Discover the best carry-on backpack for 2024 travel. We tested and compared options to help you find the perfect one for your needs 🎒
When it comes to traveling, having the right backpack can make all the difference. A good travel backpack needs to be durable, comfortable to carry, and have enough room for all your essentials without being too bulky. As airlines continue to crack down on baggage fees and size restrictions, a lightweight and packable backpack has become an indispensable item for many travelers.
But with so many backpacks on the market ranging from basic day packs to high-tech models with endless bells and whistles, it can be tricky to know which one is the best choice for your needs. This guide will walk you through exactly what defines a great travel backpack, provide concrete recommendations of the top models in 2024, and give you pro tips for how to travel light no matter where your adventures take you.
What Makes the Best Backpack for Travel?
Key factors like weight, durability, compartments, stitching, shoulder straps, and size determine how useful a backpack will be on the road. Here’s a breakdown of the most important features travelers should look for when shopping for the best lightweight backpack:
For travelers wanting to stick to carry-on only restrictions for planes, trains or other transport, an ultralight backpack is essential. Look for bags made from lightweight yet rip-resistant materials like nylon or polyester blends that keep the overall weight under 2 pounds. Heavier backpacks can weigh you down unnecessarily and eat into your packing allowance.
No matter how lightweight, your backpack needs to stand up to the wear and tear that comes with travel. Check for durable, abrasion-resistant fabrics, high-quality zippers like YKK zippers, reinforced stitching, and components like buckles and straps that can handle being stuffed full and tossed around by airport baggage handlers. Water-resistant coatings also protect your belongings from rainfall or spills.
Compartments & Pockets
The best travel backpacks have a roomy main compartment for clothing, gear and other essentials as well as multiple interior and exterior pockets to keep your smaller items organized and within easy reach. Key pockets may include a padded laptop sleeve, tablet pocket, side water bottle pockets, front organizer pockets and pockets for quick-access items like passports, phones, pens and more.
From breathable shoulder straps and adjustable chest and waist straps to innovative ways to access the main compartment, the best backpacks are thoughtfully designed with the traveler’s comfort and convenience as a top priority. Look for backpacks with features like hideaway straps, multiple grab handles and lay-flat openings similar to luggage.
Travel backpacks today are available in a range of capacities, from compact 20-30 liter versions designed to fit under an airplane seat to 45+ liter sizes intended to substitute for checked luggage. Decide how much you need to carry and ensure the backpack adheres to the carry-on size restrictions for your chosen mode of transport. Overhead bins on planes have limited space, so a backpack over 22” long can lead to gate checking.
With the key factors that make an excellent travel backpack covered, let’s dive into some of the top-rated lightweight models in 2024 for every type of traveler and trip duration. We’ll also give some pro packing tips to help pare down your luggage.
Overall Best Lightweight Backpack: Osprey Daylite Tote Pack
For those seeking a super lightweight and versatile backpack suitable for day trips or minimalist packing, the Osprey Daylite Tote Pack is an excellent choice. Weighing just 14.8 oz and packing down to the size of a water bottle when not in use, this little pack offers impressive capacity.
The main compartment provides 13 liters to stash a light jacket, reusable water bottle, snacks and other essentials. A scratch-free slash pocket keeps sunglasses or a phone safe while the exterior offers attachment points to clip on extra gear.
Despite its featherlight body, this pack doesn’t skimp on comfort. The mesh back panel and padded shoulder straps make carrying loads more pleasant. For hot climates, the back panel design allows for airflow. An integrated handle and removable 20” shoulder strap allow you to carry this daypack briefcase-style.
For travelers who stick to carry-on luggage but want a little extra space for souvenirs, gadgets or daily essentials, the Osprey Daylite Tote Pack packs a lot of utility into an ultra minimalist package.
