Best Travel Backpack Comparison: Carry on Backpack 2018

Welcome back! This article has been redone for 2018 to reflect our changing feelings about a few packs, as well as to introduce two new packs, fresh for the new year!

One important note to keep in mind is that budget and European airlines often have smaller carry on sizes than U.S. airlines. U.S. carry on size tends to be 22x14x9 inches. International carry on sizes can be a bit more tricky. Generally speaking, 21x14x9 is the rule. However, there are a few outliers with different requirements, such as Air France’s 21x13x9.

Generally, a 45-liter pack is the max for carry on, but some 50-liter packs will work as well. One thing to consider is the rigidity of the pack. If it doesn’t have a super stiff frame, you can probably jam it in the “if it fits” box at the gate, like a duffle bag. This is the very reason that I never even attempted to use my Atmos as a travel bag. It is a bit too long to carry on, and that baby doesn’t have an ounce of giving in it, which is a great quality on the trail and in the mountains, just not at the airport.

Another carry on limit to consider is weight. Some airlines, such as Delta, do not have weight restrictions, while others do, and the limits range wildly. Usually, on flights with carry on weight limits, you will surpass the weight limit far before you fill a 45 liter pack, so keep that in mind when deciding just how spacious of a pack you need.

One Bag Travel Backpacks

Since publishing the first version of this article, we became more and more familiar with one bag travel. One bag travel is the idea that you should be able to travel for extended periods of time with only one bag. Like minimalism, there are many who would put stricter definitions on the term, but we like to keep it simple. Naturally, walking through the airport or the streets of Prague, or the beaches of Thailand will be much more enjoyable with one bag than two. It also forces a rather extreme amount of minimalism on long-term travelers, by limiting the amount that they can carry.

Main Changes:

Addition of Tortuga Setout, and Nomatic Travel Bag. Also, the Patagonia Headway MLC has been replaced by Patagonia Black Hole MLC.

That old bookbag just not cutting it as a travel pack anymore? Then you are in the right place! Here, we break down seven of the best travel backpacks on the market. These are perfect for the digital nomad or one bag travel enthusiasts.

Best overall: Tortuga Setout

Best “pack everything you own” bag: Patagonia Black Hole MLC

Best Minimalist bag: Minaal Carry-on 2.0

Best to double as a trekker/carry on: Tortuga Outbreaker

Other choices:

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The Tortuga Setout now sits at a solid number one on our list, Patagonia Black Hole MLC, the Tortuga Outbreaker and the Minaal Carry-on 2.0 all basically tied behind it. Basically, we gave the Setout the nod because we felt it was the best balance of the three bags behind it. However, each of them serves a particular niche extremely well, and your own needs will dictate which is the best for you.

The Osprey Farpoint has been bumped from our top three, as has the North Face Overhaul. While I will get to my reasoning for which packs moved up and down from the original list, it is important to reiterate that each of these packs has its own unique features that make it preferable for certain tasks. Lighter packers may prefer one, while heavier packers may prefer another.

What is a travel backpack?

Before we get started with a breakdown of our favorite travel backpacks, we need to qualify what we consider a travel backpack in the first place, and what you should be looking for when you choose one.

Not Traditional Hiking Backpacks

As avid outdoor backpackers, Michole and I have no small amount of appreciation for these packs. And for years, travelers who had no intentions of ever stepping foot off of the pavement used them. Why? There were no other options! Fortunately, today is a new day, and more and more old-school outdoor companies are adding packs designed specifically for travelers to their lineups, and new companies have also emerged specifically to serve this market.

Front loading vs top loading

Traditional hiking packs, such as the Atmos 50 AG by Osprey (my go-to backpacking pack), are almost exclusively top loaders. This means that they are accessed via a drawstring operated opening on the top of the pack. This is optimal for carrying a large load close to your body over difficult terrain but makes it extremely difficult to get anything out without getting EVERYTHING out. Because they are opened with a drawstring, they also cannot be locked. Not usually a problem high in the mountains, but more so in a sketchy hostel.

Travel backpacks, on the other hand, are going to be designed more like a suitcase that you wear on your back. They are almost exclusively front loading, which means that you can lay it out flat, open it, and access pretty much anything without needing to move anything else. This also makes them much easier to pack.

Carry on size

For starters, we will be looking (almost) exclusively at carry on backpacks. Why? You don’t want to land in a foreign country, planning to take a 6-hour bus ride from the airport to your hostel, only to find out that your bag is in a different country. Very few savvy travelers and backpackers will be hitting the road with a non-carry on sized pack.

