The 15 Best Carry-On Backpacks of 2021

The best options for light packers, heavy packers, and everyone in between

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TRIPSAVVY-best-carry-on-backpacks

Chloe Jeong / TripSavvy

The Rundown

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

Chances are you’ve seen the Osprey Porter 30 Travel backpack in many security lines.

Best for Storage: Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack at Amazon

The name says it all: Oakley’s Kitchen Sink Backpack holds a ton of stuff.

Best for Minimalists: Away The Backpack at Away

A minimalist vibe for a spacious backpack with a few extra features.

Best Style: Oberworth Matterhorn Backpack at BH Photo Video

The style is clean, and you can easily turn it into a working backpack or camera bag.

Most Durable: Dagne Dover Dakota Medium Backpack at Dagne Dover

The flexible, weatherproof material is a practical—not to mention stylish—option.

Best Waterproof: Rains Roll Top Rucksack at Amazon

The Roll Top Rucksack is stylish and works incredibly hard to repel any kind of water.

Best for Packing: Patagonia Paxat 32L Backpack at Backcountry

At 32 liters, this bag is large enough to envelop a weekend’s worth of clothing and electronics.

Best Lightweight: Osprey Farpoint 40 at Amazon

It's lightweight, you can use it as a carry-on, and it’s very comfortable to wear.

Best Anti-Theft: Cotopaxi Allpa Travel Pack at Amazon

Made with a tough, coated polyester, the Allpa Travel Pack from Cotopaxi puts security first.

Best for Hiking: Topo Designs Klettersack 25L at Backcountry

Secure extra gear thanks to the leather lash tabs on the front of the pack.

Best Wheeled: Filson Dryden 2-Wheeled Carry-On Bag at Amazon

The Dryden 2-Wheeled Carry-On is a beautiful bag made with abrasion-resistant nylon.

A solid backpack is the key to a successful trip. Think about it: You can use it as a carry-on, and if you pack light, it'll be the only piece of luggage you bring on a trip. It won't bog you down as you rush to catch the inter-terminal train at the airport, and it'll look good on you as you stroll the streets of your destination. Find a good travel backpack and it will serve you for years to come.

There’s a lot to consider when you’re looking for a backpack to take you through all kinds of situations and environments. Waterproof, anti-theft, stylish, lightweight, wheels or no wheels—all things to keep in mind as you shop. To help you make the right move, we found the best travel backpacks around. And don’t just take our word for it: Some of the following options were even recommended by expert travelers.

Below, you’ll find the best travel backpack options, no matter what your priorities are.

Best Overall: Tortuga Setout Backpack

Tortuga Setout
Courtesy of Tortuga.com
5

The 45-liter Setout backpack from Tortuga not only feels similar to a suitcase (so much room!), but it also opens like one. If you plan on packing up an entire trip’s worth of clothing and essentials in one bag, this is a great option that abides by all carry-on size regulations. Not only does the interior offer great packing space, but there are plenty of zipper pouches—three on the exterior and a sizable laptop pouch on the interior—for storing shoes, toiletries, and tech accessories. There is also a Velcro compartment that holds the backpack straps when they’re not in use, which is a nice touch when you’re storing this bag.

Best Budget: Swiss Gear SA1186 Bungee Backpack

Swiss Gear SA1186 Bungee Backpack
Courtesy of Amazon.com
4.6

This backpack from travel gear company Swiss Gear has the basics: comfortable straps, a water bottle holder, a bungee cord section for easy-to-grab items, and a laptop compartment. While this isn’t the best option if you’re looking for something you can pack a week’s worth of essentials into, it is a wonderful choice if you plan on using it for day-to-day activities—especially if you’ll be toting around a laptop.

Best TSA-Friendly: Timbuk2 Uptown Laptop Backpack

Timbuk2 Uptown Laptop Backpack

Amazon 

4.3

If you’re wanting to make the TSA checkpoint process even smoother, look no further than Timbuk2’s Uptown Laptop Backpack. The biggest gold star goes to the laptop compartment—the front of the backpack zips fully open and lies flat, meaning you don’t have to take out your computer or iPad when you go through security. In addition to this, the sheer number of pockets and pouches is a dream for business travelers packing a lot of supplies or paperwork.

Best for Business: eBags Professional Weekender

eBags TLS Professional Weekender
Courtesy of Amazon.com
4

This backpack from eBags was designed to include plenty of space for tech and accessories, as well as a weekend’s worth of clothing. The front of it zips open and lies flat, so you don’t have to remove your laptop or iPad at the TSA checkpoint. It’s also as large as carry-on bags can get, measuring in at 21 x 14 x 8 inches. The straps are versatile and can be configured to be carried as a backpack, cross-body bag, or briefcase.

