If you’re looking for the best carry-on backpack for travel, then I should say right away that no single backpack is literally the “best” in every respect.

There are always certain trade-offs in terms of comfort, features, price, weight, or durability. However, some backpacks do truly stand out from the pack (so to speak) and will make your life on the road a lot easier.

Because every traveler is different, in this buyer’s guide I’ll help you narrow it down to a backpack best suited to your travel style.

If you’re in a hurry, check out my top choice

Peak Design 45L Backpack

View at Peak Design

How I review backpacks

My number one rule: Every backpack I review goes on at least one real trip. It’s hard to know a product just from unboxing it!

Sometimes I look at review samples, while other times I simply buy backpacks when they seem worth checking out.

As a professional travel blogger for over 10 years, I’ve done a lot of travelling, and I even lived out of a backpack for some time.

Having used over 60 different backpacks — yep, I’m a backpack freak! — let me share with you here my absolute top picks.

This article contains affiliate links.

Why I travel carry-on only

If you know how to pack light (and I’ve got a guide just for that!) then you can benefit from the many advantages of using only carry-on luggage. I’ve even travelled carry-on on very long trips; for example, I once travelled 9 months straight with just a 40L carry-on and a small daypack.

Traveling with only carry-on luggage saves time and money. It lets you avoid the check-in process altogether and head straight to security, but it can also save you a ton on airfare.

This used to be only relevant to budget carriers, but in recent years, even long-haul flights often let you buy carry-on-only tickets. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars on intercontinental flights by opting for basic economy fares. In this time of increased travel costs, that’s a huge plus.

You can think of a great carry-on backpack as an investment that will pay for itself!

Quick Overview: Best Carry-On Travel Backpacks

Peak Design Travel Backpack

Best premium travel backpack

  • 35L expandable to 45L
  • Amazingly clever design filled with surprising features
Cotopaxi Allpa

Best budget-friendly

  • Fun and colorful designs (but black also available)
  • Great features for good value; ideal for budget and adventure travel
Tortuga Travel Backpack

Best 'pro' travel backpack

  • Rugged, durable, and loaded with organization features
  • Super comfortable height-adjustable harness
  • Best option if price tag is not your main concern
Nomatic Travel Bag

Best for business travel

  • Shoe compartment, shirt folder, etc. ideal for business or formal clothes
  • Works perfectly combined with rolled luggage
Patagonia Black Hole MLC

Best suitcase-style

  • Carry it like a suitcase, duffel, or backpack (straps can be fully stowed)
  • Spacious and extremely versatile
Osprey Farpoint 40

Best for backpacking

  • Simple design that is light, affordable and durable
  • A classic pack for backpackers & budget travelers staying in hostels
Pacsafe VentureSafe EXP45

Best security

  • Security features you'll actually enjoy using
  • 1 integrated lock to close all compartments; wire lock to secure the bag itself
  • Fantastic carry-on backpack overall
Pakt Travel Backpack 30L
  • Amazing clamshell design with superb organizational features
  • Great medium-size carry-on for urban/air travel

Best carry-on travel backpacks

These backpacks you can take on board most airlines without having to check them in. Even if you’re not flying, they are a great medium size.

Tip: Backpack capacity is measured in liters. Most carry-on backpacks are around 40L. All backpacks here should be fine for carry-on travel, though some can optionally expand beyond carry-on dimensions (such as the Peak Design).

Peak Design Travel Backpack

Price $299


  • Versatile; carry-on size (35L) but can expand to 45L
  • Incredible design with premium materials and wonderful touches
  • Optional accessories that are 100% amazing


  • Shoulder and hip straps could be more padded

Peak Design’s 45L Travel Backpack has been my main luggage for 4 years now and I consider it close to perfect. It highly benefits from pairing it with some of Peak Design’s accessories, which are among the best around.

Using it just feels good. All the little touches — like the magnetic pouches, hidden straps, and clever storage spaces — create a totally fluid experience.

The default capacity is 35L, which is well within carry-on size limits, though it can expand to 45L. This makes it a versatile pack suitable for many types of trips. Its sturdy 400D nylon shell nicely holds its shape when unloaded.

Carrying the Peak Design 45 on a trip to Italy

The only minor downside is the harness. The straps and back panel could be a bit more padded so that it’s more comfortable to carry for hours on end if needed.

For most travelers, the harness will be perfectly fine, as it’s highly comfortable when carrying it to your airport gate or to your hotel, B&B, or vacation home. However, if your travel style involves a lot of hiking or outdoor adventure then the Tortuga Travel Backpack on the high end or the Farpoint 40 on the budget end will be more suitable.

If your travel style is a little more air/taxi/hotel focused rather than rolling around in the mud, then the Peak Design 45L is simply amazing. It’s highly durable and in 4 years of heavy use, it has not let me down.

