How to Choose the Best Carry-On Backpack for Traveling
Choosing the best carry-on travel backpack isn’t as simple as plumping for a big brand name and an appropriate size.
Before clicking ‘buy’, there are a number of important factors and features to consider in order to make sure you’re getting the pack that’s right for you.
Below, we’ve listed some of the most important:
Top Loading or Side Loading?
Perhaps the most hotly debated point among backpack buyers and users!
Ultimately, this is a matter of personal preference. There are, however, pros and cons to both systems:
Bottom Line: For the sake of convenience, we’d recommend going for a front or side-loading pack unless you’ve tried and tested top-loaders and are sure this system works for you.
A travel pack usually doesn’t require the same waterproofing capacities as a hiking backpack.
If you envision hitting a few trails while on your travels, however, opt for a pack made with waterproof materials or which comes with an integrated or freebie raincover.
Well organised compartments is one of the most desirable aspects of a pack for the savvy traveler.
Put simply, with multiple compartments you can organize and store your gear a lot better.
This makes it easier to locate things when needed and to separate clean clothes from dirty clothes, electronics from other accessories, and valuables or breakables from liquids and sharp objects.
Size and Capacity
What size of pack you choose for a travel carry on is largely – but not entirely – dictated by your airline’s regulations and MLC (Maximum Legal Carry).
Maximum weights vary from airline to airline, but MLC measurements are usually 22 x 14 x 9 inches.
This doesn’t necessarily exclude packs that are slightly larger (in the 22-25” long range, for example).
If you’re keen to have those extra few inches, you can simply avoid stuffing the pack to the brim and make sure you’ve tied down the hood straps to compress those extra few inches.
In the quest to create the most ultralight backpack, many manufacturers skimp on ‘luxury’ features such as a padded hipbelt.
This is particularly true of travel packs, where the expectation is that you won’t be wearing the pack for as many consecutive hours as a hiking pack.
With any backpack, however, the majority of the pack weight will be pushing down on your hips. As such, sufficient padding on the hipbelt is all but essential.
Even if you’re only carrying the pack for an hour or two, a thin, poorly padded belt could easily become an inadvertent instrument of torture for the duration!
Padded Shoulder Straps
As with the hipbelt, these can make the difference between a comfortable carry and a long spell of chafing, rubbing and excessive pressure on both your shoulders and your lower back.
To avoid these annoyances, shoot for wide straps with ample padding.
If possible, load the pack up in the store and try it on before buying.
Padded and Ventilated Back Panel
Your backpack can become mightily uncomfortable if the back panel isn’t sufficiently padded or ventilated.
Mesh and molded foams offset or thwart the poking capacity of hard or sharp objects by providing a space or buffer between you and the pack’s contents.
This buffer or space also aids ventilation.
Most forms of padding will be contoured so as to allow air-flow between your body and the pack.
Other packs use a suspended mesh back panel, which provides ventilation by holding the pack an inch or so away from your back.
Framed or Frameless?
This feature helps to support the weight you’re carrying and better distribute your pack load.
Although useful in this regard, even the lightest frames can add quite a few ounces to your pack’s overall weight.
These packs are usually lightweight and more compact than their framed brethren.
The can also be more ergonomic by adapting to fit the shape of your back and your posture.
On the downside, they offer less support than packs with an internal frame and often provide no barrier or buffer between your body and any bulky, poky items in your pack.
Better for lighter loads.
The degree of versatility you require from your pack will depend on what you plan on getting up to.
If you see yourself doing a fair amount of hiking or other outdoor activities while traveling, a good idea would be to choose a pack as closely styled to a regular hiking pack as possible.
Not only will you benefit from the more durable and waterproof materials, but also the (usually) more streamline shape, better load distribution and all-day comfort with heavier loads.
If you’re more likely to be city-hopping or traveling for business, a front-loading, EDC (Everyday Carry) pack with a laptop sleeve and briefcase-like compartments will most probably suit your needs better.
Most front or side-loading packs have dual pull tabs on the zippers so they can be locked together, but it’s always best to check before buying.
Make sure your locks are TSA-friendly – these locks feature a special release function that allows the TSA to open and check your bag without breaking the lock.
Conclusion: What is the Best Carry-On Backpack for Travelling
As stated above, choosing the best carry on backpack for you will depend largely on your personal preferences and the kind of traveling you plan on doing.
That said, there are a number of facets and features that are universally desirable – most notably comfort, convenience and quality.
In each of these attributes we have found the Deuter Transit 50 to have narrowly edged out its closest competitors.
As fans of a front-loading system for traveling packs, the top-loading Deuter defied our expectations.
In addition to a very useful 12-liter day pack, it boasts a decent amount of interior and exterior compartments to help keep things organized and maximize convenience.
Comfort-wise, the load-bearing aluminum frame, breathable foam back and padded hipbelt offer excellent support and make it suitable for even heavy loads.
The only real downsides to this pack are its price and weight, but your extra bucks and those added ounces get you lot of extra quality.
Compared to its closest competitors – the Osprey Porter Travel 46 and the Osprey Farpoint 40 – the Deuter is pricier and heavier, but boasts more storage space and far greater comfort.
It doesn’t offer quite as many storage compartments, but atones for this with nice touches galore, better versatility and a superior quality build.