Compare Travel Backpacks

 

If you’ve tried dragging a suitcase with cheap plastic wheels over the cobblestone streets of Europe, you know why rolling luggage doesn’t work in a city.

Cylinder-shaped packs for "backpackers" aren't much better. Since you pack them from the top, like a garbage bag, they leave your stuff a jumbled mess. They're also too big to be carried onto a plane, so you’re stuck with checked bag fees, the hassle of baggage claim, and the stress of lost luggage.

Zip past everyone at baggage claim and stay organized with a backpack designed for city travelers.

Table of Contents

Max sized or mid sized

Who should choose maximum-sized

Who should choose mid-sized

What Fits Inside

Which max-sized carry on should you buy

Which mid-sized carry on should you buy

Find the Best Travel Backpack for You

So… which one Should I get?

We hear that a lot. It can be tough to choose the best travel backpack for you when different models appeal to you for different reasons. By the end of this post, we hope you’ll be able to decide on the right carry on for your packing style, typical trip length, and type of travel.

Should I buy a maximum-sized carry on, or a mid-sized carry on?

This is the first consideration: how much packing space do you need?

A maximum-sized carry on maximizes the space airlines allow for carry on travel: 22" x 14" x 9". Typically, that translates to approximately 45L of packing space -- more than enough room for a week's worth of clothes and toiletries, plus small souvenirs.

A mid-sized carry on is slightly smaller than airlines' published dimensions and is a great choice for travelers looking for a more compact option. Typically, mid-sized carry ons range from 26-35L, which is enough packing space for 3-5 days of clothes and toiletries. If you a pro at packing light and don't need to bring bulky clothing (like sweaters or shoes), you can pack for about a week in a mid-sized carry on. 

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a maximum or mid sized carry on, move on to comparing feature sets to find the right model for you.

Who Should Choose a Maximum-Sized Carry On

Long-Term Travelers

If you’re packing for a long-haul trip, a maximum-sized carry on is probably for you. You’ll have enough room to bring everything you need for months (or years) on the road without checking a bag. While it’s possible to pack lighter for indefinite travel, it can be nice to have more options when you’re carrying everything you own on your back.

Max Packers

If you’re new to carry-on only travel, or like to bring a little more rather than just the bare essentials, a maximum-sized carry on is the right bag for your packing style. It’s tough to transition from checking a bag to traveling carry on only, and maximizing the space that airlines give you will make it easier.

Souvenir Buyers

If you typically pack light, but buy things on the road, a maximum-sized carry on is for you. Pack light on the way there, and you’ll have plenty of room in your bag for art and souvenirs on the way back.

Specialty Item Packers

If you need to travel with medical supplies, or prefer to bring a hair dryer, or often need extra outfits and shoes for special events during your trip, a larger carry on is probably right for you.

Who Should Choose a Mid-Sized Carry On

Budget Airline Flyers

If you frequently fly on budget airlines (like RyanAir) or on airlines with stricter requirements, consider a mid-sized carry on. We’ve flown on budget airlines with larger carry ons without issue, but it’s technically breaking their rules. If you mostly fly on budget airlines and want peace of mind at the gate, a smaller model is the way to go.

Minimalist Packers

If you’re a minimalist packer, a mid-sized carry on is probably for you, no matter the duration of your trip.

Short-Term Travelers

If most of your trips last for 3-5 days and you rarely travel for longer than a week, consider a mid-sized carry on. A larger bag might be too much bag.

What Fits Inside

Maximum-Sized Carry On:

Here’s a sample packing list for a maximum-sized carry on:

 

Mid-Sized Carry On:

Here’s a sample packing list for a mid-sized carry on:

TL;DR:

  Short Trip (<1 week) Long Trip (1-3 weeks) Really long trip (4 weeks +)
Average Packer Mid-sized Maximum-sized Maximum-sized
Average Packer + room for extras
Maximum-sized
Maximum-sized
Maximum-sized
Minimalist packer
Mid-sized
Mid-sized
Mid-sized
Minimalist packer 
+ room for extras
Mid-sized
Mid-sized
Maximum-sized

Which maximum-sized carry on should you buy?

We offer two maximum-sized carry on backpacks: the Setout Backpack and the Outbreaker Backpack .