Weight: 14.8 oz Volume: 13L Material: 70D x 100D Shadow Grey Nylon Laptop Sleeve: No Hydration Compatible: Yes Dimensions: 15 x 7 x 13 in Pros:
- Extremely lightweight and packable
- Comfortable breathable back panel
- Handles and shoulder strap for easy carrying
- External attachments for additional gear
- Durable ripstop fabric
- No laptop sleeve
- Capacity may be too small for some needs
Runner Up Lightweight Backpack: Eddie Bauer Stowaway 20L Packable Backpack
For travelers who prefer a lightweight backpack offering a bit more room for minimalist packing or day trips, the Eddie Bauer Stowaway 20L Packable Backpack is a great value option. As the name suggests, this backpack packs down into its own pocket for easy storage when not in use.
Despite weighing just 11.2 oz, this backpack provides 20 liters of space – enough for a day’s worth of essentials plus some souvenirs. The main compartment features a sleeve for tablets or e-readers, while an external pocket stashes smaller items. Interior compression straps allow you to cinch the pack down when not full.
This Eddie Bauer backpack gets high marks for comfort thanks to padded shoulder straps and a breathable mesh back panel. The straps even feature a sternum strap to take pressure off shoulders when loaded down. Meanwhile multiple side grab handles make this pack easy to pick up and go.
For travelers seeking an ultralight yet spacious backpack for day trips or minimalist packing, the Eddie Bauer Stowaway 20L can’t be beat. Its affordable price tag makes it easy to add to your travel gear lineup.
Weight: 11.2 oz Volume: 20L Material: Ripstop nylon Laptop Sleeve: No Hydration Compatible: No Dimensions: 18.5 x 13 x 5.5 in Pros:
- Ultralight yet surprisingly spacious at 20L capacity
- Packable into attached storage pocket
- Padded shoulder straps and back panel
- Front pocket and internal sleeve pocket
- Multiple grab handles for ease of carry
- No laptop sleeve
- No hydration reservoir compatibility
Most Durable: NOMATIC Travel Pack
Frequent travelers who tend to be rough on luggage will appreciate the durability of the NOMATIC Travel Pack. Designed to keep your belongings protected no matter how far your adventures take you, this pack offers impressive abrasion resistance and weatherproofness.
The durable exterior stands up to scrapes, bumps and spills thanks to durable 1680D Cordura ballistic nylon fabric paired with weatherproof tarpaulin. YKK zippers keep the elements out while interior compression straps allow you to secure contents.
With 30L capacity, this pack has room for 5-7 days’ worth of clothing and gear. The patented expandable design allows you to extend capacity an additional 10L as needed while a lay-flat clamshell opening provides easy access similar to luggage. Interior and exterior pockets organize smaller items while a padded laptop sleeve protects tech.
If you want a travel backpack that can withstand years of globetrotting, the rugged NOMATIC Travel Pack belongs in your gear arsenal. The expandable design can adapt to any trip length.
Weight: 4.6 lbs Volume: 30L expandable to 40L Material: 1680D Cordura ballistic nylon, Tarpaulin Laptop Sleeve: Yes, fits 15” laptop Hydration Compatible: Yes
Dimensions: 16 x 12.2 x 6.7 in Pros:
- Made with durable, weatherproof fabrics
- Generous 30L capacity expands to 40L
- Interior organization pockets
- Laptop sleeve and tablet pocket
- Lockable zippers for security
- Clamshell opening for easy packing
- Heavier than ultra lightweight packs
- Expensive, but lifetime warranty
Most Versatile: Aer Travel Pack 2
Finding the most versatile backpack for varied travel needs, the Aer Travel Pack 2 is a top choice for its carry-on friendly size, durable materials and configurable design. This 33L backpack adapts as easily to the demands of urban travel as to remote destinations off the beaten path.
Despite weighing just 3 pounds, this pack is made from rugged 1680D Cordura ballistic nylon with water-resistant coating. Large YKK zippers secure the wide-mouth main compartment while quick-access top and side pockets organize smaller items. A ventilated back panel keeps airflow moving.
Besides a padded laptop sleeve, handy features include a removable hip belt and hideaway shoulder and sternum straps. Multiple handles make this backpack easy to grab and go. Interior organization includes accessory pockets, compression straps and a separate shoe compartment.
