Whether you’re packing your bags for a weekend or a year away, a trip to the airport is always accompanied by anxiety-filled moments. Traffic, long lines at check-in and finding out your bags are too heavy or the wrong size to travel probably top the list. Especially now after the pandemic, you don’t want anything to go wrong when you get to the airport.
While you may remember a time when luggage issues mainly concerned your checked bags, ever-changing rules for carry-on bags mean no one escapes that fear. When looking for the best travel backpacks, it’s wise to consider whether your travel bag of choice will actually fit under an airplane seat or inside the overhead compartment. Keep in mind that the former is considered a personal item, while the latter is a carry-on bag.
How to Determine If Your Backpack Meets Carry-On Requirements
If you’re worried your carry-on doesn’t fit the TSA requirements for carrying it on the plane, there are a number of ways to deal with the problem. First, check the carry-on baggage restrictions for your specific airline and ensure your bag falls within the measurements provided for TSA-approved backpacks and luggage of either the personal item or carry-on variety.
Alternatively, buy a bag that is made specifically with the TSA and airline personal item requirements in mind. Personal items are smaller than carry-ons, so you’ll be in the safe zone for ensuring the bag is permitted on the plane. Such bags and backpacks should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you while still maintaining the comfort and durability you expect. Although the dimensions may vary, in general, the space under an airplane seat can accommodate backpacks 18 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 8 inches high. For example, here are the maximum personal item sizes for a few of the biggest airlines in the USA (as of April 2020):
- American Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
- Southwest Airlines: 18.5 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches
- United Airlines: 17 x 10 x 9 inches
- JetBlue: 17 x 13 x 8 inches
- Frontier Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
- Spirit Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
To make finding a carry-on backpack that fits the requirements easier, we’ve put together a list of the 34 best carry-on backpacks available. Simply find the travel bag that fits your carry-on needs and enjoy an anxiety-free experience the next time you’re airport-bound.
1. Fjallraven Kanken Laptop 15-Inch Backpack
The Fjallraven Kanken Classic is ubiquitous in airports today, but that’s not the best possible backpack for travel necessarily (although you will find it later on this list). Instead, if you’re looking for the best carry-on backpacks that will fit under your seat, we recommend upgrading to the Fjallraven Kanken Laptop 15-Inch Backpack. Like other bags from this Swedish company, the Kanken Laptop bag comes in a variety of fun colors; however, it features enough room for your large laptop and travel essentials.
In addition to the primary laptop compartment, this travel backpack comes with three additional pockets. It’s constructed from a dirt- and water-resistant material and two-way zipper. Durable handles let you carry this down a cramped airplane aisle with ease, while the compact design lets you slip it under your feet or overhead. If the Graphite color (pictured below) isn’t to your tastes, check out the Plum or Acorn design instead. Especially for all the student travelers out there, this makes a great college travel backpack.
2. Sumtree Lightweight Foldable Backpack
Durable, water-resistant and available in several vibrant colors, this packable carry-on backpack comes with multiple pockets and various internal storage compartments. However, the best thing about this travel pack is that it weighs less than one pound when empty. This is truly a great travel accessory.
3. Tzowla Travel Laptop Backpack
BEST FOR BUSINESS TRIPS
Looking to get some work done on your next flight? This business backpack has everything you need to hit those deadlines at 33,000 feet in the air. Featuring external pockets, a laptop sleeve and a power bank, this bag can be used as both an everyday office bag and a travel backpack. Plus, this backpack’s slim profile should fit comfortably under even the smallest airplane seat. While this travel bag isn’t nearly as stylish as our favorite options from Timbuk2, Herschel, Fjallraven or Killspencer, it has a straightforward design and killer reviews. For the money, this is the best travel backpack you’ll find under $30.
4. Hynes Eagle Travel Backpack
Not only is this travel bag super attractive, it’s also extremely economical. Able to convert from backpack to duffle bag in seconds, it comes with multiple pockets and adjustable side straps. It’s also available in 15 elegant colors.
5. Paravel Foldable Travel Backpack
The Paravel brand is one of the newest in the travel market, but it’s making waves thanks to its sustainable practices. Most of their bags are made from recycled materials, like plastic bottles. And, because of these practices, Paravel has become a favorite among celebs, like Oprah and Kim K. That’s why the Paravel Foldable Travel Backpack was a must-add to our list of the best carry-on backpacks. The best part? It folds down into a compact pouch for storage in your bigger suitcase if you don’t need it on the way to your destination.