I love taking it on trips as the Peak Design backpack makes organizing actually fun. To get the most out of this backpack, I recommend getting the Peak Design accessories. The toiletry bag, electronics pouch, and packing cubes are all cleverly designed and a joy to use.

Read my full review here.

Cotopaxi Allpa



  • Fresh and colorful design
  • Shoulder straps and raincover included
  • Amazing internal organization (no packing cubes needed)


  • The rubbery 1000D polyester outer shell is love-it-or-hate-it

Starting at $220, the Cotopaxi Allpa is one of the best-value backpacks around. I like its ‘just right’ balance between features and price. It’s more affordable than the most premium backpacks out there, while still having one of the most rugged and durable designs. The internal organization features are amazing, letting you get away with not buying any accessories like packing cubes or protective cases.

Its harness with a height-adjustable hip belt is comfortable to wear for long periods of time, making it suitable for adventure trips. Get this pack if you’re going, say, backpacking in Thailand or train-hopping around Europe. It’s more geared to that style of travel than the more streamlined

The Allpa stands out with its range of funky Andean-inspired colors, but if that’s not your thing there is also an all-black version.

The Allpa is super easy to organize, with its clamshell design ensuring easy access. One side has a big open compartment for your bulky clothing, the other has three zipped cubes for storing smaller items. A rain cover is included as is a shoulder strap for duffel-style carry.

Given its many organizational features, you may not need any packing cubes nor additional accessories (apart from maybe a toiletries bag).

There is a 35L and a 42L size, both carry-on. Cotopaxi Allpa 35 is the best-selling option and recommended for most travellers. I quite like the Cotopaxi Allpa 42 as I prefer using maximum carry-on size packs. You can compare the different Allpa versions here.

The one controversial aspect? Probably the rubbery 1000D polyester outer shell, which can look a bit blobby if the bag is not full. This material is very sturdy however, so it will protect your gear very well.

This is an especially great pack to use for backpacking around, say, Southeast Asia, South America, or Europe. But it works equally well for city trips.

You can read more about the details in my full review.

Tortuga Travel Backpack


Price $349

(available in US only)


  • Balanced design with numerous storage options
  • Amazingly comfortable straps and suspension system
  • Durable and rugged materials; waterproof zippers


  • None worth mentioning

The newest 4th generation Tortuga Travel Backpack has just about everything a frequent traveler might want.

While it’s packed with features and made of super durable materials, is the Tortuga overkill for a casual traveler? Possibly. This is basically the “screw everything, we’re doing five blades” of backpack design, making it one of the priciest options. But if you were looking for the best travel backpack, this absolutely gets my vote.

The best feature is the incredible harness. It’s extremely comfortable to wear, almost on par with hiking or trekking backpacks (while still being a regular travel backpack). Thanks to the thick shoulder straps, a great sternum strap, and a wide and comfortable waist belt, you can carry this for hours on end without any problems.

If you were eyeing a premium backpack like the Peak Design but want it to be more structured like a backpacking pack with additional back and shoulder support, then this fits the bill. It’s even fully height-adjustable so you can fit it perfectly to your torso height.

Organization is made easy with numerous pouches and zipped compartments, and premium materials are used throughout — including a highly weather-resistant SHELL200 exterior, weatherproof zippers, and soft fleece lining inside the laptop compartment. It has a Swiss Army Knife worth of features while getting all the basics just right.

Note that it only sells in the US. For a somewhat similar option with international shipping, consider the Peak Design Travel Backpack.

Read my full review here.

Nomatic Travel Backpack



  • Features and add-on accessories make it ideal for business travelers
  • Flexibility: can expand from 20 to 30L, also works as duffel or on top of rolled luggage
  • Perfect as a secondary bag for digital nomads as well


  • Some features a bit too gimmicky (depending on travel style)

The Nomatic 40L has a range of clever features that business travelers will easily benefit from most, including a shoe compartment, a shirt folder, and laundry bag that can hang from a hotel room door.

If you need to keep your wardrobe tidy or prefer having more of a packing system over just one big main compartment, then the Nomatic 40L is easily one of the best backpacks you can get.

The exterior is sturdy and weather-sealed, though the stiff materials can make it feel a little cramped inside. While it’s perfect for a 3-5 day trip, for longer trips I would combine it with some other luggage. Thanks to the pass-through sleeve, it pairs perfectly with a rolling suitcase.

Note: Nomatic uses the alternate brand Gomatic in Europe.

Read my full review here.

Patagonia Black Hole MLC



  • Amazing versatility: use as backpack, suitcase, or duffel
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Maximum carry-on size
  • Many organization options


  • Shoulder straps are very basic, so it's not ideal if using exclusively as a backpack

Strictly speaking, the Patagonia Black Hole MLC (which stands for Maximum Legal Carry-on) isn’t a backpack. It’s primarily a duffel-style bag that can also be used in “backpack mode”.

