15 Best Carry-On Travel Backpacks of 2024

From modular to minimalist, the leading carry-on backpacks provide a perfect blend of functionality and style, tailored for those who travel light and fast.

Maybe you’re a one bag travel veteran, and you’re readily aware of just how critical it is to find the best carry-on backpack. Or perhaps you’re about to embark on your first trip, and you’re determined to travel the world with carry-on backpacks only to relieve some of the nerves.

Whatever the case, sifting through the mountain of options is, well…daunting. Of course, many travel backpack brands tout themselves as the be all end all. Which means that you’ve got more choices than toppings on a build-your-own pizza menu.

Except some people put pineapples on their pizza. And, in the same vein, not every carry-on is going to be the best carry-on bag for you.

Do you want a top-loader or do you prefer a front-opening bag? How do you feel about zippers or velcro? Snap or drawstring closure? What size backpack are you looking for? Just how durable does this carry-on backpack really need to be?

From modular to minimalist, I’ve compiled the best carry-on backpacks on the market today. I’ve also put together a section on specific features and details to pay extra close attention to when you’re making your final decision.

These are my top picks of the best carry-on backpacks for every scenario.

Why You Should Trust Us

Every member of the TravelFreak team is an avid traveler and adventurer. We have a soft spot in our hearts for a great backpack. Most of us have lived out of a backpack at one time or another, whether doing one-bag travel around the globe or long-distance thru-hiking.

Needless to say, a fair number of packs have gone through our hands over the years. Over the past two decades, we’ve tested well over 100 travel packs and learned a lot about what makes a good carry-on backpack.

We know how hard it is to find the perfect pack, and we want to make the process easier for you. So we got our team of gear junkies and former product engineers together to develop the most comprehensive backpack test methodology and rating system possible.

We tested the majority of backpacks on this list hands-on during our own travels. These include the Tortuga Travel Backpack, Peak Design Travel Backpack, Cotopaxi Allpa, Aer Travel Pack 3, Nomatic Travel Bag, Topo Designs Global Travel Backpack, and Osprey Farpoint. The remaining packs were chosen based on extensive research of existing reviews, specs, features, and design.


Tortuga Travel Backpack: Best Carry-On Backpack Overall

Tortuga Travel Backpack

For dashing from country to country and city to city like the traveling pro you are, no bag can match space efficiency, durability, or style that the 40L Tortuga Travel Backpack brings to the table. There’s a reason it tops our list of the best carry-on backpacks.

The front-loader main compartment makes the Tortuga Travel Backpack open just like a suitcase, and it has plenty of open space for all the clothes you could possibly need for a successful one-bag adventure. But you organizers out there needn’t worry; there are ample pockets in this travel pack as well.

Gear such as laptops and tablets will find dedicated sleeves, while anything and everything from underwear to toothbrushes can find a home in one of the many accessory pockets. Plus, the nearly indestructible sailcloth exterior will stand up to all the rigors of international travel.

But what the sailcloth boasts in durability it lacks in rigidity. So all the space and compartments available to you can be a bit bulgy, especially if you’re an over-packer. This may lead to an awkward sizing situation as you’re trying to board your flight with a large bulging bag as a carry-on. And be warned, that if you’re a superb over-packer, the bag may not fit in the carry-on sizing box at all!

Keep an eye on size, and utilize the padded shoulder straps and removable belt to distribute the extra heft this bag has.

The Tortuga Travel Backpack isn’t overly complicated. It has just the right features to keep you organized, and the comfort and durability make this travel pack really stand out from the crowd of carry-on backpacks.

Click here for my full Tortuga Outbreaker review.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Incredibly durable sailcloth material .
  • Practically identical bag available in 35L and 45L.
  • Intuitively organized pockets and sleeves.
  • Plenty of open space for clothing storage
  • Can easily expand beyond official carry-on size restrictions with a lot of gear stuffing.
  • A little on the heavy side
Dimensions20.3" x 12.9" x 8.2"22" x 14" x 9"
FabricWaterproof SailclothWaterproof Sailcloth

Peak Design Travel Bag: Best Carry-On Backpack for International Travel

Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L Black

If you’re an organized traveler, the Peak Design Travel Bag is just what you need. Peak Design has been in the pack industry for years, and it places a special emphasis on photography-compatible travel bags. So their products are ideal for those who plan on carrying camera gear. But don’t turn away if you’re not an avid photo taker.

The Peak Design Travel Backpack has pockets and sleeves galore in the 35 liters (expandable up to 45 liters). The laptop sleeve, hidden passport/document pocket, multiple mesh pockets, and dividers all work together to make sure that every single piece of your travel gear is securely stowed. The side-access pockets and full-panel opening also ensure that all this gear is accessible, while the impressive weatherproof zippers and nylon keep everything dry.

The cons? Over-compartmentalization in the Peak Design Travel Backpack can sometimes limit the amount of travel gear you can bring if you’re continually trying to shoehorn items into dividers and pockets.

