Does a Backpack Count as a Carry-On or Personal Item?

backpack personal item

Written by Rebecca Treon on

Rebecca Treon is a Denver-based freelance food and travel writer. She has two children who are learning to be intrepid travelers like their mom. When she’s not busy adventuring with her family, Rebecca can be found experimenting in the kitchen or attempting to have a green thumb.

backpack personal item

How To Use Your Backpack as Your Personal Item

Is a backpack a personal item? The right sized backpack can be used as your personal item with no problem. Stow your carry on backpack pack beneath the seat and fill it with all the essentials for fuss-free, easy travel.

There’s nothing quite like traveling light. Whether being charged to check your bag, spending an unnecessary time at the ticketing counter checking the bag, or waiting at the carousel after landing to pick up your bag, there’s every reason to opt in on all the benefits and ease of a well-packed carry-on these days. And, a backpack can double up as your personal item and carry-on so you get the best of both. With smart packing, you can fit all the essentials for your trip into one medium-size backpack. Eagle Creek’s backpacks are lightweight, fit within the dimensions required by the airlines, and best of all, are made using sustainable practices.

Good packing can really make a difference to your comfort levels both on the journey itself and at the destination. Here’s what we recommend you pack in your backpack so everything you need during a flight is right at your fingertips.

What’s the right carry on backpack size?

Is a backpack considered a personal item? Every airline has its own policy for carry-on luggage and personal items. Many airlines will allow a backpack as a personal item, and for those that don’t, a backpack can still be your carry-on luggage as long as it is under the size restrictions for the particular airline. 

So what size backpack is considered a personal item? The standard domestic carry-on luggage size is 22" x 14" x 9.” Anything below that is likely considered a personal item, but you should check with your airline to ensure you can bring a backpack as a personal item if you plan on having a carry-on.

While most Eagle Creek backpacks will fall under that range, the Tour Travel Pack and the Explore Transit Bag  are the right size as well as built to be durable and practical for travel. You can check out all of Eagle Creek's travel bags to find the right option for you.

How to pack a backpack for a trip

Here’s our checklist of everything you need to pack in your backpack so you can stay organized and be ready to travel light right. 

Personal essentials

Whether you’re doing a long haul or a short jump, you’ll want to freshen up throughout your flight. Build yourself a little refresh kit which could include lip balm, hand lotion, hand sanitizer, eye drops, hairbrush, facial cleansing wipes, a toothbrush and paste, makeup, and any other essentials. Keep this handy in a separate pocket or at the top of your main compartment, so you can get to it easily. And, don’t forget any medications. Always carry these with you in case of a delay or lost luggage. Pack your toiletries kit in its own pouch so you can easily take it out going through security, and make sure all sizes are TSA compatible.

Personal items & entertainment

Keeping all your important documents organized is key to a successful trip. Whether passport or ID, credit cards, and other important cards you’ll need like auto or health insurance cards, proof of vaccination, make sure to have backup copies of these on your iPhone or leave copies of them with a trusted friend or family member back home in case of an emergency. 

Download any podcasts, audio books, or movies you plan to watch on a personal device before your trip so you don’t have to pay for expensive in-flight WIFI—although some airlines offer this complimentary, and if you want to tune into any in-flight entertainment, pack a set of wire headphones as AirPods or other bluetooth headsets aren’t compatible with most in-flight systems.

Bring a spare battery pack or charger to give your electronic equipment a boost, and don’t forget to pack a couple of pens, which will come in handy for any writing or notes or filling out landing cards if you’re traveling internationally. Some other must-have personal items you’ll want to pack for long-haul flights are an eye mask, neck pillow, and ear plugs are a must if you plan to get some sleep.

Food & drink

There’s nothing worse than arriving hungry or even hangry at your final destination, and having to wait even longer to get a bite to eat. Pack a few healthy, simple snacks like popcorn, cereal bars, trail mix, or small containers of fruits and veggies. And, don’t forget your reusable water bottle. Hydrate before you go through security, put your empty bottle through, then refill before you board. Food and drinks are also important road trip essentials that you should always pack before hitting the road.

Think basic and layer up

When planning your vacation wardrobe, expert packers know to bring several mix-and-match items that will create several different outfits, for example, a shirt that can go with a skirt or with pants, or a scarf that doubles as a pool cover-up. When on the road, you’ll want to avoid fussy items that are uncomfortable, need ironing, or can only be worn one way. It can get super chilly on a flight so layer up on sweaters and hoodies, and if you’re traveling to a hot destination, wear a tank top or tee underneath so you can easily peel off the layers once you arrive.

It’s always a good idea to pack a change of clothes, whether to freshen up or just to have options in case of extended travel time. Maximize the space in your backpack by utilizing rolling clothing to optimize space. Before you pack, take one last look and do a final edit of anything you don’t really need.

It’s always a good idea to pack a change of clothes, whether to freshen up or just to have options in case of extended travel time. Maximize your space in your backpack by utilizing packing cubes, Kondo’ing your potential items, and rolling the clothing to optimize space. Before you pack, take one last look and do a final edit of anything you don’t really need.

With organized and smart packing you can easily get all of these essentials into a backpack like the Wayfinder 20L or the Wayfinder 30L.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I bring a backpack and a carry-on?

Is a backpack a personal item or a carry-on? While this can be confusing, most popular airlines allow you to bring a carry-on and personal item, such as a backpack or purse. In general, your personal item should be smaller than your carry-on and under the specific airline's carry-on dimensions, allowing it to fit under the seat in front of you.

In most cases, backpacks are considered personal items as long as they fit under the seat in front of you. For example, if you use a backpack as a personal item and put it under the seat in front of you, you can then use a duffel as a carry-on bag as long as it’s under the airline’s size requirements.

However, if you're unsure whether your backpack is the right size dimensions, you can check the airline's website or contact them directly.

What happens if your personal item is too big?

What size backpack is considered a personal item? Ultimately, it depends on the airline. However, if your personal item happens to be over their size restrictions, you run the risk of paying a penalty fee or being forced to check it as luggage, which means you won't be able to travel with it near you.

That said, as long as your personal item doesn't exceed carry-on size restrictions, your personal item may be considered a carry-on, and most airlines will allow it to travel with you in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you.

What are the size limitations for a backpack to be considered a personal item?

If you're wondering, "Is a backpack a carry-on or personal item?" the best thing you can do is check with the airline to determine the size limitations for personal and carry-on items.

As a general rule of thumb, anything smaller than the dimensions of a carry-on can be considered a personal item. However, every airline has different restrictions for size. In most cases, your backpack should be no more than 18 x 14 x 8 inches. You should confirm with the airline to avoid penalty fees if your personal item is too large.

Are there any specific airline policies that I should be aware of when bringing a backpack as a personal item?

So what size backpack is considered a personal item? Again, it depends on the airline. However, in most cases, airlines allow one personal item and one carry-on bag for free. Your personal item must be stowed under the seat in front of you, so it must fit the size dimensions outlined in a specific airline's policies. Some of the maximum dimensions for backpacks to qualify as personal items include the following:

  • American Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
  • Delta: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
  • Frontier: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
  • JetBlue: 17 x 13 x 8 inches
  • Southwest: 18.5 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Spirit: 18 x 14 x 8 inches

Carrying everything you need with you is incredibly freeing, leaving you more energy to enjoy your trip.