Hiking Backpacks For Carry On: An Ultimate Guide [2021]


Before you throw open the door in your eagerness to get to the airport and fly to your hiking destination, check off on your essential gear. After all, we hikers know that proper preparation is the key to successful hikes.

Boots, weather appropriate clothing, water, emergency kits, communication devices – hit pause. What is missing from the list?

You need a sturdy and TSA-compliant rucksack to hold all your essentials. But how do you choose the perfect one among a gazillion hiking backpacks for carry on on the market?

To help you find the best one for your needs, our experts have invested 18 hours into analyzing 32 bestselling travel backpacks that fit as cabin luggage. Criteria we studied included:

  • Suspension
  • Storage organization
  • Ventilation
  • Functionality
  • Weight and size

Our intensive research included reading through online reviews and unravelling little-known information. We also asked fellow hikers who use the packs for their experience and in fact, we traveled with some packs ourselves.

The result? Our team shortlisted 7 best picks. And the best hiking pack suitable for carry on is undoubtedly Osprey Stratos 36 L

For more advice and tips on picking out the most suitable carry-on hiking pack, read to the end of this article. We also put together a comprehensive buying guide for hikers of all skill-levels and experience.

Let’s begin!

Our Top 3 Recommendations

Best overall value
Tested by our expert team, the Osprey Stratos totally lives up to its hype. This pack is monstrously functional and stunningly comfortable no matter where you take it.
  • Superb ventilation thanks to the AirScape™ suspended mesh back panel
  • Large holding capacity with plenty of storage organization so you can easily locate the right gear
  • You can drink water without removing backpack as it comes with a hydration reservoir sleeve
  • Outstanding suspension and adjustable torso length provide extreme comfort
Runner up
With an impressive strength to weight ratio and incredible versatility, this is one of Deuter’s finest models that’s fully carry-on compliant.
  • Super versatile storage organization thanks to multiple gear loops, straps, and pockets
  • Advanced suspension system that is body adaptive thanks to the ActiveFit™ pivoting shoulder harness and AirContact™ Trail back system
  • Durable and very supportive for big loads thanks to the flexible Delrin® U-shaped frame
  • Compatible with hydration reservoir and includes a rain cover
Best budget choice
You don't want to break the bank in order to have a comfortable and secure hiking pack for carry on? Then this is the best choice for you.
  • Excellent storage capacity with versatile attachment points on the exterior
  • Highly adjustable, offering ergonomic weight distribution and good ventilation thanks to the curved internal frame design and the 3D Air-Flow mesh
  • Hydration-ready and with a rain cover
  • Good suspension including weight bearing beefy hip belt and load lifters

The Best Hiking Backpacks For Carry On: A Comparison Table

guh-table__imageMystery Ranch 2 Day Assault
  • Volume: 27 L
  • Weight: 3 lbs. / 1.36 kg.
  • Size: 21" x 12" x 11"
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guh-table__imagePatagonia Nine Trails
  • Volume: 28 L
  • Weight: 2.2 lbs. 1 kg.
  • Size: 21" x 10" x 6"
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guh-table__imageGregory Zulu
  • Volume: 30 L
  • Weight: 2 lbs. /0.9 kg.
  • Size: 23.5” x 12.2” x 10”
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guh-table__imageOsprey Stratos
  • Volume: 36 L
  • Weight: 3.2 lbs. / 1.4 kg.
  • Size: 27” x 13” x 13”.
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guh-table__imageAveler Grizzly
  • Volume: 36 L
  • Weight: 2. 6 lbs. / 1.2 kg.
  • Size: 21.6” x 13.8” x 5.9”
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guh-table__imageDeuter Trail
  • Volume: 30 L
  • Weight: 2. 6 lbs. / 1.2 kg.
  • Size: 24" x 12" x 8"
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guh-table__imageOsprey Talon
  • Volume: 33 L
  • Weight: 1.9 lbs. / 0.8 kg.
  • Size: 24" x 12" x 11"
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#1 Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault 27 L

Mystery Ranch Two Day assault pack

At a functional size for everyday use, the Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault Pack offers ample storage for hiking and city travel. Scaled down to meet airline carry-on size restrictions, it still equips with a full-size laptop sleeve, interior and exterior compartments. Blending plastic and closed-cell foam, the light-weight suspension offers amazing comfort and support. This travel pack seals the deal with a full-length frame sheet, removable hip belt, harness and additional MOLLE attachment points.

