Perhaps you are already a convert to traveling with a carry on backpack, or maybe you are interested in trying it for the first time. There are many advantages to traveling with a backpack instead of a rolling suitcase. A backpack is convenient when traveling in European cities with lots of cobblestones and stairs like Granada, Lisbon, Venice or Toledo. A backpack leaves your hands free for taking photos. It’s also great for traveling to rural areas where you might be hauling your bag over dirt roads. I remember my friends struggling with rolling suitcases on sandy paths when we arrived in Caye Caulker, Belize. I was happy to have my trusty backpack.
If you need to travel with lots of luggage you can bring both a carry on backpack as well as a rolling suitcase. This is how I often travel when I’m on extended trips of several months and am traveling mostly by trains, buses and ferries.
Best Carry On Travel Backpacks for Women
Osprey Fairview 40
The Osprey Fairview 40 is a woman-specific backpack that is popular with travelers. The bag is constructed to meet most airline carry-on requirements and the straps can be stowed away within a zippered panel for storage or check in.
The backpack has full suspension with a mesh back panel and padded harness and hipbelt.
The Fairpoint backpack fully opens offering easy access to your gear. You might like to add these compression packing cubes to keep your stuff organized. The outside mesh pockets are perfect for packing wet items or small things you don’t need to store away. The pack is designed to handle loads up to 40 pounds.
The Osprey Fairview is made for women, with narrower straps and other features to differentiate it from the Farpoint (discussed below), which is a very similar backpack. Both bags come in a variety of sizes, so depending on your height and measurements one may be better for you than the other. Check them both out!
Kelty Redwing 40W Travel Backpack
A popular travel backpack for women and shorter folks is the Kelty Redwing 40. It has an internal aluminum stay and Dynamic AirFlow back panel to keep the bag stable and comfortable even when carrying it long distances. The padded shoulder straps and hip belt are built to fit a woman’s body.
The Redwing is also available in lager sizes for longer trips, but the 40L is excellent as a carry on bag that will fit the luggage requirements of even low cost airlines. If this is not a concern for you, check out the best selling Kelty Redwing 44L and Redwing 50L sizes too. These are also great if you are taller.
A front pocket pulls away from the bag and is great for stuffing a jacket or sweater behind it for easy access on the road. There is a hydration sleeve that can also carry a laptop or tablet.
These bags are top loading, but the zippered compartment dips low to offer a large opening. You might like using packing cubes with these bags to stay organized, I like these these compression packing cubes from Eagle Creek.
The backpack currently is available in an aqua color as well as more low key black.
eBags Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Backpack
This eBags backpack is like a soft sided suitcase that you can carry on your back. It fully unzips flat for ease of packing and access to your things. The sleek design means there aren’t a lot of straps and buckles to get caught on things, making it great for travel on planes, buses and trains. Tuck the straps away and you can carry it as a suitcase or even check it as luggage due to the various carrying straps.
The eBags Mother Lode will hold about 40 liters, perfect for short trips or those who are great at traveling light. There is a sleeve for your laptop or tablet in the back panel.
The cons of the Mother Lode is that the lightweight waist strap does not have a lot of padding or support, but this also means it is easy to tuck away. The compression straps on the sides are great for when the bag isn’t completely full. The zippers are also lockable using a cable lock like this one.
This bag comes in a variety of colors and even different sizes. I like the brightly colored interior which makes it easier to find your stuff. These bags with large compartments are ideal to pair with packing cubes for improved organization. I use these compression packing cubes from Eagle Creek.
Best Carry On Travel Backpacks for Men
Osprey Porter 46 Gear Hauler Backpack
Osprey calls this a duffel with backpack straps, but it’s so much more. Osprey knows how to make a strong and sturdy bag that is comfortable to carry longer distances. The bag has a stowaway mesh harness and waist belt to make carrying the bag a breeze as well as packing up sleek to store or check.
The bag fully unzips flat to make packing easier, but you might like to use packing cubes like these to stay organized.
At 46L this bag may be a bit large for the carry on requirements of low cost airlines if it is completely full. Double check their requirements. The side compression straps can help make the bag more compact.
Eagle Creek Global Companion
With a full suspension harness and padded straps, the Eagle Creek Global Companion is an easy backpack to tote on your trips.
