Discover the top personal item backpacks for airline travel in 2024! Find the best carry-on luggage that fits under the seat in front of you 🤩
As airlines continue to restrict carry-on allowances and charge for checked bags, traveling with just a personal item is becoming increasingly popular. A personal item is defined as a small bag like a purse, laptop bag or backpack that fits under the airplane seat in front of you. Most airlines allow one free personal item even on basic economy fares, making it an affordable way to travel light.
In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about choosing the best personal item backpack for air travel in 2024. We cover how to pick the ideal size for different airlines, top features to look for, and review our picks for the most functional and stylish backpacks that meet common airline personal item dimensions.
What Are Personal Item Size Restrictions? While restrictions vary slightly between airlines, most allow a personal item bag up to 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm). This includes major U.S. airlines like American, Delta, United and budget carriers Frontier and Spirit. Some airlines have smaller sizing limits, such as 17 x 13 x 8 inches for JetBlue.
The most important aspect is that your personal item backpack or bag fits completely under the seat in front of you. Airline staff may ask you to verify this if your bag appears oversized. Make sure yours fits the tightest personal item bag sizes to avoid any hassle.
Why Choose a Personal Item Backpack? Backpacks make excellent personal item bags, as they allow you hands-free mobility around the airport while keeping your belongings safe and organized. The right travel backpack will have features like:
- Padded shoulder straps for comfort
- Multiple compartments and pockets to keep items accessible
- Laptop sleeve to protect tech essentials
- Luggage handles or a trolley sleeve to attach to rolling suitcases
- Durable, weatherproof construction
When used as a personal item, backpacks can store anything you need access to during the flight. This allows you to avoid constantly fetching items from the overhead bin.
Reviews of the Best Personal Item Backpacks
After extensive testing and real-world travel trials, we picked our top-rated backpack models that meet key airline personal item size requirements and make travel easier.
King Kong EDGE23 Backpack
With a streamlined design focused on quality and durability, the King Kong EDGE23 backpack is our top choice as the best personal item backpack for air travel.
This carry-on backpack is crafted from ultra-durable 1000D nylon fabric with reinforced stitching on high-stress points prone to ripping. The EDGE23 features YKK zippers, padded shoulder straps, and a sleek clamshell opening for easy packing. There is also a convenient 15-inch laptop sleeve and zippered water bottle pockets to keep you hydrated on long flights.
Despite being feature-packed, the King Kong EDGE23 weighs just 1.9 pounds and measures 16 x 11 x 7.9 inches – fitting within the personal item size limits of any airline. For a bag designed to endure years of regular airline and adventure travel, the King Kong EDGE23 offers exceptional value.
Knack Pack Expandable Backpack Series 1
For those wanting maximum packing capacity paired with smart features, the Knack Pack Series 1 is our top expandable personal item backpack pick for 2024. Available in small, medium and large sizes, even the largest Knack backpack squeezes into personal item dimensions.
Despite the compact silhouette, Knack’s expandable design lets you safely pack far more than other slim travel backpacks. The durable water-repellent nylon holds up well to abrasion, while lockable YKK zippers boost security. Inside, you’ll find customizable padded dividers and pockets to keep belongings organized. Outside pockets offer quick-access storage for items needed in flight.
Another reason we rate the Knack Pack so highly is the inclusion of a removable padded laptop pocket. This avoids the need to open the main compartment during airport screening. For savvy travelers seeking both maximum space and convenience from a personal item backpack, Knack has you covered.
Db Hugger Backpack 20L
For those focused purely on maximum packing capacity, it’s hard to beat the deceptively roomy Db Hugger backpack. Despite its intentionally compact 18 x 14 x 8-inch silhouette, the Hugger’s 20 liter volume beats out larger-looking backpacks. The secret lies in the innovative rib cage frame structure which keeps the backpack slim when empty yet expands generously when stuffed full.
Built from durable nylon fabric with water-resistant PU coating and lockable YKK zippers, the Db Hugger is well equipped for travel demands. The cavernous main compartment swallows clothing, while a separate padded 13-inch laptop pocket handles tech. For quick-access items, take advantage of the fleece-lined top pocket. Compression straps ensure the Hugger never exceeds personal item limits, no matter how much you pack inside!
Chrome Industries Macheto Rolltop 18 Backpack
Designed specifically as an under-seat personal item backpack for air travel, the Chrome Industries Macheto 18 impresses on multiple levels. Despite a modest 18 liter volume, we were shocked by how much gear can fit inside – aided by the roll-top closure which adds extra depth when unfurled. Sturdy weatherproof tarpaulin fabric, durable Chrome hardware and secured buckle closures make this backpack built to last.
Practical features include side pockets for water bottles or umbrellas, a trolley handle pass-through, and exterior daisy chains for clipping gear. The Macheto 18 is large enough for a couple days’ worth of clothing yet still meets the strictest airline personal item size rules. As a do-it-all carry-on backpack suitable for hiking and commuting too, Chrome’s offering stands out from the crowd.
Aer Travel Pack 3 Small
For travelers focused on quality and versatility, Aer’s Travel Pack 3 Small flagship backpack is a standout choice as the best personal item backpack for airplanes and so much more. Despite measuring under the maximum dimensions for any airline’s underseat storage at 17.5 x 13 x 8.5 inches, the Travel Pack 3 lays flat to handle surprisingly heavy loads.
Made from ultra durable 1680D Cordura ballistic nylon, this pack features lockable YKK zippers and weatherproof construction ready for adventure. The quick-access laptop sleeve fits devices up to 15.6-inches. Inside, a massive 26 liter volume swallows extended trips’ worth of clothing. As soon as you lift the thoughtfully designed Aer Travel Pack 3, exceptional quality and comfort are self-evident.
Timbuk2 Division Laptop Backpack
Timbuk2 built a faithful following crafting durable, well-designed messengers and laptop backpacks. The Division backpack deserves kudos for artfully combining organisation and access into a personal item suitable carry-on backpack. Despite weighing just 2.2 pounds and packing a 22 liter volume, the Division doesn’t feel stripped-back. On the contrary, pockets and features have clearly been chosen to maximise real-world usefulness.
The Division is made from durable oxford nylon fabric which will withstand years of regular use and the occasional downpour. Impressively comfortable straps easily handle extended wear, aided by a ventilated mesh back panel which avoids that dreaded sweaty back syndrome! Clever pockets provide quick access to bottles, snacks and travel documents when dashing through airports. If you seek more space than an average 15-inch daypack without straying into bulky territory, Timbuk2’s Division perfectly fills this sweet spot.
Tomtoc Voyage-T50 20L Laptop Backpack
Tomtoc earned its reputation for manufacturing exceptionally well-built and functional laptop bags and backpacks which protect your tech investment. The Voyage-T50 translates these design sensibilities into a compact backpack perfect as a personal item for air travel. Despite measuring under the maximum size limits at 17 x 12 x 5 inches, a deceivingly spacious 20 liter volume swallows extended weekend trips’ worth of clothing and gear.
The Voyage-T50’s storage options intelligently separate clothing, tech and quick-access items like water bottles into compartments which make sense in the real world. When dashing through airports, handy grab handles on each side let you easily retrieve this backpack from overhead bins or underseat spaces. While sophisticated enough for business trips, features like a trolley handle pass-through and durable weatherproof construction equip the Voyage-T50 for adventure too!
Evergoods CPL24 v3
Featuring a pared-back yet hyper-functional design perfect for globetrotting carry-on travel, the Evergoods CPL24 impresses both veteran travelers and backpack newcomers alike. Despite measuring 16.5 x 12 x 7 inches to meet airline personal item size limits, an impressive 24 liter volume packs formidable capacity into such a compact chassis.