At any rate, a bag’s ability to function as a one bag travel backpack has been figured into our assessment of the packs.

No Role Ons

Seriously, do I even need to explain this one? Role ons weigh about a million pounds. Furthermore, roll on luggage is the first thing that airlines will force you to check if they start running out of room in the overhead compartments. Finally, everyone else will be judging you as you wheel it along behind you. (Okay, so Michole says that it’s just me judging you. Still, judgment passed.)

Our favorite Travel backpacks of 2018

With all of the technicalities and qualifiers out of the way, let’s get to what you came here for!

When this article was first published, my opinion of the top three packs on this list was so close that I could not even choose a winner. Shortly thereafter, the guys and gals over at Tortuga released their newest creation: The Tortuga Setout, and it has claimed the top spot on our new list.

As a company, Tortuga is the exact opposite of Osprey and Patagonia, two old-school outdoor gear manufacturers who have recently gotten into the travel pack market. Tortuga is a startup that to this day claims to be run by only nine people! It is the result of two friends on a backpacking trip who became frustrated with their packs. They started Tortuga to make the packs they wished they had.

Size

Unlike its beefier cousin, the Outbreaker, the Setout comes in only one size. It is a 45l pack, measuring in at 22x14x9, the Setout is carry on compliant with most major airlines, and by the time this publishes, we will have likely tried our luck cramming it into smaller bins on budget airlines. Tortuga has announced plans for a smaller version of the Setout, but nothing definite has been released yet.

Back to Basics

In many ways, this is a more bare-bones version of the Outbreaker, which is a bombproof pack, chock full of comfort and nifty little features.

One of the features that the Setout gives up is adjustability. It is not adjustable for different height wearers. Also paired down from the Outbreaker is the padding of the suspension system. The straps and waist belt are not as cushy as the Outbreaker’s, but unlike the Outbreaker, the Setout features hideaway straps and an easily removable waist belt! While I do not plan on needing to check this bag, it is certainly nice to know that the straps will conveniently go away if I do need to. And that they will do the same, should I need to cram it into a “does your bag fit here” style box for carry on approval.

The paired down straps also make for a less bulky total package. Keeping with this theme, the waterproof, bombproof sailcloth of the Outbreaker has also been replaced with “900D heathered polyester,” which feels plenty sturdy in its own right. This material is also water “resistant” but less so than the Outbreaker’s.

This more bare-bones approach not only shrinks the overall bulk of the pack, but it also cuts down significantly on the Setout’s weight. While the Outbreaker weighed in at over 5lb, the Setout weighs only 3.3lb. A noticeable difference on your back, but doubly important when you consider the fact that many airlines have strict weight limits for carry ons than size limits.

Comfort

Now, all of these weight saving, space saving changes would not be worth much if the pack was now a burden to carry. But the fact is that the Tortuga Setout is still an extremely comfortable pack! Many people felt that the comfort of the Outbreaker was overkill in an arena where lightweight and compact packs rule the roost. The Setout seems to be Tortuga’s acknowledgment of this. It is still extremely comfortable, but it trades comfort features one might need to hike a ten-mile trail in exchange for the lighter weight required at the check-in desk.

Organizational features

In the original article, I said that the Tortuga Outbreaker stood alone when it came to organizational features. No more. That is because the Setout has, essentially, the same organizational features of the Outbreaker. Electronics, important documents, keys, sunglasses, ink pens, all of these things and more have their own home in the Setout. For tactical packers who want to be able to access things quickly and easily, the Tortuga Setout is made for you.

But it is when packing the things that do not have their own pocket that the Setout truly shines. It offers a massive main compartment, easily accessed via suitcase style opening. Packing cubes are your friend, and you can pack just about as many as you could possibly want, in any way you want in this massive cavern.

Laptop Sleeve

The laptop is placed safely against next to your back but separated by a hard panel to protect it when you are not wearing the Setout. It is also suspended in its pocket, so it should be safe from drops as well.

Price

This will be huge for penny pinchers like myself. Another thing that is scaled back with the Setout is the price. At 199 USD, it is a full 100 USD cheaper than the 45l Outbreaker!

What do we really think?

I think it is pretty obvious, but we love this pack. In fact, it is the one we are using to backpack in Europe right now, and we could not be happier with it! The folks at Tortuga basically took the Outbreaker, changed all the things we didn’t love about it, knocked 100 USD off the price, and called it the Setout. This is the perfect pack for us. Of course, another pack might be the perfect pack for you, so read on!

