15 Best Personal Carry-On Bags for Your Flight (2023)

backpacks as personal carry-on bags

We’ve all been there – finally settled into the seat when you realize your sweater – book – whatever – is in the overhead compartment. Your choice is now to do without your needed item, or squeeze back into the aisle, jostling your neighbors as you wrestle your bag from the packed bin, dig through it, and return, chastened, to your seat. Or you could choose the best personal carry-on bag, the one small underseat bag most airlines allow, and you’ll have everything you need at your fingertips. And won’t your trip be easier without annoyed seatmates?

What’s the difference between a carry-on and a personal item?

Most airlines allow full-priced passengers to bring two bags on board – a carry-on bag that is stowed in the overhead bin and a personal item that must fit under the airline seat in front of you.

airline underseat area for your personal carry-on item.

(NOTE: most airlines require those seated in emergency rows and those in the bulkhead seats stow all bags, including hand luggage, during takeoff and landing)

Examples of 2022 Personal Size Item specifications
Be sure to check with your airline for your flight’s in-cabin allowance.

American Airlines – 18″ x 14″ x 8″ (45 x 35 x 20 cm)
British Airways – 16″ x 12″ x 6″ ((45 x 35 x 20 cm)
JetBlue -17″ x 13″ x 8″ (43.2 x 33 x 20.3 cm)
Lufthansa – 15″ x 11″ x 3.9″ (40 x 30 x 10 cm)
United Airlines – 17″ x 10″ x 9″ (43 x 25 x 22 cm)

Skip the intro, go directly to the bags.

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How to choose the best personal bag for you

Consider YOUR air travel needs and carry ability

Contents: What do you need to have available during flight? (or want close at hand)

__ EDC – wallet, passport, travel essentials
__ Cell phone, tablet
__ Laptop – size?
__ Camera – type, lenses, etc.?
__ Reading material (for work or pleasure)
__ Headphones – size?
__ Water bottle, snacks

__ Children’s needs – diapers, toys, etc.
__ Medication/first aid supplies
__ Travel pillow
__ Light sweater, scarf, or wrap
__ Change of clothing
__ Toiletry bag

Versatility: how can you use the bag during your trip (or at home)

Will you be using the bag for meetings on business trips? Can it double as a travel purse or stylish tote while you’re exploring a new city? Will it work as a day bag for cruise excursions? Or will it be stored until the return flight?

Can you use the bag at home? Strongly consider a bag that’ll be useful in your day-to-day life!

Physical Carry: what’s best for you

Consider your destination. If you anticipate walking on cobblestone streets and climbing stairs with your bag, avoid a bag with wheels. If you will be heading to a damp climate, consider a water-resistant bag.

Consider your abilities. Be realistic about what you can carry and for how long. Choosing the right size bag is essential.

If you are planning on traveling carry-on only, prioritize the capacity of the bag.

Budget: what makes sense

IF you need to purchase a bag, set a firm budget for your bag. There are good bags in all price ranges.

Balance durability with price. If you’re a frequent traveler, you might spend more to get a bag that’ll last for years. If not, find a bag that works for you at a good price and don’t stress the quality.

Personal bag must fit under the seat in front of you on a flight.

What to look for in a personal item bag

  • Organization: Under the best of circumstances, accessing an under-seat bag is difficult. Having a well-organized bag with easy access to exterior pockets will make finding everything easier.
  • Zipper closures: Secure your bag to avoid having your items roll around the cabin during turbulence.
  • Multiple carry options: Carrying the bag as a backpack can be comfortable, but you won’t always be able to get that bag on your back (crowded subways…). Having other options is great!
  • Durability: Your bag may see some rough carry on your trip. Buying a well-made bag will insure you don’t have straps break or zippers fail. (As mentioned above, if you don’t travel often and don’t want to invest in an expensive bag, there are many durable but inexpensive bags that might work for you.)
  • Style: A bag that’s suited for the office is very different that what you’d bring to the beach…

Test pack your bag!

There’s no shortcut here. if you want to find a bag that’ll work as your personal item, you will need to see, pack, and test carry the bag. Borrow or buy the bags you are considering. (Make sure you can return the bag if it is not a good option.) Pack and test them at home, or better yet, in a mall where you can get a real feel for walking with a bag.

Make a packing list of what you expect to carry on your flight. If you plan on using your bag at home too, make a basic pack out for those uses as well. Carry the bag for at least 15 minutes to get an idea of how it feels on your shoulders and back. Practice taking the bag off and putting it on to see how easily you’ll be able to maneuver and get quick access to the bag.