6. Everlane ReNew Transit Backpack
SMALLEST FROM EVERLANE
Everlane’s ReNew Transit backpack has been a favorite of ours for quite some time at this point, but some users found the bag to be a bit too big for their liking. Luckily, Everlane recently released a brand new design by shrinking the ReNew Transit backpack down a little bit. This smaller size fits a 13-inch laptop and has a pass-through strap that attaches to rolling luggage without any problem. It has interior pockets for any other items you’re bringing on the flight and even two spots for water bottles. To top it all off, this bag is made from 100% recycled polyester.
7. Kenneth Cole Pet Carrier Backpack
BEST FOR PET TRAVELLERS
We couldn’t forget Fido! Travelling with dogs and cats is becoming more and more common, especially if your pets are small and can travel in your carry-on. The Kenneth Cole Pet Carrier Backpack is designed for just that. This fashionable bag can house your pets while you’re making your way from point A to point B by plane. It holds most pets up to 22 pounds and meets most airline requirements as a pet carrier. The bag also boasts dual side entries and a pocket at the top for your pet to pop its head out.
8. Fjallraven Kanken Classic Backpack
The Fjallraven Kanken Classic Backpack is everywhere these days, and for good reason. This is the second time we’re featuring Fjallraven here and the two backpacks might look similar, but trust us, they’re different. This versatile backpack from the Swedish outdoors gear company Fjallraven is a roomy option with enough space for everything you need during a trip away from home. The classic backpack sports a school bag-like design and boasts a range of carrying options, including straps and top-mounted handles. In addition, the bag is constructed from a dirt-resistant and water-resistant material that is super easy to wipe clean after any unforeseen mishaps. Plus, this handy pack comes in a variety of colors to match anyone’s style. Really, if you’re searching for the best travel backpacks that will meet airline and TSA requirements, you can’t go wrong with any travel bag from Fjallraven.
9. Osprey Farpoint 40 Men’s Travel Backpack
BEST FOR THE GREAT OUTDOORS
While the Osprey Farpoint 4 Men’s Travel Backpack won’t qualify as a personal item, it is small enough to use as a carry-on backpack. And, it’s one of the highest rated travel backpacks on the market thanks to its rugged exterior and its ability to hold up to 40 liters of gear. The U-zip duffle style main compartment makes it easy to access all your items, while the padded laptop sleeve keeps your electronics safe. As long as you aren’t taking too much stuff on vacation with you, this bag may be all you need to bring on the plane.
10. Herschel Retreat Backpack
Although only founded in 2009, Herschel has quickly become one of the most popular names in backpacks. Their Retreat Backpack is a particularly stylish choice for travel thanks to the classic polyester and faux-leather build. The bag boasts a colorful lining with a drawstring and snap closure, and it can hold up to a 15-inch laptop in the included sleeve. However, if you don’t need the 19.5L size, consider investing in one of the smaller Herschel backpacks with their classic school bag styles.
11. SwissGear Travel Gear Bungee Backpack
BEST DAD BACKPACK
Built small with an enormous amount of internal capacity, this bungee-clad carry-on backpack comes with a handy organizer compartment, side pockets and a front bungee system. It even includes a headphone port and a D-ring. Plus, the bottle pocket and mobile-device pocket means there’s room for all your essentials. This may not be the most stylish backpack on our list, but it’s a backpack that will last for years to come. Pair this backpack with white New Balance sneakers for the ultimate dad-on-the-go look.
12. XD Design Bobby Original Anti-Theft Laptop Backpack
BEST COMMUTER BACKPACK
If you’re after a bag that can travel the world and also travel with you to work every day of the week, check out this Incase XD Design Bobby backpack. You’ll find plenty of space for all of your technology, including dedicated compartments for your smartphone, tablet and laptop. There’s also a range of handy pockets for your other essentials. In addition, the back is totally anti-theft, has a USB charging port and is even shockproof.
13. eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack
BEST FOR CARRYING TECH
Most laptop bags have a compartment for your computer, but this laptop backpack comes with a compartment for your tablet, too. Able to easily accommodate most laptops and notebooks, this super slim backpack features padded, lockable compartments and its own zippered bottle pocket. In addition to a padded laptop sleeve, this bag also sports a fleece-lined tablet sleeve and a bottom structured pocket. It’s also able to switch from backpack to briefcase easily and efficiently.
