Best Carry-on Backpacks – and how to find the perfect bag
We’ve been trying to do carry-on only for the last few trips and it’s been working great so far. We don’t carry anything we don’t really need and we usually need to buy stuff at our destination (shampoo, cooking stuff, origami paper) but the time we save is enough reward to keep us on the right – and lightweight – track. So we’ve compiled a list of the best Carry-on Backpacks for families with or without kids.
We’re not campers, so we don’t need all the gear anyway.
We try to keep them under the carry-on weight, and we almost always manage. The business bags, though, with computer and cameras, that one is heavier.
Oh, I’m already hearing the buzzing sound of the people concerned with the weight of the kids’ bags but trust me: it’s not heavy enough and they don’t carry it for long enough to cause any damage. At the airports, there are the carts. From them, we either take taxis, trains, or buses, so it’s never too long with the bags on our backs.
We like backpacks rather than wheeled bags because the wheels add a lot of weight and take some precious space but sometimes, we wish we had a wheeled bag, seriously. A motorized wheeled bag. Haha.
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The carry-on backpacks we use
Osprey Farpoint 55
After a long research, I’d chosen my backpack: a Farpoint 55 small size. Well, yes, it can be an inch over the limit for some airlines, BUT it’s just so little that nobody really cares.
I’ve carried it throughout our Americas trip, through Japan, to and from New Zealand, and never ever had anyone take a second look at it. Ever.
It’s actually 2 backpacks, one big bag (38L) and one day-pack (15L). I usually carry the laptop, camera, passports, plane tickets, and some meds inside the daypack, while the big backpack carries all my clothing items, including shoes, toiletries, chargers, the rest of the meds, etc.
The fault of the Osprey Farpoint 55
For once, it’s a little too big to be carry-on in some companies for some reason. But fine, it’s very little so unless you’re asked to fit your bag inside those measuring boxes, there’s no problem at all. And you can’t really tell.
I think the only thing I don’t like about it is the compression straps. Both the internal ones and the external ones are placed in the same place, so if I use it to… compress, my bag turns into a snowman.
The big bag also lacks on internal pockets. Mine has 2 mesh pockets on the flap, but I think it could use at least 2 more on the sides, or on the front, or on the back, or anywhere and everywhere.
Then the last thing is the color. I hated all the colors available, but I ended up getting the blue because the store only had the blue in S/M size. Hate the color, love the backpack.
The great things about the Farpoint 55
It’s lightweight, it fits everything perfectly, and it’s a travel-pack, so it actually opens all around (like a suitcase), not just at the top.
The zipper is great, runs very smoothly, even after a year and a half of constant use.
It’s small enough so it fits in the overhead compartment of any aircraft.
The daypack is great, fits a 15” laptop tightly, and is full of internal and external pockets. I use them all a lot, it helps to keep everything organized and neat.
The back external pocket of the daypack is just perfect. I drop my wallet or the passports and tickets for easy access anytime we need it. Great place to store the phone too, so it isn’t visible and easily accessible to pick-pockets, but it’s of easy access for the user.
The straps are all highly padded and incredibly comfortable. If fit correctly, I never feel like it’s heavy.
The harness system is great, and it is very easy to fit.
If I want to, I can close the shoulder straps and hip belt and turn it into a suitcase. Great when I want to drop them off instead of carrying-on.Click here to find the latest prices of the Osprey Farpoint 55!
Deuter Transit 50
Angelo bought this one after we walked around Toronto for days and couldn’t find a large Osprey Farpoint 40.
We found the Deuter and it’s beautiful and within the carry-on sizes, so perfect!
It’s beautiful, gray, and it’s squarish, which maximizes internal space. It comes with a cute little daypack.
The bad thing about the Deuter
It’s got even fewer pockets than the Osprey. The daypack has ONE outside pocket, no water holders, and some very tiny pockets on the inside (the pen holder, laptop sleeve, and well, not enough). I don’t like it, but since the only use it’s gonna have is to carry the computer, it should be fine. It fits a 13” computer very tight.
There are 2 internal compression straps but the external ones are only on the side, they don’t go to the front or back of the bag. I don’t really know if it’s good or bad, but it’s not as useful, though.
The amazing stuff about the Deuter Transit 50
It’s a beautiful travel pack, it opens all around, which is my favorite feature of every travel pack. The zipper is of great quality. The bottom part of the bag can be closed and separated from the upper part: great for carrying shoes and toiletries, or dirty clothes. Angelo is still unsure if he likes this feature or not, but it can be kept close and it’s just like any other travel pack.
It’s carry-on size, although it’s a bit bigger than the Osprey Farpoint 55. For some unknown reason, it feels like it fits a lot more stuff while being small. Angelo carried it from Canada until now and nobody ever questioned (Canada, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colombia, Brazil, New Zealand).
It’s a very comfortable bag, the padding of the straps is great. The hip belt is also comfortable.
The harness system is also great and easy to adjust even when the bag is full.
The straps can be put away and it can turn into a shoulder-bag easily.Find the latest prices for the Deuter Transit here!
There were other options we considered but ended up not buying because we couldn’t find in any actual store, like the Osprey Farpoint 40, the Kelty Redwing 44, and the Tortuga. We really like to try them on before buying because we’re not the regular sizes.
The kids’ backpacks
Kathmandu Voltai 40L
This is Melissa’s backpack. We bought it before the trip and it fit her nicely then. She grew quite a lot and it still fits OK. It’s a women’s size, so it should fit her forever. We’ll see.
