The 13 Best Travel Backpack Carry-Ons in 2024, Tested and Reviewed

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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? Lately, airlines have also gotten stingy with your baggage allowance, often charging for any suitcase you throw into the overhead bin, travel blogger Dannelle Gay tells me. This means if you want to avoid the pesky fees, having a personal item that can really pack everything away is paramount. Here, I’ve rounded up the 13 best travel backpack carry-on options that’ll keep your hands free, fit all the things and (hopefully) fit under your seat—or at least tuck neatly into the overhead bin. That includes the best overall, Peak Designs Travel Backpack ($300), the stylish and inconspicuous international bag, Everlane ReNew Transit Backpack ($95) and ultra-affordable Bagsmart Blast Carry-On Backpack ($66) that PureWow Senior Editor Dana Dickey says always fits under the seat. Vacation stress, be gone!

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The 10 Best Travel Backpack Carry-Ons at a Glance

Meet the Expert

Dannelle Gay is a Wisconsin-based travel blogger, TV show host, author and writer behind, a website that shares travel guides on all that’s fit to see and do in The Badger State and beyond. She is a member of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association.

How I Researched and Chose the Best Travel Backpack Carry-Ons

To round up this list of 13 best travel backpack carry-ons, I consulted Gay about features she, as a frequent traveler, considers when shopping. Then, I used data from Google and forums like Reddit to see which brands people were searching for---and what they were saying. Armed with a list of 21 contenders, I assembled a team of PureWow editors and testers to spend a month testing out the various backpacks. We took them on flights, road trips, staycations and to work, stuffing them with everything from shoes and clothes to work laptops, books, heavy camera equipment and overstuffed toiletry bags. I asked each tester to evaluate their backpack based on quality, aesthetic, comfort and convenience. Here are 13 that made the cut.

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1. Peak Designs Travel Backpack

Tisha T.

When our tester, Tisha, texted me that she’s “never had a backpack so well thought-out with so many convenient pockets,” I was immediately keen to read her full review. She took the Peak Designs Travel Backpack with her on a road trip to Montreal and on a flight to Chicago as a personal item in addition to a roller bag.

“I am typically an over-packer,” she says. “I was impressed that I could fit everything I needed in just the backpack, though it [was pretty heavy]. The waist strap helped with this a little.”

The bag has four handles, which Tisha reports were ergonomic and padded. Though, the feature she loved most about the backpack was its built-in organization. It has a clamshell opening and tons of extra pockets, plus laptop and tablet sleeves. There are optional packing cubes you can purchase, which she notes were “Amazing. [They were] both stylish and compact.” She did feel that the cosmetics pouch was a bit small but thought it would work for people with minimal beauty and personal care items.

One undeniable fact about this bag is that it’s heavy, weighing about 4.5 pounds. The design minimized the feeling of being weighed down. “I think the backpack distributed weight well,” Tisha reports. “There was a waist strap and chest strap, and I loved how the straps could be tucked into the backpack behind the magnetic closure. Overall, I thought the design was smart, functional, and well thought out.”

$300 at REI

$300 at Amazon

2. Asenlin Travel Backpack

Chelsea Candelario

PureWow Associate Editor Chelsea Candelario says the Asenlin 40L travel backpack is her go-to carry-on and recently dusted it off for a weekend staycation in Manhattan. “[This] has travelled the world with me and is still in top shape,” she reports. “My favorite feature is that it opens like a book and has tons of compartments to store all my belongings. It has a laptop sleeve (up to 17 inches) and water bottle pocket that expands to accommodate larger bottles. It’s so roomy that I can store 2-3 pairs of shoes in it, along with my other items.”

In addition to the backpack straps (which are thick and cushioned), there are two side handles that allow you to carry it like a duffle. Candelario also appreciates the trolley sleeve and ability to tuck the backpack straps away when she transforms it into the duffle. The interior is super organized, too. “It has a net pouch inside to store small items. There are also built-in elastic bands to keep items from spilling out if I need to open the bag,” she explains. “The backpack also comes with three packing cubes to make everything extra convenient.”

$38 at Amazon

$40 at Asenlin

3. Dagne Dover Dakota Backpack

Catrina Yohay

The Dagne Dover Dakota backpack comes in three sizes, all of which comply with TSA carry-on constraints. The medium rendition will accommodate two 13-inch laptops (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 clocks in around two pounds. PureWow Executive Managing Editor Catrina Yohay packed the medium bag for a weekend trip, as she hopped from subway to train and car.

