There has always been this big debate about what type of bag is better for travel. Is it a suitcase or a backpack? For backpack enthusiasts, it’s not just the nostalgia of bringing your bag to school for over a decade, but it’s also the practicality of the bag.
Backpacks are more flexible and are generally lighter than suitcases. You can go from road to curb to sidewalk and whatever else with maximize maneuverability. So, over the years, many companies have come in to create their iteration of the “modern backpack,” a bag that’s great for packing your travel essentials and a bag that you can bring on the go.
Best Carry On Travel Backpacks
If you’re looking out for the best backpack for your travel, here’s our comprehensive list for the top carry on backpacks for your next adventure. Each has room for your laptop and digital life, along with at least a weekend worth of clothes, depending on who’s packing. Backpacks listed below range in size, from daypacks of 15L to larger ones of 30 to 45L for a week or longer excursion (just do laundry and pack smart).
The max you’ll be able to fit on a big international carrier for carry-on luggage is said to be 45L. You may be able to sneak more past, but why risk it, and why put your back thru the torture. Smaller domestic airlines, especially abroad, reduce this max size even further. You’ll have a hard time getting anything larger than 35L in some places, 30L or less is a safe bet for being okay anywhere.
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Here are the top rated carry on travel backpacks, in no particular order:
Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack – For Urban Digital Nomads
Whether it’s for work or leisure, if you’re traveling to different cities multiple times a year, then the Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack could be your next travel companion. The Outbreaker Collection from Tortuga has many variations, but we’ll talk about the 45L one because it has all the other features of the smaller versions in the collection.
When it comes to design, the Outbreaker has a contemporary, minimalist mode that’s flexible for all types of travel. Whether you’re going to a business meeting, or just touring the city, the Outbreaker’s slick design can adapt to your days on the go. It also has an adjustable torso length and a waist belt system, so it helps you manage that weight.
It has an “obsessive organization” feature. The pockets for documents, papers, passports, keys, and notebooks are beautifully arranged in a vertical manner near the back spine of the bag. Because of its relatively lightweight feature, it’s considered as a carry-on for most airlines, though on the maximum end..
- Brand: Tortuga
- Model: Outbreaker Backpack
- Capacity: 45L (or 35L)
- Weight: 5.1 lbs
- Colors: 1
- Other: Can fit a 17″ laptop, 9.7″ tablet, and chargers, Waterproof (VX21 waterproof sailcloth)
FARPOINT® 40 – Best for Beginners
If this is the first time you’re buying a carry-on travel backpack, the Osprey Farpoint 40 is a great starter bag. It suits a frequent traveler lifestyle because it’s a flexible travel bag that you can use in the city and the wild. It has a LightWire frame that transfers the weight of the bag from your shoulders to the hips.
This backpack has that rugged design, and because of its size, most can even get away without checking it in airports. But, if you were asked to open the bag for a check, the Osprey Farpoint 40 opens like a suitcase, so it’ll be a breeze during that process.
It also has well-made paddings and multiple compartments to help you manage your things. It also has a protective laptop compartment and mesh pockets to keep your valuables intact. This one’s available in both a men’s and women’s model, so you’ll find some subtle differences between the two.
- Brand: Osprey
- Model: FARPOINT® 40
- Capacity: 40L
- Weight: 3.17 lbs
- Colors: 3
- Other: Heat-embossed, scratch-free slash pocket, and fits 15-inch laptop
LowePro ProTactic 450 AW – Camera Intensive Travel
Whether you’re an amateur or professional photographer, finding that perfect bag to keep your valuables could be a challenge. DSLRs have a specific dimension. And if you’re the type of traveler who also brings accessories (like a tripod) with you, you may end up packing a separate bag for your clothes and accessories. Not with the LowePro ProTactic 450 AW.
The bag has four access points: top turret, back panel, and dual side access. This helps you get that accessory when you need it. When you’re done, quickly pack it inside for safekeeping. You can also bring a tripod or a monopod and attach it at the cinch straps or the tripod cup.
The ProTactic 450 AW also has the patented ActivZone harness, which provides excellent ventilation throughout the bag. Then, to support your varied travel needs, the backpack can create limitless configurations because of its external SlipLock strap system. Drawbacks is its heavy starting weight, but since it’s only 25L, you shouldn’t be able to pack it up too big.
