How to Pack an Under-the-Seat Bag

packing backpack

Written by Colleen Travers on

Colleen Travers writes about health, fitness, travel, and women’s lifestyle for various publications.

packing backpack


Don’t get bogged down at baggage claim. Instead, it’s entirely possible to pack a carry-on bag that fits under your airplane seat! Try these travel tips to pack your under seat luggage so that you have everything you need neatly organized and on hand, and all but the essentials left behind.


Going on vacation? Use your pre-trip time planning out meals and fun excursions, not laboring over what to pack in your massive suitcase. After all, cramming your entire house into your luggage just makes getting through security and baggage claim a hassle. 

Instead, save precious minutes—and your sanity—by packing everything you need in an under-the-seat luggage (thus also avoiding the battle for overhead bin space) so you can get off the plane and onto the adventure faster. First you need the right bag that will fit under the airplane seat, then you need to master your packing list and your  packing technique  to make this style of minimalist travel possible.


Fitting Your Carry-On Under The Airplane Seat

The first step to packing an under-seat bag is making sure your it will actually fit under there! Unfortunately, not all airplane seats are created equal: Each airline has different seat dimensions, and that includes the space underneath. Under seat space is very different than the dimensions for overhead bins, so, before you start packing, visit the airline’s website to see if they’ve released their dimensions, or consult this list for under-seat luggage sizes for the most popular airlines in the U.S. and Europe. Note: Always double check the dimensions against the latest policies since they can change rapidly! 

●     American Airlines : 18″ x 14″ x 8″

●     Frontier: 18″ x 14″ x 8″

●     JetBlue: 17″ x 13″ x 8″

●     RyanAir: 15.5” x 8” x 10”

●     Southwest: 8.5” x 13.5” x 18.5” 

●     Spirit: 18″ x 14″ x 8″

●     United: 17″ x 10″ x 9″

●     Vueling: 8” x 14” x 8”

Once you’ve found the dimensions, measure your bag to be sure it fits. A few of the best under the airplane seat luggage options include: 

●     Wayfinder 20L: With a sturdy design, a padded 15” laptop compartment, and enough space in the backpack for a few days worth of clothes, this is a great option if you’re packing an under-seat bag for a weekend trip. (13” x 19” x 5.25”)

●     Expanse Wheeled Tote Carry-On: This bag is a great substitute for a backpack if you want the convenience of wheels on your personal item luggage. There are enough pockets to securely hold all of your tech, and the durable material will resist scuff marks from your feet while you’re in transit. (13.75” x 14.5” x 8.5”)

●     Packable Tote: This versatile pack wins for it’s slim design and its ability to fold entirely into its own front pocket. It works as a tote, or the handles convert into backpack straps. (11.75” x 15.25” x 4.75”)

Now that you have the right bag that should slide right under that airplane seat in front of you, it’s time to figure out exactly how you’ll pack that bag to maximize your space and gear.


1. Roll Your Clothes

Folding is for amateurs. To save serious space in your bag, roll your clothes—including everything from tops to jeans, and even socks and underwear—tightly and snuggle them into an appropriately sized packing cube on top of each other—I regularly pack an entire trips worth of clothes into a medium cube that slides right into my slim backpack—this includes everything from tops, jeans, socks, and even underwear. And I use the small sized packing cube to hold cords and tech, or extra snacks and such if it’s a long travel day. Check out Eagle Creek’s Compression Cubes and Sacs. The bonus: It’ll also help prevent your clothes from wrinkling. This will create noticeably more space in your bag, but be sure not to pack more in the process—you’ll need that extra room for potential vacation purchases!


2. Think Beyond Single Use

When it comes to planning your wardrobe for your trip, make it a point to pick basic pieces that you can mix and match. You’ll be able to wear the same things twice without repeating complete outfits. As long as you’re not going on an extreme, active vacation (in which case your clothes will probably need to be washed after one wear and you should use a clean/dirty cube to prevent stink from spreading throughout your small bag), reusing clothes will seriously reduce your suitcase clutter.


3. Whittle Down Your Technology

Here comes the tricky part: If you’re interested in packing just under-the-seat luggage, you’re going to have to be selective with the technology you bring on your trip. While it may be nice to have your laptop, iPad, and Kindle with you, all of those devices (plus accessories like chargers and cases) will only weigh you down. Instead, choose your most lightweight and multi-functional electronic (think: one that allows you to read, play games, and browse the Internet). When bringing a laptop, be sure your chosen bag offers  appropriate protection, like a bag with dedicated tablet slot.


4. Leave Things Behind (If You Can)

Ideally, you’ll leave some extra space in your bag when you pack in anticipation of acquiring souvenirs. But understandably, that’s not always possible. It’s not a lost cause, though. Think strategically about things you can use on your trip and get rid of when you head home. For toiletries, pack half-full items like toothpaste and face wash and get rid of the empties once you’re done with them. Then use an ultra-lightweight toiletry bag so you’re not wasting precious space.


When done well, you can adapt the Pack-It System to any style of travel whether you’re packing a light bag for a short trip, or if you’re planning an epic round the world trip.



Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):

Buying Guide: Duffels

Budget Airline Survival Guide: 4 Things to Know Before You Fly

8 Must-Have Items To Pack In Your Personal Item