Are Backpacking Bags Carry On?

Can Backpacking Packs Be Carry On?

A common question among Travel Backpackers is whether their backpacking pack can be used as a carry-on for flights. The answer to this isn't quite straightforward and depends on several factors, including the size of your pack, airline policies, and your packing style.

 Are Backpacking Bags Carry On?

Most Travel Backpackers travel with 40 L (Litres / Liters) to 70 L of backpack space. Generally, any bag under 45L in volume meets the carry-on size. If you plan to travel with more than 45L, you could easily break up your baggage into two backpacks and classify it as a "carry on and a personal item". Similarly, if you see a backpacking pack that is larger than 45L marketed as a carry-on, usually it breaks down into two smaller bags.

Just because your bag is fits in the overhead compartments or under the airplane seats, doesn't mean the price of that carry-on bag is included in your ticket, let's dive deeper.

General Size for Carry On Bags

Most airlines have specific guidelines regarding the size and weight of carry-on luggage. These restrictions are designed to ensure that bags fit in the overhead compartments or under the seat in front of you. Generally speaking, the standard carry-on size limit is around 22" x 14" x 9" (56cm x 36cm x 23cm). However, these dimensions can vary slightly between airlines. 

In regards to weight, it really depends if you are flying on a Budget Airline or a Full-Service Airline (Regular Airline).


Budget Airlines vs. Full Service Airlines

Budget Airlines

Budget airlines, such as Ryanair, EasyJet, and Spirit Airlines, often have stricter policies regarding carry-on luggage. Budget Airlines charge for more comforts like larger or heavier carry-on allowance and that is how budget airlines can charge less for their flight tickets.

Budget airlines also have a reputation for being less forgiving when it comes to enforcing these rules. It's pretty common to see passengers being asked to fit their bags into sizers or weigh their carry-ons at the gate. Failure to comply could result in hefty additional charges or even the need to check your bag.

Full Service Airlines

Full-service airlines like American Airlines, Delta, British Airways, and Lufthansa generally offer more generous carry-on policies. These airlines often allow slightly larger bags and rarely enforce strict weight limits.

TIP if you plan to travel with Budget Airlines

Just because a budget airline has all these annoyances, doesn't mean you should avoid them. Most likely your backpacking pack is not going to get by for free with a Budget Airline. So when browsing flight options, you should already have the price of what their carry-on bag is if you pay for it in advance online (this will be cheaper than paying for a carry-on bag at the airport). Then if the Budget Airline Flight Ticket + the advance payment of the Carry-On Bag are cheaper full-service airlines, then it is definitely worth flying with a budget airline.

Common Budget Airline Carry On Bag Fees

Below is a comparison of budget airlines carry-on baggage fees. It compares if you pay for this carry-on bag in advance online vs in person at the airport. It also takes into account that you have a larger backpacking pack. 

Budget Airline Carry On Fees


Tips for Using a Backpacking Pack as a Carry-On

Choose the Right Travel Backpack

The first step in ensuring your backpacking pack can be a carry-on is to choose one that meets the size requirements of the airlines you plan to fly with. Many backpack manufacturers design packs specifically for carry-on use, often around 45L (Litre / Liter). These packs are typically more streamlined and may have fewer external attachments to stay within size limits. If you see a backpacking pack that is larger than 45L marketed as a carry-on, usually it breaks down into two smaller bags.


    Pack Smart

    Efficient packing is important when using a backpacking pack as a carry-on. Here are some tips to help you pack smart:

    Use Compression Packing Cubes: These help organize your belongings and make it easier to compress items to fit more efficiently.

    Minimize Liquids: Carry only essential liquids in flat travel pouches no larger than 3.4 ounces (100 ml). Don't forget a toiletry bag specifically designed for Travel Backpacker.

    Wear Your Bulkier Items: If possible, wear your bulkiest clothing items, such as backpacking jackets and boots, to save space in your pack.


    My Advice

    Most likely your trip involves multiple airlines, so make sure your backpacking pack complies with the most restrictive airline that you plan to use. Personally, I hate checking my bags. I usually travel with 60L of space in my backpacks. However, I like to break it up with a 40L bag and a 20L daypack. With Full-Service Airlines, I have zero issues with bringing both bags as one is my carry-on and one is my personal item.

    If I use a Budget Airline, I'll make to pay for that one larger backpacking pack (the 40L bag) in advance online and not at the airport. Some of these airlines even give you an added bonus when paying for that carry-on bag in advance such as early boarding. As long as the price of my airline ticket + one carry-on bag paid for in advance is less than the price of a normal full-service airline ticket, budget airlines are definitely worth it.




    I’m Mark, the Founder of Generation Nomad, Avid Travel Backpacker & Digital Nomad. I am passionate about helping others discover the world through my experiences. I solo backpacked for months at a time, lived abroad, and even speak two foreign languages. Besides collaborating on the best lightweight travel accessories for Travel Backpackers, I also love sharing my travel photography.
    Favorite Trips: Spain, Egypt & Vietnam 
    Favorite Cuisines: Italian, Peruvian & Japanese
    Quote: “Be a circle and just roll with it” 

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