The bag opens completely flat allowing quick access to your things and makes packing easier. This Eagle Creek backpack also has a padded laptop sleeve making it easy to pull out your computer for TSA.
The rainfly doubles as a duffel to contain and protect the full-suspension back panel and straps if you check or store the bag.
Osprey Farpoint 40
Osprey makes some of the most popular travel backpacks on the market. The small size of the Osprey Farpoint 40 means it fits the carry on luggage requirements for nearly every airline and it’s also easy to carry. The roomy 40L interior makes it possible to pack all your necessary gear, and the pack is designed to handle loads up to 40 pounds. Note that it comes in two sizes, S/M and M/L, the large being meant for those over 5’9″ tall. Both are perfect for males and females, but the Fairview mentioned above is the female specific version.
Keep cool with a mesh back panel that improves ventilation. The shoulder harness and hipbelt can be stowed away in the zippered rear flap for protection when you need to check or store the bag. The zippers are also lockable, I recommend a TSA approved cable lock like this one.
The Osprey Farpoint has a laptop sleeve toward the front of the bag which might not be ideal. But you can also pack your laptop in the back of the larger compartment under your clothes if you prefer. Check out the Daylight daypack below which also attaches to the front of the backpack when traveling.
As opposed to other comparable backpacks, the Osprey Farpoint is not top loading, but almost fully unzips allowing access to the inside. This makes packing and unpacking easier, as you do not have to dig for items. Nevertheless you may find packing cubes useful. I like these these compression packing cubes.
Best Small Backpacks for Day Use
A sleek daypack that holds all of your daily necessities, the Osprey Daylite is designed to attach to Osprey’s larger packs or use it on its own. There is a padded laptop pocket and large zippered compartment. The straps are padded and the mesh back panel provides both comfort and ventilation.
This backpack is excellent for day hikes or jaunts around the city with a bottle of water and an extra sweater. Attach it to the Farpoint or Porter backpacks for ease of transport when traveling.
Fjallraven Kanken Backpack
Are you looking for a backpack to wear daily on your trip to hold your necessities like a camera, guidebook, extra sweater and water? Check out the Fjallraven Kanken Mini. I love my mini. It is quite tiny but fits my daily items. It will not hold a laptop, but a small tablet like an iPad will fit. If you need a bigger bag check out the regular sized Kanken Classic.
The fabric of the Kanken is very sturdy and holds up well to daily use. Of course the darker colors will show less dirt. I have the slate gray color which does not show any wear after a year of daily use in rain, snow, sun and being tossed on the ground everywhere.
The Kanken is an extremely popular backpack in Europe. You’ll spot them on everyone from senior citizens to seniors in high school. They come in a variety of colors. Personally I recommend the Re-Kanken, made from 100% recycled materials. I love mine! Check here for how I like to pack it for a day out sketching.
Another great daily backpack that comes with a dose of sleek style is made by Baggu. The backpacks are made from a sturdy recycled canvas material and are minimal in design. I have the chestnut color and it really goes with almost every outfit. I also love the stripes and even more, the checked pattern. I went with the chesnut because I thought I would get the white color too dirty. I am not very careful with my bags, but you can wash these and line dry them.
Fully stuff your Baggu canvas backpack and it can fit a lot. Perfect for a quick trip to the grocery store or carrying a DSLR and an extra sweater while sightseeing around the city. When it is not full the Baggu backpack is delightfully slouchy. On some designs there are deep side pockets for carrying sunglasses or your phone, but do take care of valuables in crowded places. Other versions of the bag have front zipper pockets and open pockets behind them. The top is drawstring but there is a top flap that closes over it. Baggu also makes zip backpacks too.
One negative of the Baggu for travel is that it does not pack up very small due to the thick fabric. But this is not a problem if you are wearing it all the time and traveling with a rolling bag.
Zomake Ultra Lightweight Packable Backpack
Wow, this backpack is incredible. It packs up into a tiny package but expands to be used as a daypack to tote an extra sweater, water bottle or even your camera. This is the perfect backpack to bring along if you don’t think you will use it very often but will need it on some days. It easily fits in a larger backpack or rolling luggage.
The Zomake Packable Backpack comes in a huge range of colors and is very affordable. Buy a few to match your outfits?
I hope this article helped you to choose a backpack for your upcoming travels. Have fun!
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