The Best Carry-on Backpacks for Your Next Trip

Our favorite is the Tortuga Outbreaker.

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

travel backpack luggage carry-on
Photo: AleksandarNakic/Getty Images

Checked luggage can (increasingly) be a huge pain to deal with. That's why carry-on luggage is a traveler's best friend. A good backpack is an especially crucial piece: It can function as a personal item on a flight — and some backpacks are big and comfortable enough to eliminate the need for a suitcase whatsoever.

One such backpack is the Tortuga Outbreaker, our top pick for the best carry-on backpack. It's durable and features lockable zippers, and it's easy to pack. Our list has a choice for all sorts of travelers, so read on to find the best carry-on backpack for your next trip.

The Best Travel Backpacks

Why Try a Carry-on Backpack?

Most backpacks tend to be lighter than standard suitcases (they're often made of sturdy polyester) and smaller, too — usually fitting neatly beneath the seat in front of you. Plus, you can easily take your carry-on backpack from the airport to natural trails, city tours, beach shores, and beyond, while using your hard-shell suitcase as your beach bag is perhaps not the most functional idea.

Another component modern travel backpacks have going for them? Organization. Many of our favorite picks are thoughtfully outfitted with a place for everything. There are padded tech sleeves galore. Your water bottle, passport, pens, keys, and more will all have a designated spot — that means no more scrambling to find what you need in the security line. Some styles even open up with three-sided zippers, just like standard luggage would. And if you're a fan of rolling your way through airports instead of having to speed-walk between terminals with 15 pounds of stuff on your back, we have some good news for you. One pick even comes with built-in wheels and a double-locking handle so you can have a suitcase and a backpack all-in-one.

What to Look for in a Carry-on Backpack

As we mentioned, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration when choosing the best backpack to travel with. If your pack is going to be taking the place of your carry-on, you'll want a thoughtfully designed and spacious option that will actually fit everything you need. This means paying close attention to the size and looking out for features like clam or doctor bag-style openings so that you can easily see what's inside and position your items in the most strategic way possible.

From there, you'll want to take the material of the bag into account. Not only will this translate to a comfortable fit, but it will also make sure that your bag performs how you need it to on your trip. Look for water-resistant nylon options if you know you'll be traveling to rainy climates, or durable (and washable) polyester-crafted bags if you're going to be outdoors or constantly on the move. Other material components to be aware of are the back panels, which can be made from breathable materials to promote ventilation and designed to contour your body, and straps, which should be padded and adjustable for optimal comfort. Then, you can move on to the fun criteria, like color, organizational pockets, USB charger capabilities, and more.

Here, 19 durable and sleek backpack options that will have your back, literally, on your next trip.

Best Overall: Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack

tortuga outbreaker backpack
Courtesy of Tortuga

Meet the travel backpack that just might replace your suitcase: Tortuga's Outbreaker. Made from super-durable waterproof sailcloth and equipped with lockable zippers, it's the perfect pack for an explorer. The lay-flat construction makes for easy packing, and thoughtful features like an adjustable suspension system ensure it stays comfortable even when it's stuffed to the gills. In fact, one reviewer shared that they were able to pack six months' worth of clothes, gear, and essentials for a lengthy backpacking trip. You can buy a set of packing cubes sized to fit perfectly inside for even more organizational bliss.

To buy: tortugabackpacks.com, $269

Best Weather-proof Backpack: Nomatic Travel Pack

nomatic travel backpack review
Courtesy of Nomatic

After a super successful Kickstarter launch campaign, the Nomatic Travel Pack has become a traveler favorite for its 20-plus thoughtful features, which include its clamshell-style opening, TSA-ready laptop sleeve, and luggage handle pass-through sleeve. Outside, it's designed with weatherproof materials that will stand up to any conditions you've unwittingly found yourself up against. And inside, you'll find dedicated pockets and sleeves for nearly everything you own. Expansion capabilities also leave room for a few extra souvenirs. Fans of the backpack say its thoughtful design eliminates the need for additional bags and actually helps you travel lighter.

To buy: nomatic.com, $300

Best Laptop Backpack: Lo & Sons The Rowledge Backpack

Courtesy of Lo & Sons

This backpack combines leather and recycled polyester to create a sleek, minimalist look. It's a convertible bag that can be worn as a backpack, a briefcase, and a tote bag. Inside, there are several organizational pockets that can hold chargers, passports, keys, water bottles, and other travel accessories, as well as a padded laptop sleeve. Speaking of padding, the backpack is designed with memory foam straps that contour to your shoulders instead of digging into them, and their diamond stitching prevents them from slipping off.

To buy: loandsons.com, $233 (originally $465)

Best Anti-theft Backpack: Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 15L

Amazon Travel Bags
Courtesy of Amazon

This modern anti-theft bag comes in three colors, and the fabric is woven with a hidden stainless steel wire mesh, making it slash-proof and ideal for high-volume pickpocketing areas. The zippers are all lockable, and one of the straps also acts as a locking mechanism, so you can secure your bag to the alfresco table you're dining at and enjoy your meal without worry. The bag's interior ID and card pockets feature RFID-blocking technology, too. "The security features are rather awesome," one reviewer praised. "It's perfect for the metro and I don't worry about getting pick-pocketed as opening the secured zippers is quite a feat."

To buy: amazon.com, $100 (originally $110)

Best Leather Backpack: Leatherology Parker Backpack

leatherology leather travel backpack
Courtesy of Leatherology

Made with super-soft, high-quality leather, Leatherology's popular backpack is made to be used — not to sit in a dust bag in your closet. There's a separate laptop pocket that's 18 inches wide, and three external pockets make it easy to stow (and locate) smaller essentials like your wallet and keys. It's available in six earth-toned colors, and you can personalize it with a debossed or hand-painted monogram.

