12 Best Personal Item Bags for Under an Airplane Seat
12 Best Personal Item Bags for Under an Airplane Seat

When flying a budget-to-moderately priced airline, packing everything in a personal item bag is an excellent way to save time, money, and peace of mind. Let us explain:

Unlike carry-on bags, which often come at an additional fee, a personal item is (nearly) always included in your fare. That means you don’t have to pay for a carry on, which leaves more money in your pocket to spend on your trip (or on snacks, your choice). You won’t have to wait to get your bag out from the overhead bin or luggage carousel, which will enable you to get off the plane and out of the airport faster. Last, all of your essential items are in one place, so you don’t have to worry about whether your checked bag made it onto the flight or if there was a mix-up when you were forced to gate check your carry on bag because you aren’t a Premium-Flex-Big-Dogs-Gotta-Eat-Top-Notch customer. It’s all in one place, and there’s something freeing about that.

However, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you the downsides, too.

Even with the best personal item bag, you aren’t going to have that much space. The largest bags that fit into this category are typically around 28 liters, which isn’t tiny, but it can be tight for a weekend trip where you need to bring camera equipment or dress clothing. Next, you’re almost always running the risk of paying extra at the gate. Most of the bags we feature are technically within the guidelines for budget airlines; however, when you pack for a week-long trip in a small bag, there’s bound to be some bulging. While we mostly have no issue getting onto the plane fee-free, we all have friends with horror stories about spending a billion dollars in fees after scoring a $49 ticket to Reno. Last, that’s the only bag that you have unless you get creative. You could slide a packable sling inside to use once you arrive, but when you’re working with such a small space to begin with, there may not always be room to spare. If your bag gets wet or breaks, you’re out of luck and will have to spend time and money finding another one.

All that said, we aren’t trying to convince you not to use a personal item bag for your next trip. Here at Pack Hacker, it’s what we do most often, and we’re amped to share a few of our favorite personal item bags to make that happen! But first, let’s discuss how we chose which bags are the best fit.

How We Tested It

The three critical criteria we covered for each of these bags are how well it fits the measurements for a personal item bag on popular airlines, how big of a laptop you can fit inside (and the merits of that compartment as a whole), and how comfortable the bag actually is to carry.

Test 1: When testing the bags to see if they’ll work on popular airlines, we did a ton of research on what certain airlines allow for personal item bags. Seriously, it was hours of research! However, since these measurements change all the time, we can’t, in good faith, share them here. After all, we don’t want to be the reason you get slapped with that billion-dollar fine! Instead, we recommend looking up any bag that interests you (after reading our testing results, of course) to ensure that nothing has changed for the airline you plan to fly.

Here are a few insights from our research: measurements range from 15 x 11 x 3.9 inches on an airline like Lufthasana to 18 x 14 x 8 inches on Spirit. Some airlines don’t have a specific rule for personal items; however, your bag has to fit under the seat in front of you. For an airline like Delta, that’s 20 x 17 x 11 inches. Generally, some of the best airlines for size are Delta, Spirit, American, and Frontier, and the airlines that have the most rigid restrictions are Ryanair, Lufthansa, and AirFrance. However, just because an airline has a limitation doesn’t mean it is enforced, throwing another wrench into the works.

Our testers wanted to see how well every bag handled a laptop.
Our testers wanted to see how well every bag handled a laptop.

Test 2: The laptop test was a bit easier. We have all these bags on hand, so what size laptop can we actually fit inside? Are there any other aspects of this laptop compartment worth noting? The main two things we found are that some of these bags have a secondary compartment specifically for a laptop while others don’t. Whether this is a dealbreaker or not will depend on your needs, but some packs make it more challenging to access your computer when the bag is fully packed, so keep that in mind.

