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The Best Carry-On Bags

After researching 30 bags, testing seven, and flying across the country with two of them, we think the Tortuga Outbreaker is the best carry-on bag for travelers determined to never check luggage again. It’s easy to pack and cleverly organized, and it’s one of the most comfortable bags we’ve ever traveled with thanks to its highly adjustable, padded shoulder straps and waist harness. It has the easy packability of a suitcase with the comfort and support of a backpacking backpack, yet it avoids most of the shortcomings inherent to both luggage types.

On the outside, the Outbreaker’s tear-resistant sailcloth exterior and sealed zippers provide ample protection from sharp objects and the elements. Inside, the cavernous main compartment with a clamshell opening is a cinch to pack. And there are plenty of organizational features right where you want them—the front panel is a particular standout, great for keeping track of electronics and chargers. Just as important, the adjustable shoulder straps, torso length, and waist belt system—borrowed from hiking backpacks—made the Outbreaker the most comfortable bag we tested, despite its hefty 5.1 pounds empty weight. It’s available in a 45-liter American-maximum carry-on configuration and a smaller, 35-liter version that’s intra-European carry-on compliant and also great for weekends or minimalist travelers. We would prefer if the straps stowed for better protection, but overall, the Outbreaker’s excellent build quality and ergonomics justify its premium price.

If the weight or cost of the Outbreaker is an issue, or if it’s unavailable, the Osprey Farpoint 40 is a great option. It’s the smaller version of our current full-size travel backpack pick and a fantastic value for more adventure-oriented travelers who want to be light on their feet between hostels. Its straps are fully stowable for protection, in case you end up gate-checking because the overhead bins are at capacity. It also includes a detachable shoulder strap so you can carry it like a shoulder bag, but it’s primarily a backpack. Weighing about 3.2 pounds, it’s significantly lighter than the Outbreaker, yet still durable with a nylon exterior held together by reinforced seams and double stitching throughout. Should anything go wrong, it’s covered by Osprey’s no-excuses All Mighty warranty for as long as you own it. However, it’s not as adjustable as our main pick, and it’s slightly less comfortable to carry as a result. It’s also a little more difficult to pack due to its more rounded shape.

If you expect to mostly carry your bag from airport taxi, to shuttle bus, to train without much solo hiking in between, or if you’re traveling in business/formal attire, the Patagonia Headway MLC may be your best choice. It packs exactly like a suitcase (it’ll easily fit a garment bag) and won’t rub as much against your clothes as a backpack with a waist belt. The Headway’s shoulder bag, duffel-like design is great for keeping it in front and in sight while navigating crowded environments like subways or airport terminals. In addition to the shoulder strap, it comes with stowable backpack straps if you find yourself needing to cover more distance on foot than initially expected—they’re not super comfortable, but they do the job. This latest version of the MLC has an abrasion-resistant Cordura exterior that sets it apart from its weaker polyester predecessors, but should anything go wrong, Patagonia’s legendary lifetime warranty will cover it.

The Cabin Max Metz (as well as the nearly identical AmazonBasics Carry-On) is a thrifty choice if you’re not sure that carry-on–only travel is right for you. Its polyester exterior likely is less abrasion-resistant than the nylon used in our other picks and it has mediocre ergonomics. That said, it typically costs less than a third as much as our other picks. Plus, it has most of the important features we look for in a travel bag: Its main compartment packs similarly to the wide-open Farpoint, and the front panel contains an organizer panel similar to the Outbreaker’s. But its straps are barely padded and the included hip belt is just a thin nylon strap with a buckle that’s barely better than nothing. You wouldn’t want to carry heavy loads over long distances with this bag, but at least it has a mesh back panel, which gives it a slight ventilation advantage against similarly priced backpacks.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

I’ve been covering aspects of travel luggage and bag design for The Wirecutter for three years and have personally researched, tested, and compared hundreds of bags in that time. And as a remote organization, our editors and writers travel a lot and are constantly testing the gear we recommend—our travel gear guide remains a perennial favorite among staff. Personally, I try to do most of my travel with a single backpack whenever possible. I’ve spent six months traveling around Hawaii with not much more than that, and another six months nomadically couch surfing in New York City with a single backpack.

