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Best Overall: Tortuga Setout Backpack at Amazon
"Oversized and is perfect for the savvy backpacker who has an eye for style."
Best Budget: Swiss Gear SA1186 Bungee Backpack at Amazon
"This affordable backpack can be used for day-to-day activities as well as airport travel."
Best TSA-Friendly: Timbuk2 Uptown Laptop Backpack at Amazon
"Allows you to keep your laptop inside when going through security."
Best for Business: eBags Professional Weekender at Amazon
"Has a professional look and even doubles as a briefcase."
Best for Adventure: Osprey Porter Travel Duffel 30 at Amazon
"Made of sturdy, lightweight fabric and is ideal for trips up to two weeks."
Best for Storage: Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack at Amazon
"Looks stylish, yet is functional enough to carry most necessary travel gear."
Best for Electronics: Kensington Secure Track 17 at Amazon
"Ensures your electronics will be safe."
Best Design: Away The Backpack at Away
"Various hidden pockets discreetly store important essentials."
"Has a clamshell luggage design and a padded, removable laptop sleeve."
Most Comfortable: Herschel Little America Backpack at Amazon
"Mesh padding and contoured shoulder straps offer a pain-free travel experience."
Although there are plenty of wheeled baggage options, travelers who prefer the traditional route of carrying their carry-on luggage have a wide range of efficient backpacks to choose from. Many offer added features such as locks, extra pockets, and shoulder padding, while others can neatly compress for easy storage when not in use. Most airlines allow carry-on bags to be 22 x 14 x 9 inches, but be sure to check with the airline and review TSA carry-on information before your flight since the requirements can change frequently.
We've rounded up the best options to help you decide which bag is right for you. Read on to see our list of the best carry-on backpacks.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Tortuga Setout Backpack
The Tortuga Setout is a great carry-on backpack that zips open suitcase-style, which means you can arrive at your destination with neatly folded clothes, just as you packed them. The bag is oversized (but still meets airline carry-on requirements by measuring 22 x 14 x 9 inches) and is perfect for the savvy backpacker who has an eye for style. The gray, weather-resistant backpack has two detachable velcro waist buckles for providing support, by transferring 80 percent of the bag’s weight to the hips. There are also zippered pockets that are ideal for a smartphone, wallet, boarding pass, or passport.
The outside zippered pouch is ideal for toiletries, while the two on the opposite side of the flap can store an extra pair of shoes or smaller items such as socks or underwear. The other zipper on the top of the bag opens up to a smartly designed section that can hold up to a 15-inch laptop. Another nice feature on this 3.3-pound backpack is the ability to slip the shoulder straps into a Velcro compartment to avoid snafus if you’re stowing it in a plane’s overhead bin or carrying it by one of the handles, which makes it pretty versatile.
Note: Tortuga provided the TripSavvy commerce team with a sample Setout backpack for review.
Best Budget: Swiss Gear SA1186 Bungee Backpack
Swiss Gear is known for making reliable, long-lasting gear, and the SA1186 functions perfectly as a basic, affordable backpack that fits carry-on regulations. The sleek black backpack measures 17.5 x 11.5 x 7.5 inches and can be used for day-to-day activities, as well as airport travel. Bungee cords are attached to the front for easy access to items, but there’s also a water bottle holder, and separate interior pouch for a laptop. The bag has plenty of smaller pockets and compartments, and even when the backpack is entirely full the comfortable shoulder straps make it easy to carry around.
Best TSA-Friendly: Timbuk2 Uptown Laptop Backpack
If you’re the type of traveler who knows the ins and outs of the TSA screening process like the back of your hand, then the Timbuk2 Uptown Laptop TSA-Friendly Backpack is for you. The design aligns with the TSA carry-on policies and allows you to keep your laptop inside when going through security, so you can be on your way that much faster. The carry-on backpack has a separate laptop compartment that fits up to a 17-inch MacBook Pro, as well as an iPad. Timbuk2 measures 19.7 x 8.7 x 11.4 inches and is stylish (choose from several color options) and versatile – take it to a meeting or out to lunch with friends. The shoulder straps and design make it comfortable and at just over two pounds, it’s lightweight. Our product tester even gushed, "it's very comfortable for your back because of its cushioning." The bag is great for short trips, but if you’re traveling for more than a few days you’ll need something larger.
