The Best Carry On Backpacks of 2017: Choosing the Best Travel Backpack

Kaspars MisinsCarry on Backpacks, Travel Gear, Traveling LightLeave a Comment

Kaspars with his Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack - Best Carry On Backpacks

Are you currently looking for a new travel backpack? If the answer is – yes – then you are in the right place. Because in this article you will find: List of the best carry on backpacks available on the market + Travel backpack reviews + Tips on how to choose the best travel backpack for yourself + Extra tips on traveling with carry on only.

We have done a market research, read hundreds of  reviews and comments from other travelers. All to help you to choose the best carry on luggage.

And not only that. In case you are all new to the concept of traveling light. And maybe you aren’t sure if it’s the way to go. Then we have got you covered, too.

For the last 4 years (and counting) we have been traveling carry on only for most of the time. And from our experience we can assure you, that it really is the way to go. Whether it’s a weekend getaway, 1-2 week holiday overseas or an extended trip to volunteer abroad, one carry on backpack in most of the situations is all you need.

If you want to learn more about, how and why to travel light, and how to choose the right backpack for yourself, then you will need to scroll down a bit!

Because I will start with the list of the best carry on backpacks.

Best Carry on Backpacks – 2017

Here they are – 10 of the best carry on backpacks available on the market right now, in 2017. Travel backpacks that thousands of people are using on their travels.

All of these backpacks I have grouped by their price – Affordable, Medium-Priced and Top Level.

To read more about every one of them scroll down! To check the price or buy a backpack from Amazon, click on the – Check now – button! Most of these carry on backpacks are available in different colors. For more photos check them out on Amazon!

*** - our favorites
Cabin Max Metz Backpack
Cabin Max Metz Backpack Flight Approved Carry on Bag 44 Litre - Best Carry on Backpacks

Cabin Max Metz

44 literNoAffordableCheck now!
The North Face Jester***
The North Face Jester bag - Best Carry on Backpacks

The North Face Jester

26 literYesAffordableCheck now!
5.11 Tactical Rush 12
5.11 Tactical Rush 12 - Best Carry on Backpacks

5.11 Tactical Rush 12

24 literNoAffordableCheck now!
Kelty Redwing 44
Kelty Redwing 44 - Best Carry on Backpacks

Kelty Redwing 44

44 literNoMedium-PricedCheck now!
Osprey Porter 30***
Osprey Porter 30 - Best Carry on Backpacks

Osprey Porter 30

30 literYesMedium-PricedCheck now!
eBags Mother Lode TLS
eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender - Best Carry on Backpacks

eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender

54 literYesMedium-PricedCheck now!
SwissGear 1900
SwissGear 1900 - Best Carry on Backpacks

SwissGear 1900

37 literYesTop LevelCheck now!
Osprey Farpoint 40***
Osprey Farpoint 40 - Best Carry on Backpacks

Osprey Farpoint 40 - Best Carry on Backpacks

40 literYesTop LevelCheck now!
Direct Action Ghost
Direct Action Ghost Tactical backpack - Best Carry on Backpacks

Direct Action Ghost Tactical backpack

31 literNoTop LevelCheck now!

Our Top 3:

1. Affordable: The North Face Jester 

The North Face Jester bag - Best Carry on Backpacks

The North Face Jester

Size: 26 liter

Dimensions: 50 x 34 x 19 cm (19.75” x 13.25” x 7.5”)

More colors: Yes, 10+ options


  • Small – will fit in the overhead compartment of almost any airplane,
  • Padded laptop sleeve,
  • Doesn’t look like a “regular travel backpack”.


  • Might be too small,
  • Top loading backpack.

2. Medium-Priced: Osprey Porter 30

Osprey Porter 30 - Best Carry on Backpacks

Osprey Porter 30

Size: 30 liter

Dimensions: 51 x 33 x 20 cm (20” x 13” x 8”)

More colors: Yes, red and green.


  • Built to be carried around a lot,
  • Panel loading backpack,
  • Laptop compartment,
  • Lockable sliders.


  • It’s not water resistant,
  • Might be too small as your only travel bag, if you aren’t used to travel so light.