In addition to our own experience, I reached out to experts and writers who specialize in traveling the world carrying everything they need in a single bag. Eytan Levy is the owner and operator of the Snarky Nomad travel website, which combines travel guides and tips with in-depth gear reviews. James Feess is the founder of the Savvy Backpacker and author of The Savvy Backpacker’s Guide to Europe on a Budget. And Sharon Gourlay, writer of the Where’s Sharon? travel website. Their knowledge, reviews, and in-depth coverage of one-bag–style travel was indispensable to the writing of this guide.

Who should get this

As airlines increasingly charge more for checking baggage and as the intentional overbooking of flights becomes more commonplace, carry-on–only travel (frequently referred to as one-bag travel) is becoming less of a lifestyle and more of a survival skill. Our wheeled carry-on bags are designed to hold a lot of stuff, while remaining easy to maneuver around airports. However, wheels, retractable handles, and frames detract from precious packing space, add weight, and become difficult to manage on busy city streets.

So long as you have the strength and fortitude to schlep it on your back or across your shoulder, a wheel-less carry-on bag allows you to fit more stuff in the same amount of space compared with wheeled luggage (you gain about 10 liters of capacity by losing the wheels and handle). This can make the difference between needing to check a bag for a weeklong trip or being able to fit everything in carry-on. If you’re willing to do laundry on the road, then a bag this size is really all you need to travel indefinitely. If you want more creature comforts or more gear, or plan to be away for much longer across multiple climates, then you’ll want a bigger travel backpack. These bigger bags are not technically carry-on friendly though, so be prepared to check them.

The people who use these bags range from business travelers packing formal wear to wanderlust nomads who are on the road for weeks at a time. Ideally, a carry-on bag should blend the best elements of a piece of traditional luggage with the adaptability and comfort of an excursion backpack. But in reality, versatile luggage design often comes at the expense of ergonomics and vice versa. Those who travel more for business are typically better served by a more luggage-like, duffel-style bag that packs like a suitcase and can accommodate a garment folder, while more adventurous travelers gravitate toward backpacks. That’s why we have multiple types of picks to accommodate both ends of the spectrum.


A carry-on bag should blend the best elements of a piece of traditional luggage with the adaptability and comfort of an excursion backpack.

For some, the challenge of cutting down your packing list can be intimidating, but if you can get past that initial hurdle, traveling with a single bag can be a revelation. Traveling with fewer items means you have more time to concentrate on the trip. It’s easy to remain more mobile when you’re not tied down by extra gear. It’s easy to adjust your plans mid-trip without having to engage in any complicated logistics. It’s especially handy if your connecting flight gets canceled during a layover and you’re stuck in an unfamiliar place. In this scenario, those with checked luggage are stuck where they are, while carry-on–only travelers can rent a car or take the train instead.


How we picked and tested

The Patagonia Headway MLC 45L, Tortuga Outbreaker, Osprey Farpoint 40, and Cabin Max Metz bags arranged in the open trunk of a dark grey car.

To compile our list of possible models, we raked the world of travel blogs and product reviews, including Savvy Backpacker, Snarky Nomad, The Travel Hack, Nomadic Matt, Travel Tester, Where’s Sharon?, Y Travel Blog, CarryOnGuy, Lengthy Travel, Outdoor Gear Lab, and lurking r/onebag. We researched 30 possible models, and narrowed our top picks down by maximum capacity, main compartment design, recommendation, and shoulder strap layout.

There aren’t too many bags that fit this oddly specific category. A carry-on travel backpack like this must be spacious enough to pack like a piece of carry-on luggage, which means a broad clamshell opening. It must be comfortable to carry on your shoulders for long periods of time, while still being easy to remove and carry on crowded trains or buses. Ultimately, after interviews and email exchanges with seasoned travelers, we narrowed down our specifications to the following list of features ordered from most to least relevant.

  • Maximum capacity: One-bag travel requires making the most of what little space the airlines bestow upon you, so you might as well make the most of it. The highest capacity you can fit into a domestic carry-on allowance is about 45 liters, so we focused on bags available in a 40+ liters configuration (although having smaller sizes available is also nice for inter-European travel and shorter travelers).
  • Front-loading or clamshell opening for the main compartment: Like any good piece of luggage, you want to be able to open these bags and see everything you’ve packed. A front-loading or clamshell design means you can pack and unpack these bags just like you would a piece of luggage. Box-shaped designs don’t look as nice, but they make it even easier to optimize packing space and see where everything is.
  • Hip belt comfort and design: A hip belt transfers heavy loads from your back and shoulders onto your hips letting your legs bear the brunt of the weight, not your back. Just having a waist belt is a plus, but having a padded and sculpted one will make a world of difference.
  • Shoulder strap comfort and design: You never know when you’ll be walking farther with your bag than you thought you would. The more comfortable and well-designed the shoulder strap is, the easier it is to travel. “Ideally, you want a bag’s shoulder straps to adjust to the angle of your shoulders,” said Eytan Levy of Snarky Nomad. “Many bags these days still have straps that are attached horizontally to the frame of the pack, which create pressure points while you walk. Good shoulder straps are the difference between an easy trip and a hard trip.”
  • Stowable shoulder straps: “The more often you need to check a bag the more often you need to hide away the straps,” Levy said. “But if the straps are tough enough, it doesn’t matter. A stowable shoulder strap means you can hide away the shoulder and hip belts until you need them, protecting them and the bag from snags and damage. With a 45-liter bag they make more sense. With a 35-liter it’s not as important.”
  • Material quality: Durability is key for any type of luggage, but especially for a backpack that will be your only bag. Most bags worth considering are made of nylon, which is more abrasion-resistant than polyester fabrics of similar density. Spending more can get you some more exotic, lighter, and stronger materials such as Dyneema or sailcloth.
  • Accessory pocket layout and design: This is a largely discretionary category. Some people will love an accessory pocket that has a specific space for everything, while others may find that constricting and unadaptable. I usually prefer a simpler layout, although our top pick’s fastidious layout surprised me.
  • Weight: Most of the bags we tested, much like luggage, weighed within a few pounds of one another. But by the time you’re packed for a two-week journey, all bags are going to feel equally heavy, even if one is 2 pounds heavier when empty. In rare cases, this could make the difference between passing a weight test for carry-on requirements, but it’s not a big concern.
  • Style: This is purely subjective, but we preferred bags that had a minimalist exterior style. There’s no point in sticking out like a tourist wearing a large, colorful backpack, if you can avoid it.

During testing, we flew with these bags across the country, took weekend trips to nearby cities, and tried them out locally for our daily routine. We also packed and unpacked each with a standardized set of weeklong travel needs and accessories to see how well the internal features for organization (or lack thereof) aided or got in the way of efficient packing. Our testers included two males (6-foot-3 and 5-foot-10), and two females (5-foot-3 and 5-foot-11), who tried all our top picks and contenders.

Our pick: Tortuga Outbreaker

A person in a white shirt and light denim pants wearing the Tortuga Outbreaker in an outside walkway lined with trees.

Of all the bags we tested, the Tortuga Outbreaker struck the best balance between a hiking backpack and an excellent piece of luggage. Usually, I’d say that any hybrid bag is a risk; a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none. The Tortuga Outbreaker is one of the few hybrid designs I’ve seen that defies that expectation.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Outbreaker is its unique and sleek diamond-patterned exterior. It’s built of sailcloth fabric, which is designed to keep tears from spreading when sailing in high-wind conditions. It’s not something you think you’ll need until you’re a thousand miles from home trying to repair a running tear in your bag with a roll of duct tape. With non-ripstop, the tape will only keep your stuff inside until the tear widens. With ripstop, the tear will stop at the reinforcement point, and the tape will hold for as long as it sticks.

Every compartment on the Outbreaker is sealed by weather-resistant zippers. In practice, this means you can take this bag out in the rain without rushing for the nearest shelter. That’s not to say you’d want to walk through monsoon season without a rain barrier, but for moderate showers you shouldn’t have to worry too much about your gear inside.

Out of all the bags we tested, the Outbreaker was easily the most comfortable we put on our backs thanks to an overhauled suspension system borrowed from wilderness hiking backpacks. It was also the only bag we tested that could be adjusted for torso length, which means the location of the shoulder straps can be manipulated to fit a wider variety of body sizes. Additionally, Tortuga has added load adjuster straps at the top, where the shoulder straps connect to the bag. These prevent the bag from sagging toward your lumbar and ensure that the hip belt and shoulder straps are properly situated on your body. Unfortunately, as Eytan Levy of Snarky Nomad points out in his review, the load lifters are placed too low on the back panel to be effective on longer torsos. This isn’t ideal, but most bags of this type don’t have this feature at all, so it’s still a nice touch for those people it fits. Finally, the stiff but cushioned back panel allowed for decent airflow to minimize back sweat.

A close-up of the Tortuga Outbreaker's front, top-left corner to show off its diamond patterned material and sealed zippers. The backpack is black and features a small Tortuga logo under the zipper.

The diamond-patterned sailcloth and sealed zippers of the Outbreaker are tough, light, and water-resistant.

The downside of this adjustability and padding is that the straps can no longer be stowed, which you could do with the older models. It’s a risk if you need to check your bag at the behest of an overzealous airline. If you’re worried about this, or you often fly routes that are fully booked, we suggest our alternate pick below, the Osprey Farpoint, which comes with stowable straps. The padding also adds a lot of weight. At 5.1 pounds, the Outbreaker is 2 pounds heavier than most of its closest competitors. In practice, you’re unlikely to notice a difference between a 28-pound bag versus a 30-pound bag when fully loaded. But you will definitely notice how supportive all those ergonomic add-ons feel compared with something like the Patagonia MLC, which has only basic padded shoulder straps and lacks padding of any sort on its waist belt. (Tortuga tells us it’s putting the finishing touches on a series of lighter bags for 2017. We go into more detail down below in our What to look forward to section.)

When it comes to packing, the main interior of the Outbreaker is comfortingly minimal, like any good suitcase should be. In addition to the cavernous main pocket, there are four inner pockets along the sides, which are a little too small for anything besides socks and small personal items like toiletries. The lid of the bag reveals two wide vented pockets, which can carry shoes or sandals, or be used to separate out laundry.

The Tortuga Outbreaker upright on a wooden desk, unzipped to reveal its built-in organizer which, in this case, holds pens, earphones, a cellphone, cards, a notebook, and more.

The organizer on the Tortuga Outbreaker is intuitively laid out, easy to access, and a joy to use while traveling.

The Outbreaker’s front panel is extremely well-organized. It folds open halfway down the bag, revealing a zippered pocket and several slots for pens, tickets, and small notebooks. Some people will love this feature and know exactly what they want to put and where, others will bristle at the forced structure. Personally, it felt like opening a well-organized desk drawer wherever I was.

The Tortuga Outbreaker laying on a desk, unzipped to reveal its computer pocket. A pair of hands slides a silver MacBook into the pocket.

The Outbreaker’s computer pocket, situated against your back, is the most secure and protected electronics pocket we came across.

