The 10 Best Carry-On Backpacks to Buy in 2018

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Passengers carrying bags in airbridge boarding aircraft, rear view, faces obscured
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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. Most airlines allow carry-on bags to be 22 x 14 x 9 inches (although some airlines do allow larger bags). Be sure to check with the airline before your flight since the requirements can change frequently. If you're not sure which one to buy, read on to see our list of the 10 best carry-on backpacks. 

  • 01 of 10

    As a newer version of Oakley’s popular, “Kitchen Sink” backpack, the Accessory is perfect for travelers who don’t pack light, but don’t want to check a bag. The “Accessory” 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 gear (think laptops, speakers, tablets, snacks and chargers) for a short getaway while still fitting easily in the overhead bin. Amazon buyers felt that the bag was large enough for their needs, but not overwhelmingly so (as the title might imply).  

  • 02 of 10

    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. 

  • 03 of 10

    Although wheeling luggage through the airport is easy, trying to wheel it down the tiny aisle in the airplane is not. A backpack on wheels is the best of both worlds, and the High Sierra AT3 Carry-On Wheeled backpack makes getting through the airport and to your seat on the plane a piece of cake. Like most luggage, the AT3 has a retractable handle and the main compartment opens like a book, but it has the added feature of padded shoulder straps for carrying. The bag has heavy-duty zippers, and a removable day pack that is ideal for a jaunt around town or for extra pocket space. This carry-on bag measures 9 x 22 x 13.5 inches, but at 10 pounds, it is a tad on the heavy side.

  • 04 of 10

    If you’re the type of traveler who is registered in Global Entry and 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 allows you to keep your laptop inside when going through security, so you can be on your way that much faster. The bag 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. The Timbuk2 is great for short trips, but if you’re traveling for more than a few days you’ll need something larger. 

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    If you prefer a lighter carry-on bag, the Sumtree Lightweight Foldable Packable Backpack is the way to go. For starters, it packs a lot of gear for a daypack: when unfolded it measures 10.5 x 19.5 x 5.9 inches, but weighs less than a pound. There are side pouches for water bottles and an internal pouch that is ideal for a cell phone, headphones or other small items. Besides being lightweight, the main draw is that it can fold into itself to make a little pouch that measures 9.8 x 8.6 x 1.2 inches for easy storage. The bag comes in eight different color options, and is ideal for a quick weekend getaway. Be aware that most compressible daypacks lack padding (or they wouldn’t be able to compress), however, for added comfort, the shoulder straps on this bag are wider than most.  

  • 06 of 10

    For travelers who prefer a carry-on backpack that stands out, the S-Zone has a sophisticated vintage look and plenty of pockets. Made of genuine saddle leather and cotton lining, the more you use the S-Zone, the more of a “rugged” look it gets. Five front pockets allow for small storage, and the water bottle holder on the side comes in handy. Measuring 17.3 x 12.6 x 5.1 inches, it’s one of the smaller backpacks, but it's perfect for toting the basic carry-on necessities. The S-Zone features high-quality craftsmanship, careful stitching and sturdy zippers. Amazon buyers appreciated the water bottle holder, but noted that standard water bottles could “sweat” onto the leather. 

  • 07 of 10

    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 luggage 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 bag measures 13 x 8 x 19.5 inches. 

  • 08 of 10

    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 it provides, yet at 20 x 13 x 8 inches and 2.5 pounds, it 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 bag 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. 

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    If you’re seeking a carry-on that can hold a lot of items, the Hynes Eagle has a near-flawless design that holds up to 40 liters of gear, but weighs just 2.4 pounds. One of the largest nuances of a backpack is having to dig to the bottom to recover items, but the Hynes Eagle Flight Approved bag has solved this issue by opening like a suitcase. The bag has a minimalist, clean look to it and comes in black, grey or purple. Four exterior compression straps allow you to adjust as needed to your height, and the middle compartment is padded to secure a laptop or tablet. A handy water bottle holder and interior slots make it easy to quickly access important items. The bag measures 20.1 x 12.4 x 9.8 inches, and some Amazon buyers noted that when completely full, the bag slightly exceeds carry-on dimensions. However, the compression straps can be adjusted to bring this back to carry-on requirements. 

  • 10 of 10

    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 – and yet it still has a professional look and even doubles as a briefcase. The Weekender flips open for easy screening through security without having to remove your laptop. Some Amazon users reported that the bag felt very large on their back, so it may not be ideal for smaller body types. 


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