Still, while the Peak Design Travel Backpack is a little boxy, this backpack will hold its shape and sit upright even when empty, which can be a pro or con depending on your travel style. Speaking of style, this bag can be an ideal companion for one bag travel to cities, countrysides, or even safaris where camera users can really see the compartmentalization design shine.

While I wouldn’t recommend it for extreme hiking, The Peak Design Travel Backpack is the best option for international travel.

Read my full Peak Design Travel Backpack review here.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Impressive pocket and organizing system .
  • Side access and full front panel opening.
  • Collapsible design.
  • Weatherproof.
  • Comfortable and stash-able shoulder and hip belts.
  • Well-padded laptop sleeve keeps your device safe
  • Bag style is capsule-like and an acquired taste.
  • Over organizing may limit the amount of gear, as opposed to an open cavern bag design
Capacity35L expands to 45L
Dimensions21" x 15" x 5.75"
Weight4.5 lbs
Fabric400D Nylon

Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack: Best Carry-On Backpack for Women

Cotopaxi Allpa 35L

For women looking for a comfortable and stylish carry-on travel backpack, the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack is hard to beat. This sturdy little bag will stand up to even the roughest treatment, and the interior is meticulously organized, making it easy to pack.

TPU-coated 1000 Denier Polyester is certainly nothing to sneer at. It will hold up to drips, drops, and drags with ease and, when the clouds come out, there’s a cover for the rain. While all this protection does add to the overall weight, you’ve got a practically bombproof bag.

Plus all the organization is top-notch. Once inside the suitcase-style zippered bag, you’ll find a main zippered mesh compartment for your larger items (clothes), as well as several smaller zippered mesh pockets on the opposite side for all your additional gear. (All external zippers feature security loops to hinder anyone who might try to open your bag and slip out any valuables.)

Notice all the zippers? If you’re in a hurry or simply don’t like zipper-ing constantly, then this can be a hindrance. The intuitive organization, however, overshadows this handicap as there seems to be a custom spot for just about every piece of gear, including your laptop.

All in all, the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack is a wonderfully stylish pack that can hold up to city or outdoor travel without breaking a sweat. Check out my full Cotopaxi Allpa review here.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Heavy-duty TPU coated polyester.
  • Theft-proof webbing across all openings.
  • Very durable.
  • Wonderfully organized—practically packs itself
  • Heavy for its size.
  • Hip belt seems to be an afterthought and is minimally useful
Dimensions20" x 12" x 13"
Weight3.5 lbs
Fabric1000D Polyester

Aer Travel Pack 3: Most Versatile Carry-On Backpack

Aer Travel Pack 3

Gentlemen, your top choice of travel backpack may very well be the Aer Travel Pack 3. Stylishly designed, intuitively organized and thoughtfully furnished, you’ll find a spot for just about everything you need for a successful trip in the Aer Travel Pack 3. Aer already proved their bag design prowess in the original travel pack, and have truly outdone themselves to bring you this third-generation gem.

Aer has done some fantastic upgrades with the Aer Travel Pack 3. It’s slightly bigger at 35 liters (as opposed to 33 liters), and it fits a 16” inch laptop (as opposed to a 13” laptop). But it also has new load lifters for your comfort and to balance the weight on your back, and an improved compressed design so you can better access the main compartment while on the go.

All this organization comes wrapped in the tried and true Cordura material that will withstand travel to every corner of the planet. Aer has, however, presented this durability in a sleek envelope that, while perhaps a little boxy for some tastes, will feel right at home in the urban landscape.

Another thing I love is the unique hidden smart tracker pocket where you can stash an Airtag or Tile device to help locate your bag if it goes missing. If you travel with a lot of photography or computer gear like me, this gives some added peace of mind.

The only thing missing is the shoe compartment, which Aer removed to make this bag more compressed. The plus side is that you get an extra 2 liters of space if you really want to pack them!

Take note here: This is just for urban travel and not designed to hit trails or mountain tops. Please also note that, at 35 liters, it’s a little on the small side compared to other backpacks on this list, so you’ll have to pack very meticulously.

It is nevertheless a powerful performer and perhaps the best travel backpack you’ll ever own! For more information, check out our full Aer Travel Pack review.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Fantastic organization.
  • Sleek and stylish design.
  • Very organized interior.
  • Extremely durability.
  • Tons of pockets
  • Capacity is smaller than other packs.
  • Exclusively designed for urban travel—not a suitable hiking bag.
  • Doesn’t have a dedicated shoe compartment
Dimensions21.5” x 13” x 9”
Weight4.45 lbs
Fabric1680D Cordura® ballistic nylon

Osprey Sojourn: Best Rolling Carry-On Backpack with Wheels

Osprey Sojourn 45L

For making that infinity walk from security to gate G523, there’s nothing better than having a pair of wheels. But when curbs, uneven pavement and tight maneuvering come into play, having a backpack is absolutely gold. Osprey has figured out how to have both: the Sojourn rolling backpack.