Patagonia Black Hole MLC (maximum legal carry on)

Unlike Tortuga, Patagonia is a blue blood outdoors company venturing into the urban pack realm. Founded by Yvon Chouinard, the dirtbag philosopher king himself, Patagonia has a cult following amongst climbers, surfers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. This is largely due to Chouinard’s background and the company’s take on environmentalism.

Chouinard made his name as a climber and climbing gear maker in the golden age of climbing in the Yosemite Valley. With a background making tools that people’s lives depended on, it is no surprise that they make some of the highest quality outdoor gear on the market. Furthermore, Patagonia is the one and only choice for environmentally minded shoppers, with a mission statement that reads: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

All of that said, here is my disclaimer: I am a huge fanboy of both Chouinard and Patagonia. I aspire to be like Chouinard, and I believe that if other companies were more like Patagonia, the world would be a better place.

With company background out of the way, let’s get to the Patagonia Black Hole MLC.

On our original list, the Patagonia Headway just missed the top three, but it is solidly there now. The launch of the Black Hole MLC, and issues that came to light with some of the other packs, moved the Patagonia Black Hole solidly into the three way tie for second.

Size

The Patagonia Black Hole MLC measures in at 21x16x9. While this is technically over carry on size, it truly does make the bag a black hole, in which to store your gear. Furthermore, Patagonia describes the bag as “a soft-sided suitcase,” which means that as long as you don’t pack it to full capacity, you can easily make it fit into any airline’s carry on box.

It only comes in one size and depends on its adjustable straps to make it a fit for all.

Shape and carry features

This is the one pack on the list that might take the suitcase on your back idea even further than the Outbreaker. The pack is almost completely rectangular with squared off corners. This allows Patagonia to implement a few of the features that make this pack so unique.

The straps stow away, and the pack becomes either a duffle bag or a briefcase. The inclusion of a shoulder strap is one of the things that make this pack stand out. If the ability to sling it across one shoulder is important to you, then this pack would be a solid choice.

Organization and accessibility

The suitcase opening style of the Patagonia Headway MLC makes it extremely easy to pack and access all of your contents. It also includes more than adequate storage pockets for documents, electronics, and features a laptop sleeve right next to your back. This is also the one bag on the list that you can fit more in than the Tortuga Outbreaker or Setout.

Laptop sleeve

Interestingly, the Headway’s laptop sleeve is not in the main compartment of the pack, which gives you slightly easier access. Unfortunately, it is the one compartment that can’t be locked, so you are not the only one who will have easy access to your laptop. We would imagine that not many people would leave their bag unattended with their laptop in it, but we would still like to see a locking laptop compartment.

Comfort and ergonomics

As a plus, the laptop sleeve is located tightly against your back in the Headway. That is good because the suspension system needs all of the help it can get. The strap system on the Headway shines in its diversity but lags behind on comfort. This backpack forgoes a hip belt and offers only minimal padding on the shoulder straps.

This bag is not going to win any awards for comfort, but that is the price Patagonia paid to have a sleek bag that is essentially a convertible. With that said, you will not want to take this backpack on a ten-mile hike. Furthermore, you probably will not want to carry it a mile from the train station to your hostel.

What do we really think?

The Patagonia Black Hole MLC is an amazing pack with some really unique features. Its price point is comparable with the Setout and significantly cheaper than the Outbreaker.

If multiple carry options or brand loyalty to a company that walks the walk when it comes to being environmentally friendly is important to you, then take a long hard look at the Headway. But if you are sensitive to carrying a heavy load with a minimalist suspension system, or want your travel backpack to double as trekking backpack from time to time, then you might consider a pack with a hip belt and more robust shoulder straps.  On the other hand, you might just be willing to make that sacrifice for what is otherwise an amazing, diverse, one bag, carry on piece of luggage that will allow you to carry more gear than any other bag on the list.

The story of Minaal is very similar to that of Tortuga. In their own words, “We’re two guys from New Zealand, who realized how dissatisfied we were with our travel gear, and thought it’d be a great idea to quit our jobs to make our own.” One successful Kickstarter campaign later, they are doing just that.

The Minaal has many similarities with the Tortuga packs. It does well at most of the same things that they do well. However, the Minaal Carry-on 2.0 is much more geared for the minimalist packer. If you are the type to travel the world with two pairs of clothes-one for wearing and one for washing- then this is the pack for you.

Size

The Minaal Carry-on 2.0 measures 21.6x13.7x7.87. This is within an inch of carry on size for any airline. Available in only one size, the Minaal carry-on is small enough to fit pretty much anyone, and in any overhead compartment, or under any seat in front of you. This definitely makes it a solid “one bag” choice, from that perspective.

The good side of the Minaal Carry-on’s size is its dimensions. The bad is its capacity. At 35 liters, it is not going to compete with some packs on the list for how much it can hold. On the other hand, many minimalist packers will not consider this a downside at all. In fact, many hardcore one bag travelers would gladly trade the space of the larger packs for a bag that will comfortably fit under the seat in front of them. With that said, it is not any lighter than the Tortuga Setout, and it sort of feels like it should be.

Organization and accessibility

Multiple, adjustable, suspended pockets keep things like your laptop secure and safe when your bag takes a beating. In the main compartment, extra 3D pockets give you plenty of places for things you want to easily access ensure that valuables are not lost amongst your clothing. The downside is that in a smaller pack like the Minaal Carry-on 2.0, this is taking up space that could have been used to store more gear, making a minimalist style all the more important.

If accessibility is good inside the Minaal Carry-on, it is great on the outside. Numerous external access pockets make grabbing and stowing things like cash, cards, or passports a breeze. It also has a conveniently located water bottle holder. You would think that this would be par for the course, but several, like the Osprey packs, are lacking in this regard.

Top all of this off with suitcase-style packing, and you have a pack that is as good as it gets for both packing your gear and retrieving it.

Straps and waistbelt

The Minaal carry-on 2.0 does not come with a waist belt. For me, this one was a bummer. However, it goes with the minimalist theme of the Minaal. It is a smaller pack, not meant to be loaded down with everything you own. So it should, in theory, be a lighter pack for which a hip belt would just be one more thing to lug around. Meanwhile, a solid back panel and relatively padded shoulder harness make carrying a load bearable, at least for the type of travel that the Minaal is intended for. And while you are unlikely to ever need this feature with the Minaal Carry-on 2.0, the shoulder straps do stow away, should you ever need them to.

Price

This is a big one. At 299.00, the Minaal Carry-on is tied with the Tortuga Outbreaker 45 for the most expensive pack on the list. It is worth noting that these two companies are both, essentially, mom and pop startups. So it should be no surprise that they can’t compete with the mass production prices of the larger companies. Still, for 300.00, I could fly round trip from LAX to Boston next week. (Not that I really want to fly to Boston. I am just illustrating a point.)

The high price is made even more annoying by the fact that there are so many extras that could have been included with the pack. For instance, the video on Minaal’s website shows a “shirt protector accessory,” which seems like a cool feature. And it could be yours for an additional 59.00. One of the pack’s biggest shortcoming, in my opinion, was the lack of a hip belt. This too can be remedied. For an additional 39.00, you can purchase a hip belt from Minaal, to give you a feature that most other bags include to start with. However, the theme of the bag is packing lite, which the absence of a hip belt encourages. And many light packers throw away their hip belts anyway, so it all comes down to preference.

What do we really think?

This is a great bag, and if you are a minimalist one bag traveler, then it is likely the bag for you. It is as stylish a bag as any. Its small size makes it a great one bag, carry on travel backpack for virtually any airline. My main complaint about the bag is the price tag. That is one area where it could stand to be a bit MORE minimalist.

As an added bonus, this backpack could shine as a daily commuter for school or business. If you were looking for a daily commuter backpack on steroids, that could double as a weekend bag, then this might be the perfect pack if you don’t mind the high price tag. Not to mention, it would not hurt your case for most stylish lady in the boardroom. If you plan to use this as a one bag solution for long-term travel, it might still be the perfect bag for you. Particularly, if you are a minimalist who appreciates a bag that encourages minimalist packing…and you don’t mind the price tag.

Big brother to the Setout, the Tortuga Outbreaker is as solid a pack as it was in our first review. At first, I wasn’t crazy about the aesthetics. It is square and boxy. But as I mentioned earlier, travel backpacks are like a suitcase that you wear on your back, and the Tortuga Outbreaker takes this to the extreme. And over time, the look of the pack grew on me.

Sizes

The Outbreaker comes in two different sizes, a 35l, and a 45l. The 35l measures 20.3x12.9x8.2, and the 45l measure 22x14x9. This means that the Outbreaker 45 should be a safe bet for most American airlines, while the Outbreaker 35 will fit the requirements of even the pickiest budget airline. And thanks to the boxy shape, you will be able to take full advantage of every square inch that an airline allows you.