Overview

The Outbreaker Backpack is a fully-featured backpack with premium ergonomics, obsessive organization, and highly technical materials.

It’s our most premium bag for a pro traveler. It has the most organization & padding out of all of our backpacks and features pro-level materials like waterproof sailcloth and an advanced, height-adjustable suspension system. The tradeoffs: it’s heavier and more expensive, and more pockets means that the main compartment can feel smaller. if you want one big open space, this isn't the right bag for you.

The Setout Backpack is an excellent choice for a more casual traveler and those who prefer a lighter carry.

Its internal organization is less demanding, it has more packing space in the main compartment, and is considerably more affordable. Maximize carry on requirements at the best value on the market. The tradeoffs: the outer fabric is less weather resistant, there is less internal organization, and the suspension system is not height-adjustable.

Materials

Setout uses a 900D polyester for the outside fabric. It feels soft in the hand and looks sleek and sophisticated up close. It doesn’t scream “tourist” like brightly-colored hiking bags. It has enough water-resistance for most situations, but it won’t be stormproof like Outbreaker, which uses waterproof sailcloth.

Outbreaker’s X-Pac waterproof sailcloth is more waterproof than traditional choices because it has four layers of protection. An ultrathin layer of PET acts as a waterproof barrier because it is a film, not a woven fabric. Sailcloth is also more durable than traditional materials, with abrasion resistance and fray prevention built into the fabric. It offers the best strength to weight ratio on the market.

Both backpacks feature YKK zippers and Duraflex buckles throughout – widely considered the best components on the market.

Ergonomics, Suspension System, and Fit

Setout uses injection-molded shoulder straps that will conform to your body and get more comfortable over time, just like sneakers. Tuck away Setout's shoulder straps into its back panel for protection when carrying your backpack down the aisle of the plane or when stowing it in an overhead bin. Rest assured your straps won’t get caught on other people’s luggage.

 

Outbreaker’s straps feature thick, soft padding and a more advanced, height-adjustable suspension system similar to those found on hiking backpacks. This makes it easier for people with longer or shorter torsos to find a more comfortable fit.

Setout will fit most torsos of 17-19” comfortably, while Outbreaker will fit most torsos of 16-20” comfortably. Find out how to measure your torso to determine which backpacks will fit you.

The tradeoff of a height-adjustable suspension system and thick padding is that Outbreaker’s shoulder straps cannot be tucked away. If you prefer stowaway straps to a highly adjustable suspension system, consider Setout.

Both the Setout Backpack and Outbreaker Backpack feature a padded, removable hip belt to transfer up to 80% of your backpack's weight to your hips. Stash your phone and boarding pass in the hip belt pockets while en route.

Electronics Compartment

Setout's laptop compartment holds your laptop & tablet as well as any other flat items you want to stay safe. It opens from the top and is easy to access while en route.

Outbreaker features a TSA-friendly lay-flat laptop compartment to help you speed through airport security as well as additional mesh compartments to organize your cables.

Organization

Setout and Outbreaker's main compartments open like a suitcase for easy organization, quick access, and painless unpacking. You’ll be able to pack on your bed or a luggage stand with ease.

Like Outbreaker, Setout's main compartment has two mesh organization panels for small stuff like socks and toiletries. Outbreaker contains additional side pockets in the main compartment for extra organization.

Both backpacks feature a pocket with an organization panel and sleeve for an e-reader, as well as a pocket in the front for flat items like travel documents or a small guidebook. Setout’s pocket extends to the bottom so you can store something like a light jacket in here. Outbreaker contains an additional pocket on the bottom front of the bag for extra organization.

 

Which mid-sized carry on should you buy?

Overview

We have two mid-sized carry on backpacks: the Setout Divide Backpack and the 35L Outbreaker Backpack. They're both good options for travelers who prefer internal organization.

The Setout Divide Backpack is an expandable backpack with just enough organization and padding.

The Outbreaker Backpack is a fully featured carry on with premium ergonomics. It has the more organization and padding and features pro-level materials like waterproof sailcloth and an advanced height-adjustable suspension system.  

Packing Space

In the 35L Outbreaker, you can pack for a week or more.

The Setout Divide is a compact 26L backpack that expands to 34L so you have extra space when you need it -- like for bringing home souvenirs.