14. Timbuk2 Tuck Pack
BEST FOR FREQUENT FLIERS
A rugged backpack with a rolled-top build, notched pockets and an elegant webbed buckle strap, this backpack is a great choice for frequent flyers. It comes with adjustable shoulder straps and a beautifully lined interior. In addition, the Tuck Pack is available in six attractive colors on Amazon. Timbuk2 is a respected bag maker, and this top-rated travel backpack is a great choice for your next trip.
15. Topo Designs Rover Pack
If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can’t beat the colorful Topo Designs Rover Pack. This backpack is available in four different color combinations, which even extend to the interior lining and pull strings. The bag itself boasts two exterior pockets as well as a large interior compartment that features a drawstring closure beneath the dual buckles. Inside, there’s also a laptop sleeve to hold devices of up to 15 inches, and the whole bag is constructed from durable, 1000D Cordura.
16. Yorepek Backpack with Wheels
Even though a carry-on backpack is small, it can be heavy. If you’d prefer not to have to carry it on your back through your long journey, consider getting a backpack with wheels. That way, you can roll the bag when convenient. The Yorepek Backpack with Wheels boasts corner-mounted wheels that can be covered when not in use. It also has a telescopic handle and three compartments to hold all your gear.
17. Patagonia Arbor Daypack
BEST PATAGONIA BACKPACK
The Patagonia Arbor Daypack is a versatile backpack that is available in five muted colors. The body of the bag is made from recycled polyester fabric, which has been covered with a durable, water-repellent finish to create a bag capable of handling adverse weather conditions. The design also includes a front-mounted pocket as well as a generous front loading compartment with a padded laptop sleeve. For carrying, users have the option of padded straps or the top-mounted, reinforced haul handle. Patagonia is best known for its outdoor gear, but this backpack was specifically designed for modern travelers.
18. Lowepro Photo Classic
BEST FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS
Ask any traveling photographer, and they’ll likely tell you that Lowepro makes the best backpacks for carrying all your gear onto an airplane. You definitely don’t want to risk putting your pricey DSLR and lenses in the overhead bin, so keep them as close as possible by storing your travel gear under the seat in front of you in the Lowepro Photo Classic. This small backpack can hold a full camera body with a lens attached as well as four extra lenses, a tripod and any additional camera accessories you might carry. It also has a sleeve for a 10-inch tablet. This bag will last for years thanks to its sturdy construction, giving you peace of mind that your camera equipment is well protected and near you at all times.
19. Jansport Driver 8 Backpack
You’ve likely owned a Jansport backpack at some point in your life, but have you ever had one with wheels? While the Jansport Driver 8 Backpack doesn’t have the large capacity that some others on our list do, this backpack makes it easy to carry your possessions from point A to point B thanks to its dual wheels and telescopic handle. And unlike many other Jansport backpacks, this one does have a padded laptop sleeve for protecting your electronics.
20. Arc’teryx Blade 20 Backpack
Ditch your carry-on entirely for the backpack that will change the way you travel. The Blade 20 backpack is super large yet is still small enough to fit right under your seat on the plane. It has numerous places to fit your laptop, tablet and any other smart device you’re bringing. There are a slew of hidden pockets within the backpack for safe-keeping materials you don’t want on display and the backpack even has a sectioned-off space to place clothing.
21. PacSafe UNbox Therapy x 25L Anti Theft Backpack
Adjustable shoulder straps, a high-quality leather carrying handle and cut-proof material make this travel backpack extremely comfortable and efficient. A zippered front compartment helps store your various cards and notebooks while the interior padded laptop pocket will keep your device secure. But, the biggest benefit of this backpack is its safety features. From numerous security clips to prevent pick-pocketing and RFIDsafe technology, this bag is really one to beat.
22. Monos Metro Backpack
The Monos Metro Backpack is our e-commerce editor Tyler Schoeber’s go-to when traveling far or wide. “I recently took it to my parent’s place for a short trip to celebrate my brother’s 22nd birthday, but before that, it was perfect for shoving right under the passenger seat in front of me on a recent weekend trip I took to Houston,” he says, “it’s a bag I absolutely think everyone should own.”
With numerous interior pockets for keeping all of your belongings both safe and organized, you won’t lose anything in this bad boy. Additionally, the Metro Backpack opens up flat the same way a carry-on bag would so you can see everything you packed at once. Lastly, there is an anti-theft, removable Dopp kit that sits on the outside.
