Rollaboards were so last century. Backpacks are now the new undisputed kings of versatile luggage. They laugh over cobblestone streets and other rough surfaces that wheeled luggage can’t handle. They’re lighter than traditional hard-side suitcases. They contort and cram easier into overhead bins and under airplane seats. They transition seamlessly from the airport to the streets to the backcountry with ease. All of these reasons make the travel backpack the single best luggage type for almost anyone looking to travel carry-on-only. Here are 12 of our favorites.
Best Travel Daypacks
A comfortable, well-made daypack is essential for urban and outdoor exploring on the road.
Osprey Daylite Daypack
Daypacks don’t get much more pared-down than the Osprey Daylite Daypack. This 13-liter featherweight bag weighs just one pound and packs down small to stow empty in your main backpack until it’s needed. It’s designed for everyday use, whether that’s exploring the city or taking a short day hike. It keeps things organized with just the right amount of pockets. Side mesh pockets ensure your water bottles remain within easy reach, and a water bladder pocket provides for more water storage if you’re planning an especially active day.
SOG EVAC Sling 18
SOG is best known for its military-approved knives and tactical gear. They bring that considerable clout and expertise to bear on the deceptively simple EVAC Sling 18. The 18-liter bag is designed to carry everything you need and nothing you don’t. The main compartment is accessible via top and side access points, and a pass-through laptop compartment cleverly doubles as a spot to stow a hydration bladder. An impact-resistant top pocket stows and protects valuables like a smartphone, binoculars, or sunglasses. The unique, single-strap sling design carries slightly different than a traditional backpack making it ideal for lighter loads and everyday carry. The rear is also lined with laser-cut MOLLE panels for easy expansion and customization.
Pacsafe Vibe 28L ECONYL Anti-Theft Backpack
Among everyday household materials, plastic waste is the single worst threat to our oceans and the environment. Manufacturers are hurriedly figuring out ways to ditch their virgin plastic processes to rely 100% on recycled materials. Pacsafe is leading the charge with its new ECONYL collection — an eco-conscious line made of pre- and post-consumer waste. The plastic content within the unique fibers is mainly sourced from fishing nets and other discarded nylon fabrics. The material is inherently durable and water-repellent, making it ideal for building travel backpacks. What’s more is the integrated anti-theft technology built into every Pacsafe bag, including the Vibe 28L Anti-Theft Backpack, that virtually guarantees they can’t be slashed or stolen.
Swissgear 1900 ScanSmart Laptop Backpack
Swissgear doesn’t make the swankiest backpacks, and they don’t pretend to. Their design aesthetic seems like a slightly grown-up version of the bookbag you probably carried to school every day in 10th grade. What the brand lacks in style, however, it makes up for in thoughtful functionality and purpose-driven utility. The Swissgear 1900 ScanSmart Laptop Backpack is well-suited to urban executives and road warriors who carry plenty of electronics gear. The exterior is made from ultra-durable 1200D ballistic polyester with an oversized main compartment and zippers. Inside, a built-in suspension system ensures your laptop, tablet, and other electronics stay safe. Lay-flat technology means your computer can remain in the bag at TSA checkpoints. Simply unzip and unfold the clamshell design and run the entire bag through the scanner. The best part? The value. Swissgear makes some of the best sub-$100 travel backpacks for the money.
Best Carry-On Travel Backpacks
True packing ninjas and expert travelers wouldn’t dream of checking a bag. These clever carry-on backpacks offer maximum volume in a sleek footprint — ready for any trip, anywhere, no matter the duration.
American Stoic Weekender Bag
Like Swissgear, American Stoic offers affordable, no-frills design in all of its bags, including the simply named Weekender Bag. Given its generous carry-on-friendly size (22 inches by 12 inches by 9 inches), that name is something of a misnomer as it’s capable of carrying clothing, gear, and other essentials for weeks with the right packing skills. The intensely padded laptop sleeve is roomy enough for a 19-inch laptop, while numerous other pockets and pouches keep charging cables, battery packs, and other gadget essentials organized. The backpack straps also stow away in a zippered pouch, allowing the Weekender to be carried like a traditional duffel bag for added versatility.
Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
Peak Design offers some of the best-designed bags on the planet. From their premium camera bags to their travel backpacks, it’s clear they consider every minute detail. The brand’s Travel Backpack 45L is no different. It’s an international carry-on-sized 35-liter pack to start but easily expands to a generous 45-liter hauler when needed. The system of pockets, sleeves, and pouches is remarkably well thought out, particularly for modern travelers who almost always pack plenty of electronics gear. It’s all wrapped in a handsome, weatherproof shell made of 400D recycled nylon canvas. The clever tuck-away shoulder straps and hip belt easily conceal themselves to make passing through airport security a breeze.