To buy: leatherology.com, $300

Best With Compartments: Thule Subterra Backpack 34L

Amazon Travel Bags
Courtesy of Amazon

This pack from Thule has a surprising amount of organizational components for its minimalist exterior. There's a padded laptop compartment that comfortably fits a 15.6-inch device and a side pocket that's deep enough to fit a water bottle — it even features a handy zipper if you want to store valuables in it. Inside the front compartment, you'll find several sleeves and pouches to hold your tech, travel documents, keys, and more. There's a second compartment that's roomy enough to fit your clothes, and the backpack even comes with packing cubes to keep everything in place while you're on the go.

To buy: amazon.com, $160

Best for Functional Fashion: Longchamp Le Pliage Backpack

Longchamp Le Pliage Backpack
Courtesy of Nordstrom

This Longchamp style is a classic. Choose your favorite from four colors and don't leave home without this convenient bag that folds flat and tucks away until you need more space. In durable water-resistant nylon with leather trim, this backpack has adjustable straps and an interior pocket. For added security, its chic leather flap conceals the bag's top zipper, keeping you safe from pickpockets. We love that it's big enough for functional packing and stylish enough to use as a purse once you've arrived at your destination. For some reviewers, it's more spacious than their everyday purses.

To buy: nordstrom.com, $125

Best Packable Backpack: Zomake Ultra Lightweight Backpack

Best Selling Backpack on Amazon
Courtesy of Amazon

Designed with extremely lightweight and durable nylon, this Amazon best-seller backpack folds down into a sandwich-sized pouch so that you can pack it into your luggage without it taking up space. When in use, the budget-friendly backpack offers a 20-liter capacity and plenty of organizational compartments to fit everything you need for the day. Bonuses: It's water-resistant, has two stretchy side water bottle holders, comes in 10 colors, and costs under $30.

To buy: amazon.com, $15 (originally $25)

Best for Business Travelers: Tumi Alpha 3 Class Brief Pack

Tumi Tahoe Butler Backpack
Courtesy of Tumi

Professional enough to wear to conferences and client meetings, this best-selling backpack is fitted with a 15-inch laptop sleeve and the essential Add-a-Bag sleeve that allows it to easily slide onto your rolling carry-on luggage's handle. It also features a water-resistant exterior pocket for umbrellas and water bottles, plus dedicated spaces to keep materials for meetings secure and tidy.

To buy: tumi.com, $575

Best for One-bag Trips: eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack

eBags TLS Convertible Wheeled Carryon
Courtesy of eBags

This carry-on comes backed by thousands of thrilled customer reviews. The 22-inch bag unzips all the way around like a suitcase would, but it's much more comfortable to carry and has tons of thoughtful features to make packing a breeze — from tie-down straps to a hidden passport pocket. Its mesh interior panel pocket gives you more freedom to pack, while its compression straps help everything fit comfortably inside. The pack's padded laptop sleeve can fit electronics up to 19 inches long, and you'll be delighted to find how many convenient stash pockets it has.

To buy: ebags.com, amazon.com, $120

Best Simple Travel Backpack: Fjallraven Kånken Water-resistant Backpack

Fjallraven Kanken Waterproof Backpack
Courtesy of Nordstrom

Originally used by Swedish schoolchildren in the '70s, the Kånken backpack is now a staple in travel gear due to its functionality, sturdy design, and cool Scandinavian look. Available in more than 20 colors, the backpack is water-resistant and even has a rain flap to prevent moisture from getting inside. It can comfortably hold a 13-inch laptop and be worn as a backpack or held like a briefcase thanks to its snap-together carrying straps. We think its greatest feature is its removable foam insert, which can be used as a seat cushion when you need to take a load off.

To buy: nordstrom.com, $80

Best for Flying: eBags Pro Slim Weekender

Amazon Travel Bags
Courtesy of Amazon

Another sleek pick from eBags, the convertible Pro Slim Weekender Bag eliminates the stress of packing with its TSA-compliant ScanSmart design, which allows it to open swiftly at security and be easily scanned to prevent hiccups pre-flight. Its slim, lay-flat profile fits perfectly under the seat in front of you or inside the overhead compartment. The clam-style opening gives off a carry-on luggage feel, and there are several organizational pockets and panels, including a discreet back pocket.

To buy: amazon.com, from $110

Best for Traveling With Kids: Venture Pal 40L Travel Backpack

Amazon Travel Bags
Courtesy of Amazon

Stocked with strategic and easy-to-access pockets, this kid-friendly and durable backpack ensures that everyone in the family is within reach of their stuff at all times. Even when fully packed, the bag doesn't feel uncomfortable thanks to its padded straps, handy chest buckle (which helps evenly distribute weight), and stress-relieving bartack stitching. Parents will also enjoy the backpack's water-resistant wet pocket for bathing suits and spill-prone snacks and beverages.

To buy: amazon.com, $23

Best With Charger: Himawari Travel Backpack With USB Charging Port

Amazon Travel Bags
Courtesy of Amazon

Equal parts stylish and functional, this budget-friendly backpack guarantees that you're never without a charger thanks to its genius USB charging port, which connects to your personal power bank and can be easily removed before you get to the front of the security line. But that's not the only thing it's good for: The spacious pack has a doctor bag-style opening for easy packing, along with a padded back panel for a laptop and several organizational pockets and compartments. Choose between 22 colors and two sizes: regular and large, the latter of which measures 17.7 by 11.8 by 7.9 inches.

To buy: amazon.com, $37 (originally $50)

Love a great deal? Sign up for our T+L Recommends newsletter and we'll send you our favorite travel products each week.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles