Obviously, airplane travel is the best way to see as much of the world as possible. It’s relatively fast, fairly simple, and plenty safe enough when compared to other forms of transportation. The problem, however, lies in all the things surrounding your actual flights. Getting to the airport, through security, and into your seat is a far bigger hassle than the actual act of travel. The thing is, the experience can be made a lot easier based on the type of gear you carry with you in the process.
Whether heading across the pond for an extended vacation or just taking a weekend in the next state over, your choice of carry-on bag is one of the more important decisions you will make. And you can’t go wrong with a backpack. An old standard, backpacks are easy to carry around, can often hold more than enough to make them a worthwhile carry-on, and keep your hands free as you move from place to place. The thing is, not all fall within the international guidelines for carry-on luggage. Lucky for you, we’ve put together the following list of options that do. These are the 20 best carry-on backpacks you can pick up right now.
Mystery Ranch Urban Assault Pack
What really sets the Mystery Ranch Urban Assault Pack apart is that it utilizes the brand’s unique triple-zip system to give users unmatched access to the gear inside both in regards to quickness and convenience — making it perfect for plane travel, as you can get to what you need with little, if any fuss. Pair that with a generous 21-liter capacity, internal organization that includes a 15″ laptop sleeve, and a weatherproof Cordura nylon exterior and this is one superb carry-on backpack.
Material: 500D Cordura Nylon
Osprey Farpoint Travel Backpack
Chances are, if you’re bringing a backpack along on a trip, you’re not going to use it solely as a carry-on. In that case, it’s definitely worth considering the Osprey Farpoint Travel Backpack. With its lifetime guarantee against damage and defects, this 40-liter bag is the perfect travel companion in which to stow all your gear. It also boasts a LightWire frame to help easy your load-carrying, comes with a hip belt for added stabilization, and has a quick-access zippered front pocket for anything you need to get to quickly, like your passport in the customs line. From the overhead bin to off-grid hiking trails, this bag is a good bet.
Material: 210D Nylon Mini Hex Diamond Ripstop
Bellroy Classic Backpack
Leave it to the masters at Bellroy to build one of the most beautiful and solidly-featured backpacks of all time. Their Classic Backpack is built from a handsome and super-sturdy combination of venture-weave polyester and environmentally-certified leather; it has a quick-access external zippered pocket; and there are a number of internal organizational options for everything you might stash inside it. That includes a 15″ laptop pouch and an internal iPad/A5 document pocket with pen slip — perfect for your tickets, passport, receipts, room keys, and more.
Material: Venture-Weave Polyester & Environmentally-Certified Leather
Carhartt Elements Duffel Backpack
Most well known for their superb workwear, Carhartt has pared their expertise into their Elements Duffel Backpack, as well. Built specifically to meet most airplane carry-on regulations, this dual-purpose bag boasts an ultra-rugged construction of abrasion-resistant nylon and a tarpaulin base. Inside, you’ll find roughly 50 liters worth of organizational space across a large main compartment (with four separate storage areas within), a separate zippered compartment for wet or dirty clothes, and hideaway shoulder straps. It also boasts a liner with FastDry material to help fight moisture and odor and has compression straps to maximize your haul.
Material: Nylon & PVC
The North Face Stratoliner Pack
Built specifically to meet the needs of the modern traveler, The North Face’s Stratoliner pack offers up a wealth of superb features to get you out of your home, on your plane, and all around your destination of choice. The exterior is built from remarkably durable ballistic nylon — which has the added bonus of being water-resistant — and it has a carbonate coating to increase the bag’s overall durability. It also fits up to a 17″ laptop computer, has four exterior pockets (including a quick-access zippered side pocket for your travel essentials), a hideaway pocket for anything you want to keep safe and secure, and a dedicated shoe pouch. With 36 liters of total space, there’s no denying that this is an excellent all-around carry-on.
Material: 420D Ripstop Nylon
Standard Pacific Goods Field Rucksack
There are so many things that make the Standard Pacific Field Rucksack an excellent travel bag, that we’re not sure we could do it justice. On top of its roomy and manageable 25-liter capacity, it also features both top-access and full clamshell openings, so you can customize your level of access to your surroundings. And while it features a water-repellant nylon shell and waterproof zippers, it also comes with a removable rainfly for even more protection from the elements. Plus, to up its value as a travel pack, each bag also comes with a separate shoe bag and a removable dopp kit for all your toiletries. There’s even a fleece-lined pouch to keep your hi-tech gear safe and sound.
