Best Travel Backpack: Carry on Backpack 2018

Welcome back! This article is currently in its fourth iteration. So far, seven new packs have been added to the original six, and newer models have replaced older ones.

2.0 Updates – Addition of Tortuga Setout, Nomatic Travel Bag, and Patagonia Headway MLC replaced by Patagonia Black Hole MLC.
3.0 Updates – Addition of GoRuck GR2, Cotopaxi Allpa 35l, AER Travel Pack, and Eagle Creek Global Companion.
4.0 Updates – Addition of Tortuga Setout Divide.
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That old bookbag just not cutting it as a travel pack anymore? Then you are in the right place! Here, we break down 12 of the best travel backpacks on the market. These are perfect for the digital nomad or one bag travel enthusiast.
Tortuga Setout: Best overall travel backpack.

Tortuga Setout Divide: Best one bag travel backpack that doubles as a great edc backpack.

GoRuck GR2: Most durable travel backpack, for those not afraid of breaking the bank.

The Tortuga Setout now sits at a solid number one on our list, along with its little brother, the Setout Divide. Meanwhile, the GoRuck GR2 occupies a special place as a very expensive, but amazing niche pack, and the Tortuga Outbreaker still has a place for those who want a truly awesome maximum legal carry on backpack that you could haul on a trek.

After this, the Eagle Creek Global companion and AER Travel pack have joined the Black Hole MLC, Minaal Carry-on 2.0 as great travel backpacks in their own rights. And the Cotopaxi Allpa 35 occupies a strange place on the list as a great pack with a massive disclaimer.

The final packs were those that we couldn’t find a niche for in which we felt they could top any of the packs ahead of them. Still, there are some solid packs among them, and one could be perfect for your needs.

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.
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 22”x14”x9”. International carry on sizes can be a bit more tricky. Generally speaking, 21”x14”x9” is the rule. However, there are a few outliers with different requirements, such as Air France’s 21”x13”x9”.
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.
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, 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 against!
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.

Dimensions and appearance

A 45l pack, measuring in at 22″x14″x9″ and weighing only 3.3lb, the Tortuga Setout is as big a pack as we have on the list, but is surprisingly light for its size. And while it is technically over the limit for international and budget airlines, it is a fairly soft-sided pack, so it easily packs down as long as it is not stuffed full. Tortuga has recently released the Setout DIvide. While in many ways it is the 35l Tortuga Setout, it is very much its own pack, and we reveiw it seperately below.

The Setout has a clean, sleek appearance, that would almost be minimal if it weren’t such a massive pack. It is an urban-focused pack and that definitely comes through in the aesthetic.

Features and Workmanship

Tortuga has a reputation for making high-quality carry on compatible bags and the Setout Travel Backpack lives up to that reputation.
Gone is the almost waterproof sailcloth of the Outbreaker, 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.
Water-resistant is a tradeoff that many, myself included, were happy to see. Sure, the sailcloth is really cool and really tough. But it is also crinkly and heavy. For an urban-focused travel backpack, I think the 900D water resistant fabric of the Setout is more than enough, and it certainly fits the aesthetic mold better.
The vast majority of the features on the Tortuga Setout are organization related. So let’s get into that now.

Organization and accessibility

In the original article, I said that the Tortuga Outbreaker stood alone when it came to organizational features. No more.
The Tortuga Setout features a cavernous, full zip, suitcase style opening main compartment. One side has two large, mesh zippered compartments, while the other is completely empty. This is the perfect setup for modular packers, who want to organize their things their way, be it with packing cubes or rolling or folding or…
Externally, the Setout has a large, quick access zipper on the front of the pack. This will likely be where you throw phone, passport, keys, etc. while going through security.
The Setout ’s meticulous organization really starts with a larger front external zipper. This reveals a massive pocket that extends to the bottom of the bag. Inside is a large slide in pocket, perfect for a notebook or journal, three smaller slide in compartments, pen compartments, and business card compartments. While these might seem like overkill, we definitely found uses for most of them, storing passports, gift cards, etc. And somehow, the Setout manages to pull all of this off without taking away room for modular packing.
For tactical packers who want to be able to access things quickly and easily, while still utilizing a large open main compartment for modular packing, the Tortuga Setout is made for you.

Laptop compartment

The laptop is placed safely against your back but separated by a hard panel to protect it when you are not wearing the Setout. It is accessed via a top zip, and claims to hold laptops up to 15.” However, I have put a 17″ MacBook Pro in it with a tiny bit of room to spare.

The laptop sleeve is suspended, so it is well protected from vertical drops. It also has a tablet sleeve sewn to the laptop sleeve. Overall, it offers solid protection for the laptop compartment, behind only the GoRuck GR2, which is unmatched when it comes to laptop protection. The Setout trades that extra bit of protection to shave 2lb and $200 off of your bag.

Straps and Comfort

The Tortuga Setout is 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 the comfort features one might need to hike a ten-mile trail for the lighter weight required at the ticket counter.
The injection molded straps are padded and wide enough to cushion the weight of the pack even when fully loaded. Furthermore, the hip straps do an excellent job of transferring the weight off of your shoulders altogether.

The back panel, like the straps, is nowhere near as cushioned as the Outbreaker, but three large foam cushions provide nice padding and excellent ventilation.

Finally, the hip belt is easily detatchable, and stows conventiently away behind the backpanel, along with the shoulder straps.

What did we really think?

I think it is pretty obvious. We love this pack! In fact, it is the one we are using on our three-month backpacking trip 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 off the price, and called it the Setout.

At $200, you will be hard-pressed to find another pack that offers almost all of the features of more expensive among, while saving weight and size. An extremely versatile pack, the Tortuga Setout is the perfect travel backpack for us. Of course, another pack might be the perfect pack for you, so read on!

The Newest addition to our list, the Setout DIvide is the long-awaited “smaller version of the Tortuga Setout.” I use quotes because, to be an exact clone of the original Tortuga Setout in so many ways, the new Tortuga Setout Divide backpack is very much its own pack. In fact, I think that it is the most unique pack on our list of the best travel backpacks. Rather than simply being a sized down version of the Setout, the Setout Divide is an expandable pack. It expands from 26l to 34l. In theory, this could make it the perfect one bag for minimalist travelers: able to function as a carry on backpack, and as an edc backpack once you arrive. So, how does that work out in practice?

Dimensions and Appearance

The only pack on the list to come with two different sets of dimensions, the Tortuga Setout Divide measures 20”x13”x8” at 34l and collapses to 20”x13”x6” at 26l. This means that, even fully expanded, the Setout Divide is going to be able to function as a carry on on almost any airline. Meanwhile, it is a bit taller and wider than your average edc pack.
So, it is a more compact version of the original Setout backpack, and it doubles as a day pack to boot! What is the catch? The catch is that, despite being smaller, at 3.8lb it is actually heavier than its big brother. That weight is carried in the extra fabric and zippers that make the bag expandable.

Features and Workmanship

The new Tortuga Setout Divide features the same, high quality “900D heathered polyester” and heavy duty YKK zippers as the Original Setout. This keeps with its trend of being nearly identical to its big brother in almost every way.
In fact, the new Setout Divide keeps all of the features that made it our top pick for best travel backpack. Its expandable nature really is the only thing that makes the Divide a unique travel back rather than just a smaller Tortuga Setout. And that expandable nature is what we will dive into now.
The Setout Divide features a fourth zipper that runs around the entire pack. Behind this zipper is the extra fabric that allows the Divide to expand from 26 to 34 liters. On top of this, the Setout Divide features the same four compression straps, two on each side, as the larger Setout. This allows the pack to be cinched down tight, whether it is at 26l or 34l.
One difference, as a result of the expandable nature of the pack is the water bottle pocket, which features its own zip down so that it doesn’t hang loose when the pack is compressed to 26l. The water bottle pocket might be seen as a pro or a con, depending on your needs. For small to medium and/or tall water bottles, it holds them extremely well. However, it just doesn’t have the volume for medium to large/fat water bottles.

Organization and Accessibility

As with most of its features, the new Setout Divide’s organization and accessibility features are nearly identical to the full sized Tortuga Setout in nearly every way. The quick access compartment and larger external front pocket feature the exact same organizational layout as the Original Tortuga Setout (which are reviewed in detail above). The only two differences come inside the main compartment, which still features the same full zip, suitcase style opening as the full sized Setout.
Inside the main compartment, on the side nearest your back, there is still the large empty compartment just begging you to piece your packing cubes in it like a jigsaw puzzle. Added to this side, however, is an X shaped buckle strap to help hold things in place.
On the opposite side, there is now a single large mesh pocket, which unzips fully, rather than the two smaller mesh pockets of the full sized Setout. While compressed to 26l, this pocket has very little volume of its own, like on the original Setout. However, when expanded to 34l, this pocket is where the extra 8l of volume is held. Of course, if you don’t want to be bothered with this, you could simply leave it unzipped, and allow both sides to act as a single, large compartment. I think it is a great addition. It adds a bit of versatility, without sacrificing a bit of room.

Laptop Compartment

For the most part, the Setout Divide’s laptop compartment is the exact same laptop compartment that we loved on the Original Setout. In fact, it seems just as large. It held a medium to large 15” laptop with ample room to spare. You could probably get away with slim 17” and even the beefiest 15” laptops.
The one downside to the compartment is that, due to the Setout Divide’s smaller outline, its laptop compartment comes all the way to both sides, meaning that it is only fully suspended from the bottom.

Straps and Comfort

The Tortuga Setout Divide features the exact same back panel, straps, and hip belt that we loved on the full sized Setout. It also keeps the exact same effortless stowaway system for the straps and detachable system for the hip belt. Furthermore, because it carries a smaller load, these make for an even more comfortable carrying experience on the Setout Divide! On the other hand, because it is a shorter pack, the hip belt is even higher than on the original Setout.
Finally, using this pack for daily carry meant that I finally got to take full advantage of the extremely plush, large top and side carry handles, that I rarely used on the full sized Setout.

What did We really think?

I have to be honest. When this pack was first announced, I was not excited. In fact, I was downright skeptical. It just sounded heavy and gimmicky. But after testing it out, I must say that I am pleasantly surprised.
While its outline is a bit large for an edc backpack, and it is also a bit heavy for an edc backpack, it actually functioned extremely well as an edc backpack! Using it to carry my laptop to a coffee shop for work, or a change of clothes and several water bottles to go to the gym, it vastly exceeded my expectations.
Meanwhile, as a travel backpack, it keeps almost all of the features that made the original Tortuga Setout our top pick for best travel backpack. If you can get past the weight, it really is the 35l option of the Setout that I wanted, and a very serviceable edc backpack to boot!
Finally, at $180 it the Setout DIvide is a bit cheaper than the full sized Setout, making it extremely competitively priced in regard to its competitors.
If you want a great 35l travel backpack, and you want a great edc backpack to use at your destination, AND you want one bag that fills both of those roles, then look no further than the Tortuga Setout Divide.

GoRuck is a company with a cultlike following and a special forces background. They are fast becoming known as designers of the highest quality, and highest priced backpacks on the market. Their midsized bag is the GoRuck GR2. available in a 34 and 40l variant, this is the pack that really shows how little those volume ratings matter. These are big packs, so don’t let their smaller liter designations fool you!

Dimensions and appearance

The 40l measures 22″x14″x9″ and weighs in at 5.3lb. The 34l, meanwhile, measures 12.5″x20.5″x9″ and weighs in at 4.75lb. So the first thing about both models of the GR2 is that they are HEAVY. Many airlines will cap the weight of your carry on item at 8kg, roughly 17lb. That means that the GR2 40l would take up almost ⅓ of your allowed carry on weight. That said, many airlines do not actually weigh your bags. Many people fly for years and never have a bag weighed, so you can decide how important this is for you.

Beyond the height difference, the two bags are exactly the same. And as I said before, their low claimed volume is misleading. While you could not fit as much into the 34l GR2 as you would the Tortuga Setout or Patagonia Black Hole, it still feels more like a 40l backpack than a 35l, and the GR2 40l feels more like a 45l.

As for looks, the GoRuck GR2 looks about as tactical as a pack could. Like all GoRuck backpacks, they have a very sleek, minimalist look. If not for the MOLLE webbing, you might not even notice that these packs not on a special forces combat design.

Features and Workmanship

When it comes to quality, you literally can not beat GoRuck, and the GR2 is no exception. Its durability is absolute overkill, and it should last you a lifetime. Furthermore, I have never heard anything bad about the GoRuck SCARS warranty program, so the bag Furthermore for life.
Most of the features on the GR2 are related to the absolutely insane materials that it is made from. Based on a special forces medical pack, the GR2 is made of 1,000D CORDURA fabric, which is highly water resistant. It is also covered MOLLE webbing, which is what really lends to its tactical look and is really the only visible external feature on a very sleek pack. Its burly YKK zippers are outfitted with rubber covered rope dongles to make them easy to pull while wearing gloves.

In short, the value and quality of this bag are reviewed out of control. However, they are also what makes the GR2 so hefty in both weight and price.

Organization and Accessibility

The main compartment on the GR2 utilizes a full zip, clamshell-style opening, which I love in a carry on backpack.
If you are a modular packer, you will love the main compartment on the GR2. There is not much in the way of organizational features, which allows you to organize your packing cubes however you want. Furthermore, the top half of the inside of the pack is covered in more of GoRuck’s beloved Molle. You could clip things to it to make sure that the weight of the pack stays evenly distributed. Or, if like most people you don’t have anything to hook to it, GoRuck would be more than happy to sell you their “Feild pocket.” Because, come on. You cant let that badass MOLLE go to waste!
Below the MOLLE, there is an elastic slide in compartment, good for stashing a pair of sandals or computer charger. Meanwhile, the opposite side features a large vertical mesh zipper with a smaller horizontal mesh zipper pocket above it.
A second large zipper opens the front of the pack into a second, smaller clamshell. At the top of which is a GoRuck “field pocket,” perfect for storing any smaller electronics, below which is a large mesh pocket. The other side is a mirror of the outside of the main compartment with a large vertical mesh zipper underneath a smaller horizontal zipper pocket.
The GR2, like all GoRucks, has a single, diagonal, external zipper pocket, located on the back of the pack. I was a huge fan of this setup on the smaller GR1. However, on the GR2, it still goes all the way to the bottom of the bag, making it very difficult to get to anything out of it, particularly if you have the bag stuffed full.
Lastly, the GR2 does not have a water bottle holder. Although, there is more MOLLE webbing on the side of the pack, where you could clip a GoRuck “full panel water bottle pocket,” which you could acquire for $40.

Laptop compartment

In my opinion, laptop compartments are the best thing about GoRuck bags. And since all GoRuck bags feature an almost identical design, the GR2 is no exception.
The “Bombproof” laptop compartment on the GR2 holds laptops up to 17 inches. This makes it one of your only choices if you have a monster gaming laptop that you like to lug around with you.
It is located between the main compartment and the back panel and features a false bottom, which means that if the GR2 provides great protection against vertical drops. Furthermore, it is padded in every direction, and the stiff, hard plastic “frame sheet” against your back means that your laptop will be completely protected from every angle.

Straps and comfort

The GR2 features large, heavily padded straps, which you might expect from a large, tactical style travel backpack. The padding ensures that the straps remain against comfortable, even if you pack it to capacity. And combined with the stiff frame sheet, the shoulder straps keep the GR2 riding high on your back, which is important because it does not come with hip straps.

This was a bit of a knock on the GR2, in my opinion. It is a heavy pack, meant to be heavily packed. As such, it seems as though hip straps would have been a wise addition. 

Finally, the top carry handle is heavy duty, heavily padded, and promises to hold up to whatever load you fill the pack with.

What did we really think?

Honestly, I love the GR2. It is an incredibly well made, durable pack. If you want a carry on backpack that you could dig out of the wreckage after surviving a plane crash (because let’s be honest, we all plan to survive if there is a plane crash), this is the pack for you. Furthermore, as someone who travels with a laptop that is, essentially, my livelihood, I love the GR2’s “bombproof” laptop compartment.
The thing that holds the GR2 as a carry on travel backpack is its weight. If you are a one airline type of flyer, and that airline doesn’t weigh carry on backpacks, and many US-based airlines do not, then this is not a problem. But if you plan on taking the bag outside the US, or if you fly budget airlines, you will use a significant portion of your weight allowance just for the GR2 itself.

Speaking of your allowance… It costs $395, almost $100 more than the pricey Minaal Carry-on 2.0 and Tortuga Outbreaker. That said, your money is paying for awesome materials, such as the 1000D CORDURA fabric and copious MOLLE webbing. And, it should literally last forever. Furthermore, GoRuck offers a very generous 25% “earned service discount” for students, teachers, first responders and a wide range of other government employees and retirees. This can take a signifigant bit of sting out of the GR2’s price tag.

In short, the GR2 is a bag of extremes pros and cons. Basically, everything is an extreme pro except for the price and the weight. And for some people, those two things will be bigger cons than for others. In the end, they will likely be the determining factor in whether or not the GR2 is the best carry on backpack for you.

Big sister to the Setout, the Tortuga Outbreaker is as solid a pack as it was in our first review, although the GoRuck GR2 has since taken the crown as the toughest travel backpack. Still, the Tortuga Outbreaker offers something of a middle ground between packs like the GoRuck and the Setout.

Dimensions and appearance

The Outbreaker comes in two different sizes, a 35l, and a 45l. The 35l measures 20.3x12.9″x8.2,” and the 45l measure 22″x14″x9.” 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. two packs weigh in at 4.6lb and 5.1 lb respectively. And like the GoRuck GR2, the Outbreaker is heavy for a carry on backpack.
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.

Features and Workmanship

Tortuga has garnered a reputation for making absurdly high-quality products and the Outbreaker Travel Backpack definitely lives up to the reputation. The sailcloth is very durable and extremely water resistant. This is backed up by water-resistant sealed YKK zippers. One note about the sail cloth is that it is quite loud, making sort of a dry leaves rustling sound, so that might be a consideration.
The Outbreaker has as many features as any bag on the list. Aside from being massive, it has about a million different pockets and the most robust suspension system of any pack on the list.

Organization and accessibility

While most packs on the list offer solid organization features, it is an area where the Tortuga Outbreaker shines. 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.
The main compartment features the same monster suitcase style opening as the Setout, with two mesh zipper pockets on one side and a massive cave on the other. Additionally, the Outbreaker packs in four 3d, mesh zipper pockets around that massive cave-like opening. These could be used for underwear, sock, or any number of small or compressible items.
Externally, the Tortuga Outbreaker features a large organizational zipper compartment similar to the Setout. Inside is a tablet or notebook sleeve, a large, mesh zipper compartment and more slide in pockets than I could possibly write about, in addition to business card and pen holders.
Finally, there are two, fairly large non-3D quick access pockets on the outside of this. Having it split into two is a nice touch, so that items don’t fall into an abyss like they do in the quick access pocket of the GR2.

Laptop compartment

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. With a full clamshell zipper, 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 doesn’t want to make the TSA experience a little easier.
On the other side of the compartment, there is a larger horizontal mesh pocket, with two smaller mesh pockets above. These are apparently for cords and other electronics, but if packed tightly it could leave a power brick pressed against your laptop. So I would throw that in one of the infinite number of other pockets on the Outbreaker.
As for its location in the pack, the laptop sleeve is located nice and cozy against your back and has a tablet sleeve sewn to it. And like the Setout, the laptop compartment is suspended from the bottom of the pack, protecting it from drops.

Straps and Comfort

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 an 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 might very well 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 and purchase a bag cover for your travel backpack. That said, the shoulder straps can be removed, but they definitely prioritize comfort over packability.

What did we really think?

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.
That said, this pack suffers from the same problems as the GoRuck GR2. Its $300 price tag and weight make it a harder sell than it otherwise would be.
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. However, 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.

Patagonia Black Hole MLC (maximum legal carry on)

Unlike Tortuga, Patagonia is a blue blood outdoors company venturing into the urban pack realm with the Patagonia Black Hole MLC. 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 an amazing 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.

Dimensions and appearance

The Patagonia Black Hole MLC measures in at 21″x16″x9,” weighing just over 3lb as a 45l pack. 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.
Its appearance is pretty much what you would expect a “soft-side suitcase” to look like. And like all Black Hole bags, it has a shiny, glossy look, which I really like, but to each his own.

Features and Workmanship

Patagonia’s long history is enough to vouch for the workmanship of any Patagonia product, in my eyes. However, for those who take a more critical approach, the Black Hole MLC will not disappoint. The 13-oz 450D TPU laminated polyester ripstop and water repellent finish of all Black Hole bags is extremely durable and as water resistant as travel backpacks come.
The Black Hole MLC is about as feature sparse as any bag on the list. What does that translate into? A bag with a massive storage compartment that can be carried as a backpack, an over the shoulder bag, and a briefcase.

Organization and accessibility

The Patagonia MLC features by far the most massive, full zip, suitcase style opening main compartment of any travel backpack that we reviewed. One side features two large mesh zipper pockets perfect for stashing chargers and thing that don’t go in a packing cube. Behind these pockets, a third zip opens to stash shoes or other items. And as shoe compartments go, this is the best one I have seen.
Meanwhile, the other side is wide open, just waiting to be packed with more gear than you could possibly want to take with you. This side does have a useful mesh cover that zips closed to hold all of your meticulously organized backing cubes in place, a feature that I wish all lay flat bags included.
Externally, there is a small, non-3D quick access pocket on the front of the bag. Above that, a zipper opens a larger external organizer compartment, similar to the one on the Tortuga Setout. This pocket has numerous slide in pockets, pen holders, and plenty of unorganized room to boot.

Laptop compartment

The Patagonia MLC laptop sleeve is located between the main compartment and your back and utilizes a vertical side zipper to access the compartment. And this thing is massive. Seriously, you could probably put your puny little MacBook and your girlfriends 17″ Alienware both in this thing. 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.
Lastly, the laptop compartment is among the least padded of any pack on the list. Fortunately, there is plenty of room in the compartment for your laptop even if you have a case on it, which you will want if you plan to throw this bag round much at all.

Straps and comfort

The strap system on the Patagonia Black Hole MLC 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, carry on backpack 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.
On the plus side, however, the straps do stowaway, which is a convenient option when checking the bag or when you want to use the suitcase carry option.

What did we really think?

The Patagonia Black Hole MLC is an amazing pack that knows what it wants to be, and doesn’t try to be anything else. At $199 its price point is comparable with the Tortuga Setout and Cotopaxi Allpa.
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 Patagonia MLC. 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.
There have been reports that the Cotopaxi repair center is not functional at this time, compromising their ability to honor their warranties. I reached out to Cotopaxi about these concerns and received this response: “Our repairs program is definitely going through a revamp and we are in the process of finding some new repair llamas!  We of course will work with every customer in making sure their gear lasts for good. :)” 

 

This sounds promising to me, and I find it encouraging that they were willing to honestly address the situation. However, this may or may not be something that weighs into your decision when you purchase. We wil try to stay up to dte on this as the situation develops and update again when the Cotopaxi repair center is fully operational.

If there is one brand on this list that could match Patagonia’s ethos, it is Cotopaxi. With a focus on “paying it forward” and eradicating poverty throughout the developing world, it is hard not to see Cotopaxi as a company with whom you would like to spend your dollars. Although, the above-mentioned reports of their warranty make me question that ethos. That said, how does their carry on backpack, the Cotopaxi Allpa 35 stack up against the competition? Let’s find out.

Dimensions and appearance

At 20”x12″x8,” and weighing in at 3.44lb as a 35l pack, the Cotopaxi Allpa is on the smaller side of the travel backpacks that we reviewed. While it only has a claimed volume of 35l, and it fits easily within the strictest carry on limits, it is a surprisingly spacious backpack.
Its look is definitely unique. Described as “The ultimate adventure backpack,” its appearance definitely screams, “let’s go outside!” Bright colors with accents and a glossy finish definitely remind me of old school climbing gear. Personally, as an avid outdoorsman and climber, I think that the look of this pack is to die for. But I understand that it will not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Features and Workmanship

Made of “TPU coated 1000D polyester with 1680D ballistic nylon paneling,” the Cotopaxi Allpa’s aesthetic is not the only thing reminiscent of a climbing pack. Tough and weather resistant, the Allpa comes with a pack away rain fly for when it really starts coming down.
This bag boasts a list of features that set it apart from most of the carry on backpacks we reviewed. Many of these were based on organization and accessibility, so I will save those for the next section.
Others were solid, reinforced handles on all four sides of the pack. This makes the Allpa great for suitcase-style carry, as well as retrieving it from overhead bins and trunks. It also has carabiner straps on each corner, great for attaching gear, particularly if you want this pack to double for outdoor use. Finally  “theft proof” zippers might not keep determined thieves out of the bag, but will certainly deny them easy access.

Organization and accessibility

Here is where the Cotopaxi Allpa really comes alive. The main compartment is accessed via a full zip, suitcase style opening. Inside, there are some of the most useful features that I have ever seen in a travel backpack, or any other backpack for that matter.
The deep side, against your back, has no compartments, allowing you to pack modularly with packing cubes. However, it has two straps and a mesh zippered cover to hold all of your things in place. This is a great touch, as anyone who has had all of their things fall out of a full zip backpack in the airport knows. The other side has two small mesh zip pockets on top, with a large, 3D mesh pocket underneath.
Externally, there is a large zippered pocket on the front of the pack. This pocket extends to the bottom of the bag and could be stuffed with a jacket a couple of paperback books. On the top of this pocket are two mesh zippered pockets, for things you don’t want to reach in and dig for.
A great feature of this pack is the vertical quick access zipper to the main compartment, great for strategic packers. It allows you to access the main compartment with the bag slung over one shoulder.
A final quick access compartment on top allows you to quickly stash your things at airport security.

Laptop compartment

The laptop compartment is located flush against your back, in its own compartment. The entrance to the Cotopaxi Allpa’s laptop compartment is a vertical quick access zipper on the right side of the pack. Like the compartment access zipper to the main compartment, it allows you access without actually taking the pack off.
Inside, the laptop compartment is sufficiently padded and fits 17inch+ laptops, making it one of the few to do so. It also has a padded tablet sleeve, with a velcro strap to hold smaller tablets in place.

Straps and comfort

The Allpa has fairly minimal straps that focus more on contour than padding. Combined with one of the more solid hip belt setups and a suspended “air mesh” back panel, the Cotopaxi Allpa should treat you well on any of your adventures. While well-made not made for wilderness backpacking, it might be our top pick on the list if we needed our travel backpack to double as one.
As an added bonus, the straps and hip belt stow away behind the air mesh back panel. While you should never need to check this bag due to its size, it is always nice to know you will not have to worry, should you decide to check it. However, these straps can be a bit uncomfortable, should you want to stow them while wearing the pack. Some people have even reported cutting them off, since they are not removable.

What did we really think?

In all honesty, I love this backpack. I love the claimed ethos of the company behind it, I love the look, and I love the thoughtful design features. While it will not compete with either of the Tortuga backpacks or the Patagonia Blackhole MLC, when it comes to storage, it will hold an impressive amount of gear in a much smaller package.
What might actually be the Allpa’s best feature is its price. You can get the Allpa itself for $169, the Allpa and accessories (mesh laundry bags, a nylon shoe bag, and a snap-on mesh water bottle sleeve), for $179, or all that AND the stowable Batac Daypack for $200.
Honestly, this pack would have been a top contender on the list, if not for the reports of Cotopaxi’s shady warranty dealings. However, the Allpa is an unbelievable pack. If you want a more outdoorsy pack, and you are not scared away by the fear of Cotopaxi’s warranty practices, then the Allpa might just be the pack for you.
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 might be the pack for you.

Dimensions and Appearance

The Minaal Carry-on 2.0 measures 21.6″x13.7″x7.87″ and weighs 3.12lb. This puts it 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. However, is one of the lower volume packs on the list, so bear that in mind.
From an aesthetic standpoint, I think the Carry-on 2.0 is an extremely stylish, urban bag. It looks like a high-class urban commuter, edc backpack on steroids. So if the “I am a high powered business woman on holiday” look is your thing, this bag will fit the bill.

Features and Workmanship

This pack is as carefully crafted and thoughtfully designed as you would expect a start-up product to be. It is stylish and well made, and it just feels like someone’s heart and soul went into it.
When it comes to features, the Minaal Carry-on 2.0 has them for days. It is the one pack on the list that really gives Tortuga a run for its money in this aspect. However, combined with its smaller size, they make things a bit cramped in the Minaal.
The pack has a nifty stowaway system for the straps and also features a very nice side handle for suitcase carry. And with such a small bag, it is more realistic than for some of the larger travel backpacks.

Organization and accessibility

The main compartment is accessed via a full zip, clamshell opening. One side of the main compartment features two zipper pockets: one mesh and one not and both 3D. Now, these are great, but they limit the amount of room for packing cubes which go in the other, empty, side of the main compartment. Furthermore, that compartment is not nearly as deep as on some of the larger packs on the list. Meanwhile, lack of anything to hold things in place means that they can easily spill out when you open the Carry-on 2.0.
Externally, it features a small, quick access pocket on the top, with plenty of room to empty your pockets while going through security. Behind this pocket is a larger one, for anything else you might want quick access to. But again, the tight confines mean that if the bag is full, there will not actually be much room in these pockets.

Laptop compartment

Located firmly against your back, this is one of my favorite parts of the Minaal Carry-on 2.0. It is accessed via a half zip, which goes from one bottom corner, to the opposing corner on the top. After unzipping, the laptop can be removed from the top or from the side. While I have never really wanted to get my laptop out without taking my backpack off, it does seem like a neat feature.
Suspended from all sides, your laptop will be as safe in the Carry-on 2.0 as in any pack on the list, save for the GR2. However, it will only hold laptops up to 15 inches.
And it just wouldn’t be a Minaal backpack without a few more organizational features. These are a small zipper pocket, a document pouch, and business card sized slide in pocket.

Straps and comfort

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 need them to.

What did we really think?

This is a great bag, and if you are a minimalist, one bag traveler, then it might very well be the bag for you. However, since the first iteration of this post, the Cotopaxi Allpa has come along and offered another amazing bag for minimal travelers. Its dimensions are smaller, but it seems to hold far more than the Minaal Carry-on 2.0. Couple that with the Minaal’s $300 price tag, and I just can’t see any reason to choose this bag over the Cotopaxi Allpa, unless Minaal’s aesthetics are just that much more to your liking.
Eagle Creek is yet another outdoor gear manufacturer, but one that has shifted more toward urban travel over the years. And that is definitely the target for their new Global Companion 40l carry on backpack. Of all of the old school gear manufacturers to give it a shot, I feel that Eagle Creek made the most well-rounded entry on our list. Let’s dive in and check it out!

Dimensions and appearance

A 40l pack measuring 13.75″x21.5″x8″ and weighing in at 3.56lb, the Eagle Creek Global Companion is pushing its luck when it comes to meeting carry on requirements. This definitely seems to be a theme for the more outdoorsy travel backpacks, as outdoor packs tend to be much taller and more narrow.
And the Global Companion is most certainly an outdoorsy-looking travel backpack. Whether that suits your fancy or not will be the main factor in how you feel about its packs aesthetic.

Features and Workmanship

For all of its outdoorsy looks and features, its “450D Geo Ripstop” and “Bi-Tech, 600D Helix Poly” does not land it among the most durable packs on our list. And this hurts its case as carry on travel backpack that could truly double as something to carry into the backcountry.
Still, the Global Companion feels like a well put together bag, and not like one you would be too worried about. Furthermore, it is backed by Eagle Creek’s “No matter what warranty,” of which Eagle Creek says “We’ve replaced bags marred by tigers and ran over by planes. Because our gear is built to withstand anything, we make sure it does.” Everyone claims to believe in the quality of their work, but you have to love a company who puts its money where its mouth is.
The Global Companion comes with a built-in rainfly and offers some of the best compression straps of any bag on the list. Although they do go across the water bottle holder. Finally, its zipper lock system on the main, laptop, and electronics compartments are among the best I have ever seen.

Organization and accessibility

The main compartment features a full zip, suitcase style opening. Inside, however, there is nothing. Each side of the bag features a mesh panel to zip over your gear to hold it in place when closed, making the bag great for those who utilize packing cubes over pockets for organization. Also from the main compartment, you could access the laptop sleeve, but it might be tough if you have the bag fully packed.
Externally, the front of the Eagle Creek has three main compartments. A vented, mesh compartment is perfect for throwing a wet rain jacket, or something else that you don’t want going in with everything else. On each side of it, there are two, vertical zippered pockets. One has two slide in mesh compartments, while the other features a padded compartment and is touted as an “electronics compartment.” This is also one of the three locking zippers on the Global Companion.
On the bottom of the pack, there is access to a shoe compartment. While I don’t care for shoe compartments, It doesn’t really get in the way of anything if you don’t use it. Underneath this is the stowaway rain fly compartment.
Finally, the top of the pack features a small, quick access pocket.

Laptop compartment

The laptop compartment can be accessed via the main compartment, but also has its own zipper. It sits flush against the back panel and holds a 17” laptop. There is nothing terribly special about the laptop compartment. It is not the most protective but not the least, and it does offer quick access from the outside.

Straps and comfort

This is where the Eagle Creek Global Companion makes its bid to be a solid hiking pack. One of the best hip belts, great padding on the shoulder straps, and load lifting straps go a long way toward keeping the pack’s weight firmly on your hips. However, it does hang a bit further from your body than most of the packs on the list, so it might come down to personal preference how you feel about this system.
However, all of these straps, while impressive, are not small, and they do not pack away. This adds size to a pack that already sits on the edge of carry on compatibility, and will need some sort of protection, should you end up checking it.
Its “air mesh, moisture-wicking” back panel provides solid padding, and situated as two vertical pads, offers decent ventilation.

What did we really think?

The Eagle Creek Global Companion is a solid, all around pack. Furthermore, at $159, it is one of the cheapest travel backpacks that we reviewed. It is a pack that is good at everything, but not really great at anything. Its borderline carry on compliant size at only 40l and its lack of stow away straps don’t do it any favors as a travel backpack. Meanwhile, its lighter weight material doesn’t help its case as a pack for outdoor use.
Personally, If I wanted a sub $200 backpack, I would spend the extra $10 and go with the Cotopaxi Allpa. This is still a great bag for the money, it is just too similar to the Allpa, which seems to do everything the Global Companion does a bit better.

AER Travel Pack 2

AER is one of the better-known indy bag manufacturers. Their Fit Pack is among the most popular edc backpacks around. But as a startup focused on making onebag, carry on backpacks, they will undoubtedly be judged against Tortuga and Minaal. So how does the AER Travel Pack 2 measure up? Read on to find out.

Dimensions and appearance

With a claimed volume of 35l, the AER Travel Pack measures 21.5″x13.5″x8.5″ and weighs 3.7lb. Another pack really cutting it close when it comes to being carry on compliant, the AER Travel Pack definitely feels significantly more roomy than its claimed 35l.
As for looks, it is very similar to the Tortuga Setout, and for good reason as these packs are almost mirror images of one another. It is somehow a bit more bulky, yet still sleek.

Features and Workmanship

With 1680D Cordura ballistic nylon and sturdy YKK zippers, it is as durable as you could ask a travel backpack to be. Furthermore, it feels very well put together. However, it lacks the “love and care” feel that you get from some of the packs on the list, like the Minaal Carry-on 2.0 or the GoRuck GR2.
The bag’s features include a plethora of organizational options as well as compression straps (two on each side), which can actually be used at the same time as the water bottle holder, and a shoe compartment. 

 

Finally, Aer added a luggage pass-through the to Travel Pack 2. While I still have an illogical objection to rolling luggage, this is a feature that many people look for in a travel backpack.

Organization and accessibility

The AER Travel Pack features a large, full zip clamshell opening. Inside is a single zippered compartment for odds and ends, and a cavernous hole in which you can organize your packing cubes like a jigsaw puzzle. For a bag with a claimed volume of only 35l, it definitely feels more like the massive Tortuga Setout’s main compartment than the smaller compartment of the Minaal Carry-on 2.0.

The two zippered compartments on the front of the pack Travel Pack have been merged into a single, horizontal zip compartment on the Aer Travel Pack 2. It still does not have its own volume, but it is perfect for sliding in maps, passports, earbuds, etc.

The top half of the front of the pack unzips, revealing a plethora of organization, similar to the Minaal Carry-on 2.0 and the Tortuga packs. Here, there is a horizontal zipper pocket and several slide in pockets beneath. And finally, the main compartment extends to the bottom of the bag. You could organize virtually anything you wanted in any way you wanted in these compartments.

Finally, there is a standard, small zippered quick access compartment on the top of the bag, great for stowing things to go through security at the airport.

Laptop compartment

The AER Travel Pack’s laptop compartment is located solidly between the backplate and the main compartment. Accessed via a top zip, it has a bit of padding to protect it from both the outside and the other contents of your backpack. This sleeve is suspended from the bottom of the pack, protecting your laptop should the bag take a vertical drop. Furthermore, the sides of the pack, in general, are fairly padded. This adds a bit of extra insurance for your laptop. The Travel Pack will hold most 15” laptops, but 17” gaming rigs are definitely out.
While it is a solid laptop compartment, I have to say that for a pack so obsessed with organization and so urban-focused, I am extremely surprised and disappointed that there is no dedicated tablet sleeve on the AER Travel Pack.

Straps and comfort

The shoulder straps were a weak point on the original Aer Travel Pack, but they have been updated for the Travel Pack 2. Now, a bit sturdier and more rigid, they do a better job of distributing weight. This is a huge upgrade for a pack that is not the lightest, to begin with, and can carry a great deal of gear.

The back panel is fairly stiff, and there is very little in the way of padding or ventilation.

The straps let the bag hang a bit low on your back, and the lack of a hip belt means that all of that weight will be directly on your back and shoulders. However, if you are a minimalist packer, you might not have a heavy enough pack to care. But if that is the case, you probably went for a more minimalist pack.

Also “added” for the Travel pack 2 is a hip belt. However, has to be purchased separately so it is not really part of the Travel pack 2. 

It does have an awesome, padded top carry handle, and a standard webbing side carries handle. I love the top carry handle and wish the side handle would have got the same treatment, as I find packs this large more comfortable to carry from the side.

What did we really think?

As this list grows with each iteration, it gets harder and harder for packs to distinguish themselves. LIke a few other packs on the list, that is the AER Travel Pack’s biggest issue. It is not that it is a bad travel backpack. However, at $220, it seems like a slightly more expensive version of the Tortuga setout. A slightly more expensive version that will hold less gear, and does not have a dedicated tablet compartment, hips straps or stow away shoulder straps.
It is not a bad bag, but personally, I could not see any reason to choose it over the Tortuga Setout as a carry on backpack.
Nomatic, as a company, is our third and final Kickstarter funded, scratch your own itch style company. Like the guys from Tortuga, AER, and Minaal, they were not happy with the current travel bag selection and thought they could do better. So did they?

Dimensions and appearance

Measuring 21″x14″x9″ and weighing in at over 4lb, the Nomatic Travel Bag is carry on size for almost any airline. It also has a claimed capacity of 40, but where many packs feel smaller than their claimed volume, the Nomatic Travel Bag feels much larger…sort of.
The bag has a shiny, patterned look. It is sort of hard to describe, but I find myself quite liking it. It almost makes you look like you should be in a futuristic sci-fi movie when you wear it. It is definitely a unique look, and will not be for everyone.

Features and workmanship

Like most of the startup manufactured bags on the list, the Nomatic Travel Bag feels like someone really cares about this bag. It features extremely water-resistant tarpaulin fabric and feels well in made just about every possible way. The exception here might be the zippers, which are not YKK and do not feel particularly impressive. They are, however, sealed to make them more water resistant.
And if your bag does fail, Nomatic offers a lifetime warranty on “manufacturer defects.”

Organization and accessibility

A full zip, clamshell-style opening reveals a laptop sleeve against the stiff back panel, on one side. On the other side, is the depth of the main compartment. Despite being a full zip, there is a significant lip around the sides, so modular packing is not quite as convenient as on bags like the Tortuga Setout or Patagonia Black Hole MLC.
Externally, there is a quick access compartment on top, which is fleece lined. One unique feature is that right behind the quick access compartment, a horizontal zipper opens revealing a waterproof water bottle compartment. This will keep your gear dry if your bottle leaks, but that wouldn’t have been an issue if the water bottle holder were not inside the bag.
Another zipper essentially pulls this entire water bottle compartment out of the bag, allowing you to, theoretically, pack something underneath it.
The left side of the bag completely unzips, revealing a large, vertical electronics pocket with numerous slide in compartments and a lockable RFID compartment. The right side features a similar setup but has two smaller zippers instead of the one large one. These are simply for quick access and offer no further organizational pockets. Also, these are not 3D, so you will not get much into them
The bottom of the bag unzips to reveal a shoe compartment, along with a foldup laundry bag, courtesy of Nomatic.
The plethora of pockets come at a cost. You will not be able to effectively use all of them. They share volume with one another so that wherever you pack things, you will be losing space in another compartment. This might not be a big deal for everyone, but it makes for a bag with dimensions that really do not match up with its carrying capacity.

Laptop compartment

For a bag with a million and one features, the Nomatic Travel Bag offers very little in the way of a laptop compartment. Located in the main compartment against the back panel, the sleeve has a tablet sleeve sewn to it and holds some 15” laptops, but nothing with much more size than a MacBook.
Furthermore, it is not protected from the contents of the main compartment, so you will need to be careful with what you have pressing against it.

Straps and comfort

The best thing about the Nomatic Travel Bag’s suspension system is that the backplate is stiff. Combined with its hip belts, it does a fairly decent job of shifting the weight to your hips. Meanwhile, there is nothing overly impressive about the straps or the hip belt, but they serve their purpose. This is a bag made to get all of your things from one place to the next and be taken off. If you don’t ask more of the straps than what they offer, they should perform well enough. The waist belt does feature pockets, but with no dimension,  so you will not be fitting much of anything in them.
Keeping with its theme of being a bag with one million and one tricks, the straps convert to turn the bag into a duffel. However, it is quite wide so it tends to bump into your legs. A solid top carry handle feels well made and comfortable to hold, but the bag is long enough that it will not carry comfortably this way unless you are fairly tall.
I would trade both of these features for the suitcase carry option of the Patagonia Black Hole MLC.
Finally, it makes no real attempt at all at either padding or ventilation against your back. It will definitely leave you with the sweatiest back of any carry on backpack that we reviewed.

What did we really think?

Ever heard the expression “too much of a good thing”? That pretty much sums up my feelings about the Nomatic Travel bag. The website boasts “20+ innovative features.” About half of those come off as overly gimmicky or useless, in my estimation.
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 that it was designed to compete with Minaal and Tortuga’s packs, and at this, I believe that it fails spectacularly.
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. And if it were supposed to fill the carry on duffel/carry on backpack niche, I would take the Patagonia Black Hole MLC.
It does offer a decent price point, at $220, but I just could not find any reason to choose the Nomatic Travel Bag over several cheaper ones. Namely the Tortuga Setout, Cotopaxi Allpa, and Patagonia Black Hole MLC.  All of that said, I think it is a really good looking pack. So I will leave it there, on a good note.
If you know anything about backpacks, you are undoubtedly familiar with Osprey. They dominate the trails in the United States, and they are making moves to dominate the airlines and hostels as well.
Owing to a unique 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 actually over carry on size limit for even some domestic airlines. There are people who report countless flights using the pack and never being asked to check it, but many others report being less fortunate.
With that being the case, I will review the Farpoint 40, but I will point out where the 55 is different, as we go.

Dimensions and appearance

The Osprey Farpoint comes in two sizes: small and large. The sizes and weights for the 40l are: 21”x14”x9″ for the large, and 21″x14″x8″ for the small. They both weight about 3.2lb, and the small actually claims a 38l carrying capacity, for what that is worth.  Owing to their tall, slender design, both packs feel like they have significantly less storage capacity than similarly sized travel backpacks.
As far as looks go, the Farpoint could be right out of Osprey’s wilderness backpacking lineup. As usual, if this is your style, you will likely love it, but if you want something a bit more business casual, then it is probably not the pack for you.

Features and Workmanship

Featuring 210D nylon, it uses the lightest weight fabric of any pack on the list, somewhat shaking its place as a carry on backpack that could hold its own in the backcountry. Furthermore, it is one of the only bags on the list to skip out on YKK zippers, but it also comes in at a fairly low price point, so I suppose cuts had to be made somewhere.
The Osprey Farpoint 40 does not feature a huge host of features, but it does have lockable zippers, compression straps, and stow away shoulder straps.
Finally, Osprey’s “Almighty Guarantee” is very well thought of, so you should expect great customer service if you do run into a problem with this bag.

Organization and accessibility

The Osprey Farpoint features a full zip, clamshell opening main compartment. One side of the main compartment is taken up by a large, mesh zipper compartment with very little depth. The other is wide open for packing, with two compression straps to cinch things down. Of the full zip packs we reviewed, this one feels like it has the least spacious, usable main compartment, so bear that in mind.
Externally, there is the usual small quick access compartment on the top of the Farpoint.

Laptop Compartment

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 the Osprey Farpoint 40, however, the laptop is located on the outside of the pack, away from your body.
Not only does this put the heaviest item in your backpack the furthest from your body, when fully packed, the pack will take on a rounded shape, putting undue pressure on your laptop. Indeed, multiple laptop screens have been cracked this way. The compartment also features a tablet sleeve, for what that is worth.
On the Farpoint 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 and the main bag as your carry on backpack, 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.
All of that would have made the Farpoint 55 a top pick if it had actually been a carry on sized bag.

Straps and comfort

Osprey is known for having packs that are comfortable when you wear them on a 15-mile hike carrying 50lb 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.
Furthermore, they both conveniently stow away behind the suspended back panel, which is quite comfortable and provides some of the best airflow of any travel backpack on our list.

What did we really think?

All in all, I want to love this pack. It could be a great carry on backpack and a semi-serviceable trekking backpack. Instead, I think it falls short in both instances. The Farpoint 55 falls short of carry on requirements, and the Farpoint 40 has a severe problem with its laptop compartment. I could not choose a Farpoint over the Cotopaxi Allpa or the Eagle Creek Global companion, which are the two packs to which it is most similar. It also shares a price point with them, costing around $160.
One of the biggest brands on our 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.

Dimensions and appearance

At 21”x12″x7,” and 3.2lb with a claimed volume of 41l, the North Face Overhaul 40 is legitimate carry on sized backpack by the standards of almost any airline. That said, of all of the bags that might be a bit overly ambitious with their claimed volume, this one takes the cake. In practice, The overhaul feels like it might have the least room of any bag on the list.
As for looks, I think the North Face Overhaul 40 is one of the better-looking backpacks on the list. It manages the stylish urban appearance of the Minaal 40, while still looking like a pack you might fill with rope and climbing harnesses to take to the local crag.

Features and Workmanship

While it does not use the burliest material, featuring 420D ripstop nylon, the North Face Overhaul still feels like a sturdy bag. However, there are complaints of the zippers failing. All in all, I would say that it is a well-made bag, but not one that competes with the top travel backpacks in terms of quality.
Most of the Overhaul’s features are organization related, so let’s get to those now.

Organization and accessibility

The North Face overhaul is travel backpack on our list that does not feature a full zip opening on the main compartment, and it loses major points for this. The main compartment does expand a bit, using a second zipper to compress it, although this will be a prime candidate for failure.
Inside, there are two large slide in sleeves in an otherwise empty compartment. But unlike on a full zip backpack, this is not really a good thing. The opening is larger at the top than the bottom. This makes the weight distribution a bit wonky and can make packing the bag very challenging.
Externally, the Overhaul features a fairly spacious, fleece lined quick access pocket on the front of the pack to stow and retrieve things in a hurry. There is a second of these on the side of the pack, which you could access with the bag still over one shoulder.
The main, organizational pocket on the front of the Overhaul is very similar to the Minaal and Tortuga backpacks. It features four cell phone or passport sized slide in pockets, a zipper pocket, and a tablet or notebook sleeve, along with the seemingly obligatory pen holders.
There is zipper access to a shoe compartment on the bottom of the bag. But if any bag could not afford a pair of shoes awkwardly stuffed in the bottom of it, it is the North face Overhaul.
Finally, due to the Overhaul’s shape, if you pack out the main compartment, virtually all of the external ones become close to unusable: because none of them seem to really have any volume of their own.

Laptop compartment

The laptop compartment is one of the strong points of the NorthFace Overhaul 40. It gets its own, lay flat compartment tight up against you back, and holds most 15 inch laptops. It also has a tablet sleeve. While it is not the most protected laptop compartment on the list, it ranks toward the top and is very easy to access. But I sure wish they had saved that clamshell design for the main compartment.

Straps and Comfort

Along with a 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 features a very comfortable side carry handle, which allows for briefcase style carry when the straps are packed away. And as a fairly small pack despite its claimed volume, it would be one of the more pleasant carries on backpacks to actually carry this way.

What did we really think?

The North Face Overhaul is a good looking pack with some interesting features. One of its best is its price point, which is around $159. Even at that price point though, I can’t see any reason to choose it over other competitively priced carry on backpacks, like the Tortuga Setout or the Cotopaxi Allpa.
The Osprey Porter, like the Farpoint, is one of the most popular travel backpacks on the market. Personally, I think this is largely due to Osprey’s name recognition and being one of the first bags to fulfill the role.

Dimensions and appearance

The Osprey Porter comes in 30l, 46l, and 65l options. Naturally, the 60 measures 25″x14″x12″ and is a bit too large to meet our carry on the only requirement. Meanwhile, the 30l measures 19.5″x13″x10.” 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 22″x14″x11,” and weighing 3.3lb  it is a travel backpack 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 30l 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.
As for looks, I do not care for the look of the Porter at all. One of the strangest designs on our list, it features a hard plastic cover that gives the pack a rolled up tent look. As for its colors, they are typical Osprey, which I quite like, but many do not.

Features and workmanship

Honestly, this is the least well made feeling Osprey backpacks that I have ever put my hands on. Like the Farpoint, the Osprey Porter does not offer the big YKK zippers that some packs on the list do. Although, it is still backed up by Osprey’s “Almighty guarantee.”
The unique feature of this bag is the weird, plastic compression system. 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.

organization and accessibility

The main compartment features a full zip, clamshell-style opening. However, like the Nomatic Travel Bag, the opening is a bit smaller than the actual compartment. This means that there is a lip you will need to tuck things under as you pack it.
Inside, it features side mesh pockets along the main compartment, offering a place to put rolled up socks, underwear, or cords.
Externally, it features an organizational compartment on the front of the pack. While smaller than some, owing to the rounded shape of the bag, I think there is plenty of room here for whatever you might need to store. A large slide in sleeve will hold your journal, your tablet, and still have room left over. There are also a few slide in pockets and a bit free room in the compartment.
There is also a top zip quick access pocket, but it shares space with the main compartment. So if you have the bag fully packed, you might be better off using the organizational pocket for your quick access.
For a pack that is technically not carry on size for most airlines, it just does not feel very roomy. The much smaller Cotopaxi Allpa feels about as spacious. Furthermore, the Osprey Porter is nowhere close to the other true maximum legal carry on backpacks like the GoRuck GR2, Patagonia Black Hole MLC, or either of the Tortuga backpacks, when it comes to usable volume.

Laptop compartment

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. It is accessible via a top zip and sits between the main compartment and the back panel. Furthermore, it is fairly protected, owing to the stiff nature of the entire pack. It will hold most 15” laptops.

Straps and Comfort

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.
It does, however, have comfortable handles for both top and side carry. And with its unique shape, it would be one of the better packs to carry this way.

What did we really think?

On some 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.
The straps are a huge downgrade from the Farpoint, but at around $140, it is a bit cheaper. Personally, I do not think this pack competes with the Farpoint 55, which is the Farpoint it should be compared to, since neither is technically carry on size.
As I said before, I think its popularity stems more from its name and the fact that it was one of the first travel backpacks, not from the fact that it is one of the best.

Honorable mentions

The Eagle Creek Universal Traveler Backpack might have actually been added to this list, but the Global Companion just knocks its socks off, so we went with it instead.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45

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? For one, they take the nickel and dime for accessories approach, which I was not thrilled about with Minaal, to an entirely different level. But mainly due to the lack of a laptop compartment in their best carry on backpack. 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!

We hope that you enjoyed this article and that it helps you choose the right bag for you! If so, then make sure to subscribe to our newsletter, for more articles that help you live life on your terms!
And if you just can’t get enough backpack reviews, head over and check out our Best EDC Backpack Review.

Disclosures

We participate in affiliate programs to help us fund this blog. Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase a product using our link, we will earn a small commission. Don’t worry! This comes at no additional cost to you, and we will never base our reviews on whether or not we earn a commission off of a product. With that said, if you find our review helpful and decide to purchase one of the packs below, we would be very appreciative if you use our links to do so. It will help us bring you more awesome content in the future!

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