They do not have different sizes for different people. Instead, both Outbreaker models boast adjustable suspension systems that should fit anyone not too far outside the realm of “normal size.”

Laptop sleeve

Depending on how you look at it, this could be a major bonus. The Tortuga Outbreaker takes advantage of TSA rules that allow you to leave your laptop in your bag. Simply open your bag and send it through the scanner! Let’s be honest; I do not believe that there is a frequent flyer amongst us who don’t want to make the TSA experience a little easier.

As for its location in the pack, the laptop sleeve is located nice and cozy against your back. This means that you will not feel its weight as much as you likely will on the Osprey Farpoint (more on that in a moment). And like the Setout, the laptop compartment is suspended from the bottom of the pack, protecting it from drops.

Straps and Suspension

For a travel pack made by urban travelers for urban travelers, the Outbreaker does not skimp out on the shoulder straps and hip belt. While some urban-focused packs don’t even use a hip belt, the Tortuga Outbreaker boasts a significant amount of padding on both the shoulder straps and hip belt. Combined with the adjustable suspension system, this is sure to be a comfortable pack for most body types.

This brings me to one of my major complaints about the Outbreaker: Lack of stowaway shoulder straps. While the hip belt is removable, the shoulder straps do not stow away. And while the Outbreaker 35 should literally fit ANY carry on requirement, the Outbreaker 45 will likely need to be checked from time to time. This leaves you in a situation where you are forced to either go with the 35l or choose the 45l purchase a bag cover for your travel backpack. That said, the shoulder straps can be removed, but they definitely prioritize comfort over packability.

All of this padding comes at another cost: Weight. At 5.1lb, the 45l Outbreaker is one of the heavier travel packs around. You certainly get a lot of comfort, features, and durability in exchange for the weight. However, that will not help you if an ornery airline attendant refuses to let you carry your pack on because it is too heavy.

Organization

While several most packs on the list offer solid organization features, it is an area where the Tortuga and Minaal stand alone. The Outbreaker has a designated spot for just about anything you could possibly plan to carry. As with the Setout, electronics, important documents, keys, sunglasses, ink pens, and more all have their own home in the Outbreaker. For tactical packers who want to be able to access things quickly and easily, the Tortuga Outbreaker is made for you.

It also features the same mammoth main compartment as the Setout, which just begs to be filled with clothes, camera equipment, audio equipment, or whatever else you might be carrying.

Price

This is a tough one. The Outbreaker costs 269 USD for the 35l and 299 USD for the 45l. Add in an Outbreaker daypack, which looks like a great pack in its own right, and you tack on another 100 USD. That is a lot of money in my book.

What do we really think about the Tortuga Outbreaker?

I have grown to love the boxy shape that turned me off at first. It really maximizes what you can carry, and aids in several of the features that make the pack shine.

Overall, we really like this pack. You could do a lot worse than the Tortuga Outbreaker, whether you opt for the 35 or 45-liter model. With that said, I am more than happy to trade 100 dollars and two pounds for the Setout, making this bag a close tie for second on our list. With that said, if you plan for this pack do double as a hiking pack, or just want the added comfort and can afford it, then this is definitely the pack for you. The same is true if you are exceptionally hard on your luggage, or like to get it wet frequently.

If you know anything about backpacks, you are undoubtedly familiar with Osprey packs. They dominate the trails in the United States, and they are making moves to dominate the airlines and hostels as well.

Owing to its great design and Osprey’s brand name recognition, it is no surprise that the Farpoint is one of the most popular bags on our list. The Osprey Farpoint comes in a 40l, 55l, and 70l model. The 70 is too big for our purposes, so we will focus on the 40l and the 55l. I know what you are thinking, 55l is too large for carrying on, right? Actually, the Osprey Farpoint 55 is the Osprey Farpoint 40, with a 15l detachable day bag…. Sort of. The Farpoint 55’s main bag is ever so slightly over carry on size limit for even some domestic airlines. There are many who report countless flights using the pack and never being asked to check it, but there are others who report being less fortunate.

Sizes and gender-specific options

Unlike many travel packs, the Osprey is available in two different sizes. It is easy to see why someone who is 6’4 220 lb and someone who is 5’4 130 lb might want different sized packs. Better still, Osprey offers the Fairview, which is the exact same pack cut for a woman’s body. This essentially means that Osprey has four different sizes of the exact same pack. It is the only pack on the list that can make such a claim

Is it a carry-on?

