Say goodbye to bulky suitcases and hello to hassle-free travel with the best travel backpack for women who bring carry-on bags only!
When you’re planning your dream solo female trip or backpacking in Europe, bringing a quality backpack with the features you need makes a huge difference in your overall confidence while traveling and the quality of your trip. Whether you need a backpack for adventure travel, photography gear or anti-theft, I’ve got you covered with this list, girl!
Why Travel With Just a Carry On Backpack?
Choosing the best carry on backpack for your needs allows you to avoid luggage fees (the carry on price on Frontier and carry on fee for Spirit is insane!) and move around easily without lugging a heavy suitcase. The best travel bags for women also have excellent organization, which makes it so easy to find what you need without tearing a part your bag and easy to repack your stuff in just a few minutes.
Where to Buy Travel Backpack?
There are so many places you can get a quality travel backpack. I personally recommend buying online, but you can also find excellent travel backpacks for women in large outdoor products stores, or even at Walmart!
I usually buy products direct from the company’s website (especially if there’s free shipping!) or Amazon. Amazon is probably the most convenient place to buy the best carry on backpack because it’s fast shipping and you can easily make a return if you don’t like the bag.
When shopping for your perfect carry-on backpack, think about how you will use it and what’s most important to you.
Do you love having a separate shoe compartment? Do you never use the exterior water bottle pocket? Does opening a bag from the top (rather than like a suitcase) drive you crazy? Keep all this in mind as you search and you’ll find the best carry on luggage for you!
9 Best Travel Backpacks for Women
I tried to narrow it down to the top 5 travel backpacks for women, but there are just too many excellent backpacks that are perfect for different uses or must-have features!
Best Travel Backpack With Clamshell Opening: Cotopaxi Allpa
The best travel backpack that opens like a suitcase would have to be the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack. This is the backpack I use and I love the look, feel and durability of it. And trust me, finding the best travel backpack for petite female like me isn’t easy! I use the 42L version of the Cotopaxi Allpa but I recommend the 35L because it’s so similar in size and a safer bet for carry-on travel if you pack it to the brim.
Packing is a breeze with the Cotopaxi Allpa because it’s so spacious and has built-in organization. I just strategically place my packing cubes and the bag is one perfect square with evenly distributed weight. Plus, the completely smooth exterior is so nice for travel because you’re not worried about something falling out or the bag getting clipped on something.
Something to note: When shopping for this bag you’ll also see the Allpa “Del Dia” version of the bag which is a totally unique bag made with repurposed fabrics. I absolutely love the unique colors of these bags but I went with the traditional Allpa because it has a more durable outer shell made of 840D Ballistic Nylon. The Del Dia version is made of different materials.
Top Features of the Cotopaxi Allpa:
- Clam-shell opening
- Durable nylon shell
- Four internal organization pockets
- Spacious outer pocket
- Stylish, colorful design
- Anti-theft zippers
- Padded laptop compartment
- Handles on every side
- Exterior pocket for water bottle
- Rain cover included
I can’t personally speak to the quality, but the best travel backpack Amazon has that’s very similar but much more affordable is the 38L COR Surf Travel Backpack.
Best Carry On Backpack With Shoe Compartment: Nomatic Travel Bag 40L
The best travel backpack 40L with a shoe compartment is definitely the Nomatic Travel Bag 40L. Nomatic makes sleek, durable travel gear that will hold up for all your travel adventures. With this pack’s unique shoe compartment, you won’t have to worry about how to pack your shoes to keep them separate from your clean clothes.
When you see this bag in person, you’ll be so excited for your next trip just so you can use it! The Nomatic Travel Bag 40L is a spacious backpack with a designated pocket or compartment for practically everything! Your stuff stays so organized with the separate shoe compartment, underwear compartment and main compartment. Plus, you’ll absolutely love the easy-access pockets on the outside of the bag that make your passport, phone, wallet, book and laptop accessible in the airport, while keeping them secure.
