The 12 Best Carry-On Backpacks of 2022, Tested and Reviewed

Cotopaxi's Allpa is the ultimate travel and adventure carry-on backpack

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Best Carry-On Backpacks

Chloe Jeong / TripSavvy

TripSavvy's Picks

Cotopaxi's Allpa 35L is the ultimate carry-on backpack. It's rugged with many clutch organizational options and comes with a waterproof rainfly. The Vancropak Carry-On Backpack is our top budget pick for its comfort, size, and organizational abilities.

A solid backpack is 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 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 tested 32 carry-on backpacks in our New York testing lab and in the real world. We tested for capacity, design, comfort, durability, and value.

Below, based on our testing, you’ll find the best travel backpack options, regardless of your priorities.

Best Overall

Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack

5
Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack

Amazon

What We Like
  • Super durable material

  • Excellent organization capabilities with multiple-sized pockets

  • Very comfortable with adjustable hip belts and sternum straps that are also stowable

  • It comes with a rainfly

  • The newest version is even lighter weight and more rugged than previous models

What We Don't Like
  • Seriously nothing yet

Does the perfect travel backpack exist? We’re not sure, but we can’t think of one that comes closer than the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L. This second version of Cotopaxi’s best-selling backpack is rugged, comfy, has excellent organization capabilities, and is the perfect size to throw in an overhead bin, toss in a vehicle, and huff around from train to hostel.

The pack uses burly TPU-coated 1000D polyester and lightweight 840D ballistic nylon paneling. It has excellent weight distribution with comfy shoulder and sternum straps and hip belts. Or stow the straps and carry the pack with side handles. The inside features multiple pockets of different sizes that we found perfect for separating clean and dirty clothes, electronics, and shoes. Bonus: It comes with a rainfly to protect it from weather.

Price at time of publish: $200

Capacity: 35 liters | Weight: 3 pounds, 8 ounces | Dimensions: 20 x 12 x 8 inches | Materials: TPU-coated 1000D polyester and 840D ballistic nylon

Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Backpack

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Best Overall, Runner-Up

Osprey Fairview 40

5
Osprey Fairview 40

Amazon

What We Like
  • The 40 liters fits as a carry-on but also has loads of space

  • Lots of compartments and straps

  • Comfortable to carry with good padding and weight distribution

What We Don't Like
  • Nothing yet

Osprey’s women’s-specific Fairview 40 pack impressed our judges with its size, space, and compartments. “This bag has a lot of compartments and a lot of straps to hold everything in place,” our testers reported. Despite the bag fitting a bit large on our tester, she reported it still being very comfortable to wear. Osprey employs its proprietary Lightwire Frame Suspension, which helps spread the weight across the back panel and from the harness to the hip belt.

Despite being a 40-liter pack, it weighs just about 3 pounds, thanks to the lightweight nylon ripstop material and frame. “It did not hurt my back, and I like how most of the weight was shifted to my lower back,” our tester mentioned. Besides the fit, we also appreciate it when all straps are stowable, making it easy just in case you need to check the bag on a plane (which is possible on smaller planes with this larger-capacity pack. For the men’s version of the same pack, check out the Farpoint 40.

Price at time of publish: $160 for X-Small/Small

Capacity: 38 liters (extra-small/small size) | Weight: 3 pounds, 1 ounce | Dimensions: 19.3 x 13.8 x 8 inches | Materials: 210D nylon mini hex diamond ripstop and 600D packcloth

Osprey Fairview Carry-On Backpack

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Best Budget

Vancropak 40L Travel Backpack

Vancropak 40L Travel Backpack

Amazon

What We Like
  • Plenty of room for a weekend trip and more

  • Business casual style could easily double as a business travel pack

  • It comes with packing cubes

What We Don't Like
  • No laptop sleeve

  • Cloth material could get dirty easier than other packs on the list

This 40-liter pack checks all the boxes, including excellent value. Vancropak says it fits enough for trips between three and seven days, and we’d have to agree. “It fit everything even though I packed quickly and not thoughtfully or strategically,” our tester said. “It’s perfect for a weekend trip when you want to pack extra ‘just in case’ outfits or items. It even expands to provide more room. It has extra pockets, opens like a suitcase, many different handles, and the backpack straps can be tucked and zipped away.” Compression straps also help shrink the pack back down after being packed.