  • Dimensions allow it to be stored as cabin luggage, allowing worry-free air and regular travel   
  • Plenty of storage space including laptop sleeve, lid pockets, interior pockets and dump pouches
  • Multiple zipper access points make it easy to remove and store items
  • Incomparable fit thanks to custom-fit harness system and compression straps to adjust size for function
  • No rain cover included  
  • Bottle pockets slightly too wide; loose items get jostled  

Used as an Every Day Carry or weekend travel bag, the Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault is flexible-use with the dimensions of 21 x 12 x 11 inches. With most airline carry-ons limited to no more than 45 inches (L+W+H), this is a perfect fit. There are two compression straps to cut down on unused volume as well.

It comes in various sizes to fit your torso length: Small and Medium (15-20 inches), Large and Extra-large (17-24 inches). The adjustable harness system makes it suitable for both men and women, featuring a removable webbing hip belt. Sadly, there are no hip belts pockets but that’s not a deal breaker.

We found it to be extremely durable; the exterior consisting of nylon and closed-cell foam while the frame sheet is plastic. For extra support, the internal frame ensures everything stays in place while the front straps help disperse the weight more evenly.

It offers truly optimal storage space as the 27 liter capacity refers to the main compartments alone. I had no trouble fitting the same amount of things I’ve put away in my larger hiking pack.

You’ll find the space easy for organization. Inside are a padded 15-inches laptop sleeve, tablet compartment, and 2 zippered lid pockets. Those are great for putting your winter hiking beanie, for example. The laptop sleeve is also designed to host a hydration reservoir and includes loop to hang it from.

Exterior storage is available in form of side pockets and MOLLE attachments on the sides and back. You can attach extra pouches and gear for convenience, plus store water bottles outside for easy reach.

The backpack’s 3-Zip lid guarantees quick access to the main compartment. The laptop sleeve access on the side is fantastic. If you need to attach patches, there’s a hook-and-loop panel on the top lid.

Weighing 3 lbs, it is a practical addition to your travel and hiking essentials. The 2-Day Assault is light, comfortable, and with a cleverly designed exterior system for additional external storage.

#2 Patagonia Nine Trails 28 L

patagonia nine trails 28 L review

When Patagonia designed the Nine Trails travel backpack, they clearly had space and accessibility in mind. Hydration reservoir, exterior stretch pocket, hip belt pockets, and stash pockets make up the bulk of its organizational space, marking it a functionally designed day pack. 210-denier Cordura ripstop nylon and a durable water repellent finish offer sturdiness and durability, letting you explore challenging terrain in every season. Streamlined with a breathable mesh back, it’s a day pack approved by professionals.

  • Built for storage with huge hip belt pockets
  • High performing suspension; sturdy hard-shell materials used on front and sides to keep load centered
  • Mono-mesh back panel allows airflow and prevents moisture buildup
  • Made from durable materials like ripstop nylon to prevent rips, scratches and tears via bushwalking
  • Relatively narrow and shoulder straps may rub against your neck 
  • You can’t adjust the torso length  

With a base weight of 2 lbs. 3.3 oz. (1 kg.), size of 21" x 10" x 6", and carrying capacity of 28 liters, the Nine Trails Pack ranks high among the best hiking backpacks for carry on.

While you can’t adjust the torso length, the streamlined design makes it no-fuss and easy to adapt to. Plus, it comes in two different sizes – S/M and L/XL.

We also approve it for comfort, as the mono-mesh back panel allows high breathability and is impressively quick to dry. The padded shoulder harness, crafted out of perforated foam, works well with the hip belt to distribute the weight of your load across the hips.

This thoughtful suspension design ensures that your gear fits against your back and doesn’t move against you. As you know, that’s super important when you walk on steep terrains.

The material of this daypack proves to be a strategic choice in terms of ergonomic function and surface protection. Both the external 210-denier ripstop nylon and 200-denier polyester lining are coated with polyurethane and water repellent finish for extra durability.

The backpack doesn’t just look good – it’s built to last against whipping branches, wet climates, and rough treatment.

Still, if I had to pinpoint the most outstanding feature of the Nine Trails Pack, it’d be the generous storage space. There is plenty of functional space with stash pockets for smaller items, and an additional stretch pocket in front for extra gear.