3. Top Level: Osprey Farpoint 40

Osprey Farpoint 40 - Best Carry on Backpacks

Osprey Farpoint 40 – Best Carry on Backpacks

Size: 40 liter

Dimensions: 53 x 38 x 35 cm (21” x 15” x 14”). Even though its depth is 35 cm (14”), I have never had a problem traveling with it as my carry on.

More colors: Yes, red and blue.


  • Minimalist design,
  • Suitable for long distance walking and hiking,
  • Laptop and tablet compartments,
  • Lockable sliders.


  • Only 1 big compartment for all of your stuff (packing cubes will come in handy),
  • It’s hard to put a water bottle in the mesh pocket, when the bag is full.

Best Lightweight Backpack:

Are you looking for something cheap, probably only for one or few trips, but still OK quality? Then take a look at Outlander Packable Backpack (check it out on Amazon).

This lightweight (220 grams / 0.5 pounds) carry on size backpack is durable. And it’s super compact, when folded. Yes, you can actually fold this backpack into zippered inner pocket and leave it somewhere or put it in another bag, which makes it a great travel day-pack as well.

But at the same time this bag is still big enough to pack everything you need for even a prolonged trip abroad. My previous backpack was even smaller, and with it I was able to pack everything I needed for 6-9 months in Asia and Europe (mostly in summer, though).

The backpack is available in 2 sizes – 20 liter and 33 liter. Compared to the others mentioned above, Outlander Packable Backpack (33 liter version) is bigger in size than The North Face Jester, 5.11 Tactical Rush 12, Osprey Porter 30 and Direct Action Ghost. And it’s cheaper, too.

Just check out its reviews on Amazon, and you will understand why it’s here, among the best carry on backpacks. Because thousands of people are using it and they love it.

Carry on Backpack Reviews

1. The North Face Jester

Our favorite between affordable carry on backpacks is a sporty looking The North Face Jester backpack.

The North Face Jester bag - Best Carry on Backpacks

The North Face Jester

It’s lightweight and compact, has 2 main compartments, laptop sleeve and few pockets for better organization of your stuff. In front it has an elastic bungee, which you can use to attach something that either doesn’t fit in or that you don’t want to put in the backpack, for an instance your wet rain jacket. But on the sides there are pockets for your water bottles.

Because of its size with The North Face Jester you can always be sure, that your bag will fit in as a carry on luggage. Even with the airlines like WOW Air and Wizzair, who have smaller hand luggage allowances, you will be fine with it. At the same time because of its size it will suit your needs only if you are a minimalist traveler. So those of you, who are ready to travel with very little.

Backpacks soft back panel (with a spine channel for ventilation) and comfortable shoulder straps lets you to carry it around for hours on end without getting too tired.

Another cool thing – because of the design and size of this carry on rucksack you will less likely be seen as a tourist. More like an expat or even a local. Because, you know, tourists mostly have huge suitcases and big camping backpacks. While this one looks more like an every day backpack.

The North Face Jester is available in several bright colors. Check it out on Amazon!

2. 5.11 Tactical Rush 12 Backpack

Similar sized like The North Face Jester this military style backpack is one of the most durable carry on backpacks available.

5.11 Tactical Rush 12 - Best Carry on Backpacks

5.11 Tactical Rush 12

Not only it’s is built to endure in the wild the same like in the cities, but it’s also water resistant. Not waterproof, though. Which means rain shouldn’t be a problem for you and your belongings anymore, but you can’t swim with 5.11 Tactical Rush 12 backpack.

Because of quite a few compartments (16 in total) organizing your things in this backpack is very easy. If you are traveling with your laptop or tablet, you can put it in the roomy bungee pocket, located in the main compartment. Two external compression straps will come in handy, when you will want to attach some of your gear to the outside of the backpack.

5.11 Tactical Rush 12 is available in few more colors. Check it out on Amazon!

In case you like this backpack a lot, but it’s too small for you, there is a solution. Buy 5.11 Tactical Rush 24 Back Pack! It’s basically the same backpack, but it’s 50% bigger. Still small enough to fit in as a carry on luggage with most of the airlines globally, though. Check it out on Amazon!

3. Cabin Max Metz Backpack

Affordable carry on size backpack, which can fit a lot. That’s Cabin Max Metz.

