It doesn’t matter whether you’re heading off on a weekend city break or traveling for a year, any trip to the airport is usually accompanied by several anxiety-filled moments. Traffic, long lines at check-in and finding out your bags are too heavy to travel definitely rank high on this list. That’s why it’s a good idea to do everything you can to minimize the chances of something going wrong when you get to the airport. One easy answer is to pack your belongings in one of the best TSA-approved backpacks and carry-ons.
And while you may remember a time when luggage issues mainly concerned your checked bags, ever-changing rules for carry-on bags mean that no travelers, even ones carrying carry-on bags alone, escape the fear of luggage-related issues. When looking for the best travel backpacks, it’s wise to consider whether your travel bag of choice will actually fit under an airplane seat or inside the overhead compartment. Keep in mind that the former is considered a personal item, while the latter is a carry-on bag.
How to Determine If Your Backpack Meets Carry-On Requirements
If you’re worried your carry-on doesn’t fit the TSA requirements for taking it on the plane, there are a number of ways to deal with the problem. First, check the carry-on baggage restrictions for your specific airline and ensure your bag falls within the measurements provided for travel backpacks which are TSA-approved.
Alternatively, invest in a bag that has been made specifically with the TSA and airline personal item requirements in mind. Personal items are smaller than carry-ons, so you’ll be in the safe zone to ensure the bag is permitted on the plane. Such bags and backpacks should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you while still maintaining the comfort and durability you expect. Although the dimensions may vary, in general, the space under an airplane seat can accommodate backpacks 18 inches long, 14 inches wide and 8 inches high. For example, here are the maximum personal item sizes for a few of the biggest airlines in the USA (as of May 2022):
- American Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
- Southwest Airlines: 18.5 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches
- United Airlines: 17 x 10 x 9 inches
- JetBlue: 17 x 13 x 8 inches
- Frontier Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
- Spirit Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
To make finding airline-friendly backpacks which fall within the requirements easier, we’ve put together a list of the 32 best carry-on backpacks available online. This list also includes several of the best TSA-approved laptop backpacks. To find yours, simply choose the one which fits your carry-on needs and enjoy an anxiety-free experience the next time you’re airport-bound.
1. Fjallraven Kanken Laptop Backpack
The Fjallraven Kanken Classic is ubiquitous in airports today, but that’s not the best possible backpack for travel necessarily (although you will find it later on this list). Instead, if you’re looking for the best TSA-approved backpacks that will fit under your seat, we recommend upgrading to the Fjallraven Kanken Laptop 15-Inch Backpack. Like other bags from this Swedish company, the Kanken Laptop bag comes in a variety of fun colors; however, it features enough room for your large laptop and travel essentials.
In addition to the primary laptop compartment, this travel backpack comes with three additional pockets. It’s constructed from a dirt- and water-resistant material and a two-way zipper. Durable handles let you easily carry this down a cramped airplane aisle, while the compact design lets you slip it under your feet or overhead. If the Graphite color (pictured below) isn’t to your tastes, check out the plum or acorn design instead. Especially for all the student travelers out there, this makes a great college travel backpack.
2. Vancropak Flight Approved Carry-On Backpack
At under $60, the Vancropak Flight Approved Carry-On Backpack is a budget-friendly choice that offers a similar level of comfort, storage space and convenience to its pricier counterparts. The popular pack, which has five-star ratings from more than 80% of Amazon users, includes an expandable front to increase the bag’s capacity. In addition, the backpack features hide-able straps so you can use the bag more like a holdall. Other notable elements include an anti-theft pocket, inner elastic straps for securely clothing and a lightweight construction, which is both resistant to water and scratches.
3. 4Monster Hiking Daypack
Durable, water-resistant and available in several vibrant colors, this packable TSA-approved 4Monster Hiking Daypack comes with multiple pockets and various internal storage compartments. However, the best thing about this travel pack is that it weighs less than one pound when empty. This is truly a great travel accessory.
4. Tzowla Travel Laptop Backpack
BEST FOR BUSINESS TRIPS
Looking to get some work done on your next flight? This business backpack has everything you need to hit those deadlines at 33,000 feet in the air. Featuring external pockets, a laptop sleeve and a power bank, this bag can be used as both an everyday office bag and a travel backpack. Plus, this backpack’s slim profile should fit comfortably under even the smallest airplane seat. While this travel bag isn’t nearly as stylish as our favorite options from Timbuk2, Herschel, Fjallraven or Killspencer, it has a straightforward design and killer reviews. For the money, this is the best travel backpack you’ll find under $30.
