The Best Carry-On Travel Backpacks

The Best Carry-On Travel Backpacks

I’ve become addicted to what is called one bag travel, which is traveling with only one carry on bag.

Why we Love it so Much:

You know that moment when you quit a job and realize, “not my problems anymore!” It feels like that.

“Traveling this way means I’m light and agile on my feet, carrying everything on my back, easily running through airports or train stations, etc.”

“And no more roller bags tipping on me or endlessly bumping over cobblestone streets and down stairs!”

But you have to have right gear to do it well…

How to find a good one bag travel bag:

There are tons of things to consider when picking a one bag travel bag. Here’s some I think are important:
  • Capacity — can the bag fit enough stuff for how you like to travel?
  • Look and feel — too hip? not hip enough? don’t care at all?
  • Organization — are there enough pockets?
  • Comfort — is it comfortable to carry? You might have some long walks in this sucker during travel.
  • Access to pockets — can you access what you need to on the outside of the bag?
  • Durability — is this bag going to last you the long-haul? Or is it going to leave you with a broken zipper in Thailand?

Massive Comparison Video:

View all the links and notes on this video in the YouTube Description.

The Best Maximal 1-Bag Travel Bags:

Maximal one bag travel bags can have lots of space to fit things, but can also be heavy, bulky, uncomfortable, and impossible to use as a “daily carry” bag once you get to your destination.

Peak Design Travel Bag

The Travel Bag from Peak Designs is an extremely well designed, quality bag for modern carry-on adventure and business travel.

  • Extremely well built and thought-through — There are tons of unique features for modern travelers and they’ve all been thought through, designed and executed at a level that means it will work smoother for you most of the time. External lash straps, stowable hip straps, quick access pockets, expansion, contraction to a smaller bag for daily carry, water bottle pockets, etc. And all the basics of the bag (straps, stitching, stress points, comfort) are utterly solid.
  • Massive capacity for carry on travel — they utilize every inch of this bag for cargo and even have an expansion feature to give you an extra 10L. The bag is well padded, however, so it’s a little less capacity than, say, the Heimplanet Monolith 40L or tortuga setout.
  • The accessories are really damn killer — The packing cubes, easily my favorites, the tech pouch, easily favorite, the wash kit, a little less my favorite, but still a favorite. I wish the last two had a more flat dimention to them to be easier to get into any bag, but these things are utterly well designed. And that’s not even to mention the camera cubes they’ve made.
  • The bag is rigid and hefty, but not uncomfortable — the materials are sturdy for protection of your stuff and durability, so this bag comes in heavier than many other bags. The rigidity is not my favorite feel (though it’s better feeling than the nomatic and wandrd travel bags), compared to a more soft bag feel. However, the bag is more comfortable than many other bags because the straps, back padding and stowable hip straps are well executed.

Compare this bag to others:

In this video I compare this bag to several others. Enjoy!

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Heimplanet Monolith Weekender 40L

The Monolith Weekender from Heimplanet is a massive bag for maximal one bag travel. This thing is surprisingly useful.

  • Maximum carry-on size — this sucker is HUGE. Tons of capacity.
  • Built solid — excellent materials, stitching and components.
  • Hip strap accessory — I think this is necessary for a bag of this size. (Though the shoulder straps are dang comfortable.)

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Tortuga Setout Travel Backpackpack

This thing has so much capacity! One of my favorite bags when I know I need to bring a ton of sh*t. There’s a simple tech organizer which is totally satisfactory, and then there’s just a huge space for everything you need.

And it’s got one of the most comfortable shoulder strap setups out there so when you pack it full it won’t break your back.

Ultimately this is a really killer bag for 1-bag travel, and one of my go-to bags when I need to pack a ton of shit.

Pro Tip: this bag is big enough to fit a minimal daily carry bag inside of it. That’s what I do.

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Aer Travel Pack 2.0

A very well designed, stylish travel bag for one-bag travel with enough pockets, organization and access to make travel smooth.

