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You simply can’t beat the versatility of a carry-on backpack. These contemporary pieces of travel are insanely practical, comfortable to carry, and, best of all, their functionality extends way beyond the airplane’s cabin.
Built with travel efficiency in mind, our favorite picks seamlessly transition through a variety of terrains and circumstances. Some of them can withstand the worst wear and tear, others come with a dash of refined minimalism which makes them ideal for city breaks and business trips, and all are brilliantly engineered to magically pack a ton of stuff into a compact, streamlined design.
Here is our selection of the best carry-on backpacks in 2023, one more carefully thought-out than the other.
Peak Design Travel Backpack 45 L
Even in a market saturated with competitors, it’s hard not to fall for Peak Design’s fresh approach to functionality and design. This started nine years ago with the creation of their wildly successful Capture Camera Clip and remains proudly visible in the Travel Backpack 45L.
Fitted out with a weatherproof 400D nylon canvas shell, an elegant expanding mechanism, clever tuck-away shoulder straps, and ultra-light padded foam throughout, this is the ultimate carry-on travel backpack. It’s strong, handsome, and gloriously adaptable.
As well as expanding from a 35 L cabin bag to a 45 L check-in luggage, it also compresses down to a 30 L daypack, offering creative versatility. And don’t even get me started on those magical magnetic closures and smartly positioned access points, which add to both looks and functionality. Last but not least, there are all sorts of zippered, mesh, soft-lined, and hidden pockets for organized packing, including a dividing panel that separates the backpack into two compartments.
I’ve now taken the Peak Design Travel Backpack on a couple of national/international flights and countless road trips, and it’s proved to be an invaluable companion. When paired with the brand’s Camera Cubes, it also makes an excellent pick for traveling photographers.
Bellroy Transit Backpack Plus
Slim aesthetics and modern functionality make this Bellroy pack an ideal choice for traveling professionals and weekend warriors alike.
Lightweight and minimal, the Transit Backpack Plus works well in urban settings but has the robustness and weather resistance needed to deal with more demanding environments.
It’s made from durable, recycled materials, with premium, environmentally certified leather accents, and its space-saving design, with thoughtfully engineered pockets and compartments, takes on-the-go organization to the next level. There’s a quick access 15″ laptop compartment, sleeves for all kinds of miscellaneous items, as well as a number of discreet external-access pockets for wallet, documents, and water bottle.
On top of that, contents are held securely in place with internal compression straps; a removable sternum strap and hideaway waist belt help distribute the load efficiently, and the bag’s breathable contoured back panel makes it comfortable to wear all day long.
Tortuga Travel Backpack 40L
Even at 4.5 lbs (2 kg), our recent testing revealed that the 40 L Tortuga Travel Backpack is still one of the most comfortable-to-wear options around. But that’s hardly its only selling point. Crafted from super-durable, recycled, and waterproof materials and filled to the brim with organizational features, this maximum-size carry-on backpack is the perfect suitcase alternative for week-long trips.
Its smart, adjustable suspension system, along with the thick, foam-padded shoulder straps, removable hip belt, sternum strap, and load lifters, keeps you comfortable in transit, while the well-designed front panel and protected laptop/tablet compartment make sure you have all travel essentials at your fingertips.
Just as important, the pack has room for a week’s worth of clothes in its huge clamshell-style main compartment and sports lockable, weather-resistant zippers for added security.
Db Ramverk Pro Backpack 32L
A sleek, minimalist-looking backpack packed with features, Ramverk Pro Backpack 32L is a clever pick for creatives, adventurers, and anyone in between. It offers more than enough room for a few days worth of travel essentials, and packing is easy as the front panel fully unzips to allow total access to the spacious main compartment. Meanwhile, if you require a compartmentalized protective organization for your photography equipment, this can be customized with padded dividers or a camera insert.
An ingenious top pocket and a series of interior mesh sections offer convenient storage for smaller valuables, while a separate, padded computer compartment fits 16″ laptops. Like most of Db’s bags, this one sports the brand’s unique rib cage construction for extra protection and its patented hook-up system, which lets you attach multiple bags together for ease of transportation. For a closer look at its highlights, check out our piece on the best backpacks reviewed this year.
Monos Metro Backpack
Cut from water-resistant, ultra-microfiber vegan leather, the Monos Metro Backpack mixes reliable toughness with a surprising amount of organization, all within a stylish, structured silhouette that goes effortlessly from work to weekend.
The clamshell opening gives you full access to the roomy main compartment for efficient clothes packing, while thoughtful pockets and compartments organize documents, electronics, and other accessories. There’s even a stretchable, waterproof privacy section designed to keep your shoes and wet bathing suits separate from the rest of your contents. The bag’s smartest feature, however, is the detachable front Dopp kit, which functions as an independent pouch for your essentials while on the move.
BÉIS The Hanging Backpack
Organized packers will instantly fall in love with The Hanging Backpack from BÉIS, which comes with a removable shelving system that can be hung from a closet once arrived at the hotel. This compressible unit is divided into various sections and has room for everything from piles of clothes to bulky shoes and smaller accessories.
