The Best Carry-On Travel Bags, According To Minimal Packers

The Best Carry-On Travel Bags, According To Minimal Packers

After a long plane ride with a crying baby and a sneezing seat mate, all you want to do is deplane and get out of the airport. This plan will be delayed, however, if you have to wait in line for your checked bag, then lug it all around to ground transportation. It’s ideal — aspirational even — to take everything you need via carry-on. Yet, to make this dream a reality, you have to have a good, compact, all-purpose bag, one that keeps you organized and streamlined while still fitting the essentials.

Geoff Grisdale, founder of One Bag Travels, a blog and video channel dedicated to intentional packing, says you want a carry-on bag that contains around 30 liters. “The max size you can take on most carry-on airlines is about 45 liters,” Grisdale told HuffPost. “I find the 25- to 30-liter backpacks to work pretty good for most of my trips.”

Grisdale is part of the one-bag travel community that’s active on a ton of online platforms (like a very active Reddit page and the “minimal” lifestyle niche on YouTube) and where fellow light travelers to share recommendations and give each other tips. If you’re wondering about the dimensions of a given airline’s carry-on policy or what waterproof laptop case is the best one, Grisdale says the users of the OneBag subreddit will be happy to tell you.

Grisdale also says you want a carry-on bag with the proper amounts of pockets, dividers and compartments for you. If you tend to lose chapstick and phone chargers in different sections of your bag, you likely don’t want something with 100 pockets. Yet, if your favorite place to shop is The Container Store, you may drool over a bag with a separate section for every item.

Christina Mychas, a minimal-lifestyle vlogger who posts frequently about traveling light, adds that while it may be hard to narrow down what items you take with you, packing light ultimately means less stress as you travel — and as you eventually return home and unpack.

“There’s so much hurrying up to wait when it comes to traveling, so packing light with a carry-on and backpack not only helps us get going, but saves SO much unneeded stress, back pain and time,” Mychas told HuffPost. “You always need less than you think, so I just started prioritizing bringing what I need and what I wear often when I travel.”

If you’re traveling to places with cobblestone or unpaved roads, tall buildings with no elevators or will be taking a combination of trains, trams and vehicles, one-bag packing will be your best friend. To help you find the best bag, we asked our favorite travel bloggers and light-packing enthusiasts about their favorite carry-on travel bags.

HuffPost receives a share from retailers on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.

Osprey Fairview 40 travel backpack

“I always travel with a carry-on no matter how long my trip is. My go-to backpack is the Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack in small/medium size. It’s a very well-built and functional bag. I love it because it is big enough to hold all of my essentials (camera gears, laptop, clothes, and other small essentials), but also small enough that it makes me think twice about what I actually need on the trip. It takes a little more effort and planning to pack light, but I think it’s worth it. There is no point in lugging around the extra weight of things that we don’t need.” — Sophie Daquis, minimal lifestyle vlogger

Pakt One Bag

“My favorite bag is the Pakt One Bag. I love that it has two separate large compartments that are accessible either from the top of the bag, or if the bag is unzipped down the middle and laid out flat, both sides are accessible from the inside. This makes both packing and quick access super easy and convenient. The bag is made from great materials and has held up really well over time. There are plenty of other areas to pack smaller items and the shoulder strap is pretty comfy as well. I can fit everything I need in this bag for any length of trip. There is even a laptop sleeve in the middle of the bag which helps leave the backpack behind. I haven’t used another bag in a few years as this can hold everything I need for any trip.” — Spencer Scott Pugh, minimal lifestyle vlogger

Kenneth Cole Reaction Chelsea laptop bag

“My go-to travel backpack is this Kenneth Cole one from Amazon. I love it because it has a separate sleeve that fits a full-size 15-inch laptop comfortably. It also has several other pockets and compartments for smaller electronics and gadgets. But what REALLY sold me is the strap that slides onto your rolling suitcase so that you can roll it around without fear of it falling off the suitcase (and NOT having to carry it on your back throughout the entire airport!). I took this backpack and a small carry-on rolling suitcase with me on my 10-day Europe trip and it was so easy to carry everything I needed! With the cobblestone streets, a full-size check-in bag was just not an option. Traveling with less not only reduces my stress but also helps me learn to live with less!” — Rachel Vinn, minimal lifestyle vlogger

Samara ocean backpack

“In my latest travels to Victoria [British Columbia, Canada], I used the Samara ocean backpack to hold my electronics and essentials. It’s my everyday bag anyway, so I brought it with me. It’s super minimal yet practical, and holds more than you’d think!” — Mychas