23. The North Face Kaban Charged Backpack
BEST CHARGING BACKPACK
The ideal size for sliding under the seat in front of you, The North Face Kaban Charged Backpack will hold just about everything you need for a weekend away or will supplement your rolling carry-on if you’re a habitual over-packer. This backpack is perfect for those of you that need to be constantly connected while traveling. It boasts a built-in Joey T3 Charge Timer, a smart outlet that can provide up to a week’s worth of half an hour boost charges. In addition, the bag features a soft lining, smaller pockets on the front for storing fragile items, like your tablet or laptop, and an interior laptop sleeve.
24. Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Backpack
Carry it all with this durable ballistic nylon that will never tear or break. It has an organized interior so you can keep your stuff in check when riding that plane, train or bus. There are also interior zip pockets so you can separate belongings. Bring it on your next camping trip, hiking adventure or even to your parent’s place for the weekend. The backpack is available in black, grey and this gorgeous indigo pictured below.
25. TIMBUK2 Authority Laptop Backpack
Built for the daily commute, the TIMBUK2 Authority Laptop Backpack does just as well at getting your office essentials from point A to point B on an airplane. This bag will quickly become your go-to personal item whether you carry a 17-inch laptop and books or a tablet and a notebook. The large main compartment can hold a laptop as well as a few clothing items or a jacket. The smaller, front pocket is ideal for writing utensils, tablets or thinner books. And, on the side, you’ll find a stretch pocket for a water bottle. Together, these features create a simple, streamlined travel backpack. Customers can choose from a number of attractive neutral color schemes.
26. YETI Crossroads 27L Backpack
The YETI Crossroads collection is brand-spankin’ new and places the cooler brand into the travel space quite effortlessly. There are three sizes to the Crossroads backpack and this one is in its medium version. It’s totally durable, abrasion-resistant and water-resistant. There are various colors to choose from depending on your style preferences and it even has a luggage passthrough sleeve to easily stand on top of your carry-on if you plan on bringing it to the airport.
27. NOMATIC Backpack Water-Resistant RFID Laptop Bag
This NOMATIC Backpack was designed with versatility in mind. In particular, this bag moves seamlessly from the plan to your business meeting thanks to its versatile strap system, which allows for it to transform from a backpack to a briefcase in a flash. In addition, the bag boasts expandable main apartments to allow for 30 liters of storage space. It’s also water-resistant and includes RFID-safe storage with tons of hidden pockets.
28. Haerfest Travel Backpack Small Nylon
Perhaps one of the most attractive, minimalist backpacks on the market, the Haerfest Travel Backpack looks as good on your back as it does sitting under the seat in front of you. But, looks can be deceiving. This bag isn’t all about being drop-dead gorgeous. It’s also a highly functional travel companion. In addition to the large main compartment and smaller front pocket, this bag boasts a hidden back panel for easy access to your laptop or tablet. It also has a wide strap across the back for securing the bag to your rolling carry-on bag. For traveling in minimalist style, you can’t beat the Haerfest Travel Backpack.
29. TUMI – Alpha Bravo Essential Backpack
BEST FOR CARRYING WITH OTHER LUGGAGE
The TUMI – Alpha Bravo Essential Backpack was built for travel. In fact, one of the defining features of this bag is its Add-a-Bag Sleeve, which allows users to slip it over the telescopic handle of any other suitcase. Furthermore, the bag itself boasts four main pockets, including a laptop sleeve with its own zippered closure. And, it comes with a luggage tag, so you can ensure your bag never gets lost or picked up by someone else.
30. Tortuga Setout Divide Backpack
BEST ALTERNATIVE TO A SUITCASE
For light packers, cramming everything into a single backpack is a point of pride. Of course, not all carry-on backpacks are up to the challenge. But whether you’ve mastered the art of light packing or not, the Setout Divide Backpack will make you feel like a packing professional. That’s because this travel backpack can be unzipped and packed just like a suitcase. That makes it the perfect companion for a weekend getaway or short business trip.
Like your favorite piece of luggage, this travel backpack is also expandable. However, even at its smaller size, this large men’s bag is at the outer limit of what will fit underneath an airplane seat. Measuring in at 20” x 13” x 6”, this bag may poke out from underneath the seat by one or two inches. You can probably get away with it, but a particularly observant flight attendant may ask you to stow this bag overhead. Still, with an ultra-durable construction, expandable design and 34L capacity, this backpack is the ultimate replacement for your bulky suitcase.