“Love the overall design. It looks like a grown-up backpack, not boring and stodgy,” she says. “I love the classic shape and smart design (lots of external and internal zipper pockets and side pockets to hold a water bottle/sunglasses/umbrella/etc.) Love the smooth neoprene fabric and monochrome features–everything from zippers to straps to the brand logo are one uniform color.”

The Dakota has a top handle in addition to the backpack straps. All are padded, which makes it comfortable to carry, even when stuffed to the brim, weaving through the train stations, as Yohay can attest. She also mentions the main compartment’s two laptop sleeves. “There’s a back sleeve section with added padding for device protection, [but due to this], the bottom footprint of the backpack is way smaller than it appears. I was surprised when the bottom half quickly filled up with only one pair of jeans and a sweater.” She notes that she would have traded one of the laptop sleeves for extra packing space. However, if you travel with multiple computers and don’t want them knocking into each other, this is a good feature.

Yohay also loved the organization of the bag. “This is where I think the backpack shines–it has lots of compartments,” she says. “Two side pockets, one internal laptop sleeve with padding to protect your device, a hook for keys so they’re not floating around (my pet peeve), two additional interior pockets, two interior side pockets, a front zipper pocket for easy access to trinkets, a second back panel for a laptop and an internal zip pouch. All of the compartments make sense and are useful.”

One caveat to keep in mind is that the Dakota weighs about two pounds on its own. Yohay says the weight can accumulate quickly once packed, though the straps do a good job of distributing it for comfort.

From $155 at Dagne Dover

4. Troubadour Apex Backpack 3.0

Sarah W.

“I took this backpack on a 1.5-day work trip (by train) and a weekend getaway (train + car),” says our tester, Sarah. “For both trips, I packed two days of outfits, toiletries, makeup, electronics, laptop, pajamas, pillbox, one pair of shoes and one pair of glasses. I’m 5’2’’ and [even fully packed] I [didn’t find it] too big on me.”

Sarah describes herself as an over-packer (extra chargers, underwear, tops) and appreciated that the Troubadour Apex was able to hold all her belongings with some room to spare. The design is sleek, modern and unisex, with Sarah noting: “The mixed material design gives it a balance of professional and fashionable, allowing it to go with many outfits. One [design element] that’s worth mentioning is the zipper closure. It’s concealed with two rubbery strips, giving the bag a cohesive look without the usual exposed metal zipper standing out, which could be a factor to those who care about mixing metals in their accessories (e.g. if your personal accessory and coat/shoes hardware are all gold but the bag zipper is silver).”

The interior has a host of pockets in the main compartment, with a laptop sleeve that has separate space for a tablet or documents. Additionally, there’s a pocket on the left strap, which Sarah found extremely useful. “It [provides] secure storage and extremely easy access to important but frequently used items during travel, such as car keys, passport, boarding pass, phone.” Also notable are the two deep side pockets for umbrellas or water bottles.

Another thing to note is that the bag is structured, which can be both a pro and con. “It’s approximately the same size whether empty or packed, since it doesn’t collapse,” Sarah explains. As for the straps, she reports that they were comfortable and distributed the weight evenly. There’s the option to add a chest strap if needed, and the back has a trolley sleeve.

“Another stand-out design is that the adjustable parts of the straps are in a loop,” she adds. “As a result, there’s not the usual excess straps dangling from the bag and hitting your arms as you walk.” There’s also a specific pocket for an Air Tag, which she liked but wished wasn’t so clearly labeled.

$245 at Troubadour

$245 at Amazon

5. Tumi Just In Case Backpack

Emily L.

The merits of the Tumi Just In Case Backpack are all in the name. It folds flat, making it easy to stash, and will fit under an airplane seat as a personal item. Our tester, Emily, took the bag on a flight from New York to Kentucky. She claims to be an over-packer, so found the bag smaller than she was expecting for a carry-on, noting that it was better as a personal item. “The material doesn’t stretch, but I fit my book, sweatshirt, snacks and work laptop comfortably in the bag,” she reports. However, there is no laptop sleeve, so you might want to store yours in a case before packing.

A major plus of this backpack is that it’s incredibly light, clocking in at less than a half a pound. (All the other options here are at least two pounds.) Storage includes one main compartment, a large front zippered pocket and a removeable zippered pouch. There’s also a trolley sleeve.

“Above all else, I really like that this bag can collapse and fold easily,” Emily tells me. “It lives up to its name of being a ‘just-in-case’ bag. On my flight home, I was able to scrunch it back up and stuff it in my carry-on suitcase.”