The side pockets and dual compression straps keep your belongings in place while managing various load sizes as well. Best of all, the U-shaped main zipper makes removing and replacing items extremely easy because it goes to the entirety of the pack.

If you’re looking for a no-frills, practical hiking backpack (and a travel backpack) for a short trip in the mountains, this Patagonia choice is high on the list.

Female hikers can surely check the women-specific model of the Nine Trails. It’s highly recommended.

#3 Gregory Zulu 30 L

gregory zulu 30 l

Truly all-in-one, the Gregory Zulu takes into account ergonomic fit, pocket organization, additional attachment options, and unpredictable weather patterns. It’s what we need for excursions with high capacity needs while remaining easy to carry. From the FreeFloat Dynamic Suspension to the OpenAir ventilated back panel, this hiking backpack maxes out on functionality. There’s even a SpeedClip attachment system for your Gregory 3D Hydro reservoir to ensure constant hydration on the go! Check it out!

  • Features high-class FreeFloat suspension system for both customizable fit and high breathability
  • Exceptional storage design that includes 6 external pockets and various attachment points
  • Hydration-compatible
  • Large U-panel zipper for quick gear access and included rain cover for equipment protection
  • On the heavier side for day packs
  • Can produce squeaky sounds when you walk  

Just the right size to use as an airplane carry-on, the Gregory Zulu 30 Pack is designed for maximum functionality and it shows. When we started off our testing with a look over, several things came to our attention.

The U-zip panel is a Gregory signature feature, providing easy access to your gear no matter in which compartment you place your essentials. Dual side stretch-mesh pockets keep your water bottles within close reach.

The oversized hip belt pockets offer additional storage for must-have items such as your smartphone, snacks or GPS device.

Other smaller compartments like the top quick-access pocket and interior zippered pocket with key clip keep your gear organized and non-slip. Compared to other cheaper productions, the custom-molded zipper pulls showed us that a comfortable grip makes all the difference.

You can also save internal space by using their external organization systems and attachments. Secure your shades to the Sunglass QuickStow system on the shoulder harness, or your trekking poles to the adjustable bungee attachment.

We found the front heavy-duty stretch mesh acted as an extra stash pocket for light layers like maps, windbreakers, and flatter items. It’s also perfect for storing your hiking leggings.

One feature I look for in my hiking packs is weather adaptabilityThis backpack comes with a fitted rain cover in case the forecast leaves you out in the wet.

It’s stored on the underside of the top lid when not in use, easy to take out and not mixed in with the rest of your things. It is also durable thanks to the 210-denier high-tenacity nylon make.

For those going on a longer trek, we recommend checking out the SpeedClip attachment system. It’s compatible with the 3D Hydro reservoir for all your hydration needs, complete with a tube hose clip on the shoulder.

You can enjoy its FreeFloat Dynamic Suspension system as well, which sets up an internal frame, padded shoulder harness, and a floating 3D lower back comfort cradle.

This makes heavy loads easy to balance, while the side compression helps to stabilize the weight. The OpenAir ventilated back panel also contributes with an adjustable fit for more comfort and high airflow.

The pack comes in 28- and 30-liters gear capacity, and weighs around 2 lbs. or just 900 grams. The size is 23.5” x 12.25” x 10” for the M/L version, and many fellow backpackers reported that it meets the carry-on requirements of most airlines as they travel with the pack without issues.

The Zulu being a men-specific pack, ladies, please check out the Gregory Maya 22 L or read our Gregory Maya 16 L review. This model is a total hit among female backpackers and travelers.

#4 Osprey Stratos 36 L

osprey stratos 36 review

Tested by ourselves, The Stratos 36 is one of the best hiking backpacks for demanding day hikes or quick trips overnight. It has plenty of pockets with your gear in mind. Dedicated sleeping bag compartment, zippered pockets, pole attachment, and tool loops promise easy storage and access. To keep you hydrated and dry, it comes with an internal hydration reservoir sleeve and integrated rain cover. You can use the latter as a flight cover! This is undoubtedly an excellent choice for a hand-luggage bag.

  • Superb ventilation thanks to the suspended mesh back panel
  • Large holding capacity with plenty of storage organization so you can easily locate the right gear
  • You can drink water without removing backpack as it comes with a hydration reservoir sleeve
  • Outstanding suspension and adjustable torso length
  • Water hose hole a bit difficult to use
  • Would benefit from a stretch mesh front pocket 

I’ve said that multiple times and I will say it again.

