The best carry on backpack differs from person to person. The type of trip you’re taking will also have specific requirements for your carry on bag. As you set out to shop, here are the essentials features to consider:

Size – Size is the most important consideration when selecting a carry-on backpack. Airlines in various regions set their own guidelines for carry-on luggage restrictions though to be on the safe side, try to meet the 45-inch rule (45 linear inches). You should also consider the duration of your trips when choosing a backpack size. For short trips or light packers, choose a larger carry-on.

Bigger doesn’t always mean better when it comes to backpacks; sure, it allows you to bring more items but halfway through your travels you may realize that you’re carrying far too heavy a load but you won’t have a choice other than to just keep going. A bigger bag might also only encourage you to bring unnecessary items, and any frequent traveler can tell you that over packing is a big mistake.

Weight – Airlines also have a weight limit for all carry on bags. Ideally, your goal should be to get a bag that is less than 20% than the airline’s weight restriction when it’s empty. For example, if your airline allows a maximum of 15 lbs., then your bag should only be 3 lbs. in empty weight. If you browse bags with this in mind, you will be able to ensure that most of your carry on weight will result from the items that you’ve packed and not from the luggage itself.

Fit – When wearing a backpack, carry on or not, good fit is crucial to comfort. Find out your hip size and torso length so that you can get a bag that fits you like a glove. Shoulder, waist, and sternum straps should be positioned correctly so that you can balance out your load particularly when you’re carrying heavy gear.

Organization – The main compartment ideally allows you to organize your belongings in your preferred manner. Some people prefer less pockets, and use packing cubes instead. On the other hand, some people prefer the presence of many strategically-placed pockets. Regardless of which type you are, choose a carry-on backpack that allows you to pack quickly and efficiently.

Keep in mind that you may also want to consider a bag with exterior pockets for storing your passport, ID, boarding pass, mobile phone, and other items you may need to empty out as you go through airport security, or before you place your backpack on the conveyor belt. These pockets should be in easy reach.

Straps – Bags that utilize breathing, padded, and adjustable backpack straps help you adjust and hence stabilize your load. It makes a world of a difference in terms of comfort, and this is not something you’ll want to treat as an afterthought.

Choosing a bag with adjustable sternum straps also prevents your backpack from shifting while you wear it, while minimizing stress on your shoulders, neck, and back. Padded hip belts are also important; these help distribute up to 90% of the bag’s weight to your hips to effectively eliminate pressure on your shoulders and back.

Rain covers – If your travels will be taking you to rainy climates or outdoor hikes, rain covers will always come in handy. Many soft carry on backpacks come with their own rain cover, and if it’s already attached, you’re reducing the chances that it’ll go missing. Alternatively, if you’ve found the dream carry on backpack of your choice, you can also purchase a rain cover separately.

Grab handles – A good carry on backpack should have at least one padded grab handle, found on either the side or top of the bag. This will help you efficiently and safely lift your bag from underneath a seat, retrieve it from the overhead storage, or pull it out of a car trunk.

Laptop compartment – A dedicated sleeve for your devices prevents theft or damage during your travels. It would also be extremely helpful if the laptop compartment was located in a part of the bag that makes device removal easy at the screening checkpoints.

Compression straps – Interior and exterior compression straps help you cinch your bag in different positions while preventing its contents from moving. Exterior compression straps also help reduce any pressure on zippers.

Unique style – The truth is that honest mistakes do happen, but theft is also prevalent. To prevent this, you’ll want a distinguishable bag; be it by design or color, it reduces the risk of these mishaps. Black bags offer the benefit of hiding stains, debris, and dirt while allowing you to blend in. Get creative and add your own distinct features to a black carry on such as colorful bag straps or handle wraps.

Expandability – It’s definitely useful to have a carry on with expandable features. Expandable backpacks also come in handy by giving you extra space whenever you need it (we’re all a little guilty of going overboard with shopping sometimes!).

However, the presence of expandable features usually means a more expensive bag, but if you’re the kind of traveler who typically ends up with more items at the end of a trip, this is an investment that will save you headaches. Without this feature, you may end up checking in your carry on bag at the counter, or end up with two bags. It simply isn’t convenient.

Exterior pockets – Accessing your travel documents and other valuables is more convenient when you have a carry on with exterior pockets. This way, you don’t need to unzip the main compartment in order to retrieve it.

