Travelling with carry on bags only!!! Yes, carry on… that’s what I said! In 2015 we decided to embark on international, full time travel, with nothing more than carry on baggage! It sounded crazy at the time, but after extensive research, we put together a list of our Top 7 picks for the Best Carry On Backpack, and after a year abroad, we are extremely happy with the bag we chose.

In the months leading up to our departure we spent hours and hours researching and reading about the experiences of other digital nomads. We joined a number of amazing Facebook Groups of families that travel full time and we learned a huge amount from their experiences. And of course there is plenty to learn!

When it comes to packing, we initially had in mind a scenario similar to our recent trip through South America – using our hardshell luggage (1 each) and a couple of smaller on board bags. Despite often wishing I’d backpacked around the world in my younger years, the idea of travelling with only a carry on backpack each as a family never occurred to me!

Baggage

BUT… travelling with that much luggage was painful!!!  We all had waaaaay too much stuff, and trying to get around airports and in and out of taxis with 106kgs of luggage (4x23kg + 2x7kg) was a nightmare! But, if we wanted to travel long term, wouldn’t we need it all?

Best Travel Backpacks

Maneuvering 106kgs of baggage through airports was a nightmare!

Well, back to our forum friends and I was extremely surprised to learn that many opt for CARRY ON ONLY!!!!  I found that completely mind boggling! How could we possibly live out of a single 40ltr bag each???

There are so many benefits to travelling with carry on only… getting off a plane and skipping the baggage carousels sounds particularly inviting, but better still, most airlines offer substantially discounted tickets without checked in baggage. For a family of 4, this can be up to $200 PER FLIGHT. But packing everything we need into a single carry on backpack each? Well, it seems, packing light, washing regularly, and travelling to warm climates (which is fine by me after a Victorian winter) makes it possible.

And so began our hunt for the best carry on backpack!

BEST CARRY ON BACKPACK – OUR MUST HAVE LIST

After many more hours of research, we came up with the following list of must have items, that we felt were super important when searching for a carry on backpack. Now in the ideal world, we would find a bag that has all of these… but alas, it didn’t happen, especially as here in Australia, a number of the bags we discovered were impossible to get our hands on without ordering from overseas (which gets expensive).

Each item has been given a final score weight – a marker for each of the bags to be measured against. This will help us get an overall rating!

  • CarryOnBagCARRY ON SIZE. Absolutely MUST meet carry on baggage guidelines. Of course the size of a carry on bag seems to be COMPETELY different on every single airline, which makes this task rather difficult.  For the sake of this exercise though, we are working on 56cm Height, 36cm Width and 23cm Depth. Score Weight = 15
  • COMFORTABLE, ADJUSTABLE HARNESS. A good quality, comfortable (well padded), fully adjustable backpack harness – Cam is 186cm, I’m 168cm and Brody is about 148cm… so we need a bag each that will be comfortable! Score Weight = 12
  • HIDDEN HARNESS. A harness that can be zipped away – perfect for getting on a plane and not having straps dangling from everywhere which can get caught up and/or damaged. Score Weight = 8
  • WAIST BELT POCKETS. This wasn’t particularly important for Cam but for me, who carries the passports and fills out most of the documentation as we travel, a handy, easy to reach pocket would be AWESOME! Score Weight = 10
  • MINIMAL WEIGHT. If we are going to travel the world with only 7kgs of luggage each, my bag better not weight half of that! Under 1.5kg is the goal! Score Weight = 15
  • LAPTOP SLEEVE. Again, not a super important one to Cam, but for me, the point is to carry as little as possible, so I don’t want to have our carry on backpack AND another bag. Score Weight = 5
  • FRONT OPENING. Not top opening. Picture a duffle bag! As opposed to as standard carry on backpack that pack from the top (good luck if you need to find something that is at the bottom), we both wanted something that we could effectively lay down and unzip making access to all parts of the bag possible. Score Weight =13
  • COMPRESSION STRAPS. Inside and outside if possible. Score Weight = 7
  • LOW PRICE: Below $200 would be ideal. Below $150 would be even better! Score Weight = 8
  • A GUARANTEE! These bags are not likely to be cheap, and whilst we are happy to invest, but we’d like to be able to trust that the quality of the product is backed by the manufacturer with a good guarantee. Score Weight = 7

SO WHAT DID WE FIND?

After a whole lot of searching, we narrowed it down to the following options:

  1. Black Wolf Monashee 40L
  2. Tortuga Travel Backpacks
  3. One Planet Wing It
  4. PacSafe VentureSafe 45L
  5. Kathmandu Voltai 40L Backpack v2
  6. Caribee Short Hop 55ltr
  7. Osprey Porter 46

CANDIDATE 1 FOR BEST CARRY ON BACKPACK
BLACK WOLF MONASHEE 40L

Best Travel Backpacks

At first, I thought I was going to be very impressed with the Monashee by Black Wolf.  It has a lot of the features we were looking for. It’s available in 4 different colours, and being a Black Wolf, it was really easy to track down and have a look at.

There was a lot to like about this bag. The harness was super comfortable with plenty of padding in all the right places. A laptop sleeve, hip belt pockets (well I was excited), and compression straps. And the price was great at approximately $117!

BUT… we really didn’t like the way the bag opened.  Because the zip is effectively in the middle of the depth of the bag, when it’s open, there is only a very small amount of space to pack in. The bag essentially closes overtop of what you are packing which works, I guess, but we wanted something deeper.

  • BRAND: Black Wolf
  • MODEL: Monashee
  • CAPACITY: 40L
  • WEIGHT: 1.8kg
  • DIMENSIONS: 50cm x 32cm x 28cm
  • WARRANTY: Limited Lifetime Warranty (with original receipt)
  • PRICE: Click here for latest pricing
  • PROS: Loved the comfort of this bag, lots of padding! Loved the laptop sleeve, range of colours and the hip belt pockets. Oh and of course the price!
  • CONS: Just not deep enough for us to pack well.
  • SCORE: 70/100

CANDIDATE 2 FOR BEST CARRY ON BACKPACK

TORTUGA TRAVEL BACKPACKS

Best Travel Backpacks - Tortuga Travel Backpacks

Looking at the specs, the Tortuga Travel Backpacks were one of my favourites. It pretty much ticked EVERY box, which is pretty understandable given that these travel backpacks were specifically designed by backpackers, for backpackers.  After travelling with a couple of travel backpacks that were disastrous, the boys from Tortuga designed and manufactured this bag.  And they’ve done really well.

My only complaint? I have three actually. Neither Cam nor I liked the look of it. It’s definitely not the nicest looking bag (reminds me of something a kid might take to school!) But, for all the other benefits, I’d have put up with it (Cam on the other hand really didn’t like it!)

Secondly, the price. Given the terrible exchange rate at the moment, including shipping, this bag was going to be over $AUD360! And when you are buying 3 of them… WHOA!

But my biggest gripe? I couldn’t find a Tortuga ANYWHERE in Australia! And I’m not spending $1000 on bags before I am able to have a look at them!

  • BRAND: Tortuga
  • MODEL: Travel Backpack
  • CAPACITY: 44L
  • WEIGHT: 1.66kg
  • DIMENSIONS: 56cm x 36cm x 23 cm
  • WARRANTY: A common decency guarantee (If something is wrong and it’s their fault, they will make it right.)
  • PRICE: Click here for latest pricing
  • PROS: So many things. Built to do exactly what we are doing.
  • CONS: The look, the price, lack of availability in Australia.
  • SCORE: 72/100

CANDIDATE 3 FOR BEST CARRY ON BACKPACK

ONE PLANET WING IT

Best Travel Backpacks - One Planet Wing It

In theory, the Wing It backpack by One Planet sounded great. I’ve read rave reviews about the quality and durability of this bag, and the fact that it’s Aussie made is kind of nice too. The One Planet Wing It has a really nice top zipper – lots of depth to the packing compartment! The harness has a huge range of adjustment – the one back adapted to suit all three of us perfectly. It was pretty comfortable, but for the price, in comparison to other bags, it just didn’t have enough features.

I do have to give a shout out to the amazing staff at Adventure Link Malvern, who went above and beyond in helping me have a look at the One Planet Wing It. They couldn’t have been more helpful, and got me a bag in each colour to have a look at, with no commitment to buy whatsoever. Talk about great customer service! Up there with the best I’ve received!

  • BRAND: One Planet
  • MODEL: Wing It
  • CAPACITY: 40L
  • WEIGHT: 1.7kg
  • DIMENSIONS: 55cm x 32cm x 22cm
  • WARRANTY: 10 years
  • PRICE: Click here for latest pricing
  • PROS: Great top opening zip, huge depth, comfortable harness.
  • CONS: Not many other features. No extra zipper compartments, none of the nice extras we wanted (which most of the other bags had)
  • SCORE: 61/100

CANDIDATE 4 FOR BEST CARRY ON BACKPACK

PACSAFE VENTURESAFE 45L

I really would have loved to have seen this bag.  But although PacSafe are a popular brand here in Australia, this bag was kind of elusive! I had plenty of shops offer to get one in for me, but only if I paid for it upfront!

As a result, I can only judge this bag based on stats from the PacSafe website.  All in all, it met most of our requirements, and had some added security features which the company is known for. I can’t say I loved the colour range (felt like I needed to join the Army to look good in this one!).  The laptop compartment in this bag is located at the front of the bag, in comparison to most others which were essentially against your back. For security reasons I prefer the laptop closer to my back, but of course it’s a personal preference – Cam isn’t worried at all about even having a laptop sleeve!

  • BRAND: PacSafe
  • MODEL: Venture Safe
  • CAPACITY: 45L
  • WEIGHT: 1.56kg
  • DIMENSIONS: 56cm x 35.5cm x 23cm
  • WARRANTY: 5 Years
  • PRICE:  Click here for latest pricing
  • PROS: Lots of extra security features like RipStop fabric to prevent slash and grabs. Front Opening.
  • CONS: Couldn’t find one to look at, the price was way over the top and I personally didn’t like any of the colour options! Probably ok if you’re a guy, but army green and navy blue don’t do it for me!
  • SCORE: 47/100

CANDIDATE 5 FOR BEST CARRY ON BACKPACK

KATHMANDU VOLTAI 40L

Kathmandu

This bag was definitely one of my favourites… and I came close to buying myself one. To be honest I really like the look of this pack – it’s a real “backpack”, not just a day pack trying to be a proper backpack! The harness was super comfy (and had hip belt pockets!), it adjusted well to suit us all, and I thought it would have worked well for us. There were a few key elements missing though, and unfortunately, if you look at the angel of the zip you will see that one end of the bag has next to no depth, which as mentioned earlier, was not what we were after.

KathmanduBrodyBrody loved this bag… during one of our trips to Kathmandu he spent about half an hour walking around with this bag on his bag asking us to buy it for him! The adjustments on the bag meant it fitted him just as well as it fitted me!

  • BRAND: Kathmandu
  • MODEL: Voltai
  • CAPACITY: 40L
  • WEIGHT: 1.19kg
  • DIMENSIONS: 55cm x 23cm x 27cm
  • WARRANTY: Assistant told us only 1 year
  • PRICE:  Click here for latest pricing
  • PROS: Very comfortable bag, looks great, great adjustment, hip belt pockets
  • CONS: Opening zipper leaves next to no depth near the top of the bag, a number of features on our list not met.
  • SCORE: 75/100

CANDIDATE 6 FOR BEST CARRY ON BACKPACK

CARIBEE SHORT HOP 55ltr

Absolutely loved this bag. In fact, after making our final decision and purchasing our bags (not this one), I had a little panic thinking that I should have bought this bag instead, so I found a near new one on eBay and bought one of those too! Cam didn’t love this bag and it was a bit big for Brody, but I loved it. Super comfortable, hip belt pockets, laptop harness and lots of padding. Lots of compartments, and being 55L, supposedly fits more.

BUT, after my little panic attack, I sat at home with some clothes and things to pretend pack, only to discover that whilst it is 55L, the depth isn’t huge, and the zipper isn’t at the front of the bag, which means when packing you pack above the edges of the sides and close the top around it (if that makes any sense at all). What this all means is that as I was packing I had stuff spilling out of the bag everywhere and it really felt smaller than the bag we ultimately bought.

This was definitely my 2nd favourite bag though.  The dimensions were slightly bigger than carry on, and whilst I could see that the bag would easily squish down, I knew this would be forever in the back of my mind, wondering if I would ever get pulled up. Plus, it was substantially heavier than all of the other bags! Still, for another purpose, this bag would be awesome!

  • BRAND: Caribee
  • MODEL: Short Hop
  • CAPACITY: 55L
  • WEIGHT: 1.9kg
  • DIMENSIONS: 60cm x 38cm x 25cm
  • WARRANTY: 3 Years
  • PRICE: Click here for latest pricing
  • PROS: Very comfortable, extra capacity, looks good, laptop sleeve, met a lot of our requirements
  • CONS: Lack of depth and overall size.
  • SCORE: 82/100

CANDIDATE 7 FOR BEST CARRY ON BACKPACK

OSPREY PORTER 46

Osprey

Love this bag! (As long as it’s not the green version). I’d read a lot about this bag, particularly on some of the forums I am a part of, and it consistently got great reviews. There area couple of our “must have” items that this bag doesn’t have (like my beloved hip belt pockets) but the storage space on this bag is incredible.

The bag is incredibly deceiving. I expected it to be substantially smaller than what it was, and when we unzipped it were were shocked! The depth of this bag is brilliant!Best Travel Backpacks - Osprey Open

The bag features straight jacket compression and it is incredible to see how small the bag suddenly appears when compressed. It has a very comfortable harness, that tucks away for on board travel. It has a harness pocket at the front that can be used for a laptop sleeve, however the pocket for the straps of these travel backpacks is an even better option in my opinion.

Quite a few additional storage compartments, and overall it is a really great looking bag! And the price was fantastic. It is available in 3 different colours, lime green, a red/burnt orange and of course black. Ordinarily the price is around the $150 mark, but we managed to get it for a crazy $111!

Seriously looking forward to putting these travel backpacks through their paces. In fact, all 3 of us will get our first use over the next week – Brody’s off to School Camp, and Cam and I are off to Fiji! Carry on luggage only of course!

  • BRAND: Osprey
  • MODEL: Porter
  • CAPACITY: 46L
  • WEIGHT: 1.5kg
  • DIMENSIONS: 57cm x 36cm x 24cm
  • WARRANTY: LIFETIME! Osprey will repair any damage or defect in our product for any reason free of charge – whether it was purchased in 1974 or yesterday. If we are unable to perform a functional repair on your pack, we will happily replace it.
  • PRICE: Click here for latest pricing
  • PROS: Ticks off so many items on our list. The depth of the bag is incredible which will make packing substantially easier. It is super comfy, great pricing and comes with a lifetime warranty. The only bag we tried that had that!
  • CONS: There isn’t really much I don’t like about this bag. I do wish it had hip belt pockets, but for all of the other benefits, I can go without those!
  • SCORE: 90/100

As for Miss Sienna? She got her own mini travel backpack of course! She is now the very proud owner of a Black Wolf Blitz 30L, which will ultimately become our day pack, but it fits her beautifully and she feels very grown up in her back pack! She prances around the place like she’s ready to go now!

Looking for info on bags specific to kids – check out this post from our friends at Learning Escapes

SiennaBackpack

Have you tried any of these bags? Did we miss anything on our list (oh, maybe don’t answer that one!!) What bag do you travel with?

Talk soon.

Karen

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