Whether you need a daily commuter backpack, a carry-on compatible companion for weekend getaways or a checked bag substitute for extended journeys abroad, the Aer Travel Pack 2 fits the bill. This do-it-all pack combines convenient access, comfortable carrying and durable materials to meet the needs of diverse travelers.
Weight: 3 lbs
Volume: 33L Material: 1680D Cordura ballistic nylon Laptop Sleeve: Yes, fits 15.6” laptop Hydration Compatible: Yes Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 in Pros:
- Durable, water-resistant exterior stands up to heavy use
- Large main compartment with 33L capacity
- Ventilated back panel for comfort
- Multiple grab handles for ease of carrying
- Removable hip belt and hideaway straps
- Integrated shoe compartment
- Expensive but very versatile for most travel needs
Best 40L Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 40
For travelers who need more capacity while still adhering to carry-on size restrictions, it’s hard to beat the Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack. This lightweight pack provides 40L to carry clothing and gear for 1-2 week trips while maintaining cabin-approved dimensions.
Despite boasting 40L capacity, this Osprey backpack remains lightweight at 3 pounds 3 ounces thanks to durable yet lightweight 210D nylon mini hex diamond fabric. On top of abrasion resistance, a special fluorine-free water repellent treatment helps shed moisture.
In terms of comfort, Osprey’s reputation for ergonomic backpack designs shines through. An adjustable harness system, padded hip belt and LightWire peripheral frame effectively transfer weight from shoulders to hips. The ventilated back panel further prevents sweaty hot spots. Accessories like lower side compression straps and an integrated raincover allow you to secure loads.
While functional for covering distance on foot, the Farpoint 40 remains carry-on compliant. Unzip the stowaway back panel to reveal a padded laptop and tablet sleeve for getting through airport security. Handles on all sides plus lockable sliders on main zippers check the security boxes.
When you need more capacity than 30 liters without going over carry-on limits, choose the Osprey Farpoint 40. The lightweight yet durable design comfortable carries loads over long distances and conforms to most airlines.
Weight: 3 lbs 3oz Volume: 40L Material: 210D nylon mini hex diamond ripstop Laptop Sleeve: Yes, fits most 15” laptops Hydration Compatible: Yes Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 9 in Pros:
- 40L capacity in a carry-on friendly package
- LightWire frame transfers pack weight to hips
- Ventilated, ergonomic back panel and harness
- Front panel access to padded laptop/tablet sleeve
- Lockable zippers for security
- Stowaway shoulder and hip straps for checking
- Expensive but backed by Osprey’s lifetime guarantee
Best Ultralight Backpack: Matador Freerain24 2.0
When every ounce counts and you want to maximize space in your carry-on, it’s hard to beat the featherweight Matador Freerain24 2.0 backpack. Weighing a mere 1 pound even when soaking wet, this 24L pack redefines ultralight without skimping on quality or comfort.
The Freerain24 is constructed from waterproof 30D Cordura ripstop nylon yet packs down to the size of a small book. Even when soaked, the silicone-treated fabric keeps contents dry. Despite the lightweight fabric, this pack holds up to abuse thanks to bartack reinforced stress points.
This award-winning pack provides plenty of smart storage with a clamshell main compartment, quick-access top pocket, internal organizer and laptop sleeve. Padded shoulder straps, a ventilated back panel and sternum strap boost carrying comfort even when loaded down. External daisy chains allow you to attach additional gear.
When you aim to travel light and fast, let the Matador Freerain24 shave precious weight off your load without sacrificing utility on the road. This pack throws weather and water out of your packing equation too.
Weight: 1 lb Volume: 24L
Material: 30D Cordura Nylon Ripstop Laptop Sleeve: Yes Hydration Compatible: Yes Dimensions: 24 x 13 x 7.9 in when full
- Astoundingly lightweight at 1 lb or less
- Made from durable, waterproof fabric
- Packs down to store in attached pouch
- Ventilated back panels and padded straps
- 24L capacity carries several days of essentials
- External attachments for additional gear
- Expensive but backed by lifetime warranty
Most Comfortable: Deuter Aircontact Lite 50+10
Hikers and adventure travelers who routinely carry loads long distances will appreciate the carrying comfort and customizable fit of the Deuter Aircontact Lite 50+10 backpack. Weighing in at 4 pounds 5 ounces, this lightweight yet technical pack efficiently transfers pack weight off shoulders.
