Let’s be honest: Traveling with only a carry-on confers some bragging rights. It’s no easy feat conforming to airlines’ baggage requirements, especially for longer trips, those that require specific technical gear, or international trips. Managing to pare down your packing list and commit to carry-on only can provide peace of mind, convenience, and financial savings. Whether you want to be sure your favorite pants or entire stash of underwear doesn’t go missing between conveyor belt and belly of the plane, like the freedom of walking straight from the plane to the street, or just feel a sense of satisfaction bypassing everyone who has to spend their first few minutes in a new city at baggage claim, traveling with only a carry-on is worth it.

Successfully traveling with only a carry-on is often times as much about your bag choice as it is about what you put in it. Either a backpack or wheeled suitcase can work well, depending on the type of trip you’re taking. Here’s what to look for if you’re in the market for a bag you can carry on with ease.

Check the Dimensions

This might seem like carry-on only 101. Obviously, if you’re seeking a bag to carry on a plane, you need to ensure that airlines will actually allow you to do so. As a general rule, 45 liters is the absolute maximum capacity backpack or duffel you can fit in the overhead bin. However, not all 45-liter bags fall within with airline’s dimension restrictions.

The most common size requirement for a carry-on bag is 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches. However, you should check with the specific airlines you plan on flying to ensure your bag abides by their standards. Backpacks and duffle bags have a little bit more leeway—soft-sided bags are easier to squish into a space, particularly if they’re not 100-percent full.

Keep in mind that you’ll be carrying that bag through potentially vast airport terminals—make sure you have something you’re comfortable hauling.
Will Saunders

Consider the Security Process

Easy access to a laptop compartment is the paramount concern. Not only does a dedicated pouch keep your laptop protected, it’s also usually located in a place you can quickly open when you’re trying to take off your shoes with one hand and wrangle your electronics into their own bin with the other.

Another pocket or pouch to stash your boarding pass, passport or ID, and phone within reach can make your time in transit at the airport a whole lot less hectic. Plus, a dedicated place for your most important items lessens your chances of misplacing them. Our adventure travel packs are designed to have padded laptop sleeves to keep your electronics both safe and accessible.

Look for Compression Straps

Truly traveling carry-on only means fitting in everything from puddle jumpers to 747s. Compression straps can minimize the size of your bag and maximize the places you can take it.

Roller bags, particularly hardcase ones, are less malleable. Internal compression straps on these types of bags can be just as useful: They allow you to pack more in.

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Different airlines have different size requirements for carry-on bags. Do some research to be sure the effort you put into your careful packing pays off.
Matthew Smith

Prioritize Organization

To pack small is to pack efficiently. If that doesn’t come naturally to you, bags with large and small internal pockets will make packing a more straightforward process and prevent your belongings from seeming to multiply exponentially in size when you go to pack them up again. A bevy of pockets also keep electronics and important documents safe and clothes clean. The ActiveShield compartment in our travel bags separates dirty or wet items from the rest of your belongings, ensuring the two (and their odors) don’t mix.

Test for Comfort

Since you’re not dropping your bag at the check-in counter, you’ll be carrying it with you onto airport shuttles, across terminals, in line to board, and through immigration and customs. Choosing a bag that’s comfortable to carry, or smooth to roll, becomes that much more important—even if you’re not also hauling it up trails once you get to your destination. Backpacks need to fit your torso length properly, and a hip belt takes a lot of the weight off your shoulders (literally). Hard-case luggage, like four-wheeled suitcases, can be pulled behind or alongside you.

3zfKQBOEucysIQkcKOmoKMNo matter how well you plan, you may still have to check your bag when you get on the plane Ross Parmly

Have a Plan B

Try as you might, factors outside your control can prevent you from carrying your bag on the plane. Some tiny regional jets have minimal overhead bin space, and by the time your boarding group is called, the airline attendants may require you to check your bag at the gate. A backpack with stowable straps means they’re protected from becoming caught in the conveyor belt in the event that you do need to check your bag. With adventure travel packs, travelers can adjust the bag to fit their needs, whether it be to check it safely, carry it comfortably or secure it from potential theft.

Or maybe you picked up a few more Chilean textiles than you anticipated. (You can count that as something outside your control, too.) Luggage with expandable zippers makes room for those extra purchases and gives you some leeway in case your load becomes a little heavier on the return.

Written by Sarah Corsa for RootsRated in partnership with Gregory Mountain Products.

Featured image provided by Will Saunders