Unexpanded, it can hold 3-5 days worth of clothing, toiletries, and accessories. Expanded, you can pack for a week or more.  

Materials

The Setout Divide uses a 900D polyester for the outside fabric. It feels soft in the hand and looks sleek and sophisticated up close. It doesn’t scream “tourist” like colorful hiking bags. It has enough water-resistance for most situations, but it won’t be stormproof like Outbreaker, which uses X-Pac waterproof sailcloth. The Setout Divide Rain Cover will offer an extra layer of protection for the Setout Divide to keep your gear safe.

Both backpacks use YKK zippers and Duraflex buckles throughout – widely considered the best components on the market.

Suspension system

When using the hip belt, the  Setout Divide will fit most torsos of 17-19” comfortably, while the 35L Outbreaker will fit most torsos of 16-20” comfortably. Find out how to measure your torso to determine which backpacks will fit you.

If you’re not using the hip belt, torso length is less important. It all depends how the bag feels on your body.

The Setout Divide uses injection-molded shoulder straps that will conform to your body and get more comfortable over time, just like sneakers.

Tuck away the Setout Divide’s shoulder straps into its back panel for protection when carrying your backpack down the aisle of the plane or when stowing it in an overhead bin. Rest assured your straps won’t get caught on other people’s luggage.

Outbreaker’s advanced, height-adjustable suspension system is similar to those found on hiking backpacks. This is ideal for folks who have longer or shorter torsos to find a more comfortable fit. The tradeoff of a height-adjustable suspension system and thick padding is that Outbreaker’s shoulder straps cannot be tucked away.

If you prefer stowaway straps to a highly adjustable suspension system, consider the Setout Divide.

Hip belt

The Setout Divide and Outbreaker both feature a removable hip belt to transfer up to 80% of your backpack’s weight to your hips. Stash your phone and boarding pass in the hip belt pockets for easy access while en route.

Organization

Outbreaker has two flat mesh organization panels for things like socks and toiletries as well as smaller side pockets in the main compartment for additional organization. Outbreaker also contains an organization panel on the front of the bag, and an additional zippered pocket on the bottom front of the bag for extra organization.

The Setout Divide features a pocket with an organization panel and sleeve for an e-reader, as well as a pocket in the front for flat items like travel documents or a small guidebook.

Accessing the main compartment

Outbreaker’s main compartment opens like a typical suitcase for easy organization, quick access, and painless unpacking.

The Setout Divide’s main compartment opens in the middle like a book with a built-in mesh compartment on one side to easily separate and organize your clothes.

You’ll be able to pack both backpacks on your bed or a luggage stand with ease.

Electronics compartment

The Setout Divide can fit a 15" Macbook, and the 35L Outbreaker can hold up to a 17" Macbook. The Setout Divide holds a 9.7” tablet, while the 35L Outbreaker holds up to a 13” tablet.

The electronics compartments on the Setout Divide opens from the top and is easy to access while en route. It holds your laptop & tablet as well as any other flat items you want to stay safe.

Outbreaker features a TSA-friendly lay-flat laptop compartment to help you speed through airport security as well as additional mesh compartments to organize your cables.

Water bottle pocket

Both backpacks’ water bottle pockets lay flat when not in use for a sleek, out-of-the way profile. The Setout Divide’s water bottle pocket unzips to fit larger water bottles.

When it's not your only bag

The Setout Divide and Outbreaker Backpack are ideal for light packers using it as their only bag. However, they all work well with companion products, too.

The Setout Divide is a great companion to a rolling suitcase. When wheeling through the airport with your rolling suitcase, slide your suitcase handle through the Divide’s back panel for a seamless trip to your gate.

The 35L Outbreaker pairs well with the Outbreaker Duffle, which packs away inside your carry on for luggage overflow on your way home.

Still have questions?

We’re here to help. If there’s anything you’re curious about that’s not answered on this page or any of the product pages, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to help you have a great trip.

Outbreaker 45L

Outbreaker Backpack

The fully-featured carry on for organized travelers

$269 or $299

Shop Now

Outbreaker 35L

Setout Backpack

The maximum-sized carry on for city travelers

$199

Shop Now

Setout Divide

Setout Divide Backpack

The expandable carry on for short trips

$179

Shop Now