This Deuter backpack is constructed using durable 330D MacroLite double ripstop fabric for resistance against abrasion and tearing. The stretchy, highly breathable 3D Aircontact back panel features open cell foam that conforms to your body, ventilating sweaty spots.
Load-bearing capacity gets a boost from the flexible Deuter Vari Quick adjustment system, Vari Flex hip wings and load adjustment straps. Together these technologies effectively transfer up to 80% of pack weight to hips so shoulders and back feel less strain. The padded, adjustable Vari Fit harness further customizes the fit.
While featuring a slim and athletic silhouette, the Aircontact Lite isn’t lacking on features or capacity. Unzip the stretch pocket above the lid to add 10L more volume as needed. Front and bottom stash pockets organize loose items while walking.
For trails that cover serious distance, choose the Deuter Aircontact Lite 50+10 for its comfort-driven, customized design made to carry heavier expedition-sized loads. The lightweight yet technical build balances serious load hauling with athletic maneuverability.
Weight: 4 lbs 5oz
Volume: 50L (can expand to 60L) Material: 330D MacroLite Double Ripstop Laptop Sleeve: No, but separate tablet sleeve Hydration Compatible: Yes Dimensions: 32 x 13 x 11 in
- Transfers heavy loads off shoulders to hips
- Highly breathable back panel prevents sweaty spots
- Padded, adjustable harness customizes fit
- Stretchy stash pockets add extra capacity
- Durable fabrics withstand expedition use
- Expensive but lifetime warranty covers defects
Backpack Travel Tips
Whatever pack you choose, following essential packing principles allows you to maximize your luggage capacity while avoiding excess baggage fees. Here are some pro tips for traveling light:
- Choose multifunctional clothing like merino wool t-shirts which resist odor – you’ll need less
- Limit yourself to three pair shoes max – ideally ones suitable for hiking or going out
- Pack lightweight, quick-drying athletic socks rather than cotton socks
- Roll rather than fold clothes to save space and prevent wrinkling
- Use packing cubes and folders to compress clothing in the main compartment
- Wear bulkiest footwear and clothing on travel days to free up interior capacity
- Bring only 2-3 versatile outfits you can re-wear by mixing and matching key pieces
- Add small travel laundry bags and sink-wash delicate garments to extend time between laundromat visits
- Carry mini travel toiletries and refill larger bottles as needed versus overpacking full-size containers from home
- Pack daily medications and electronics but limit other accessories
- Attach lightweight outer layers like rain shells to exterior using carabiners and daisy chains
By mixing, matching and washing a core selection of versatile travel clothing, you would be surprised how long you can sustain yourself from a 30-40L backpack. Choosing the right combination of pack features and smart packing will let you bypass checked baggage and costly overage fees.
The Best Backpacks for Hiking and Adventure Travel
For travelers who plan to trek through remote destinations or hike to hard-to-reach places, a hiking-oriented travel backpack offers durability, comfort and capacity for multi-day excursions. When choosing the best backpack for adventure, key features include:
Suspension Systems and Frames
Look for an internal frame backpack with a suspension system transferring weight effectively from the shoulders to the hips. Padded hip belts and harness systems stabilize loads over uneven terrain. Ventilated, molded back panels keep air circulating.
Hydration Reservoir Compatible
Top hiking backpacks have a dedicated sleeve allowing you to carry a hydration reservoir or water bladder and sip water through an attached drinking tube without stopping. This helps you stay hydrated over long distances.
Gear Attachment Points
Daisy chains, bungee cords or other external attachment points let you strap on hiking poles, helmets or other essential gear. This allows you to pack it flat when not needed versus filling interior capacity.