The Osprey Stratos is the most comfortable hiking backpack that I have ever had. First, I bought the larger volume - the Stratos 50 L. I desperately needed to replace my old worn-out bag for 3-5-day hikes.

I was so impressed by its quality that I decided to reward myself with the Stratos 24 L as well. I figured it would be great for day and overnight adventures. Both travel backpacks are now my go-to-choice for hiking packs, depending on the length of the trip.

Then a friend of mine gifted me with the Stratos 36 L and I used it for some time – mainly to travel across Europe. However, I ended up giving it to a friend because I just didn’t need so many Stratos packs in my closet. Watch the video below to learn more about the pack and how it may benefit you.

One unique aspect of this Osprey hiking pack is the premium AirSpeed™ back ventilation, making hiking in the summer that much more comfortable. That suspended mesh creates a space between the pack and your bag, allowing the heat to evaporate quickly.

The internal frame means the structure isn’t compromised, keeping the carry-on neatly slotted against your torso.

I give thumbs up to the suspension as well. The adjustable torso length and beefy custom-fitted hip belt offer a pleasant carry and great weight distribution.

Additionally, the small hip belt pockets are perfect for storing phones and loose items like emergency whistles, lip balm, and various compact hiking gadgets. When travelling and checking at the airport, I put my boarding pass and passport there.

In fact, the Stratos 36 Pack is lauded for its smart organization. Compartments are cleverly designed to host different items, such as the zippered sleeping bag compartment with removable sleeping pad straps.

There’s also a trekking pole attachment and bungee tie-off loops for additional gear such as a sleeping mat.  This means you no longer have to pick-and-pack when it comes to support equipment. Bottom straps can hold a tent, leaving internal storage for clothing, perishables, and everything that can’t get wet.

We also picked this daypack for its ease of access. Side zippers and isolated compartments mean everything can be easily removed so you don’t have to open the top ‘cap’ and rummage through the main compartment.

It is also a great option for rainy season hikes, thanks to the integrated rain cover. If you’re an avid hiker like me, you’d take any opportunity for a good hike. Another prominent feature is the internal hydration reservoir sleeve, making the hiking backpack hydration-ready. You are free to drink water without slowing down on the trail.

With the small and medium size, and large size capable of carrying 33 and 36 liters respectively, it’s just the right size for lengthy day hikes. It’s light for its size as well, weighing 3 lbs. 4.8 oz. or 1.49 kgat maximum scale.

Its size and volume makes it suitable for carry-on as well – 27” x 13” x 13”. I had no trouble checking the bag as a travel cabin luggage several times. 

This is a men’s model. Ladies, feel free to check out the women’s version  - the Sirrus 36 L. It's one of the best travel backpacks out there.

#5 Aveler Grizzly 36 L

aveler 36 L carry on hiking pack

Excellent functionality and snug fit best describe this high rated unisex hiking backpack. Designed for maximum comfort, the curved internal frame and padded mesh back panel offer ventilation while efficiently transferring weight to the hips. You can hang extra gear off the bottom or frontal straps to keep your hands free when walking on challenging, rougher trails. You will feel safe and comfortable when travelling with this hiking rucksack. Check out how versatile it is!

  • Excellent storage capacity with versatile attachment points on the exterior
  • Highly adjustable and offers ergonomic weight distribution and good ventilation thanks to the curved internal frame design and the 3D Air-Flow mesh
  • Hydration-ready and with a rain cover
  • Good suspension including weight bearing beefy hip belt and load lifters
  • Smaller internal storage space due to curved frame
  • Some gear loops are a bit loose 

When Aveler created this bestselling unisex model, they built the product around its multi-purpose internal frame design.

Its compact size 21.6” x 13.8” x 5.9” makes it ideal for taking it as a cabin luggage when travelling by plane.

Many hikers reported that the sturdy frame maintains the backpack shape while creating an airflow space between the pack and your back. The mesh back panel is not the quality of the Osprey packs on our list, but still, it does its job darn good.  

The suspension is what makes this pack surprisingly comfy. It transfers weight to the hips, thanks to the padded hip belt acting as support. In fact, it is meant to hold 90% of the weight so that your shoulders remain stress-free.

