Packing for a trip can be stressful. Is your checked bag within the weight limit? Will your personal item fit under the seat? Did you consolidate liquids for TSA? They’ll let your $150 bottle of first-press Italian olive oil through, right? And, of course, you’re definitely going to be able to juggle it all as you run through the airport just barely making your connecting flight. Here, we’ve rounded up the best travel backpack carry-on options that’ll keep your hands free, fit all the things and tuck neatly into the overhead bin. Vacation stress, be gone!
The 12 Best Travel Backpack Carry-Ons in 2023
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What Is the Largest Backpack Allowed for Carry-On?
As noted by The Points Guy, the standard carry-on size for domestic airlines is 22 x 14 x 9 inches, though the dimensions may vary slightly by airline. Double-check with your carrier before making an investment in a carry-on travel backpack. Also keep in mind that the carry-on and personal item are not the same—these dimensions refer to the bag you put in the overhead bin.
What Is the Best Backpack to Use as Carry-On Luggage?
The best carry-on travel backpack depends on your packing needs. If you’re headed to another continent for a month of backpacking, you probably want to consider the expandable Peak Design Travel Backpack or The North Face Base Camp Duffle, both of which are built for rugged outdoor activities. On a business trip? Try the streamlined Asenlin Travel Backpack. Those traveling with youngsters will probably appreciate the lightweight Fjallraven Kanken Classic Backpack, which holds plenty of snacks. Read on for the 12 best travel backpack carry-ons, no matter your destination.
The Best Travel Backpacks at a Glance
- Best Travel Backpack for Women: Calpak Terra Backpack
- Best Backpack for Business Travel: Lululemon Everyday Backpack 2.0
- Best Travel Laptop Backpack: Asenlin Travel Backpack
- Best Lightweight Travel Backpack: The North Face Base Camp Duffle
- Best Small Travel Backpack: Dagne Dover Dakota Backpack
- Best Carry-On Backpack for International Travel: L.L. Bean Continental Travel Pack
- Best Travel Backpack for Petites: Tumi Just In Case Backpack
- Most Expandable: Peak Design Travel Backpack
- Best Waterproof Backpack for Travel: Yeti Panga Backpack
- Most Affordable: Fjallraven Kanken Classic Backpack
- Suitcase-Style: Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack
- Best 40-Liter Travel Backpack: Baboon to the Moon Go-Bag
Best Travel Backpack for Women
- Why We Love It: made from recycled polyester, fun colors, padded and adjustable shoulder straps, trolley sleeve
- Capacity: 26L
- Material: recycled polyester
- Dimensions: 18x12x7.5 inches
The Calpak Terra backpack is on PureWow fashion editor Abby Hepworth’s wish list. A clamshell opening and 17-inch laptop sleeve make stashing the essentials easy. Plus, it’s water-resistant and converts from backpack to duffle with a trolley sleeve. There’s a roomy main pocket with compression straps, plus multiple integrated pockets for smaller items. It's made of recycled polyester, which repurposed 27 plastic bottles.
“I went back and forth trying to decide whether or not I should buy this bag,” writes one Calpak reviewer, Taylor. “Well, I did, and I cannot be more thankful. I am a frequent traveler and I refuse to check any bags. This bag has helped me fit more things than I ever have on my trips. The laptop sleeve in the back is absolutely amazing. Seriously, just buy this.”
Best Backpack for Business Travel
- Why We Love It: sleek, water repellent, neutral colors, exterior padded laptop sleeve
- Capacity: 23L
- Material: polyester
- Dimensions: 11.4x5.9x16.5 inches
PureWow’s beauty director, Jenny Jin, loves her Lululemon Everyday backpack, which has a 16-inch exterior laptop sleeve. Jin appreciates that it can hold an extra set of clothes, while the smaller compartments corral her plethora of lip balms. There are also two slots on either side of the backpack that keep water bottles and umbrellas in easy reach.
“I take my Lululemon everywhere,” she says. “The material is easy to wipe down and it has that handy strap in the back to slide over my suitcase handle when I'm walking through the airport.”