31. GORUCK GR1
BEST FOR CITY BREAKS
The GORUCK GR1 is an ideal choice for weekend city breaks but, in reality, it can go just about any place you want to take it, including war zones. The GORUCK is so called because it’s designed to ruck (as in getting your gear safely from point A to point B). This is arguably the toughest everyday pack in existence. The company openly states how impressively water resistant it is, and you’ll find a range of pockets inside, including three internal pockets, one elasticated pocket and a large mesh pocket, too. There’s MOLLE webbing on the inside and outside for additional customization, and the bag includes a removable, hard plastic frame, which helps to stabilize the built-in laptop compartment when it’s in place.
32. Briggs & Riley Cargo @ Work Backpack
BEST FOR GETTING THROUGH SECURITY
For a high-quality and durable backpack, look no further than the Briggs & Riley Cargo @ Work Backpack. This bag has just about everything you could want in a carry-on backpack, including a laptop sleeve, a tablet pocket, a gusseted interior, an RFID-blocking pocket, a slip-through back panel and a leather ID tag. More than that, the bag was designed with a “speed through pocket” to house everything you need to take out of the bag when you go through airport security checkpoints. Now that’s smart luggage design!
33. Bric’s Porsche Design Roadster Nylon Backpack
Famous for high-end Italian design, Bric’s has made a name for itself outfitting celebs like Amal Clooney and Kate Middleton for travel. It’s no wonder their Porsche Design Roadster bags are some of the most popular on the market. This elegant bag combines water-resistant nylon with sleek leather. However, what it has in style, it lacks in space. Still, this bag boasts one large main pocket and three other smaller pockets on the front and sides. As an added bonus, the bag has a slip-through sleeve on the back for attaching it to your other suitcase as well as a concealable luggage tag.
34. KILLSPENCER Daypack
If you’re after a backpack to turn heads, you need the KILLSPENCER Daypack on your back. This beautifully constructed pack is available in a range of colors and materials, including leather and wax canvas. The interior features a designated space for your laptop, passport and other daytime essentials. The wrap-around single zipper provides clear and easy access to the interior pocket, while the padded straps and top-mounted loop handle provide a choice of carrying options. This backpack can also be monogrammed with the traveler’s initials, which makes this a great present as well.
Handcrafted in the USA, this KILLSPENCER backpack will last for many years to come with little to no wear and tear. Well under TSA size limits, we’re big fans of this compact, durable and ultra-stylish men’s backpack.
Some FAQs About the Best Travel Backpacks
It isn't necessarily dependent on TSA guidelines for the best travel backpack sizes, it's more so focused on what your individual airline requires. Most airlines do not allow bags over 45 linear inches, meaning around 22" long, 14" wide and 9" deep. We suggest you don't bring a backpack any larger than that.
It's all about essentials when it comes to what you put in a travel backpack. Phone? Check. Wallet? Check. Passport? Check. You'll need things you don't think you will, like your keys (because you obviously have to come back home at some point.) You'll also want to bring any medication you take daily, a pen, headphones and other small electronics you want nearby, etc. Always pack things you think you might need in-flight toward the top of the bag the lesser needed items at the bottom. One thing we suggest? Always pack an extra pair of socks, underwear and a light tee just in case. You never know what will happen in-flight.
We suggest only putting minimal items in your travel backpack and leaving the rest for your carry-on or suitcase. Smaller packing cubes might help some stay organized, but we suggest using all available pockets to keep things separated, too.
Carry-on backpacks and carry-on luggage are like bourbon and whiskey. All carry-on backpacks are carry-on luggage, but not all carry-on luggage is a carry-on backpack. Carry-on luggage can take many forms, including rolling suitcases, purses, duffel bags, etc. But a carry-on backpack is always in the form of something you can carry on your back. It’s also important to note that a carry-on backpack could qualify as either a personal item or a carry-on bag, according to airline regulations.
This depends on the size of the backpack and whether it’s a carry-on bag or a personal item. In total, carry-on backpacks can hold about 40 liters and still fit within airline and TSA regulations for bags permitted in the cabin. Personal items are quite a bit smaller, but can usually still hold 20 to 25 liters of gear.
If you don’t want to carry a backpack on the plane, there are quite a few alternatives. Purses, laptop bags and even some duffel bags can qualify as personal items. Larger carry-ons can take the form of hard or soft-sided suitcases, weekender bags or larger duffles.