Thule Aion 28-liter

“The bag that I’ve been liking the most recently is by Thule, the Aion 28-liter pack is the one I took on my most recent trip and that worked out great. It’s small enough to be carry-on and it’s kind of the edge of being a personal item, which means you can sit [it] under the seat on an airline. So it just gives you a lot of options for carrying. The 28-liter size is big enough, it’s kind of right in the sweet spot as far as size goes. It has enough organization, has a laptop sleeve and a little divider, kind of a built-in packing cube, so it gives me enough organization to separate all my gear out. Some bags kind of go overboard with pockets and dividers and compartments and it adds a lot of weight and price to the bag. So I think this is a good sweet spot for me where it’s large enough to hold on my gear and organize it well, but it’s also has a pretty simple minimalist look and feel to it that makes it not weigh too much and also not be super expensive.” — Grisdale

Monos backpack

“Recently I upgraded to the Monos backpack which has a lot more space but still quite sleek and minimal. It has lots of handy and intuitive compartments, is waterproof, and I’m planning to test it out on a quick in/out trip to Mexico City coming up. Keep you posted!” — Mychas

Longchamp Le Pliage Tote

“My favorite travel bag is the Le Pliage Tote by Longchamp. It has been me go to bag for minimalist travel for almost a decade. I love that the body is made of nylon and the straps are leather so it’s both incredibly durable yet stylish at the same time! It is a classic and simple bag with one interior pocket that forces you to be intentional about what you want to bring with you. I use smaller pouches to divide my things into categories and I bring a simple capsule wardrobe to keep my clothing items to a minimum. But you actually can squeeze a lot into the bag if needed! I am able to pack for an entire week easily and include my laptop, too, if it is a work trip. I just returned from a solo 3-week trip to Europe and there is no way I would’ve enjoyed moving around six different countries if I had tons of luggage with me. I get in and out of the airport quickly because I never have to wait at baggage claim. I hop off the flight and hit the ground running. — Carla of The Carla Project, minimal lifestyle vlogger

AER travel pack

“[My favorite bag is the] AER travel pack — depends on how much I need to take. Mostly I pack clothes, cords, Kindle, portable speaker, water bottle, occasional iPad or laptop.” — u/nanerpoodin, a Redditor at r/onebag

Kathmandu Litehaul 38L

“Our favorite travel backpack for short-term, one-bag travel has to be the carry-on ready Kathmandu Litehaul 38L. Unlike a traditional backpack that opens from the top, this travel backpack opens from the front like a suitcase meaning you instantly have access to all your things (i.e. no more digging in bags!) and is rightly sized at 38L so it’s not so small that you’ll be crunched for space but also not so big that you’ll be struggling with it on planes and busses because believe us, traveling light [equals] comfort. The backpack also features fairly minimal well-sized pockets, has a sleeve for a tablet and laptop. The backpack also has handy features where you can hide shoulder straps (for a slimmer look) and can convert the whole thing into a duffel for ease of carrying. We have used this backpack for basic weekend trips all the way to a 16-country [around] the world which included a trek to Everest Base Camp. (Yes, this pack is Himalayan approved!)” — Nicole and Mico, travel vloggers

Hedgren Voyage Zenith backpack

“I usually use a Hedgren bag. I bought it three years ago… The reason I love it is because I have a nice back pocket for my passport that isn’t accessible by pickpockets and a laptop sleeve that allows my to pack my laptop.I use packing cubes and usually have three: one for toiletries (a dopp), one for clean clothes and one for dirty clothes. That way I can do my laundry when traveling with no problem. The key is that if you have a minimalist wardrobe, you can do your laundry every three days or so and stay fresh.” — Jonathan Klinger, a Redditor at r/onebag

Klinger has Hedgren’s Bond model that is currently out of stock, but the Voyage Zenith is similar.

Halfday garment duffel

Even the most seasoned minimalist travelers struggle with bringing formalwear on the go. If you need to bring a suit to a wedding or conference, but don’t want to bring a whole separate garment bag, this bag is frequently praised on the OneBag subreddit. Halfday’s garment duffel is a sleek, easy-carry bag that rolls out in a garment bag and has a separate section for shoes.

It’s “perfect for a traveling musician!” wrote buyer Luis h. “Fits exactly what I need for 3-5 days worth of traveling and performing. Don’t hesitate to get it.”

L.L. Bean XL zipper Boat and Tote

As a proud New Englander, I’m pretty sure I was brought home from the hospital in an L.L. Bean Boat and Tote. They’re timeless, durable canvas bags that age so gracefully and look even better with wear. As a kid, we used them for beach and lake bags, toy and snack bags, and my teacher mama used one every day to go to school. A few years ago I got myself a zippered XL-size with bag regular straps. It’s my go-to travel bag and holds way more than you’d think it would — I’m talking multiple pairs of pants and shoes and even room for whatever thrift finds I get when traveling. Best part, it looks really vintage and classic, so you never feel like you’re carrying your old dorky duffle bag from high school soccer.


Beis carry on

And if you’re in the market for a hard-sided carry-on option and don’t have to worry about any cobblestone streets:

“My favorite carry-on bag is the Beis carry-on because it has the most durable outside material I’ve found so far, has organizational compartments on the inside, and the wheels are super smooth. They also come in cute colors which doesn’t hurt.” — Taylor Wynn, travel vlogger