Travel Bags for One-Bag Travel (2023 Edition)

North Face Base Camp Duffel (Small): Everybody’s got their favorite go-to bag for travel, and the North Face Base Camp Duffel is mine. I’ve taken this on numerous overseas trips and beach vacations. This thing is bomb-proof, (mostly) waterproof, and versatile. I don’t have to think twice about setting it down on the ground or tossing it into the back of a tuk-tuk. This thing is designed to withstand abuse.

And don’t let the “small” size mislead you. This duffel has a whopping 50-liter capacity, which is more than enough room for me to pack a month’s worth of clothing and gear. I usually try to keep my stuff pared down to where I can fit everything into a 30-liter bag and rarely pack the duffel to its full 50-liter capacity. Anything beyond that, and more often than not, I’ll bring along my Tumi satchel to carry any electronics and miscellaneous snacks, notepad, and travel documentation, etc. I guess you could say I’m more of a one-and-a-half bag traveler.

The weird thing is, the Base Camp Duffel doesn’t look like a huge bag. You’ve seen those backpackers lugging their overstuffed “one-bag” backpacks down Khao San Road or through airport terminals. Even though the packs they’re carrying are 40- or 50-liter bags and can technically fit into an overheard bin on a plane, they look like over-burdened turtles carrying its house on its back or sherpas trudging tourist gear up the side of Everest. Poor souls sweating and struggling like beasts of burden. To me, those huge carry-on packs defeat the purpose of the “one-bag” mentality, which is: travel fast, travel light.

The Base Camp Duffel doesn’t have this problem. If you’ve got the compression straps adequately tightened and the bag packed appropriately, it has a sleek, low profile look when worn backpack style. And it fits easily into on overheard bin on most airlines. (Full disclosure: When I was traveling through Malaysia and Thailand earlier this year, I didn’t feel like lugging it throught the airport — I was feeling a little lazy, a little “sabai, sabai” — so I went ahead and checked it.)


Kelty Redwing 44: Kelty is another one of my preferred backpack brands, although I haven’t yet taken my Redwing on any one-bag adventures yet. I own both the 50-liter and the tactical 44-liter versions. I think both would fit just fine in an overheard bin on a plane. I’ve stood each next to a 22-inch rollaway suitcase, and they’re both about an inch or so smaller. As always….do your own research and verify the actual measurements yourselves!


I’ve always liked how Kelty’s packs fit on me. I’ve tried numerous other backpack brands, but Kelty, along with North Face, are the packs that always feel the most comfortable. But as usual….YMMV.


Osprey Farpoint 40: This is a versatile and widely recommended backpack with a detachable daypack. It meets many airline carry-on size requirements, making it suitable for one-bag travel. It has a comfortable harness system and organization features.


Patagonia Black Hole MLC 40L: This travel duffle/backpack hybrid is durable and weather-resistant. Its clamshell design and ample storage space make it suitable for travelers looking for rugged versatility.


Peak Design Travel Line Backpack 45L: Designed with photography gear in mind, the Peak Design Travel Backpack is modular and highly customizable. It features quick access points and adjustable organization options.


Cotopaxi Allpa 35L: This backpack offers a unique blend of style and function. It’s designed for easy packing and access, with a suitcase-style opening, and is equipped with a variety of useful features for travelers.


Nomatic 40L Travel Bag: The Nomatic Travel Bag is known for its sleek design and clever organization. It has innovative features like a shoe compartment that can be converted into extra space and a magnetic water bottle pocket.


Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP35: If security is a concern, the Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP35 offers anti-theft features such as lockable zippers and RFID-blocking pockets. It’s suitable for travelers who prioritize safety without compromising on functionality.

When choosing a backpack for one-bag travel, consider factors such as size, weight, comfort, durability, organization, and your own travel preferences. It’s also a good idea to try on backpacks if possible or read user reviews to get a sense of how well they fit your body and travel needs.