And if you weren’t convinced yet of its value, it also includes packing cubes. “ It's business casual in style that would be great for a short business trip,” a tester added. One nitpick? There’s no laptop sleeve. But our testers thought the other features—and comfort—more than made up for that slight issue.

Price at time of publish: $60

Capacity: 40 liters | Weight: 3.98 pounds | Dimensions: 20 x 13.7 x 6.2 inches | Materials: Water-resistant polyester

Vancropak 40L Travel Backpack

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Best Value

Asenlin 40L Travel Backpack

4.8
Asenlin 40L Travel Backpack

Amazon

What We Like
  • Internal straps for organization and external straps for compression

  • Three ways to carry/hold the pack

  • Not overly heavy

What We Don't Like
  • Our tester didn’t love the style of the pack

If you weren’t digging the budget pack above, behold another excellent value travel pack. Like the Vancropak, the Asenlin Travel Backpack also includes three packing cubes. Our testers found they could easily fit everything needed for a weekend trip. They also liked the internal straps for organization and external straps for compression. “It had three ways in which you could hold it, which is nice,” the testers reported. “It has a lot of different pockets and storage areas. The bottle holder on the side also unzips to expand, which is a nice addition.”

Our testers liked how comfortable the bag was to wear and that it wasn’t overly heavy (the brand claims it weighs less than 3 pounds). We also believe this could double as a business travel bag.

Price at time of publish: $80

Capacity: 40 liters | Weight: 2.7 pounds | Dimensions: 18.5 x 12.5 x 9.5 inches | Materials: Water-resistant polyester Oxford cloth

Asenlin 40L Travel Backpack

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Best for Business Travel

Nomatic Travel Bag 40L

4.6
Nomatic Travel Bag 40L

Nomatic

What We Like
  • It could probably fit up to a week’s worth of items

  • Good organization with two different shoe pockets, laptop sleeve, and other compartments

  • It comes with an additional laundry bag

What We Don't Like
  • It wasn’t the most comfortable to carry

  • Some scuff marks after tossing around

While we certainly love this bag's sleek and simplistic look, there’s a lot more to it than just looks. It’s durable and water-resistant, has multiple carry options (like a duffel and over the shoulders), a separate shoe compartment and laundry bag, loads of tech organization, and a TSA-ready laptop sleeve.

Our testers loved the capacity of this pack. “It easily fit everything on the list with plenty of room to spare,” one tester said. “I think everything you would need for up to a week's worth of clothing would fit easily.” The pronounced rectangular shape of the bag made it extra easy to pack and helped organize folded clothes. “The bag had two different shoe pockets, a laptop sleeve, and many other compartments for both smaller clothing items and even some work supplies,” a tester reported.

The one drawback of this pack was our testers didn’t find it the most comfortable. Specifically, the straps were stiff and dug into our tester’s neck. Overall, though, our testers were very pleased with the pack and thought it was worth the fit, especially for the design and ease of packing.

Price at time of publish: $290

Capacity: 40 liters | Weight: 3.4 pounds | Dimensions: 19 x 21 x 14 inches | Materials: Not listed

Nomatic 40L Travel Backpack

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Best Multi-Use

Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L

4.9
Peak Design Travel 45L Backpack
TripSavvy / Conor Ralph.
What We Like
  • Excellent capacity

  • Zippers allow access from four different sides of the bag

  • Grab handles on each side

  • Pockets on the hip belts to access smaller items easily

What We Don't Like
  • A tad expensive

This 45-liter travel pack from Peak Design debuted at the Outdoor Retailer in 2018 and promptly won many awards. A few years later, it still holds up. Peak Design basically thought of everything when designing this pack. The outside features bomber weatherproof recycled 400D nylon canvas and ultralight padded foam. It includes grab handles on each side, stowable hip belts, and a sternum strap. The inside has multiple pockets for organization and loads of room for trips of four days or longer.