Besides, we found the load lifter straps as being the key to a balanced carry. Tighten them for a close, non-pull away fit and you will feel how comfortably the pack hugs your torso.

But the good stuff doesn’t end here!

Aveler has impressively rich pocket organization. From zippered hip belt pockets for small items to roomy mesh side pockets for Nalgene flasks, you can choose from capacious internal and external storage options.

There’s no sleeping bag sleeve, but there are roll straps conveniently located at the bottom for easy carry of your sleeping bag. The trekking pole gear loops on the front keep your hands free when you need them.

We also appreciate the attention to detail – there are Velcro straps inside to hold up any hydration bladders (up to 4 L) when it gets drained.

A hydration tube port at the top of the pack means your hydration tube can go left or right. It’s quite easy to access it and sip water on the go.

Material quality is one of the keys to a top-tier backpack. The rugged Aveler delivers with tear-resistant nylon to last against the elements and rough landscapes. Based on our thorough research, the backpack proves to be very durable.

It’s easy to adapt to despite its 36-liter capacity. Both men and women have tested this backpack for fit, and reported that the suspension straps make it smooth to adjust to size. The lightweight make also marks it as a great unisex option for hiking or weekend travel.

The pack weighs only 2.65 lbs. or 1.2 kg.

Last but not least, Aveler makes a great camping gift! Do you agree?

#6 Deuter Trail 30 L

deuter trail 30 L pack review

Built to be lightweight but durable, the Deuter Trail 30 is an affordable best-buy travel backpack for high-altitude and travel adventures alike. Amateur and experienced hikers benefit from its ActiveFit body molding suspension system, which carries heavy loads on challenging terrains with ease. The 2-way front zippers offer fast access to your belongings while the attachment points could store various clip-on gear. Throw in its compatibility with a hydration reservoir and you have a pack that will last you days in the wild.

  • Super versatile storage organization thanks to multiple gear loops, straps and pockets
  • Advanced suspension system that is body adaptive thanks to the ActiveFit pivoting shoulder harness and Aircontact Trail back system
  • Durable and very supportive for big loads thanks to the flexible Delrin® U-shaped frame
  • Compatible with hydration reservoir and includes a rain cover
  • Could be slightly short for those with longer torsos.

Having a gear capacity of 30 liters and a weight of only 2 lbs. 10 oz (1.19 kg)this Deuter model would definitely be a lightweight item on your gear list.

Its dimensions of 24 x 12 x 8inches offer expansive interior storage while meeting cabin luggage restrictions. It functions as both an expedition pack and a regular travel bag.

We also tried on the pack to feel how well-balanced it is. And that’s truly impressive. Featuring an Active Fit pivoting S-shaped shoulder harness, adjustment straps, and cushioned hip belt, it naturally molds to the shape of your body. With cords to pull the gear tightly towards you, there’s no backward-pulling weight either.

Insanely functional, this smartly constructed hiking pack makes packing and unpacking super easy. This is thanks to the large 2-way zipper on the front, allowing you to take things out without rummaging through the top.

We checked off on convenient storageas well, as the exterior offers plenty of loops, carabiner holders, and pole attachments. It even allows for helmets and pole clip-ons which are great for mountain climbing.

The hip strap pocket is large enough for phone and snacks, and the bag can store a hydration reservoir conveniently in a large enough internal sleeve. For valuables, there’s a lid pocket with a key clip to keep things secured. Very handy for small items you need when travelling – documents, cash and so on.

If you’re looking for a snug but comfortable fit with a high-quality airflow system that reduces back sweat, the Deuter Trail 30 ticks all the boxes. The durable blend of nylon, polyester, and closed-cell foam further commits to alpine hikes.

And the bag also comes with a protective rain cover for wetter climates. It stores in a zippered pocket at the bottom and it’s very easy to deploy.

While this hiking backpack is advertised as a men’s model, I’ve read plenty of reviews by women that praise its versatile adjustment system. So ladies also find it quite comfy. Thanks to the Delrin U-shaped frame and pull-forward hip belt construction, anybody can carry this travel backpack easily and with zero strain on the back.

#7 Osprey Talon 33 L

osprey talon 33

Another supreme Osprey favorite, meet the bestselling Talon model - a streamlined top loader designed for longer day hikes. With the world-famous AirScape back panel and BioStretch harness, it offers a suspension system that is both stable and well-ventilated. Made to pack-and-go, convenience comes in the form of an external hydration sleeve, versatile attachment points, and top lid compartments for easy organization. Its lightweight build combined with gear-focused storage makes it the perfect carry-on for dynamic terrains.

