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With flights becoming more expensive in recent years, travellers are always looking for new ways to save money.
Adding luggage, especially suitcases, to a flight can drastically raise the price. Is a backpack a carry on?
This is a common question as travelling with only hand luggage is a great workaround to getting cheaper flights.
As a full-time traveller, and as someone who travels exclusively with a backpack, I am here to answer your question about a backpack as hand luggage.
So let’s get into it.
Is a Backpack a Carry On?
If you are looking for a quick answer, or a one-size-fits-all answer, unfortunately you won’t get one to this question.
Because the answer to “is a backpack a carry on” is simply: it depends on the backpack.
Airlines have rules and restrictions as to what bags classify as hand luggage or a carry on, and it depends on the size of the bag.
A small schoolbag-type backpack will 100% be allowed as a carry on.
A 60L hiking backpack, probably won’t be allowed on.
For example, Ryanair’s free baggage (personal item) allowance is 40x20x25 centimetres. You can definitely fit backpacks within this range. I know I have, many times.
I suppose then a valid answer to the question would be: yes, as long as it is within the size ranges classed as a carry on.
What I will say, is that airlines are a lot less likely to question someone with a backpack (within reason) that is oversized, than someone with a solid case that is oversized.
There have been many occasions where I have flown with Ryanair in Europe and have been 5cm or so, sometimes even more, above the limit and they haven’t batted an eyelid. But if someone has a hardback shiny mini suitcase, they are more likely to be checked. So having a backpack that’s too big is better in this scenario.
Top Tip: Don’t join the queue for the flight as soon as boarding begins. Staff walk up and down the queues to check for oversized baggage. If you wait until the queue is almost finished, and then join the back, you are likely to avoid having your bag questioned. It’s one of my favourite backpacking hacks.
Most airlines allow you to upgrade your carry on luggage so you can, in theory, bring any backpack on as carry on luggage, you just might have to pay extra as it is larger than your free carry on allowance.
There are backpacks designed especially to be used as carry on bags. They fit the maximum dimensions exactly, and allow you to make the most of hand luggage allowances.
Is a backpack a personal item?
Most personal items are the same size as traditional carry-on items, so yes, a backpack is classed as a personal item.
As I said above, Ryanair’s free baggage, which is known as a personal item is 40x20x25 centimetres. You can definitely fit backpacks within this range. I know I have, many times.
In fact, there is actually a backpack designed exactly for this size. Take a look…
The Best Carry On Backpack
There is only one backpack that I use when I take a flight and that is the Cabin Max Metz 20L Cabin Bag. It’s designed to fit Ryanair’s size requirements, but it fits most other airlines too as Ryanair is one of the stricter companies.
I can’t recommend it enough, it allows me to make the most of my allowance, and one of the best parts is that it unzips like a suitcase, allowing me to pack it well.
Of course, I follow the best packing tips for packing light such as rolling my clothes instead of folding them and the classic trick of having my underwear in my neck pillow.
I’m not just saying it for the sake of it, I can personally recommend the Cabin Max Metz 20L Cabin Bag and I mean it wholeheartedly. Whether it’s a day trip, a weekend or a month of travel, I always pack the same stuff and this bag fits it also perfectly.
It’s comfortable too. I try not to have to bring my main bag with me but there are times when I have got stuck and have had to spend a full day carrying it around and it wasn’t an inconvenience at all, it was actually really comfy and didn’t hurt my back at all.
Another feature I really like is the straps on the side which you can tighten to pack everything tighter together and make the bag smaller, so if you are over the limits originally (it can stretch if you REALLY stuff it with stuff), it will likely shrink back down once you tighten it.
If you need a backpack to act as a carry on, the Cabin Max Metz 20L Cabin Bag is the bag for you.
Is a Backpack a Carry On: FAQ
Below are some questions related to “Is a backpack a carry on?” along with my answers.
Generally, hiking backpacks are pretty large in size if they are more than 30-40L. They can be taken as a carry on, but they most likely won’t be included in your free allowance, you’ll have to pay extra to take it as a carry on. Make sure to check your airline’s policy before flying.
While any backpack can be taken as a carry on for the most part, most airlines restrict the size of your free carry on baggage. For larger backpacks, generally over 20L, you’ll have to pay extra to take it as a carry on. Make sure to check your airline’s sizing guide before arriving at the airport.
As a general rule of thumb, backpacks under 20L are allowed as free carry on baggage. Most airlines will charge extra to take larger backpacks on as carry on luggage.
Yes, a 60L backpack can be taken as a carry on. But since it is a larger bag, you will most likely have to pay extra depending on the airline. As there is a limit on the size of your free carry-on baggage.
Yes, a backpack can be a carry-on on Delta planes, providing it is within the 22″ x 14″ x 9″ size limit as per the FAA regulations.
Yes, a backpack can be a carry-on on American Airlines planes, providing it is within the 22″ x 14″ x 9″ size limit as per the FAA regulations.
Frontier allows carry-on baggage up to 24 x 16 x 10 inches so as long as your backpack is within this size range, you can take it as hand luggage.
United Airlines’ carry-on allowance is 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in. (22 cm. x 35 cm. x 56 cm.) so providing your backpack is within this limit, you can take it as a carry-on.
Final Thoughts: Is a Backpack a Carry On
And there you have it, a complete guide to “Is a backpack a carry on?“
Remember, the answer is that it depends on the backpack.
Typically, backpacks under 20L will be fine as carry on bags.
Backpacks larger than this, can still be used as a carry on, but you will have to pay extra.
Once again, is a backpack a carry on? It depends. Happy travels! 🙂