Cabin Max Metz Backpack Flight Approved Carry on Bag 44 Litre - Best Carry on Backpacks

Cabin Max Metz

While it’s not the best carry on bag for actual carrying around, at least not for too long time. But it has a few serious advantages, nevertheless. It’s big. With it you can organize your belongings very, very well. And now it’s also water resistant.

Have you ever heard anything about panel-loading backpack? Well, in short these are the backpacks that you can open the same way like a suitcase. Choosing this kind of backpack you will have a little bit of both – accessibility of a suitcase and mobility of traveling with a backpack.

And, yes, Cabin Max Metz is a panel-loading backpack. Apart from that this massive backpack is built to fit the maximum carry on baggage allowance. Giving you an opportunity to bring with you quite a lot, but still not too much.

Dimensions of this backpack are 55 x 40 x 20 cm (22 x 16 x 8 inches).

Cabin Max Metz is available in several other colors, too. To see all the colors available check it out on Amazon!

4. eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender

Medium priced carry on size panel-loading backpack for a weekend getaway or 1-2 week holiday overseas. Here you have it!

eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender - Best Carry on Backpacks

eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender

Similar like Cabin Max Metz this bag is built to fit the maximum carry on baggage allowance. Main difference, however, is that this one is a higher level backpack.

And it is even better in organizational aspect. There are different pockets for small stuff like your phone, pen and a book or a magazine in front compartment of the backpack. Main compartment has a foldable shelf. And there is a special compartment for your computer or tablet.

Because of the size this backpack is quite heavy (though, it’s not that heavy if you compare it to other similar bags). It weights about 1.7 kilos (3.7 lbs), and you should keep that in mind, too. As it’s not only about the dimensions of your carry on baggage, but it’s also about the weight.

If we compare the price of these two backpacks, then Mother Lode TLS Weekender costs about twice as much. But it’s not without a reason.

eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender is available in different colors. Check it out on Amazon!

5. Osprey Porter 30

One backpack for everything. Be it a short weekend trip, a week of hiking in Himalayas or a holiday abroad.

Osprey Porter 30 - Best Carry on Backpacks

Osprey Porter 30

What I like most about Osprey Porter 30 and Osprey travel backpacks in general is their design. It’s simple and minimalist. And even though, for example, Porter 30 is positioned as a trekking backpack, for me it doesn’t look like an average trekking backpack. Far from that.

And that’s a good sign, a compliment to Osprey. Because, that means I don’t need few backpacks. I can use one bag for several purposes. One week I can be hiking in the mountains, next week – strolling around in Dubai. Otherwise – you know, it feels strange to walk around in Paris with your trekking backpack on your back. Of course, you can do like that. And I have done it, too. But who wants extra attention? Not me.

The same like 2 previous backpacks Porter 30 has a panel load access. But as a trekking pack it’s much more comfortable for carrying around. A zippered front panel is great for all your small stuff. And it features also a padded laptop and tablet sleeve. Padded side handle gives you yet another way to carry this travel bag.

Osprey Porter 30 is available in few different colors. Check it out on Amazon!

6. Kelty Redwing 44 Backpack

Roomy, 44 liter backpack for all kinds of adventures.

Kelty Redwing 44 - Best Carry on Backpacks

Kelty Redwing 44

From the outside Kelty Redwing 44 looks like a regular trekking backpack. It has three zipped pockets – two on the sides and one on the top of the backpack. There are two water bottle pockets on both sides as well.

As a good quality adventure backpack Kelty Redwing 44 has an aluminum stay. Together with wide hip belt and sternum straps it helps to distribute the weight of the bag really good. To make you feel as good as possible. Even if you are walking around with your backpack for hours on end.

Count in that it works both as a top loader and a panel loader and you will have one of the best carry on backpacks available.

To protect your stuff from the rain use a rain cover. Anyone of the right size will do the work, but if you want something better quality, then here is one from Kelty.

Check out Kelty Redwing 44 on Amazon!

7. Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack

One carry on backpack for everything. Sounds like you have heard it from me already? You are right, I said it already. I said the same thing about Osprey Porter 30 bag, which is our favorite among medium priced carry on travel backpacks.

Osprey Farpoint 40 - Best Carry on Backpacks

Osprey Farpoint 40 – Best Carry on Backpacks

But let me tell you, why I still chose Osprey Farpoint 40 for myself.