Optional features – Other features you may want opt consider in a carry on backpack are: telescoping handles, wheels, and luggage tags.
Size Requirements for Carry on Luggage

Depending on where in the world you travel, it’s necessary to consider airline carry on size and weight restrictions. If you have a carry on instead of checked in luggage to prevent long lines and potential hiccups at the counter, it will defeat the purpose if you arrive at the airport only to find out that your carry on doesn’t meet the airline’s restrictions.

It’s worth investing a few minutes of research before you purchase a carry on. Keep in mind that when measuring your carry on, it’s best to include its handle and wheels.

North America – Most airlines in North America permit a carry on of 22 x 14 x 9 inches, with a maximum weight of 22 lbs. The exceptions to the rule are certain airlines that allow a maximum of just 11 to 15 lbs., while a handful of others allow as much as 40 lbs.

South America – In South America, airlines follow similar size and weight restrictions although some are stricter and permit only 17 lbs.

Europe –  The average size of allowable carry on bags in Europe are 21.5 x 15.5 x 8 inches, and a weight of 17 lbs. Some airlines allow just 11 lbs. while others allow 13, 15, and 22 lbs.

Asia/ Middle East –  Airlines in Asia and the Middle East tend to have far stricter hand baggage weight restrictions than the West, ranging from 11 to 15 lbs. A few carriers permit up to 17 lbs. Meanwhile, the most commonly allowed carry on size is 22 x 14 x 9 inches.

Africa – Planes in Africa permit an average of 22 x 14 x 9 inches, with some that are stricter or flexible with weight restrictions. The average carry on weight allowed is 15.4 lbs., but some allow as much as 22 or 26 lbs.

Australia/ Oceania – In Australia and Oceania, airlines typically follow similar size and weight restrictions as North America, although most of them allow only 15 lbs. or less.

Keep in mind that a standard international carry on size doesn’t exist. All airlines have the liberty to write up their own restrictions for the weight, size, and quantity of items that passengers are permitted in the cabin.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is a backpack allowed as a carry on?

Yes, a backpack can be used as a carry-on. However, it’s important to ensure that the backpack meets TSA requirements, as well as the requirements of the airline. Check with your carrier to find out what the size limits are.

Do note, however, if the backpack is larger when it is filled, it will likely need to be checked. 

What is a good size carry on backpack?

The best size for a carry-on backpack depends on the particular needs of the user. For example, if you intend on using a backpack in lieu of checked luggage, you’ll need a larger backpack. However, if you only plan on using it to stow essentials, a smaller backpack would be a better choice to ensure storage space in overhead compartments.

Do note, however, that the largest size backpack most airlines will allow measures 22″ x 14″ x 9″. Check with your carrier to find out the exact size restrictions. 

How to measure a backpack for carry on?

A backpack that will be used as a carry-on must meet the size requirements for the specific airline the pack will be used on. To determine the size, measure the pack from top to bottom to determine the height, measure it from end to end to determine the length. Then, measure from an interior corner to an exterior corner to determine the width.

What is the volume of a carry on backpack?

A typical 22″ x 14″ x 9″ backpack translates to about 45 linear inches. In terms of volume, it should be around 40L to 45L. Make sure to check with the airlines if this meets their requirement for a carry on.  

What is the largest backpack allowed as a carry on?

Airlines establish size requirements regarding carry-on luggage that passengers are permitted to bring on-board. While the requirements can vary, for most airlines, the maximum size for a carry-on is 22″ x 14″ x 9″, for both backpacks and rolling luggage. Assuming that those dimensions are the maximum your airline allows, a 45 liter backpack is the largest sized backpack you will be allowed to bring.

Do check with your carrier before boarding to ensure your backpack does not exceed the maximum size requirements, otherwise you may need to check the backpack.

Carry On Backpacks: The Fastest Way To Fly

Carry on backpacks are the secret of happy travelers. They know that checking in luggage can be risky; you never know when an airline ends up breaking, soiling, or even losing your luggage when you check it in. The peace of mind you’ll get when you carry on your valuable belongings instead of checking it in is priceless.

It’s also the most convenient way to travel. Passengers who bring backpacks are usually exempt from checking their bags in, while passengers traveling with wheeled luggage will be asked to check their bags in. There you have it! I hope our guide has proven useful in your search for your carry on backpack.

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