Best Carry-On Travel Backpacks for Women in 2024

Here are the best carry-on travel backpacks for women so you can travel light, stay organized, and be ready for anything on your adventures.

Here are the best travel backpacks for women in 2021 so you can pack light, get organized, and be more flexible on your travels.

For many travelers (myself included), carry-ons travel backpacks are the way to go. They save you money on baggage fees, they’re less of a hassle to schlep around than big suitcases or duffels, and you don’t have to worry about your luggage going missing.

Carry-on travel backpacks also offer greater versatility and organization. They can be less cumbersome to travel with than wheeled luggage, especially if you’ll be hopping trains or going places with dirt roads or cobblestone streets. So, in this blog post, I’m sharing the best carry-on travel backpacks for women that my team and I have tested to make finding the right one for your next trip easy.

Our focus here at Bearfoot Theory is outdoor travel. That means all of the best carry-on backpacks for women that I feature here have the adventure traveler in mind.

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At the bottom of this post, I also share a few more reasons why travel backpacks are my choice over wheeled luggage and what features to look for in a carry-on backpack.

Best Women’s Carry-On Backpacks at a Glance

Osprey Sojourn Porter 46 Travel Pack

Bearfoot Theory Team Favorite

Key Features

  • Capacity: 46 L
  • Weight: 3 lbs 4.2 oz
  • Dimensions: 18″ X 15.75″ X 12.2″
  • Laptop sleeve? Yes (16 in)

Where to shop

  • What I like: Lots of organization, compatible with the Osprey Daylite Pack, full U-zip makes packing/unpacking easier, can be worn like a backpack or carried with a detachable shoulder strap (straps stow away), affordable
  • What I don’t like: Technically not carry-on size if you pack it to the brim (although you may get away with it depending on the airline),

The 46-liter Osprey Porter travel backpack has been around for a long time and was one of the first travel packs I ever owned. With slight improvements year after year, this has turned into one of the best carry-on travel backpacks for women who want flexibility in their travels.

It is incredibly versatile for all types of traveling and exploring, especially when paired with the compatible Daylite Pack, which can be attached via reinforced cord loops. Its size and organizational options are perfect for the savvy traveler who values packing efficiency and versatility.

The U-zip main compartment allows for easy packing and access to your gear while the stowaway shoulder harness and hip belt give you options on how you want to carry your luggage.

As a woman who values practicality and style, I find that the Porter 46 doesn’t compromise on either. It’s sleek, comes in a variety of colors, and can withstand the rigors of travel, which is why it earns a spot on my list of top carry-on backpacks for women.

Osprey Fairview 40 Travel Pack

Best Women’s Specific

Key Features

  • Capacity: 40 L
  • Weight: 3 lbs 2 oz
  • Dimensions: 21.3″ X 13.8″ X 9″
  • Laptop sleeve? Yes (15 in)

Where to shop

  • What I like: Specifically designed for women’s fit, multiple carrying options, fully zippered back panel means easy access to your gear, lockable zippers (locks not included)
  • What I don’t like: The hip belt doesn’t have a ton of padding, lack of dedicated laptop compartment, not as many organizational features as other packs

The Osprey Fairview 40 Travel Pack is similar to the Osprey Porter but it’s one of the best travel backpacks for women because it’s specifically designed to fit a woman’s body with a narrower shoulder width and a shorter torso length.

It can be carried as a backpack, as a side messenger bag, or as a duffle with a padded, detachable shoulder strap. The backpack straps also stow away if you choose to carry the pack as a messenger/duffle.

BFT contributor Courtney carried the Osprey Fairview throughout Southeast Asia for 5 months and Guatemala for 2.5 months and loved how minimal and sturdy it was. After carrying it on multiple buses, trains, planes, boats, and even motorbikes, it’s held up really well and doesn’t have any exterior damage to the pack’s shell.

Another thing she really loved about this pack is that instead of having tons of pockets and organization, it’s pretty straightforward with one main zippered compartment, a large mesh pocket, and a smaller zippered exterior pocket.

The zippers are large and feel really well made, plus they’re lockable which provides an extra layer of security for your belongings.

If you need something larger, the Fairview 55 or Fairview 70 (not carry-on approved) are both great larger travel backpack options that come with a detachable day pack.

NOMATIC 40L Travel Bag

Easiest Travel Backpack To Stay Organized

Key Features

  • Capacity: 40 L
  • Weight: 3 lbs 7 oz
  • Dimensions: 9″ x 21″ x 14″
  • Laptop sleeve? Yes (16 in)

Where to shop

  • What I like: Separate shoe compartment, includes a laundry bag, excellent organization, can carry as a backpack or duffel bag, water-resistant material
  • What I don’t like: No ventilation across the back, backpack straps cinch down but don’t stow completely away, the structured design might limit packing flexibility

If you’re someone who values organization, the NOMATIC 40L Travel Bag is a game-changer.