We also appreciated the Outbreaker’s TSA-friendly laptop pocket. It’s ergonomically located along the back panel and is attached by a zipper so you can open it up clamshell style such that it lays flat through the X-ray machine. This means you can open the bag at security without having to remove your computer. Personally, I’ve had mixed success with TSA agents who are up-to-date with which bags can pass security this way. So keep in mind there’s a chance you will be asked to remove your electronics anyway.

The Outbreaker comes in a 35-liter or 45-liter size. We tested the 45-liter version. The Snarky Nomad has a very thorough review of the 35-liter version here. After comparing notes, we’ve found that the designs are the same (differing dimensions aside).

Runner-up: More backpack than luggage, the Osprey Farpoint 40

A person wearing a bright blue Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack while walking across storefronts.The backpack bears an Osprey logo.

If you want something more affordable and don’t mind a more outdoorsy look, we also like the Osprey Farpoint 40. Unlike our top pick, the Farpoint 40 comes with stowaway straps to protect your bag from damage if you find you suddenly have to gate-check your belongings on a full flight. The Farpoint also has an optional messenger bag-style strap, which offers some flexibility when maneuvering tight spaces like subways or crowded city centers. Overall, the Farpoint is a well-constructed bag from a company with a reputation for making great backpacks and has a warranty to match: Osprey covers all its bags with its All Mighty Guarantee, which says the company will fix or replace any of its products regardless of when you bought them.

Two side-by-side shots of the Osprey Farpoint 40 to show both its front and back sides. The backpack is a bright blue with black details. It is sitting outside, against a moss-green wooden fence.

The Farpoint’s straps pack completely away, keeping them safe if you need to stow your bag in an awkward space or want to more comfortably carry it as a shoulder bag.

And to its credit, the Farpoint 40 has garnered generally positive reviews from online travel bloggers: The Tiny Book, Her Packing List, Penny Caravan, The Yoga Nomads, Lengthy Travel, ActiveGearReview, and Dead Reckon.

That being said, despite weighing 2 pounds less than our top pick, the Farpoint is simply not as comfortable to carry nor as easy to pack as the Tortuga Outbreaker. However, as Iylana of Penny Caravan points out, smaller individuals may appreciate the lighter weight and more compact design. The chest strap clip is also equipped with a small security whistle that’s surprisingly loud. It’s a neat feature for anyone traveling in unfamiliar environments.

A close-up of the Osprey's chest strap across a person's chest, with attention drawn to its built-in whistle. The whistle does not stand out from the strap if you are not looking for it.

The personal whistle on the Farpoint 40 is built into the chest strap and easily accessible if you suddenly need to raise an alarm.

Frequently, however, the same complaints come up time and again: The Farpoint has no water bottle pocket; the two small mesh pockets on the side of the bag are ineffective; the hip pads, while comfortable, have no easy access pockets; the back panel doesn’t breathe as easily as you would hope. And, as Whitney Hill of Dead Reckon points out, “The pocket that houses the harness-covering panel (of the Farpoint) is secured with Velcro. It’s the bag’s only cheap-feeling component. Velcro sucks and gets dirty, especially when it’s on the bottom of the bag, and the closure felt awkward. The edge of the Velcro occasionally scratched my lower back. I’d much prefer a zipper.”

The bright blue Osprey backpack laying on a wooden desk, zipped open to reveal a neon lime green interior. A pair of hands slides a silver MacBook into its computer pocket.

Osprey placed the laptop sleeve in the outside pocket of the bag, which puts the weight of the electronics in a awkward position relative to your body.

Our biggest issue with the Farpoint’s design, however, is the unusual positioning of the laptop and electronic gear pocket. The design slots your computer on the inside of the secondary pocket, instead of directly against your back like most backpack designs. This unusual choice shifts the center of gravity away from the strongest muscles of your back, which makes loads feel heavier than they should.