When you’re rolling, you’ll have Osprey’s highroad chassis. This means big wheels for a smoother ride and improved clearance, a fiberglass base to trim some weight, and a telescopic handle. All these features work together to make a very stable platform to take all that weight off your shoulders.

But when circumstances demand some shoulder toting, you’ll find Osprey’s backpacking prowess shine with the harness and hip belt system. Taking cues from their famous anti-gravity system, you have a breathable and comfortable mesh backing that partners perfectly with the mesh hip belt to distribute all the extra weight. All of this stashes behind a fabric cover when you decide to roll.

The full-front opening allows you to pack this bag just like a suitcase, and the plethora of internal pockets make organization simple. I’m particularly fond of the compression straps to help keep all your gear tight and organized while transitioning from backpack to suitcase mode.

While this bag is significantly heavier than your average backpack, the rollers should be taking this weight the vast majority of the time. But when the harness is needed, I’m very impressed by its support and comfort for such a bulky load.

I therefore believe that the Sojourn is clearly the best travel backpack for carry-on that also doubles as a roller suitcase. My one wish is that it included a dedicated laptop compartment, but the Sojourn still shines in other departments!

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Roller suitcase and Backpack.
  • Osprey's superb warranty.
  • Osprey's superb harness system.
  • Internal straps for compression
  • Very heavy.
  • No spinner wheels
Dimensions22" x 14" x 9"
Weight8 lbs
Fabric420D nd 1680D Nylon

Minaal Carry-On 2.0: Best Minimalist Carry-On Backpack

Minaal Carry-On 2.0

Not everyone needs more gadgets, straps and gear than 007 on a weekend trip — and sometimes simpler is better. That’s certainly the mentality that Minaal adopted for their Carry On 2.0, and they’ve certainly hit the nail on the head.

One word to describe the outside of the Minaal Carry-On 2.0: Slick. No overt bulging pockets and no unnecessary straps whipping to and fro. Just clean and uncluttered durable nylon that looks great and keeps your gear safe.

That can be a huge benefit for traveling in Europe when you don’t want to have a giant flashy backpack that’s essentially a big neon sign saying, “I’m a tourist!”

You do, however, have two small easy-access pockets on the top of this Minaal bag, both of which, along with the main compartment, boast durable and weatherproof YKK zippers.

The clean and uncluttered approach continues inside the main clamshell opening where you have completely open space to play within one half, and two large mesh pockets for organization in the other half, and that’s all. The secondary, organizer section contains several smaller mesh pockets that are perfect storing important items such as phones, passports, etc.

Speaking of secure, Minaal’s suspension system keeps your devices loaded into sleeves and secured with velcro in the middle of your back. This system both prevents them from impacting the ground if you drop your bag and keeps the weight perfectly distributed.

For added security, you can also extend a zippered cover to secure the harness straps. But this cover must be very carefully stowed in order to avoid an annoying bump on your shoulders.

So for an uncluttered, but no less functional, approach to one-bag travel, I urge you to seriously consider the Carry-On 2.0. No extra frills to boost weight and price, and every feature included is top-quality and indispensable to a seamless trip!

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Minimal exterior baubles and straps.
  • Secure laptop suspension system.
  • Clean and slick design.
  • Detachable hip belt.
  • Included rain cover
  • Harness cover needs to be meticulously packed to avoid uncomfortable pressure on your back
Dimensions21.6" x 13.7" x 7.87"
Weight3.12 lbs
Fabric600D Nylon

Nomatic Travel Bag: Best Carry-On Laptop Backpack

NOMATIC Carry-On Laptop Backpack

Digital nomad on the road? The Nomatic Travel Bag is designed with you in mind. From laptop, tablet and electronics pockets aplenty to a sleek and durable exterior, this is the perfect bag to take your career on the road.

Let’s start with the obvious: electronics space. The padded laptop sleeve can accommodate any computer up to 15 inches, and there’s an adjacent smaller sleeve for your tablet. The bag also features a dedicated compartment full of pockets for other electronics.

The dark side to storing all your electronics in one bag is, of course, the danger of leaking fluids or petty thievery. But Nomatic tackles this. For any water bottles, toothpastes, sun screen etc., Nomatic has provided a slick waterproof internal pocket.

As for security, the zippers to the main and laptop compartment are partially hidden to prevent easy access to your valuables. On top of that, these features are wrapped up in in a very sturdy duraflex tarpaulin material that is hardwearing and weather resistant.

However, the primary back panel is, for a reason unbeknownst to me, a different material that can allow some water to seep in. This is a distinct negative that can compromise your bag’s weatherproofing, so be aware before laying your bag down on a wet surface.

If you want to learn more about this bag, read the full Nomatic Backpack Travel Bag Review!