Because Farpoint 40 is bigger. It’s that simple. Yes, if there is one thing that I have learned really well from the last 4+ years of traveling the world, we all need much less than we think we need. But why then I still choose 40 liter backpack instead of a smaller one?

I like to have as little possessions as possible. But my style of traveling varies quite a lot. So having a bag, which is slightly bigger than I need for everyday use, means that there is enough space in it to use it for, let’s say, hiking trip to Siberia. And I don’t need to look for another bag for that occasion.

This backpack’s minimalist design makes it look good in all occasions. Whether it’s a trekking in the mountains or weekend city break. For extra safety you can lock backpack’s main compartment, putting a lock through loops on the zippers. Similar like few others on this list Farpoint 40 is a panel-loading backpack. And it also has a designated place for your laptop and/or tablet. The frame suspension helps to distribute weight of the pack.

Read my full review of Osprey Farpoint 40!

Osprey Farpoint 40 is available in few different colors. To see all the colors available check it out on Amazon!

8. Direct Action Ghost Tactical Backpack

Direct Action Ghost Tactical backpack - Best Carry on Backpacks

Direct Action Ghost Tactical backpack

Durable and water resistant average sized backpack, built for military.

I think words “built for military” speak for themselves. This highly durable bag, which is also superbly comfortable and has some good organizational features, will survive also the most serious adventures of yours.

Being the most durable backpack between all of the previously mentioned ones, it has a one downside. It’s heavy. 5.10 lbs / 2316 grams heavy, to be exact. Which means, if you don’t need the most durable backpack available, then better look at the others one more time. One of them might be a better fit for you.

Direct Action Ghost Tactical backpack is available in different colors.

To see all the colors available check it out on Amazon!

9. SwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart Backpack 1900

SwissGear 1900 - Best Carry on Backpacks

SwissGear 1900

One of the best choices for everyone traveling with a laptop.

Being 37 liters big this backpack is roomy. But all the pockets it has (just look at the picture) make it into a really well organized backpack. Speaking about your laptop and tablet, there is a protective laptop-only compartment, which is big enough to fit in a laptop up to 17” in size. That’s a big compartment.

Not visible from the outside, but there are even more organizational pockets inside the bag. For everything you might want to take with you. Looking for a backpack for college? ScanSmart 1900 will be a good choice in this situation as well.

Something cool I have noticed about SwissGear ScanSmart 1900 is that it’s on sale very often. To see all the colors available and to check the latest price see it on Amazon!

How Big Can Be a Carry on Backpack?

If we are looking at it very strictly – size differs. It’s similar, but it’s not the same. And it depends from the airline that you are flying with. Different airlines have different hand luggage dimension and weight allowances.

In Europe, traveling with the most popular airlines, dimensions of your carry on bag should be around – 55 x 40 x 23 cm (22 x 16 x 9 inches). And your bag shouldn’t be more than 10 kilos (22 pounds) heavy. All of the bags mentioned above are this size or smaller. See more detailed information on Skyscanner!

However, thinking globally and planning to travel with US airlines, it’s wiser to choose a little bit smaller carry on bag. Something like – 51 x 35 x 20 cm (20 x 14 x 8 inches). Which means, that Cabin Max Metz, eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender, Kelty Redwing 44 and Osprey Farpoint 40 might be slightly too big for you. But ONLY if they will be packed to the maximum.

Una and Petronas Towers Malaysia

Una and Petronas Towers – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

How to Choose the Best Carry on Backpack for Yourself?

To choose the best carry on backpack for yourself, answer these 2 questions first:

1. What will you be mainly using it for?

Weekend city breaks? Look for something smaller, good looking and with a panel load access.

For holidays overseas, where you will leave your bag at the hotel for most of the time? Buy something roomy like Cabin Max Metz or eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender! Anyway you will not be carrying it around too much.

Going on an adventure? Look for a bag, that’s designated to be carried around a lot! Frame suspension will help a lot. And think about all the features you want to have. Thinking about having a waterproof backpack? In most of the situations having a rain cover you will be perfectly fine.

You need a bag for a little bit of everything? Pay attention to the size of backpack! So it’s neither too big, not too small. If hiking might be in your plans as well, think about backpack that has a frame suspension. It will be helpful also if you simply move from a place to place very often, carrying your belongings with you. Sewn attachment points will be helpful to carry around even more stuff.

