Hiking Backpack Airline Carry On information

By Thomas Sorheim •  Updated: 05/07/20 •  5 min read
Man standing in the airport with the backpack

Anyone who has spent enough time traveling, passing through numerous airports knows all too well the dilemma faced by thousands of backpackers all over the world, each and every day – is your backpack too big to be carried on?

While TSA (and similar authorities) have their own regulations for what they will allow through airport security, every airline carrier will also have their own policies in place. Some airlines will allow backpack sizes of up to 50L as carry on, while others will draw the line at 45L, or even 40L.

In this article, we’ll be covering some basic information that should help you figure out if your backpack will have to be checked in, or if you’ll be safe to take it with you as part of your carry-on luggage.

Standard Carry-on Limits

There’s two key things to keep in mind when dealing with most airline carriers all over the globe. They usually tend to have a checked luggage weight limit of about 50 lbs. before charging you a surplus, and they all have their own individual carry on size specifications.

These days, most check-in counters will also have a nearby basket placed for you to place your carry-on luggage in. If it fits in the basket, it’s fine to take as carry on; however, if it’s too big, you will have to check it in.

To give you an example, here are United Airlines carry on size restrictions. The maximum dimensions allowed for your carry-on bag are 9” x 14” x 22”, including handles and wheels.

Other airline carriers will generally have restrictions that are quite similar to that. If you’re ever in doubt, you should always double check with the airline you will be flying with before you leave for the airport. Many carriers will also have the information you require featured on their websites.

As a general rule of thumb, the cut-off size as far as capacity goes for most hiking backpacks is 45L. If your backpack is larger than that, odds are you will be required to check your bag.

Girl with the backpack and luggage in the airport

The Benefits of Taking a Carry-on Backpack

There are many great reasons why you are better off to travel with a backpack that you can take as carry on, including:

One of the main benefits of traveling with a hiking backpack for your carry on is that if the plane runs out of available overhead space for carry-on luggage, any passengers with wheeled luggage will usually be the first asked to check their bags. Passengers traveling with backpacks are generally exempt from this. 

Regulations and Prohibited Items for Hiking Backpacks

Just because you won’t have to check your hiking backpack doesn’t mean you still won’t have to follow the regulations laid out by aviation authorities such as TSA. While TSA doesn’t have any type of special restrictions when it comes to hiking backpacks, you must still keep in mind that you can’t take any type of prohibited item through airport security.

The unfortunate thing is that quite a lot of items that are commonly packed for hiking excursions are on the list of prohibited items. These items can include: knives, razor blades, scissors, certain tools, lighter fluid, and any type of firearm. If you are taking any liquids through security in your carry on, you must ensure that each container is 3.4 oz. or less and packaged in a clear, plastic zip-top bag.

If anything in your carry-on luggage isn’t able to go through TSA security, then you’ll either have to leave them behind or check your luggage in.

Just as with individual airline guidelines for your carry-on luggage, if you have any questions or concerns about anything you plan on packing and whether or not it’s a prohibited item, you can consult the official TSA website for up to date guidelines. 


So long as you plan ahead, you shouldn’t run into any issues when it comes to taking your hiking backpack with you on an airplane as carry on. You should always double check with both your carrier for their carry on size restrictions and with TSA to figure out if anything you are packing is on their prohibited items list.

If you absolutely can’t make any compromises in either of the above two areas, then you just might have to bite the bullet and check your backpack. However, with a little bit of careful planning and proper packing, you’ll be able to breeze right through the airport with your backpack as carry-on without trouble.

Thomas Sorheim