Minaal Carry-on 2.0 Travel Backpack
Minaal is proof that backpack design has come a long way. Their bags are sleek, minimalist, and — dare we say — classy. They feature an urban stealth aesthetic that’s equally at home in the boardroom as on a crowded train platform in Vietnam. The Minaal Carry-on 2.0 Travel Backpack can be shouldered like a traditional backpack or carried on its side with a briefcase-style handle. It accommodates up to 15-inch laptops and 11-inch devices within a shock-proof DeviceNest compartment. It’s sized right to both maximize interior volume and comply with U.S. and European carry-on limits. Plus, the included seam-sealed rain cover wraps around the entire affair to keep valuables safe and dry.
Tortuga Outbreaker 45L
Tortuga’s streamlined catalog of products is still among our favorites for urban travelers. The Outbreaker 45L is a maximum-size carry-on with plenty of space to accommodate everything pro packers might need. It combines the convenience and go-anywhere portability of a backpack with the sensible organization design of a traditional suitcase. The exterior is stripped down to only the basics, while the inside features a bevy of well-thought-out pockets and sleeves for organizing laptops, tablets, books, paperwork, and accessories. Unlike most travel backpacks, the Outbreaker includes a padded hip belt that transfers up to 80% of the bag’s weight to the shoulders, ensuring it’s comfortable to carry over long distances. Plus, the entire affair weighs just 5.1 pounds.
Best Large Travel Backpacks
These packs are ideal for checking through to your final destination and can contain everything you might need for weeks, even months on the road.
Osprey Farpoint 55
Osprey has long been one of our favorite backpack brands. It recognizes a good design and doesn’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel. The Osprey Farpoint 55 feature a streamlined piggyback design that combines a 42-liter main bag with a zip-off 13-liter daypack. The main compartment is accessible via lockable zipper pulls, while inside the bag contains designated laptop and tablet sleeves. The pack’s suspension system stows away inside a zippered panel for a sleeker profile. The entire affair can be checked through to your final destination, or detached as a complete, two-piece carry-on “kit.” For travelers who can’t part with every convenience of home (We’re looking at you, Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker), there’s also the massive Farpoint 70 which boasts 15-liter of additional cargo space.
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor
The best backpacks are designed to pack down as small as possible but expand substantially when needed. Sierra Designs’ Flex Capacitor balloons up to 50% from 40 liters to 60 liters in a pinch. It’s unique, however, in that it doesn’t expand upward like most packs but rather the overall circumference expands to provide a more stable and comfortable load carry. The smooth, duffel-bag-like exterior keeps it more streamlined than its competitors, so it won’t snag as easily in transit. It’s ideal for both travel and trail, particularly for adventure travelers looking at multi-day expeditions once they land.
Deuter Aircontact Lite 65+10
The Deuter brand flies under the radar next to well-recognized competitors like Osprey, Gregory, and The North Face. Still, there’s a lot to like about its backpacks. For adventure travelers who value capacity, durability, and affordability over all else, the Aircontact Lite 65+10 is our go-to backpack. The design is lighter than most comparable bags, yet remarkably durable. Generous padding, ample torso adjustment points, and a hearty suspension make it ideal for carrying heavy loads whether through the airport or in the backcountry. There are better, more full-featured adventure backpacks on the market, but none at this price point.
Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Convertible Carry On
If you can’t bear to part with the convenience of wheeled luggage (Yes, we admit there are rare circumstances where rollaboards beat their travel backpack counterparts), split the difference with a convertible wheeled backpack. The Gear Warrior Convertible Carry On from Eagle Creek is a jack of all trades — a wheeled bag when you need it, a backpack when the terrain gets rough. Like Osprey’s Farpoint, this 55-liter “bag” is actually two bags in a piggyback configuration — a 37-liter wheeled main bag and an 18-liter traditional daypack that combine via a series of adjustable straps. The entire setup, including rugged, off-road capable wheels, corner bumpers, kick plates, and abrasion-resistant exoskeleton, is ideal for adventurous travelers.
- The Best Backpacks for Men in Fall 2020
- 10 Best Duffle Bags To Buy Now
- The Best Travel Gifts for Men
- The 12 Best Laptop Bags for Men
- The Best Briefcases for Men