Best Carry On Backpack for Travel

best carry on backpack for travel

I once blitzed through a backpack per trip for a couple of years like an indecisive customer always needing the next best smartphone. The cyclical process of selling one pack on Craigslist, only to give another pack a fighting chance until it too ended up sold to the highest bidder, finally ended when I found a wonderful 28-liter option from Marmot. The pack has faithfully followed me around the last three years from a World Cup in Brazil to frigid train stations in anonymous Bulgarian cities and everywhere in between. I think it’s the best carry on backpack for travel. Period.

More specifically, my pack is the 28-liter Marmot Trans-Hauler—a larger version of the Inter-Hauler and a very rare find amongst travel packs for a couple of reasons. My biggest gripe with previous packs was the organization of pockets and dispersement of 30-something liters. The Trans-Hauler finally answered my pleas for an alternate take on the traditional backpack.

best carry on backpack for travel


Finally! A backpack that opens more or less like a suitcase. Ever find yourself frustrated over traditional backpacks and the inability to really fold clothes effectively? The two or three top panel compartments also cut down on real estate to store stuff with all the dividers and make bigger items like a spare pair of shoes a real challenge. The u-shaped opening of the Trans-Hauler’s main compartment opens up to provide a spacious area much like a smaller suitcase. People who want the perks of a backpack (i.e. easier to carry) along with the flexibility to really utilize packing cubes and other ways to organize one’s belongings can rejoice. The main interior area also offers a few useful pockets to store documents and other smaller items.

The other compartments of the pack are added with usability in mind. A padded laptop sleeve between the main compartment and back support easily stores my 13-inch Mac-Book air with its own cover, as well as a tablet and smaller book to quickly access entertainment and work-related gear without opening up the main compartment. A smaller front pocket stores chargers, passports, and any other smaller items needed on the go. Last but not least, the obligatory side pockets provide room for water bottles or a few extra pairs of socks.

best carry on backpack for travel


Admittedly being spared any truly harrowing experiences, my pack has nevertheless dealt with the standard blows, nicks, and scrapes associated with life on the road. The pack has held up beautifully without a single thread coming loose and the only ding to speak of occurred on the reinforced front part of the pack built specifically to encounter additional battering. My choice of black to match my understated travel style does make the pack a little more prone to showing scrapes, but it still looks about as professional as a backpack might look.


At 28-liters, the pack just barely fits under an airplane seat for those of us who like to fly Spirit Airlines in the states or RyanAir in Europe and also avoid charges associated with putting a bag overhead. The size is also manageable in between feet on a bus or train and if rules allow, easily fits in overhead bins of all planes and most other forms of public transport.


Fully loaded with travel gear, I’m able to march along for miles in the pack before my back starts to feel any pain. With all of the straps in place and a good pair of shoes, I’ve even hit five miles without feeling the need for a break or a trip to the chiropractor. The internal support and straps are great, and while the pack will never be confused with a legitimate frame pack meant for hiking, it more than holds its own for exploring a city on long layovers or when walking from the bus station to the hotel sounds like a reasonable idea.

Wanderlust Tip

Carry a stuff sack in one of the side compartments to go even lighter for sightseeing trips. Most laptop sleeves—even those with additional pockets and a shoulder strap—fit in the pack's laptop compartment as well for those wanting to bring something lighter to the closest coffee shop. Both options enable travelers to leave their Marmot pack behind at the hotel for day activities.


The pack comes in a number of different colors, like my preferred back—along with red and sandstorm. Most are of the subdued variety and offer a refreshing change from the colors often associated with backpacks, but those wanting something wild can still opt for a green color. Another benefit? The pack is meant for general travel and doesn’t have all the hooks and straps that, while helpful for hiking, only tend to get caught on things when navigating everything from metro stations to conveyer belts at airports.

Purchase the Best Carry On Backpack for Travel

I was lucky and stumbled upon the pack for 50% off on Macy’s website of all places, but alas, the pack is now sold out. The pack is available for full price (now $129) on Marmot’s website and also at BackCountry. I’ve purchased products from both retailers and can generally attest to their customer service and reliability.

Author’s note: my personal preference is to only take a carry-on pack for any trip duration, as I’d rather do laundry than break my back. I also don’t love storing my precious gear under (or on top of) buses, or trust airlines in various countries to get my baggage from point A to point B. With that being said, I know a lot of people want to know about a great carryon pack without necessarily calling it their one and only option for luggage. The post is geared towards the assumption a 30-liter pack might fit the bill for all belongings. I’ll be posted other articles on backpacks—including reviews of larger packs, as well as smaller packs better suited as a supplement to larger packs—in the upcoming months.

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Marmot Trans Hauler Backpack
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