Whether you’re packing your bags for a weekend or a year away, a trip to the airport is always accompanied by anxiety-filled moments. Traffic, long lines at check-in and finding out your bags are too heavy or the wrong size to travel probably top the list. Especially now in 2021 after we’ve gone an entire year situated in a pandemic, flying fears have elevated tremendously.
While you may remember a time when luggage issues mainly concerned your checked bags, ever-changing rules for carry-on bags mean no one escapes that fear. When looking for the best travel backpacks, it’s wise to consider whether your travel bag of choice will actually fit under an airplane seat or inside the overhead compartment.
If you’re worried your carry-on doesn’t fit the TSA requirements for carrying it on the plane, there are a number of ways to deal with the problem. First, check the baggage restrictions for your specific airline and ensure your bag falls within the measurements provided for TSA-approved backpacks and luggage. Alternatively, buy a bag that is made specifically with the TSA and airline personal item requirements in mind. Such bags and backpacks should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you while still maintaining the comfort and durability you expect. Though the dimensions may vary, in general, the space under an airplane seat can accommodate backpacks 18 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 8 inches high. For example, here are the maximum personal item sizes for a few of the biggest airlines in the USA (as of April 2020):
- American Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
- Southwest Airlines: 18.5 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches
- United Airlines: 17 x 10 x 9 inches
- JetBlue: 17 x 13 x 8 inches
- Frontier Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
- Spirit Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
To make finding a backpack that fits the requirements easier, we’ve put together a list of the 25 best travel backpacks available. Simply find the travel bag that fits your carry-on needs and enjoy an anxiety-free experience the next time you’re airport-bound.
1. Fjallraven Kanken Laptop 15″ Backpack
The Fjallraven Kanken Classic is ubiquitous in airports today, but that’s not the best possible backpack for travel necessarily (although you will find it later on this list). Instead, if you’re looking for the best travel backpacks that will fit under your seat, we recommend upgrading to the Fjallraven Kanken Laptop 15″ Backpack. Like other bags from this Swedish company, the Kanken Laptop bag comes in a variety of fun colors; however, it features enough room for your large laptop and travel essentials.
In addition to the primary laptop compartment, this travel backpack comes with three additional pockets. It’s constructed from a dirt- and water-resistant material and two-way zipper. Durable handles let you carry this down a cramped airplane aisle with ease, while the compact design lets you slip it under your feet or overhead. If the Graphite color (pictured below) isn’t to your tastes, check out the Plum or Acorn design instead. Especially for all the student travelers out there, this makes a great college travel backpack.
2. PacSafe UNbox Therapy x 25L Anti Theft Backpack
Adjustable shoulder straps, a high-quality leather carrying handle and cut-proof material make this travel backpack extremely comfortable and efficient. A zippered front compartment helps store your various cards and notebooks while the interior padded laptop pocket will keep your device secure. But, the biggest benefit of this backpack is its safety features. From numerous security clips to prevent pick-pocketing and RFIDsafe™ technology, this bag is really one to beat.
3. Sumtree Lightweight Foldable Backpack
Durable, water-resistant and available in several vibrant colors, this packable backpack comes with multiple pockets and various internal storage compartments. However, the best thing about this travel pack is that it weighs less than one pound when empty. This is truly a great travel accessory.
4. Monos Metro Backpack
The Monos Metro Backpack is our e-commerce editor Tyler Schoeber’s go-to when traveling far or wide. “I recently took it to my parent’s place for a short trip to celebrate my brother’s 22nd birthday, but before that, it was perfect for shoving right under the passenger seat in front of me on a recent weekend trip I took to Houston,” he says, “it’s a bag I absolutely think everyone should own.”
With numerous interior pockets for keeping all of your belongings both safe and organized, you won’t lose anything in this bad boy. Additionally, the Metro Backpack opens up flat the same way a carry-on bag would so you can see everything you packed at once. Lastly, there is an anti-theft, removable dopp kit that sits on the outside.