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Packable laundry bag RFID blocking pocket.
  • Dedicated shoe compartment.
  • Internal waterproof pocket.
  • Very space efficient
  • Boxy shape can be an acquired taste.
  • Back panel utilizes material that is not weather proof
Dimensions21" x 14" x 9"
Weight4.5 lbs
FabricDuraflex Tarpaulin

Topo Designs Travel Bag: Best Small Carry-On Backpack


For you ounce-counter travelers out there, this Travel Bag from Topo Designs may be just what you need in the best carry on backpack for one bag travel that won’t break your back. The Topo Designs Travel Bag has massive amounts of storage, organizational pockets, nicely padded shoulder straps, all armored in durable and water repellent nylon clocks in at only 3.65 pounds.

The full-front opening reveals a spacious main compartment where you can easily stash all the clothes you need for an extended stint abroad. But additional mesh pockets and a dedicated organization compartment are both ideals for storing everything from toiletries to socks.

Have more delicate or valuable items such as computers or laptops? The dedicated laptop pocket can fit up to a 15″ computer, and the security pockets are great for passports and other important documents. Even more on the security front are the heavy duty YKK zippers plus security loop that can easily be locked up for your travel days.

Again, however, the con is that over-compartmentalization can complicate packing.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Excellent water repellent finish.
  • Lightweight for such a large bag.
  • Duffle strap for versatile carrying.
  • Load lifter straps
  • Some color options are a little overt
Dimensions12.5"w x 20"h x 7"d
Weight2.6 lbs
Fabric1000D recycled nylon, 400D recycled nylon, 210D recycled nylon, 1680D recycled ballistic nylon

Osprey Farpoint 40L / Osprey Fairview 40L: Best Carry-On Hiking Backpack

Osprey Farpoint 40L Travel Pack

For hikers, the Osprey Farpoint/Fairview is absolutely the best carry-on bag. Osprey sets the gold-standard when it comes to hiking backpacks, and their Farpoint bag is a prime example of it.

First things first: The Farpoint is the men’s version of this bag and the Fairview is the women’s version. However, depending on your body type, you may find the gender delineation to be relatively meaningless.

Secondly, the Osprey Farpoint is outlandishly comfortable. Carrying this bag doesn’t feel like you’re hefting a bulky box on your back, as Osprey’s finely tuned mesh hip and shoulder straps work in tandem with a low-profile frame to distribute the weight as evenly as possible. This makes it perfect for every situation from boldly striding through the airport, to strolling through a new city, all the way to discovering unforgettable mountain or jungle views while out for a hike.

Osprey’s incredibly comfortable mesh shoulder and hip belt make toting this bag over pavement or dusty trails simple, and the hip belt even has its own stash pocket when needed. The bag material itself is also designed for durability and its ripstop nylon should hold up to everything from airport jostling to rocky adventures, and still look good for your occasional city visits.

The Osprey Farpoint’s proclivity for excellence continues with regards to space and organization. The full-front panel access makes stashing all your travel gear a breeze. You’ll even find a dedicated sleeve for your laptop and tablet amongst all the pockets, as well as a stash pocket on the stowable hip belt.

And if 40L isn’t enough, their 55L version comes with a 15L detachable daypack for additional space.

For more info, check out my full Osprey Farpoint review and Osprey Fairview review.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Osprey's lifetime warranty.
  • Rugged and comfortable design for hiking.
  • Stylish enough for the trail or city travel
  • Much fewer internal pockets than competitors—you may want to use packing cubes to stay organized
Capacity55L w/ Detachable Daypack
Dimensions25" x 13" x 12"
Weight3.9 lbs
Fabric210D Nylon Ripstop

Pacsafe Venturesafe X40: Best Anti-Theft Carry-On Backpack

Pacsafe Venturesafe X40

Pacsafe got started in 1998 by a pair of globetrotters who had had a fair few brushes with danger along the road. There’s nothing that ruins a trip more than getting robbed.

Pacsafe knows that people enjoy their adventures more if they feel secure. Their whole brand is built around the idea that, with their travel backpacks, global travel becomes a little bit safer.

The Pacsafe Venturesafe X40 is LOADED with features, particularly on the security front. To be honest, this travel pack is almost overkill! I’ve been to some hairy places around the world and the only time I ever experienced danger was one block from my friend’s house in a gentrified suburb in Australia.

But, if you like to play it safe, that’s fair enough. The Pacsafe Venturesafe X40 might be the best anti-theft backpack for you.

Its built-in steel wire mesh panels prevent thieves from slashing your bag. The interlocking zip sliders are also puncture-resistant, and the anti-theft anchor lock and cable allows you to lock down your zippers and straps to a secure fixture.  There are two additional zippered mesh pockets, a key/wallet clip, and extra pouches in the front compartment.