Best for Adventure: Osprey Porter Travel Duffel 30

4.7

Chances are you’ve seen the Osprey Porter 30 Travel backpack in many security lines—it’s a favorite due to small design details that make it easier to tote around for long periods of time. Measuring in at 2.8 pounds and 20 x 13 x 12 inches, there’s plenty of room to pack a week's worth of gear (or two with some packing cubes). The bag also has a removable harness hip belt for more adventurous outings.

Best for Storage: Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack

Oakley Kitchen Sink Accessory
Courtesy of Amazon.com
4.5

The name says it all: Oakley’s Kitchen Sink Backpack holds a ton of stuff. This bag is designed with plenty of pockets, and you can unzip the bottom section of the bag (usually reserved for wet or dirty items) for even more packing space. Despite being a true workhorse for fitting everything you could possibly need on your trip, it's easy to store in the overhead compartment thanks to its relatively compact size (8 x 14 x 20 inches).

Best for Minimalists: Away The Backpack

Away The Backpack

Away

The Backpack from Away is made of a water-resistant nylon, which already makes it a great pick for frequent travelers. But the real draw is the sleek design: a minimalist vibe for a spacious backpack with a few extra features. If you’re an Away fan (a.k.a. you have one of their beloved suitcases), this backpack has a trolley sleeve on the back that helps it attach to the handle of any Away suitcase. We wouldn’t count on packing a full trip’s worth of items in here, but it will serve you well as a versatile carry-on that won’t ruin your outfit when you’re out exploring.

Best Style: Oberworth Matterhorn Backpack

Oberwerth Matterhorn 13" Leather Backpack

Courtesy of B&H

Luxury travel expert Christina Tan reaches for her Oberworth Matterhorn Backpack for all things travel: “I love it because it looks smart, sleek, and elegant with its real leather material. Not only is the style clean, I can easily turn it into a working backpack or camera bag. It is spacious with a 13” laptop pocket and front pocket for tidbits—it’s also very comfortable to carry around.”

This is an investment piece, but worth the cost if you want something that’ll impress no matter where you find yourself. It's especially handy if you find yourself regularly packing camera equipment; the Matterhorn backpack easily fits a DSLR camera, two lenses, and a flash (and then some).

Most Durable: Dagne Dover Dakota Medium Backpack

Dagne Dover Medium Dakota Backpack

Dagne dover

When you imagine the word “durable,” neoprene may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But if you think of the various situations a carry-on backpack is introduced to throughout the process of a trip, the flexible, weatherproof material is a practical—not to mention stylish—option.

Travel expert Jordi Lippe-McGraw agrees: “When I need to strike a balance between practical and fashionable, I grab my Dagne Dover Dakota backpack,” she says. “It suits all my travel needs with a slip computer sleeve, interior zip pockets for all the on-the-go essentials, and removable pouches for versatility. Plus, it can handle an unexpected rainstorm and take a little travel-related beating." The backpack comes in sleek colors and patterns like ash blue, dark moss, and heather gray.

Best Waterproof: Rains Roll Top Rucksack

Clothing company Rains marries Scandinavian design with technical fabrics to create minimal gear that can withstand the elements. The 19-liter Roll Top Rucksack is incredibly stylish, but it also works hard to repel any kind of water. Two straps with rubberized buckles open up into a roomy interior, which includes a padded laptop compartment. In addition to the interior pocket, there’s also a waterproof zipped pocket on the front of the pack for storing items that require quick access. The entire bag measures 13.4 x 18.5 x 4.7 inches.

Best for Packing: Patagonia Paxat 32L Backpack

Patagonia Paxat 32L Backpack

Courtesy of Backcountry

"I typically spend as much as 180 days a year on planes,” says travel expert Brad Japhe. “So owning the proper rucksack was much more a matter of necessity than aesthetics. My main considerations are that it's rugged, durable, and ergonomic.” His favorite backpack, the Paxal from Patagonia, checks all of those boxes. “At 32 liters, it’s large enough to envelop a weekend’s worth of clothing and electronics (I love the dedicated laptop hold), but spry enough to carry through airports and stow under your seat without any complications. Patagonia also crushes the corporate responsibility game. I support them whenever I can.”

Best Lightweight: Osprey Farpoint 40

Accessible travel expert Stacey Marlene looks for a triple threat (lightweight, comfortable, and spacious) when it comes to travel backpacks. For her, the Farpoint 40 from Osprey fits the bill. “As a slow-traveler who backpacks on a budget, I love that it's lightweight, you can use it as a carry-on, and it’s very comfortable to wear,” she says. “You can also store away the shoulder straps and hip belt inside the backpack, and there's a big compartment where you can use it perfectly for your packing cubes.” Plus, it matches size regulations for most major airlines (21 x 14 x 9 inches).