Top Features of the Nomatic Travel Bag 40L:
- Shoe compartment
- Spacious main compartment
- Water-resistant exterior
- Laptop sleeve
- Duffel or backpack carrying options
- Pockets for EVERYTHING
- Socks/underwear compartment
- Pocket for water bottle
- Custom laundry bag included
- Waist straps
Best Travel Backpack Duffel Bag: HEXAD Carryall Duffel Backpack 40L
If you want a backpack that looks totally badass and rugged on top of being a duffle, the HEXAD Carryall Duffel Backpack 40L is the best carry on backpack for you! It’s secure from pickpockets with stealth exterior pocket design and has excellent organization with a large main compartment and smaller pockets for all your items needs.
You can’t go wrong with the black option, but I love it in the Wasatch Green color.
Top Features of the HEXAD Carryall Duffel Backpack 40L:
- Duffel or backpack carrying options (removable straps)
- Large main compartment with suitcase-like opening
- Pockets for everything
- Weather-resistant exterior
- Padded laptop sleeve
- Designated phone pocket
- Top pocket with key loop
- RFID passport pocket
Best Travel Backpack for Security: Pacsafe Vibe 40L Anti Theft Carry On Backpack
Best travel backpack for Europe anti theft would have to be the Pacsafe Vibe 40L. With this backpack’s excellent anti-theft features, you can stop worrying and start living in the moment!
Pacsafe is one of the top names in the anti-theft luggage products niche. The Pacsafe Vibe 40L Anti Theft Carry On Backpack is the safest travel backpack made with slash-proof steel mesh fabric, lockable zippers and a clever detachable shoulder strap so you can lock your bag around a pole or chair. The sleek design and thoughtful pockets make it great for business travel or backpacking around the world.
Top Features of the Pacsafe Vibe 40L Anti Theft Carry On Backpack:
- Made of cut-resistant steel mesh fabric
- Lockable zippers
- Detachable shoulder strap for securing your bag to a pole or chair
- Padded 16in laptop sleeve
- RFID passport/wallet pocket
- Suit-case style opening
Best Travel Backpack for Photographers: NOMATIC McKinnon Camera Pack 35L
Pack your clothes and camera gear in one sick carry-on bag with the NOMATIC McKinnon Camera Pack 35L. This powerhouse of a pack has separate sections for your clothes and camera gear, and expands into a 42L bag when you need extra storage.
It’s made with photographers in mind in every way. There’s an exterior access point so you can quickly pull out your camera, a tripod pocket and separate storage for your laptop or tablet. You also won’t have to worry about your gear in rainy weather because the McKinnon Camera Pack is made with a durable, water-resistant coating that keeps everything safe and dry.
Top Features of the NOMATIC McKinnon Camera Pack 35L:
- Separate compartments for camera gear and clothes
- Expands from 35L pack to 42L pack
- Exterior pocket for bottle or tripod
- Compatible with NOMATIC camera cube (sold separately)
- Comes with 9 customizable organization dividers
- Comfortable waist strap
- Durable urethane-coated zippers
Best Travel Backpack on a Budget: Outdoor Products Arrowhead Pack
Travel and travel gear does NOT have to be expensive and I’ll prove my point with the Outdoor Products Arrowhead Pack. This was the first backpack I used to backpack Europe and I picked it up at Walmart for under $50! I used it on 2-3 trips per year for at least 3 years before it started tearing, so you’ll definitely get value out of it.
While it’s not the fanciest bag, it will fit everything you need for your travels, whether you’re traveling through Mexico or backpacking Europe. Plus, it’s totally comfortable to wear, even when packed full, thanks to the padded shoulder straps, thick waist strap and built-in frame (that’s removable if you want).
