-on travel backpacks on the market, our 2021 buyers guide can point you in the right direction.
The Best Carry-on Travel Backpacks
So you’re ready for your next vacation, but how should you travel? Suitcases are great, but carrying them around can be an absolute pain.
If you’re moving around a lot and traveling all over the world, then using a travel backpack is a whole lot easier. With the same fantastic functionalities of a suitcase, you will absolutely love traveling with one.
Our guide covers the best carry-on travel backpacks for 2021 and beyond.
What is Considered a Travel Backpack?
A travel backpack is a specialized rucksack designed with adventurers and travelers in mind. The best travel backpacks provide organization, durability, and support while traveling.
Your travel gear should have organized compartments and be made from durable, ideally, waterproof materials.
The best carry-on travel backpacks will have thick padded shoulder straps with a sternum strap and padded hip belt support for higher weight capacities.
Benefits of Having a Carry-on Travel Backpack
Having a carry-on travel backpack means you can avoid a lot of the risks and annoyances with checking in a bag.
First of all, you save money on check-in baggage fees. Not to mention, putting your bag in the hands of the airlines creates risk as your luggage could be opened, lost, or damaged.
You can also avoid waiting in long check-in lines and potentially missing your flight. With a carry-on travel backpack, you can get off the plane and head straight to your next destination, skipping any unwanted delays in retrieving your bag.
Overall, a travel backpack saves you time and money and creates ease as you travel from location to location.
We’ve provided you with the best selection for your needs.
(Use our quick navigator below to find the best travel backpack that best suites your needs)
The Best Carry-On Travel Backpacks
So what are the best carry-on travel backpacks to buy? Check out our top choices.
Cotopaxi Allpa 35L
Carry-on-compatible and ultra hardy, this is our best-selling adventure travel pack.
When traveling for pleasure, the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L is a simple backpack for domestic and international travel.
The rectangular shape and internal compression straps contribute to a lighter feeling and allow you to customize the weight distribution.
The breathable padding also allows for wearing the pack for extended periods of time. Because of how comfortable and durable this travel backpack is, it makes for the best overall in travel gear.
The fully-featured carry on for organized travelers.
Made from waterproof sailcloth, the materials contribute to one of the most durable backpacks in the market.
This is a high-quality bag that will last for years and years against the abuse of the long term travel and the worst weather conditions.
A wildlife biologist can testify to the Tortuga Outbreaker’s durability during a heavy rainstorm after using it in one of the rainiest mountainous regions.
And many backpackers have used the Outbreaker for trips as long as 5 months, attesting to its long term wear.
Peak Design Travel Backpack
A versatile, durable, and beautiful carry-on travel backpack driven by a simple truth: no two trips are the same.
Peak Design specializes in photography gear products, but these bags can also be used for other functions. For example, their Travel Backpack comes with a camera-protective organizational case, but the bag can be used for work, adventure, and all types of travel.
The Travel Backpack comes with a system of cubes and an organizational panel. It can expand to fit more travel gear and an external strap to carry an extra item outside.
You can remove the divider and also use it as a duffel.
With easy access pockets from the back, side, front, and top, it’s no wonder this bag is named most versatile.
Osprey Farpoint 40
Osprey’s Farpoint® 40 is perfect for a weekend getaway in the city or the wilderness.
The Osprey Farpoint 40 has a front-loading design, making this super easy to use and can hold a lot of gear. The biggest draw is how comfortable this pack is for long journeys.
The Farpoint uses a suspension system (shoulder straps and hip belts), similar to advanced hiking packs.
You can carry 20 to 40 lbs with this bag and still be comfortable because the shoulder straps conform to your shoulders. The straps are wide and also come with load lifter straps, padding, and mesh webbing.
It also has a sternum strap and hip belt to take the pressure off your shoulders.
Nomatic Travel Pack
The Travel Pack will change the way you travel. It can be used for daily carry but also expands from 20L to 30L to add the things you need for your weekend trip.
When protecting your travel gear against the elements, your travel pack must be built with weather-proofing to prevent water from soaking or seeping through.
The primary material of the Nomatic Travel Pack is tarpaulin on the outside. The tarpaulin material has a rubbery feel and will repel water.
There are also weather-proof Zoom zippers to seal the zipper with the outer fabric, preventing water from entering inside.
Topo Designs Travel Bag
Plenty of internal organization and an external laptop sleeve for easy access. The size is perfect for a long weekend getaway.
Topo Designs Travel Bag is not just a bag, but a PackFast Travel System with PackBags, DoppKits, and Accessory Bags that nest perfectly inside the Travel Bag.
That’s why we’ve rated this the best for organizing with their space-efficient bags for a modular packing experience.
Just how big is the Travel Bag? Well, the Travel Bag can hold up to 30 Liters. With that much volume, PackBags can further compress your belongings for space optimization.
For a modern take on the toiletry bag, Topo Designs has designed a Dopp Bag in a triangular shape. And you can use the Accessory Bags for carrying small cables, headphones, cash, or cards.
Patagonia Black Hole MLC
A superburly, soft-sided suitcase converts to a backpack with enough room and organization for world travel.