  • Killer size — not too big, not too small. Fits plenty of stuff without being a behemoth to carry or travel with.
  • Lots of external pockets and internal organization — lots of places to stash and access things while you travel, lots of organization for your tech items.
  • Low key, minimal yet stylish look — black on black, technical, doesn’t say too much.
  • Built solid — 1680D Cordura ballistic nylon, YKK zips.

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GoRuck GR2 Backpack

This bag is built like a tank and I think it’s one of the best looking bags out there. Simple, minimal, bulletproof aesthetic, excellent materials and build quality, and enough space to carry your sh*t!

It needs to be said again: this is the kind of bag that will last you your entire life… your kids will fight over it when you die.

And it needs to be said again: I love the look of this bag! I don’t know what it is… do I feel like I’m not masculine enough? Do I need a heavy duty military looking bag to make me feel better about myself? Is this the modern day equivalent of a little red sports car? I like to think that it’s the minimalistic, no bullshit, completely focused aesthetic of this bag that I like so much. But that may just be some weak justification. I don’t care. I love it anyways.

It comes in 2 sizes: the 34L and the 40L. The 40L is massive. So, unless you’re really big-framed or really need to fit a crap-ton of stuff, I recommend going with the 34L.

There is one drawback for me on this bag: the quick access pocket in the front of the bag could be a little easier to get in and out of. I talk about that in the video. This, to me, really sucks. I personally wish there were a couple smaller pouches on the front of the bag, easier to get it into stuff. But it’s also just a part of the simple, clear, streamline aesthetic.

The bag will last you forever, the look is classic, the warranty is killer… you throw it on and you’re ready to go.

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Nomatic Travel Bag

The Travel Bag from Nomatic is a solid offering in one bag travel.

First of all, it’s got tons of organization. That’s one of the things you gotta be into when you purchase this bag. It’s got a lot of little bells and whistles for organizing your things into their own nooks and crannies. Shoe pocket, water bottle pocket, full featured tech pocket with an RFID area… all that and enough capacity to travel for weeks.

Second of all, it’s damn comfortable when you use the hip straps. I was really surprised by this. Because the bag is so rigid, it settles the weight easily on your hips. Honestly, high marks for how comfortable it is to carry this bag.

One caveat on the comfort: the part of the bag that goes up against your back is totally flat tarpaulin (a rubber-like material), which makes for your back getting sweaty. Not the best look. However, it’s a small price to pay for the other comfort and capacity and organization capabilities of this bag.

There’s a good deal of capacity in this bag as well. I’d say maybe not as much as the Tortuga Setout, but damn near close the largest capacity you can get in a carry on bag.

Tons of organization, comfort, capacity… this thing’s stacked!

My Personal Take: I don’t love the Nomatic logos so big across the bag, but it’s one of the most organization-rich options for large one bag travel. My wife loves this bag cuz she’s a total pocket whore. I’m not personally attracted to all the organization that much — as long as I have a place for my laptop and some quick access then I’m good to go. BUT, I do love how it feels to be in transit with this bag on my back. I tend to go more minimal with my bag choice, however.


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Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack

The Outbreaker backpack from Tortuga is a solid 1-bag travel pick. I personally prefer the less bulky (and more spacious) experience of traveling with the Tortuga Setout, so be sure to check out that bag too. This Outbreaker, however, has quite a bit more padding and protection around the entire bag, so if you know you’ll have delicate stuff inside you may prefer this one.

This bag also boasts excellent padding and comfort. The straps, lumbar support and hip straps on this bag are killer. They do, however, contribute to the bulk of the bag.

This bag also has a ton of pockets and organization throughout. Tortuga do a good job of creating a single pocket for your tech stuff.

And finally, it’s really well built. The water resistant fabric, the zippers, the stitching and shoulder harness, all of it is built strong.

If you need a massive bag with good protection for your belongings, then this is a solid option because it’s got the comfortable straps and plenty of pockets.

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Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30 + 45

Tom Bihn makes two Aeronaut bags — the 30L and the 45L. These bags are excellent for any traveller who a). wants a bag that’s going to last forever, b). doesn’t need a laptop or tech organizer built into their bag, and c). wants to fit so much stuff in a bag!

These bags have an innovative way of segmenting the main compartment into multiple sections. A nice way to organize your stuff. It’s completely customizable, so you can break down the segments if you want.

Basically, think of these guys as duffel bags with backpack straps. Duffels are great because you simply have a large space to fill up with clothes But the difference is 1. they have a good deal of customizable internal segmenting for organization (a major improvement over basic duffel bags), and 2. you can carry them on your back!

There is, however, no tech organization. You can put your laptop in with your clothing, and you can use some accessories and packing cubes to organize some tech stuff, but there’s nothing built into the bag, per se.

And it needs to be said: these suckers are built to last. The fabric is intense, the YKK zippers are burly and sealed for water resistance. You will likely own this bag for your entire life without it breaking down.

The 45L is massive. My wife often travels with it because it’s large enough to fit her own clothes and our 1 year old baby’s clothes as well. So, if you need TONS of capacity, go for the 45L, otherwise I recommend the 30L because it’s plenty roomy for myself.

My personal take: If you don’t need tech stuff while you travel, this is one of the best options out there. Massive capacity, excellent build quality, easier to travel with than a roller bag.

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Wandrd Hexad Access Duffel

Wandrd makes 2 duffel bags — the Hexad Access (this bag) and the Hexad Carryall. This is the one you want to be looking at for carry on travel.

  • Solid look — my wife says it’s too “bro/military” feeling, but lots of us like that look.
  • Large capacity — excellent for one bag travel.
  • Nice clothing/gear organization — you may really like the organization of the main compartment into 3 different “cubes”. I certainly do.
  • Can be used with a camera cube — they make a camera cube that you can use in one of the main compartments… features access to the camera cube from the outside of the bag!
  • Material is rigid and zippers are a little stiff —  this is one of the bummers on this bag. But it’s only about a 20% bummer… not a full bummer.
  • Not quite enough organization for all my daily carry needs — Tortuga’s Setout Travel Backpack, for example, has a lot more first-order access to tech organization.

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The Best Medium Sized Travel Bags:

Medium sized one bag travel bags are smaller than the big ones, but not quite small enough to be carried as DAILY CARRY bags once you get to your destination. (For bags that do both, see the “Minimal 1-bag Travel” section below).

Minaal Carry On Backpack

This is the bag that started it all for me. The Carry On backpack from Minaal is one of the professional traveler’s best friends with its sleek design, killer materials and medium sized capacity for minimal travel.

  • A very good looking and well built bag. This thing is sleek in both aesthetics AND in what it’s like to travel with.
  • It won’t break down on you anytime soon because it’s made from excellent materials and built well.
  • The capacity is medium sized to me. Other carry on bags can easily fit more stuff. But that’s intentional on this bag — the designers wanted a bag this size so they travel only with what matters… because when you travel lighter, you’ve got more freedom to explore.
  • Decent organization. Two external pockets on the top of the bag and a laptop and document compartment on the back of the bag. When the bag is totally packed out it makes getting into these pockets a drag. As with all travel bags, don’t overpack!
  • Does not work as a daily carry bag when you get to your destination. It’s floppy and much bigger than you’d like it to be. This is ultimately why I started looking for other bags.

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Trakke Storr Travel Backpack

The Stor backpack from Trakke is a lovely 30L pack for travel and gear moving.

  • 30L capacity — perfect carry on size, easily enough space for a long weekend (or for forever, if you can pack minimally!).
  • Killer waxed canvas material — British made, feels so dense and nice to the touch, will last for a long time.
  • Water resistant — all zips and materials are reinforced against water.
  • Simple and honest — it’s ultimately a very simple, honest bag that’s useful for travel, gear carry, and loads of other applications.

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The Best Minimal 1-Bag Travel Bags:

Minimal one bag travel bags are smaller, lighter and easy to travel with, fits under seat in front on the airplane (no jocking for overhead cabinet space!), works as a daily carry once you get to your destination! But you have to pack light!

Boundary Supply Prima System Backpack

The Prima System from Boundary Supply is, to me, the best in this category of kickstarter-y tech/camera/daily-carry because of the material feel and functionality in use.

  • Materials are dense and enjoyable to use. Instead of being some hard, thick, unwieldy stuff, this 500D DWR Kodra has a nice amount of both sturdiness and give.
  • The back panel and straps are the most comfortable in this class. EVA foam with lots of ventilation and vertical weight distribution from the top of the bag to the center of gravity in the hips.
  • Lots of nice pockets in varying sizes both inside and outside of the bag (for first-order access).
  • VERY LOVELY MATERIALS and details throughout the bag, from the fidlock magnetic clips to the Nywool and magnetic closure in the quick access pockets.
  • They integrate the camera cube excellently. Besides the Peak designs (which basically IS a camera cube), this is the best I’ve seen in a functional daily backpack.
  • Overkill?

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Wandrd Prvke Rolltop Backpack

A very stylish and functional bag for both urban and outdoor use that does not let us down in organization, durability and thoughtful design.

The Wandrd Prvke (pronounced “provoke” or “perrrrvrkeeee”) is a great bag for technical daily carry and minimal travel. Built rugged, good looking, water resistant with tons of pockets. It comes in 2 sizes — we like the 20L for daily carry and minimal travel and the 30L for bigger bodies and longer trips.

The rolltop expands to fit so much stuff! This is one of my favorite features of this bag. You can expand it to fit a literal ton of shit, and then, pull the shit out and roll it up so it looks like a regular bag again.

I also love the organization and accessibility of this bag. It has tons of little pockets hidden throughout, as well as zippered access to larger internal pockets. That Zippered access is a must for me on a rolltop because I find it annoying to roll and unroll the bag every time I need to get into it.

This bag does a great job of tech organization too. The laptop compartment, the optional camera insert, and the pockets throughout make it a seriously functional companion to the digital nomad.

And I have to say how rare it is to find a bag that you can both travel with AND use as a daily carry. It’s similar to the Synapse 25 that way. And that’s why these two are a couple of my favorite bags currently.

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Hideout Pack from Everyman

The Hideout Pack from Everyman is a solid take on a street/urban/heritage bag with lots of organization at an affordable-ish price point.

  • When it’s packed full or just carrying a few things, it has a good look. Aesthetic is, as the kids say, kinda dope.
  • Materials are solid, but I will say there are a few places that feel a little unconsidered. (Namely, handles and straps.)
  • Lots of pockets and organization. First-order access is excellent as well as some solid internal organization.
  • And I have to say this is a total contender for a minimal travel + daily backpack! Works great as daily carry AND as a minimal travel bag.
  • It’s affordable for this kind of materials and organization.

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Heimplanet Monolith Daypack 22L

The Monolith Daypack from Heimplanet is a 22L carry-all daypack made from great materials with a solid aesthetic and plenty of attachments for accessories.

  • Killer simple aesthetic. The meta look of the bag as well as the details on the clips all please.
  • Made really well. 1680D ballistic nylon. Custom hardware.
  • Plenty of room for all your daily stuff. In fact, maybe a little too much room for some.
  • Very comfortable carry as both a backpack + messenger bag.
  • Tons of carry options with molle attachments inside and outside the bag as well as external straps

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Nomatic Travel Pack & Backpack

Ok, these bags from Nomatic are chock full of pockets. There are 2 different bags: the Travel Pack expands up to about 30L, perfect for short trips and minimal travel. The Backpack is 20-24L daily carry. Both are very sleek and, like I said, so many pocketzzz!

I mean, these things are a pocket lover’s wet dream. There are so many nooks and crannies and pouches and zippers on this sucker it’s like a BDSM outfit.

They’re both plenty comfortable as far as bags go. The straps are soft and padded, and the bag is rigid, so it feels solid and in place on your back.

The zippers leave me a little worried, to be honest. There’s nothing ostensibly wrong with them, I just don’t love the way they feel. They get a little stuck-up sometimes, and they feel kinda thin.

I’m also not personally crazy about the look of these bags. They seem a little too jet-pack-y for my personal taste.

Ultimately, tho, these bags are excellent for the organization-minded person. So, if you like the way it seems in the video, you’ll know it!

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Arcido Akra Backpack

The Akra backpack from Arcido is designed to be a minimal travel bag with plenty of organization and pockets. It does the trick! It’s a lightweight bag with some interesting hidden pockets and quick access pockets.

It’s design is nice and clean. It doesn’t shout too loud any style in particular besides a kind of general sleek techiness.

It’s small enough to maybe be used as a daily carry once you get to your destination, but it’s a little too floppy when it’s empty to be perfect for that. However, they do have the much smaller Arcido Vaga that was designed to fit inside the bag and share the laptop holder (saving a little space).

Ultimately, this bag is a lovely bag to travel with! It has surprising capacity for a bag that looks and feels this compact. Excellent bag!

My personal take: I like the slick aesthetic of this bag and I like all the external pockets they’ve got. It’s surprisingly roomy too. I personally tend to go for more of the GoRuck, Guide Pack, or Wandrd Prvke style look when I travel with one bag.

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Tom Bihn Synapse 25

One of the highest rated daily backpacks in the world due to it’s accessibility, organization, comfort and capacity. Stick to it for some time and you’ll see what we mean. Dad-bag looks tho.

More often than I care to admit I simply grab this bag because I KNOW it won’t let me down. That’s how I feel about this bag.

All the organization is on the outside of the bag, which makes it insanely easy to access everything you need.

Then the capacity inside the main compartment is surprisingly roomy. I’m amazed that I can travel with this bag for 3 weeks and beyond (as long as I’ve got access to some laundry :).

Also, it’s very comfortable to travel with, even when it’s completely loaded to the brim. When you pack it for minimal travel all the clothes rest up against your back, so it’s soft and comfortable (compared to most bags which place the laptop against the back). I was surprised to see how much I noticed the comfort of this setup.

Tom Bihn also sells loads of accessories you can use with this bag. I use the laptop cache and a few of their pouches that connect to “O” rings inside the bag.

And it needs to be said how much I love the fact that I can use this bag as both a travel bag AND a daily carry bag. Similar to the Wandrd Prvke in that regard, and a feature I find myself really hungry for these days.

If I could combine the functionality of this bag with the look of a GoRuck bag I’d be in heaven. That being said, I reach for this much more often than I reach for the GoRuck. Love this bag!

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YNOT Magnetica Rolltop Backpack

I love how functional a solid rolltop bag can be, and this is one of my favorite rolltop bags.

YNOT is a small company in Canada making killer bags by hand, giving them the capabilities of completely customizing a bag to your specification. If that sounds good to you, check into this co.

This Magnetica bag is one of my favorites from them. It’s utterly functional and has some surprisingly useful features (the water resistant liner as separator!?).

A bag like this works excellent for daily carry or for minimal travel… making it one of my favorite kinds of bags to use as my minimal travel bag.

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Greenroom136 Rainmaker Backpack

An extremely solid everyday backpack suited for carrying lots of gear or compressing down to a minimal daily carry haul. One of my favorite all-around bags.

  • Nice feeling materials — the bag feels great in your hands/on your back without needing to be fancy.
  • Lots of organization — 3 separate compartments, each with distinct organization inside.
  • Expandability — the bag is a great size for daily carry, is compressible when you don’t have to carry much, but it’s quite roomy when you need it to be! (Bag comes in 2 sizes, I believe I’m using the Large size in this video.)
  • Very comfortable — I was surprised by how nice these straps feel on your shoulders.

Customize this bag:

Here’s a video I did about a custom Rainmaker I designed using Greenroom136’s “wildcard bag customizer.”

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Thule Subterra Travel Backpack

The Subterra backpack from Thule is designed to be a minimal travel bag with room for both your tech needs, daily needs and weekend travel needs.

  • Solid look + feel — it’s designed well and the external fabric feels nice!
  • Tech organization — decent tech panel for organizing your daily needs.
  • Solid capacity — fit enough for a weekend or longer if you can pack it minimally!
  • Useable as a daily carry bag — it’s not too big to  use as your daily carry.

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More 1-Bag Travel Bags:




So, what do you think? What bag are you going with? Hopefully this article has helped you make a decision for your next journey.

Because remember, travel is about having clear eyes and an open heart… the right gear can just help you stay in that mindset 🙂

Bon voyage!

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Created by Chase Reeves