Best Travel Laptop Backpack
- Why We Love It: wheeled variation, comes with packing cubes, laptop sleeve, reflective belt
- Capacity: 40L
- Material: polyester
- Dimensions: 18.5x13x9 inches
“I love this travel backpack because you can open it wide like a luggage and pack so much stuff without it being too bulky,” notes PureWow associate editor Chelsea Candelario. “You can carry it on your back or tuck the straps and hold it like a carry on. I also appreciate that it comes with so many compartments for my laptop, water bottle, etc.” Other notable features we love: handy packing cubes, compression straps in the main compartment and a quick conversion into a duffle.
Best Lightweight Travel Backpack
The North Face
- Why We Love It: wide color selection, made from recycled materials, company lifetime warranty
- Capacity: 50L
- Material: recycled polyester
- Dimensions: 13x21x13 inches
“This duffel from The North Face comes in a ton of different sizes, most of which come with removable/adjustable backpack straps for easy carrying,” says Hepworth. “The small is the perfect carry-on size. I love that it’s essentially one giant hole so you can organize as you like and really utilize every centimeter of space in there, and the top opens really wide to give you easy access to all your things.” This bag also scores points for its durability, water resistance and padded side handles. The handles can be used to tote your bag or wear it on your shoulders. A mesh pocket on the D-flap will keep smaller trinkets organized.
Best Small Travel Backpack
- Why We Love It: recycled lining, shoe bag, trolley pass-through, various sizes and colors
- Capacity: 16L (medium)
- Material: recycled plastic, neoprene
- Dimensions: 11.5x5x17 inches (medium)
The Dagne Dover Dakota backpack comes in three sizes, all of which comply with carry-on constraints. The medium rendition will accommodate a 13-inch laptop (16 inches for the large) and comes with four exterior and three interior pockets. The vegan bag has a lining made of recycled plastic bottles and is lightweight, clocking in around two pounds. “I love all the organizational features and that it even comes with a bag to keep shoes separate,” notes PureWow’s assistant commerce editor Natalie LaBarbera. Other reviewers also praised the backpack’s organizational features, which has garnered it nearly 3,000 reviews for an average of 4.8 stars.
Best Carry-On Backpack for International Travel
- Why We Love It: made from recycled materials, water- and abrasion- resistant, trolley sleeve, stowable straps
- Material: recycled polyester
- Capacity: 43L
- Dimensions: 22x13x10 inches
Crossing countries and continents? The L.L. Bean Continental Travel Pack is your friend. With a 43-liter capacity, it’s roomy. The interior has two separate packing compartments, making it easy to store dirty and clean laundry. It also comes with a shoe bag. The backpack opens like a clamshell, has top and side grab handles and leather zipper pulls for a luxe touch. There are also pockets galore with built-in organization. “This backpack carryon can hold A LOT,” shares Barb, a L.L. Bean reviewer. “It is a square shape and therefore one can really pack it nicely. Front compartments make [it easy to access your laptop, phone, windbreaker etc.]”
Best Travel Backpack for Petites
- Why We Love It: stain and water resistant, folds flat, stylish, lightweight
- Capacity: 15L
- Material: nylon
- Dimensions: 15.5 x 12.3 x 4.5 inches
At just over half a pound, this Tumi backpack was made for all those things you might need “just in case.” Small laptop or tablet, cosmetics, hand sanitizer, sunglasses—it all fits neatly into the main compartment, front zip pocket or detachable interior zip pouch. “I love that it has padded laptop sleeve inside because I don't go anywhere without mine, and it slips easily over my luggage handle,” says PureWow commerce editor Olivia Dubyak. Plus, the bag itself will fold flat into its own zippered bag for convenient storage.