It’s pink, it’s big, and it opens up a lot, which is better than the top loading options, but there are some straps (the compression straps) in front of the zipper that really is annoying. I mean, you can’t just open up the zipper, you need to undo the straps first and it’s like a shoelace, that zigzags here and there and here and there.
The harness system, though, is kind of messed up. It undoes alone, so we need to refit her bag every time we’re traveling. Now it’s quite quick, but in the first few months, it’d take around 10 minutes, which isn’t fun.
This bag doesn’t look like it was dragged all around the Americas for over a year: it holds pretty well.
It’s a bit longer than the usual carry-on, but since she never really fills it to the brim, it’s fine. It can totally fit in any of the bag measuring things we’ve found so far.
It has 4 external pockets, and the water holder on both sides, which is pretty good to keep things organized!
Kathmandu Nowaki 32L
João’s backpack next.
We bought it in the first stages of planning the trip and it was a mistake. It’s a top loader, and it takes so much effort to pack it. He likes it though. We offered to buy him a new (and better) one, but he refused. Maybe it was for the best, so we can buy him an actual travel pack when he’s a bit bigger. Even though it’s a men’s size backpack, it feels like a kids’ bag.
It’s got 4 external pockets, and he fills it to the brim, but we never had any problem with the size. It’s well below the carry-on size limit anyway, so it’s fine.
The shoulder straps are well padded, and it still fits him OK, though I expect he’ll outgrow it this year.
There is no compression system, so it can be a fail – even though we’re still to find a backpack with good compression straps.
The problem with top loaders is that you need to empty it all to reach whatever is on the bottom. Hate it. His stuff is usually scattered all around the room because it really is too much work to put it all back inside.
Osprey Nebula 34L
It was Angelo’s daypack, but now it’s Jose’s backpack. As with any Osprey, the lifetime warranty is great and assures it’s a high-quality backpack.
It doesn’t have a padded hip belt, which is pretty sad, but the shoulder straps are well padded.
There’s a computer compartment with a sleeve, and it only fits the laptop. I think it’s pretty good and safe.
Then there are loads of other compartments and pockets. It can even be confusing until you get to know it well. Once you get used to it, though, it should be the best thing to know exactly where everything is. Since Jose had a top loader before, this is going to take him a moment to get used to it.
It fits all his stuff inside, though it looks a bit odd since Jose’s very skinny 10-year-old and this is an adult size backpack.
The lack of a hip belt is the huge fault on this bag, but it’s a pretty cool bag that we believe it’s gonna last him a long time, so all good. And he’ll grow a lot in the next years, so it’ll fit him nicely soon enough.
Toto 32 L wheeled school bag
Coral has a wheeled bag because she couldn’t carry her stuff and this way it’s easier for us to help her out.
She got it for her birthday in Peru and she loves its pink and full of hearts patterns.
It’s big enough to fit all her clothes, her jacket, her shoes, her towel, and her toys. It only opens up to the middle, but it’s better than a top loader. The mesh pockets are too small for water bottles, but the front pockets are big and carry a lot of stuff.
What we liked about this bag is that it can be carried as a backpack or as a wheeled bag. It even has a flap to stop the wheels from touching her clothes when she wants to carry it on her back, but it also works to keep the shoulder straps secure while it’s been wheeled.
I hope she’ll use it for a few years until she’s old enough to start carrying a regular backpack.
The kid-sized backpack she had was just too small and couldn’t fit almost anything, so it was a bit annoying when she wanted to wear one specific clothing item that was in someone else’s bag and we had to look through all the other bags to find it.
How to find the one bag that’s perfect for you
This is trickier, but let me ask you a few questions:
– Can you carry a 7~10 kg (15~20 lb) backpack for an hour without problems? If you can’t, then you’ll be better off with a wheeled duffel or suitcase.
– Do you prefer having a suitcase, that’s hard and sturdy (and safer to carry stuff that breaks), or something softer, where you can always fit something more? I know a suitcase wouldn’t let me fit yet another mug inside it, whereas I can totally fit it inside my backpack. Wheeled duffles also do the trick for those who can’t carry a backpack.
– Are you going to have a drop-off bag or just a carry-on? Because if you also have a drop-off bag, you’ll probably be better off with something smaller that you can carry attached to your big bag, so anything that’s not wheeled would be better. And, honestly, the smaller, the better.
– Will you want to carry-on all the time or you want the choice every time? Then, a bag like the Osprey Farpoint 55 or the Deuter Transit 50 are great options because the straps can be secured to prevent damage.
– Where do you usually travel to? If you go to apartments without elevators, for instance, or unpaved towns, then you should probably get yourself a backpack or a convertible wheeled backpack, but if not, you can choose anything at all.
– Try them on! And fill them with weight, because it’s good to know if something will, indeed, fit you.
We chose the backpacks because we didn’t know what kind of travel we enjoyed. We liked everything and we wanted to try everything. Backpacks are never really wrong, so we went with it and we almost never regret it.
One last advice: choose one that’s smaller than what you think you need. The smaller the size, the lighter it will be. And you almost NEVER actually need all the stuff you want to carry anyway. Just don’t go for something WAY smaller. Don’t go from an 80L to a 20 L – you do need to move slowly unless you only do weekend trips.
Those are our bags. We know that there isn’t something such as a perfect bag, but we found some pretty cool travel packs and backpacks here. We hope this guide helped you find one for you!
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