The 8 Best Carry-On Backpacks Under $100
To determine the best carry-on backpack under $100, we packed and hefted seven top-rated, airline-approved backpacks on our shoulders to test for capacity, comfort and quality design.
The winner was the AmazonBasics – Carry -On Travel Backpack, a streamlined yet roomy pack that received the highest marks for comfort. Our runner-up, the eBags – eTech 3.0 Carry-On Travel Backpack, is equally spacious and features a well-padded back plate and ergonomic zipper pulls. With its slightly shallower main compartment, the high-quality, nicely cushioned Inateck – Travel Backpack is an excellent choice for light packers.
Table of contents
- The eight carry-on backpacks we tested
- How we selected
- How we tested
- Best overall: AmazonBasics
- Runner up: eBags – eTech 3.0
- Best for light packers: Inateck
- Other backpacks we tested
- The bottom line
The eight carry-on backpacks we tested
|22" x 17" x 8"
|2. eBags - eTech 3.0
|21" x 14" x 8"
|21.6" x 13.4" x 7.1"
|4. Fjällräven – Kånken Totepack
|14.2" x 11.8" x 5.9"
|5. eBags - TLS Mother Lode Weekender
|22" x 14" x 9"
|19.6" x 13.8" x 9.8"
|7. Hynes Eagle
|20.1" x 13.4" x 9.8"
|20.5” x 13” x 7.9”
How we selected
Before selecting backpacks to test, we thoroughly researched the different types of carry-on backpacks and read up on recommendations from travel bloggers. We also consulted with a seasoned flight attendant, who advised that the most important features in a carry-on are light weight, good quality materials and plenty of zippered organizing pockets both inside and out.
Based on what we learned, we made a list of features that comprised the ideal carry-on backpack:
- Exterior dimensions (width plus length plus height) totaling 45 linear inches or less, to comply with standard domestic carry-on requirements.
- A capacity of roughly 40 liters, and no more than 45 liters. (An interior volume of 40–45 liters roughly equates to 45 total linear inches.)
- Bags with clamshell or panel-loading openings, so packed belongings can be seen clearly and accessed easily.
- A well-padded, easy-to-access laptop compartment with at least a 15-inch capacity, preferably positioned against the back plate (the most efficient location, in terms of weight bearing).
- Zippered pockets for storage.
- A streamlined exterior without too much bulk.
- Multiple handles (for lifting the bag in and out of overhead bins).
- Comfortable, stowable shoulder straps and a breathable back panel. Bonus points for a sternum strap and hip belt.
- Exterior and interior compression straps.
- No wheels (to lessen weight).
With these standards in mind, we hunted for potential backpacks to test that aligned with our desired features, reading through trusted review sites, Amazon reviews and YouTube video reviews. Aiming for affordability, we also weeded out any contenders priced over $100.
How we tested
We packed each backpack with a laptop and enough clothing, toiletries and other supplies for a four-day trip. We then tested and judged them using the following criteria:
- Backpack capacity
- Ease of packing
- Laptop compartment
- Comfort during wear
- Carrying comfort
- Exterior design
- Construction quality
Best overall: AmazonBasics
It was a very close call between the AmazonBasics – Carry-On Travel Backpack and our runner-up. Ultimately, the AmazonBasics backpack won out in a few key areas: its comfort level, laptop compartment and compression straps.
With an ultra-cushy back plate and well-padded mesh straps, the AmazonBasics pack was the most comfortable to wear on our backs for an extended period of time. Though its optional waist belt is nothing to write home about, its sternum strap felt solid and stabilizing. The back of the bag also has a strap to secure it to a suitcase’s telescoping handle.
The backpack’s poly exterior features built-in compression straps, one deep front pocket and a larger front compartment with mesh pockets and plenty of interior organization. The bag also comes with a padded shoulder strap that can be clipped on to wear the pack like a messenger bag.
The AmazonBasics bag’s lockable laptop compartment is the most well-padded and protected of all of the backpacks we tested and is elevated above the bottom of the pack to guard against impact.
You won’t find any bells or whistles inside the main clamshell compartment — just simple compression straps and a zippered mesh pocket in the top lid — but you will find plenty of space. The bag is already roomy and expands further to allow for even more packing space inside. Unfortunately, the top mesh pocket doesn’t span the full width of the lid, falling short by about 5 inches and limiting valuable packing space.
- With a plush back plate and shoulder straps, the AmazonBasics – Carry-On Travel Backpack is the most comfortable of all the backpacks we tested.
- Its laptop compartment is well-padded and elevated above the bottom of the bag.
- The backpack features a spacious interior that’s expandable, though the top lid’s mesh interior pocket is puzzlingly narrow.
Runner-up: eBags – eTech 3.0
The eBags – eTech 3.0 is a well-made bag with a high-quality dobby polyester exterior and large, sturdy ergonomic zipper pulls. Though the bag’s back plate is just as well-padded as the AmazonBasics backpack, its shoulder straps are slightly less plush than its rival’s.
The backpack offers two shallow front pockets and a larger organized compartment, plus a deep, slim pocket perfect for magazines and other in-flight reading material. The eBags’ laptop compartment is noticeably less padded and not as well protected as the one in the AmazonBasics backpack, but it is lockable, elevated above the bottom of the bag and lined with soft felt.
The eBags pack’s main clamshell compartment is roomy and practically identical to the AmazonBasics interior. The eBags backpack has a leg up in this area, with a mesh top compartment that extends all the way to the edge of the lid to make full use of the space available. The eBags’ top and side handles are also cushier and more comfortable to carry than those on the AmazonBasics bag — something to keep in mind if you plan to carry your bag less like a backpack and more like a suitcase.
