Frequent travelers or even those who only travel on occasion understand the value of a great carry-on bag. For many people, the best carry-on is a travel backpack. This is due in part to its ability to go anywhere, including under your seat or in the overhead bin.
But there are other great reasons to choose a backpack for your carry-on, too. They’re easy to carry, offer convenient access, and can be taken with you once you reach your destination and still want to carry items with you—something you’re unlikely to do if you’re traveling with a carry-on suitcase.
Travel backpacks used to be designed just for hiking, but now they offer all the comfort, security, and travel ease of other carry-on options. They have grown in popularity in recent years and nowadays, more travelers are choosing backpacks over rolling carry-on luggage because they are soft-sided, flexible, features comfortable shoulder straps, and cost less than rolling bags.
If you’ve been searching for the perfect carry on or you want something more lightweight than what you’ve been carrying with you, a backpack is a great option. Keep in mind, even if you don’t think your carry-on luggage is too heavy, the airline you’re flying might tell you it is. Some airlines set weight limits below 20 pounds—well below—for carry-on bags. If you’re carrying rolling luggage that weights 5 to 10 pounds or more, you’re already near the weight limit and you haven’t packed a single thing!
In addition to weight, you need to think about the overall size of your bag. The good thing about a backpack is that it’s soft sided and offer flexibility. In the United States, most carry-on luggage must be smaller than 22X14X9 inches, but still large enough to carry essentials in the easy access mesh pockets like a water bottle and large laptop compartment. This is no problem at all when you’re dealing with a backpack, even if you’ve packed it full of stuff. Hard sided or framed rolling suitcases? Those are going to be much harder to stow and chances are good you’ll be forced to check your rolling suitcase at the gate, especially if you’re on a crowded flight.
Almost all carrying travel backpack is almost never asked to check their bags at the gate. This means you’ll save time, frustration, and worry by having your bag under the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartment within easy reach the entire duration of the flight.
Best Carry-On Backpacks
We’ve listed our favorites for carry-on backpacks for light travelers below. Keep in mind, “best” is relative to where you’re traveling, how often you travel, and what you’ll be taking with you. Consider your specific travel needs, even if you travel to a variety of destinations, and look for a bag that suits your situation.
The Osprey Porter is the maximum legal size for a carry-on bag and has been a popular choice among avid travelers for a few years now. It can be used as a duffel bag or a backpack, which is a feature a lot of travelers love. The bag is comfortable and lightweight and was designed to reduce the weight on the shoulders of travelers, even if they have longer hikes through airports or intend to use their bag once off the flight while touring a city.
Osprey claims its bag is for urban travelers, in part because it can be carried for a while.
This bag is large for a carry-on, which means there’s a slight risk you’ll be asked to check it at the gate. If your goal is to make the most of the limited space available for carry-on travel, and you’re comfortable with the slight risk of having to check the bag occasionally, this is a great option. Aside from the fact you might have to check this bag, we consider it near perfect.
This bag comes with a 35 liter and 22-liter size. Keep this in mind when shopping so you don’t accidentally purchase the wrong size for your needs. The smaller size can be used as a carry-on bag, but it’s more of a book bag than it is a backpack.
We love this bag because it features a ton of compartments and is great for anyone who likes to be organized when traveling. There’s also a top handle, but it lacks padding so you won’t be carrying it this way for very long.
This backpack is ideal for light travelers. If you’re traveling for longer periods of time and/or you pack heavy, it won’t hold up to your needs. Of course, there are plenty of people who take pride in packing light, which makes this bag a popular choice. This bag weighs less than three pounds and is one of our favorite lightweight choices.
This bag features a British design which means its size is slightly different than those designed for the United States airline market. It’s actually too wide to meet the standard US carry on dimensions and measures a full inch and three quarters over the guidelines. Of course, since it’s a backpack, this extra size won’t be a problem unless you’ve got it packed to the hilt and stretch to the full dimensions.
This bag doesn’t have waist straps or a side handle, so if these are features you need on a bag you’ll want to keep shopping. It’s made from durable nylon and comes in a wide variety of colors.
This is a bag that offers a decent amount of space and won’t get you nasty looks for the gate agents as long as you don’t pack it to the hilt. It’s great if you’re flying budget airlines that go overboard on restrictions. This bag is made from polyester instead of nylon, so it’s not as durable as a few other options on this list. Of course, it’s also not as pricey and is a great option for those who just want to try out backpack traveling. We like it because it’s budget-friendly and can be worn comfortably as you run from gate to gate and further.