7 Top Hiking Backpacks For Carry On Reviewed [#4 Is HOT]
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:
- Storage organization
- 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.
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.
Our Top Two Recommendations
5 / 5
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
best overall value
5 / 5
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
The best hiking backpacks for carry on: A comparison table
|Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault||Check Latest Price|
|Patagonia Nine Trails||Check Latest Price|
|Gregory Zulu||Check Latest Price|
|Osprey Stratos||Check Latest Price|
|Draussen Advent||View On Amazon →|
|Deuter Trail||Check Latest Price|
|Osprey Talon||View On Amazon →|
#1 Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault 27 L
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.
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
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.
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
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!
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 adaptability. This 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.
#4 Osprey Stratos 36 L
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.
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 kg. at 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 Draussen Advent 35 L
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. Extra gear can hang 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!
When Draussen created this celebrated Draussen model, they built the product around its multi-purpose internal frame design. The pack is perfectly suitable for men and women. It’s compact size 20” x 13” x 10” 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!
Draussen has rich pocket organization. From zippered hip belt pockets for small items to roomy mesh side pockets for Nalgene flasks, you can choose from a capacious internal and external storage options.
There’s no sleeping bag compartment, 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 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 hiking backpack. The rugged Draussen Advent 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 35-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 travel backpack for hiking or weekend travel.
Last but not least, Draussen makes a great camping gift! Do you agree?
#6 Deuter Trail 30 L
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.
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
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.
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!
Essential Factors To Consider When Choosing Your Hand-Luggage Hiking Backpack
When it comes to buying a carry-on approved pack, you want to keep in mind what you’re buying it for. After all, it’s a multi-function item that can act as cabin luggage, travel bag, multi-day hiking backpack, and day pack. You may need to prioritize different aspects depending on the exact occasion.
Since this is a rucksack for hiking, there are some basic criteria that you should adhere to first. You will learn that in the next section.
4 Basic Criteria For Buying Hiking Backpacks For Travel
We’ve created a quick checklist covering some key features that any decent hiking pack should have, no matter if it’s for carry-on or not. In fact, we have a detailed article that describes what any hiker should look after when investing in a backpack. Below are the basics.
Your pack better be:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Let’s start with some useful tips:
- Liquids have to be 3.4 ounces or less.
- Repellent, sunscreen, roll-on deodorants have to be 100ml or less.
- 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.
- You can’t bring flammables like stove fuel onto the plane.
- If you require certain disallowed gear, consider shipping them to your destination instead.
- 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.
- Wear your bulkiest hiking clothes on the plane
- Avoid over-packing so your backpack looks properly sized.
- 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.
- 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. Watch the video below that gives some cool insider tips.
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 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.
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.