The CPL24 features durable weatherproof 400D nylon construction and useful organizing features without feeling overly engineered. Just the right amount of external
pockets and compartments help you stay oriented when traveling. A convenient side zipper lets you access the CPL’s innards without exposing the entire main compartment. Where other bags add belt loops and excessive features, Evergoods focused on nailing the basics for an exceptional lightweight yet tough personal item backpack ready for adventure.
If the standard model feels a touch small, the expandable EVERGOODS CPL24 v3 adds handy extensibility while retaining a slimmer packed footprint. Despite standing just an inch taller at 17 inches, you can cinch this V3 model down to slide under any airline seat for peace of mind.
Cotopaxi Allpa 28L Travel Pack
Known for its commitment to sustainable design paired with functional, durable gear built for adventure, Cotopaxi’s Allpa 28L impresses as a mid-sized personal item backpack suitable as a carry-on for more restrictive budget airlines. Despite boasting 28 liters of capacity, the Allpa still fits into the maximum sizing limits at 18 x 13 x 7 inches.
Designed for explorers who pack intelligently, the Allpa 28L swallows multi-day trips without bulk by employing cleverly simple features which enhance organization and access instead of complex compartments liable to fail over years of hard use. A clamshell profile lets the Allpa open completely while keeping contents secure. Separate side pocket access avoids exposing clean clothes when grabbing used gear. It’s details like this that make Cotopaxi’s offering shine.
If 28 liters of capacity won’t suffice, upgrading to the Allpa 35L gains handy space while retaining a cleverly tapered design that doesn’t feel oversized for personal item use. Paired with Cotopaxi’s Del Dia line of modular packing cubes to help organize your gear, it’s hard to beat this sustainable backpack brand when picking an carry-on sized yet adventure-ready personal item companion for getting off the beaten track
Nomatic Navigator 16L Backpack
Featuring clean yet sophisticated styling, Nomatic’s Navigator 16L backpack focuses on quality craftsmanship and clever storage suitable for business trips and urban adventures alike. Despite swallowing 16 liters, the Navigator remains compact at just 17 x 11.5 x 5.9 inches to ensure hassle-free airline compliance.
Built from durable water resistant canvas with premium YKK zippers, the Navigator will withstand years of regular travel in stride. Inside, users are treated to a range of useful pockets including a padded 13-inch laptop sleeve, twin water bottle holders and a rear pocket ideal for passports, batteries and other quick-access essentials.
While compact, Nomatic’s origami-inspired folding storage panel helps pack in surprisingly heavy loads without compromising the slim silhouette needed to qualify as an airline personal item. Paired with attractive styling suitable for conferences and client meetings, it’s easy to see why the Navigator is our top slimline personal item backpack pick for business travel scenarios.
Heimplanet Monolith Daypack 22L
Uniqueness can be polarising in backpack design, but we applaud Heimplanet’s willingness to cure the boredom of anonymous black bags with the striking Monolith daypack. Belying its futuristic looks, the Monolith remains eminently practical thanks to 22 liters of storage capacity and a size able 18 x 11 x 7 inch footprint that meets common airline personal item limits.
Despite weighing just 2.2 pounds, the Monolith’s geodesic frame paired with 500D Cordura construction gives impressive durability and weather resistance without compromising pack comfort. Clever internal organization includes a raised 15-inch laptop pocket which allows lying flat for TSA screening. Intelligent features like stowable shoulder and hip straps make the Monolith work as a sleek briefcase too.
For those bored of blending into the crowds with anonymous luggage, Heimplanet’s Monolith backpack offers a modern design statement certain to turn heads without compromising on practicality or pack volume. Standing tall enough to swallow multi-day loads despite its compact footprint, the Monolith remains flexible enough for everything from business trips to basic economy air travel.
Tortuga Setout Laptop Backpack
While Tortuga’s Setout backpack features a pared-back design ethos focused on durability and functionality rather than flare, we had to include this exceptional pack perfect for air travel. Measuring 16 x 13 x 7 inches, the Setout positively swallows gear despite meeting the strictest airline personal item size limits.
