Carry On Backpack: What Should it Have & How to Choose The Right One?

The immediate association which pops to my mind when I think about carry-on backpacks is my seven days trip to Berlin. On that trip, I carried my stuff in two different ways. Most of my clothes were in a suitcase, while everyday things, such as snacks, a camera, and some warm shirts, were in my gym backpack. Yes, you’ve heard right – my gym backpack — the whole trip I had to maneuver between these two – an absolute nightmare, not to mention that my stuff kept getting missing. The best way to avoid that is by just getting an appropriate carry on backpack.

To ensure you get the best carry on backpack out there, I started digging very deep on the little but most essential details. My reviews brought up with several key factors.

To choose the right carry on backpack, you should make sure it features the right size, type, straps and organization functions. In addition to that, you should choose one that is waterproof  and contains a padded laptop compartment. I will also show you what the right way of packing is, so your back doesn’t pay an exorbitant price over extra weight. 

What is the right size for a carry on backpack?

The perfect size for a carry-on backpack would be around 40-50 liters. That specific capacity answers several requirements. First, it is quite enough for a 6-7 days trip in different cities abroad – it is not too big and heavy, nor too small for your equipment. 

Second, it fits inside an airplane cabin as a carry-on. This way you will be able to switch between connection flights without any luggage claims. 

You don’t have to spend your precious time, nor worry about things getting lost on the way — the fewer you pack – the lower the chances of disorganization or a missing gear.

What type of backpack should it be?

A carry-on pack resembles a little suitcase with back straps. For example, it usually features one big compartment with tightening straps. 

You might think that this structure would cause a mess, while things are being put all together. However, that is not the case. High quality carry on’s usually provide you with some organization features. 

The best way of doing that would be with some stash pockets, a camera holder or a mesh compartment. The last one is the most beneficial because it allows you to see your belongings without unpacking. 

Lockable zippers are a nice extra touch that many packs offer these days. This way your mind won’t stay occupied with potential thefts.

Can it be waterproof?

We all remember that old notebook from elementary school which got soaked with water on a rainy day. Traveling equipment being ruined may be much more frustrating. 

Since foreign country weather is so unpredictable than the one we are used to, it is essential to prepare a waterproof backpack. The best way of getting that is by the fabric itself designed to be water resistant. 

A rain cover may serve the same purpose, although it is way clumsier and can be easily lost along the way.  For that reason, some of the pack I will present you, later on, offer a high technology water resistance.

What about my laptop?

Whether you go on a business trip or just city travel, your laptop would probably come along. We all like sitting in the hotel bed, after a long touring day, spending some time catching up. 

Facebook, Instagram, Skype, TV-shows – are all part of our everyday life, and we prefer not to leave them behind, even abroad.  

However, it is essential to keep our expensive purchase safe. For that reason, the carry-on pack you choose should provide a padded laptop compartment. 

Some of the packs feature loose nylon for that purpose. Nevertheless, that wouldn’t be a wise pick since the equipment you brought might damage your computer.  


What are the optimal straps?

Carrying a backpack all day long may be difficult for those who are not used to do so. It is way different than taking a bag for school or work since walking is usually longer and more intense. 

This is why your backpack straps should be orthopedic and ventilated. A proper compression pad and mesh would assist you in preventing shoulder pain and inconvenient sweat. 

Some backpacks feature front straps – those are great because they ease the lower back on long hikes, and therefore highly recommended.

How should I pack my things?

Packing a full capacity may be tempting because none of us know what to anticipate. We all have that belief that something would go wrong, and therefore pack extra – to be sure. From my experience – things would go wrong no matter how well you have been prepared.

For that reason, I would most certainly won’t advise packing too much. It may sound wrong, but it is usually more beneficial to have things missing than carrying stuff you don’t need. 

You will learn to manage along the way even if you forgot something back home. On the other hand, you will remember every extra pound or pain that was caused by the thermos you’ve never used. 

Also, your pack should be around 70 percent full. On full capacity, you won’t have any room for souvenirs, and you will find yourself carrying that annoying plastic bag for miles.   


Honestly, there are lots and lots of carrying on backpacks out there on the market. Not all of them feature the mentioned factors. I will show you some I have carefully picked that you inevitably have to consider.


  • Stowaway backpanel
  • Laptop and tablet sleeve
  • Dual front mesh pockets
  • Front Compression Straps
  • Padded Handles


  • Lack of internal compartments
  • Colors - Blue / Red / Grey
  • Weight - 3 pounds
  • Dimensions - 27 x 17 x 5 inches

There is a lot to say about the Osprey Farpoint 40, for it is one of the most popular travel/hiking backpacks. The Farpoint 40 features a hip and a chest padded, adjustable straps, to provide a better weight distribution. This may ease your back significantly and decrease pains. Whenever needed, a zipped layer at the bottom may be unfolded to cover the back straps, turning it into a carry on looking backpack. This would allow easy transportation through the airport. 