Our testers loved the capacity and zippers allowing access from four different sides of the bag. “It was super easy to pack, and there were just enough organizational solutions to provide options for different packing strategies,” a tester said. “I also loved how many handles there were. A hand grab handle on all four main sides of the bag makes it super easy to maneuver, especially when putting it in the overhead compartment.”

Testers also liked the sheath built into the pack to stow the hip belt and the small pocket on the belt to grab quick items like chapstick, keys, or cards. They also enjoyed the water bottle pockets on both sides and the pack's comfort. Oh, and this pack is 100 percent carbon neutral. The only issue they saw was the price. At $300, it’s one of the most expensive on this list. But if you can look at this as an investment, the durability suggests it should last for many years.

Price at time of publish: $300

Capacity: 45 liters | Weight: 4.5 pounds | Dimensions: 22 x 13 x 9.5 inches | Materials: Weatherproof 100 percent recycled 400D nylon canvas external shell and 900D waterproof bottom liner

Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L

TripSavvy / Conor Ralph

Most Comfortable

Topo Designs Global Travel Bag 40L

Topo Designs Global Travel Bag 40L

Topo Designs

What We Like
  • Lots of compartments and pockets for organization without adding on packing cubes

  • Many different carrying options

  • Very comfortable and durable

What We Don't Like
  • Concerns with fitting enough to last more than three days

If your travel involves carrying your backpack for long periods, we recommend Topo Design’s Global Travel Bag. This super durable pack is also super comfortable with plush and padded shoulder straps and a hip belt. We also love that there are multiple ways to carry this pack with a comfy and padded sling. But there are many other features to love about this pack. Its construction includes loads of durable and recycled nylons with a canvas feel. And it meets Fair Wear certification standards, ensuring it meets labor standards that benefit those making the pack for you.

“There are a ton of compartments and pockets, so a lot of options for staying organized with small or loose items in the absence of packing cubes,” one tester said. “I could easily see places to stash cords, travel docs, electronics, water bottles, and more.”

While our testers liked a lot about this bag—including its durability—the comfort won them over. “All the features built into the bag suggest it's intended to create maximum comfort for someone who anticipates carrying the bag for a more extended period of time,” our tester concluded.

Price at time of publish: $229

Capacity: 40 liters | Weight: 3 pounds, 10.4 ounces | Dimensions: 22.5 x 14 x 7.5 inches | Materials: 1000D recycled nylon, 400D recycled nylon, 210D recycled nylon, 1680D recycled ballistic nylon

Topo Designs Global Travel Pack

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Best Splurge

Bellroy Transit Backpack Plus

Bellroy Transit Backpack Plus

Amazon

What We Like
  • The flat opening made for easy packing

  • Light and comfortable

  • Durable

What We Don't Like
  • Just one large compartment

If you weren’t into our business travel pick above, consider this your alternative. This pack's sleek, durable, and comfortable design makes it ideal for business and formal travel. Our testers found it easy to pack items for up to three or four days. Lighter packers could stretch it to five days worth of items. The inside is designed more like a typical carry-on pack with one large compartment.

“This bag felt super light on my back and was padded in the right places,” a tester reported. “It had an adjustable sternum strap and waist strap that you can tuck into the back of the back when you don't want to use them, which was a genius feature.” Our testers were also impressed with the durability test, as this pack had no marks or scuffs after being tossed around our lab.

Price at time of publish: $299

Capacity: 38 liters | Weight: 3.3 pounds | Dimensions: 21.7 x 15 x 9.4 inches | Materials: Recycled Dura Nylon

Bellroy Transit Backpack

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Best Style

Samsonite Silhouette 17 Backpack

4.6
Samsonite Silhouette 17 Backpack

Macy's

What We Like
  • The suitcase-like opening makes it easy to access everything inside

  • Good support made it feel light and easy to carry

  • Good weight distribution and adjustable

What We Don't Like
  • Almost too many pockets, making it complicated to pack

Launched in 1958, Samsonite’s Silhouette collection is likely the oldest on our list. But those six decades of innovation have helped make it one of the best and most versatile bags on our list—not to mention one with excellent style. But not only does this bag look good, but you should also feel good knowing it features 100 percent post-consumer recycled PET bottles.

Our testers liked the size of the bag and the opening, similar to a suitcase, which made it easy to pack and access items. There were many—almost too many—pockets and compartments. And our testers loved how comfortable and supportive this bag was to carry, noting its excellent weight distribution. “I would recommend this bag to someone looking for a backpack they can use as a primary form of luggage,” a tester concluded. “It has enough room and compartments to fit all of the essentials and keep them organized. It's also comfortable, supportive, and easy to carry.”

Price at time of publish: $400

Capacity: Not listed | Weight: 3.31 pounds | Dimensions: 20 x 12.5 x 7 inches | Materials: Polyester and Recyclex

Samsonite Silhouette 17

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Best Organization

Wandrd Hexad Access Duffle

4.8
Wandrd Hexad Access Duffle

Wandrd

What We Like
  • Excellent organization potential with many compartments and pockets

  • Good padding on straps and back made it extra comfortable

  • Can purchase camera cubes as an add-on for traveling with photo gear

What We Don't Like
  • The front straps came off easily

This pack from WANDRD is for the organization-obsessed or those looking for a pack that could also double as a duffel. The Hexad Access Duffel Backpack has loads of external and internal pockets, including an RFID secure passport pocket, dual side access, an expandable laundry pocket, and mesh internal dividers.

“I truly love bags that have many, many compartments because everything will have its own place,” our tester reported. “I enjoy organization, and I can organize all my items in this bag; there are pockets for smaller items. I find that very helpful.”

Beyond that, our testers loved how comfortable this pack is, its durable construction, and its multiple carrying options.

Price at time of publish: $279

Capacity: 45 liters | Weight: 3.9 pounds | Dimensions: 9 x 14 x 22 inches | Materials: Waterproof Tarpaulin and 1680D Ballistic Nylon with WR Army Coating

Wandrd Hexad Carry-On Backpack

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Best for Techies

Thule Subterra Backpack 34L

Thule Subterra Backpack 34L

Amazon

What We Like
  • Functional and looks good

  • Garment bag included for dirty clothes

  • Portable charger for phones, laptops, and other tech items

What We Don't Like
  • Not the most comfortable bag

We’ve been pleasantly surprised with Thule’s line of luggage. And that certainly includes the Subterra Backpack. This rugged pack could also be a good commuter option as it has a magnetic rolling top closure, a padded laptop sleeve, and PowerPocket for charging items. We love that it has many access points and comes with a packing cube and garment bag for dirty clothes.

"I loved being able to put my normal packing cubes inside the big cube that comes with the bag is able to use the bag as a day bag anytime I needed to carry extra, and it never felt super bulky,” a tester reported, however noting, the bag didn’t help their hurting back. Not surprisingly, considering its construction, the pack aced the durability test.

Price at time of publish: $180

Capacity: 34 liters | Weight: 2.75 pounds | Dimensions: 20.5 x 12.2 x 9.1 inches | Materials: 800D nylon

Thule Subterra Backpack

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Best for Storage

Mystery Ranch Mission Rover

Mystery Ranch Mission Rover

Mystery Ranch

What We Like
  • Rugged with handles around the pack for easy grabbing

  • Good organization

  • Multiple carrying options

What We Don't Like
  • A bit heavy

If you’ve never heard of Mystery Ranch, let us introduce you to the Bozeman, Montana-based brand, which makes super rugged packs for backpacking, hunting, and military and firefighters. This travel-focused pack is incredibly solid on the outside and has many excellent organization and design features inside.