$150 at Amazon

$150 at Nordstrom

6. Baboon to the Moon Go-Bag

Delia Curtis

With fun colors, limited edition runs and plenty of flair, Baboon to the Moon effortlessly marries style and function in its 40L small Go-Bag, which can pack away three to five days of clothing. PureWow Assistant Editor Deila Curtis took it on a trip to Portugal in addition to a checked bag.

“The Go-Bag is one of the most fun carry-on bags that I’ve seen,” they tell me. “Though they are typically solid colors on the outside with occasional accent colors, the interior of the bags is often a fun pattern, sometimes made in collaboration with other brands. The outer shell is very sleek and made of a waterproof material. It’s soft and flexible so you can really pack everything in there. When it lays flat, it opens from the top. There’s a super convenient passport pocket on the outside of the bag for easy retrieval when going through security, plus additional pockets on the inside, two of which are zippered. The shell has a glossy feel to it and the rest of the bag is a sturdy smooth PVC.”

There are four handles plus padded backpack straps, which Delia reports are ergonomic and help distribute weight evenly. They like the bag’s rectangular shape with the open-top feature, which minimizes the need to dig around. “I found that the bag was just right for a carry on and fits everything without getting excessively heavy,” they say. “[However], the bag has a very open concept, [with just three interior pockets]. The zippered pocket on the top flap of the bag is perfect for a laptop, though I like extra cushion, so I keep [my computer] in a laptop sleeve. I like the open concept, but if I needed to be [more] organized, I might want another pocket or two.”

$199 at Baboon to the Moon

7. Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack

Annie C.

I had a tester, Annie, take the Cotopaxi Allpa on a four-day trip to Dallas. She and her partner used it as their sole travel bag. “The pack was an appropriate size for the trip: four days’ worth of clothes, a laptop, toiletries and other personal items filled in the bag nicely without being overstuffed,” she reports. “The bag opens into a clamshell, which is very convenient for travel.”

Another standout feature of this backpack is the many straps. “In addition to the padded top handle, there are also handles on both sides and the bottom of the bag, making it easy to stow and pull out of any overhead bins or other spaces,” Annie tells me. “The handles were very well designed and versatile: The top handle is reinforced and easy to grab, while the others are simple nylon straps. There are also several molle webbing points found around the bag for attachments. Nylon around the ends of the zipper points keep zippers from coming undone.”

The Cotopaxi Allpa opens clamshell style to reveal a main compartment on one side and three organizational compartments on the other. All have mesh with zippers. “There is a laptop/tablet storage sleeve that is accessed via a separate zipper on the right of the bag, and small top pocket for easy access items,” Annie notes. “Storage is well thought out for travel, but one drawback is that there isn’t any good place to put a water bottle.”

$200 at Amazon

$200 at REI

8. Topo Designs Global Travel Bag

Elaine H.

Don’t let your eyes deceive you: the compact Topo Designs Global Travel Bag fits up to 30L in a slim package. “[At first,] I was afraid that due to the compactness, it would get heavy easily,” our tester, Elaine, tells me. She took this back on a weekend trip to upstate New York. “I realized later it is more top heavy than most backpacks, which allows for the weight to be distributed more evenly.” However, one thing she notes is that the straps aren’t as padded as she would have liked.

Speaking of straps, the Global Travel Bag can be carried five ways: top handle, two side straps, backpack style and as a duffle. Elaine reported that this was helpful when pulling her bag in and out of storage compartments. There’s also a separate laptop compartment.

The main compartment is roomy and accommodated all her packing cubes. “I like that there are also mesh zipper pockets to keep your small trinkets like my AirPods, keys, wallet, etc., on the side,” she adds. The front of the bag has pockets, too, but she found them awkward. “The small front pocket opens to a wider pocket opening, but it’s hard to navigate your hand inside if you’re looking for something,” she explains. Though there are water bottle pockets, she observed that they didn’t stretch and couldn’t accommodate her larger bottle.

$199 at Topo Designs

$199 at Amazon

9. Yeti Panga Backpack

Peter L.

If your trip entails some wet, wild adventure, the Yeti Panga should be at the top of your list. Our tester, Hope, took it on a two-week road trip to Texas. “It has a thick, rubbery, almost rain boot-like material,” she tells me. The brand claims it’s submergible up to a meter (roughly three feet) of water. Hope, who tends to overpack, loaded the bag with toiletries, two cameras, clothing and art supplies.

“The design is very simple, almost to the point of it being more like a dry bag than a backpack, with extra pockets and features,” she reports. In addition to the backpack straps, there are top and side handles and a “hitchpoint” grid that allows you to attach accessories. Included with the backpack is zipper lube, which you might want to use, as Hope tells me the zippers were so “heavy duty” they cut one of her fingers while she was attempting to close the bag.

The interior is a large, open compartment with a small, zippered mesh pocket and laptop sleeve. “I found the storage surprisingly generous for clothing but wish there were more compartments to organize things,” Hope says. “The zipper was difficult to navigate as well, as it was so heavy duty and hard to leave open for packing. The bag is advertised as best for outdoor excursions, but personally I wouldn’t [take long hikes] with it as the fabric isn’t very breathable and I got sweaty quickly. The durability/waterproof nature seems to be the biggest selling point for this backpack. Anyone traveling to a wet place, wanting to keep gear dry or needing to travel on a boat might find the features extremely helpful.”

$300 at Amazon

$300 at Yeti

10. The North Face Base Camp Duffle

Abby Hepworth

“I’ve gone on multiple trips with the backpack traveling on trains, planes and in cars,” says PureWow Fashion Editor Abby Hepworth. “The material feels durable (and it IS), with a weather resistant coating that helps communicate that users do not need to be precious with this backpack. The top zippers open to reveal one giant compartment, plus a mesh pocket on one end and a zippered pocket in the top. You can either toss your things in willy-nilly or play Tetris with packing cubes.” If you’re going for style, the duffle does look like a gear bag, so take that into account if you’re looking for something more elevated. “I find its durability and ease of use transcend its utilitarian vibes,” she says.

The backpack has two removable backpack straps, plus two shorter haul and grip handles on every side, so you can grab the bag from any angle. “It does not have a shoulder strap or crossbody, however, I have, in a pinch, repositioned one of the backpack straps to anchor the bag across as a makeshift shoulder strap,” Abby says. “I love the versatility of the different carrying methods. The backpack straps are padded and adjustable, but because this bag is really a duffle first and foremost, they may not lay as comfortably as a backpack with fixed straps, especially if you are petite.” The duffle comes in small, medium and large iterations, though the volume of the small is already 50L, which is pushing it for a carry-on. According to Abby, the medium bag (71L) is better off checked or for road trips.

As for organization, there’s one internal mesh pocket and another zippered one on top, but otherwise is one large compartment. “I actually prefer the versatility of a total free-for-all interior because it allows me more flexibility when packing,” she says. Sometimes I want/need to neatly organize a bunch of climbing gear and distribute things by weight because I know I’ll be carrying that backpack for a much longer walk. Other times I want to throw all my weekend clothes in without even folding them because I’m just going to unpack immediately upon reaching the hotel anyway. I love that I can distribute my things any way I like rather than being constrained by designated pockets or pouches. And both the Small and the Medium have more than enough room for a weekend getaway, plus some.”

From $129 at REI

From $129 at Amazon

11. Everlane ReNew Transit Backpack

Marissa Wu

I confess I am not a backpack person, so the design must nail it if I’m going to carry it. So, I was pleasantly surprised by the Everlane ReNew Transit Bag. It’s available in five neutral colors, and I went with “warm quartz”, which translated to an off-white/gray. The first thing I appreciated was that the bag is light (about 1.5 pounds). I hate lugging stuff around, so having a heavy bag to start with is always a bad idea. This is especially pertinent because I’m a photographer, so cameras are always most likely to be taking up the space in my carry-on or personal item. I trekked through Manhattan with about 15 to 20 pounds of camera gear and while it was objectively heavy, it didn’t feel like a dead weight. I wish I had this bag when I went to Taipei as I had brought a tote with thin straps that were constantly digging into my shoulder. Everlane’s bag is stylish, inconspicuous, roomy and has gently padded straps that are wide enough to distribute the weight comfortably, plus a trolley sleeve if you don’t feel like carrying it.

Something else I loved was that there were enough pockets to make me feel organized without feeling like there were pockets everywhere. There’s a laptop compartment that opens with a side zipper, then a small zippered and larger slip pockets, plus an interior mesh water bottle holder, which is slightly stretchy. The external side water bottle pocket isn’t, so it won’t accommodate that giant Hydroflask, FYI.

The backpack has a flap that magnetically connects to the surface of the bag and hides the main compartment’s zippers, which made it feel more secure. And, the flap has a generous zippered pocket, too, perfect for the things you want to grab quickly.

$95 at Everlane

12. Nomatic Travel Pack

Alex G.

Our tester, Alex, used this as a work bag and then toted it on a weekend trip to Philadelphia as his personal item in addition to a suitcase. He’s not an over-packer, but at 6’3’’ often has difficulty finding bags that will accommodate his shoes and clothes. “The bag shines in terms of aesthetic; it’s sleek and professional,” he tells me. “The color is beautiful and feels unique yet timeless.”

The 20L backpack, which he tested, can expand to 30L. “Even when fully expanded, the bag remains stylish and never looks too bulky,” he reports. “The zippers are somewhat ‘hidden’ because it makes the bag look more polished. It’s a great bag if you travel for work and need to look buttoned up coming off a flight into the office.”

When expanded, the bag has a clamshell opening, but the feature doesn’t appear when compressed. However, the mouth is still wide enough that Alex didn’t feel like he was constantly fishing for items. There are three handles: one on the top of the pack and one either side so you can carry it like a briefcase, he explains. “The handles are sturdy, although the top handle is slightly annoying to carry because it’s attached to the backpack straps rather than the top of the back. That said, the tradeoff here is that the top of the pack is smaller, which makes it look less bulky.”

Alex found the 20L size ideal, noting that it accommodated his 17-inch laptop, size 13 dress shoes, large toiletry bag and other items with no issue. Though when fully expanded, the pack will definitely end up in the overhead bin. There are tons of interior compartments that made the packing experience efficient and easy. One of the standouts was a hidden compartment behind the shoulder straps for valuables. As for the laptop compartment, Alex says: “[It] was too small for my laptop, but it fit in a laptop case in the backpack. For those without a 17-inch laptop, the laptop compartment ends a few inches above the bottom of the backpack, which is nice because it helps protect it when the backpack gets set down.” The last touch was magnetic water bottle pouches on either side of the backpack’s exterior. “These were nice because they allowed the pockets to ‘collapse’ when not in use, maintaining the bag’s sleekness,” Alex notes.

From $280 at Amazon

From $280 at Nomatic

13. Bagsmart Blast Carry-On Backpack

Dana Dickey

PureWow Senior Editor Dana Dickey packed the Bagsmart Blast 35L as her personal item on a recent trip to South Carolina. “I don’t traditionally overpack, so the 35L capacity was great to fit one pair of sneakers, a pair of heeled sandals and a couple outfits, as well as my computer, three magazines and my toiletries while still fitting under the seat,” she says.

The textured nylon is a sturdy material immune to scuffs, while the laptop compartment opens like a gangplank, Dana explains. “You can slip your laptop out for the security line and see your folded clothes clearly. The overall design initially appealed to me since the bag can look like an old-fashioned non-wheeled case, with a side carry handle. Also, the bag has a separate shoe compartment that also holds dirty clothes as your trip progresses, keeping your clean clothes fresh.”

In addition to backpack straps, there are top and side handles. “When using the top handle, you must make sure the top pocket that the handle is attached to is zipped all the way, otherwise you’re going to be pulling upward on an open flap, sending the pocket’s contents flying,” she notes. “The bag’s six external pockets are so unobtrusively integrated into the design they never look too messy, and you can tell the designers really thought of how people would use the bag. For example, the laptop-holding flap faces two mesh pockets that expand to hold the laptop charging cable and any portable chargers and cables you brought along.” There’s also a trolley strap so you can wheel it atop your suitcase.

$66 at Bagsmart

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 your 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?

“Many airlines are now charging for the bag you put in the overhead compartment, so the only bag you get for free is your personal bag,” Gay tells me. “The trick is to have everything in one bag and call that your personal bag. If I can turn a backpack into my only bag for a trip it must be a backpack that not only will be large enough to accommodate my laptop but also enough clothes for at least a three-day, two-night trip.”

She adds that her non-negotiables are comfortable shovel straps and strong zippers. Design also plays a factor: “I don’t want to look like a college student when traveling. A ‘grown-up’ bag that fits on a pilot’s case handle makes it more versatile for longer trips.” Ultimately, 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 or Nomatic Travel Pack. Those traveling with youngsters will appreciate the lightweight Tumi Just In Case Backpack (or slightly larger but still

Here’s Everything I Pack for a Family of 4 in a Single Carry-On & Backpack (Without Losing My Mind)

Why You Should Trust Us

PureWow's editors and writers have spent more than a decade shopping online, digging through sales and putting our home goods, beauty finds, wellness picks and more through the wringer—all to help you determine which are actually worth your hard-earned cash. From our PureWow100 series (where we rank items on a 100-point scale) to our painstakingly curated lists of fashion, beauty, cooking, home and family picks, you can trust that our recommendations have been thoroughly vetted for function, aesthetics and innovation. Whether you're looking for travel-size hair dryers you can take on-the-go or women’s walking shoes that won’t hurt your feet, we’ve got you covered.