Made from durable 900D Heathered Polyester with water-resistant coatings, securely buckling front straps and lockable YKK zippers, the Setout brings peace of mind when packing expensive photography kits, laptops and other tech. Padded backpack straps take the strain during long transits, aided by a flow-through channel to sling over luggage handles for easier carry.
Inside, a well-configured layout features handy accessory pockets and a raised 13-inch laptop sleeve to simplify airport security screening. For digital nomads and photographers seeking uncompromising protection paired with exceptional durability, Tortuga’s understated yet eminently practical Setout backpack is our top choice for safely and comfortably crossing the globe carry-on only.
Personal Item Backpack Sizing Tips
Choosing the right sized backpack is an essential first step. When used properly, personal item bags shouldn’t exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches for most airlines. However, smaller frames around 15 inches tall and under 10 inches wide often work best ergonomically. Compression straps help cinch overstuffed bags into compliance. If your packed bag measures larger than airline limits, removing less essential items can avoid gate delays.
While checking all airline restrictions is smart, focus on packing intelligently around your personal travel style instead of seeking the absolute maximum capacity. The best personal item backpacks balance comfort, organization and versatility to simplify trips.
Best Backpacks for International Travel Having the right backpack keeps you organized and comfortable on long international itineraries. When passes through multiple airports or countries, key features that ease transit include:
Lockable zippers deter theft of passports, money and tech gear – especially critical in Europe’s bustling capital cities. Anti-theft back panels add further security.
RFID blocking materials prevent remotely scanning passports, credit cards and more.
Burly puncture-resistant fabrics protect delicate camera gear and electronics.
Laptop sleeves meeting checkpoint requirements avoid removing devices at security.
A trolley handle pass-through mounts securely atop wheeled luggage when dashing between terminals.
Water bottle pockets provide handy hydration without buying expensive airport drinks.
For globe-trotting jetsetters needing to cover a lot of ground quickly during extended trips abroad, prioritizing backpacks with features purpose-built for the practicalities of international travel pays off hugely.
Choosing the Best Personal Item Backpack for One Bag Travel
Traveling carry-on only using just a personal item backpack offers big benefits if you pack strategically. Slimmer bags around 20-30 liters with smart access and organization thrive best for one bag trips. Since your backpack must fit all your gear, key features aiding miniaturized pack lists include:
- Expandable designs add flexibility for souvenir shopping.
- Compression straps shrink excess bulk.
- Layouts with separate access avoid exposing clean clothes to dirty shoes or gear.
- Pockets sized for common items like passports, phones and battery packs eliminate rummaging annoyances.
- Lockable laptop sleeves enable airport security screening without unpacking devices.
- Totes handles offer grab and go convenience in hotels or taxis.
While cramming your entire life into a petite backpack takes some finesse, the mobility freedom of consolidated carry-on travel is worth mastering. Start with less rather then more, and it’s easy to pick up any forgotten items at your destination.
How to Fit More Into Your Personal Item Backpack
While choosing a properly sized backpack is crucial for airline compliance, there are also some packing methods that can help maximize your bag’s storage potential:
Compression Packing Cubes – These are ideal for compactly packing more clothing into less space. Travel underwear and socks fit easily into cubes.
Quick-Access Toiletry Bag – Keeping liquids, gels and toiletries separate in a removable bag you can access at security streamlines airport transit.
Underseat Storage – Place bulkier items like shoes and sweaters that you won’t need in flight under the seat to free up backpack capacity for inflight essentials.
Minimal Layers – Bring versatile mix-and-match clothing you can layer, reducing bulk dedicated to one use-case scenario.
Wear Heavier Items – Wear bulkier shoes and jackets on board rather than packing these items to maximize available backpack space.
With the right backpack picking and packing methods tailored to your specific travel needs, it’s easy to venture across town or the world with just an airline-approved personal item keeping you company!