5. Paravel Foldable Travel Backpack
The Paravel brand is one of the newest in the travel market, but it’s making waves thanks to its sustainable practices. Most of their bags are made from recycled materials, like plastic bottles. And, because of these practices, Paravel has become a favorite among celebs, like Oprah and Kim K. That’s why the Paravel Foldable Travel Backpack was a must-add to our list of the best carry-on backpacks. The best part? It folds down into a compact pouch for storage in your bigger suitcase if you don’t need it on the way to your destination.
6. Kenneth Cole Pet Carrier Backpack
BEST FOR PETS
We couldn’t forget Fido! Traveling with dogs and cats is becoming more and more common, especially if your pets are small and can travel in your carry-on. The Kenneth Cole Pet Carrier Backpack is designed for just that. This fashionable bag can house your pets while you’re making your way from point A to point B by plane. It holds most pets up to 22 pounds and meets most airline requirements as a pet carrier. The bag also boasts dual side entries and a pocket at the top for your pet to pop its head out.
7. Fjallraven Kanken Classic Backpack
The Fjallraven Kanken Classic Backpack is everywhere these days, and for good reason. This is the second time we’re featuring Fjallraven here and the two backpacks might look similar, but trust us, they’re different. This versatile backpack from the Swedish outdoors gear company Fjallraven is a roomy option with enough space for everything you need during a trip away from home. The classic backpack sports a school bag-like design and boasts a range of carrying options, including straps and top-mounted handles. In addition, the bag is constructed from a dirt-resistant and water-resistant material that is super easy to wipe clean after any unforeseen mishaps. Plus, this handy pack comes in a variety of colors to match anyone’s style. Really, if you’re searching for the best travel backpacks that will meet airline and TSA requirements, you can’t go wrong with any travel bag from Fjallraven.
8. Pacsafe Venturesafe GII Anti Theft Travel Backpack
Adjustable shoulder straps, a quality carry handle and a cut-proof construction make this travel backpack comfortable, convenient and secure. The zippered front compartment helps store various cards and notebooks while the interior padded laptop pocket will keep any device (up to 15 inches in size) secure. But, the biggest benefit of this backpack is its safety features. With numerous security clips to prevent pick-pocketing and RFID-safe technology, this bag is really one to beat.
9. Osprey Farpoint 40 Men’s Travel Backpack
BEST FOR WILDERNESS
While the Osprey Farpoint 4 Men’s Travel Backpack won’t qualify as a personal item, it is small enough to use as one of the best TSA-approved backpacks. And, it’s one of the highest-rated travel backpacks on the market thanks to its rugged exterior and its ability to hold up to 40 liters of gear. The U-zip duffle style main compartment makes it easy to access all your items, while the padded laptop sleeve keeps your electronics safe. As long as you aren’t taking too much stuff on vacation with you, this bag may be all you need to bring on the plane.
10. Peak Design Travel Line Backpack
If you always bring back more than you take or like the idea of being able to adjust your bag size for the trip you’re going on, the Peak Design Travel Line Backpack could be best suited to your needs. At its smallest, the bag gives you 35 liters of smartly designed storage space. When expanded, you’ll have an extra 10 liters of space to use. The bag is also covered in heavy-duty, high-quality zippers which make it easy to access the different areas in seconds. Additionally, the bag sports a number of loops for attaching key rings and other accessories you want within easy reach.
11. Herschel Retreat Backpack
Although only founded in 2009, Herschel has quickly become one of the most popular names in backpacks. Their Retreat Backpack is a particularly stylish choice for travel thanks to the classic polyester and faux-leather build. The bag boasts a colorful lining with a drawstring and snap closure, and it can hold up to a 15-inch laptop in the included sleeve. However, if you don’t need the 19.5L size, consider investing in one of the smaller Herschel backpacks with their classic school bag styles.
12. SwissGear Travel Gear Bungee Backpack
BEST DAD PACK
Built small with an enormous amount of internal capacity, this bungee-clad carry-on backpack comes with a handy organizer compartment, side pockets and a front bungee system. It even includes a headphone port and a D-ring. Plus, the bottle pocket and mobile-device pocket means there’s room for all your essentials. This may not be the most stylish backpack on our list, but it’s a backpack that will last for years to come. Pair this backpack with white New Balance sneakers for the ultimate dad-on-the-go look.