Top Features of the Outdoor Products Arrowhead Pack:
- Unbeatable price
- 47.5L capacity
- Lifetime manufacturer’s guarantee
- Tons of pockets for everything you need
- Hydration bladder compatible
- Handles on top and front of bag
- Adjustors to keep your bag small and tight
The Best Travel Backpack With Wheels: Hynes Eagle Rolling Backpack 42L
It’s extremely difficult to find a carry-on size backpack that works well as both a backpack and a roller, but the Hynes Eagle Rolling Backpack has done it. If you’re not fully sold on traveling with a backpack as your main bag, this convertible backpack is the answer. You can wear it as a backpack when it’s convenient (like on unpaved streets or somewhere with a lot of steps). Or, you can convert it into a roller bag to give your back a break and glide your belongings around with ease.
Top Features of the Hynes Eagle Rolling Backpack 42L:
- Rolling and backpack mode
- Hidden telescopic handle for use as a roller
- Hidden backpack straps
- Wheel cover for when wearing as a backpack
- Detachable padded laptop sleeve
- Waist strap
- Large main compartment that opens similar to a suitcase
The GOTECH Rolling Backpack is a much more affordable option that’s very similar.
Best Business Travel Backpack: LOVEVOOK Carry On Backpack
The LOVEVOOK Carry On Backpack has got to be the best business travel backpack because it’s sleek, roomy and fits a 17in laptop. It’s made with savvy features for business travel like an easy-access laptop compartment, combination lock and USB charging port so you can charge your phone on-the-go. Plus its sleek design doesn’t draw attention and looks professional.
Top Features of the LOVEVOOK Carry On Backpack:
- Fits 17in laptop
- Combination lock on top of backpack
- Anti-theft pocket
- USB charging port (powerbank not included)
- Separate pockets for everything
- Water-resistant fabric
- Comes with three packing cubes
- Tons of color options
- Luggage strap to slip it over a rolling suitcase
Best Travel Backpack Personal Item: CYUREAY Convertible Backpack Tote Bag
If carrying a big backpack around isn’t your thing and you’re going with a duffle or carry-on suitcase as your main carry-on bag, you’ll love CYUREAY Convertible Backpack Tote Bag for your backpack personal item. I love this bag because it can double as your purse or daypack during your travels. It’s so stylish and has room for everything you’ll need inflight. You can carry it on your back, shoulder or conveniently slip it over your suitcase handle.
Top Features of the CYUREAY Convertible Backpack Tote Bag:
- Backpack or Tote Bag Handles
- Suitcase slip-over handle
- USB charging port (powerbank not included)
- Laptop sleeve
- Easy-access pockets
- Anti-theft pocket
- Many color options
Carry On Bag Packing FAQ
How to Pack Travel Backpack?
If you’re wondering how to pack your travel backpack, you’re not alone! This is probably the question I get asked the most! First things first, you need these mesh compression packing cubes. Not only do packing cubes keep it in a uniform shape, but they keep your bag so organized and allow you to “dig” threw it or pull items out without an explosion of clothes going everywhere.
Once you have a quality set of packing cubes, you want to roll your clothes so that they are small and tight, and put them in your packing cubes. It’s best to pack your cubes with some kind of organization (e.g. one cube for tops, one for bottoms, one for swim/gym, etc.). The only items you won’t roll are items that are bulkier when rolled, like jeans or a jacket.
How Long Can You Travel With Just Carry On Luggage?
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no limit to how long you can travel with just carry on luggage. How? Because if you’re traveling for more than a week or two, you’ll be doing laundry! That’s why it’s essential that you pack versatile clothes that you love wearing. I’ve even packed for a month-long trip to Ireland and Israel in just a carry-on bag and I had to pack for both cold and hot weather! It’s totally doable with careful packing and planning.
What Is the Carry On TSA Size?
As far as liquids in your carry on luggage, TSA requires all liquids to be in containers no bigger than 100ml or 3.4 fl ounces. All your liquids should fit in a quart-size plastic bag (though it’s very rare that they check). I just pack all my liquid toiletries in the bottom pouch of the NARWEY Hanging Toiletry Bag.
As far as the carry-on TSA size for your bags, that’s going to be different depending on the airline. Most US airlines have similar (if not identical) carry-on bag size requirements, but abroad it’s completely different. Make sure you check the carry on bag size restrictions for each airline you’ll be traveling on.