Best Carry-On Travel Backpacks + Packing Essentials

So you find yourself prepping for an extended backpacking adventure to exotic places full of new thrills ready to entice all of your senses. You are certain of a few things. One, the adventure will be long. Two, most of it will be spent backpacking on a budget. Three, what backpack should I get for a backpacking adventure??!

Wipe the sweat from your brow. We did it and the backpacks we used served and still serve us extremely well. So fret no more, we are here to share our recommended backpacks and some packing essentials that will help you pack more than you thought you ever could!

First off, you are going to need some kind of backpack and yes, the choices are endless. We had a strict budget for our 5 month Southeast Asia adventure so when we did fly, we bought the cheapest airfares which often didn’t include any checked baggage. Our challenge was to find backpacks that we could use as a carry-on for all our flights and that would hold everything we needed for our journey. We spent days scouring through products and reviews, the pros and cons of each, the sizes, the costs, the utility, and finally, we made our choices.

We used the following search criteria to find our top picks:

  • Cost: under $180 a bag
  • Utility: extended travel and light hiking
  • Key Qualities: within airline carry-on dimensions & fully zips open i.e. not top loading

Without further ado, let’s get packing!



Osprey Farpoint 40

Celeste, measuring in at 5′ / 1.5m tall, needed something in the small to medium backpack size range. Obviously, for a long trip, small to medium-sized packs may lend to capacity concerns. The Osprey Farpoint 40 exceeded our expectations. With its ability to fully open like a suitcase, it allowed us to effectively organize and utilize the full capacity this backpack has to offer.

Here are our favorite Osprey Farpoint 40 features:

  • within airlines’ carry-on dimensions so you can avoid paying for checked baggage fees
  • easily fits in overhead airlines baggage bins
  • zips open up like a suitcase making it very easy to arrange contents (become a Tetris champion!)
  • comfortable sternum and hip straps
  • compression straps to stabilize the load
  • outer mesh pockets to store items for quick access e.g. water bottle
  • Size: S/M
  • Volume: 2319 in3 / 38 L
  • Weight: 3.11 lbs / 1.41 kg
  • Dimensions: 20 x 14 x 8 in / 50.8 x 35.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Price: $159.90*


Kelty Redwing 50

Pete being 5’9″ / 1.8m tall, chose a larger backpack with more capacity so that he could pack and carry the additional items that we’d both need for the adventure. The Kelty Redwing 50 was his backpack of choice. It is a rough and rugged backpack made of lightweight body fabric and a strong aluminium frame to provide perfect spinal support for a full load.

Here are our favorite Kelty Redwing 50 features:

  • has a large main compartment with a laptop sleeve, side pockets, and a front compartment to easily organize small items and electronics
  • just within most airlines’ carry-on dimensions so you can avoid having to pay for checked baggage fees
  • fits in overhead airlines baggage bins even when tightly packed
  • zips open up like a suitcase making packing and organizing items very easy
  • wide and padded comfortable straps with lower back support and airflow
  • sternum and hip straps provide fantastic support and alleviate much of the weight from your back
  • compression straps to stabilize the load
  • side water bottle mesh pockets are great for quick access
  • Volume: 3100 in3 / 51 L
  • Weight:  3 lbs 11 oz / 1.66 kg
  • Dimensions: 26 x 16 x 12 in / 66 x 41 x 30 cm
  • Price: $124.95*


There are different techniques for packing clothes into a backpack. Previously on other shorter trips, we had used the ‘roll’ technique which involves tightly rolling the clothes and packing them in. This is a basic compression technique. Enter the extreme-space-saving-compression-sack!

Compression Sacks

Kelty Compression Stuff Sack

Compression sacks are pure magic. They are the reason why we were able to fit so much into our backpacks. These Kelty Compression Stuff Sacks received great reviews and so we decided to invest in a few of them and they did not disappoint.

We used a small and a large sack for the Osprey Farpoint 40 and a small, medium, and large sack for the Kelty Redwing 50.

We used the small compression sack for underwear and socks, the medium for t-shirts and tops, and the large for pants, sweaters, and jackets. We packed mostly for warm weather but also included a couple of sweaters and windbreakers for the colder locations we visited. We packed a week’s worth of clothes and did our laundry about once a week.

🎒 Tip: before loading clothes into the compression sack, first roll your clothes so they look like hot dog buns, then pack them into the sack, and finally use the compression straps to compress the contents. You will be amazed at how much you can compress and load into your backpack with these Kelty compression sacks!

Try not to load any items besides clothing inside the compression sacks. The compression will place a lot of pressure on the inner contents and could potentially damage any rigid or fragile items.

Lastly, if you are planning on taking your backpack as carry-on luggage, be aware that these compression sacks can get heavy when compressing many items. Pete’s backpack was usually over the carry-on weight limit so, at times, we had to get creative with avoiding weigh stations at the airport (yes it can be done!).

  • Price: $20.95* – $26.43* depending on size

Portable Digital Luggage Scale

As we mentioned above, compression sacks can get heavy which means that your backpack, loaded with a few compression sacks, can get quickly get heavy too. If you are planning on taking many flights, baggage weight, be it carry-on or checked baggage, is always a concern. We highly recommend getting a portable luggage scale. They will save your life and your pocket (discount airlines love charging excessive baggage fees!). These scales are very affordable and usually under $10*. For peace of mind, it’s a total must!

* Price at the time of publishing


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