The 13 Best Carry-On Backpacks to Buy in 2018

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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 and review TSA carry-on information 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 best carry-on backpacks. 

Our Top Picks

01 of 13

Best Overall: Oakley Kitchen Sink Accessory

Oakley Kitchen Sink Accessory
Courtesy of Amazon.com
4.7

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 13

Best TSA-Friendly: Timbuk2 Uptown Laptop Backpack

Timbuk2 Uptown Laptop Backpack
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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. 

Take a peek at some of the other best TSA-approved containers you can buy.

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Best Budget: Swiss Gear SA1186 Bungee Backpack

Swiss Gear SA1186 Bungee Backpack
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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. 

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Best Wheeled: High Sierra AT3 Carry-On Wheeled Backpack

Versatility is the name of the game with the High Sierra AT3 Carry-On Wheeled Backpack. It’s essentially three bags in one—you can use it as a backpack, as a wheeled carry-on bag, or as a day pack once you arrive at your destination—which means it’s just as well-suited to urban travel as it is for wheeling through an airport. The bag’s main compartment is rather roomy, with interior clothing straps and a book-style opening. Perhaps best of all, there’s a removable front day pack (with plenty of storage space, from a zippered accessory pocket to dual water bottle pockets), so you don’t have to worry about carrying an extra few pounds of plastic in the form of wheels when you want to take this bag on your sightseeing tour. The High Sierra AT3 Carry-On Wheeled Backpack is made of duralite tech-weave, measures 22” x 13.5” x 9” (while the daypack itself measures 16.5” x 12” x 5.75”), and weighs just 9.5 pounds. 

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best carry-on roller bags.

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Best Lightweight: Sumtree Lightweight Foldable Packable Backpack

Sumtree Lightweight Foldable Packable Backpack
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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.  

Check out our other reviews of the best lightweight luggage items available on the market today.

06 of 13

Best for Electronics: Kensington Secure Track 17

Kensington Secure Track 17
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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. 

07 of 13

Best Suitcase-Style: Tortuga Setout Backpack

Tortuga Setout
Courtesy of Tortuga.com

The Setout backpack is a great carry-on bag 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 injection molded foam padded shoulder straps, as well as highly cushioned, breathable mesh back support. If you maybe went a little overboard on packing, two detachable velcro waist buckles provide even extra support by transferring 80 percent of the bag’s weight to the hips and have zippered pockets that are ideal for a smartphone, wallet, boarding pass or passport.

There’s also a Neoprene sleeve on the side that can keep your water bottle secure. 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, flip-flops or smaller items such as bathing suits, socks and 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, 9.7-inch tablet, power cables, pens, notebooks and more.

One final 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 on the top or side of the bag (like a traditional duffle), which makes it pretty versatile, to say the least.

Note: Tortuga provided the TripSavvy commerce team with a sample Setout backpack for review.

08 of 13

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 bag 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. 

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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 it provides, yet at 20 x 13 x 12 inches and 2.8 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. 

Check out our guide to the best trekking backpacks you can buy today. 

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Best Design: Hynes Eagle Flight

Hynes Eagle Flight
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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. 

11 of 13

Best for Business: eBags TLS Professional Weekender

eBags TLS Professional Weekender
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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. 

12 of 13

Best for Versatility: Gregory I-Street Backpack

Gregory I-Street Backpack
Courtesy of Jet.com

Whether using it in the office, for outdoor getaways, weekend trips or just day-to-day use, the I Street Backpack by Gregory is perfect for many occasions. The versatile backpack has a stylish messenger-bag front, woven rip-stop material and TPU coating for durability, so you can take it to the office followed by an outdoor adventure when the workday is done. The roll-top design and double-lined, water-resistant bottom are idea for hiking or canoeing, and the dedicated padded laptop and tablet sleeves make it a perfect carry-on bag when navigating through airport layovers. Padded shoulder straps and backing, as well as a waist strap help to relieve pressure – allowing you to carry more. 

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Best for Comfort: ZOMAKE Ultra Lightweight Packable Backpack

Zomake Ultra-Lightweight Packable Backpack

 Amazon

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 ZOMAKE bag (it has over 1,000 five-star reviews on Amazon) 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 ZOMAKE Ultra Lightweight Packable Backpack measures 11.8” x 16.5” x 7.1”, and it comes in several colors, including army green, black, red, pink, and yellow. 

Products We Tested

How We Tested

Our reviewers spent 42 hours testing one of the most popular carry-on backpacks on the market. They took it on trips, commuted with it, and evaluated the bag’s overall performance. We asked them to consider the bag’s most important features, including capacity, durability, and value. We’ve outlined a few of those major considerations here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.

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: Oakley Kitchen Sink Accessory (Best Overall)

4.7

What We Like

  • Soft shoulder straps and waist strap

  • Side zipper for laptop access

  • Fits a ton of gear

What We Don't Like

  • Can get heavy

  • Slightly awkward top shell construction

Oakley Kitchen Sink Accessory
Oakley Kitchen Sink Accessory back
Oakley Kitchen Sink Accessory detail
Oakley Kitchen Sink

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.