This is the only thing that keeps the Osprey 55 from competing for the number one spot on our list. For most packs on the list, you will need to either opt for a 35l pack or accept that you may have to check it on certain airlines. The Farpoint 40 will fit on almost any airline as a carry on, but there are a few outliers, such as Air France, for whom it will be just over the limit.

As for the Farpoint 55l, on most U.S. airlines, people report getting away with carrying the main pack on as a carry on and using the daypack as their personal item. This is a super sweet double whammy, giving you 55 liters of carry on! The problem? You are taking the chance each time you do it. You may or may not be asked to check your main bag, which largely defeats the whole purpose of using a travel backpack, as well as the two bags in a one bag setup that the Farpoint should offer.

Suspension and hip belt

Osprey is known for having packs that are comfortable when you wear them on a 15-mile hike carrying 50 lb of gear, and they put that knowledge to work on the Farpoint. The hip belt and shoulder straps make it so comfortable that you could use it for a trek if such a thing were on your agenda.

Laptop sleeve location

This is an interesting one. Most backpacks have the laptop located next to your back. This is in keeping with general packing logic, as you want the heaviest object the closest to you. On both Farpoint models, however, the laptop is located on the outside of the pack, away from your body. At first, I thought of the laptop sleeve location as a negative, and I still feel this way about the Farpoint 40. When fully packed, the pack will take on a rounded shape, and this seems like it could put undue pressure on your laptop. Indeed, I have heard of at least one laptop screen being cracked this way.

My feelings are totally different regarding the Osprey Farpoint 55. On the 55, the laptop and tablet sleeves are located in the day bag! Yes, this does mean that they are even further from your body than the on the Farpoint 40, but I find this a small price to pay. If you are flying, using the daybag as a personal item, it is extremely convenient not to have to dig your laptop out of your backpack in the overhead bin after take off. More importantly still, when traveling by bus or train, you often have to stow your pack somewhere out of reach, sometimes on the roof! This setup lets you keep your electronics and important documents in hand, which is extremely important when traveling by bus in places where theft is an issue.

Stowaway straps

I know what I said about carry on only, and I stick to it. With that said, it doesn’t hurt to consider what we would do if we found ourselves in a situation where we had to check our bag. Maybe you had a bag nazi reject your bag at the gate of some random, budget airline. Or maybe you needed to fly with your pet as your carry on, which I actually have done. If for whatever reason, you do need to check your bag, it is a godsend to be able to pack your straps away. Airport conveyor belts are notorious for eating backpack straps, leaving them completely ruined. This is also a great feature when storing your pack on subway and bus rides

In these instances, the Osprey Farpoint has a great stowaway system for the straps, and in less than a minute, your travel backpack becomes a travel duffle for safe transit, ready to transform back into a backpack when you arrive at your destination. This is doubly important if you do take your chances at the gate with the Farpoint 55, as you are much more likely to end up checking it than most packs on the list.

Price

The price is another selling point for the Osprey Farpoint. It is comparable to both the Tortuga Setout and Patagonia Black Hole MLC.

So what do we think?

All in all, we want to say that that the Osprey Farpoint 55 is a great pack, maybe even the best pack on the list. We love the stowable strap system, and the gender-specific models, with two sizes for each. It is also the only pack on the list that I would choose over the Outbreaker for a Trek.

But it kills me that the Farpoint 55 is not a true carry on pack. This is, honestly, the most baffling thing on the entire list. The day bag, laptop placement, and price could make this a clear number one if it wasn’t automatically disqualified for not being a true carry on backpack. Meanwhile, The danger to your laptop rules out the 40 as a top contender.

I am not the only one dumbfounded by the size of the Farpoint 55, and should this be changed, expect this pack to make a hard run at number one on our list.

Perhaps the biggest brand on the list, North Face apparel has become so common that many forget the company’s roots lie in making outdoor gear that keeps people alive in the harshest elements on the planet. Like Osprey and Patagonia, they are now taking lessons learned in the backcountry and applying them to a travel backpack. Let’s see how they fared.

Size

At 21x12x7, the North Face Overhaul 40 is legitimately a carry on backpack! I was personally shocked at how many “carry on” packs don’t actually fit carry on requirements. And the ones that do are often either 35 liters or less, or else they only meet the requirements of the more lenient airlines. Not so with the North Face Overhaul. This is a travel backpack that will meet even the strictest carry on requirements, and still give you a full 41 liters of capacity!

Like most of the packs on the list, this is a one size fits all backpack.