Material: Water-Repellant Nylon
Patagonia Black Hole Pack
Leave it to the folks at Patagonia to build a carry-on backpack that’s both iconic in its appearance and supremely weatherproof. Built from bluesign-certified ripstop polyester that’s laminated with thermoplastic urethane and treated with a DWR coating, this impressive pack is an excellent travel bag — especially if you’re traveling in the wetter parts of the year or to an exceptionally soggy locale. To further set this bag apart, the Black Hole also has a double-duty internal sleeve that can fit a 15″ laptop or a hydration bladder. It’s also got 30 liters of storage, including a small quick-access fleece-lined electronics pocket.
Material: 450D Bluesign-Approved Ripstop Polyester
Timbuk2 Wander Pack
Sometimes, simple is the way to go when it comes to picking a carry-on backpack. In the case of the Timbuk2 Wander Pack, however, simple doesn’t necessarily mean boring. Handsomely styled, this backpack (which is convertible into a duffel bag) boasts a sturdy, lightweight, water-resistant 420D ripstop nylon exterior. Inside, you’ll find 40 liters of storage space, including a mesh zippered pocket and a laptop sleeve that fits a computer up to 15 inches. It also has comfortable stowable shoulder straps, a breathable mesh back panel, and compression-style side straps to make sure the whole thing stays compact and secure.
Material: 420D Ripstop Nylon
Arc’teryx Covert Case C/O
As is the case with so much of their gear, the Arc’teryx Covert Case C/O manages to brilliantly balance clean styling cues with superb materials and a long list of features. For instance, the exterior of the bag is built from naturally water-resistant nylon — which gets a boost thanks to a PU coating. It also features padding on all sides to keep its contents safe (even during bad mid-flight turbulence) and has compression straps to keep everything secure at all times. It also boasts a hideaway internal security pocket for delicate or valuable small items, an external zippered pocket with a key clip, and an internal document pocket for all your tickets, passport, and whatever else.
Material: 500D ATY Nylon 6.6 Silicone Treated PU
Chrome Industries Macheto Travel Bag
While Chrome Industries specializes in building bags for the urban bicycle commuter, they’ve also pared that expertise into plenty of other carry solutions. Just one example is their Macheto Travel Bag. Created specifically for the rigors of air and international travel, this bag boasts a super-tough ballistic nylon exterior, dual internal organizational pouches, a 15″ laptop sleeve, ergonomic hideaway shoulder straps, and seatbelt compression straps. And, in case you had any misgivings about Chrome’s belief in their products, it also comes with a lifetime guarantee. If that’s not a vote of confidence, we don’t know what is.
Material: 1680D Ballistic Nylon
Topo Designs Travel Pack
Made to be a stylish and reliable companion in all of your adventures, Topo’s Travel Pack is a streamlines, rugged, and handsome addition to any set of jet-setting gear. Made from tough abrasion-resistant nylon and featuring a wealth of organizational pockets both inside and out (including a 15″ laptop sleeve), this 40L bag is just another example of this brand’s expertise when it comes to carry solutions. What’s even better is that it works well together with many of Topo’s other bags, like a modular system. Of course, if you’d rather use it as a standalone, there’s nothing wrong with that, either.
Material: 1000D Nylon & 400D Nylon Pack Cloth (1680D Ballistic Nylon On Select Colors)
Aer Travel Pack 2
Aer’s original Travel Pack was already one of the absolute best options for a carry-on backpack on the market. But, that wasn’t good enough for Aer. So, they took user experiences to heart and redesigned the whole thing to be even better than it was before. Now it boasts a ballistic nylon exterior, 33 liters of internal volume, a laptop pouch that fits up to a 15.6″ computer, a number of internal and external organizational options, and padding and structural support to ensure that everything inside stays safe and protected. There’s even a separate ventilate shoe compartment, so you can stash your stinky gym or running sneakers away from all your clean gear.
Material: 1680D Cordura Ballistic Nylon
DSPTCH Travel Pack
When it comes to purpose-driven urban-friendly bags and backpacks, DSPTCH is nearly unrivaled. Of course, that goes for their Travel Pack, as well. Made to meet most carry-on guidelines, this bag boasts a water-repellant and abrasion-resistant DWR-coated nylon exterior, a mesh back panel for superior air flow (even with all-day carrying), and high-density shoulder straps to ensure that you’re comfortable even when hauling ass between airport terminals. The bag also has a spacious main compartment, as well as a separate pouch for travel shoes and/or dirty clothes.
