The 13 Best Carry-On Backpacks to Buy in 2018

We have the best options for your traveling needs

Passengers carrying bags in airbridge boarding aircraft, rear view, faces obscured
••• Peter Bannan / Getty Images

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 best carry-on backpacks. 

  • 01 of 13

    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

    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. 

  • 03 of 13

    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. 

  • 04 of 13

    If you prefer a hybrid backpack carry on, the Aoking backpack by Jollychick can give your back a break with the ability to roll the bag easily behind you. The backpack includes an anti-rust, retractable handle, foot rests and durable rubber wheels. When carrying the bag, there’s a breathable mesh backing and porthole for headphones – making trekking through the airport a little more comfortable. The backpack comes in a 20-inch and 22-inch size with loads of pockets and compartments both inside and outside, including slots for cell phones and wallets, plus loops to attach other items to the exterior. It is made of waterproof nylon in case of an unexpected rain shower.

    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    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 13

    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

    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. 

  • 08 of 13

    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. 

    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    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 13

    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. 

  • 11 of 13
    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. 

  • 12 of 13
    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...MORE 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 Lifewire commerce team with a sample Setout backpack for review.

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13
    Kenneth Cole Reaction backpack
    ••• Courtesy of Macys.com

    For a bag that will help relieve pressure on your shoulders and back while protecting your gear, the Kenneth Cole Reaction Icy Hot is a top choice. Loaded with padding, the 18-inch expandable bag has two compartments, including a lined, padded pocket for up to a 17-inch laptop. The front exterior has small zipped pockets for cell phones, boarding passes, headphones and other must-have items, plus two holster pockets at the sides. There are also padded shoulder straps, a comfortable carrying handle with molded grip, as well as a breathable, mesh back. Made from sturdy polyester, the carry-on backpack is ideal for an overnight or to complement a checked bag for longer trips. 

At TripSavvy, our expert writers are committed to researching and writing thoughtful and editorially independent reviews of the best products for your trip. If you like what we do, you can support us through our chosen links, which earn us a commission. Learn more about our review process.