This bag is well-designed to be water-resistant, durable, and easy to use.

There are tons of organizational pockets and features to ensure that everything has its place. With numerous compartments and pockets strategically placed throughout the bag, it’s designed to keep your travel essentials neatly sorted and easily accessible.

A unique feature is the separate shoe compartment that keeps your footwear isolated, preventing dirt from getting onto your clothes. Another added bonus is the included laundry bag, which helps separate your clean and dirty clothes.

We also like how the NOMATIC bags have a modern and sleek design if you prefer that look over the classic backpacker style.

On the downside, the NOMATIC bag’s structured design might not offer as much packing flexibility as less rigid bags.

But all things considered, the NOMATIC 40L Travel Bag stands out as the easiest travel backpack to stay organized. It marries a smart design with practical features, providing a level of organization and ease that is hard to match.

Tortuga Travel Backpack 40L

Best Carry-On Backpack for Digital Nomads

Key Features

  • Capacity: 40L
  • Weight: 4 lb 5 oz
  • Dimensions: 21.7 x 13.8 x 7.9 in
  • Laptop sleeve? Yes (16 in)

Where to shop

  • What I like: Excellent organization, large hip pockets, dedicated padded laptop compartment, lockable zippers (locks not included), water-resistant material
  • What I don’t like: Heavier than other options on this list, expensive, design might be too utilitarian for some tastes, lack of external water bottle pocket

Tortuga is a company that designs some of the best travel backpacks made for travelers by travelers. In fact, they only have three backpacks available in their brand: the Tortuga Travel Pack 40L, 30L, and a smaller laptop backpack that fits under the seat of a plane.

It specifically caters to those who travel with their tech, featuring a dedicated and padded laptop compartment with convenient side access which allows for quick and easy removal of your laptop at airport security checks or when setting up a mobile office.

The bag packs like a suitcase, making it very easy to find what you’re looking for, but it can also be carried as a backpack for convenience.

I also love that the back panel features a height-adjustable suspension system, so it could be a good option for women who may find unisex packs too large. Additionally, the bag is made from durable, water-resistant material, providing an extra layer of protection for your belongings.

There’s tons of organization in this pack, so if you’re looking for a travel backpack that is similar to a suitcase, this could be a great option.

Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L

Best Travel Backpack That Doubles As a Hiking Daypack

Key Features

  • Capacity: 32 L
  • Weight: 1 lb 12.5 oz
  • Dimensions: 22″ x 10.5″ x 6.75″
  • Laptop sleeve? Yes (15 in)

Where to shop

  • What I like: Lightweight, durable and water-resistant material, compact size, padded laptop sleeve, made from recycled materials
  • What I don’t like: Less organization than other packs on this list, smaller capacity than other carry-on bags on our list (I prefer it for overnight or weekend trips where I don’t need a lot of stuff)

Patagonia makes high-quality, durable gear and the Patagonia Black Hole 32L backpack is no exception. It features a water-repellant shell made from 100% recycled materials, a roomy main compartment, a laptop sleeve, and several additional pockets for organization.

Its 32-liter capacity, while compact, provides sufficient room for all your day trip or overnight essentials. This makes the Black Hole Pack perfect for those who prefer to travel light or for outings when you need less gear. I wouldn’t recommend this pack for anything longer than an overnight or quick weekend trip.

Despite its focus on simplicity, the backpack does feature a padded laptop sleeve, adding versatility and making it suitable for urban travel or remote work.

I also love that this pack can easily double as a hiking backpack if your travels take you to the trail. The bag’s daisy chain loops allow for attaching extra gear on the outside of the bag, such as a helmet or a water bottle.

Cotopaxi Allpa 42L Travel Pack

Best Carry-On Bag for Rugged Travel

Key Features

  • Capacity: 42 L
  • Weight: 4 lbs 3 oz
  • Dimensions: 21.5″ x 13″ x 9″
  • Laptop sleeve? Yes (15 in)

Where to shop

  • What I like: Durable material, lifetime warranty and repairs, great organization, included rain cover, fun color options
  • What I don’t like: Exterior water bottle pocket is too small for larger water bottles, on the heavier side of packs,

The Cotopaxi Allpa 42 travel pack is Cotopaxi’s toughest travel backpack. I own and love this bag for many reasons, but mainly because it’s an all-around functional, rugged carry-on bag.