Inside, the bag is simple to pack. Unlike the Outbreaker, it does come with compression straps to help keep your gear in place. We found that during testing that they were most effective when paired with packing cubes, which we suggest for any kind of travel anyway, though they will work without them as well.

Also great: More luggage than backpack, the Patagonia Headway MLC

A person wearing the Patagonia Headway MLC 45 backpack. It is a bright blue with dark blue details. The person is wearing a white collared shirt and light denim pants and is walking outside, on a sidewalk lined by a rocky wall.

If you need a well-constructed bag that’s wide and flat enough for large clothes or garment folders, the Patagonia MLC is your best bet. It has stowable backpack straps and comes with a detachable shoulder strap, so it’s technically a duffel bag-backpack hybrid. But in practice, it’s best thought of as a suitcase that swaps all the heavy parts—like wheels, a retractable handle, and a plastic frame—for extra storage space. Hence, MLC, or “maximum legal carry-on” (for domestic US or intercontinental flights, since there’s not a smaller version compatible with European airline limits).

The Patagonia backpack on a wooden table. A pair of hands slides a silver MacBook into one of the backpack's large pockets.

This side pocket doesn’t seem to be expressly designed to carry laptops, but it does a good enough job of protecting them and holding them close to your body.

The suitcase comparison applies beyond appearances, too. Like our rolling luggage picks, the MLC is split lengthwise by a zippered mesh divider into a bigger section for clothing that easily fits a garment folder or bundled wardrobe, and a smaller pocket above separated by a solid panel—good for flip-flops, dirty laundry, or other things you’d like to keep separate from clean clothes. There’s also space between them for big things you’d want easy access to, like a coat or puffy jacket. A laptop sleeve runs the length of the back panel with an easily accessible zipper on the side for speedy TSA compliance.

Two side-by-side shots of the Patagonia backpack sitting outside, against a moss-green wooden fence, to show off both its front and back sides. It is bright blue with dark blue details, and one of its shoulder straps features the Patagonia logo.

Similar to the Farpoint, the shoulder straps of the Patagonia bag can be stored away during travel. However, there is no hip belt to help lighten the load.

We like that the Headway MLC is made of 940D Ballistic Cordura Nylon. It’s a tough fabric that’s highly abrasion-resistant compared with the cheaper polyester fabric used in prior versions of this bag (and cheaper competition). In fact, it’s the same fabric used on the excellent and similarly designed Red Oxx Air Boss. But the Headway MLC is about $60 cheaper on most days and has backpack straps, while the Air Boss is strictly a shoulder bag.

A benefit of this duffel/shoulder bag design is that it allows you to keep a lower profile as you travel, especially if you tend to spend a lot of time on crowded public transport. Being able to quickly move a bag to your front on a busy subway can make it easier to move around and help you keep a better eye on your stuff in a strange city.

The Patagonia MLC laying on white sheets, zipped wide open and completely empty. Its interior is a light gray and features smaller compartments, as well as a mesh divider.

The Patagonia MLC is the closest bag we tested to traditional luggage. It might even carry a bit more than traditional carry-on luggage since it doesn’t need wheels or frame reinforcements.

The Patagonia MLC laying on white sheets, zipped wide open and packed full of clothes. With its mesh divider and interior compartments, everything is packed neatly in its own section -- almost like built-in packing cubes.

The Patagonia MLC is the closest bag we tested to traditional luggage. It might even carry a bit more than traditional carry-on luggage since it doesn’t need wheels or frame reinforcements.

The MLC is primarily designed to be carried across the chest or over one arm using a detachable shoulder strap—similar to a duffel or weekender bag. However, the shoulder strap they include has the same thin padding found in the backpack straps. It’s not uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t relish hauling the bag in this configuration for very long. One option for getting around this is to replace the default strap with Tom Bihn’s Absolute Shoulder Strap, which will make a big difference in comfort. It’s made of neoprene, which feels softer and has a slight stretch to it that somehow makes the bag feel lighter on your shoulder.