Best for Business: eBags Professional Weekender
For a bag that holds all your business essentials, as well as some clothes for a few days, the Ebags TLS Professional Weekender fits the bill. At 21 x 14 x 8 inches, the Weekender is as spacious as it can be for a carry-on backpack, thanks to an organizational panel with pockets, laptop and tablet sleeves, and a water bottle pocket – and yet it still has a professional look and even doubles as a briefcase. Plus, the TSA-friendly bag flips open for easy screening through security without having to remove your laptop.
Best for Adventure: Osprey Porter Travel Duffel 30
Intrepid travelers will be well-prepared for an outdoor adventure with the Osprey Porter 30 Travel backpack. Osprey is a popular choice with frequent travelers because of the space its bags provide, yet at 20 x 13 x 12 inches and 2.8 pounds, the Porter Duffel 30 falls within carry-on regulations. A harness hip belt helps reduce the load, and locks on the front panel keep your valuables secure. Another handy feature is that the harness can be stowed away when not in use (so you don’t have to look like you’re climbing a mountain if you’re standing in line at Starbucks). The carry-on backpack is made of sturdy, lightweight fabric and is ideal for trips up to two weeks — however, purchasing some packing cubes would be a good idea to save space.
Best for Storage: Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack
Oakley’s popular “Kitchen Sink” backpack is best for travelers who don’t want to check a bag but also aren't willing to pack light. The carry-on backpack measures 8 x 14 x 20 inches and has extra features such as hooks for attaching keys or water bottles, as well as plenty of pockets and pouches to store separate items. The Oakley looks stylish, yet is functional enough to carry most necessary travel gear (think laptops, speakers, tablets, snacks, and chargers) for a short getaway while still fitting easily in the overhead bin. Our product tester particularly loved "that the bottom of the bag can be unzippered to give you a ton more space."
Best for Electronics: Kensington Secure Track 17
If you’re a traveler who loves gadgets, the Kensington Secure Track 17 ensures your electronics will be safe. The professional-looking, lockable bag also features sturdy anti-theft zipper tracks. For those who have ever tried (unsuccessfully) to balance a carry-on bag on top of wheeled luggage, the Kensington has a brilliant, open-back feature that allows the user to slip the handle of a wheeled suitcase into the backpack, thus connecting the two. The compartmentalized backpack has a separate area for a laptop, two different ways to open the main storage areas, as well as slots for keys, pens, credit cards, phones – you name it. The carry-on backpack measures 13 x 8 x 19.5 inches.
Best Design: Away The Backpack
Luggage cult-favorite Away delivers just as well in its travel accessories, including The Backpack. With three main storage compartments, the 12.4 x 7.2 x 17.5-inch travel backpack is designed to fit clothes, shoes, and other carry-on essentials in a stylish, slim silhouette. Various hidden pockets discreetly store other items, including a cushioned pocket that fits laptops up to 15 inches, a passport pocket, and an expandable pocket on the side for water bottles. There’s also a front zipper pocket for flat items, such as books or magazines. For fans of the brand’s suitcases, you can easily attach the carry-on backpack to any Away Carry-On.
Best Style: Standard Luggage Co. Flight Approved Backpack Travel Bag
If you’re going for the efficient, minimalist look, the ultra-functional 35L Flight Approved Backpack by Standard Luggage Co. is worth considering. The unpretentious black backpack has a touch of burnt-orange accents on the handles and zippers and has a carrying capacity of 35 to 45 liters (with the expandable zipper). The carry-on backpack is designed with concealable shoulder straps so it can also be used as a suitcase or shoulder bag. Unlike traditional backpacks that unzip from the top, it has a clamshell luggage design and a padded, removable laptop sleeve. Other features include a built-in safety whistle, compression straps, two exterior zipped pouches, and padded carry handles. The bag is water-resistant.
Most Comfortable: Herschel Little America Backpack
Travel in comfort with Herschel’s iconic Little America Backpack. Mesh padding and contoured shoulder straps offer a pain-free travel experience, even during long, international trips. The 19 x 12 x 6.5-inch lightweight backpack is also extremely roomy, with a media pocket for electronics, laptop sleeves that fit most 15-inch laptops, and a 25L main compartment — spacious enough for overnight or mountaineering trips. Plus, magnetic snap and drawstring closures help keep your belongings safe.
Most Versatile: Dagne Dover Medium Dakota Backpack
Whether you’re going to the gym or the office, the Dagne Dover Dakota Backpack is versatile enough as a carry-on and for everyday use. It’s made of quick-drying neoprene, ensuring protection from any water or dirt from outdoor excursions. Some of the backpack’s many features include two exterior side pockets for accessing phones or wallets, a shoe bag for separating sneakers from clothes, and an interior sleeve for holding your laptop during work commutes. The 11.5 x 5 x 17-inch carry-on backpack comes in small and large sizes, too.
