The 11 Best Carry-on Travel Backpacks of 2024, Tested and Reviewed

0

Skip the stress of checking a bag or lugging a traditional carry-on suitcase around an airport by adding a carry-on backpack to your travel gear. Practical, functional, and hassle-free, a carry-on backpack can fit up to a week’s worth of clothes, depending on your wardrobe and packing prowess. Whether you’re backpacking through Europe or embarking on a weekend getaway, this style helps make your trip as efficient and enjoyable as possible.

We evaluated 89 carry-on backpacks in more than seven separate tests in our New York City lab and even utilized our airplane set — complete with a row of real plane seats and overhead storage bins — during the process. We then took each bag out into the world for at least six months to test its worth on a variety of trips.

Why I’m the Expert

After taking part in every single backpack test we’ve done since 2022, personally testing more than 50 bags, and even owning two packs from this list, including our best overall winner, I’m confident there is a carry-on backpack for every type of traveler here.

Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack
PHOTO: Amazon

Our Ratings

  • Capacity

    5/5

  • Design

    5/5

  • Durability

    5/5

  • Value

    5/5

  • Comfort

    5/5

The Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack earned our top pick as the best carry-on backpack with its perfect performance in all categories of our testing. We loved its high capacity and thought the unstructured style was ideal for wedging clothes into every corner, maximizing packing space in the clamshell-style compartments. The shell is made of a TPU-coated 1000D polyester with a rubbery feel, and although it feels resistant to liquids, the backpack comes with a rain cover to ensure that your belongings stay dry while traveling. Handles on all four sides of the backpack make it easy to carry and lift into an overhead bin from any angle. The only downside to the bag is that it doesn’t have a water bottle holder on the sides, so you’ll have to carry one or try to fit it in the top pocket in the front.

During testing, we weren’t surprised to see that the durable-feeling materials weren’t damaged at all after we repeatedly tossed the bag onto the ground. Aside from testing this bag in our lab, I personally own it and have used it for countless trips in the last four years. The quality hasn’t wavered in the slightest and I typically reach for the bag since I can fit more than I could in a carry-on. Plus, with the rising costs of bringing luggage on an airplane, this bag has been a real money-saver since I can usually fit my personal items inside, too.

The Details: 35 liters | 20 x 12 x 8 inches | 3.8 pounds | TPU-coated 1000D polyester, nylon | Padded laptop sleeve

Away The Outdoor Convertible Backpack 45L
PHOTO: Away

Our Ratings

  • Capacity

    5/5

  • Design

    4.5/5

  • Durability

    5/5

  • Value

    5/5

You’ll be surprised by just how spacious this backpack is. The main compartment opens up like a clam shell for easy access to items that allowed us to fit an entire four-day packing list with ease — plus a few extra items. There are multiple large compartments, compression straps, and a few pockets in this backpack that are ideal for organizing clothes, gear, and accessories. While the 45-liter backpack can grow heavy when completely filled, the padded shoulder straps are supportive and keep you comfortable when walking for long periods of time. Plus, the convenient duffel handles allow you to switch up your carrying style if you do grow fatigued.

This backpack also sports a well-padded laptop sleeve that protected our testing laptop when we threw the fully packed bag off a counter three times. There was also no sign of rips, scuffs, or tears in the bag’s fabric after our tests. This water- and abrasion-resistant backpack would be perfect for avid travels who are looking for a sleek backpack to take them from city explorations to camping adventures.

The Details: 45 liters | 21.7 x 13.6 x 9.5 inches | 3.32 pounds | Water-resistant

Asenlin 40L Travel Backpack
PHOTO: Amazon

Our Ratings

  • Capacity

    5/5

  • Design

    5/5

  • Durability

    5/5

  • Value

    4/5

  • Comfort

    5/5

Perfect for travelers on a budget, the Asenlin 40L Travel Backpack impressed us with its packing features and comfortable fit. We thought the bag provided excellent organization thanks to the interior and exterior compression that provided extra room for packing. The backpack comes with three different packing cubes in small, medium, and large. We also like that this backpack includes both a suitcase strap and a handle to hold it horizontally. The backpack itself also features straps inside and a laptop sleeve to easily hold down items and pack electronics.

The design didn’t blow us away like those from some of the more costly brands, but it does have a laptop sleeve and a water bottle holder. We also liked the flexibility of being able to wear the Asenlin as a backpack, hold it like a briefcase, or use the trolley sleeve to slide it onto a roller suitcase’s handle. However, a bigger adjustment range for the chest strap would have been ideal. During our durability tests, the backpack didn’t scuff or show signs of damage. We think this budget pick is well worth the low price for those looking to get a durable, comfortable, and spacious carry-on backpack. 