The exterior polyester and nylon shell resists moisture and defends your belongings against rough scrapes or tears during transit and the zippered mesh compartments make storing your items easier and eliminate the need for packing cubes.

You’ll also be amazed by how easy it is to organize. Wear it on your back or carry it on your shoulder, this is a high-quality, reliable travel backpack.

An added bonus is the inclusion of a rain cover for extra protection in wet weather and a stowable shoulder strap, allowing for versatile carrying options.

Like many of the other travel backpacks on this list, the waistbelt on this isn’t quite as supportive as I think it should be for a pack of this size. However, I flew with this from New Jersey, hopped on the train to New York City, walked in the city to my hotel, and didn’t experience too much back or shoulder fatigue.

If you want to go smaller, you can check out the different sizes Cotopaxi offers here.

Pacsafe EXP45 Anti-Theft Carry-On Travel Pack

Best Anti-Theft Travel Backpack

Stock photo of the Pacsafe EXP45 anti-theft carry-on travel pack.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 45 L
  • Weight: 3 lbs 15 oz
  • Dimensions: 21.7″ x 13″ x 7.5″
  • Laptop sleeve? Yes (16 in)

Where to shop

  • What I like: slash-guard material, lockable zippers, tuckable straps, perfect for carrying high ticket items like laptops and camera gear
  • What I don’t like: lack of small external pockets for quick-access items

Pacsafe is the leading company in anti-theft travel accessories. The Pacsafe EXP45 Anti-Theft Carry-On Travel Pack is perfect for those traveling with loads of technology or through areas with increased security risks.

Some of its anti-theft security features include:

  • Hidden slash guard made of stainless steel wire mesh to protect from someone cutting your pack
  • Lockable zippers
  • A stainless steel cable that you can use to lock your bag to a stationary object

With a generous 45-liter capacity, the EXP45 can comfortably store all your travel essentials and more.

I also love that it’s made with recycled materials like discarded fishing nets and other nylon waste that would otherwise end up in the ocean.

The updated version of this pack also has a hip belt, which is a perk for travelers who missed this on the old version.

Why Choose a Travel Carry-On Backpack Instead of Wheeled Luggage?

Here are a few reasons why you should choose a travel backpack vs wheeled luggage:

  • Traveling light with a carry-on sized travel backpack gives you flexibility. You don’t need to make travel decisions based on your luggage. No matter where you are, you can just throw your bag on your back and go.
  • Backpacks can double as a day pack for shorter trips or excursions, eliminating the need for an extra bag.
  • No more waiting for luggage at baggage claims or worrying that your luggage could get lost.
  • It’s safer – having a compact travel backpack means you’ll be able to keep it with you in your seat when traveling on buses.
  • It frees up your hands since you won’t be pulling a suitcase which is great for when you need to present documents, pay for tickets, or simply enjoy a coffee.
  • Backpacks are often made of tough, water-resistant materials, which can protect your belongings better than a soft-shell suitcase.
  • If you’re traveling in places with bumpy cobblestone streets or dirt roads, carrying a backpack is much easier than rolling a suitcase.
  • They’re easier to maneuver through crowded areas like public transportation, busy streets, or narrow airplane aisles.
  • Backpacks fit more easily in varied spaces like overhead compartments on airplanes, under bus seats, or in compact hostel lockers.

I don’t always prefer a travel backpack, it depends on my destination. If I’m flying domestically on a plane, getting in an Uber, and going straight to my hotel, then I’ll bring wheeled luggage.

But if I’m on an extended trip with multiple destinations where I’m going to be spending a lot of time walking and riding on public transportation, then I’ll always choose a carry-on backpack.

What Features Make a Great Travel Backpack?

On your travels, you’ll experience the elements and different weather, and you’ll want something durable that can hold up to getting tossed around.

Here are some of the things I look for in a carry-on travel backpack:

  • Capacity: It must be large enough to carry a month’s worth of stuff, but small enough to carry on. Ideally, you want something in the 40-50 liter range. Always be sure to check airline requirements (especially if you’re flying a non-major or international carrier).
  • Front Loading: I prefer front or back-loading travel backpacks over top-loading. With a front or back-loading pack, there is no need to pull everything out of the pack to reach whatever is at the bottom. Look for a pack with a full U-zip or one that opens suitcase-style.
  • Organizational pockets: A travel backpack must have smart, functional pockets to keep things organized. Whether you want a lot of organization pockets (like the NOMADIC) or more open space (like the Fairview) is a personal preference.
  • Padded hip and shoulder straps: It needs to be comfortable to carry when packed to the brim, with a supportive hip belt and shoulder straps.
  • Security: I like a carry-on backpack that has lockable zippers so I can ensure my valuables stay safe.