  • Provides substantial storage while being lightweight
  • Versatile enough to act as light day pack and heavier duty travel bag
  • Fantastic AriScape ventilation on the back panel (featuring a suspended mesh)
  • Many well-placed straps and gear loops and huge front pocket
  • Poor compartmentalization in the main compartment

While the Talon series come in 11-, 22-, and 44-liter variations, the 33-liter pack is just the right size without compromising on functionality. Its also ultralight at 1.9 lbs. or just 860 grams, meaning that it’s suitable for long travels and ultralight hiking trips.

We paid extra attention to the well-ventilated suspension system as breathable material is incorporated into the harnesses and hip belt itself. Not only do these supportive elements adjust to fit your shape but also reduce sweating and are quick to dry – comfort at its best.

The Airscape Backpanel was scraped of excess material, the accordion spread foam ridges covered by mesh to be both lightweight and airy. It forms a stiffer backing as well, so that there’s no discomfort from feeling internally stored bits and pieces.

You have seemingly limitless storage options thanks to plenty of organizational pockets. The hip belt comes with two zippered pouches to secure snacks and essentials.

The shoulder harness has a Stow-on-the-Go trekking pole attachment to keep your sticks away when climbing rough terrain. A front mesh panel pocket, top lid stash, and ice tool loops add to the versatile nature of this travel bag for quick item access. The entire storage space is really very well distributed and utilized.

You don’t have to worry about things sliding out of the side pockets either, because Osprey secured the dual stretch side pockets with compression straps. These also help streamline the pack so that the load is centered, thus keeping your load balanced when you walk.

My favorite part of this slick Osprey pack is the external hydration sleeve. Not only does it act as additional padding at the back panel location, but it also makes refilling extremely easy. In light of any spills, the rest of your pack contents will stay dry as well. Very smart!

And the women's version - the Osprey Tempest 20 L is a convenient choice for you ladies!

What Is The Best Type Of Hiking Backpack For Carry-on Luggage?

Want the nitty gritty?

We recommend something versatile and compact.

The best carry-on packs offer decent carrying capacity with options of expandable storage. You don’t want to lug around long-hauling backpacks without a detachable structure. They’re too big and unwieldy.

However, if you’re headed on a long-distance hike, it’s understandable that you might need more gear. In such cases, consider getting a pack with an integrated daypack.

In that way you can conveniently use the removable day pack as a hand luggage and check only your main pack. Also, look for backpacks with compression straps to minimize volume where possible. Don’t forget that the bag should fit in the overhead compartment.

Different Airline, Different Rules

While the general guidelines we’ll be providing should give you a great base idea of what size of hiking backpack you can carry on your flight, it is important to remember that every airline has their own rules and regulations.

This means that depending on your ticket type, plane type, or airline, you may have more or less space than we outline in this article.

For the final ruling about your bag, it is also good to check your ticket details and find out whether or not your hiking backpack will fit based on those standards.

What Is The Recommended Size For Travel Backpacks

Obviously, we suggest carry-on backpacks and luggage that fit your specific airline carry-on restrictions. The last thing you want is to have problems with the airport authorities and end up paying extra money for a checked bag. Otherwise, you will have to throw some items away to shrink the volume and size of your pack.

infographic for carry-on size allowed on a plane-min

Image via visual.ly

You might even end up banned from the plane if your luggage is not TSA-approved and your pack is oversized. It happened to me twice. It’s a terrible experience.

A rule of thumb I follow is fitting exactly two days’ worth of supplies in my carry-on – clothing, water, snacks, and other essentials. Remember, you can’t have a full bottle of water through TSA security. Instead, you can bring an empty bottle and refill it after that. Still uncertain? Follow the 22” x 14” x 9” or 45 linear inch total for standard carry-on dimensions, or call your airline for specific guidelines. Most of the packs under 40 liters easily fit with little to no exceptions.

If you’re taking a budget airline, make sure to check bag weight as they restrict you to even less than the regular 10kg.

General Size Guidelines

Now that we have covered the issue of slight variances that you may find between different airline policies, let’s talk more generally about what size hiking backpack is appropriate to try to bring onto a plane as a carry-on bag.