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  • Solid padded backpanel
  • Waist support
  • Padded meshed straps
  • Large laptop sleeve
  • Hydration compatible


  • No lockable zippers
  • No easy access hip side pockets
  • Colors - Blue / Black / Green
  • Weight - 2.6 pounds
  • Dimensions - 12 x 25 x 15 inches

The Kelty Redwing 44L is at the perfect size for a carry on backpack. It fits inside a carry on airplane cabin, so you don’t have to check your luggage. That would save you a lot of time, money and stress. It back features a structured back frame, maintaining a solid architecture for back support.

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  • Top Loading pocket
  • Hydration compatible
  • Meshed back panel
  • Ventilating back
  • Proper water resistance


  • No lockable zippers
  • Wide design
  • Colors - Black / Red / Green / Blue
  • Weight - 3 pounds
  • Dimensions - 26 x 16 x 12 inches

The Kelty Redwing 50 has a wide capability, from a light day hike to a long wilderness adventure. One of the most outstanding features of this pack is comfortability. The Kelty 50 was designed carefully to adjust and fit all kinds of body structures, from short and slim to wide and tall. That is due to its orthopedic padded back panel and its adjustable straps capability of sliding up and down according to your height.

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  • External access laptop compartment
  • Weather resistant
  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Padded backpanel
  • Great security


  • Accessibility is challenging
  • Colors - Blue / Black
  • Weight - 2.24 pounds
  • Dimensions - 24.2 x 18.7 x 8.5 inches

The Gregory Compass 40 is one of the most recommended backpacks for short day hikes or several days camping. It is equipped with a fully padded back panel with a solid structure to fit perfectly without extra weight burden. In addition to that, it features adjustable sternum and shoulder straps to ease your carry. It is just the right size to fit on a plane as a carry-on, so you don’t have to check it in on the airport.

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  • Adjustable shoulder harness
  • Padded removable carry strap
  • Breathable padded shoulder harness
  • Great water resistance


  • No lockable zippers
  • A bit heavy
  • Colors - Anthracite
  • Weight - 4 pounds
  • Dimensions - 17.7 x 9.4 x 14.2 inches

The Deuter Transit 50 will be a great use in business trips or short wild travel. The Transit 50 features a solid frame, padded back panel, for extra support and comfort. Its adjustable shoulder harness would allow a perfect fit for variable body structures and therefore provide sufficient weight distribution.

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Frequently Asked

  • Q: What are the backpacks dimension allowance on flights?
  • A: The maximum dimensions differ between airlines. For example, on easyJet it is 56x45x25cm, while on Wizz Air it is 55x40x23cm. However, as you can see, they do not differ that much. Most of the packs mentioned in this article qualify for domestic and international flights. You may check the product dimensions beneath the pros and cons section. Also, flight carries on approval may be mentioned on Amazon, under the product details section. 

  • Q: What to carry with a carry on the backpack?
  • A: The answer to that depends on the nature of your trip. On a wild adventure, I recommend you pack lightweight. That can be achieved by wearing the same clothes for several days. When it comes to food supply, you should wrap those with high calories like nuts, chocolate, dried fruits, and berries. Try to avoid cans; they might be a bit heavy – stick to plastic cover instead. The rule of thumb – do not carry too much, do not be afraid to take less. 

  • Q: How to measure a backpack for carry-on?
  • A: First of all make sure you pack is on its full capacity for your travel. That is important since its depth might differ according to its content. Take a tape measure and write down the pack length width and depth. You may now compare these to your flight carry on requirements. Make sure that you stick to the same measurement units as the airline policy (cm or inches).

  • Q: What is a good carry-on backpack?
  • A: The proper carry on backpack should feature several requirements. First, it should be the right size for carrying – that would be around 40-50 liters. Furthermore, it should be comfortable to carry, durable and lightweight. These are the basics, adding to that would be the properties mentioned above. 

  • Q: Why should I get a carry on backpack?
  • A: The specific size of a carry on meats several needs that are on your benefit. First, you don’t have to check it in on flights. That means you can go straight to your plane, without sending your luggage away. If you are planning on a low-cost flight, you should know that checking luggage it may be costly. With a carry on backpack, you can save a lot of time, stress and money. Moreover, that kind of pack would serve you best for weekend traveling or short hiking in the wild. It is easy to pack and unpack and would turn your traveling experience way better. 

  •  Q: How to weigh a carry on backpack?
  • A: As you may already know, airlines provide weight allowance within their carry on requirements. Nevertheless, that may differ between airlines, so make sure you read them upfront. Most airports offer a weight meter before the check-in, but I recommend you measure this at home before that. The easiest way is by measuring your weight with the backpack on, and then reducing from it your body weight.


In summary, choosing the right carry on backpack should include several factors. As these packs vary from one to another, it is essential to focus on the necessary and most beneficial requirements. 

As my research brought up, you should get a carry on which is within the right size, has proper straps and provides reasonable organization. Also, water resistance and laptop compartment would be a nice touch if you travel abroad.


My name is Gilad, a 24-year-old medical student from Israel. Everyone who knows me would tell you that my absolute favorite thing is traveling. Through my journeys, I have gained a lot of knowledge and experience. Now, I am ready and willing to share it all with you! Read more
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