Best Carry-On Backpacks
Last Updated: July 7, 2017

The Best Carry-On Backpacks For Travel

Suitcase or Backpack? It really depends on your preference, but bringing a backpack as your carry-on has a lot of advantages.

For one, it's much lighter than a suitcase and won't eat up all your free baggage allocation.

Most are small enough to use as carry on. And, once out of the airport, you can still use the same bag on day trips. After all, taking your hardcase carry-on to the beach just isn't very convenient.

Some of these designs also have nifty features like built-in rollers or hi-tech add-ons, making your carry-on backpack more functional than ever.

Here are some of the best carry-on backpacks for any kind of traveler.

Important Features Of A Carry-On Backpack

Choosing the perfect carry-on backpack can be difficult, but with the right features in mind, your choice can become a lot easier. The following are some of the things you should be on the look out for when reading this review:

Straps​ And Back Padding/Ventilation

Because you are going to use this as a backpack, comfort is a big factor. Especially if you are going to be wearing it for a while (maybe using it as a day pack on arrival?).

Some of these backs are designed for long term use and have nice back padding and ventilation​.

Another issue is the hip straps. If you carry a lot of great like me, you want to take the load off your shoulders in the long run. So well padded hip straps are a must.​ But, if you just want it to move around the airport, this might not be your biggest concern.

Note: There is another option which you will see with the Osprey and that is a combo wheelie bag/backpack.​

Gear & Laptop Pockets​

Depending on what you are bringing and how you like to pack, the amount of storage options is worth thinking about.

Do you ​need access to things for security checks (toiletries, laptop, tablet) and during the flight. It can be a pain if you have to dig for these while taking your seat.

On the other hand, if you don't need them, they just waste interior space and make the bag heavier.​

For the laptop specifically, it is better towards your back, as this will make it more comfortable to carry. Also, it's great if there is a separate ​access for security and ease of access during travel.

Other Features

Depending on how much you are going to use this, being waterproof is an issue. It can always rain, but if you only intend on getting from the taxi to the hotel. No problem. If you are walking around on a day trip... bigger issue for your gear!

External pockets can also be handy for water bottles and umbrellas. And other hooks or tabs if you want to carry a tripod, helmet or other gear might be a must for your travels.​

North Face Router Backpack

The North Face is a brand synonymous with travel and adventure. While they have lots of superb gear in their lineup, The North Face Router Backpack is one of the most functional.

These guys have perfected the science of comfort and durability. Whether it's a long commute or a quick flight, the FlexVent suspension system features custom injection-molded shoulder straps, a padded mesh back panel with a spine channel and a wicking lumbar panel for maximum support and ventilation​. You can have this on your back for hours and you still won't feel too hot or sweaty.

Best Carry-on Backpacks

And since virtually nobody travels without some kind of gadget anymore, the bag's nifty pockets and sleeves are ideal for the tech-savvy traveler.

It has a dedicated lie-flat 17" laptop sleeve in the rear compartment. Unfortunately for those with smaller laptops, there are no straps or locks to hold your gadget in place. So, there will be a tendency for your laptop to slide around the large sleeve. Not a deal breaker, but worth noting.

The front compartment also features a neoprene tablet sleeve, with other smaller pockets that will fit mobile phones, power banks, players, and any other gadget you will be carrying with you.

With a 35L capacity, this mid-sized backpack is big enough as a single carry-on but still handy enough to be a travel backpack in almost any situation. It even has a water bottle pocket so you don't eat up precious interior space while keeping hydrated.

The exterior of the backpack is made of nylon so it's water-resistant but not waterproof. Dirt easily washes off with soap and water, and side straps help cinch the bag to make it compact and keep things from sliding when it's not full.

The lumbar straps can be tucked into a bottom pocket if you prefer not to use it and the sternum straps are also removable. All great features in a travel backpack for sure.