- Brand: LowePro
- Model: ProTactic 450 AW
- Capacity: 25L
- Weight: 5.95 pounds
- Colors: 1
- Other: Not waterproof, but has an add-on bag protector
Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 15L – Day Travels
If you’re looking for an even smaller carry-on backpack, the Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 could be the perfect choice for you. For less than $100, the Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 is very competitive when it comes to value. It can pack up to 15L of valuables and has a unique safety feature.
Aside from its hardcore security feature, the Metrosafe LS350 also has a lot of customization features. It has an interior laptop sleeve, two side pockets for water bottles, wallet clip, two more interior pockets. It’s compact and light but spacious enough to fit in a DSLR and other tech accessories.
- Brand: Pacsafe
- Model: Metrosafe LS350 15L Anti Theft Laptop Daypack
- Capacity: 15L
- Weight: 1.46 lbs
- Colors: 3
- Other: Comes with 5-year Pacsafe warranty, anti-theft design, eXomesh Slashguards and RFIDsafe Blocking Pocket
Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack – Heavy-duty Excursions
Oakley’s Kitchen Sink Backpack stands out from the get-go because of its bold, animatronic-inspired design. It has this iconic rounded headcover connected to the lower straps in the front, which screams high performance.
The bottom and the top of the bag are made of rip and tear-resistant fabric, supported by buckles and straps for added security. The rugged backpack also blends its toughness with functional design. There’s a side zipper for easy laptop access and smaller pockets for your valuables. At the bottom of the bag, another enclosure can fit men’s hiking boots.
- Brand: Oakley
- Model: Kitchen Sink Backpack
- Capacity: 34L
- Weight: 4.1 lbs
- Colors: 1
- Other: Padded, comfortable shoulder straps, metal hardware and 17th laptop sleeve
Sumtree 35L Ultra Lightweight Foldable – Hiking Backpack
Sumtree 35L Ultra Lightweight Foldable is uniquely light and foldable. When we say carry-on travel backpacks, we usually have this expectation that these would be sturdy, heavy-duty bags. Sumtree’s 35L Ultra Lightweight is a nonconformist in this category.
The bag has a large main compartment, two zipped front pockets, side pockets, and external attachments. Bottom line for the price, this is a well reviewed backpack that’s tough to beat for the weekend traveler.
- Brand: Sumtree
- Model: 35L Ultra Lightweight Foldable
- Capacity: 35L
- Weight: 0.72 lbs
- Colors: 7
- Other: Mesh pockets, water and scratch resistant nylon material
eBags TLS Professional Weekender – Convertible Design
The eBags TLS Professional Weekender is a great carry-on bag for business trips and short travel tours. Its functional and fashion-forward design inspires modern travelers to have that minimal look. This bag also has a protective storage pocket for delicate items like your headphones and AC adaptors.
If you’re bringing essential paper documents like your passport, there’s a separate multi-tier compartment for papers and small accessories. There’s also hide-away backpack straps. It’s made by eBags.
- Brand: eBags
- Model: Professional Weekender Carry-On Backpack
- Weight: 3 lbs, 7 oz
- Colors: 3
- Other: Fits up to 18″ laptop, fleece-lined tablet sleeve, and secondary clothing compartment
Nomatic Travel Bag 40L – Smart Travel Backpack
The best thing about a modern carry-on backpack is the ability to bring your whole “life” in this small form. Now, everything is possible with the Nomatic Travel Bag. Nomatic (affiliate link) is a brand that started with a unique Kickstarter project. And the community has spoken with their $10 million cumulative funding; Nomatic’s travel science works!
The Nomatic Travel Bag 40L has been called the “perfect carry-on backpack” by many. It can carry whatever it is that you’ll pack in your suitcase. It has an extra-large main compartment with numerous pockets to fit your every need. What’s more is it contracts from 40L to 30L, so it can double as a daypack when you arrive. Its sister pack the Nomatic Travel Pack 30L expands from 20L to 30L.
For tech enthusiasts (which is basically almost every traveler), the Nomatic Travel Bag has been lauded because of its specialized tech organization feature. Everything has its own place, so there’s no need to unpack everything just to look for that one charger.
It’s also a convertible duffel bag, so it’s easy to bring from the airport to your destination. Or just pack it up and check-it if you don’t feel like carrying onboard. Nomatic’s durability is undeniable. So even if it leans on the more expensive side, this is an investment you’ll be able to use for the years ahead.
- Brand: Nomatic
- Model: Travel Pack
- Capacity: 40L (also 30L)
- Weight: 4lbs
- Colors: 1
- Other: Extra large opening, Water-resistant, waist straps, backpack-to-duffel convertible