The Details: 40 liters | 18.5 x 12.5 x 9.5 inches | 2.7 pounds | Polyester | 17-inch laptop pocket

Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
PHOTO: REI

Our Ratings

  • Capacity

    5/5

  • Design

    5/5

  • Durability

    5/5

  • Value

    4.5/5

  • Comfort

    5/5

This 45-liter backpack has a main compartment that is spacious enough to fit clothes for at least four days, and its expansive design is helpful for packing bulky items like jackets and shoes. Placing the clothes and shoes into the bag during testing was efficient and simple thanks to a removable divider sleeve and compression straps to hold everything down securely. Designed with photographers in mind, this backpack functions similarly to a camera bag. It can fit camera cubes, and it has four points of entry to the main compartment, allowing travelers to quickly grab clothes or accessories without unzipping the backpack. There is a padded laptop sleeve and stretchy side pockets for water bottles or a camera tripod. 

Peak Design didn’t let any space go to waste on its backpack, so even the hip belt has a small pocket on it for storage and can be packed away when you’re not looking for extra support. It’s also easy to adjust all of the straps to prevent weight imbalances and pinching. Made of weatherproof and water-resistant recycled nylon, the bag held up perfectly after we tossed it on the ground, showing no signs of scuffs or damage — exactly what you want in a durable backpack. Although the price of this bag is steep, it comes with plenty of helpful features for travelers, and the stellar performance leads us to believe that it would last a long time. 

 The Details: 45 liters | 13 x 22 x 9.5 inches | 4.8 pounds | Nylon, polyester | Laptop sleeve | Expandable

Tropicfeel Shell Backpack
PHOTO: Tropicfeel

Our Ratings

  • Capacity

    5/5

  • Design

    4/5

  • Durability

    5/5

  • Value

    4/5

  • Comfort

    4/5

We love this backpack’s thoughtful features geared toward all types of travelers. The Tropicfeel Shell Backpack has the ability to store up to 42 liters worth of clothing for a weekend or week-long trip, but you can also use it as a 20-liter backpack for day trips, sightseeing, and everyday use. After regularly using the bag for six months, we found it to be incredibly sturdy and durable. We had no issues fitting our full packing list and found that there was plenty more room thanks to the variety of buckled straps that allow you to adjust the size of the bag. You can loosen the front buckle to allow the roll-up opening flap to expand to fit more items, and there is a kangaroo pouch at the bottom of the backpack that provides an additional six liters of space for shoes or other items you want to keep separate. There’s also a padded compartment in the back of the backpack that can fit laptops up to 17 inches long. We thought the backpack was comfortable to wear after adjusting the shoulder and waist straps, but we found that it might take some effort to get the buckles into your desired setting. 

The Shell Backpack didn’t show any signs of damage throughout testing, and the material is weather-proof. For travelers looking to add upgrades to their backpacks, the brand has an organization system and accessory pouches that you can add on for additional fees. If you need an all-in-one backpack, we think this backpack’s versatility makes it well worth the higher cost. Bonus, if you want a sustainable backpack, this one is made from made 100 percent recycled nylon and 64 percent recycled polyester. 

The Details: 20 to 42 liters | 12 x 20 x 7.5 inches | 3.3 pounds | Recycled polyester

Topo Designs Global Travel Bag 30L
PHOTO: Topo Designs

Our Ratings

  • Capacity

    4/5

  • Design

    5/5

  • Durability

    5/5

  • Value

    3/5

  • Comfort

    5/5

Packing for a trip can often feel tedious, but the Topo Designs Global Travel Bag 30L helps make it easy and efficient. We loved how convenient it is to store a laptop up to 15 inches in the padded compartment in the back of the bag, and there are two front pockets for easy access to a tablet or phone charger. There are a ton of compartments and pockets that offer plenty of options for staying organized with small or loose items in the absence of packing cubes, with places to stash cords, travel documents, electronics, water bottles, and more.

The adjustable shoulder straps and straps that go across the chest and waist help evenly distribute the backpack’s weight, making it more comfortable to carry around, although we noticed during our long-term testing that the bag can still feel heavy if you pack it completely full. The 100 percent recycled nylon material felt durable and would likely stay in good condition over time. 

The Details: 30 liters | 12.5 x 20 x 7 inches

Nomatic Travel Pack Laptop Bag 20L
PHOTO: Amazon

Our Ratings

  • Capacity

    4.8/5

  • Design

    5/5

  • Comfort

    4.5/5

  • Durability

    4.5/5

  • Value

    4.8/5

The Nomatic Travel Pack is the ultimate versatile carry-on backpack thanks to its expandable zippers that add an extra 10 liters of space. Ideal for an overnight trip or a long weekend getaway, the bag has a variety of pockets and compartments to efficiently organize shoes, clothes, accessories, and technology. While the number of pockets on the interior was a bit overwhelming at first, travelers who like to be extra organized will appreciate the designated padded laptop sleeve, sunglasses case, discrete passport pocket, and plethora of slip and zippered pockets in the main compartment. The handles and padded shoulder straps are comfortable for carrying the bag, and the small-to-medium size of the backpack makes it super comfortable to carry since it doesn’t feel bulky or heavy. We used this bag on a variety of international trips throughout four months of testing, and it still looks new, despite rough handling and being shoved under airplane seats.