- Why We Love It: made from recycled materials, packing and tech accessories available, can compress to 30L, theft-deterrent zippers, quick-access side pockets, lifetime guarantee
- Capacity: 45L
- Material: recycled nylon
- Dimensions: 9 x 22 x 13 inches
Peak Design’s travel backpack is billed as one that does it all, and the praise is high. “Easily the best backpack I’ve used,” one reviewer writes. “I bought this backpack prior to a domestic trip for five days. It held all the clothes and items I wanted for the trip. All of the external straps stow in the bag, which makes it fit in the overhead compartments of domestic flights really well.” Additionally, the brand creates lines of packing and camera cubes. The backpack can compress to 30 liters or expand to 45. There are numerous access points and expandable side pockets, but the brand also thought ahead: the zippers are theft-deterrent. With a luggage pass-through and weatherproof shell, it’s a prime pick for any adventure.
Best Waterproof Backpack for Travel
- Why We Love It: waterproof, leakproof, laptop sleeve
- Capacity: 28L
- Material: nylon, thermoplastic polyurethane
- Dimensions: 12.5 x 7 x 20 inches
You might recognize this brand for their coolers and drinkware, but as it turns out, Yeti makes travel backpacks, too. This one is waterproof (up to a meter for 30 minutes), puncture-proof and leakproof with a laptop sleeve and interior mesh pocket to keep the small things organized. One reviewer praised this backpack as the “eighth wonder of the world. This bag blew away my expectations. The heavy-duty engineering makes this backpack virtually indestructible. Spacious, comfortable, and waterproof...what more could you ask for?”
- Why We Love It: wide color selection, dirt- and water- resistant, ergonomic shoulder straps,
- Capacity: 16L
- Material: Vinylon F, polypropylene
- Dimensions: 14.9 x 10.6 x 5.1 inches
Layout, compartments, materials, weight, reviews
“I love the classic Kanken backpack,” shares PureWow’s operations director of branded content, Rachel Gulmi. “It seriously fits so much stuff and is comfortable on your back. I also like the top handles for another way to carry it. The material is durable and it comes in so many fun colors. It's my go-to travel backpack!” The classic backpack has a cavernous main compartment with a removable seat pad. Two side pockets give quick access to water bottles and umbrellas, and the front zip pocket holds all the little trinkets.
- Why We Love It: lifetime warranty and repairs, transforms into duffle, interior mesh compartments, security zippers, rain cover
- Capacity: 35L
- Material: thermoplastic polyurethane-coated polyester
- Dimensions: 22 x 12 x 10 inches
“I just bought this, and I'm already obsessed,” says Pam Masin, PureWow’s director of affiliate strategy. “It opens like a suitcase and has four zippered mesh compartments inside, including a main compartment on one side where the bulk of your clothes go, and then three smaller sections on the other to keep items like shoes and toiletries secure. Cotopaxi really levels up the organization with a padded laptop sleeve accessible through an exterior zipper (making airline security a breeze). There’s a top compartment for items you want easy access to while traveling (like headphones, your passport, and a book). But the coolest feature? Not only does the bag use YKK zippers, which lock in place, but around the zippers are loops of fabric that act as a security system so the bag cannot be easily opened by someone else. The only drawback here is that it does take an extra second to unzip this bag yourself, but that's fine by me if I know my stuff is secure.”
Best 40-Liter Travel Backpack
Baboon to the Moon
- Why We Love It: fun colors, limited-edition drops, lifetime warranty, lockable zippers, external passport pocket
- Capacity: 40L
- Material: PVC, polyester
- Dimensions: 10.5 x 20.5 x 12.5 inches
“I have the small Go-Bag and it works like a charm for weekend trips,” says PureWow editorial assistant Delia Curtis. “It can hold three to five days’ worth of clothes, has plenty of zipped compartments for ample storage and organization, adjustable straps, and comes in such fun colors! It’s super easy to clean (I’m talking Wet Wipes easy) and has a waterproof outer shell. They frequently collaborate with artists to create patterned inner linings for their bags.”
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Marissa Wu is a PureWow Associate Editor with a focus on SEO. She covers everything from fashion and home trends to travel, beauty, wellness, family and food. Her work has also appeared in Southern Living, Martha Stewart and Forbes Vetted.
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