Important: Be smart and considerate if it’s a possibility you’ll return the bag. Don’t put the bag down on dirty surfaces, remove tags, carry liquids, or do anything else that might damage the bag. A simple 15-minute walk around should leave the bag in an unused condition.

personal item for camera carry can be used at your destination.

Disclosure: Unless noted, I have tried and tested these bags. None of these bags have been given (or discounted) to Traveling Tulls for review. This post contains affiliate links.

15 best personal items bags for every trip

For most US and International Airlines allow dimensions that add up to 36″ (90 cm) The following bags will likely be accepted without question. If you are pushing the limit on bag size, choose a dark color to be less conspicuous:

Best personal item bags with wheels

Anytime you add wheels to a bag it becomes more difficult to fit under the seat in front of you. (Especially if you’re unlucky enough to get a AV box mounted under that seat). But for some, having a rolling suitcase is essential. If my carry-on for the overhead compartment is a large backpack or duffel, having a rolling tote to load the larger luggage on makes getting around the airport a lot easier.

Samsonite Underseat Carry-On Spinner with USB port

  • Dimensions: 16.5″ x 13.75″ x 9″
  • Weight: 5.6 pounds | 2.45 kg
  • Capacity:
  • Price [2023] – $$ – See on AMAZON

I will always pick a spinner case as four wheels are so much easier to roll through the airport and along the narrow plane aisle. I haven’t traveled with this bag (yet!) but love the wide front packet, and the fact that the laptop sleeve is removable. There is also a USB port (just a port, no built-in battery) which is handy for quick charges.

Travelpro Rolling Tote

  • Dimensions: 16″ x 13.75″ x 8.5″
  • Weight: 5.5 pounds | 2.45 kg
  • Capacity: 32 liters
  • Price [2022] – $$ – See on AMAZON

Travelpro is a great brand and this bag seems to be well thought out. It’s one of the lightest rollers out there, which is important as no matter that it rolls, there will ALWAYS be times when you need to lift the bag.

Best lightweight personal item bags

Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Tote Pack.

Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Tote Pack

  • Style – 🎒 backpack
  • Dimensions 13.5″ x 10.25″ x 8″
  • Weight 0.81 lbs. | .37 kg.
  • Volume – 27 L
  • Laptop/Device Carry
  • Price [2022] – $99

I love this bag for light travel. It’s basically a black hole (as the name implies) but I can fill it with all my inflight necessities: neck pillow, kindle, tablet, purse, one day packing cube, etc. Then at my destination I can use it as a tote or day pack BUT I can also fold it up and put it away. Especially helpful if touring and bags are being ported from one place to another.

Pros: lightweight, made from 100% recycled materials, front pocket, zip and cinch closure, packs flat inside your luggage.

Cons: little structure and support.

Classic tote from Lands End.

Lands End – Travel Carry on Tote Bag

  • Style – tote
  • Dimensions 18″ x 15″ x 6″
  • Weight – 1.25 lbs. | .57 kg.
  • Volume – 28 L
  • Laptop/Device Carry
  • Price $ – See on AMAZON

Pros: inexpensive, very durable, spacious main compartment, useful at home as well as when traveling, trolley sleeve.

Cons: very basic, no internal organization, likely too large for most airlines unless under-packed,

Osprey daylite plus, very lightweight backpack for travel

Osprey Daylite Plus backpack

  • Style – 🎒 Backpack
  • Dimensions – 18″ x 10″ x 9″
  • Weight – 1.2 lbs. | .54 kg.
  • Volume – 20 L
  • Laptop/Device Carry – sleeve for tablet or hydration pack
  • Price $ – See on AMAZON

Pros: very lightweight and roomy, one external pocket and a ‘shove-it’ pocket for stashing a jacket or scarf while going through security. Will attach to a larger bag like the Osprey Farpoint.

Cons: not designed for long carry. no laptop compartment.

Osprey Daylite Tote Pack

  • Style – 🎒 Backpack
  • Dimensions 17″ x 15″ x 8.25″
  • Weight – 1.18 lbs. | .54 kg
  • Volume – 20 L
  • Laptop/Device Carry – 15″ laptop
  • Price $ – See on AMAZON

Pros: two carry options, water bottle pockets

Cons: little built-in organization

Disclaimer: I am recommending based on my experience with other bags in the Daylite line.

Patagonia Atom Tote Pack

  • Style – 🎒 Backpack
  • Dimensions 16″ x 12″ x 5″
  • Weight – 1.45 lbs. | .65 kg
  • Volume – 20 L
  • Laptop/Device Carry – 13″ laptop
  • Price [2022] – $89

A lightweight, small backpack ideal for women. This bag features removable tech sleeve for laptop, chargers, etc. Removing this bag leaves a wide-open space ideal for beach outings, etc.