Traveling for work or maybe you’re a digital nomad? Check if the backpack has a designated place for your laptop! Look for a bag that has several organizational features for the rest of your gadgets.

2. Do you need a backpack for few trips or for a longer time?

This will help you to understand, how much to invest in it.

The rest is up to your preference. If you want a smaller bag or a bigger one. Water resistant or not. More classic or more sporty looking. With just a couple of compartments and pockets or with 10+ organizational features. The choice is yours!

Guy with a backpack in the mountains - Best carry on backpacks

Why Travel With Carry on Luggage Only?

If you have been following us for some time already, then you will know – we are strong advocates of carry on only traveling. From the very first time abroad we have been traveling light. Mostly we are traveling with one carry on size backpack only.

Even when we were cycling across India for 5 months we did it with just a little bit more than 10 kilos (22 pounds) of luggage each.

Why should you travel with carry on only, too?

1. Because it’s possible to travel with one small bag only

Oh, but I can’t. I need so many things with me on my travels. I can’t pack everything in one bag. Clothes alone take so much space. And shoes. And electronics. And…

Trust me – in most of the situations, you can pack everything you need in one bag. Leave all the “what if” stuff at home, and all the clothes that you aren’t 100% sure you will use. Instead choose clothes that you can wear for just any occasion.

Don’t carry heavy camping equipment with you, if you will go camping only for a night or two. Rent it. Leave these big bottles of shampoo and shower gel at home, and buy these things once you arrive at your destination. That’s in case your hotel doesn’t provide them for free.

Do you need some more inspiration to travel with less? Check out my packing list – how I pack under 7 kilos.

2. It’s liberating to travel with carry on only

Less luggage = less worries. When you travel with carry on bag only, you don’t need to check in your luggage. You don’t need to worry about your luggage, while it’s being transported. And you don’t need to wait for it when you arrive. You can head out of the airport right away, leaving hundreds of others, waiting for their luggage, behind.

But that’s not all. It doesn’t end at the airport.

Traveling with one bag you will feel better every day. Because having less stuff with you, making decisions is so much easier as well.

Decisions like what to wear today? Or which shoes should I choose for that evening stroll? With only couple pairs of shoes, one or two trousers and few shirts with you making these kind of decisions is super easy.

Backpack and pineapple - Best Carry on Backpacks

3. The less you have with you, the less you need to care about

And I’m not speaking only about very expensive stuff like laptops, tablets, camera equipment or super light minimalist camping gear. Of course you should choose these things wisely, taking with you only what you will really use. Because otherwise, what’s the point of carrying them around?

But the same stands for everything else. Don’t take that jacket, if it’s your favorite and you don’t want it to get damaged. Of course, unless you really need it. Or that expensive perfume. Or your super cool Bose headphones.

Better take less and bring more great memories back home with you!

4. The lighter is your luggage, the less you need to carry

And that’s one of the main reasons for me to travel with less luggage. The less I need to carry, the happier I am. Who likes to walk around with heavy backpack? Not me.

5. Traveling with carry on luggage only is cheaper

Yes, on long haul flights mostly you still get a free checked baggage allowance of 1 or 2 bags. But traveling for shorter distances and on domestic flights more and more often nowadays checked baggage costs you extra.

Sometimes it costs just a little bit extra, when compared to the price of the ticket, other times – ridiculously a lot. But multiply it by two (for your return flight), and you will get a decent sum, which you could also save. With low-cost airlines, like Ryanair, WOW Air and Wizzair in Europe, it may cost you even more than a ticket itself.

Pack less and save that money! You can spend it later on some cool travel experience instead, or to buy another flight somewhere.

That’s it! Are you now ready to travel with carry on only? Yes? Then click here to get back to the table of the best carry on backpacks!

Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions!

Una trekking in Nepal with her Vaude carry on backpack - Best carry on backpacks

Una trekking in Nepal with her Vaude carry on backpack – Best carry on backpacks

Disclaimer: Although Osprey Farpoint 40 bag was sponsored by Osprey Europe, our opinions are completely ours.

Author: Kaspars Misins

Kaspars is a long term traveler and travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they are traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On they share their experience and things learned along the way.

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