While hiking-focused travel backpacks prioritize carrying comfort over streamlined silhouettes, innovative designs prevent you from looking like a backpacker tourist. Leading outdoor brands now create technical yet stylish packs blending both worlds.
Choosing the Best Backpack for One Bag Travel
“One bag travel” refers to adventurers wanting to travel indefinitely without checking luggage. To maximize versatility, durability and capacity in a carry-on package, the best backpacks for one bag travel include:
Maximum Carry-On Dimensions
Focus your search on backpacks sized at 40 liters and under, allowing you to stow your bag onboard planes, trains and other transport versus checking it. Measurements up to 22 x 14 x 9 inches ensure worldwide carry-on compliance.
A suitcase-style panel loading design provides easy access to contents without digging around a top loader pack. Pack smooth with packing cubes like the Peak Design set.
Quick Access Pockets
In addition to a cavernous main compartment, convenient pockets sized for phones, passports, water bottles, laptops and other daily essentials allow you to grab gear on the move without unpacking everything.
Look for ergonomic shoulder straps and hip belts transferring weight to your lower body paired with ventilated, padded back panels that won’t leave you sore. The more comfortable to carry, the farther you’ll go.
A backpack optimized across these metrics allows nomadic travelers and digital nomads to sustain themselves indefinitely from a single bag avoiding checked luggage fees – the ultimate travel hack.
Finding the Best Backpack for Air Travel
Frequent flyers know every inch of capacity counts when choosing a carry-on travel backpack. To maximize usable space without going over airline size restrictions, features to look for include:
Look for backpacks with an expandable design allowing you to extend capacity as needed without altering exterior dimensions. Most expand between 5-10 liters.
Interior straps cinch down contents to help you pack more efficiently and prevent items shifting during transport. Exterior compression straps also let you attach extra layers.
For checking your backpack or storing it overhead, being able to quickly tuck shoulder, chest and hip straps out of the way prevents annoying ‘strap creep’.
Padded Laptop Sleeve
A separate padded sleeve safely secures laptops for going through airport security yet lets TSA agents easily remove it if needed without unpacking everything.
With airline rules varying widely worldwide, a smart expanding and compressing backpack with hideaway straps offers the flexibility to adapt to changing carry-on regulations on the fly.
Choosing the Perfect Travel Backpack Size
When debating backpack sizes, consider these factors:
Daily Use Backpacks
20-30 liters offers ample room for essentials needed during day excursions like a light jacket, water bottle, camera, wallet, phone, guidebook and snacks.
Weekend & Short Trip Packs
Look for 30-40 liters to carry 2-5 days worth of clothing, shoes and accessories. Remember to pack lightweight, quick-dry travel fabrics that compress down small.
Extended Journey & One Bag Packs
40+ liter backpacks allow dedicated one-baggers to carry 1-2+ weeks of clothing, gear and travel accessories while avoiding checked baggage fees. Just adhere to carry-on size limits.
The best backpack brings everything you need and nothing you don’t on the journey ahead. Analyze your must-have gear, travel wardrobe, climate and itinerary to right-size your pack.
We hope these additional tips help you find your perfect travel companion! Let me know if you need any other recommendations on choosing an awesome backpack.
Most Important Backpack Features Recap
When selecting the best lightweight backpack for travel in 2024, keep these key criteria in mind:
Weight & Packability – Seek backpacks weighing 2 pounds or less that pack down when not in use
Durability & Water Resistance – Durable ripstop fabrics, high quality water resistant coatings and zippers stand up to heavy use
Comfort Features – Prioritize harness systems transferring pack weight from shoulders to hips alongside ventilated, padded back panels and straps
Compartments & Pockets – Multiple zippered pockets organize gear while a roomy main compartment fits clothing and essentials
Sizing & Fit – Pick a pack sized right for your intended carry-on vs. checked use that offers torso/waist strap adjustments
By choosing a backpack optimized across these metrics for your personal travel mission, you’ll enjoy journeys more comfortably while avoiding airline luggage fees. Bon voyage with your new travel backpack!