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Skip the stress of checking in 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 tested 27 carry-on backpacks and evaluated them based on traits like capacity, comfort, durability, and design. Our top pick for the best carry-on backpack overall is the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack. We love the various pockets and compartments for organization, and there are several access points that make it easy to grab items from the main section when needed. The bag has comfortable straps that mold to the shape of your shoulders, and the soft rubber material makes the outside durable and resistant to damage. But if the sporty look isn’t your style, we tested plenty of carry-on backpacks ranging in style and size that impressed our travel experts.
Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack
Salt Lake City-based outdoor gear brand Cotopaxi builds brightly colored clothing and accessories to last. 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. One side of the backpack has two small and one medium zippered pockets, while the other side consists of one main compartment for storing bigger clothing items like jackets and shoes. The rear of the Allpa 35L has a padded sleeve as well as a cleverly placed zipper for reaching items packed at the bottom of the main compartment. The front of the backpack has a large zippered pocket that we thought was perfect for fitting smaller electronics and a 32-ounce water bottle, but, disappointingly, there is no exterior water bottle holder. 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.
After our comfortability tests, we really liked how the straps contoured to the shape of our shoulders and chest. The material used on the back of the pack is mesh, so it’s very comfortable. (Mesh also helps promote air flow and breathability for days when you’re hauling your backpack in the heat.) Overall, we think this durable Cotopaxi bag will remain in excellent condition no matter how many times it hits the road, as it was not damaged at all after we repeatedly tossed it onto the ground. The rubber texture also seemed easy to clean and resistant to liquid spills. After six months of regularly using the bag, we found that it’s the perfect size for long weekend trips and helps keep all of our items organized and easy-to-access. Both stylish and functional, this backpack can even be made one-of-a-kind by choosing the surprise colors option when purchased through Cotopaxi’s website.
Price at time of publish: $200
The Details: 35 liters | 20 x 12 x 8 inches
Asenlin 40L Travel Backpack
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 also includes three different packing cubes; 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 includes straps in the 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 feature 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 test, 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.
Price at time of publish: $80
The Details: 40 liters | 18.5 x 12.5 x 9.5 inches
Best for Business Trips
Nomatic Travel Bag 40L
With plenty of space to pack bulky clothes, we think the Nomatic Travel Bag 40L would make an excellent carry-on backpack for business trips. After six months of use, we notice the bag’s rectangular shape makes it easy to pack folded clothing and keep them tidy. There are two separate shoe compartments, a padded laptop sleeve, and several smaller pockets for work-related items like pens, glasses, chargers, and folders. The bag also includes a laundry sack — a thoughtful touch for separating dirty garments while traveling. This is much slimmer than other bags we’ve used in the past, and having the full zipper is much more ideal than a top loaded backpack, which can be difficult to pack.
The Nomatic Travel Bag can be converted from a backpack with shoulder straps to a duffel bag with tote straps depending on your carrying preference. While we loved the design of the backpack, the straps weren’t super comfortable to wear, as they were stiff and may dig into your neck slightly. However, we appreciated the hip belt and felt that it helped to evenly distribute the weight of the backpack. Although comfortability wasn’t the backpack’s strongest attribute, we still think it’s worth the price thanks to its durable, efficient design that can keep you organized on work trips.
Price at time of publish: $290
The Details: 40 liters | 21 x 9 x 14 inches
Samsonite Silhouette 17 Backpack
The Samsonite Silhouette 17 Backpack is ideal for travelers who like the structure and sleek, minimalist style of a traditional suitcase but want the portability of a backpack. We love that this bag opens like a suitcase, making it easy to access everything inside. There was plenty of space leftover after packing the backpack, and the classic clamshell opening allowed for easy access to items in the compression-strapped main compartment and the zippered pockets on the interior of the front flap. All of the interior and exterior pockets, including the water bottle holder and padded laptop sleeve, are useful for traveling. The backpack can be converted to being worn as a duffel bag or a briefcase, and it has a rear strap to place on a rolling suitcase if desired. The straps were easy to adjust and felt like the weight was nicely distributed thanks to the structured style of the backpack. There was a small scuff on the bag after it was tossed during our durability test, but the contents of the backpack were unharmed. When flying with the bag during our six-month test, we found that it easily fits in airplane overhead bins and under the seat. Overall, it’s a backpack with the features of a well-compartmentalized suitcase and much more.
