While there are a few wheeled bags that you can get away with on certain airlines, it’s hard to find one that is roomy enough to pack a decent amount of clothes and personal items without going over the size and weight limit. Therefore, a good backpack that’s designed for plane travel and not for hiking is your best bet. The best backpack for airline travel carry on should be comfortable enough to carry while waiting in line at security and from the airport to the hotel. It doesn’t really need to have sternum straps or other extra features that hiking backpacks do.
We already have some favorite backpacks that work well on US airlines, but you might run out of luck on European airlines even if one dimension exceeds the limit by just an inch. In fact, IATA approved “Cabin OK” bags fall within 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches (55 x 35 x 20 cm) even though some airlines allow a bit more than that. Therefore to be on the safe side, the following that we have chosen have never run afoul of any European airline and some of them are even airline approved carry on luggage. They all have a capacity of about 40 liters so you won’t feel undercut in terms of packing space.
If the airline you’re using also allows a personal item in addition to the carry on, take a look at these bags.
Osprey Packs Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack
For the best of the best in travel backpacks, you have to look at Osprey options. This Osprey Farpoint 40 is so versatile, that you can use it as a carry on or city daypack or as a hiking pack. It is one of the more expensive packs of this size but unlike most other carry on travel backpacks, this one is designed to be comfortable to carry for long periods of time.
It’s a smart looking backpack that is designed for men and women but has LightWire frame suspension that shifts the load from the harness to the hip belt. These and the padded shoulder straps can be zipped away and hidden behind the back panel to create a sleek and slim pack that is safe to check in on your flight if you want to. Mesh panels on the back panel, harness and hip belt ensure that there is no chaffing and enough ventilation. Another comfort design comes in the form of external compression straps that tighten the pack to make it stable and bring the weight of the load closer to you, which makes carrying easier.
If you need to just grab the bag and get going, there are two padded grab handles – one on the top and one on one side. These make it easier for you to lift the bag over your head and into an overhead compartment.
The main compartment is accessible via dual zippers with pulls that can be locked with a luggage lock. Inside this is a zippered mesh pocket that is a good size for a small laptop or tablet. On the front of the bag is a single zippered pocket and there are several attachment points on the exterior to allow you to carry other gear like a hiking pole or camping gear.
You can get the Farpoint 40 in two sizes: a 40 Liter and a 38 liter. The former is 22 inches in height, while the latter is 20 inches in height. Both are 14 inches wide and 9 inches in depth and they both weight just over 3 pounds when empty. It is a deceptively large backpack with a cavernous main compartment that features restraining straps for your belongings to stay in place.
The construction is of durable Ripstop nylon and it comes in 3 colors.
You can find the Osprey Farpoint 40 online in the UK too.
Cabin Max Metz Flight Approved Backpack
If you’re looking for a budget option, then the Cabin Max Metz backpack has been a favorite with UK customers for a few years but is also available in the US. Although it doesn’t have a laptop compartment, it has a massive overall capacity for its size at 44 liters. It measures 55x40x20 cm and will suit lots of budget European airlines. Because it is completely softsided, you can use it even with the stingier airlines by just packing less. It is incredibly light, weighing just 660 grams or 1.45 pounds.
The main compartment opens via a douple zipper and all around U-shaped opening. This space is very roomy and is perfect for your clothes and accessories and even a laptop in its own sleeve. There are two internal pockets here. The next compartment in front of that is also double zippered and is an organizer space for your small electronics, travel documents, etc. There is a mix of zipped and open mesh pockets here to keep things neat and one of them is the perfect size for your clear plastic toiletry bag. The last pocket right in front is smaller and singled zippered and good for last minute things you need to store just before you reach the security line.
There are two exterior compression straps on either side of the bag to keep it compact and easy to carry. You also have a pair of internal restraining straps in the main compartment to keep your clothes from shifting too much. The shoulder straps are padded and adjustable, and although the bag is not meant to be carried on your shoulders for long periods of time, they are perfectly fine for getting from one place to another. There is a velcro-wrapped handle on the top of the bag if you want to carry it by hand.
The bag is made of a shower resistant polyester material and comes in a variety of color combinations and patterns.
Hynes Eagle 38l Flight Approved Carry on Backpack
The Hynes Eagle 38l Flight Approved Carry on Backpack is made of polyester and is available in black or purple. It is shaped like a suitcase but is more softsided and comes with adjustable padded shoulder straps that you can hide away in its slip mesh back pocket when they’re not in use. You also have a top and side grab handle.
The backpack weighs 1.8 lb and measures 13 by 7.9 by 19.7 inches but adjustable double compression straps on either side allows you to compress the bag further to fit under your seat on the plane. These buckles and straps can also be hidden away in small nooks built into the sides of the bag.
The main compartment of this pack opens book style via double zippers and there are pockets and restraining straps inside to keep your stuff tidy in transit. Next comes a large U-shaped double zipped organizer pocket on the front that can hold a 15.6″ laptop, a tablet, phone, pens, cards, cords and other small items. The smallest external pocket lies right in front and opens vertically via a single zipper.
CABIN 1 Travel Backpack Bag
Frustrated that every airline has its own arbitrary dimensions restriction, thereby preventing you from buying a bag that is safe to carry on on all airlines but that maximizes the most generous size requirements? Cabin 1 bags by Aerolite are designed to be configurable in shape and size so that they can be used as carry ons on almost any airline, anywhere in the world. The Cabin 1 wheeled carry on is a decent pick for those who frequently run into size issues but can’t avoid using bags on wheels. However if you want to maximize packing capacity, you should instead choose the company’s Cabin 1 Adapatable Backpack.
The way this backpack works is that various sections of the bag can be unzipped open to expand in different directions so as to take full advantage of each airline’s size allowance for carry on bags. So, the most generous allowance means you can open up all the sections on the top and both sides, and the most restrictive lets you use the same bag, but with all the sections zipped closed. There are 5 such pockets that let you expand or contract the bag. Its dimensions go from 45 X 35 X 20 cms up to 55 X 45 X 35 cm, it weighs under 1 KG, and its capacity goes from 32L to 57L.
There are two access points to the main compartment of the bag – from the front via a U-shaped opening with lockable double zippers, and from the top via a horizontal single zipper. There is a small double zippered pocket right on the front panel of the bag for your travel documents, phone, etc.
The backpack straps and padded and adjustable and can be secured together when worn by the sternum strap. A top grab handle gives you another way to carry the pack.
There is a lack of internal pockets but that’s to be expected given the way the expandable feature is designed.
This CABIN 1 – Expandable Carry On Hand Luggage Backpack Bag is of course available on Amazon UK!.