Organization

The North Face Overhaul is more than solid when it comes to organization. In fact, looking into the front storage compartment, you would be hard-pressed to tell it from a Tortuga or Minaal packs. Also, like those packs, the North Face Overhaul puts the laptop compartment firmly against your back, so you are less likely to feel it on longer walks. This setup is also similar to the Outbreaker in that it allows you to open the lay flat laptop compartment and send it through security, rather than having to remove your laptop. The downfall of the Overhauls organization is its main compartment, but we will get to that next.

Accessibility

As with virtually all packs on the list, there is bound to be a downside. The size and organizational features on Overhaul are home runs, but it is the only bag on the list not to offer suitcase style opening. That means that you will be packing it like a regular bookbag. The main compartment does open quite wide, but as one of the smaller packs on the list, it can’t really afford to make it difficult to access the main pocket. This is in contrast to the Minaal Carry-on 2.0, which is also a smaller pack, but allows great access to the main compartment so that you can peice your belongings together just right. Not to mention, it allows you to get something out without digging everything on top of it

Straps and Hipbelt

Combined with the molded back panel, the North Face Overhaul features an adequate hip belt and shoulder straps. While neither is particularly beefy, they should allow you to carry a fully loaded pack through airports, to bus stations, or to a hostel without much difficulty. They are fairly minimal though, perhaps to allow them to be packed away, which is a nice feature even on a true carry on backpack. However, if you are looking for a pack that you will hardly notice on your back and shoulders after a long walk then keep looking.

The Overhaul also allows for briefcase style carry for when the straps are packed away.

What do we really think?

I do not think there is a travel backpack with a better size to capacity ratio than the North Face Overhaul 40. That is doubly true when comparing it to other packs that meet European and budget airline carry on requirements. However, actually packing that gear and retrieving it through a partial opening is a huge downside, which brings me down on this pack a bit. It is priced very similarly to most packs on the list.

The Osprey Porter, like the Farpoint, is one of the most popular travel backpacks on the market.

Size

The Osprey Porter comes in 30l, 46l, and 65l options. Naturally, the 60 measures 25x14x12 and is a bit too large to meet our carry on the only requirement. Meanwhile, the 30l measures 19.5x13x10. This means it is smaller than what most US airlines require, but the depth is technically an inch over.

That brings us to the Osprey porter 46, which I think is the best option of the three. It is advertised as a carry on backpack. However, like the Farpoint 55, and even the Porter 30, this seems a bit questionable. Measuring 22x14x11,  it is another pack that you will PROBABLY manage to sneak on most US airlines as a carry on, but if the gate attendants are following the letter of the law, you might very well end up checking it.

The shape of this pack really throws me, to be honest. I am amazed that the 30 liter Porter still manages to miss a dimension requirement for US airlines, while the other two are small enough for European airlines. Meanwhile, the Porter 46, like the Farpoint 55, seems like the perfect option for a maximum size carry on backpack, except it just misses the actual size limits.

Hipbelt and straps

Like the Farpoint series, the Porter features a convenient stowaway system for the hip belt and shoulder straps. Unfortunately, that is about the only great thing that you can say about the hip belt and shoulder straps. In stark contrast to most Osprey backpacks, the shoulder straps and hip belt on the Porter are strikingly minimalist. If you don’t plan on walking far with it on your back, then this might not bother you too much, but if you are one for comfort then this may not be the best travel backpack for you.

Another interesting fact about this pack is that it is only available in one, adjustable size, rather than having four overall options (two for men and two for women like most Osprey packs). So you might want to try this one on before you buy it.

Organization and laptop sleeve

As far as organization is concerned, this pack isn’t going to do anything that really blows your socks off. However, It has adequate organizational features, and a suitcase opening style that will make things easy to access.

The Osprey Porter got a redesign in 2017. Before that, the main complaint about the pack, aside from the straps, was the location of the laptop sleeve. Like the Farpoint, The Porter had the sleeve located on the outside of the pack, and this was negative for all of the same reasons that it still is for the Farpoint. But Osprey has now fixed that issue, moving the laptop sleeve up nice and cozy to your back. This will help the weight distribution, but more importantly, it will keep your laptop much safer.

Duffel-style compression system

Honestly, I am not really sure how to feel about this one. The Osprey Porter comes with a compression system that sort of folds the pack and turns it into a duffel for storage. Based on a comment on their website, I think this is why they consider the 46l a carry on backpack.  They state, “[sic] Do to the design and construction of a soft-sided pack such as the Porter 46, we list this product as a carry-on size because ideal packing size is within those limitations.” I am not fully convinced on this one, as the original commenter had not been able to carry it on. Furthermore, the fold over style seems to take up room that could have actually been used to pack things.