On top of that, it’s comfy! This travel pack comes with padded, adjustable straps, and a sturdy waist belt and sternum strap. The external side compression straps and stowable straps keep this bag sleek and tidy.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Super secure.
  • Good organization, especially in the front pocket.
  • Flap cover to disguise locking system.
  • Protective laptop sleeve.
  • compression straps to keep everything snug
  • The outer zip pocket needs to open wider — it’s hard to access everything
Dimensions21.6” x 13.7” x 8.6”
Weight3.9 lbs
Fabric420 Denier Nylon Full HD Oxford

Tropicfeel SHELL Backpack: Best Expandable Carry-On Backpack

Tropicfeel Shell Backpack

Every now and then a new travel backpack catches my eye simply for its unique and innovative design. The Tropicfeel SHELL Backpack is definitely that bag.

The innovative 3-in-1 adaptable design converts the bag into three different sizes: 22L (Daily), 30L (Weekend), and 40L (Adventure). If you’re looking for one simple bag that does it all, you’ll appreciate this one. The Tropicfeel team wanted to combine the ergonomics of a large hiking pack with the portability and lightness of an everyday backpack. I’d say they succeeded.

The bag also has a clamshell opening that folds open like a suitcase, and inside you’ll find its unique inbuilt wardrobe system. You can store your belongings in different compartments of the wardrobe system, and then simply hang the bag in your hotel closet or on your bed. Voila, everything is within easy reach.

And other than all those fun highlights, you’ll find that the Tropicfeel SHELL Backpack still has all the features that come standard with a great pack, including weatherproof material, an adjustable sternum strap, a hip belt, and a straps holder to help tuck away stray straps.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Expandable to three different sizes.
  • Unique wardrobe system to keep items separated.
  • Adjustable sternum straps and hip belt.
  • Lots of additional padding
  • Comes with a hefty price tag
CapacityExpandable from 22L to 30L and 40L
Dimensions20” x 12” x 7.5” when fully expanded
Weight3.3 lbs
Fabric100% Recycled Nylon and 60% Recycled Polyester

Able Carry Max Backpack: Most Comfortable Carry-On Backpack

The Able Carry Max Backpack is easily the most comfortable carry-on backpack on this list. Everything about this bag is designed with optimal comfort in mind, and it works really, really well. If you want a backpack that works perfectly as both a carry-on backpack and a nice companion to your on-foot explorations, this is it. You’ll be able to wear this for hours on end and never feel burdened.

Why? In addition to the usual features (like sternum straps and a lightweight design), the Max Backpack’s unique A-Frame is where this bag really shines. It has anchor straps and tapered panels to keep your gear tucked away and to prevent sagging at the bottom of the bag. The ultra-wide cushioned straps spread out across your shoulders, and the multi-layer foam back panels help to keep you supported while also offering lots of ventilation.

There’s tons of pockets and compartments to keep you well organized too, including a well-padded laptop sleeve for your devices up to 17”. There are four inner pockets and two on the outside, as well as an extremely well-hidden secret pocket.

You can also try out this backpack for 14 days. If you don’t like it, they’ll take it back no problem.

My only beef with this bag is that I don’t find the A-Frame particularly attractive. It’s a great carry-on bag and an everyday bag, but I don’t know if I’d take it with me on a work trip or a more formal outing.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • The unique A-Frame optimizes comfort.
  • Lots of pockets .
  • Laptop sleeve fits a device up to 17”.
  • Excellent 14-day return policy
  • Limited colors.
  • The A-Frame isn’t particularly stylish
Dimensions20.5” x 12.5” x 8”
Weight3.8 lbs
FabricX-Pac Fabric and Cordura 1000D Nylon

Mission Workshop Radian: Best Modular Carry-On Backpack

Mission Workshop Radian in black

The Radian is a modular, adjustable and customizable powerhouse of a backpack that can be fine-tuned to fit just about any adventure you have in mind.

I am truly blown away by just how much you can adjust this bag to suit your own personal style. The roll top can be used with or without the velcro and with or without the Duraflex strap. Or just unzip the entire front panel and pack it like a suitcase—your style, your choice.

The harness system continues this trend by being incredibly plush, fully adjustable and allowing for a removable expedition waist-belt for serious adventuring. You additionally have the option to fold up and store the entire harness system behind a stretch back panel, which is absolutely perfect for a smaller, snag-free bag to throw in the overhead bins.

The inside of this backpack is a straightforward cavern, with minimal additional pockets, though you do have a few organizational pockets on the underside of the main zippered flap and a massive laptop sleeve that can fit larger, 17″ computers. You can also purchase Arkiv accessories: separate pockets, folios and sleeves that can be attached to any of the four exterior points.

All these features are wrapped up in an ultra-durable Cordura or HT500 Textile that can handle the traveling punches and are weatherproof to boot. Easily making this beast—literally, this thing is almost five pounds — a modular lover’s best travel backpack for carry-on.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Rolltop backpack.
  • 4 exterior attachment points for Mission Workshop's Arkiv accessories.
  • Entire harness system can be zipped up and stored for easy loading in airplane bins.
  • Very adjustable and comfortable harness system Large laptop compartment
  • Wider than most bags on the list.
  • Very heavy.
  • Expensive
Dimensions22" x 14" x 6"
Weight4.7 lbs
Fabric500D Black Cordura or HT500 Textile

Timbuk2 Impulse Travel Backpack Duffel: Best Carry-On Duffel Backpack

Timbuk2 Impulse Travel Backpack Duffel

There comes a time in nearly every traveler’s life when shoulder straps seem to snag on everything in sight. Duffels tend to hold the upper hand in this case, and the Timbuk2 Impulse beautifully bridges this gap.