Material: DWR-Coated 1680D Ballistic Nylon
Peak Design Everyday Backpack
Peak Design may have misnamed their Everyday Backpack. That’s not to say it isn’t a bag you could (and should) use every day of normal life, but it doesn’t really do the pack justice from a feature standpoint. Yes, it works as an everyday carry backpack, but it’s also a lot more than that — thanks to its weatherproof nylon exterior, marvelous reconfigurable modular internal storage system, and expandability. It also features a 15-liter capacity, a 15″ laptop pouch, and a super secure MagLatch main compartment closure. It doesn’t hurt, either, that this backpack looks a lot smarter than many other carry-on options on the market.
Material: Weatherproof 400D Nylon
Defy Bags Bucktown Backpack
The normal canvas version of the Defy Bags Bucktown Backpack is a plenty impressive everyday carry or college backpack. But their M35 tarp version is a different (and much more impressive) beast entirely. That’s not because the format is different — it still has a 23-liter capacity, a seatbelt strap handle and padded shoulder straps, two large interior compartments, and USA-made quality. But rather because the exterior of this one is made from the same mil-spec truck tarpaulin used on military transport trucks. That means it’s waterproof, abrasion-resistant, slash-resistant, and just overall one of the toughest fabrics out there. And that makes for an exceptional carry-on backpack.
Material: M35 Military Truck Tarpaulin
Minaal Carry-on 2.0 Bag
Created in rural New Zealand and tested over the course of literal millions of travel miles — on land, water, and even in the air — this remarkable travel bag was built specifically to help travelers be more efficient, faster, and confident. Because, after all, what’s the point of taking a vacation if you’re stressed out about your carry the whole time? The result is a bag that’s lightweight, protective of the gear inside, and quick when it comes to getting through security. And to prove their confidence in the product, Minaal also slapped it with a lifetime warranty.
Material: 600D Nylon
Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack
Designed to have the best of both rolling-style suitcases and technical hiking backpacks, the Tortuga Outbreaker backpack is ergonomic and quick, while still offering plenty of organizational options (both inside and out). And that’s not even the best part about it. You see, this bag is also built from X-Pac material — the same stuff used in professional racing sails. Not only is it remarkably light, but it’s also puncture- and tear-resistant and completely waterproof, too. Available in either 35 or 45 liters, the bag can also house a 17″ laptop inside, regardless of which size you choose.
Material: X-Pac Waterproof Sailcloth
Alchemy Equipment AEL012 Carry-On Daypack
If you’re the type of traveler that uses their carry-on as their sole travel bag, then the Alchemy Equipment AEL012 Carry-On Daypack was made especially for you. Made from a durable nylon with a waterproof PU-coated base and featuring a 40 liter carry capacity, this bag was made for the rigors of travel (both short and long-term). It also features an EVA foam exoskeleton to keep your haul protected from impact, an internal compression system to keep everything tight and secure, and an impressive laptop compartment — which fits up to a 15″ computer — that has a self-ejecting mechanism, so you never have to fiddle with it.
Material: 630D ATY Nylon
GORUCK GR3 Backpack
In case you’re not familiar, GORUCK is famous for making the GR1 — the bombproof tactical backpack. And the GR1 would make an excellent carry-on backpack, even though that’s not what it was designed for. However, the brand tasked themselves to take everything great about that bag and pare it into a bigger, more travel-friendly backpack they’ve called the GR3. It’s still absurdly tough, looks great, and has the brand’s signature styling. But it’s also bigger — measuring up at 45 liters of internal space — has more MOLLE webbing on the outside, better organization inside, and more handy travel-ready features. It’s also made in the USA and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Material: 1000D Cordura Nylon
Mission Workshop The Radian
It wouldn’t be outlandish to call Mission Workshop’s The Radian the best carry-on backpack ever made. And that’s because it does just about everything as good or better than any other bag on this list. Water-resistance? It’s got that. A wealth of external organization? Check. It’s even designed to expand, using the brand’s Arkiv modular system. Even without an expansion, The Radian has a healthy 42-liter capacity. That includes dedicated pockets for your laptop, iPad, water bottle, and more. Furthermore, each of these bags is made by hand right here in the USA. To reiterate, this might be the best carry-on backpack of all time.
Material: 500D Nylon Or HT500 Textile
15 Best Travel Gadgets
For some folks, your carry-on backpack is only as good as the gear you stash inside it. If you fall into that category, then you’ll want to get your hands on some of the stuff on our list of the 15 best travel gadgets.
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