Duffels are really awesome when you just want to throw lots of items into one big burly compartment. But unlike other duffels that I’ve used, such as the Osprey Transporter or the Peak Design Travel Duffel, the Patagonia MLC actually still has lots of storage options as well as a laptop compartment.

The clever bit is that the backpack straps can be fully stowed (turning it into a suitcase) or detached and used as a shoulder strap (turning it into a cross-body bag). It’s in the latter mode that the Patagonia Black Hole MLC is by far the most comfortable.

The harness is quite basic, so don’t expect the ultimate level of comfort while carrying it on your back, but this may be compensated for with its greater versatility.

Re-released with a new design in 2023, the MLC is ideal for carry-on air travel. You can also easily use it as, say, an extra duffel on an overland trip. I took it campervanning (a trip with less demand for needing to carry it as a backpack all the time) for which it was perfectly suited.

Osprey Farpoint 40



  • Extremely comfortable suspension system
  • Simple and lightweight design
  • Excellent durability


  • Basic internal organization (recommended to use packing cubes)

For a lightweight and budget-friendly backpack that can also be used on hikes or long walks, you can’t go wrong with the Osprey Farpoint 40.

This is a classic backpack that’s long been a favorite of many world travelers (myself included) and for good reason. Its design was also completely updated and improved with a new model introduced in late 2022.

The main benefit of the Osprey Farpoint 40 is comfort. The ribbed back panel, trampoline surface, adjustment straps, and fully height-adjustable harness are features you might normally find on a hiking pack and not on a travel pack. They all help ensure the Farpoint 40 is extremely comfortable to carry even for longer periods. This makes it a highly popular budget backpack for hosteling/backpacking in particular.

This is the perfect pack for those who want to be light on their feet and travel carry-on. It doesn’t have numerous pouches or zippers on the inside, opting to keep things simple, but if you prefer to be more organized you can always use some packing cubes.

Osprey packs are known for their reliability and quality. I traveled around the world continuously for 2 years with just a Farpoint 40 on my back.

There’s also the Osprey Fairview 40, which has the exact same features but with a women’s specific fit.

I’ve used other Osprey packs such as the Osprey Porter 46 or the Osprey Farpoint 55, but I think the Farpoint 40 is the best of the bunch. The Porter 46 isn’t as comfortable, while the Farpoint 55’s main pack is missing some internal organization features.

Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45



  • Unique feature lets you secure all compartments with one lock
  • Integrated security system that you'll actually enjoy using
  • Highly comfortable straps and handles


  • Security being the main focus, there's no quick access pocket of any kind
  • Laptop compartment is in front (back would be preferable for balance)

While many backpacks have lockable zippers, they’re often fiddly to use, involve seperate padlocks, and don’t allow for quick access.

The Pacsafe’s major achievement is having an integrated lock system that is highly satisfying to use — and so you actually end up using it consistently.

You can easily close both main compartments using the same ingeniously designed bolt lock. It can be further secured with an included steel cable lock, which can fix the entire backpack to a pole, fence, or luggage rack. The pack’s outer material is slash-proof to boot.

Security is the Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45‘s main selling point, but it’s also just a great carry-on backpack. It has all the expected organizational features, including a tablet/laptop sleeve, and is comfortable to carry.

Are you merely moving point-to-point between hotels using taxis? Then you may not strictly need the security feature.

But if your travel style involves, say, using nightbuses/trains, exploring crowded places, or destinations with lower security levels, then this backpack will provide some excellent deterrence against theft.

You can read my full review here.

Pakt Travel Backpack

Price $299


  • Amazing internal organization
  • Many unique features (waterproof compartment, secret pouch, waist strap can become a sling bag)
  • Highly comfortable
  • Waist strap doubles as sling bag


  • 30L size may be a bit small for very long trips
  • Doesn't easily fit big shoes

At 30 liters, the Pakt Travel Backpack is smaller than the 40 to 45-liter backpacks mentioned so far. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a more streamlined size for shorter trips.

The Pakt will fit within virtually all carry-on restrictions, even the more stringent airlines in Europe.

I love the internal organization. Most clamshell backpacks offer one deep main storage compartment, but the Pakt takes a different tack by dividing this space into two halves. Sandwiched between them is the laptop compartment. I think this makes perfect sense for both security and comfort.

Due to the split main compartment, it won’t as easily fit big boots or tall hiking shoes. However, this layout makes it way easier to keep your items organized. You can use packing cubes with the Pakt but you can certainly go without them too.

In terms of comfort, access, and organization this is my favorite 30L size backpack.

Read my full review here.

Finally, all the top carry-on backpacks in this guide:

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