The limit on hiking backpack sizes that will fit into an overhead compartment is 45 liters. This will also depend on whether or not the bag is flexible but keeping it under 45L is a great idea.

When it comes to specific dimensions, most airlines and planes allow for carry-on bags that are up to 22 by 14 by 9 inches. If your bag fits into these measurements, you’ll likely be good to keep it on board with you.

Flexibility Matters

We already briefly mentioned this, but it is important to consider whether or not your bag is flexible when you are determining which hiking backpack to use as your carry on.

If the airline should ask you to confirm that your bag will fit into their carry-on size guidelines, showing that you can shove the sides in so that it fits is a key way to prove it. If your bag is not flexible or it has a rigid frame inside, you will not be able to do this.

For that reason, you should only use a hiking backpack that has a frame if it is smaller than the airline’s given size requirements. Otherwise, you may not be able to take the bag on board.

Remember the Rules

Even if your bag is going to fit in the overhead compartment, you need to remember a few additional rules about carry-on bags to ensure that your bag makes it to your flight with you.

First, you cannot have any full-sized liquids in your bag. Your hiking backpack will be required to follow the same guidelines that any carry-on going through security needs to pass. Be sure to limit your liquids in this way appropriately.

This means that the 3-1-1 rule for liquids (3.4 oz bottles or less put into a one-quart-sized bag per one passenger) applies. If you follow this rule for your liquids, you’ll be good to go through security.

Second, you cannot carry any weapons or certain types of electronics in your carry-on bag. If you check your hiking backpack, the rules are a little bit different, but it’s important that you make sure that you do not have any knives or similar items in your carry-on hiking backpack.

How Strict Are Airlines About The Size Of Your Travel Backpack?

Truth is, this varies from airline to airline as some check every passenger with sizer devices while others target a few unlucky passengers as an example.

It also depends on the mercy of the carry-on trailer employees. Play it safe and follow the exact dimensions listed on your airline guidelines. Don't show up with your sleeping bag attached to your backpack. You won't pass for sure.

Want to know my personal experience? Once I traveled with Wizzair and my travel bag was overly big to suit as a cabin luggage. I just didn’t pay much attention. However, I got lucky and the person checking the baggage smiled at me and let me continue.

I urge saying this is an exception and not a usual practice. My advice – always act safe or you will be sorry.

Can I Take Two Travel Backpacks As A Carry-On?

Yes, as long as one travel backpack meets requirements as a carry-on and the acts as a personal item. The maximum dimensions of personal items (shoulder bag, laptop bag, etc.) are 9 x 10 x 17 inches. Make sure to confirm that with your airline.

How to Pack Your Hiking Pack For Carry-On Keeping In Mind TSA Regulations (10 Easy Tips)

To soothe your worries, we prepared a neat list of 8 packing tips. Following them will guarantee that you will have a smooth carry-on check-in at the airport. We also gathered some answers to the most popular questions that people have when it comes to carry-on compliance when packing.

a hiker waiting at an airport with gear

Let’s start with some useful tips:

  1. Liquids have to be 3.4 ounces or less.
  2. Repellent, sunscreen, roll-on deodorants have to be 100ml or less.
  3. Some gear is allowed in checked luggage only. Knives, hatchets, firearms may be carried if stored or sheath or TSA-approved casing. Other potentially harmful equipment includes trekking poles, arrows, potty trowels, and pointy objects. You should check such items separately.
  4. You can’t bring flammables like stove fuel onto the plane.
  5. If you require certain disallowed gear, consider shipping them to your destination instead.
  6. If possible, buy what you need when you arrive at your destination. For instance, you can easily buy food, sports drinks, and stove fuel and not bring them with you when you travel.
  7. Wear your bulkiest hiking clothes on the plane
  8. Avoid over-packing so your backpack looks properly sized.
  9. Consider locking your pack for maximum security when traveling, especially if you need to check-in your bag. Sure enough, you can remove the lock when getting through flight security. Keep in mind that airports are not the safest place in the world.
  10. Think about packing your clothes and other items in packing cubes. Those compact rectangular pouches can do a great job in better organizing your gear. Why? Because they compress your stuff, thus saving you space. The result is a smaller looking pack.

What Hiking Gear Can You And Cannot Take As A Carry-On?