A person wearing the Patagonia backpack, photographed from the neck to mid-torso with focus drawn to the backpack's shoulder and chest straps.

The MLC’s sternum straps improve ergonomics somewhat, but there’s no back panel ventilation and the shoulder straps could use more padding.

Although the MLC has thin-but-stowable backpack straps (and no hip straps at all), you probably wouldn’t want to use them for a very long time. They’d work in an emergency situation where you had to lug your bag farther down a windy side street than you imagined, but not a long day hike with your entire wardrobe on your back. Outdoor Gear Lab found that the comfort maxed out around 25 to 30 pounds, which conformed with our testing as well.

Editors of other major review sites like Backpacker and Outside have written glowing reviews of the Headway MLC. As have many travel blogs and hobby review websites online including, Where Traveler, One Bag, One World, r/onebag, Almost Adventurous by Christopher McGraw, and the Brooks Review.

Budget pick: Cabin Max Metz

A person in a white collared shirt and light denim wearing the Cabin Max Metz backpack outside. The backpack is black, with a white and lime green Cabin Max logo.

If you want a decent bag for a bargain price and are willing to sacrifice long-term durability, the Cabin Max Metz (and nearly identical AmazonBasics Carry-On) are remarkable for their low price and efficient pocket layouts. But both are made of polyester rather than the more durable, though more expensive, high-denier nylon fabrics used in pricier models and have mediocre ergonomics.

The Cabin Max isn’t nearly as comfortable as any of our other picks. The included hip belt is nothing more than a strap of nylon held in place by two plastic carabiner clips. It’s hard to see how it helps distribute the weight of a 40-liter bag in any beneficial way. The bag also comes with a detachable messenger strap, similar to the Patagonia MLC, allowing it to adapt to situations where you want easy access to your pack, or to keep an eye on it by having it in front of you.

With nearly 40 liters of capacity, the main compartment of the Cabin Max (5.5 by 13 by 21.5 inches) is a bare space crossed with two straps to help secure your load in place. It’s comparable to the Osprey Farpoint in its simplicity and minimal design.

The front panel organizer of the Cabin Max has two pen holders and two broad pockets shaped to hold small notebooks, passports, or tickets. There are also two mesh panel pockets for miscellaneous items. It’s not as neatly laid out, or as pleasant to use, as our top pick, but the panel is variable enough to keep you somewhat better organized over a long trip.

The Cabin Max, like the Tortuga Outbreaker but not like the Osprey bag, correctly positions the laptop pocket against your back, which allows you to keep one of the heaviest pieces of the kit close to your body. It’s better for weight distribution, security, and the safety of your electronics this way.

Cabin Max gear is protected by a 30-day return and one-year limited warranty for manufacturing faults, which is pretty generous for the price. Overall, it’s not a special bag, but it’s priced exceptionally affordably and is built well enough to get you where you need to go. Sometimes, that’s all you need from a travel bag.

What to look forward to

Patagonia is updating it’s MLC line with the Black Hole MLC 45L, which is the same MLC design as the Headway updated with Patagonia’s water-resistant, TPU-coated Black Hole material. It won’t be out until this summer. We hope to take a closer look at it then.

Prior to publish, Tortuga informed us that the company is working on a new set of lighter bags aimed at more minimalist travelers due out later in 2017. It will supplement but not replace the Outbreaker line. This new collection, made up of a carry-on backpack and duffel, will use the same weather-resistant zippers as the Outbreaker, but will feature a lighter weight sailcloth and less padding to save weight. The backpack will also feature a removable accessory pack, which Tortuga hopes people will pack their clothes inside of, then remove on arrival to their destination and turn the backpack into an everyday commuter bag. It’s a versatile concept, and we’ll see how it works once it arrives later this year.