Easily unclip the backpack straps, and stow them in a dedicated pocket. Although you don’t have a strap for your shoulder in duffel mode, the two beefy handles on the sides of the bag are sufficient.

The zippered 17″ laptop compartment is external, so you’ll never have to dig again. You also have a quick access pocket, perfect for everything from plane tickets to snacks, that also has another mesh pocket inside for even more.

The main, clamshell-open compartment reveals the bulk of those 55 liters. One side is left completely open for you to pack at will, while the opposite side features two mesh pockets for some slight organization. The many compression straps keep everything tight and compact. The Impulse also has a wonderfully isolated compartment at the base of the bag to keep smelly shoes or dirty clothes separate.

I must, however, point out one small nick in this bag’s armor. When in backpack mode, the straps can occasionally become unfastened from the bag when trying to pick it up.

Nevertheless, this occurs very rarely and is just a minor annoyance compared to all the awesome features packed in here.

Overall, this is a versatile carry-on backpack-duffel combo that’s great for any trip.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Wide, fold-open main compartment.
  • Exterior laptop compartment for easier access.
  • Shoe storage compartment.
  • Tuckable straps
  • No dedicated shoulder strap for duffel mode.
  • Shoulder harness straps in backpack mode have finicky attach point that sometimes comes undone
Dimensions22.2" x 14.6" x 6.1"
Weight4 lbs
Fabric420D Ripstop Nylon

eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack: Best Budget Carry-On Backpack

eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack

While I certainly believe that making the investment for a premium backpack is well worth the initial heartache in the beginning, this is not always practical. Enter the Mother Lode from eBags.

The main compartment of this bag lives up to the “motherlode” name with a massive clamshell opening for all your bulky gear. A nifty fold-down divider can aid in organization, while the opposite side of the bag also offers mesh pockets for storage. Compression straps are also present in this portion of the bag to keep the bulk of your gear nice and secure.

A separate organization compartment features a massive 19″ laptop pocket that is suspended to keep your computer from impacting the ground in the case you drop it. The additional pockets here are also a nice complement to the exterior zippered pockets.

The best part? You can convert this backpack to duffle or to a briefcase, too, for the ultimate one bag travel experience. Simply stow the shoulder straps into a dedicated pocket, or attach the removable shoulder harness for duffle mode.

While we’re on the exterior of this bag, it’s worth mentioning that the 900D polyester does feel a little thin and flimsy to the touch ,which may compromise its overall durability. (Notice that most of our bags are well over 1000D in material thickness.)

All and all, however, this is an excellent wallet friendly option with ample storage space, well-thought-out organization, and all the adjustability we need for reliable one bag travel. The TLS Motherlode Weekender therefore easily earns its title of best carry-on backpack for budget travels.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Technical Specs
  • Budget friendly.
  • Fold down shelf in main compartment for additional compartmentalization.
  • Very large, suspended, laptop compartment accommodating up to 19" computer.
  • Convertible between backpack, duffel bag, and briefcase
  • Material is a little thin and frail feeling
Dimensions22" x 14" x 9"
Weight3.9 lbs
Fabric900D Polyester

What is a Carry-On Backpack?

A carry-on travel backpack is a bag that you choose to bring onto the plane with you to stuff into an overhead bin or below the seat in front of you.

Now I know exactly what image comes to your mind when we talk about carry-on backpacks. The small, out-for-a-day backpack that can hardly fit enough gear to get you through one night on the road. That’s not what we’re discussing here.

We’re talking about serious travel backpacks that can fit everything you need for your entire long-term trip in one place—and still meet airline carry-on restrictions that, airline depending, generally limit you to about 40 liters.

Typically, carry-on travel backpacks are 30 to 45 liters. Anything smaller is a regular backpack; anything larger you will likely have to check.

Alternatively, if you want to bring a daypack, too, you can wear the bag on your back and your personal item (your daypack) on your front. Most airlines will allow for one carry-on and one personal item for free, but this is not always the case, especially for budget airlines that charge per bag.

What is One Bag Travel?

I’ve been there. Wasting time at baggage claim as the lighter travelers zip away. Lugging my checked bag and my backpack around on a sweaty search for a taxi or bus in a new city or country. Heaving my bags up the stairs to my room, and then asking the big question: Why on Earth do I need all this stuff? But I used a different ‘S’ word.

One bag travel refers to traveling with just one bag. Not one carry-on bag and a backpack but, rather, one bag for everything. In essence, one bag travel is all about traveling light.

One bag travel is arguably always preferable if possible.