Besides taking the burden of packing and unpacking your belongings off your hands, the all-black backpack is equipped with all modern conveniences, including a suitcase sleeve, ultra-padded straps, a laptop compartment, and a water bottle pocket.
Topo Designs Global Travel Bag Roller
Easily the most adaptable carry-on backpack on the list, the Global Travel Bag Roller stands out for its rugged-meets-stylish design and heavy-duty wheels, which add a whole new level of convenience to your ride.
Part backpack, part rolling suitcase, it’s a clever choice for multi-taskers and one-bag adventurers alike. Complementing its recycled nylon exterior are tough YKK zippers, a pair of crush-proof wheels, and various handles so you can carry it in different ways.
Built to make traveling easier, this hybrid Topo Designs piece also scores big on organization with two spacious internal compartments and multiple mesh and zippered pockets for smaller items.
Matador bills its GlobeRider45 Travel Backpack as “the ultimate pack for the world traveler”. We’d say it’s a fierce competition, but they’re not far from the truth.
Conceived to withstand any adventure, this carry-on-compliant backpack has all the right features – a clamshell architecture for ease of packing, excellent carrying comfort, and endless organizational pockets for separating your gear. The pack is built around an aluminum frame for added strength, and the durable, water-resistant materials used in its construction are sustainably sourced. Meanwhile, an external padded compartment offers quick access to your laptop, and its outdoor-inspired fit and weight distribution ensure superior comfort on the go.
Troubadour Explorer Aero Backpack
Troubadour’s Explorer collection blurs the lines between work packs and adventure bags with innovative technical materials and streamlined forms. If you want the packing capacity of a duffel bag in backpack form, look no further than their luxe Aero Backpack, which features an impressive 34L capacity – perfect for traveling – alongside stellar additions like a dedicated shoe pocket, a separate laptop section, and a trolley sleeve that slides over your suitcase handle.
Made with lightweight, waterproof recycled fabrics, this carry-on-friendly backpack is designed around a spacious tube-shaped compartment for stowing everything you need on the go and sports a unique zip-top opening for easy access to your items. The breathable back panel and ergonomic memory foam shoulder straps ensure you can effortlessly carry around the bag all day. There’s also a quick-access top-zippered pocket for keeping your documents and other personal items within reach.
At 16 liters, the Nest may fall into the everyday carry backpacks category, but with its modular add-ons, it morphs into the perfect carry-on backpack, providing plenty of room for your personal items.
Crafted from water-resistant, recycled materials, Nest features well-padded shoulder straps, a breathable back panel complete with luggage pass-through, and a clamshell main compartment that you can organize to your liking using Tropicfeel’s thoughtful accessories. Likewise, a 4L kangaroo pocket that folds out from the bottom of the bag, a 10L packing cube designed to fit within the front pocket, and a detachable divider called Spider Net System increase the backpack’s capacity from 16L to 30L, providing versatile external storage for your gear.
Samsonite Silhouette 17 Backpack
Can’t decide between a suitcase and a backpack? You don’t have to. Samsonite’s Silhouette 17 Backpack offers the best of both worlds in a streamlined, contemporary design, ideal for modern travelers.
Made from the brand’s proprietary Recyclex, a sustainable fabric created using 100% recycled PET bottles, this durable all-in-one bag makes packing a breeze thanks to its convenient split-case opening and meticulously organized interior. Unlike top-opening rucksacks, this backpack opens like a suitcase, revealing a spacious main compartment for easy, organized packing – all while meeting carry-on size requirements. An adjustable garment compression panel minimizes wrinkling, and the WetPak pocket keeps wet items separate.
Additionally, business travelers will appreciate the backpack’s 3-way convertible design, which enables it to be comfortably carried as a backpack, briefcase, or shoulder bag, as well as its smart tech-oriented features, including a fully padded laptop pocket and a removable TecKit complete with USB pass-through & wireless charging capabilities.
Briggs & Riley Medium Cargo Backpack
Style and practicality meet in this tech-savvy carry-on backpack from Briggs & Riley. Constructed from rugged, moisture-resistant 1680D ballistic nylon, the Medium Cargo Backpack withstands whatever you throw at it while still looking sleek.
It’s a beautiful, sturdy bag with a polished, professional look, but perhaps the greatest thing about it is its internal organization – the three-section interior design, with quick-access laptop/tablet storage and an array of intuitive pockets, makes it easy to pack and stay organized on the go.
A signature SpeedThru pocket keeps your valuables safe and on hand at security checkpoints, while an RFID-blocking pocket protects your passport and credit cards against identity theft/electronic pickpocketing. Top it all off with Briggs & Riley’s legendary lifetime warranty, and you’ve got yourself one of the best carry-on backpacks on the market.