Patagonia is a reputable brand for outdoor clothing and gear. As environmental advocates, they’re passionate about creating products using mostly recycled nylon and polyester materials.
Made of their famous recycled Black Hole fabric, the MLC is easily the most stylish bag in travel bags.
Not only stylish, it is also one of the best carry-on travel backpacks that meets most carry-on requirements (hence the name “Maximum Legal Carry-on”).
It comes in 26 liters or the maximum, 46 liters with an extra durable water-repellent finish and clamshell design storage options for easy packing.
Pacsafe Metrosafe Backpack
Protect your valuables and our planet in this compact, 15L backpack that’s perfect for short day trips.
For short-day tips in heavily trafficked areas, theft and pickpockets might be more of a concern. You might also be carrying highly valued items and need that extra security. In those situations, consider buying an anti-theft travel backpack.
We recommend the Pacsafe Metrosafe Backpack for its many anti-theft features. It comes with lockable zippers to deter pickpockets, cut-resistant materials to prevent slashing, and RFID-blocking pockets for protecting your credit cards and passport from unwanted scans.
We’ve answered some of the most common questions about carry-on travel backpacks so you can get the information you need.
A travel backpack should be small enough to be considered a carry-on while still big enough to carry your essential belongings for a trip.
Most commercial airlines allow carry-on bags no more than 45 linear inches (the total of the height, width, and depth of the bag), or 22” long, 14” wide, 9” deep.
For international flights, you might want your carry-on backpack that is a little smaller at 21” or less to account for smaller, regional airlines outside of the US.
In any case, make sure to check with your actual airlines before you go, especially if you’re flying internationally.
For most domestic flights, there’s no weight restriction. As long as you can lift it over your head and it fits in the overhead bin, you can carry it on.
When flying internationally, the weight limits can vary from carrier to carrier, sometimes restricting the weight to be as low as 15 lbs.
For this reason, look up your airline’s weight restrictions well in advance to avoid paying overweight carry-on fees.
As a guideline, know your backpack’s weight to determine how much weight you have left to bring. A lighter pack when empty means you can carry more.
Do your best to trim down the load to be as minimalist in packing as possible. Trust me; your back will thank you later when you aren’t weighed down by too much stuff.
Our rule of thumb is to carry less; you’ll save time and move faster.
If you bought a backpack designed for organizational strategy, then your packing is already off to a great start.
Most travel backpacks have a laptop pocket sleeve, so first, decide if you’re carrying your laptop with you on your journey.
That was easy. Now try to think through what are some things you’ll need during your flight. You might need headphones, a tablet, book, water bottle, snacks, or anything else you can think of. It’s best to place these items in outer or easy-to-access pockets.
You’ll also need important items like your ID, passport, plane tickets, phone, or wallet. We recommend placing these in your hip belt pockets so there won’t be any need to take your backpack off to show these to TSA.
It’s best to pack your heaviest items closer to your center of gravity and hence, closer to your spine. For example, your laptop should be packed close to your back.
Packing heavy items closer to you will give the backpack a lighter feeling and provide the best support without straining your shoulders.
For medium-weight items, you should pack them near the top of the pack. And lightweight items should be packed at the bottom.
When packing clothes, you can choose to put them in your backpack or first pack them in other bags for added organization.
Rolling your clothes as much as possible will minimize the amount of space used. You can place socks, underwear, and any smaller items in pockets lining the backpack.
Again, carrying less is always better. We recommend bringing clothes that have a lot of versatility so you can create different outfits each day. It’s also best to choose neutral colors as they will be easier to mix and match.
Go for comfort over fashion, especially when it comes to footwear. If you’re packing for long journeys, pick something suitable for most activities and comfortable while you’re traveling.
Separate your TSA-acceptable bottles of liquids into a clear bag and place them in an easy-to-access spot, either at the top of the bag or a front outer pocket. This will make it easier to take in and out as you’re going through security.
A travel backpack is expensive and for a good reason. A quality travel backpack will last for decades or even your lifetime!
It’s all about the materials and craftsmanship. We recommend only buying travel backpacks with high-quality materials so that no matter how frequently you use it or what conditions you endure, your belongings will remain safe, protected, and dry.
Generally, the best carry-on travel backpacks should last for a very long time. Be sure to look for durable and waterproof materials for a travel backpack that lasts.
Which Travel Backpack Should I Buy?
When shopping for a travel backpack, you’ll need to consider what purpose you’d like to use it for and what features appeal the most to you.
You might want to use a travel backpack for:
To decide which one is best for you, take a look at each backpack and evaluate how important each of its features is for you.
The key features we’ve evaluated are:
When you’ve decided what’s most important to you, then you can narrow down your choices and compare them to determine how well each backpack will perform.
A travel backpack is an excellent investment, especially for frequent travelers and adventurers. With high-quality gear, you’ll be able to travel comfortably, quickly, and have your essentials organized, secured, and protected.
We’ve done our research and provided you with the benefits and drawbacks of different types of backpacks suitable for carry-on traveling.
Our top choice for the best overall pack is Cotopaxi Allpa 35L, so if you’re looking for a quick solution to your carry-on needs, check it out now.
Cotopaxi Allpa 35L
Carry-on-compatible and ultra hardy, this is our best-selling adventure travel pack.