So what do we think?

On a number of levels, this seems like a great pack. At the same time, Osprey made some very strange design choices, which I am not crazy about. I think the compression system wastes more room than it saves, which probably explains the odd dimensions of the pack as they relate to carry on regulations. Also, the straps are a huge downgrade from the Farpoint and it comes in at a higher price point to boot. Personally, I do not think this pack competes with the Farpoint. So if you are set on an Osprey pack, I would go with the Farpoint. All of that said, it is a popular pack, so maybe others see in it something that I am missing.

Nomatic, as a company, is our third and final Kickstarter funded, scratch your own itch style company. Like the guys from Tortuga and Minaal, they were not happy with the current travel bag selection and thought they could do better. So did they?

Size

Measuring 21x14x9 and weighing in at over four lb (2kg) the Nomatic Travel Bag is carry on size for almost any airline. It also has a claimed capacity of 40l. On the whole, its size is pretty middle ground amongst the packs on the list. However, the weight is a bit of a turnoff, especially for a pack that is sub 45l.

Organizational features

Ever heard the expression “too much of a good thing”? That pretty much sums up the features of the Nomatic Travel bag. The website boasts “20+ innovative features.” Basically, it comes down to a bag with about as many pockets as both Tortugas and the Minaal combined. Furthermore, too many of these are on the outside of the pack, which means that locking them all up would be just shy of impossible.

It also features a “shoe compartment.” No pack has ever really pulled off a shoe compartment well, and the Nomatic Travel Bag is no exception. The “shoe compartment” really just goes right in the middle of your pack, making it more difficult to pack around your shoes than if you used a separate bag for them.

Storage and accessibility

This is a turnoff for this pack. What the other Gofundme packs all have in common is large main compartments, which allow you to pack things in the most efficient way for your own personal needs. The obsession with a compartment for everything, as well as a thin layer of padding around the entire pack, eats away at main compartment space. For a pack as large and as heavy as the Nomatic Travel Bag, there is surprisingly little room in its main compartment. However, it does feature a very large, suitcase style opening, so at least it does have that going for it.

Straps

Here, as everywhere, the Nomatic Travel Bag shines in its complexity. It allows for both backpack and duffel style carry, but the duffel style carry is a bit odd. Rather than hanging vertically like a briefcase, it lays flat. Meaning that it swings wide and awkward next to you.

As a backpack, the shoulder straps are sufficient, but not overly comfortable. They also seem prone to letting the bag hang too far away from your body, and too low down your back. They do zip away though, so I suppose not all is lost. It also includes minimal but sufficient detachable waist straps to make up for the shoulder straps, and the waist straps are small enough to easily be stowed away when not in use.

Price

At around 220 USD, the Nomatic Travel Bag is comparable to the Tortuga setout but significantly cheaper than either the Minaal Carry-on 2.0 or the Outbreaker.

What do we really think?

Honestly, I probably came off overly harsh on this bag. Frankly, I don’t really think that it is a bad bag, at least not really. The problem is, it was designed to compete with Minaal and Tortuga’s packs, and at this, it fails spectacularly in my estimation. While the Carry-on 2.0, Setout, and Outbreaker might all fill slightly different niches, I can’t see what niche the Nomatic Travel Bag could fill, that one of them is not already filling better. All of that said, I think it is a really good looking pack. So I will leave it there, on a good note.

Honorable mentions

The Eagle Creek Universal Traveler Backpack was almost on the list. In fact, I probably like it a bit more than a pack or two that is on the list. So why was it left off? Put simply, because it is just so similar to the North Face Overhaul. The two packs are near identical in many respects, but in the end, the North Face just boasts a few more features. At a slightly lower price point, however, the Eagle Creek Universal Traveler might be the perfect alternative for uber budget-minded travelers.

Tom Bihn backpacks

Tom Bihn makes a number of travel backpacks with interesting features, which are widely regarded as being very high quality. So, why no Tom Bihn on the list? Price. If the Minaal Carry-on 2.0 and Tortuga Outbreaker made you squirm at 300 USD, then don’t even think about perusing the Tom Bihn website. Furthermore, they take the nickel and dime for accessories approach, which I was not thrilled about with Minaal, to an entirely different level. Also, the Tom Bihn Aeronaut would have found its way onto the list, but for the lack of a dedicated laptop compartment, which was a total dealbreaker for us.

Until Next time!

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