13. LowePro ProTactic BP 350 AW II
BEST FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS
Ask any traveling photographer, and they’ll likely tell you that Lowepro makes the best backpacks for carrying all your gear onto an airplane. You definitely don’t want to risk putting your pricey DSLR and lenses in the overhead bin, so keep them as close as possible by storing your travel gear under the seat in front of you in the LowePro ProTactic BP 350 AW II. This compact backpack can hold a full camera body with a lens attached as well as numerous extra lenses, a tripod and a range of additional camera accessories. It also has a sleeve for a 13-inch laptop or tablet. This bag will last for years thanks to its sturdy construction, giving you peace of mind that your camera equipment is well protected and near you at all times. And if you need more storage space, the bag also comes in the larger, ProTactic BP 450 AW II version.
14. XD Design Bobby Original Anti-Theft Laptop Backpack
If you’re after a bag that can travel the world and also travel with you to work every day of the week, check out this Incase XD Design Bobby backpack. You’ll find plenty of space for all of your technology, including dedicated compartments for your smartphone, tablet and laptop. There’s also a range of handy pockets for your other essentials. In addition, the back is totally anti-theft, has a USB charging port and is even shockproof.
15. eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack
BEST FOR TECH
Most laptop bags have a compartment for your computer, but this laptop backpack also has a compartment for your tablet, making it one of the most packable TSA-approved backpacks. Able to easily accommodate most laptops and notebooks, this super slim backpack features padded, lockable compartments and its own zippered bottle pocket. In addition to a padded laptop sleeve, this bag also sports a fleece-lined tablet sleeve and a bottom structured pocket. It’s also able to switch from backpack to briefcase easily and efficiently.
16. Topo Designs Rover Pack
If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can’t beat the bright blue Topo Designs Rover Pack. This backpack is available in the dreamiest of blues we’ve ever seen with an all-black interior lining and pull strings. The bag itself boasts two exterior pockets as well as a large interior compartment that features a drawstring closure beneath the dual buckles. Inside, there’s also a laptop sleeve to hold devices of up to 15 inches, and the whole bag is constructed from durable, 1000D Cordura.
17. Samsonite Carrier GSD Backpack
The Samsonite Carrier GSD Backpack was designed with professionals on the go in mind. From the 15.6-inch padded laptop compartment to the USB cord pass-thru and nearby pocket, you’ll love how easy it is to stay organized with this bag on your back. The backpack also comes in either black, blue or red, and includes dual water bottle pockets, a padded air-mesh back panel, a tricot-lined sunglasses pocket and a SmartSleeve which can slip over upright luggage handles for greater convenience when in transit.
18. Yorepek Backpack with Wheels
Even though a carry-on backpack is small, it can be heavy. If you’d prefer not to have to carry it on your back through your long journey, consider getting a backpack with wheels. That way, you can roll the bag when convenient. The Yorepek Backpack with Wheels boasts corner-mounted wheels that can be covered when not in use. It also has a telescopic handle and three compartments to hold all your gear.
19. Jansport Driver 8 Backpack
You’ve likely owned a Jansport backpack at some point in your life, but have you ever had one with wheels? While the Jansport Driver 8 Backpack doesn’t have the large capacity that some others on our list do, this backpack makes it easy to carry your possessions from point A to point B thanks to its dual wheels and telescopic handle. And unlike many other Jansport backpacks, this one does have a padded laptop sleeve for protecting your electronics.
20. Arc’teryx Blade 20 Backpack
Ditch your carry-on entirely for the backpack that will change the way you travel. The Blade 20 backpack is super large yet is still small enough to fit right under your seat on the plane. It has numerous places to fit your laptop, tablet and any other smart device you’re bringing. There are a slew of hidden pockets within the backpack for safe-keeping materials you don’t want on display and the backpack even has a sectioned-off space to place clothing.
21. Monos Metro Backpack
The Monos Metro Backpack is our e-commerce editor Tyler Schoeber’s go-to when traveling far or wide. “I recently took it to my parent’s place for a short trip to celebrate my brother’s 22nd birthday, but before that, it was perfect for shoving right under the passenger seat in front of me on a recent weekend trip I took to Houston,” he says, “it’s a bag I absolutely think everyone should own.”
