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Ready to pack your entire life into a carry on size 55L bag?  It can be very stressful choosing the correct carry on size bag.  Travel backpack, hiking backpack, duffel, or suitcase, there are so many options to chose from.  We’ll help you decide what’s best for your trip.  It’s best that you spend some time trying different packs before deciding with one.  Like a marriage partner, your bag can be the sole driver of your pains or your joy.  Let us help you chose one that will make your trip painless and joyful.  After years of travel, we can contest, carry on size is much better than checking a bag.

carry on size backpack

Hiking Backpack

  • Built for comfortable long hauls
  • Plenty of compartments and tie-downs
  • Difficult to access items
  • Larger ones don’t fit in overhead space

Become one with your backpack…Hiking backpacks are built for “hiking.”  This means they are designed for optimal comfort while trekking 20 miles up the mountain with 100lbs on your back.  Hiking backpacks are are narrower and have a opening at the top like a sturdy sack.  The narrow frame is designed to keep the weight centered on your back and the open top is so that you can pack your stuff as tight possible and to keep any rain out.  

TIP – If you know you’re going to spend a lot of time hiking with your bag – say hitch hiking or trekking up a mountain, then you may want to go with a hiking back pack. If you’re like most travelers who use their bag from the airport or train to your hostel, hotel, or Airbnb, then you’ll be better off with a travel backpack.

Travel Backpack - carry on size

Travel Backpacks

  • Easy Access to Items
  • Bigger single compartments for clothes
  • Can become uncomfortable on long hikes

Travel Backpacks – Where accessibility is king!  Travel backpacks are designed specifically for travel.  This means they have a large single compartment (like a suitcase), which allows for easy access to all your items.  More access means less time unpacking and repacking between all your hotels.  For example, when in a warmer climate, I pack my jackets and pants in travel cubes at the bottom of our bag and leave them in my bag instead of unpacking them at each stop.  The easy access also makes it easy to find items on the go.  

   The one weakness of travel backpacks can be their comfort level for long hikes with the pack.  In the past, this was more of an issue but some of the new designs are just as comfortable as hiking backpacks.  

carry on size - Travel Backpack

Duffel Bags – carry on size

  • Soft shell fits easily into overhead
  • Easy access to all items
  • Shoulder harness can be uncomfortable

Teach me how to duffel!…Duffels are great and sometimes required for certain travel like African safaris or bachelor parties (you don’t want to be the only one with a large roller suitcase and look like a primadonna) The great thing about duffels is they always seem to hold more items than back packs. This is usually due to the single compartment design with few pockets. They’re also soft and can squeeze in most overheads compartments. The downfall is that most duffels don’t have many side compartments for essentials like computers

The other thing with duffels is they’re typically carried as a side bag and not as a back pack. This can be VERY annoying if you’re carrying it for more than 25 mins. There are a few duffels in our list that are carried as a backpack. Collette uses the Patagonia 65L duffel as her main backpack

For more check out our posts:

Best bags for girl travelers                 Best bags for guy travelers