Like the AmazonBasics bag, the eBags pack has a streamlined exterior, though it may err too far on the side of minimalism: It only includes one exterior compression strap that’s detached from the bag. To us, this feature seems unwieldy and more trouble than it’s worth to put on and take off every time you want to access the pack’s compartments.
- The eBags – eTech 3.0 is made of high-quality materials, with strong ergonomic zipper pulls and a cushy back plate, though its shoulder straps are not as well-padded as those on the AmazonBasics bag.
- The eBags interior is basically twinning with the AmazonBasics, though the former offers more interior mesh pocket space.
- Though it isn’t as well-cushioned as the AmazonBasics, the eBags backpack’s laptop compartment is lined with soft felt, offers moderate cushioning and is positioned above the bottom of the bag for protection.
Best for light packers: Inateck
Made of “splash-resistant” nylon, the Inateck is an excellent, high-quality travel pack that happens to have a less spacious main compartment than our winning backpack and runner-up.
The Inateck is generous with its padding, offering a very well-cushioned lockable laptop compartment, back plate, straps and carrying handles. Though a side shoulder strap is not included with this bag, it does have an adjustable water bottle holder and handy elasticized rain cover.
The Inateck is also the only backpack we tested with little zippered pouches sewn into its straps, large enough to hold credit cards, ID, cash, lip balm, etc. We also loved the horizontal zippered compartment at the base of the back plate, which would be ideal for storing valuables during wear.
The only panel-loading backpack in the bunch, the Inateck lacks interior compression straps, but it does include a vinyl pouch for toiletries and two mesh interior pockets in its main compartment. On its exterior, there are two front slash pockets (one of which has interior pockets and sleeves) and sturdy compression straps.
- The “splash-resistant” nylon Inateck features quality construction and durable materials, though it offers less interior packing space than the AmazonBasics and eBags backpacks.
- The Inateck’s padding is luxurious throughout, with a well-protected laptop compartment and cushioning for comfort.
- The Inateck features a rain cover, a vinyl storage pouch and zippered pockets in the shoulder straps and against the back plate.
Fjällräven – Kånken Totepack
Unlike other backpacks we tested, the Fjällräven – Kånken Totepack was the smallest in capacity at only 14 liters and measured 14.2″ x 11.8″ x 5.9″. This bag easily fits under all the airplane seats we rode while testing because it’s so small. We recommend only using this as a lightweight carry-on for a short trip where you want something versatile and aesthetically pleasing to wear. But, if you want something to pack your clothes and toiletries, this isn’t your bag.
The Totepack was named for the many ways it can be worn as a backpack (albeit without any strap adjustments, which can be an issue) or a shoulder bag. Wearing the bag is comfortable even without padded straps. Even though it’s a bag with a smaller capacity, we can still fit a 14” laptop (one inch larger than described on the website), a Bose headphones case, one travel pillow, chargers, snacks, and other essentials like a wallet and phone.
Note that the laptop section in the Totepack is only padded on one side with a thin piece of removable foam, so you may need to be careful when carrying your valuables. One small front pocket also fits a phone or wallet; however, we found this a little tight to access.
We appreciate Fjällräven’s limited lifetime warranty on all its products, which extends to this bag. In addition, the construction of the overall bag is well-made and has a water-resistant coating. While we wouldn’t recommend the Fjällräven – Kånken Totepack as a one-bag carry-on due to its size, we still like using it as a secondary personal item to carry our airplane essentials and to wear during the trip.
eBags – TLS Mother Lode Weekender
With its roomy interior, cushy shoulder straps and bonus features like a USB port, detachable toiletry pouch and customizable interior dividers, we were ready to rank the eBags – TLS Mother Lode Weekender at the top of our list — until we opened the laptop compartment. Unfortunately, the bag’s flimsy “laptop sling” is unpadded and not nearly secure enough. We were also disappointed that the bag’s back plate was so poorly padded — a missed opportunity for both carrying comfort and laptop cushioning.
The Dinictis is an okay bag that left us feeling lukewarm. Its laptop compartment is barely padded and unfortunately located in the front of the bag. Dinictis was also stingy with its back-plate padding. We did like the backpack’s expandable water bottle holder and the zippered plastic compartment for toiletries inside the main compartment.
The Hynes Eagle design was very similar to that of the Dinictus. Not only was its laptop compartment sparsely padded and located in the front of the bag, it also rested directly on the bottom of the pack, providing no protection from impact. The backpack’s materials felt a little flimsy compared to our winners, though this bag does get points for its large zipper pulls and expandable water bottle holder.
At the bottom of the totem pole is the G4Free, which was not up to the standard of the other bags we tested. The G4Free doesn’t have a dedicated laptop compartment; travelers would have to stow their computers inside the main clamshell compartment or in the back sleeve, where the backpack’s straps are meant to be stored. The bag’s compression straps also failed us, loosening as soon as we let go of them.
The bottom line
Our winning carry-on backpack, the AmazonBasics, won us over with its large interior capacity, quality laptop compartment and cushioned comfort. We also liked the eBags – eTech 3.0, which is just as roomy and offers a well-padded back plate and ergonomic zipper pulls.
Our recommendation for light packers is the Inateck – Travel Backpack, a luxe, comfortably cushioned backpack with a well-padded laptop compartment and clever features like a hidden zippered compartment positioned against the back during wear.
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