With numerous interior pockets for keeping all of your belongings both safe and organized, you won’t lose anything in this bad boy. Additionally, the Metro Backpack opens up flat the same way a carry-on bag would so you can see everything you packed at once. Lastly, there is an anti-theft, removable Dopp kit that sits on the outside, making this one of the best TSA-approved backpacks with a little extra space
22. Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Backpack
Carry it all with this durable ballistic nylon that will never tear or break. It has an organized interior so you can keep your stuff in check when riding that plane, train or bus. There are also interior zip pockets so you can separate belongings. Bring it on your next camping trip, hiking adventure or even to your parent’s place for the weekend. The backpack is available in black, grey and this gorgeous indigo pictured below.
23. TIMBUK2 Authority Laptop Backpack
Built for the daily commute, the TIMBUK2 Authority Laptop Backpack does just as well at getting your office essentials from point A to point B on an airplane. This bag will quickly become your go-to personal item whether you carry a 17-inch laptop and books or a tablet and a notebook. The large main compartment can hold a laptop as well as a few clothing items or a jacket. The smaller, front pocket is ideal for writing utensils, tablets or thinner books. And, on the side, you’ll find a stretch pocket for a water bottle. Together, these features create a simple, streamlined travel backpack. Customers can choose from a number of attractive neutral color schemes.
24. YETI Crossroads 27L Backpack
The YETI Crossroads collection places the cooler brand into the travel space quite effortlessly. There are three sizes to the Crossroads backpack and this one is in its medium version. It’s totally durable, abrasion-resistant and water-resistant. There are various colors to choose from depending on your style preferences and it even has a luggage passthrough sleeve to easily stand on top of your carry-on if you plan on bringing it to the airport.
25. TUMI Carson Backpack
BEST WITH OTHER LUGGAGE
The TUMI Carson Backpack was built for travel. In fact, one of the defining features of this bag is its back sleeve, which allows users to slip it over the telescopic handle of any other suitcase. Furthermore, the bag itself boasts a number of interior and exterior pockets, including a laptop sleeve with its own zippered closure.
26. Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack
For light packers, cramming everything into a single backpack is a point of pride. Of course, not all carry-on backpacks are up to the challenge. But whether you’ve mastered the art of light packing or not, the Outbreaker Backpack will make you feel like a packing professional. That’s because this travel backpack can be unzipped and packed just like a suitcase. That makes it the perfect companion for a weekend getaway or short business trip.
Like your favorite piece of luggage, this travel backpack is also expandable. However, even at its smaller size, this large men’s bag is at the outer limit of what will fit underneath an airplane seat. Measuring in at 20” x 13” x 8”, this bag may poke out from underneath the seat by one or two inches. You can probably get away with it, but a particularly observant flight attendant may ask you to stow this bag overhead. Still, with an ultra-durable construction, expandable design and 35L capacity, this backpack is the ultimate replacement for your bulky suitcase.
27. GORUCK GR1
BEST FOR CITY BREAKS
The GORUCK GR1 is an ideal choice for weekend city breaks but, in reality, it can go just about any place you want to take it, including war zones. The GORUCK is so called because it’s designed to ruck (as in getting your gear safely from point A to point B). This is arguably the toughest everyday pack in existence. The company openly states how impressively water resistant it is, and you’ll find a range of pockets inside, including three internal pockets, one elasticated pocket and a large mesh pocket, too. There’s MOLLE webbing on the inside and outside for additional customization, and the bag includes a removable, hard plastic frame, which helps to stabilize the built-in laptop compartment when it’s in place.
28. Briggs & Riley Cargo @ Work Backpack
BEST FOR GETTING THROUGH SECURITY
For a high-quality and durable backpack, look no further than the Briggs & Riley Cargo @ Work Backpack. This bag has just about everything you could want in a carry-on backpack, including a laptop sleeve, a tablet pocket, a gusseted interior, an RFID-blocking pocket, a slip-through back panel and a leather ID tag. More than that, the bag was designed with a “speed through pocket” to house everything you need to take out of the bag when you go through airport security checkpoints. Now that’s smart luggage design!