The Details: 20 liters (expands to 30 liters) | 18.5 x 12 x 6-9.5 inches | 4.16 pounds | 16-inch laptop pocket

Matein Travel Backpack 40L
PHOTO: Amazon

Our Ratings

  • Capacity

    5/5

  • Design

    4/5

  • Comfort

    4.8/5

  • Durability

    4.3/5

  • Value

    4/5

Why We Love It

  • It has several compartments for keeping clothing, shoes, tech, and accessories organized.

If you’re not ready to invest in a pricier carry-on backpack, you can always dip your toes with this functional and spacious one for under $60. This 40-liter backpack has one large main compartment that can fit several tops, bottoms, and a toiletry case without any issues. We particularly love the separate footwear compartment to prevent the bottom of your shoes from coming into contact with clean clothes and that storage can even fit pairs up to size 12. In addition, there is a laptop pocket and a large front pocket with spots to put items like phone chargers, headphones, and other small accessories that could get lost easily. Compared to the pricier bags we tried, this one feels a bit lower in quality, but none of the nylon fabric tore and scuffed during our durability tests, so we still think this bag has a good lifespan ahead of it. 

The Details: 40 liters | 20 x 13 x 8 inches | 2 pounds | Water-repellent nylon

Tortuga Travel Backpack 40L
PHOTO: Tortuga

Our Ratings

  • Capacity

    5/5

  • Design

    5/5

  • Comfort

    5/5

  • Durability

    5/5

  • Value

    5/5

If you’re traveling somewhere with a rainy climate, you’ll want a carry-on backpack like this one from Tortuga that can ward off the elements. It’s made with the brand’s 100 percent recycled and waterproof Shell200 or “sailcloth” material to protect your belongings and prevent bad weather from putting a serious damper on your trip. During a rainy overnight camping trip, the Tortuga Travel Backpack essentially sat in a puddle for hours, yet none of our gear or clothing inside got wet at all, and the bag was easy to clean with just a wet cloth.

This is a seriously spacious bag at 40 liters, so we found that you can seamlessly fit a week’s worth of clothing (or more) between the two clamshell compartments. Because of the split style of the bag, packing it up is hassle-free since it’s easy to see exactly how much space is left on each side. And if you run out of space in the main compartments, there are top, front, and side exterior pockets to store a laptop, accessories, water bottles, and more items that you’ll want to have handy while traveling.

The Details: 40 liters | 21.7 x 13.8 x 7.9 inches | 4.5 pounds | Waterproof sailcloth | 16-inch laptop pocket

Osprey Fairview 40
PHOTO: Osprey

Our Ratings

  • Capacity

    5/5

  • Design

    5/5

  • Durability

    5/5

  • Value

    5/5

  • Comfort

    5/5

For travelers journeying on foot, the Osprey Fairview wowed us with its spacious interior and comfortable fit. The straps for walking longer distances are really the best part — making your bag feel like you’re carrying less since the weight is so well distributed. The bags have the same storage capacity and general style, but Osprey’s women’s backpacks are designed to fit a smaller torso with waist and chest harnesses that sit upward and outward for a more comfortable carry. In testing, the main compartment and mesh zippered pouch on the front flap proved to be spacious. There are two internal compression straps and one external strap that kept belongings secure through our rough handling, so we think the bag would provide sufficient protection if you do need to check it in for a flight. 

We appreciated the padded shoulder straps and back that made wearing the backpack comfortable, despite the weight of its contents. The Osprey Fairview bags have an internal suspension the brand calls “LightWire” that distributes the weight from the harness to the hip belt, and our shoulders didn’t hurt after carrying the backpack since most of the weight shifted to the lower body.

The Details: 40 liters | 22 x 14 x 9 inches

Calpak Terra Laptop Backpack
PHOTO: Calpak

The two-in-one design of this carry-on backpack from Calpak makes it the perfect piece of luggage to add to your collection. If you need to carry the backpack long distances, the padded straps offer plenty of comfort to protect the shoulders from feeling the weight of the pack, and they can be tucked away when they’re not needed. For rushing off an airplane or grabbing the pack quickly, the duffel bag strap makes it easy to sling the pack over the shoulder within seconds. In testing, senior commerce editor Lydia Price preferred using the backpack straps after noting that the generous padding in the back and on the straps made the bag noticeably more comfortable to carry. I also own this bag and prefer to use the backpack straps, but I love having the option to carry it multiple ways as my needs change on the go.