NOMATIC 40L Travel Bag
Durable, weatherproof, and chock-full of innovative features, it’s no wonder travelers worldwide are obsessed with the NOMATIC 40L Travel Bag. Designed for trips of up to 7 days, this sleek bag is the max carry-on size and transitions from backpack to duffle in a snap thanks to its patented strap system.
But probably what makes the NOMATIC backpack one of the best carry-on travel bags around is its unrivaled compartmentalization. Separate pockets for shoes, clothes, gadgets, and everything in between provide versatile, efficient organization of all your belongings while also allowing you to pack more in less space. Meanwhile, a hangable laundry bag keeps dirty clothes separate while traveling, and the TSA-ready flap lets you breeze through security checkpoints without removing your tech.
Solgaard Lifepack Endeavor Large (with closet)
Stay organized and productive on the go with the Solgaard Lifepack Endeavor Large (with closet), a clever travel backpack made with innovative fabrics created from upcycled ocean-bound plastic.
Conceived with modern travelers in mind, this recycled, one-of-a-kind bag acts as a mobile wardrobe, complete with a removable hanging closet with compression straps that will keep your clothes tidy and easily accessible. It also includes a “workzone” and a “lifezone”, so you can organize your work items and personal belongings separately, and it comes with cool features like secret pockets and a suitcase seatbelt strap for effortless mobility.
WANDRD HEXAD Access Duffle Backpack
Whether on outdoor adventures, photography trips, or flights to Europe, protect your gear on the go with this ultra-organized bag from WANDRD. Combining dedicated camera compartments with separate areas for storage of clothes and accessories, the carry-on-sized HEXAD Access Duffel Backpack leaves no desire unfulfilled.
Complete with three large sections and a variety of thoughtful pockets, this well-engineered backpack/duffel hybrid is loaded with utility. Not only that, but it’s made from strong, weather-resistant materials and comes with a convenient clamshell opening, plus dual side access, for easy packing & retrieval of items. Inside, there’s space for everything, including a padded laptop sleeve, an expandable laundry pocket, and a fleece-lined phone pocket. Internal mesh dividers make organizing a snap, while grab handles on all four sides add to the bag’s versatility.
Thule Crossover 2 Convertible Backpack
Designed with smart packers in mind, the Thule Crossover 2 Convertible Backpack offers a streamlined aesthetic and great organization while meeting carry-on luggage size restrictions for most airlines.
Durable, lightweight, and tastefully understated, it’s just as good for one-bag travel as it is as a practical cabin companion on longer trips. Actually, we’d go as far as to say it wouldn’t look out of place at the office, either.
Made from wear-resistant nylon, this 41L convertible travel pack easily transforms from a backpack to a shoulder bag and comes with an RFID-blocking pocket for added safety.
The main compartment opens up flat for effortless packing, and a vast array of pockets, including a dedicated, padded laptop section, keep all your gadgets in place during transit. A pair of tuck-away backpack straps, a removable, padded shoulder strap, and padded handles on all sides provide versatile carrying options, and there’s also a pass-through strap so you can slide it over the handles of your suitcase when navigating airport terminals.
If you’re looking for a gigantic travel pack that fits a ton while still falling into the cabin-size category, this is it. Say hello to the largest possible carry-on: the GORUCK GR3.
Featuring 45L of storage, a rugged 1000D nylon Cordura construction, and a bombproof laptop compartment, this beast is ready to go anywhere and do anything. The extra padded shoulder straps and removable hip belt are extremely practical, given that this bag is designed to handle over 400 pounds. Other nifty details include silent YKK zippers, MOLLE bottom attachment, and an integrated hydration system.
Inside, various pockets, two side compression straps, and a Velcro back panel for additional packing cubes allow for optimized organization of contents during travel.
Knack Convertible Duffel
Take the packability of a duffel and the convenience of a travel backpack, and you get the Knack Convertible Duffel. It’s lightweight, good-looking, and can fit up to 7 days’ worth of essentials inside a carry-on compliant size.
Wrapped in durable, high-density nylon fabric, it features a separate expandable suitcase compartment for packing your clothes, a side-zip padded sleeve for 15″ laptops, and ample pockets for organizing all your bits and pieces. Your passport and business cards are best stored in the secret pocket, and there’s also a cleverly designed water bottle pocket hidden on the side.
By far, this duffel backpack’s best feature is its expandability. With a quick unzip, it enlarges to almost double in size from 24 liters to a max of 40 liters, making for a handy travel accessory for frugal explorers, wandering professionals, and everyone with an appetite for the one-bag life. When not expanded, it qualifies as a personal item, fitting perfectly under the airplane seat.
Horizn Studios SoFo Backpack Travel
With its expandable design, handy exterior pockets, and smart luggage strap, this sustainable pack from Horizn Studios makes a great carry-on backpack. Crafted from vegan, recycled cotton canvas, it’s sturdy, lightweight, and impervious to water.
The breathable mesh padding on the back and shoulder straps make the SoFo Backpack Travel comfortable to carry, and its roomy interior can accommodate up to 5 days’ worth of travel necessities, including a 16″ laptop in its own separate padded compartment.