The Top 5 Best Carry-on Backpacks and How to Choose The Perfect Bag

by Fernanda Krassuski July 10, 2018 0 Comments

The Top 5 Best Carry-on Backpacks and How to Choose The Perfect Bag

Have you ever traveled for more than a month with only a carry-on backpack on you? What about several months or even years? It's definitely not for everyone, but totally doable. 

For doing so, not only you'll need to know what clothes and gear you should bring with you, but also, to have a backpack that will do the job: serve as carry on (to be taken inside the plane/train/bus with you), to fit it all in an organized way and, most important, to be comfortable to carry on your backpack when walking around with it.

Quite a challenge, right?

When I was planning my 45 days trip around China, I knew I would have to find the perfect backpack to take with me.

It would be 1 month and a half in a continental sized country, very diverse in climate, nature and situations. Temperatures varied between 30°C and -17°C.

So apart from researching the itinerary and things to do, I did an extensive research to find my perfect backpack match. And I found it! 

The Top 5 Best Carry-on Backpacks and How to Choose The Perfect Bag

This is me with my backpack and a chinese friend, Bob. I met him on the train station in Pingyao. I'll talk about my backpack later on this post.

Back to the article, I'm sharing with you the 5 best carry-on backpacks and giving you tips on how to choose yours. This is based on my researches and on reviews from other travel specialists.

So, before revealing the 5 best backpacks, I'll share the most important features that a carry-on backpack should have. Then you can decide which are more important to you. Let's get started!

Advantages of a backpack:

If you're an explorer, you'll definitely want to have your hands free. Also, can you imagine yourself dealing with the clunkiness of a roller bag in a city, or even worse, somewhere off the beaten path with uneven sidewalks and streets? I bet you wouldn't enjoy that. Plus, a backpack is a lot lighter than a roller bag and you get to travel light and learn what is actually important to have and what is a surplus. You may also start enjoying being a minimalist after traveling light.

Backpacks are highly recommended for short or long term travelers, backpackers, digital nomads and minimalists.

Downside of backpacks:

One of the major disadvantages of a backpack is that you’re carrying all the weight on your back. It can get pretty uncomfortable and feel heavier on your shoulders than it actually is over time. If you have back problems, this might not be the right choice for you. Also, it might be a bigger challenge to take a small backpack if you're travelling somewhere that gets too cold or if you need to bring snow equipment.

Key Features


This was an important feature for me when choosing my ideal backpack. I have a sensitive body and I do suffer from generalized body pain very often. So comfort was my #1 requirement. Let's

To assure its comfort, a backpak needs to have larger and well padded shoulder straps as well as a waist strap. Using a waist strap distributes the load around your whole body instead of just your shoulders. It’s essential for frequent travel as it helps avoid sore shoulders and bad backs. The chest strap also helps balancing the weight, but it's not mandatory. 

Also, for those who will walk a lot with it, a curved design with padded back support is better than a straight rectangular design - which is a mix of a city backpack and a camping backpack. 


The most popular carry-on luggage size is 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches (that’s roughly 55cm x 35.5cm x 23cm), but this can vary by airline or airplane type. For example, for US companies, you can go safely with  20 x 14 x 8 inches (51 x 35 x 20 cm). There is no standard carry-on size though. Review the airlines you fly most often, and pick a size that works best with all of them.

Note: If you get a backpack that is slightly bigger than the average, you might or not have it accepted as a carry-on. If you don't mind taking the risk, then it's fine. But if you're taking a lot of flights with low-cost companies that charge for checked bags, you better go for a slighlty smaller one. 

Personal Item: Most companies allow passengers to take one carry-on bag plus one smaller personal item (purse, laptop backpack, camera bag, etc). The most important feature is that this item fits under the seat in front of you. I always take a daypack with my laptop, e-reader and other things I need to have easily at hand.


Many backpacks are top-loading, with a drawstring to close it at the top. This sucks. It means having to dig around or take things off and messing it all up to get something from the bottom. Bags with a clamshell design are much easier to organize and to reach out everything. Super convenient!

Laptop compartment

A separate padded compartment keeps your electronics secure. You can also use these zipped compartments for many other things.

Organizing Structure

Having a strucutre that makes organizing easier is definitely something that will make the difference when travelling, especially if you won't stay too long on one destination. One main compartment, several pockets, divisions or zipped meshes vary widely from one brand to the other.

Rain resistant / cover

This is something we might take for granted, but if the material is not water resistant or it doesn't come with a rain cover, your things might get wet when walking in the rain. You can't always prevent yourself from getting caught by an unadvised rain, but at least you'll have dry clothes to wear and your electronics will be working!

Now that you know the most important features of a good lugagge for traveling as carry-on, we'll get to the actual 5 best backpacks available for buying on 2018. Check it out!

5 Best Carry-on Backpacks

Osprey Farpoint 40 / Fairview 40

osprey farpoint 40 carry on backpack

Our first option is one of the dearest on the market and can be found on pretty much every review article. Why's that? I assume that's because the Farpoint 40 corresponds to the main characteristics that a carry-on backpack should have. If you decide to buy this one, you may want to buy another daypack to bring personal items, just remember that it will not be attachable to this one, as its bigger sister 55 (see below).

Size: 22"H x 14"W x 9"D; 3 pounds (Carry-on compatible)

Comfort: Well padded back support and shoulder straps, chest and hipbelt. Internal and external compression straps that help balancing the weight. 2 versions adapted for male (Fairpoint) or female (Fairview) body types. 

Laptop: Laptop and tablet sleeve secure in lockable compartment

Front-loading: Yes

Organizing Structure: It has one main compartment that easily accomodates packing cubes, one internal zipped mesh and a laptop compartment. 

Rain resistant / raincover: No. You can buy a separate raincover.

Other features: Its straps are fully stowable for protection, in case you end up gate-checking. It also includes a detachable shoulder strap so you can carry it like a shoulder bag, but it’s primarily a backpack.

Buy Osprey Farpoint 40 (men) on Amazon

Buy Osprey Fairview 40 (women) on Amazon


Osprey Farpoint 55L / Fairview 55L

osprey fairview 55 carry on backpack

This is the backpack you see me wearing in the picture with my chinese friend Bob. I am a small to mid sized women and I bought the Fairpoint 55. I have to admit that I do feel that it's slighlty bigger than my size, so maybe the Fairview would fit better indeed. Anyway, I simply love travelling with this backpack. I use packing cubes, which fit perfectly. Otherwise it would definitely get me frustrated because its organizing structure is a bit awkward (or inexistent, as it's one compartment only). Still, it's a great backpack as it's comfortable to carry on my shoulders and it usually is aceppeted in the cabin overhead compartment when I bring the daypack dettached from the main pack. 

Size:  25"H x 13"W x 13"D; 3.9 pounds with daypack attached. (Not carry-on compatible, but mostly accepted when daypack is dettached). It gets thinner without attached daypack. Main pack: 42L Daypack: 13L

Comfort:  Very comfortable to carry and walk for a couple of hours. Well padded back support and shoulder straps, chest and hipbelt. Internal and external compression straps that help balancing the weight. It has 2 versions, adapted for male (Farpoint) or female (Fairview) body types. 

Laptop: In daypack only.

Front-loading: Yes

Organizing Structure: It has one main 42L compartment that needs packing cubes for organizing and two zipped meshes. The 13L daypak has one laptop compartment (15'), one main compartment and one upper pocket.

Rain resistant / raincover: No.

Other features: Its straps are fully stowable for protection, in case you end up gate-checking.

Buy Osprey Farpoint 55 (male) on Amazon here

Buy Osprey Fairview 55 (female) on Amazon here


Osprey Ozone Convertible 50L Wheeled Luggage

osprey ozone 50 wheeled carry on

I promise this is the last Osprey you'll see on this list. Researching the best luggage, I was impressed about this one: It has all the features that I love about Farpoint/Fairview series, in addition to others, plus it's wheeled and not much heavier! The product description talks for itself:

"This is a travel chamelion. First, it’s a piece of wheeled luggage perfectly sized to meet the airline’s maximum carry-on size specifications. But it has a hidden backpack suspension system so you can carry on when the pavement ends. When you reach base camp, you can zip off the Ozone Convertible’s detachable daypack and keep on exploring. At the base of the pack, Osprey’s HighRoad LT Chassis combines a durable ABS plastic back plate with a lightweight aluminum frame to ride on large, sealed bearing wheels for easy rolling even on bumpy cobblestones. Internal and external compression straps add extra stability. Open the panel zipper to access the spacious main compartment where a series of carefully designed inner storage pockets line the periphery. Exterior features include a top zippered pocket for quick access to your water bottle and other small items. There’s a large front zippered panel pocket and a back pocket with a drain port for damp storage. Low profile carry handles on top and side provide purchase when you have to hoist the bag up into the back of the chicken bus in Guatemala. An internal ID card holder helps reunite you with you gear should it go astray while making a tight connection. The detachable Ozone Convertible Daypack’s main compartment has storage for a laptop, tablet and extra clothes or food. There’s a front panel pocket and also a zippered pocket for securing small items. The scratch-free exterior slash pocket protects your sunglasses or electronics.

Size:  22 x 14 x 9 inches ; 6.31 pounds (Carry-on compatible)

Comfort: As it's wheeled, most of the weight problem will be gone - but still, it has well padded shoulder straps for carrying as a backpack when needed.

Laptop: Yes, on daypack.

Front-loading: Yes

Organizing Structure: See product's description above.

Rain resistant / raincover: No.

Other features:This is the lightest wheeled luggage that I found, compared to its concurrents.

Buy the Osprey Ozone 50L Wheeled Luggage on Amazon 

(This will probably be my next travel luggage!)


Cabin Max Equator 2.0

cabin max equator carry on backpack

This is a very nice low cost option for a carry on backpack. It's weird that it does not appear much on review websites. Apparently this is a strong competitor for the well-known eBags TLS Mother Load Weekender, but comparing both, I found it very clear that the Cabin Max Equator has a lot more good features than its competitor. Plus, it's less expensive!

Size:  14.2 x 9.1 x 22.1 inches; 3.26 pounds (Carry-on compatible)

Comfort:  It seems to have good back and shoulder padding, although the chest and waist straps are not padded. Also, the internal divider and compressing straps will help on balancing the load. As per Amazon buyer's reviews, it's great for weekend trips or when you're not walking a lot with it, as it can get a bit uncomfortable on the shoulders. 

Laptop: Yes, up to 15' laptop compartment on the front.

Front-loading: Yes.

Organizing Structure: It has one internal divider and several extra pockets, making it easy to pack without packing cubes.

Rain resistant / raincover: Yes, it comes with a raincover.

Other features:Shoulder straps can be tucked away. Material may not be as durable as more expensive bags.

Buy Cabin Max Equator 2.0 on Amazon


Deuter Transit 50

deuter transit 50 carry on backpack

Size: 25 x 13 x 10 in.; 4.13 pounds (Not carry-on compatible, but it fits on overhead compartment with daypack dettached- may be accepted by some airlines)

Comfort:  This backpack is here mainly because of its aparent comfort when carried on shoulders. Its padding and straps system seem the most comfortable of this selection. Still, many reviewers prefer its concurrent, the Osprey Farpoint 55 mentioned above.

Laptop: No, but it has a daypack that could be used as laptop compartment (as long as it has a protection sleeve). 

Front-loading: Yes, partially. (U-shaped)

Organizing Structure: Its main compartment with easy-access U-shaped zippered front panel with a separate bottom compartment for shoes; Includes detachable daypack and small front stash pocket for documents

Rain resistant / raincover: No.

Other features: Straps and buckles can be stowed away. It hashigh quality material, which makes it highly durable. 

Buy Deuter Transit 50 backpack on Amazon 


And of course, at last, but not least important, always remember to bring your hammock with you for extra fun and comfort!

You don't have one yet, or are you looking for a compact hammock that will fit right into your new backpack? Check this cool Ultralite travel hammock!

Well, I guess this is it! I hope that this article has helped you on deciding which carry on backpack is the most appropriate for your traveler profile. 

Tell me, which one did you like the most and are most likely to buy? 

Cheers and enjoy your travels!

Fernanda Krassuski
Fernanda Krassuski

Fernanda Krassuski is a quadrilingual entrepreneur & writer. Originally from Brazil, Fernanda has lived in Canada, Portugal, Dominican Republic and traveled around some other places. Passionate for yoga and nature, she tries to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. She speaks and writes fluently in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

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