Best Carry-on Backpacks

Product Information

  • Material: Nylon
  • Capacity: 35L
  • Special Features: FlexVent Suspension System, 17-inch Laptop Sleeve, Tablet Sleeve, Several Pockets and Compartments, Tuckable Lumbar Straps, Removable Sternum Straps


  • Durable and lightweight
  • Lots of pockets for gadgets
  • Excellent back support and ventilation
  • Versatile and functional both as carry-on or as a travel bag


  • Laptop sleeve has no straps and locks and will not completely keep smaller laptops still and secure in the pocket

InCase EO Travel Backpack

The InCase EO Travel backpack is a sleek, stylish, and versatile backpack for any kind of traveler.

It's made of 70% cotton and 30% polyester making this bag both durable and weatherproof.

The front panel is also triple-coated with water-resistant treatment so everything inside your bag remains safe and dry under light rain.

Best Solar Backpacks

The padded shoulder straps and breathable mesh panels make travel feel comfortable. It also has an adjustable sternum strap for additional support. 

The backpack has a dedicated compartment that fits a 17" laptop so it's easy to take your laptop in and out during security checks.

Side compression straps help keep your items stable and secure, but can also be loosened to expand the bag up to 35%.​

The front panel has an inside slip pocket to protect your tablet while organizer pockets hold chargers cables and other items.

The main compartment has a clamshell opening (opens up on three sides with a zipper), allowing you to lay your back flat and completely open for better organization of clothes and other items.​

Having said that, it may not be an easy backpack to use for everyday. If you need to quickly get things out of your bag, you'll have to open it up like luggage. Despite being expandable, it will not fit shoes if you already have clothes and other gadgets good for two days.

Product Information

  • Material: Cotton/Polyester
  • Dimensions: 18.5 x 12 x 6.3 inches
  • Special Features: Padded Shoulder Straps, 17-inch Laptop Sleeve, Tablet Sleeve, Several Pockets and Compartments, Weather-Resistant Front Panel, Adjustable Sternum Straps, Compression Straps


  • Water-resistant front panel
  • Expandable to 35%
  • Easy to organise
  • Sleek and Stylish


  • Clamshell opening doesn't make it ideal as an everyday bag
  • Sides of the bag are not water-resistant
  • No hip straps

Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack

The Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack is loaded with pockets, hooks, sleeves, and straps for you to carry just about anything you'll need on your travels. This bag is perfect for people who don't necessarily pack light but still don't want to check a bag.

With a 34L capacity, it will technically not fit the kitchen sink, but has enough usable space plus some extensions thanks to three hooks in the front.

Made of 69% Nylon and 31% Polyester, the bag is also durable, sturdy, and water-resistant. The bottom also has an abrasion–resistant panel for enhanced durability.

Best Solar Backpack

The padded shoulder straps fall in the right place on the shoulders and don't pull when weighted down. It has adjustable sternum and hip straps for extra comfort and stability.

When it comes to storage, there are several versatile options:

A shoe compartment lies at the bottom to keep the weight evenly distributed as well as not let it mix in with the rest of your items.

The top of the bag features a moulded pocket held down by two metallic hooks. This is meant to hold eyewear (it's Oakley, after all), but can easily fit in gadgets, cables, and other essentials.

Note: This can get in the way when you open the main compartment, which lies under the moulded pocket.​

The front panel opens up to reveal even more pockets and compartments, while side pockets are for a water bottle on one side and miscellaneous items on the other.

The very back is a padded side access panel to hold a 17" laptop, but it's still snug enough to hold smaller dimensions.​ This is one of the more impressive and handy features of this pack.

The external material of the bag is very sturdy and hardy, but it can also has some minor flaws. While there are several pockets to hold your items, they push in more than out, eating up usable space in the main compartment. Also, if you're not someone who wants their things dangling outside the pack, the metal hooks may turn out to be useless to you.