The competition

Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45: This shoulder duffel is loved by many travel bloggers for its toughness and borderline luxurious finish. It’s an excellent bag. The Aeronaut’s tri-compartment design consists of a bigger middle compartment flanked by two smaller ones. This is great for organizing shoes and clothes that can be folded, but makes it difficult to accommodate a garment folder or suiter for traveling with formalwear. It was nearly a toss up between the Aeronaut and the Patagonia MLC, but the Patagonia’s more affordable pricing and clamshell layout gave it the edge. If you don’t mind spending a bit extra for an incredibly tough bag, this is a good choice.

North Face Overhaul 40: North Face discontinued this beloved travel bag with no current plans to replace it with anything similar. We’re putting it here as a eulogy.

eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender: We considered this bag for a minute until we took a closer look at the shoulder strap and hip belt connection point, which are connected by two plastic clip hooks. Don’t do this to yourself. And if you must, at least buy our budget pick for half the price.

Hynes Eagle 40L Flight Approved Carry-on: This is a very similar pack to the TLS Mother Lode and the Cabin Max models. These might be useful for a certain weekend traveler, but we don’t think it would hold up for longer trips.

Osprey Porter 46: This is a slightly larger twin of our alternate pick, the Farpoint 40. It’s about 2 inches longer and pushes right up to most airline limits. If you don’t mind possibly having to gate-check your bag at the last minute, this would be an excellent alternative to the Farpoint 40.

Minaal Carry-on 2.0: This bag was designed to be the absolute best travel backpack for business people. But if you’re a business person, you’re probably wearing at least a blazer, so you wouldn’t use a backpack in any case. But if you’re a business traveler who falls more on the casual end of the business-casual spectrum, many travel writers have spoken well of it, despite its high price. If you’re not worried about a budget, this looks to be a well thought out pack. We think our picks are more versatile for world travel.

Timbuk2 Wingman Backpack: Wired and Travel With This like the Wingman, and it’s a competitor in style and price to the Patagonia Headway MLC. In the end, we liked the Headway’s more structured feel and design. If you can’t find the Patagonia, but want a shoulder duffel for the same price, this would be a great alternative.

Kelty Redwing 44: The Redwing is closer to a light camping backpack than the panel loading packs we tested. It’s also technically too large to fit in a carry-on overhead bin (though it fits in practice if you can get it by the gate attendant). It didn’t quite fit the scope of this review.

REI Co-op Vagabond Tour 40: My colleague Geoff Morrison reviewed this in our travel backpack guide: “[It] doesn’t have extra internal pockets like the Farpoint 40 does, … doesn’t hold a laptop as easily, … it has basically no hip-belt padding, not much of a suspension system …, and the shoulder straps are fairly thin. Given its far lower price, it’s a pretty good deal, but we like the Osprey better for that bit more money.”

GeniusPack Travel Backpack: The GeniusPack is the only model we came across that tried to fit a suiter into a travel backpack. While some people might need that, we think most people who need to travel with a suit or clothes you need to keep pressed would be better off with a piece of carry-on luggage.

Arc’teryx Covert Case: For the same price as the Patagonia Headway MLC, this bag has less carrying capacity, no shoulder-strap compatibility, and even thinner backpack straps. It sure looks slick though.

GoRuck GR2: I’m a big fan of GoRuck bags, and I use the GR1 regularly as my daily work/travel bag. They will last a lifetime. However, the GR2 is too expensive ($400 as of writing this) and too large for many people, especially without an included hip belt. GoRuck does sell a hip belt add-on, but that further increases the cost of the bag. That being said, if you’re sturdy and stoic, and you don’t mind the high cost, this bag will probably outlast your corporeal self.



  1. Eytan Levy, writer and editor, Snarky Nomad, interview
  2. James Feess, writer and editor, Savvy Backpacker, email interview
  3. Sharon Gourlay, writer and editor, Where’s Sharon, email interview
  4. Lyra Pierotti, The Best Travel Backpacks, Outdoor Gear Lab, November 17, 2016