Expect the usual luggage rules to apply – limited liquids, no flammables, no gel foods. Trekking poles, ice exes, winter shovels, and other potentially weaponized gear are prohibited too. Walking sticks may be allowed, but only as assistive devices. In other words, they should serve as walking canes.

What If You Need To Check Your Backpack At The Airport?

If your backpack is too big or exceeds the weight limit, you’ll have to check it in.

check in luggage

We suggest packing expensive or irreplaceable gear into a guideline-approved hiking backpack and carrying non-essentials in a duffle bag instead. That way, you can pass the duffle as checked luggage.


And that concludes our definitive guide on the most efficient packs for carry-on! Remember that you’re looking for the best fit for your needs, but a great suspension system and functional space is the basis of any travel pack.

Whether you’re going for a weekend trip or a long day hike, your comfort is the best protection. After all, you want to be fighting fit for many more hikes to come!

For those with an out-of-town destination, my last advice to you is to check your airline guidelines before packing. Knowing the yes and no of hiking gear allowance will make your journey all that much smoother.

best winter hiking hats

Asen Stoyanchev

Founder of this website, Asen is a passionate hiker and writer who is also a gear nerd. He’s been featured on many established hiking websites where he gives hiking advice & tips. When he is not trekking with his family or friends, he is writing articles and product reviews. Asen spends most of his time in Bulgaria but he constantly travels the world in seek of more unforgettable experiences. Read more about Asen here.

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Boby - February 19, 2019

Exactly what I was thinking about…haven’t been hiking for years and vacation time is coming soon!
I and a couple of friends were just talking about doing this.
I definitely needed a reminder of the Do’s and Don’ts where hiking is being concerned.
Excellent tips, I totally forgot that the different airlines have different requirements, so I’ll keep that in mind.
Thanks a lot for sharing this post, I feel much more prepared now.

    Asen - February 19, 2019

    Hey Boby,

    I am glad you find my tips useful. Make sure to keep those things in mind when travelling.See you around! 🙂

Glessa Mae - February 19, 2019

Nice article. I do love backpacks though I am not a backpacker. I love it because it is convenient and it is safer to bring rather than shoulder bags. I also don’t want to bring a lot of stuff when I am travelling because I want less hassles. I like durable backpacks that are made up of light materials and waterproof backpack is a plus. I’ll remember your tips to read the airline’s flight guidelines on what I can bring inside the plane before I travel. All the best! Glessa

    Asen - February 19, 2019

    Hi Glessa,

    Thanks for being around. If you like lightweight backpacks, then check out this article as well.

Alexandra Wollein - February 19, 2019

I do need to get a smaller backpack for my travels as I only have a large one and it would not be allowed on the plane. I have noticed that it can be tricky to find a good one, at cheap price in the right size. Thank you for the advice you are offering. I now need to read your post about hiking with bad knees.

    Asen - February 19, 2019

    Hey Alex,

    You are most welcome. By the way, in case you re wondering about which backpack to buy, check out the best hiking backpacks of 2019. I am sure you will find something in there.

SkyPath - February 19, 2019

This will definitely help me! you give me so much information about how to carry on my hiking backpacks, if I go to hiking or my friends go to hiking, I will show this great article to them! Thank you for the great article!

    Asen - February 19, 2019


    Always happy to help! Happy hiking! 🙂

Ann - February 19, 2019

I’ve often wondered about this and to be on the safe side always check my backpack in to avoid any possible nightmares on the plane. Your info on liquids is useful too as that’s the other major consideration.

    Asen - February 19, 2019

    Hey Ann,

    Thank you for commenting. Most of the people tend to forget about the liquids. That’s why I dcided to mention it. It’s indeed an important consideration.

Chris - August 21, 2021

The Osprey Stratos 36, the winner in this test, is too large for most airlines to bring as carry on. (17 inches hight is 68,6 cm… excepted is 55 cm max).
I own the Osprey 34, and even that one is too large: it’s about 60 cm in hight.
Most airlines won’t really check it out, but if they do… do you want to take that risk?

    Asen - August 21, 2021

    Hey Chris!
    Thanks for your comment! I understand your concern.
    I have flown with the Stratos 36 several times already and didn’t have any issues. Most of the time it fits in the overhead compartment. If the pack is not overstuffed and if you use the compression straps to tighten it up, it perfectly fits under the seat too.
    That’s my experience and also the experience of many other buyers, based on research.

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