The pack has intelligent features like stowable shoulder straps and hip belts, multiple carrying options, a dirty clothes compartment, three inner divided pockets, and lockable zippers.

Price at time of publish: $199

Capacity: 45 liters | Weight: 4.3 pounds | Dimensions: 21 x 13 x 12 inches | Materials: Plain spun nylon, 210D nylon

Other Carry-On Backpacks We Tested

We tested 28 carry-on backpacks for this roundup. Other backpacks we tested include the Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack, Aer Travel Pack 3, Able Carry Max Backpack, Minaal Carry-on 3.0 Bag, Calpak Luka Laptop Backpack, Away The Front Pocket Backpack, Dagne Dover Dakota Neoprene Backpack, Everlane The ReNew Transit Backpack, TIMBUK2 Never Check Expandable Backpack, Tropicfeel Shell Backpack, Beis Hanging Travel Backpack Bag, Amazon Basics Carry-On Travel Backpack, and Vancropak Travel Backpack.

Bellroy Transit Backpack

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Product Selection

We selected products to test based on the expertise of TripSavvy editors and writers and internet research. Not surprisingly, TripSavvy editors and writers travel a lot. And they have many carry-on backpacks they like and don’t like.

To ensure we weren’t missing anything, we also researched what other prominent sites have featured and top-rated and reviewed backpacks on sites like Amazon and REI. Once an initial list of products was selected, we narrowed it down to the 28 above tested based on style, function, and price.

Carry-on backpack testing

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

How We Tested Carry-On Backpacks

We tested the backpacks for capacity, design, comfort, durability, and value. In our New York City-based testing lab, we asked testers to pack each backpack with three shirts, two pants, one jacket, one pair of shoes, and a toiletry bag to test for capacity. We asked the testers to consider all aspects of the backpack’s construction, organizational capabilities, and innovation for design.

Testers then carried the backpacks around using the different carrying styles. We asked the testers to rate how comfortable the bags felt fully packed. After the comfort test, we asked testers to toss and throw each bag several feet multiple times. We looked for damage on the outside of the bag and any damage to products inside the bag. Lastly, we asked testers to rate the bags based on the overall value after looking at the price of each bag.

We have since sent the backpacks to testers to continue testing as they travel. We will update this document accordingly as their insights are submitted.

Carry-on Backpack Testing

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

What to Look for When Buying a Carry-On Backpack

Price

The price points for carry-on backpacks will vary 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 harsh 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 be a bit more expensive but are often essential in highly trafficked destinations.

Style

There are so many 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 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 most of your trip, lean into your 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 are using your travel backpack for hiking, find something with a removable hip harness to distribute the weight of your pack better 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 carry a lot of weight. When you’re trying on backpacks, test out the shoulder straps and imagine how they would feel if the pack was 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.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How should I clean my backpack?

    This will vary based on the material in which your backpack is made. 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 maintain the integrity of your backpack correctly. A damp cloth will do the trick if your bag has plastic or metal elements.

  • Do I need a hip belt?

    This is an excellent feature if you plan on hiking or spending long periods carrying your backpack. 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 wearing it—so you don’t have to take it off and risk having someone else pick it up. Others are designed with 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 internal compression cords?

    No, this is not generally the norm when it comes to backpacks. Compression cords make packing easier and function 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 want to squeeze in more items, consider investing in some packing cubes. These will help organize your backpack, too.

Carry-On Backpack Testing

TripSavvy / Jhett Thompson

Why Trust TripSavvy

Nathan Allen is TripSavvy’s Outdoor Gear Editor. He has traveled to five continents, including plane, train, and bus travel. He prefers a backpack for most traveling over spinners or roller suitcases because of their ruggedness and different carrying methods. He currently uses Cotopaxi’s Allpa 35L, Thule’s Subterra, and Topo Design’s Global Travel Pack the most. Each product recommended in this review was thoroughly researched and tested.

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