This is because it limits the amount of stuff you have to lug around, which can be a huge (and literal) pain if you’re on the road for quite some time. You’ll also save money on checked baggage fees by carrying your luggage onto the plane with you. Likewise, you’ll save time without having to wait at baggage claim. And you’ll feel a heck of a lot better when you’re not carrying around a bunch of unnecessary items that you have to sift through every time you need to find anything.

With the freedom and flexibility that a single bag offers, you’ll be able to navigate planes, trains, and automobiles better than Steve Martin and John Candy ever could. One bag travel is perfect for backpack travel in Europe or Southeast Asia, for example.

That said, within your one bag, you should always stuff another packable daypack like the Cotopaxi Batac 16L, Arc’teryx Index or the Tortuga Setout Packable Daypack. This way, when you do go on day adventures, you don’t have to bring everything you own with you.

Backpacks vs. Rolling Luggage

Now that you’ve seen the light of one bag travel, what kind of single bag do you need? A backpack for travel or a classic roller suitcase. There are situations in which either of these options is optimal.

A suitcase boasts a stiff construction that zips open all the way around. This means you can pack in a more organized manner, so your clothes will be easier to access and have, in theory, fewer wrinkles. Plus, rolling a suitcase through the airport is a lot less daunting than lugging a backpack on your back.

Until you hit stairs and curbs, and have to navigate through the city to find your accommodation. That’s when a backpack comes in handy. With a backpack, you’re free to go anywhere your legs take you. Just remember that what you gain in mobility, you also gain in effort as you are now carrying all that weight on your back.

All the more reason to get yourself the best carry-on bag for comfort and fit to mitigate that extra burden.

What to Consider When Buying

Finding the ultimate traveling pack for you means that you need to consider which features are the most important. These are the seven most pivotal design features so that all you need to do is check off what you uniquely need.


First things first, find a carry-on bag that meets most carry-on limits.

We’ll start with the maximum sizes that you could possibly pick, based on airlines. I’ve compiled a few of the most common airlines below, along with their carry-on bag limitations in inches.

Airline Size (Inches)
Air Canada 21.5 x 15.5 x 9
Alaska Airlines 22 x 14 x 9
American Airlines 22 x 14 x 9
Delta Airlines 22 x 14 x 9
Icelandair 21.6 x 15.7 x 7.8
JetBlue Airways 22 x 14 x 9
Lufthansa 21.6 x 15.7 x 9
Southwest Airlines 24 x 16 x 10
Spirit Airlines 22 x 18 x 10
Sun Country Airlines  24 x 16 x 11
United Airlines  22 x 14 x 9
Virgin Atlantic 22 x 14 x 9

You may scratch your head and wonder just how much gear you can fit into 22 x 14 x 9, so let me break it down into liters for you. The majority of airlines’ carry-on bags range from 30 to 45 liters and, trust me, that’s plenty of space for the coveted one bag travel.

But here’s the rub: Just what size backpack works for you? This will mostly depend on your body type/size, and what kind of packer you are.

Please don’t underestimate the importance of picking a bag that fits you properly. This can make a world of difference in comfort and mobility. Very generally speaking, women can usually get by with a 30-liter pack, while men are generally comfortable with a 40-liter one.

Always consider your packing style, too. How long are you gone for, how much are you taking and do you want extra space for a souvenir or two?

Opening Style

Once you have a size, one of the more important items here is the opening style. Do you like top loaders, front loads, side zips, drawstring tops or a combination?

Think about what will be most comfortable, natural, and practical for you, and simply look for a bag to match. For carry-on backpacks, I recommend looking for a travel pack with a clamshell or panel loader design.


We already know that the more you cram into a backpack, the more it’s going to weigh you down while you dash through the airport. But consider this: The backpacks themselves can vary drastically when it comes to weight, and some may feel like you’ve already packed a brick or two, even when empty.

The variation in weight is mostly thanks to the different materials that are used in the bag construction, along with different harness constructions. In general, I’ve found that reliable brands that incorporate a sturdy and supportive harness system typically produce slightly heavier bags. Whereas the lighter bags lack this helpful feature.

a man carrying a Peak Design bag

To a lesser extent, materials also play a role here where, once again, the more durable, water-resistant and long-lasting constructions are, typically, slightly heavier. But this is not always the case. Higher price tags on backpacks can often indicate high-quality materials and construction that have been fine-tuned to not break your back.

So my best advice? Be sure to note what type of harness system the backpack uses, along with the overall weight of the bag. And just remember that, while quality material may weigh more, I guarantee it will pay out in the end.

Materials and Fabrics

Now the list of potential backpack materials is about as long as my arm, so let’s take a minute to break them down and label what’s good, how it’s good and what to steer clear of.

In the durability department, you’ll often find high-density ballistic nylon or Cordura to both be solid options. These are proven to hold up to the rough life of a traveler’s backpack and keep you on the move without a tear-jerking bag tear mid-trip. They are often presented with a weatherproofing treatment for better protection.