Pros: Multiple carry options (backpack or tote), breathable back panel, compact size is ideal for those with small frames, multiple color options


I haven’t tried this G4 Free backpack, but have heard great things about it. Well organized, very lightweight, and so colorful it’d be hard to leave behind on the plane. At 40 L it larger than the usual personal size bag but is ‘squishable’ enough that you should be able to fit it under the seat. There is a smaller 20L size as well: G4 Free packable backpack

Best midweight personal Item Totes

Away luggage everything tote bag for carry on

Away – Everywhere bag

  • Dimensions – 16.3″ x 10.2″ x 7.3″
  • Weight – 2.75 lbs. | 1.25 kg
  • Volume– 20 L
  • Laptop/Device Carry – 15″ laptop
  • Price [2022] – $195

Pros: wide opening for easy access (like a doctor’s bag), trolley sleeve, large capacity tote.

Cons: heavy for carry capacity

Disclaimer: have not traveled with this bag

Lo and Sons OMG medium tote

Lo & Sons O.M.G.  

  • Dimensions – 16.5″ x 13.75″ x 6″
  • Weight – 2.6 lbs. | 1.2 kg
  • Volume – 25 L
  • Laptop/Device Carry – 13″ laptop
  • Price [2022] – $226 (on sale)

This bag (O.M.G – Overnight Medium Gym bag) is well organized with a separate compartment for shoes (or gym clothes), pockets within pockets (great idea for security!)and padded compartment for your laptop.

Pros: trolley sleeve, elegant design, comfortable messenger strap, separate shoe/dirty clothing compartment

Cons: The height of the bag makes a tight fit under airplane seats.

Best midweight personal item backpacks

Pacsafe Citysafe 17L personal item

Pacsafe Citysafe 17 L

  • Style: 🎒 Backpack
  • Dimensions-15.4″ x 10.6″ x 5.9″
  • Weight-1.54 lbs. | .7 kgs.
  • Volume– 17 L
  • Laptop/Device Carry – 15″ laptop
  • Price $$ – See on AMAZON

Pacsafe specializes in bags with security features. This bag has lockable zippers, slash proof straps, and RFID shielding. Despite the focus on security the bag is elegant and suitable for business or city travel.

Pros: security features, wide opening, trolley sleeve, front compartment with built in organizations

Cons: Shoulder straps are padded but lightly. Wish it had a place to attach a shoulder strap.

A similar bag, but without the security features, is the Baggallini Soho Backpack. I was truly torn between which bag I should recommend, as they’re both stylish and easy to carry. The Baggallini is a bit lighter and less expensive, so if you don’t need the security features you might want to try this bag.

Vera Bradley convertible backpack as a personal item for a flight

Vera Bradley Lay Flat Convertible Backpack

  • Style – 🎒 backpack
  • Dimensions 16.3″ x 10.2″ x 7.3″
  • Weight – 2.85 lbs. | 1.29 kgs.
  • Volume – 20L
  • Laptop/Device Carry – 15″ laptop
  • Price $$ – See on AMAZON

This bag will appeal to Vera Bradley quilted fabric fans.

Pros: multiple interior pocket, opens flat for ease of packing. multiple carry options

Cons: No small, secure outside pocket for quick access to phones, etc. Fabric offers little structure.

Tom Bihn Synik 22

  • Style – 🎒backpack
  • Dimensions – 16″ x 11.4″ x 9.4″ / 410 x 290 x 240 mm
  • Weight – 2.6 lbs. | 1.2 kg
  • Volume – 22L
  • Laptop/Device Carry – 13″ MacBook
  • Price $$$ [2022] – $310

This is my go-to pack. The bag is well-made and very durable. The external pockets make organizing easy. I pack chargers, etc., in the chin pocket, and everything else I’ll need in flight in the other pockets. No need to pull out the whole bag to access anything.

Pros: 5 external pockets for ease of access, trolley sleeve, padded laptop sleeve, clamshell opening, adjustable straps, comes in various colors

Cons: price, weight, the trolley sleeve (luggage pass through sleeve) can be difficult to use depending on the handle size of your rolling luggage.

NOTE: the Synapse 19 is a simpler version of this bag, with no laptop compartment or clamshell opening. It still has the great organizational pockets but is much lighter.

Best personal item bags for camera carry

Camera bags offer different systems for accessing equipment. What bag you choose will depend on how YOU are comfortable working with your camera equipment. These three bags double as airline personal items, but there are lots of other great camera bags we recommend for travel.