Best Lightweight: ZOMAKE Ultra Lightweight Packable Backpack
Light, durable, and comfy, the ZOMAKE Ultra Lightweight Packable Backpack is a great carry-on option. While it doesn’t skimp on storage space — there's 20L of space in all, in the form of a spacious main compartment, a front zipper pocket, and several smaller pockets for organizational purposes — it’s also lightweight enough that you’ll be equally comfortable carrying it through the airport or on a daylong tour. Conveniently, this popular bag also folds up into a compact pouch if you need to store it in your suitcase or use it as a carry-on for your souvenirs on the return trip. The lightweight backpack measures 11.8 x 16.5 x 7.1 inches, and it comes in several colors, including army green, black, red, pink, and yellow.
Best for Photographers: Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
Peak Design, known for its line of camera gear and bags, made a carry-on backpack that's best suited for traveling photographers. Its roomy, 45-liter interior is enough to fit DSLRs, tripods, lenses, and other gear — still, it meets international carry-on size requirements. Even more, it can collapse into a 35-liter daypack. The backpack can be accessed via its top, side, front, and rear through weatherproof zips, with plenty of internal and external pockets. Outside, the durable bag is made of a waterproof, 100 percent recycled nylon canvas shell. Other nice bonuses include the tuck-away shoulder straps and hip belt that use magnetic catches to stay in place.
Best Waterproof: Fjällräven Kånken Water Resistant Backpack
Originally designed for Swedish school children in the 70s, the iconic Kånken backpack uses its same Scandinavian design to offer practicality, function, and sufficient storage space. A particular highlight is its durable, dirt- and water-resistant Vinylon F fabric that also wipes clean. The 14 x 10 x 5-inch, 16-liter bag boasts a main zippered compartment (that fits most 13-inch laptops), front zippered pocket, and two side pockets for storing your essentials. For long travels, its ergonomic shoulder straps and top handles provide carrying versatility and support. It also doesn't hurt that this carry-on backpack comes in a host of trendy colors, including Frost Green, Acorn, Peach Pink, and more.
Products We Tested
What to Look for in a Carry-On Backpack
Weight Luggage restrictions are notoriously strict: You don’t want to use most of your weight allowance on the suitcase itself before you begin to pile in your clothing and gear. Look for bags that offer enough features to fit you best, but don’t overdeliver, creating unnecessary bulk and weight in the process.
Type of trip Are you looking for a backpack for a quick work trip or something that’s going to be a bit more rugged — and larger — for longer getaways? Some backpacks have features specifically for toting laptops; others make creative use out of pockets. Figure out what your trip needs are and go from there.
Price Cost per use is important when it comes to picking out carry-on luggage. If you travel frequently, invest accordingly in something that will be durable and last for years to come. If you’re prepping for a one-off trip, it might be better to look for something a little less expensive.
Test Results: Timbuk2 Uptown Laptop Backpack (Best TSA-Friendly)
Narrow at bottom
Our testers liked this backpack for its “very sleek” design and high-quality fabric. One reviewer also thought it was “very comfortable for your back because of its cushioning — and it fits well on the shoulders!” Although our testers didn’t have much to say in the way of negatives, one pointed out that its narrow build made it harder to carry flatter things (like lunchboxes).
Test Results: Oakley Kitchen Sink Accessory (Best for Storage)
Soft shoulder straps and waist strap
Side zipper for laptop access
Fits a ton of gear
Can get heavy
Slightly awkward top shell construction
Our testers loved that this bag hit the sweet spot between price point and quality to make this a carry-on they would happily rely on to hold their gear and clothing. And it really can hold more than you might guess, according to our reviewers. “An additional nice feature is that the bottom of the bag can be unzippered to give you a ton more space,” one person noted. Of course, all this capacity can quickly make the bag heavy when it’s stuffed full, but the weight will depend on what you bring with you. Testers mentioned that the shoulder straps were soft enough to help ease the load and that there’s a removable waist strap to relieve some weight from your shoulders.
Our reviewers also appreciated the large side zipper — which makes it easy to grab essentials — but did note that the top shell can be a little awkward to open and keep open while packing. All told, this bag is a bit too much for an everyday bag, our testers report, but they would very much recommend this Oakley for trips.