For ultimate durability and water resistance rolled into one, pay particular attention to sailcloth. Yes, this is the same material ship’s sails are made from, so you can certainly appreciate the battering they must withstand. They must also hold off the rain from constant storms and mists, yet be light enough to be manipulated into place. You can bet the backpacks made from this material are, therefore, just on this side of indestructible and weatherproof.


Bah! Zippers are zippers, you don’t have to worry about those, right? Sorry to break it to you, folks, but you do need to pay attention to zippers. Just like any other component, zippers are a dime-a-dozen these days, and some are of higher quality than others.

My best advice is to try to find a backpack with the classic YKK brand zippers. This company has been in the game for a long while, and it knows how to make zippers last for the long haul. We’re talking about durable and water-resistant zippers that won’t break when you overstuff your backpack or let water seep in.

Backing Support

Not only can it be a little embarrassing but, more importantly, it’s also incredibly uncomfortable to travel with a sweaty back.

So what can you do? Keep an eye open for a mesh back panel that allows for some airflow back there. Or better yet, look for backpacks that utilize a harness and, ideally, boast mesh backing to lift the pack itself off your back.

The Tortuga Oubreaker's hip belt keeps the bag securely attached
The Tortuga Oubreaker’s hip belt keeps the bag securely attached

Besides keeping you from sweating so much, backing support can also help to distribute the weight more evenly on your back. This keeps your backpack from inducing shoulder and back pains that you certainly don’t need when you’re already cramped up from sleeping on planes and buses all the time.

Harnesses and Shoulder Straps

Most backpacks may look very similar to one another but, trust me, they are almost all built for very specific and very different functions. The differences are usually in the shoulders and harness systems.

Let’s start with the most obvious, male vs. female packs. The two sexes traditionally have different body builds, and backpack manufacturers often accommodate this by producing packs that are specifically designed to fit male and female body types. So, first of all, make sure you’re looking at a pack that’s designed for you.

The next set of differences come with function. The whole kit-and-caboodle of shoulder strap suspension system, waist belt and bag framing comes with heavy hiking and outdoor use in mind. Meanwhile, more casual bags that lack the beef of a waist belt and overt frame are meant for casual wear. Think: city and business travel.

So once again, take a close look at the bag you’re considering, and see if your planned activities are in line with the manufacturer’s intent.

Go Forth and Prosper!

There you have it—the essentials of carry-on travel backpacks from start to finish. From price, quality, material and function, the aforementioned bags boast everything and anything you’ll need on your next adventure. Just remember: Your backpack should be as unique to you and your needs as the travel stories you’re going to come home with.

Carry-On Backpack FAQs

What is the best size backpack for carry-on travel?

The Tortuga Travel Backpack 40L is our top pick for a carry-on travel backpack. The Cotopaxi Allpa 42L is a more affordable alternative.

What is the best backpack for a personal item on a plane?

The Aer Travel Pack 3 Small is the perfect personal item backpack for light packers who only want one bag.

What is the best backpack for a long haul flight?

The Tortuga Travel Backpack 40L is our top pick for a carry-on travel backpack, and it’s great for long-haul flights.

Will a 35L backpack fit under an airplane seat?

Probably not. A 35L backpack will be too big to fit in the personal item sizer or under the seat of most airlines.

How strict are airplanes about backpack size?

It varies, but many airlines are very strict about backpack sizes, and will make you check your bag in the sizer if it looks close to the limit.

About the Author

Jeremy Scott Foster

Jeremy Scott Foster is an adventure-junkie, gear expert and travel photographer based in Southern California. Previously nomadic, he’s been to ~50 countries and loves spending time outdoors. You can usually find him on the trail, on the road, jumping from bridges or hustling on his laptop working to produce the best travel and outdoors content today.
  1. Looking at the list, the one thing is weight. Here in Europe quite a few airlines have tightened up on weight. The previous 10 kilo limit has dropped to 8 kilos. Some majors allow more.

    I only fly between main destinations, the rest is by train and bus. Here is where the depth of the pack causes problems, some trains and buses have very shallow overhead racks and the backpack will not fit. Especially buses, so the pack has to go in the cargo hold and you pray no one steals your pack at the various stops en-route (yes it happens).

    A large pack of 35L is my main one, bought from a mountain shop in London–I travel very light. For short trips, an ultralight 20L Gonex (also inside my large one on longer trips) does the job, it weighs 6.5 ounces and compacts well. The straps are nice, stuff stayed dry in a down pour and I use it a lot.

  2. Recently I was looking for a backpack. I didn’t have enough information about a lightweight backpack. After reading your article I was able to buy it.

  3. Your rundown of the best travel backpacks is a lifesaver for adventurers like me. Your concise reviews and expert recommendations have simplified the daunting task of choosing the perfect backpack. Each option you’ve highlighted seems to offer a unique blend of durability, comfort, and functionality, making it hard to pick just one! Thank you for sharing your expertise and insights with us. Your article has left me feeling well-equipped and ready for my next journey. Keep up the fantastic work!

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