Which of these best travel backpacks for women is your top choice? Have you tried any other carry on backpacks that you’ve liked? Let us know in the comments below!

Bearfoot Theory | Explore the best women's carry-on backpacks for adventure travel in our latest blog post! From the rugged Osprey Porter 46 Pack to the anti-theft Pacsafe VentureSafe EXP45, we've got options for every type of traveler. Discover why backpacks are preferred over wheeled luggage and what features to consider when buying one. Get packing and start your adventure with the right gear!

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  1. Great List! I’d love to get your recommendation for a bag like this with compartments specifically for camera gear….I’m always most worried about my “babies” when traveling! Also, what’s your management system for all your carry-on goodies, like toiletries, passports, chargers, etc. I always feel like a hot mess at the airport!

    1. Thanks Johnie! For my camera, right now I’m just using a basic camera insert like this: It’s pretty easy and I just toss it in my backpack with the rest of my stuff. I don’t have enough camera gear at the moment to warrant a full blown camera bag. Maybe soon though!
      For my toiletries, I use this: It holds a TON of stuff (more than I generally carry) and it packs flat, which is really nice because you can just throw it right before you zip up your bag. For the amount it holds, it takes up very little room.
      For chargers, I use this:
      Hope that’s helpful! -Kristen

  2. I love the look of the REI backpack, but isn’t it too big for a carry on? Im new to backpacking, but I’m going on a 6 week trip to Southeast Asia and would like to bring only a carry on backpack. I’m on the search for the perfect one!

    1. Hey Ally – I looked up the dimensions and its 26 x 14.5 x 10 inches. On Delta, the legal carry-on limit is 22″ x 14″ x 9″. So the bag is slightly bigger, but you should be able to get away with it, especially if you remove the detachable daypack. Your trip sounds amazing btw!

  3. Hi! I’m looking for a backpack for a 6 week trip in Europe this coming summer and I am in LOVE with the REI Grand Tour 80. However, to save money, I want to get a bag that I can definitely carry on to planes. I’ve seen conflicting reviews about whether or not this bag can be carried on so I’m trying to see if any one has actually had success with it! Did you actually get it past security to bring as a carry on? I love clothes too much to dream of buying a 65 L backpack haha!

    1. Marilyn – I don’t actually have this bag….I just did some research to figure out what the most popular carry on bags are. But I don’t think you should have a problem if you detach the smaller daypack and put it under your seat and the larger bag in the overhead bin.

  4. Hey check out the Minaal backpack. I have one and have never looked back. Extremely convenient with lots of compartments. 🙂

    1. Michael, thanks so much for showing me this great new pack. It definitely looks like a great new innovative options for a daypack. Let me know if you enjoy it!

  5. Thanks for your thoughts and your additional suggestions. All of these packs are very popular…even if they aren’t the right fit for you, they might be for someone else which is why they were included on the list. As for wheels….I took one of these wheeled backpacks to Belize last year and really liked it. I’ve looked at the Minaal but haven’t tried it. Perhaps one day I’ll add it to the list. Thanks

    1. Kristen I love your gear reviews, but I’m with Ben on this one. Maybe you would think about giving traveling light a try.
      What’s not to love about arriving in a new city too early to check in and having a backpack light enough that you don’t mind sightseeing with it? That’s what happened to me last spring on my tour of Iceland.
      I love my wheeled carryon bag for domestic travel, but took my Tom Bihn Synapse 25 and had everything I needed for a fun week touring Reykjavik and day trips out of town. It was so much more manageable than my wheeled bag on the flights of stairs up to my room. Next fall I head to three weeks in Central Europe with the same bag.
      You really only need something to wear during the day, something to change into at night, and some layers and outwear to be prepared for whatever the weather may be. And I love only carrying 17 pounds around.

  6. Some of these don’t meet the US requirements of 22″X14″X9″ or International 21″X13″X9″. Some airlines just have a 45″ total max. But this has been a chief frustration of mine in finding carry-on luggage.

    1. Hi, Darcy!
      Thanks for your comment. It can be frustrating finding the perfect carry-on bag, but all of these should work out for most US travel even if their technical specs aren’t exact.

  7. You missed the Northface Router, the best travel pack bar none.
    Listed as a “mens” backpack, but incredibly versatile, and durable. Has room for a 17″ laptap, and ipad, and charge cable. Midsection is big enough for all your clothes and more, then the toiletry section is multicompartmented for all kinds of things, plus is full depth. Then the front has two overlapping pockets for all those nick nack things. The backpack is also very versatile as an actual packback, with adjustable contoured shoulder straps and a full lap belt.