Although the bag is medium-sized with a 26-liter capacity, it still has plenty of room to fit enough clothing for four or five days’ worth of traveling thanks to the numerous pockets. The clamshell-style opening also makes it easy to organize items between the two compartments. The ripstop polyester fabric didn’t scuff or scratch during our durability tests and we especially love that the outer material is water-resistant, which is helpful for all types of adventuring from urban to outdoor settings.

The Details: 26 liters | 18 x 12 x 7.5 inches | 2.9 pounds | Recycled ripstop polyester | 17-inch padded laptop pocket

Other Carry-on Backpacks We Liked

While we tested plenty of high-scoring carry-on backpacks, there were some that almost made our list but didn’t quite make the cut due to several weaknesses revealed during testing. 

Bellroy Transit Backpack Plus: We loved the adjustable sternum and waist straps that you can tuck into the bag when not in use, but we think there are better bags out there for a fraction of the price. 

AmazonBasics Carry-on Travel Backpack: It had plenty of compartments for staying organized and the material felt durable, but there weren’t any standout features that made it a must-have backpack. 

Vancropak Carry-on Backpack, Extra Large 40L: This backpack fits all of the packing items, and it even fits under an airplane seat, but our budget pick performed slightly better and it costs less. 

Our Testing Process

On more than seven separate occasions, we tested carry-on backpacks in our New York City lab to make sure we were creating this list with the best options from trusted luggage brands. For our latest tests, we built a specially designed airplane set that includes a row of real airplane seats and an overhead storage bin. To date, we’ve put over 89 carry-on backpacks through a series of trials that compared capacity, design, comfort, durability, and overall value. After completing our in-house testing, we sent the backpacks out with our Travel + Leisure editors to give us insight into how they fared during real-world travel. We have been updating this article with long-term testing insights as soon as they become available. 

To test for capacity, we began by packing the bags with three shirts, two pairs of pants, one jacket, one pair of shoes, and a toiletry bag. We noted if any space was left over as well as how functional the compartments were for organizing the contents packed. We evaluated the overall design of the bags by paying attention to how they fold out, how well the zippers and buckles work, and the functionality of each pocket or compartment. 

Next, we put on the backpacks and walked around for 10 minutes to rate comfortability. The highest scoring backpacks were exceptionally enjoyable to wear with the weight evenly distributed on the shoulders or hips.

Travel + Leisure / Jhett Thompson


Travel + Leisure / Joy Kim


Then, we threw the backpacks a few feet or off a countertop to test for durability. The highest-rated bags had no scuffs or tears after rough handling, and the packed items inside remained unharmed as well. 

Our testers had no previous knowledge of the cost of each backpack until after testing was completed. This allowed us to give an unbiased rating of overall values, where the top bags were determined to be fairly priced based on a high-quality performance, especially for the pricier bags. After our lab tests, the backpacks were sent out for real-world testing for up to six months.

Tips for Buying a Carry-on Backpack

Consider under-the-seat versus carry-on bags

Not all carry-on backpacks will fit under the seat of an airplane, but if that’s your intended use, we recommend checking an airline’s underseat dimensions before heading to the airport. Similarly, with a carry-on backpack for the overhead bin, you’ll want to double-check the airline’s carry-on size restrictions to avoid paying unwanted fees if the bag is stuffed full of clothes. 

Keep in mind what the bag will be used for

It may seem obvious, but to find the perfect travel backpack you need to first consider its primary function. For those traveling by foot, a smaller, lightweight backpack would be better for portability and comfort. For those traveling by air, a compression bag or backpack that has plentiful organization could be a better choice so you get the most out of the limited airline baggage space. When traveling by air, you might also want to consider an option with wheels for added convenience, like a rolling backpack, weekender, or duffel bag.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much can fit in a carry-on backpack?

    During our test, we packed three shirts, two pants, one jacket, one pair of shoes, and a toiletry bag into each bag and often had extra space for more clothes. Many backpacks come with a laptop compartment, but you’ll want to make sure that feature is included before purchasing yours.

  • Are all carry-on backpacks airline-approved?

    Carry-on size restrictions vary by airline, and it’s possible for a carry-on backpack to not fit within some limits. Most bags will have a product details section highlighting the dimensions of the backpack. If you’re looking to fit the bag solely under the seat, you should check to make sure the bag fits the dimensions while it’s packed.

Why Trust Travel + Leisure

After moving to New York City in the spring of 2022 to test travel gear for T+L, Anna Popp has spent countless hours personally testing more than 50 backpacks including bags on this list from Cotopaxi, Calpak, Peak Design, and Nomatic. She has been traveling with our top pick for more than four years — and even had to get everyone in her family the same bag so they would stop stealing hers.

Love a great deal? Sign up for our T+L Recommends newsletter and we’ll send you our favorite travel products each week.

link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *