If you’re a frequent flyer, packing simple is key for smooth travels! It’s way too easy to pack too much stuff that you may never need. And packing in the wrong type of luggage can make for unnecessary hassles. Think of lost checked luggage or having to haul a heavy, hard-sided suitcase up multiple flights of stairs at an Airbnb (not fun!). Throughout our travels, we’ve come to appreciate minimalist packing with suitcase-style travel packs approved for carry-on travel. Our curated list of the top five carry-on travel packs will help you select the best travel pack for your needs and make carrying your luggage during your next trip a breeze! And check out more of our gear reviews on our Gear Page.
Carry-on Travel Packs
Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L
Hands down, the Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L is one of the best travel packs we have ever owned. For the last 5+ years, this pack has traveled the world as our go-to carry-on. MLC stands for “Maximum Legal Carry-on”, and the 45L version fits this requirement perfectly. The 45L size is carry-on compatible for most airlines, with dimensions of 22.8 x 14.5 x 8.6 inches. With this pack, you have ultimate flexibility and comfort and can forget about lugging around a hard-sided carry-on. The MLC pack can be configured in a variety of carry formats: shoulder-carry, briefcase style, or backpack.
With the 900-denier, recycled ripstop polyester Black Hole fabric, you get extremely durable construction. DWR treatment helps repel water, so light rain should not be an obstacle on your travels. Internal organization is a breeze with a clamshell main compartment with two sections for separating packed items. Exterior pockets are abundant as well to help organize travel documents and other essentials.
The MLC 45L pack is typically available in a variety of colors, but often easily found in black or blue. Also, if you’re looking for a smaller pack, Patagonia has you covered with their more compact 26L “mini” MLC.
Check out Patagonia’s overview of the MLC Travel Bag here.
Cotopaxi Allpa 42L
The Cotopaxi Allpa 42L is a stunningly designed, suitcase style travel backpack. Don’t want to wear a backpack? No problem! Convert the pack to shoulder carry or use the side handle for briefcase style carrying.
The Allpa is available is a variety of smaller sizes beyond the 42L, such as the 35L and the 28L; however, we prefer the 42L for maximum packing flexibility. In addition, the Allpa is available in the unique and varied Del Dia color palette, if a less monotone look is preferred.
The 42L is carry-on compatible for most airlines, with dimensions of 21.5 x 13 x 9 inches. The pack is constructed with a strong TPU-coated polyester shell, which is great for shedding light rain. But just in case, a rain cover is included. Organizing items inside is super convenient, with subdivided zippered mesh compartments on both sides. In addition, three padded sleeves can safely store a 15 inch laptop, a 12.5 inch tablet, and a 6.5 inch phone. And for those that like to travel with a refillable water bottle, an exterior pocket can accommodate a bottle up to 3 inches in diameter.
Check out Cotopaxi’s overview of the Allpa 42L Travel Pack here.
Topo Designs Global Travel Bag 40L
Topo Designs, a company proudly based out of Colorado, makes beautifully designed practical products. Their Global Travel Bag 40L is a fantastic option for carry-on luggage convenience that can store more than it looks at first glance. Indeed, the pack can even expand to 45L when packed full.
This Global Travel Bag has dimensions of 22.5 x 14 x 7.5 inches and weighs just over 58oz. with its heavy duty nylon construction. Like many travel packs in this category, the Global Travel Bag can convert to backpack, briefcase, or shoulder carry style. Internal organization is a bit different than other packs, with access via a U-shaped compartment rather than a clamshell opening. Inside, you’ll find a spacious main compartment, mesh pockets to separate essentials, and a back panel laptop compartment.
The Global Travel Bag is available in a few different color palettes, in addition to a smaller 30L size if you’re looking for a smaller pack. Also, for additional travel efficiency, consider Topo Designs’ multitude of internal pack organizers and accessory bags.
Check out Topo Designs’ overview of the Global Travel Bag here.
North Face Base Camp Duffel – Small
The North Face Base Camp Duffel is our standard choice for a rugged trip, when we know we need a strong travel pack. For carry-on purposes, the Small Base Camp duffel is perfect at 13×21 inches and weighing 2lb. 10oz. The Small duffel holds 50L, but if you’re looking for larger capacity, the Medium duffel boasts 71L which would push the limit for carry-ons. Still not enough space, then try the Large duffel or even Extra Large duffel for checked bags.
We’ve collected a variety of North Face Base Camp Duffel sizes over the years and have used them often. The water resistant PVC material can handle a lot, so you don’t have to worry much about nicks and scrapes. Detachable shoulder straps make for the optimal way to carry, but you can of course carry duffel style.
As a duffel, you don’t have as many separate compartments as other bags in this list, but the main compartment is spacious. A zippered mesh compartment on the underside of the lid does help separate smaller items. Overall, the North Face Base Camp Small duffel is a great balance of budget friendliness, space, and comfort.
Check out North Face’s overview of the Base Camp Duffel here.
REI Co-op Big Haul 40 Duffel
The REI Co-op Big Haul 40 Duffel is the best budget option on this list for a carry-on travel pack. Weighing just over 2lb. and holding a sizable 40L of gear, this duffel has dimensions of 21.3 x 13.4 x 10.2 inches. Its tough ripstop nylon and reinforced ballistic nylon base make this travel pack a rugged selection for camping and general travels.
The Big Haul duffel comes with a storage sack to store your travel bag when not in use. Inside, you have the standard large duffel vestibule for gear as well as some internal mesh pockets to help organize items.
Available in a variety of colors, you can carry this duffel as-is or convert into a backpack using its storable backpack straps. Like most of the packs on this list, REI produces the Big Haul in a variety of sizes if the 40L duffel doesn’t meet your travel needs. Check out their 28L, 60L, or even the 90L for alternatives.
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