Product Information

  • Material: Nylon/Polyester
  • Dimensions: 34L, 20" H x 14" W x 8" D
  • Special Features: Padded Shoulder Straps, 17-inch Laptop Sleeve, Several Pockets and Compartments, Weather-Resistant Material, Adjustable Sternum and Lumbar Straps, Metal Hardware


  • Many pockets and compartments for items and organization
  • Sturdy and durable materials
  • Metal Hardware for aesthetics and for functionality
  • Water-resistant
  • Nice laptop holder at the back


  • Items in pockets push into the main compartment
  • Metal hardware are functional only if you really need it
  • Top molded pocket gets in the way of main compartment

Osprey Ozone Convertible 22"/50L Wheeled Luggage

The Osprey Ozone Convertible Backpack is by far the most versatile, functional, and usable carry-on bag you can have. Its lightweight and durable construction doesn't eat up your baggage allowance, and it combines the best functions and conveniences of wheeled luggage and a backpack combination.

The luggage is equipped with with the High Road Chassis, featuring a lightweight aluminum frame, large wheels with  a high-clearance for ease of use.

Sturdy and padded shoulder pads with hip and sternum straps easily converts this luggage to a backpack making it easier for you to move around town once you arrive.

Best Solar Backpacks for Travel

A nifty feature is its detachable daypack, secured to the main luggage with easy release buckles and a zipper. It also has a side water bottle pocket which we all love, right?

When attached, the daypack has a front panel with organization pockets for easy access to your bits and pieces.

The main luggage has a top pocket for your toiletries or other essentials that you will need to quickly pull out and put back (great for security checks).

There are low profile handles on three sides of the main luggage so it's easy to grab, pull, and carry in any situation.

All in all, this is the carry-on backpack for anyone that wants the best of both worlds.

Product Information

  • Material: Nylon/Polyester/Aluminum
  • Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 inches, 50L
  • Special Features: High Road Chassis, Detachable Daypack, Top and Side Pockets, Lightweight, Compression Straps


  • Durable and lightweight
  • Convertible from wheeled luggage to backpack
  • Detachable daypack
  • Several handles for easy handling


  • Limited pockets for quick access to small items
  • Aluminum frames eats up usable space in the main compartment

Kensington SecureTrek 17" Lockable Anti-Theft Laptop and Overnight Backpack

The Kensington SecureTrek Backpack is specifically designed for the business traveler or the tech-savvy explorer.

This is one of the few backpacks with a built-in lock to clip in their strong, hammerhead zippers. If you still need even more security, you can attach your own luggage lock to the built-in one. It also features sturdy anti-theft and puncture-proof zippers to deter would-be pickpockets and thieves.

The bag is evenly balanced with a back strap that slides over luggage handles so it can sit securely on top of your wheeled luggage if you happen to be using one.​

The backpack is built with lots of compartments for organization and easy access. 

There's a dedicated compartment that can fit a 17" laptop and a 10" tablet, plus pockets to store chargers, cables, and other gadgets.

This device compartment is also expandable, so gaming laptops can easily fit into the compartment.

The same compartment opens up to fit in clothes, shoes, or other items, secured with a cloth cover to keep them from being exposed when you take out your gadgets.

Another compartment ​opens up for other items such as documents or paper items. And, there is another hidden compartment to store more valuable items such as passports and tickets.

Your purchase is protected by a 10-year limited warranty covered by Kensington.

Product Information

  • Material: Tamper-proof mixed material
  • Dimensions: 13 x 8 x 19.5 in
  • Special Features: Built-in Lock, Luggage Strap, Dedicated Compartments, Puncture-proof zippers


  • Made with several security and anti-theft features
  • Dedicated and expandable device compartment
  • Hidden compartment for valuable items


  • No added protection from wear and tear
  • Not water-resistant

Which Backpack For Your Carry-on?

As always, it comes down to how you want to use it:

If you intend on more time with the pack on your back, I believe the Northface is a great option.​ It has nice support, ventilation and the laptop is right on your back. The Oakley is also a great option, just not as streamlined or compact. But, if you want more pockets and options, it is a great choice.

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For security, you can't go past the Kensington​, the company that made their name that way. The zippers are top notch, the locks great, and you can add your own.

The Osprey is the only one in this review for those wanting a rolling bag that is also a backpack. A great option for someone that flies a lot, but needs to be able to carry things on the go once they arrive.​ 

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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