The airline industry is known for being a highly competitive and low margin business, with the WSJ calculating a 9% profit margin in 2017 as “healthy.” growth for U.S. airlines.

As a result of the tight margins, we’re seeing airlines start to make more profit per passenger in extra surcharges, like baggage fees, seat fees, reservation-change fees, and all the other nickel-and-diming that we’ve grown to cherish every time we’re forced to take out our credit card again.

In the carry world, one consequence of this profit seeking game is the rise in checked bag fees (typically $30 per leg).

Combine this check bag fee with the macro trend in the digitization and minimization of the objects we carry, we’re seeing an increase in larger carry on backpacks and large bags (like duffels or weekenders) to accommodate for a traveler’s adapting lifestyle.

The growth of packing cubes

The rise of packing cubes also contribute to the wider trend in travel carry accessories. Packing cubes are not only great for organization, but more importantly for compression, so you can compress items and fit more into one bag.

In the past, while one might have been fine stuffing anything into a bag and carrying multiple luggages or carry on bags on the flight. There has been a recent trend stemming from the modular and tactical EDC movement that also lends itself to modular packing pieces for travelers.

The decline of the duffle bag

As a carry on travel bag, there also seems to be a decline in the use of duffle, since more people are opting for a larger travel backpack instead.

If your primary mode of travel is a plane, a duffle bag can be a less than ideal carry on item as it makes navigating through crowds and aisles more cumbersome, not to mention that it always occupies one hand, making a handsfree journey more difficult.

For many travelers, whether the trip is for business or leisure, we’re seeing more and more people opt for the combo of a carry on backpack paired with a checked in luggage or even just a single item carry on backpack instead.

For the business traveler

If you’re a frequent business traveler, having a single checked bag and a one bag business travel carry on seem like important travel carry essentials. Something that can you take you easily from the overhead bin to the board room.

The best carry on backpack must then be something that can fit all of your daily items while also having a look that you’d feel comfortable walking into a meeting with without looking like you just stepped out of a mountain expedition.

While this kind of a carry on backpack might be on a smaller side compared to the leisure traveler, there will probably be a focus on work related features.


Having a carry on backpack that has great compression features built in, whether that’s the ability to expand the bag or easily compress your clothes (via external packing cubes or built in features) is going to be useful.

Tumi was one of the early pioneers in this space and worked on some interesting projects when the common zeitgeist for travel bags was around optimizing for being lightweight.

Minimal travel backpacks that are minimal in both aesthetics and features are also gaining popularity as of late, similar to the rise in the minimalist wallet.

Bags with minimalist features that focus on compression are great because they force users to be very intentional with how they pack and how many items one can carry for their trip.


Having a carry on backpack that is made from wearable important is important for its use in contributing to the style and substance of a travel bag.

Wearable materials made from apparel like items such as wool or heathered or variegated materials are great for being comfortable and also looking presentable enough for any work meeting.

High quality leather, like full-grain leather is another classic material that’s great for a carry on backpack as it’s a versatile material due to its durability and stylish, timeless appearance.

Comfort is another aspect of wearability, and a great carry on backpack should have a thoughtful padded back system. While a waist strap or sternum strap might be an overkill for a professional look, having some sort of back padding made from EVA or EPE is an essential feature.

Easy organization

A simple design that keeps with a minimalist aesthetic is probably a desired look for many when considering a carry on backpack for travel as it’s a versatile style for both professional and leisure use.

Still, a backpack that has pockets on the outside for easy access are a must have, as they can make grabbing personal items like a passport, wallet, phone, or headphones easy. Bonus points if these easy access pockets are accessible without having to take the backpack off;

Like a great work backpack, a useful carry on backpack must also have some sort of separate compartment type organization for laptops and electronics — both for ease of access, and also for keeping the electronics safe from any spills or events that can occur in the main compartment.


Luggage sleeves for the back of your carry on backpack are great for convenience but also security, since you’ll have both of your travel bags tied together.

Safe pockets in the back of the backpack are also ideal for storing your passport and some travel carry on backpacks also have anti-theft zippers, whether they’re tucked away a flap on the bag or if they tuck into another slot in the backpack.

Final Thoughts

For travelers looking to find a carry on backpack that has versatile uses as both a business and leisure bag, keeping these ideas in mind can hopefully aide your search.

With the continued trend towards carrying less items, it will be interesting to see how brands adapt towards evolving consumer demands as the desire for both style and substance will be timeless.