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How to choose the best carry-on travel backpack

Follow our advice and find the best carry-on-travel-backpack for all of your plane journeys.

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Are you going on holiday soon and want to avoid checking in luggage at the airport? So you're planning to take a carry-on backpack, but you don't know which one to choose? Check out our tips to help you choose the best carry-on travel backpack.

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What are the dimensions of a carry-on travel backpack?

How do I know if I’ll be allowed to take my bag on the plane?

The first step when choosing a travel backpack to take on the plane is to find out the cabin baggage dimensions that are authorised by the airline you plan to fly with.

Here are some examples of measurements authorised by the best-known airlines. These figures correspond to the height, width and depth of the bag respectively:

  • 55 × 35 × 25 cm  (or 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches)
  • 56 x 45 x 25 cm
  • 55 x 40 x 23 cm
These figures may differ, even within the same airline, depending on the size of the aircraft. We therefore strongly advise you to check the website of the airline you’re planning to travel with.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) sets the official standard size for cabin baggage (suitcase or backpack) at 55 x 45 x 25 cm, including handles and wheels. However, not all airlines conform to these recommendations. The authorised weight is generally no more than 10 kg.

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What are the risks if my bag is bigger than the authorised dimensions?

If your bag does not comply with the dimensions indicated by your airline, this may be detected when you check in at the airport, before you can enter the boarding area. In this case, the airline may need to put your travel backpack into the hold, as it may not fit into the storage space provided on the plane. You therefore risk having to pay an additional charge for your bag.

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How to choose the volume for your carry-on travel backpack

When deciding which size carry-on travel backpack to get, we recommend taking the following factors into account:

How long is your trip?

The size of your carry-on travel backpack will differ depending on whether you're planning to be away for a weekend, a week or for a month or more at a time. However, as the term "cabin" implies, your luggage cannot be too big because otherwise it will not comply with the airline’s authorised dimensions.
Generally speaking, a full 40 L bag is the maximum you can take while respecting the authorised dimensions. Nevertheless, some half-filled 50 L bags may be suitable if their backs are not too stiff, for example.

  • For a weekend trip: 20–30 L carry-on backpack.
  • For a trip that lasts between one week and a month: from 30 to 50 litres.

How to choose the best carry-on travel backpack
How much stuff do you plan on taking with you?

One way of determining what size bag you need is to gather all the things you want to take with you so that you can then estimate how much space you’ll need to fit them all in.

If you're going away for several months, you may find that all your belongings won't fit into a carry-on bag. If this is the case, we recommend that you opt for a backpack that has a detachable part that you can keep with you during the flight.

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How will you use your travel bag?

If, when you get to your destination, you’re planning on doing day hikes, you’ll need to choose a backpack that is no bigger than 40 litres in volume in order to limit the total weight of your bag and avoid tiring yourself out even more. Choose a bag that is comfortable to carry so that you don't have any back pain at the end of the day.
For more choice, don't just look at bags designed for travel. Extend your search to hiking bags that meet the dimensions authorised by the airlines (generally no more than 40 litres).

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Why choose a 40 L carry-on backpack?

If you are travelling by plane and you only want to take a carry-on bag, the ideal size is 40 litres. In fact, this size is generally accepted by most airlines, and it still gives you enough space for your belongings.

This size therefore offers a good balance between having enough space and complying with cabin baggage regulations. Travel bags of this size often have multiple compartments to store and organise your belongings.

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What factors should I take into account when choosing a carry-on travel backpack?

Once you’ve figured out the ideal size for your carry-on backpack, you’ll need to consider some other factors to help you find the best backpack for your needs. Below is a list of factors to help you make your choice.

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A comfortable travel backpack

If you’re planning on having your travel backpack on your back for a considerable amount of time, you really need to make sure it is comfortable to carry. You don’t want to end up with severe back pain at the end of the day, as this could make your trip less enjoyable. A comfortable backpack will therefore make a big difference if you’re planning some long walks.

Here are a few ways of determining how comfortable a backpack will be to carry:

  • The shoulder straps: They should be well padded to avoid shoulder pain. Choose a model with adjustable straps, so you can make the bag fit to your body shape, making it more comfortable to carry.
  • The back of the bag: A padded or ventilated back can prevent sweating and improve comfort, especially on long trips.
  • The hip belt: This is particularly useful for bigger bags. It distributes the weight of the bag more evenly between your back and your hips, and reduces the pressure on your shoulders.
These elements will all help to make you feel more comfortable during your trip.

Once you've bought your backpack for your plane journey, to make it as comfortable to carry as possible, we recommend distributing the weight evenly, with the heaviest items closest to your back. This will help to distribute the weight.

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The strength and durability of your carry-on travel backpack

When you buy a travel bag, you want to be able to keep it for several years, and not have to be really careful every time you use it. You also don't want it to break during your journey, leaving you with all your belongings on the floor...

Durability is therefore a factor to take into account when buying your carry-on backpack. But how do you check the strength of a backpack?

  • Check which materials have been used
  • Check whether or not the seams have been reinforced
  • Check whether or not the bottom of the bag is reinforced, as this is often the area that rubs against things the most.
  • Check whether or not the bag's fastening seems strong enough (a wider zip is generally stronger).

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How to choose the best carry-on travel backpack

The compartments in the carry-on backpack

The compartments in a travel bag are essential if you want to organise your belongings in the best way possible. Carry-on travel backpacks often have several compartments so that you can pack your to clothes, toiletries, electronics and travel documents in an organised way.