29. Bric’s Porsche Design Roadster Nylon Backpack
Famous for high-end Italian design, Bric’s has made a name for itself outfitting celebs like Amal Clooney and Kate Middleton for travel. It’s no wonder their Porsche Design Roadster bags are some of the most popular on the market. This elegant bag combines water-resistant nylon with sleek leather. However, what it has in style, it lacks in space. Still, this bag boasts one large main pocket and three other smaller pockets on the front and sides. As an added bonus, the bag has a slip-through sleeve on the back for attaching it to your other suitcase as well as a concealable luggage tag.
30. KILLSPENCER Daypack
If you’re after a backpack to turn heads, you need the KILLSPENCER Daypack on your back. This beautifully constructed pack is available in a range of colors and materials, including leather and wax canvas. The interior features a designated space for your laptop, passport and other daytime essentials. The wrap-around single zipper provides clear and easy access to the interior pocket, while the padded straps and top-mounted loop handle provide a choice of carrying options. This backpack can also be monogrammed with the traveler’s initials, which makes this a great present as well.
Handcrafted in the USA, this KILLSPENCER backpack will last for many years to come with little to no wear and tear. Well under TSA size limits, we’re big fans of this compact, durable and ultra-stylish men’s backpack.
31. Nomatic Travel Pack
With a 40-liter capacity and more than 20 innovative features, including a sunglasses case and laptop sleeve, the Nomatic Travel Pack is well suited to weekend getaways or extended travel. The sleek looking backpack includes a waterproof exterior which is made to last. Internal elements include multiple pockets in a range of sizes, a designated comportment for storage socks and underwear and a pocket for keeping a water bottle. In terms of carrying, users can choose between dual handles, padded backpack straps and a top-mounted carry loop.
32. Asenlin Travel Backpack
To make organizing your bag an easier task, this Asenlin Travel Backpack comes supplied with three packing cubes. The largest cube is ideal for storing larger clothing items, while the medium and smaller cubes are better for t-shirts, underwear, skin care products and other essentials. The backpack includes a number of pockets including a 17.3-inch laptop slot, a quick-access front pocket and side pocket for a water bottle. In addition, this backpack is available in a wide range of colors and also includes hidden shoulder straps and a chest strap which make attaching your back to large luggage pieces more convenient.
Airline Baggage Fees Got You Down? Fit More in Your Bag With Packing Cubes
What is the best size for a carry-on travel backpack?
It isn’t necessarily dependent on TSA guidelines for the best travel backpack sizes, it’s more so focused on what your individual airline requires. Most airlines do not allow bags over 45 linear inches, meaning around 22″ long, 14″ wide and 9″ deep. We suggest you don’t bring a backpack any larger than that.
How do you pack a backpack for travel?
It’s all about essentials when it comes to what you put in a travel backpack. Phone? Check. Wallet? Check. Passport? Check. You’ll need things you don’t think you will, like your keys (because you obviously have to come back home at some point.) You’ll also want to bring any medication you take daily, a pen, headphones and other small electronics you want nearby, etc. Always pack things you think you might need in-flight toward the top of the bag the lesser needed items at the bottom. One thing we suggest? Always pack an extra pair of socks, underwear and a light tee just in case. You never know what will happen in-flight.
How do you organize a backpack for travel?
We suggest only putting minimal items in your travel backpack and leaving the rest for your carry-on or suitcase. Smaller packing cubes might help some stay organized, but we suggest using all available pockets to keep things separated, too.
What’s the difference between a carry-on backpack and carry-on luggage?
Carry-on backpacks and carry-on luggage are like bourbon and whiskey. All carry-on backpacks are carry-on luggage, but not all carry-on luggage is a carry-on backpack. Carry-on luggage can take many forms, including rolling suitcases, purses, duffel bags, etc. But a carry-on backpack is always in the form of something you can carry on your back. It’s also important to note that a carry-on backpack could qualify as either a personal item or a carry-on bag, according to airline regulations.
How much can a carry-on backpack hold?
This depends on the size of the backpack and whether it’s a carry-on bag or a personal item. In total, carry-on backpacks can hold about 40 liters and still fit within airline and TSA regulations for bags permitted in the cabin. Personal items are quite a bit smaller, but can usually still hold 20 to 25 liters of gear.
What are some carry-on backpack alternatives?
If you don’t want to carry a backpack on the plane, there are quite a few alternatives. Purses, laptop bags and even some duffel bags can qualify as personal items. Larger carry-ons can take the form of hard or soft-sided suitcases, weekender bags or larger duffles.