Nota bene: If you buy through the links in this article, we may earn a small share of the profits.
Earlier this year, an airport lounge service called Priority Pass asked travelers to name the most anxiety-inducing part of a day at the airport. Of the 1,700 respondents, 49% chose “baggage collection.”
We get it. Paying exorbitant fees to hand over your favorite shirts and pants to a team of strangers, who should, but might not, safely deliver it to your end-destination (where you’ll collect it from a revolving metal tray with absolutely zero security) is a ludicrous prospect. We all do it, though, because we want access to as much of our stuff as possible, at all times.
With a reliable carry-on, though, you can cut out that stressful process. Remember, the vast majority of airlines allow a “small personal item,” commonly understood as a small duffle or backpack, in addition to your carry-on. Streamline your packing (bring less shoes, buy toiletries when you touch down) and hammer that method for weekenders or trips home over the holidays.
Helping your case? A decent carry-on. We’re experiencing a bit of a golden age for bags at the moment, with young challengers like Away and Solgaard challenging stalwarts like Filson and Topo Designs, so if you can picture it, it’s probably out there. We’ve taken the liberty of assembling 10 of the best in the game right now. Some of these bags are duffels, others are backpacks and for a few, it’s a toss-up. But they all fit in an overhead compartment, they all have more compartments than they know what to do with, and they will make your traveling experience undeniably easier.
Filson Duffel Backpack Hybrid
The iconic 122-year-old Seattle brand started out as an outfitter for Alaskan expeditions, and Filson’s duffel backpack blends the forest-hacking look of those early beginnings with modern specs, including a ballistic nylon exterior, a laptop pocket, a “mud pocket” (for keeping dirty clothes separate) and a bevy of helpful straps and handles. Put this one through the ringer; it’s asking for it.
Aer Travel Duffel
Aer wins all sorts of awards from Carryology (damn right that’s a real thing) thanks to their compartment-packed commuter bags and Dopp kits. Their Travel Duffel has the sporty aesthetic of a gym bag, and would fit right in with your go-to activewear flight outfit. It’s built for the airport, though, with an exterior material originally used for military body armor, lockable zippers and a quick-access top pouch for travel documents.
Topo Designs Travel Bag
Duffels that double as backpacks are the best. This 40L Topo Designs Travel Bag zips all the way down on either side (also known as a U-shape entry) allowing you to spread it out on the hotel floor and access a couple outfits over the course of a weekend. As always with Topo, the color scheme leans young and fun in all the right ways.
Everlane Mover Pack
Luggage is insanely priced. Even the resident market-disruptor, Away, will burn a hole in your wallet. Everlane’s made matters a little easier here, mimicking the approach it’s applied to sweatshirts and tees. The 45L Mover Pack is constructed from a water-resistant nylon and polyester blend, and is intentionally spartan. There’s a main compartment that can fit about five stacked-up shirts alongside a couple jeans, a shoe compartment, and a couple mesh pockets.
Speaking of Away … their products may be pricey, but the acclaim is real. They dropped this canvas Weekender earlier in the year as their first non-hardshell bag, and it’s a beaut, with leather accents throughout. Away designed it specifically to fit in overhead compartments, and included an exterior sleeve that allows it to slide onto checked baggage. Should make braving that long check-in line a little easier.
State Bags Felix Duffle
New York-based State Bags is know for urban explorer-style backpacks and a committed social justice element (which started off in the Toms one-for-one ilk, but has expanded to involvement in specific campaigns, like discrimination around mental illness). As it turns out, they also know how to make a duffle. This one’s great for an overnight stay; it’s 100% cotton and doesn’t have a laptop sleeve. Think one-two changes of clothes, an extra pair of shoes, and your phone charger.
Wandrd Prvke Series
Wandrd started out as a Kickstarter project to perfect the camera bag for travel. National Geographic is now a fan, thanks to backpacks like the 31L Privke Series. This bag is stuffed with all manner of function meant to make lugging a camera around easier: roll tops, easy side access, a tripod pocket. (See a few different angles here.) That said, it’s just a good bag, and you can do whatever the hell you want with it. Bring it on a plane and use that excess camera space for more snacks.
Matador Cordura Transit Packable Duffel
This 30L bag inexplicably packs down to the size of a wallet. Seriously. It’s similar to a packable rain jacket — the exterior is ripstop nylon coated in silicon — and weighs just five ounces. It’ll probably get its best action in Iceland (the promo photos agree) but for light packers, or those who like to disperse their stuff across a smaller duffel and a backpack, this is also a good option. Probably the easiest bag to fit in the overhead compartment here, too.
Hudson Sutler Commuter Duffel
Our Creative Director actually uses this banker bag-reminiscent duffel as his gym bag. He’s brought it to workouts (via subway) for four straight years, which is enough to convince us that it can handle a mini vacation once in a while, especially when it looks that clean. Check out the other color combos here; they’re awesome.
Solgaard Hustle Backpack
Solgaard’s another Kickstarter darling, only a couple years young. This brand thinks of literally everything. Its backpacks comes with a patented anti-theft lock, a USB port for you to charge your phone (far better than plugging it in at the airport), the laptop is plush and “drop proof,” which means it won’t swim around while you’re moving, and there are four secret pockets to store important cards or your passport. And oh yeah — that’s a bottle opener on the front flap.
We've put in the work researching, reviewing and rounding up all the shirts, jackets, shoes and accessories you'll need this season, whether it's for yourself or for gifting purposes. Sign up here for weekly style inspo direct to your inbox.