  • Large central compartment: This is usually the largest compartment and is used to store clothes and other large objects. Some models have a separate compartment for dirty laundry.
  • Additional compartments: These are smaller and can be used to hold specific items, such as shoes, toiletries, travel documents, etc.
  • Laptop compartment: Some cabin travel backpacks have a padded pocket specifically designed to carry a laptop safely. This pocket is usually located as close to your back as possible for added protection.
  • External front pocket: This is a useful place to put items you want to have close to hand, such as a bottle of water, a travel guide, your phone, etc.
  • External top pocket: This pocket is ideal for storing items you need to access quickly and easily.
It's also really important to check whether or not the bag has secure pockets where you can put your valuable items. It's never a pleasant experience to have your belongings stolen when you're travelling because your bag isn't secure enough.

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The versatility of a good carry-on backpack

The best cabin travel backpack is one that is multi-purpose, so that you can use it in a variety of ways. It's a bag you can use for wandering around town, for hiking or even for going to work.

But how do you know if a travel backpack is versatile?

  • For hiking: the bag has a hip belt to distribute the weight between your back and hips, it is really comfortable on your back, and it has easy access to your water bottle.
  • For wandering around town: the pockets are secure and they give you easy access to all your things.
  • For going to work: you have a laptop compartment and you like the design of the bag.

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How the bag opens

Some travel backpacks have a suitcase-style opening: in two parts This type of opening makes it easier to pack your belongings and means you don’t have to always get everything out of your bag to retrieve your charger that is at the very bottom.

However, some people prefer a U-shaped backpack opening, especially if you need to get into the main compartment of your bag a lot during the day.

You'll need to think about the easiest way for you to access your belongings to determine which type of opening is best for you.

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Which backpack should I take as carry-on luggage? Our recommendations

The most popular cabin backpacks

Decathlon’s "Travel 500 Organizer" range of 40L travel backpacks is very popular with people travelling for an average of one to two weeks.
These bags are popular because of their size, their compartments and numerous functions, the security of the various pockets, the space for a computer, the suitcase-style opening and their all-round design.

Some reviews from verified buyers of the "Travel 500 Organizer" bag:

  • "Perfect for a week-long trip. The suitcase-style opening and compartments are very practical."
  • "An excellent product for everyday use: sports, work and travel"
  • "The perfect bag for a long weekend away, even if you’re going to the other side of the world."
  • "Great backpack that opens like a cabin bag, making it very practical for travelling on any airline. It has lots of compartments, which make packing a lot easier."
  • "A practical bag with lots of compartments. Perfect if you’re going on holiday for a week or even two. It can be used as your carry-on bag on the plane."
Check out our whole range of travel backpacks that can be used as carry-on luggage. Don't forget to check that the dimensions correspond to those authorised by the airline you wish to use.

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Recommended models for longer trips

If you're planning to be on the road for a month without a place to sleep every night, you'll need a larger travel bag. However, larger bags will be difficult to transport as hand luggage. There are two things you can do to avoid having to take another piece of luggage that will be a pain to carry around during your trip:

  • Take a larger travel backpack, which will go in the hold, with a removable pouch that you can use as a small backpack for the plane.
  • Take a compact, foldable 10-litre bag for the plane that will take up almost no space in your main bag once your plane journey is over and may still come in handy during your trip.

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Why is repairability also an important factor?

Even the most durable bags are susceptible to wear and tear from standard use or from something a little too sharp in the wrong place. That's why it's important to check whether the bag you're interested in is repairable and whether spare parts are available before you buy your bag. The parts of a bag that are most prone to wear and tear include:

  • The hip belt and the buckles
  • The shoulder straps
  • The elastic bands
  • The foam padding in the back
Self-adhesive or iron-on patches are available to cover any holes that may form after a snag.

Information on spare parts is not always readily available in shops for all brands, so you can ask a sales assistant or check the product sheet for the bag you're interested in.

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Carry-on backpack vs. carry-on suitcase: which one should you choose?

What type of luggage do I need: a carry-on suitcase or a carry-on backpack?

Choosing between a cabin suitcase and a cabin backpack is actually quite simple: all you have to do is identify your needs.

If you're planning to stay in one place for the duration of your trip and don't need to carry all your belongings with you, a cabin suitcase is perfect. You can take an ultra-compact backpack with you, which folds down to the size of a wallet. This gives you the option of taking a small backpack with you, even if you choose to take only a carry-on suitcase.

However, if you're planning to go on day trips, go hiking or to change accommodation regularly, a travel backpack with its many features and ingenious storage compartments will be perfect for you.

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What are the strengths and weaknesses of a carry-on backpack?

The advantages of a carry-on backpack:

  • Convenient to transport
  • Versatile
  • Comfort
  • Freedom of movement - Hands free
  • Light when empty
  • Affordable price
  • Protects your laptop
  • Keeps your personal belongings as close to you as possible
The disadvantages of a carry-on backpack:
  • You need to carry it all the time

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What are the strengths and weaknesses of a carry-on suitcase?

The advantages of a carry-on suitcase:

  • You can push/pull it along, which reduces the load you need to carry
  • Solid shell to protect your belongings
The disadvantages of a carry-on suitcase:
  • An empty carry-on suitcase generally weighs more than a carry-on backpack
  • Impractical when going up or down stairs
  • Impractical if you’re going on a walking holiday because you cannot walk around with it for hours on end
  • Can be used as cabin baggage, but not always as hand baggage

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Can I take a backpack and a carry-on suitcase?

Whether you can take a backpack AND a carry-on suitcase varies from one airline to the next. Some will allow you to take both, as long as your backpack is smaller than your carry-on suitcase. There is, therefore, no universal answer to this question, as each company sets its own rules. Low-cost airlines, for example, may charge you for an extra piece of cabin baggage.

The best way to find the answer to this question is to visit the website of the airline company you are planning to travel with.

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