Price at time of publish: $200
The Details: 13 x 20.5 x 10.5 inches
Everlane The ReNew Transit Backpack
If you’re looking to travel in style, Everlane’s The ReNew Transit Backpack is the perfect fit. Functional and contemporary, we found it to be best suited for weekend trips because of its smaller capacity. The bag fit all of the packing items during testing, but it would be difficult to fit much more in the main compartment. The ReNew Transit was comfortable to wear thanks to its lightweight polyester material and compact build. The front flap of the backpack has an external pocket for smaller items, and it folds over to attach magnetically to the front of the backpack. During our durability tests, the front magnets stayed securely together, and the body of the backpack didn’t get crushed or damaged. We liked how it can fit under an airplane seat, making it a versatile backpack for traveling with or without other pieces of luggage. There is a laptop sleeve in the back of the bag as well as a water bottle holder on the side and a front zippered pocket below the folding magnetic lock. With six earthy tones to choose from, this is a bag to fit all travel style preferences.
Price at time of publish: $95
The Details: 27 liters | 12 x 17.5 x 7.25 inches
Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
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, the backpack can fit camera cubes, and four points of entry to the main compartment allow 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.
We appreciated having handles on all four sides of the backpack, which made lifting the bag into the overhead compartment easy. 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. 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.
Price at time of publish: $300
The Details: 45 liters | 13 x 22 x 9.5 inches
Best for Foot Travel
Osprey Fairview 40
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. It makes your bag feel like your 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 their lower body.
Price at time of publish: $159
The Details: 40 liters | 22 x 14 x 9 inches
Tropicfeel Shell Backpack
We love this backpack’s thoughtful features geared toward all types of travelers. The Tropicfeel Shell Backpack has the ability to store 30 to 40 liters worth of clothing for a weekend or week-long trip, but it can also be used as a 22-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 the number of clothing items and added that there was plenty more room thanks to the variety of buckled straps that allow you to adjust the size of the bag. The front buckle can be loosened 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 6 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 backpack, the brand has an organization system and accessory pouches that can be added for additional fees. If you need an all-in-one kind of carry-on backpack, we think this backpack’s versatility makes it well worth the higher cost.
Price at time of publish: $249
The Details: 22 liters compressed | 12 x 20 x 7.5 inches
Topo Designs Global Travel Bag 30L
Packing for a trip can often feel tedious, but the Topo Designs Global Travel Bag 30L helps make it easy and efficient. The backpack comes with a removable packing system that includes two compression bags, two accessory bags, and one toiletry bag. The compression bags are designed to fit inside the main compartment along with the toiletry bag, and the accessory pouches can be placed in the zippered mesh pockets along the inside of the front flap. There are plenty of places to stash cords, travel documents, electronics, water bottles, and more.
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. The adjustable shoulder straps helped evenly distribute the backpack’s weight, making it easier and more comfortable to carry around. The 100 percent recycled nylon material also felt durable and would likely stay in good condition over time.
Price at time of publish: $199
The Details: 30 liters | 12.5 x 20 x 7 inches
Our Testing Process
Our team gathered in our New York City lab to put 27 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 expert product testers to give us insight on 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. Each tester noted if any space was leftover 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.
Then, we threw the backpacks a few feet to test for durability. The highest-rated bags had no scuffs or tears after being handled roughly, 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 them to give an unbiased rating of their overall values, where the top bags were determined to be fairly priced based on a high-quality performance, especially for the pricier bags.
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.
Aer Travel Pack 3: We thought the backpack was supportive and comfortable to wear, but it barely fit the clothes and shoes we tried to pack.
Bellroy Transit Backpack Plus: We loved the adjustable sternum and waist straps that could be tucked into the bag when not in use, but we think there are better bags out there for a fraction of the price.
Thule Subterra Backpack 34L: The bag was spacious enough to fit plenty of clothes and came with a portable charger, but wearing it caused pain in the upper back.
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 Travel Backpack 40L: The Vancropak backpack performed well during our durability and capacity tests, but the straps weren’t as supportive as other backpacks we tested for a similar price.
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.
Minaal Carry-on 3.0 Bag: This bag has two main storage compartments and several smaller ones, but we thought the design was awkward for packing clothes, and there were a few scuffs after it was tossed in addition to a zipper opening. This was the most expensive backpack we tested, so we expected a higher performance.
Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack: The backpack got scuffed up after being tossed and the design of the bag had a few awkward features, and for the high cost, we expected a stellar performance.
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
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.
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
Anna Popp is a Commerce Writer at Travel + Leisure, where she writes and reviews travel products. She has been travel writing since 2018 and product testing since 2021. Anna determined the results for the best carry-on backpacks based on thorough insights from a series of tests completed by our testers in our lab.
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