Best Anti-Theft: Cotopaxi Allpa Travel Pack

Made with a tough, coated polyester, the Allpa Travel Pack from Cotopaxi puts security first with a few special features. There’s a shortcut zipper on the left side of the backpack, which allows the wearer to get into the main internal section of the backpack without having to take it off (meaning that there's less of a chance you’ll leave it somewhere). Plus, the external zippers have been designed with anti-theft webbing that has been sewn across the openings. All of this combined with the lack of front, exterior pockets puts the backpack's access in the hands of the wearer, not anyone else who may be passing by.

Best for Hiking: Topo Designs Klettersack 25L Backpack

Topo Designs Klettersack 25L Backpack

Courtesy of Backcountry

Topo Designs makes the kind of backpacks worthy of a double-take, much in part to their bold colorways. The Klettersack is no exception, with its earthy tones and minimalist silhouette. You wouldn’t think such a good-looking bag would also serve as a total workhorse on the trails, but we’re here to tell you that you can have the best of both worlds. This backpack is great for hikers, thanks to the leather lash tabs on the front of the pack, which make it easy to secure extra gear (think bike lights, climbing rope, and water bottles). The entire pack measures 11 x 20 x 5 inches, so it complies with carry-on regulations for all major airlines as well.

Best Wheeled: Filson Dryden 2-Wheeled Carry-On Bag

Wheeled backpacks are great if you want to cut down on the amount of weight you’re carrying around. The Dryden 2-Wheeled Carry-On from Filson is also a beautiful bag, made with abrasion-resistant nylon and a reinforced base of double-layered fabric and leather. At 21¾ x 14 x 9¼ inches, this carry-on adheres to the size regulations of all major airlines. Reviewers share that they’ve easily fit a week’s worth of clothing into the bag and often skip out on checking another bag altogether.

Final Verdict

If this research tells you anything, it’s that there are a ton of backpacks to choose from. If you’re looking for a solid option that provides a ton of packing space, go with the Tortuga Setout Backpack. It’ll fit everything on your packing list, and the extra space at the bottom for wet or dirty clothing is a rare find. If you need something more visually streamlined, spend the extra money and opt for the anti-theft-focused Cotopaxi Allpa Travel Pack (view at Amazon).


What to Look for When Buying a Carry-On Backpack

Price

Price points for carry-on backpacks will vary pretty widely, so consider what your largest needs are. You can find a spacious travel backpack for under $100—often under $50—but if you plan on facing tough outdoor environments, consider investing a bit more money for something waterproof. Leather backpacks can cost hundreds of dollars; keep this in mind if that material is important to you. Anti-theft travel backpacks can also be a bit more expensive, but are often essential in highly trafficked destinations. 

Style

There are so many different styles out there, you could spend days filtering through the different backpacks on the market. Keep it simple: How will you be using this backpack? If you’re going to be interfacing with clients or business partners, look for something minimal and sleek that doesn’t showcase a million pockets. If you plan on living out of your backpack for the majority of your trip, lean into the pockets. You'll want a bag that zips open flat like a suitcase for easy packing and unloading (this also makes going through security easier). 

Fit

If you’ll be using your travel backpack to hike, find something with a removable hip harness, so you can better distribute the weight of your pack when you’re on the move. If you plan on wearing your travel backpack casually—only in the airport or to work—seek out a style with adjustable straps and a padded back. This will help ward off any back pain, especially if you’re carrying a lot of weight. When you’re trying on backpacks, test out the shoulder straps and imagine how they would feel if the backpack were filled with a bunch of rocks. Is there ample padding? Will the material cut into your shoulders? Does the back of the backpack feel like it would be breathable? On this last point, mesh exteriors often help with that.

FAQs

How should I clean my backpack?

This will vary based on the material your backpack is made of. For nylon and other water-resistant fabrics, get a damp cloth and spot clean your pack. For leather backpacks, you’ll want to purchase a special leather conditioner and cleaner to properly maintain the integrity of your backpack. If your bag has plastic or metal elements, a damp cloth will do the trick.

Do I need a hip harness?

If you plan on hiking or spending long periods of time carrying your backpack, this is a good feature to have. It will help distribute the weight of your pack better across your body, ultimately providing more comfort. Most backpacks that are focused on outdoor adventures will have this feature. 

What are anti-theft backpacks?

Many backpacks are marketed as anti-theft, meaning it’s tougher for someone else to get inside your pack. Some backpacks have zippers that allow you to open the main interior compartment while you're wearing it—so you don’t have to take it off and risk having someone else pick it up. Others are designed with a webbing over the zipper openings, making it very hard for someone to locate and unzip the bag while you have it on.

Do all backpacks come with interior compression cords? 

No, this is not generally the norm when it comes to backpacks. Compression cords make packing a bit easier and function in the same way a compression strap or cord would work in a regular suitcase. Some travel-focused carry-on backpacks do have these built-in. But if you’re looking to squeeze in more items, consider investing in some packing cubes. These will help organize your backpack, too.

Why Trust TripSavvy

Erika Owen researched these options and reached out for the recommendations of people who depend on their carry-on backpacks for seamless travel.

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