Lowepro Photo Hatchback 16 L

  • Style – 🎒📷 camera backpack
  • Dimensions – 18″ x 10.8″ x 7.3″
  • Weight – 1.8 lbs. | .8 kg.
  • Volume – 16 L
  • Laptop/Device Carry – 8″ tablet sleeve
  • Price $ – See on AMAZON

I love this bag for nature traveling. The camera basket is accessible from the rear of the bag giving extra security. To access the camera while standing, you remove the shoulder straps and swing the bag down in front of you.

The top of the bag has enough room for an jacket, snacks, and other items making this a well-organized bag to carry on excursions.

Pros: inexpensive, durable, functional pockets and device sleeves.

Cons: Only fits a minimal camera setup.

Wandrd Prvke 21L

  • Style – 🎒📷camera backpack
  • Dimensions – 43 x 28 x 17 cm / 17 x 11 x 6.5 in
  • Weight – 2.8 lbs. | 1.3 kg
  • Volume – 21 L (25 L with the roll-top extended)
  • Laptop/Device Carry – 15″ MacBook, separate tablet sleeve
  • Price $$$ [2022] – $219 ($299 with photography bundle)

Camera can be accessed from a discreet side pocket or by opening the bag fully.

Pros: well cushioned and ventilated back panel, water resistant, hidden passport pocket, luggage pass-through

Cons: price, especially as the photography bundle is an add-on

Disclaimer: I base my recommendation on the Wandrd 6L Sling which I really like. I am intrigued by the roomier Prvke but have not had the opportunity to try it. I like the slim profile and the potential for expansion offered by the roll top.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack zip

  • Style – 🎒📷camera backpack
  • Dimensions – 17.5″ x 10.5″ x 7.9″
  • Weight – 3.4 lbs. | 1.54 kg
  • Volume – 15 L
  • Laptop/Device Carry – 13″ laptop
  • Price $$ – Price on AMAZON

Peak Design Everyday Backpack zip comes in 2 sizes – 15L and 20L. This is the smaller size. Peak Design also offers the Everyday Backpack (latches instead of zips) in two sizes – 20L and 30L.

Camera is accessed from the either side of the bag. A continuous zipper allows the user to set up the zips as works best for them.

Pros: elegant design, cushioned handles on top and sides, internal dividers allow use to customize their setup.

Cons: price, weight for volume.

What to do about a Personal Item if you’re traveling on a very restrictive airline

Some budget airlines are eliminating the personal item altogether for passengers in coach. In this situation, I stash my minimal flight needs into a smaller bag which will fit inside our bigger bag. Once onboard, I slip the smaller bag into my seat pocket for the flight. Many bags will serve this purpose but a brightly colored bag is harder to leave behind in a seat pocket!

small backpack on mountainside. example of a personal sized bag
Photo by Yaroslav Konyk on Unsplash

Tom Bihn Packing Cube Shoulder Bag – our favorite bag within a bag. This lightweight bag has zipped closures, and can be used at our destination as a shoulder bag, a camera bag, or whatever.

A large cosmetic bag may be perfect for your in-seat needs, and is quite inexpensive! Test the size to see if your gadgets, and EDC fit. Consider using a toiletry bag. Some have hooks that you can use to attach to your tray table and pockets for all your gear.

Look for seat back organizers. Some are easy to stow in your larger carry-on but can be pulled out for your seat pocket.

Tortuga Setout 19L packable backpack – made from ripstop nylon material, this pack folds into a tiny package, but has mesh pockets for water bottles and a zippered outside pocket. (8 oz., 5 x 11 x 17, $39)

I hope this A-list guide has helped you discover a personal item sized bag that’ll work for you. Do you have a favorite bag you reach for every trip? What determines what you carry?

This article contains referral links. Read our DISCLOSURE.

TravelingTulls is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. We are not provided with any products by Amazon but receive a small fee if you purchase an item through our link.

TravelingTulls has not been given any of the products listed for review.

Choose the best personal item for your flight to maximize your baggage allowance
Best carry-on personal items for your next trip. Tried and traveled bags with organization and durability for travel. #travelbags #airlinepersonalbag #travel #womenstravel

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Amy, a writer on responsible bucket list travel, is your reliable source for insightful travel advice. With a career background in libraries, and a degree in biology and mathematics, Amy's approach to travel is rooted in meticulous research and planning, and her commitment to eco-conscious adventures.

Amy’s dedication to sustainable travel practices, including efficient packing techniques, ensures that every adventure leaves a positive impact on both the environment and the traveler's well-being. Trust Amy to guide you towards meaningful and eco-friendly travel, making the most of your retirement years.

A lifelong New England resident, Amy is also the source for insider tips on travel in the Northeastern U.S.

One thought on “15 Best Personal Carry-On Bags for Your Flight (2023)

  1. Lug bags found at Luglife. com are great travel bags. They are sturdy, well-made and reasonably priced. Highly recommend these bags.

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