After 20-plus combined years as unabashed vagabonds and digital nomads, we went in search of the very best wheeled carry-on backpack.
We're convinced that the only way to travel (or live) is light, that the wheel is not an invention to be ignored, and that once in a while even city travelers would like to pop their bags up on their backs for subway stairs, a ride on a city bike, or a walk over rough terrain.
Thus we think the answer for light, slow, flexible travel is the wheeled carry-on backpack.
But what's the best one to buy at the moment? We did a meta-review of the results from consumer testing organizations across Europe and North America, as well as reviews from travel blogs and online shopping sites in a variety of languages.
The current clear choice in our opinion is the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22-Inch/ Wheeled Luggage. We have a few alternatives to recommend in this article as well — mainly for those who either want to have a more businessy-looking piece or a cheaper option — but we're pretty sure that the Osprey Ozone 22" is going to be the most practical pick for most people.
Osprey Ozone Convertible 22/50L Wheeled Luggage
Update history of this article
Updated March 28, 2017: Information on the new version of the Meridian and the models from Granite Gear and Eagle Creek has been updated.
- Meta-Review of our Top Pick for Light Carry-On Travel
- Experts' Opinions on the Osprey Line
- Key Features of the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22"
- The Main Drawbacks of the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22"
- Osprey Ozone Convertible 22" Durability and Follow-up on its Lifetime Guarantee
- A Video: Opening up the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22"
- Other Osprey Ozone Sizes and Variants
- A More Sober Alternative: The Osprey Meridian 22" Wheeled Luggage
- Other Wheeled Carry-On Backpacks
- Eagle Creek Flip Switch Wheeled Backpack 22 Meta-Review
- Granite Gear Cross-Trek Wheeled Carry-On with Removable 28L Pack
- High Sierra AT7 Carry-On Wheeled Backpack
- Samsonite Luggage MVS Spinner Backpack
- High Sierra Ultimate Access 2.0 Carry-on Wheeled Backpack Meta-Review
- REI Stratocruiser Wheeled Backpack 22"
- SwissGear Unisex Sierre II 21" Rolling Lift Backpack
- Cabin Max Lyon Flight Approved Bag Wheeled Carry-on Luggage-Backpack
- Jansport Driver 8 Core Series Wheeled Backpack
- Kipling Alcatraz II Wheeled Backpack with Laptop Protection
- ECBC Pegasus Convertible Laptop Bag
- The Eagle Creek Switchback Wheeled Convertible Carry-On
- Wrap-Up: The Best Choice for Most Travellers
Meta-Review of our Top Pick for Light Carry-On Travel
We think wheeled carry-on backpacks are the best solution for most heavy travelers. In brief: if you've got more than a carry-on, you're carrying more stuff than you need, and the quality of your actual experiences as a traveler are going to suffer. Do you want to come home with memories, or junk you'll never use? Do you want to spend extra time figuring out what to do with a big bag, or be able to change directions at the drop of a hat?
Wheels keep your back from getting hot/tired; if you have them you'll use them 90 percent of the time. But for those moments when you need the flexibility of converting to a backpacker, quality backpack straps are a lifesaver.
Experts' Opinions on the Osprey Line
For this analysis we turned to insights from bloggers, consumer reviews, and online travel magazines. We also consulted results from consumer testing organizations in Europe (Which?, Que Choisir, 60 Millions) and America (Consumer Reports), which mainly did not cover this particular subcategory of carry-on but did however give excellent tips on what to look for in terms of quality, rolling design, and durability, as well as some limited specific brand testing insight. Backpacker sites and forums tend to disdain wheels, although they are at least starting to catch on with some.
For travel writers who cover luggage, the Osprey line is at or near the top of the list. In fact, we have yet to find an overall negative travel blogger review of an Osprey Ozone piece. The Amazon reviews are also overwhelmingly positive. The high points that everyone consistently came back to for the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22" are its practical features, lightness compared to other wheeled bags, and its sturdy construction. Complaints were generally related to the type of luggage itself; wheels plus straps means slightly less interior space then you would get with a carry-on that has only one or the other. This is not the bag for those looking to cram in the most stuff (though there are dual internal and external compression straps to help you with that if you must).
Key Features of the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22"
- Detachable daypack: You almost certainly want some sort of a daypack. You can of course buy something entirely separate from your main carry-on, but being able to attach it to your main pack is much more comfortable (for the Osprey Ozone there is also a loop that allows it to be quickly placed over the handle of the main bag, rather than attached). In backpack mode, the daypack can hook easily hook onto the sternum strap of the main bag, which is more practical and balanced than having it attached in the back. It's also much more secure from pickpockets.
- Other daypack features: The back panel lets allows for some ventilation, and there is a sternum strap to keep your shoulders comfortable. You'll find a laptop sleeve in the main compartment, a thoughtful heat-embossed pocket on top to keep your smartphone or sunglasses from scratching, a hidden interior zippered pocket for important items, and other interior organizational mesh pockets. The two mesh side pockets for water bottles and snacks serve their function as well; this is an obvious but, in a consumer satisfaction survey, a very appreciated feature. A safety whistle is integrated into the straps of the daypack.
- Wheeled carry-on mode: The main bag has slightly oversized wheels are set into the frame on sealed bearings. These are not flimsy plastic wheels that will pop off the first time the bag hits a conveyor belt, nor are they the controversial "spinner wheels" (pro: you can push your carry-on ahead of you, and supposedly turn easier; con: they take up more space, and break off easily). This means that as with any convertible carry-on you're simply going to pull this behind you. The Osprey is particularly notable for its higher clearance, so you can pull it over bumpier paths with no problem. The handle can be locked at to two heights for comfort.
- Backpack straps: The main bag's backpack function includes shoulder, sternum and hip straps that can be quickly revealed when you need them and tucked away into a zippered compartment when you don't. You can also remove them entirely if you feel they won't be necessary for a particular trip. Note that they are thinner than those of a standard backpack, which means that they pull out easier and take up less space, but are also a bit flimsier, as noted below in the drawbacks section.
- Easy-access pockets: The main bag, like the daybag, has an easy-access top pocket for those things that you will need to get to quickly without opening your luggage. There is also a hidden pocket on the back of the bag for passports and other valuables; it extends down and separate from the main compartment, so it could alternately be used for wet/dirty clothes.
- Frame: The aluminum frame is key to both the sturdiness and lightness of this piece.
- Internal and external compression straps: If you go a bit too wild with your packing and need to cinch your luggage down, there are straps for this purpose both inside the main compartment and outside the bag.
- Lightweight: The main bag by itself weighs 5 lbs 1 oz (2.3 kg) and 6lbs 2 oz (2.78 kg) with the daypack, making it by far the lightest bag available of this size with comparable features.
- Tucked-away handles: The "low-profile" handles stay out of the way when not needed, so that they don't catch on things as you pass.
- Fits as a carry-on: As with any carry-on, the most honest answer is that it's complicated. Airline size requirements for carry-ons vary within the USA as well as abroad. That said, as long as you don't overstuff it, you can take the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22" on almost any flight and use the daypack as your personal item. Note that there are a few budget airlines, particularly in Europe, that don't allow you to carry an additional personal item; in these cases you will want to put the daypack inside of the main bag or have it attached but not filled so that it doesn't put you over the carry-on size limit.
The Main Drawbacks of the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22"
- Tipping: Some reviewers on Amazon and elsewhere have noted that the bag can tip, especially if the daybag is attached and full. Others claim that for them it never tips due to the thoughtful foot piece. For those who experience tipping problem can usually be alleviated by packing heavier items at the bottom and back of the bag. This issue, by the way, is sited in customer reviews of every competing product as well — it seems that the perfect anti-tipping design has yet to be invented.
- Internal space: This is not the bag for those who want to maximize the internal storage of their carry-on, as the wheels and even the relatively thin (removable) backpack straps eat into a certain amount of space. Those who absolutely want to maximize their internal storage should go for a standard carry-on rather than a convertible.
- Somewhat flimsy backpack straps: The fact that the backpack straps are thinner than those of dedicated backpacker bags means that they probably won't be as durable or comfortable for long-haul walks; this is not the bag to take for several-day-long treks through the woods. Thanks to the sternum and hip straps, and the back padding, they are however more comfortable than most of the competition. Also note that people who have wheeled bags only rarely find themselves hefting them onto their backs — straps are a lifesaver when you need them, but you don't need them all of the time.
- Sporty style: The design and colors (especially the non-black options) may be too sporty/techy/backpackery for some. If you wanted to look more businessy, you could get a good non-backpack carry-on. The more sober-looking Osprey wheeled backpack carry-on option is the Meridian (see below). It also has sturdier backpack straps.
Osprey Ozone Convertible 22" Durability and Follow-up on its Lifetime Guarantee
Reviewers tend to feel that Osprey provides excellent durability. For the Ozone Convertible 22", they say that particularly the zipper, handle and wheels with sealed bearings should stand up to heavy use.
Osprey's "All Mighty" Guarantee ("any reason, any product, any era") puts it among the top few luggage manufacturers in standing by its work. If a handle, buckle, zipper, whatever breaks on the road, you can get it repaired and sent back to you free of charge, and if they can't fix it they'll replace the bag. You pay only to send it in. If you're on the road, just contact the international customer service center closest to you. Importantly, travelers have reported that Osprey actually follows up on this promise, quickly, without fuss, and for free.
A Video: Opening up the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22"
Here's a video of the piece being opened up and turned about in all of its glory.
Other Osprey Ozone Sizes and Variants
- Osprey Ozone 22"/46L Wheeled Luggage: Carry-on size, but no backpack straps or daybag; just a very light, durable carry-on
- Osprey Ozone Convertible 28"/70L Wheeled Luggage: The same as our main pick, with wheels, backpack straps, and a daypack, but in a much larger size.
A More Sober Alternative: The Osprey Meridian 22" Wheeled Luggage
The Osprey Meridian 22" Wheeled Luggage is the grown-up older sibling to the Ozone. Its design is a bit more muted, and it feels a bit more durable — particularly the backpack straps. Its design was updated in 2016 to improve ventilation of the daypack and streamline the harness. In its original incarnation it was generally just as well-liked by reviewers as the Ozone model above, although some complained that it feels a bit bulkier than the Ozone and it's certainly heavier, weighing 7 lbs 14 oz (3.6 kg). Overall, we think that most people looking at this type of piece are looking to travel as light as possible, which is why the Osprey Ozone Convertible beats out its sibling for us, though just by a hair.
But regardless, the Meridian is a very similar and fantastic piece that shares most of the same features and the excellent warranty of the Ozone. There is also a larger (28") version of the Meridian for those carrying more gear, and an Osprey Shuttle line for those not needing backpack straps.
Other Wheeled Carry-On Backpacks
If you're looking for something simpler, or willing to forgo a few of the options of our main pick for a smaller price, there are not a lot of quality carry-on-sized wheeled backpacks out there, but there are a few that really aren't bad.
Eagle Creek Flip Switch Wheeled Backpack 22 Meta-Review
We think that having an integrated, detachable daypack is extremely convenient, and this piece lacks that. But if you already have a separate daybag or personal item that you like, and don't mind not being able to attach it, the Eagle Creek Flip Switch Wheeled Backpack 22 may be a great option for you.
Eagle Creek tops the list in brand satisfaction in surveys by consumer organizations, and this particular piece gets very good rankings from customers and from various bloggers. Eagle Creek (like Osprey) offers a solid lifetime warranty and has repair centers around the world. As with Osprey, if something goes wrong you pay to get the bag to a repair center, and they take care of the rest.
This is a sturdy piece so all of that ordinarily won't be an issue. The key stress areas are reinforced with hypalon (a synthetic rubber) and the relatively large wheels are set into a durable, protected housing. The shoulder, sternum, and hip straps, along with the padding to protect your back, are located on the front of the piece (not on the side with the wheels). This is opposite the design of the Osprey piece, and some reviewers found this a bit clumsy or at least weird-looking. On the other hand, this ensures that what is naturally the softest part of your bag is against your back. You can completely remove the straps if you think you won't be using them and you want more room (you'll then have a padded pocket for a laptop).
- Reflective accents for visibility at night
- Interior compression straps
- Lockable, "self-repairing" zippers
- A safety whistle incorporated into the sternum strap
The downsides to this piece:
- One reviewer felt that the straps stick out too much and catch on plane armrests when rolling down an aisle. The Osprey Ozone's handles are certainly more out of the way when not in use.
- It lacks a daypack.
- As with the Osprey piece, some reviewers felt that it tips too easily. This can usually be remedied by packing heavier items at the back and bottom.
- The louder style (particularly with some color options) can be off-putting for some tastes; on the other hand it stands out on a luggage carrousel.
The Eagle Creek Flip Switch Wheeled Backpack weighs 6 lbs 7 oz (2.9 kg) and measures 22 x 14 x 9 in (56 x 36 x 23 cm). Pricing has varied widely, but it has at times been available at steep discounts on Amazon. There is also a bigger 28" version for those not concerned with carry-on sizing. And for those who want to be able to completely remove the wheels (we can't really imagine this coming in handy much), there are the Eagle Creek Lync 20 inch and 22-inch versions.
Granite Gear Cross-Trek Wheeled Carry-On with Removable 28L Pack
This is a solid, well-constructed carry-on bag at a better price than our main pick. Reviewers found that it it to be durably built with heavy duty zippers, and solidly built wheels.
Its detachable daypack is quite a bit bigger than the Osprey Ozone's, which may be convenient for those wanting to travel heavier, but could also raise issues if carried as a personal bag on some airlines, and as a unit the entire piece is too big to be considered a carry-on. You could, however, carry the detachable day bag inside the main bag if necessary on a flight that doesn't allow such large personal items (or allow them at all, as is often the case on some budget flights).
Many familiar features are there: compression straps, a variety of interior organizational pockets (including a laptop sleeve) and two water-bottle side pockets. Some reviewers complained that it took too long to zip the daypack onto the main pack.
The backpack has shoulder, sternum, and hip straps. The entire piece weighs 9 lbs 11 oz (4.4 kg). If you don't mind the extra weight and the oversized daypack, this can be a suitable alternative to our main pick — and it's certainly cheaper. It may even be preferable for those willing to check a bag or those travelling only by ground, and travel a bit heavier.
There is also a "duffel" version of this bag that lacks the daypack.
High Sierra AT7 Carry-On Wheeled Backpack
This simple and affordable piece has wheels and a detachable daybag, but the main bag does not have backpack straps. In general customer reviews have been positive, though some complain about the quality of the zippers, difficulty in attaching the two bags, and a lack of pockets. There is also a smaller, simpler "computer" version without the daypack that is more intended for students with too many books.
Samsonite Luggage MVS Spinner Backpack
If you really want spinner wheels for some reason, or a smaller and much cheaper piece, the MVS Spinner is an option. However, Samsonite luggage has been generally lowly rated by consumer organizations for its durability (though the British one liked some of its apparently more rugged hard luggage), and this piece has gotten a number of negative comments for the durability of its wheels and handle. There are similar problems that would steer us away from buying the Samsonite Tectonic 21" Wheeled Backpack.
High Sierra Ultimate Access 2.0 Carry-on Wheeled Backpack Meta-Review
This is a significantly cheaper option for a wheeled carry-on backpack. While most reviewers on Amazon and other shopping sites were satisfied with it (particularly citing the convenience of travelling with a wheeled backpack and detachable daypack), there were occasional complaints about the quality of the zippers and straps.
There is a mesh side pocket as well as a laptop sleeve, although some have complained that the lack of padding may put a laptop at risk.
As with our main pick, the backpack straps can be hidden behind a zippered panel when not in use. There isn't a hip belt or sternum strap, nor is there padding on the back, so this bag will be less comfortable if you have to pop it on your back for a significant amount of time — but if you're limiting your travels to developed city spaces you'll mainly just use the wheels anyway.
The wheels are of a less sturdy construction but set into the bag in such a way that they will likely not pop off under duress. The clearance is lower, so you may have more problem on bumpy roads. Reviewers have complained about the durability and comfort of other High Sierra luggage pieces.
This piece measures 9 x 22 x 13.5 inches and weighs 6.9 lbs (3.13 kg). It replaces the High Sierra Overpass, which is no longer available.
REI Stratocruiser Wheeled Backpack 22"
This piece comes in at a similar pricing to our main pick and is generally well-liked by bloggers and customers for its durability, although they did complain about a few of its design features. The Stratocruiser's daypack clips easily onto the back of the main bag (instead of the front as with the Osprey Ozone above), which means a thief could easily make off with it without you noticing. For balance, it would be preferable to be able to clip the daypack onto the front.
Others have reported zipper problems and the main bag oddly lacks a hip belt, although that could be OK if you're not going to use it as a backpack too often. The Stratocruiser Wheeled Backpack 22" is available directly from REI.
SwissGear Unisex Sierre II 21" Rolling Lift Backpack
If you're curious, the SwissGear trademark is licensed out for the production of backpacks; this piece is not made in Switzerland, and really has nothing to do with the celebrated pocket knives. Consumer testing organizations have not reported on this 21" Rolling Lift Backpack or the brand in general, nor have any reliable bloggers; the few Amazon reviews are mainly positive if undemanding. The bag is basic — it does not have a daypack or hip straps — but cheap.
Cabin Max Lyon Flight Approved Bag Wheeled Carry-on Luggage-Backpack
We don't recommend this bag as customers have reported too many quality issues with the wheels, zippers, and even the fabric. The Cabin Max marketing text mainly emphasizes as a bag that is "guaranteed" to fit carry-on requirements, which is all a bit silly.
Jansport Driver 8 Core Series Wheeled Backpack
These bags are quite a bit smaller than carry-on size at 19 x 13 x 8 inches, and more intended for those lugging books to and from the library. They are not rugged enough for travel and surprisingly expensive for their size and features.
Kipling Alcatraz II Wheeled Backpack with Laptop Protection
This small overpriced backpack has a stuffed monkey hanging off its the side. If this appeals to you, we would recommend that you buy one of the more useful and rugged options (reviewers complained about this piece's durability after any serious use), and then buy a small stuffed monkey separately to affix to it.
ECBC Pegasus Convertible Laptop Bag
The very expensive and gimmicky ECBC Pegasus got a lot of press when it came out by including a USB device-charging pocket, which seems convenient until you realize that you can buy great pocket USB batteries separately for under $10 (and we definitely recommend owning one of those). This bag's other trick is that it can zip fully open exposing its laptop pocket in such a way that supposedly airport security won't make you put your device in a separate bin — but personally we wouldn't want to risk having a laptop on the top outer flap of a bag. Reviewers also complained that this compartment isn't well padded and doesn't hold the laptop firmly in place.
This piece has tons of pockets for gadgets and that leaves less space for clothing etc. The reviewers cited above weighed it at 9 lbs (not the advertised 7 lbs), making it much heavier than our recommended bags. They also felt that it was quite sturdy and would hold up to abuse. Amazon customers have however generally been quite happy with their purchase. It does not seem that this company has been around for long and we have not been able to find any online reports of how well it follows through on its products' lifetime warranty. It also does not have a detachable daypack. We think you're much better off with the more feature-rich, lighter and more established main pick above.
There are two other versions out there at similarly high prices: the ECBC Sparrow, which is even heavier and includes a garment component for suits but no backpack straps, and the ECBC Falcon, which is more of a wheeled duffle and also available in larger sizes.
The Eagle Creek Switchback Wheeled Convertible Carry-On
This could be an interesting option but various reviewers complained about its durability and that it was completely unstable with the daybag attached. It was unavailable as of this writing.
Wrap-Up: The Best Choice for Most Travellers
For most people, the light, durable, and flexible Osprey Ozone Convertible 22" is an easy win. A few might be more suited for the more serious-looking, bulkier Osprey Meridian 22". The Eagle Creek Flip Switch 22" is a great, solid piece of convertible carry-on luggage for those who don't want a detachable daypack. There are cheaper options too, but as noted above, they tend to get a lot of quality complaints. The ECBC line is overpriced and gimmicky.
Feel free to let us know about your experiences with these and other bags in the comments.