5. YETI Crossroads 27L Backpack
The YETI Crossroads collection is brand-spankin’ new and places the cooler brand into the travel space quite effortlessly. There are three sizes to the Crossroads backpack and this one is in its medium version. It’s totally durable, abrasion-resistant and water-resistant. There are various colors to choose from depending on your style preferences and it even has a luggage passthrough sleeve to easily stand on top of your carry-on if you plan on bringing it to the airport.
6. Hynes Eagle Travel Backpack
Not only is this travel bag super attractive, it’s also extremely economical. Able to convert from backpack to duffle bag in seconds, it comes with multiple pockets and adjustable side straps. It’s also available in 15 elegant colors.
7. Tzowla Travel Laptop Backpack
BEST FOR BUSINESS TRIPS
Looking to get some work done on your next flight? This business backpack has everything you need to hit those deadlines at 33,000 feet in the air. Featuring external pockets, a laptop sleeve and a power bank, this bag can be used as both an everyday office bag and a travel backpack. Plus, this backpack’s slim profile should fit comfortably under even the smallest airplane seat. While this travel bag isn’t nearly as stylish as our favorite options from Timbuk2, Herschel, Fjallraven or Killspencer, it has a straightforward design and killer reviews. For the money, this is the best travel backpack you’ll find under $30.
8. Timbuk2 Tuck Pack
BEST FOR FREQUENT FLIERS
A rugged backpack with a rolled-top build, notched pockets and an elegant webbed buckle strap, this backpack is a great choice for frequent flyers. It comes with adjustable shoulder straps and a beautifully lined interior. In addition, the Tuck Pack is available in six attractive colors on Amazon. Timbuk2 is a respected bag maker, and this top-rated travel backpack is a great choice for your next trip.
9. Herschel Retreat Backpack
Although only founded in 2009, Herschel has quickly become one of the most popular names in backpacks. Their Retreat Backpack is a particularly stylish choice for travel thanks to the classic polyester and faux-leather build. The bag boasts a colorful lining with a drawstring and snap closure, and it can hold up to a 15-inch laptop in the included sleeve. However, if you don’t need the 19.5L size, consider investing in one of the smaller Herschel backpacks with their classic school bag styles.
10. Tortuga Setout Divide Backpack
BEST ALTERNATIVE TO A SUITCASE
For light packers, cramming everything into a single backpack is a point of pride. Of course, not all backpacks are up to the challenge. But whether you’ve mastered the art of light packing or not, the Setout Divide Backpack will make you feel like a packing professional. That’s because this travel backpack can be unzipped and packed just like a suitcase. That makes it the perfect companion for a weekend getaway or short business trip.
Like your favorite piece of luggage, this travel backpack is also expandable. However, even at its smaller size, this large men’s bag is at the outer limit of what will fit underneath an airplane seat. Measuring in at 20” x 13” x 6”, this bag may poke out from underneath the seat by one or two inches. You can probably get away with it, but a particularly observant flight attendant may ask you to stow this bag overhead. Still, with an ultra-durable construction, expandable design and 34L capacity, this backpack is the ultimate replacement for your bulky suitcase.
11. XD Design Bobby Original Anti-Theft Laptop Backpack
BEST COMMUTER BACKPACK
If you’re after a bag that can travel the world and also travel with you to work every day of the week, check out this Incase XD Design Bobby backpack. You’ll find plenty of space for all of your technology, including dedicated compartments for your smartphone, tablet and laptop. There’s also a range of handy pockets for your other essentials. In addition, the back is totally anti-theft, has a USB charging port and is even shockproof.
12. Patagonia Arbor Daypack
BEST PATAGONIA BAKCPACK
The Patagonia Arbor Daypack is a versatile backpack that is available in five muted colors. The body of the bag is made from recycled polyester fabric, which has been covered with a durable, water-repellent finish to create a bag capable of handling adverse weather conditions. The design also includes a front-mounted pocket as well as a generous front loading compartment with a padded laptop sleeve. For carrying, users have the option of padded straps or the top-mounted, reinforced haul handle. Patagonia is best known for its outdoor gear, but this backpack was specifically designed for modern travelers.
13. SwissGear Travel Gear Bungee Backpack
BEST DAD BACKPACK
Built small with an enormous amount of internal capacity, this bungee backpack comes with a handy organizer compartment, side pockets and a front bungee system. It even includes a headphone port and a D-ring. Plus, the bottle pocket and mobile-device pocket means there’s room for all your essentials. This may not be the most stylish backpack on our list, but it’s a backpack that will last for years to come. Pair this backpack with white New Balance sneakers for the ultimate dad-on-the-go look.
14. Arc’teryx Blade 20 Backpack
Ditch your carry-on entirely for the backpack that will change the way you travel. The Blade 20 backpack is super large yet is still small enough to fit right under your seat on the plane. It has numerous places to fit your laptop, tablet and any other smart device you’re bringing. There are a slew of hidden pockets within the backpack for safe-keeping materials you don’t want on display and the backpack even has a sectioned-off space to place clothing.
15. Lowepro Photo Classic
BEST FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS
Ask any traveling photographer, and they’ll likely tell you that Lowepro makes the best backpacks for carrying all your gear onto an airplane. You definitely don’t want to risk putting your pricey DSLR and lenses in the overhead bin, so keep them as close as possible by storing your travel gear under the seat in front of you in the Lowepro Photo Classic. This small backpack can hold a full camera body with a lens attached as well as four extra lenses, a tripod and any additional camera accessories you might carry. It also has a sleeve for a 10-inch tablet. This bag will last for years thanks to its sturdy construction, giving you peace of mind that your camera equipment is well protected and near you at all times.
16. Everlane ReNew Transit Backpack
SMALLEST FROM EVERLANE
Everlane’s ReNew Transit backpack has been a favorite of ours for quite some time at this point, but some users found the bag to be a bit too big for their liking. Luckily, Everlane recently released a brand new design by shrinking the ReNew Transit backpack down a little bit. This smaller size fits a 13-inch laptop and has a pass-through strap that attaches to rolling luggage without any problem. It has interior pockets for any other items you’re bringing on the flight and even two spots for water bottles. To top it all off, this bag is made from 100% recycled polyester.
17. The North Face Electra Backpack
TONS OF POCKETS
The ideal size for sliding under the seat in front of you, The North Face Electra Backpack will hold just about everything you need for a weekend away or will supplement your rolling carry-on if you’re a habitual over-packer. This backpack is perfect for those of you that need to travel for school or work, whether that be on a train, bus or plane. In addition, it boasts a fleece-lined, smaller pocket on the front for storing fragile items, like your tablet or laptop, and the interior has two independent zip pockets for your phone, charger or sunglasses.
18. Fjallraven Kanken Classic Backpack
The Fjallraven Kanken Classic Backpack is everywhere these days, and for good reason. This is the second time we’re featuring Fjallraven here and the two backpacks might look similar, but trust us, they’re different. This versatile backpack from the Swedish outdoors gear company Fjallraven is a roomy option with enough space for everything you need during a trip away from home. The classic backpack sports a school bag-like design and boasts a range of carrying options, including straps and top-mounted handles. In addition, the bag is constructed from a dirt-resistant and water-resistant material that is super easy to wipe clean after any unforeseen mishaps. Plus, this handy pack comes in a variety of colors to match anyone’s style. Really, if you’re searching for the best travel backpacks that will meet airline and TSA requirements, you can’t go wrong with any travel bag from Fjallraven.
19. eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack
BEST FOR CARRYING TECH
Most laptop bags have a compartment for your computer, but this laptop backpack comes with a compartment for your tablet, too. Able to easily accommodate most laptops and notebooks, this super slim backpack features padded, lockable compartments and its own zippered bottle pocket. In addition to a padded laptop sleeve, this bag also sports a fleece-lined tablet sleeve and a bottom structured pocket. It’s also able to switch from backpack to briefcase easily and efficiently.
20. TIMBUK2 Authority Laptop Backpack
Built for the daily commute, the TIMBUK2 Authority Laptop Backpack does just as well at getting your office essentials from point A to point B on an airplane. This bag will quickly become your go-to personal item whether you carry a 17-inch laptop and books or a tablet and a notebook. The large main compartment can hold a laptop as well as a few clothing items or a jacket. The smaller, front pocket is ideal for writing utensils, tablets or thinner books. And, on the side, you’ll find a stretch pocket for a water bottle. Together, these features create a simple, streamlined travel backpack. Customers can choose from about a number of attractive neutral color schemes.
21. Topo Designs Rover Pack
If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can’t beat the colorful Topo Designs Rover Pack. This backpack is available in four different color combinations, which even extend to the interior lining and pull strings. The bag itself boasts two exterior pockets as well as a large interior compartment that features a drawstring closure beneath the dual buckles. Inside, there’s also a laptop sleeve to hold devices of up to 15 inches, and the whole bag is constructed from durable, 1000D Cordura.
22. GORUCK GR1
BEST FOR CITY BREAKS
The GORUCK GR1 is an ideal choice for weekend city breaks but, in reality, it can go just about any place you want to take it, including war zones. The GORUCK is so called because it’s designed to ruck (as in get your gear safely from point A to point B). This is arguably the toughest everyday pack in existence. The company openly states how impressively water resistant it is, and you’ll find a range of pockets inside, including three internal pockets, one elasticated pocket and a large mesh pocket, too. There’s MOLLE webbing on the inside and outside for additional customization, and the bag includes a removable, hard plastic frame, which helps to stabilize the built-in laptop compartment when it’s in place.
23. Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Backpack
Carry it all with this durable ballistic nylon that will never tear or break. It has an organized interior so you can keep your stuff in check when riding that plane, train or bus. There are also interior zip pockets so you can separate belongings. Bring it on your next camping trip, hiking adventure or even to your parent’s place for the weekend. The backpack is available in black, grey and this gorgeous indigo pictured below.
24. Haerfest Travel Backpack Small Nylon
Perhaps one of the most attractive, minimalist backpacks on the market, the Haerfest Travel Backpack looks as good on your back as it does sitting under the seat in front of you. But, looks can be deceiving. This bag isn’t all about being drop-dead gorgeous. It’s also a highly functional travel companion. In addition to the large main compartment and smaller front pocket, this bag boasts a hidden back panel for easy access to your laptop or tablet. It also has a wide strap across the back for securing the bag to your rolling carry-on bag. For traveling in minimalist style, you can’t beat the Haerfest Travel Backpack.
25. KILLSPENCER Daypack
If you’re after a backpack to turn heads, you need the KILLSPENCER Daypack on your back. This beautifully constructed pack is available in a range of colors and materials, including leather and wax canvas. The interior features a designated space for your laptop, passport and other daytime essentials. The wrap-around single zipper provides clear and easy access to the interior pocket, while the padded straps and top-mounted loop handle provide a choice of carrying options. This backpack can also be monogrammed with the traveler’s initials, which makes this a great present as well.
Handcrafted in the USA, this KILLSPENCER backpack will last for many years to come with little to no wear and tear. Well under TSA size limits, we’re big fans of this compact, durable and ultra-stylish men’s backpack.
Some FAQs About the Best Travel Backpacks
It isn't necessarily dependent on TSA guidelines for the best travel backpack sizes, it's more so focused on what your individual airline requires. Most airlines do not allow bags over 45 linear inches, meaning around 22" long, 14" wide and 9" deep. We suggest you don't bring a backpack any larger than that.
It's all about essentials when it comes to what you put in a travel backpack. Phone? Check. Wallet? Check. Passport? Check. You'll need things you don't think you will, like your keys (because you obviously have to come back home at some point.) You'll also want to bring any medication you take daily, a pen, headphones and other small electronics you want nearby, etc. Always pack things you think you might need in-flight toward the top of the bag the lesser needed items at the bottom. One thing we suggest? Always pack an extra pair of socks, underwear and a light tee just in case. You never know what will happen in-flight.
We suggest only putting minimal items in your travel backpack and leaving the rest for your carry-on or suitcase. Smaller packing cubes might help some stay organized, but we suggest using all available pockets to keep things separated, too.