Test 3: Testing comfort was easy but rigorous. We couldn’t just test it empty or full; we needed to test every option. From near-empty bags to middleweights stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey, we tested every backpack to help you choose a pack that’ll be comfortable for you. We’ve used almost every pack on this list for two weeks or more in Detroit and across the globe, and those that don’t have full reviews on our site have been rigorously gone over at Pack Hack HQ to ensure their pedigree to be included on this list.

All that testing is great, but how do you know we are trustworthy?

Why You Should Trust Us

We’ve had our hands on thousands of daypacks, slings, and rolling bags and tested hundreds for two weeks or more, so we’ve seen it all. Whether you’re looking for a travel rain jacket that fits in your sling, new shoes for your next trip, or a crossbody bag to wear for your journey across Europe, we’ve got you covered. We take what we’ve learned from testing a plethora of gear types over the years and plant it in product roundups like this one to ensure we’re recommending gear that’ll last and work for your next trip. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

1. Fjallraven Kanken Laptop Backpack
Fjallraven Kanken Laptop Backpack Review

The Fjallraven Kanken Laptop Backpack might be the cutest of all the backpacks on this list. Seriously, it’s so fun! That said, it’s more than just its good looks, and that’s why we think this is one of the best personal item bags. In fact, one of our team members uses this as her go-to bag when flying budget airlines—when she’s not testing another bag, that is. The shoulder straps are well padded, which makes for a comfortable carry. Plus, the shoulder straps tuck flat, so you don’t have to worry about them sticking out into the aisle when you’ve got the bag under the seat in front of you. The bag is effortless to pack because it’s essentially a large bucket. You’ve got excellent access to the interior, making packing a breeze. However, getting to gear on the bottom of the main compartment can be challenging, similar to getting something on the bottom of a bucket, for the gear you’ve stacked on top is in the way. You can access your laptop in the dedicated compartment quickly and easily, which is handy if you’re working while flying or traveling (don’t worry, we won’t tell your boss). Plus, the handles on the top make it easy to get up and go at a moment’s notice, whether you’re sliding it out from under the seat or got too absorbed in your phone while riding public transit. The Achilles Heel of this pack is the side pockets, which aren’t large enough for anything useful, like a water bottle, and are best for a snack bar or something similarly sized.

In regards to our testing, the Kanken Laptop Backpack did incredibly well. When stacked up against the smallest personal item bag restrictions (we’re looking at you, RyanAir), the Fjallraven makes the cut…err, slides into the box. We can fit a 13-inch computer inside the laptop compartment, which will work for people with smaller laptops. In our rigorous comfort test, we found the Kanken Laptop Backpack great for people with a petite frame because of its compact size. It can be limiting for taller people, as it’s a small pack and the shoulder straps can feel claustrophobic, but it’s still reasonably comfortable. The laptop can affect how comfortable the pack is, creating a completely straight back panel, but not in a way that will make you want to leave your computer at home or not use the backpack.

Why We Like It
  • The materials look unique and are durable and water-resistant
  • It has an external laptop compartment for quicker access to your tech
What You Should Know
  • The side pockets are too small to be useful
  • The fabric started to fade around 3 years of use
See Full Review & Buying Options
2. CabinZero Military Backpack 28L
CabinZero Military Backpack 28L Review

The CabinZero Military Backpack 28L was specifically designed to work as a personal item-sized bag, and it does well at that for most airlines (though not all … more on that later). It’s a simplistic design and comes in at a budget-friendly price point, which we dig, but we can tell the manufacturers didn’t skimp out on quality. The pack utilizes 1000D nylon, which has held up to the bumps and knocks of travel, and features YKK zippers and Duraflex hardware, which are two of the best brands in the business. There are only two pockets: a small one on the front and a large main compartment. The big open space doesn’t have any pockets to help you organize your gear, it’ll give you the versatility to pack various-sized pouches, so it’ll work for more trips than you might think.

Though this pack was designed with personal-sized item use in mind, it won’t fit within the restrictions set by more strict airlines. Still, it’ll work for almost all the companies with moderate to lax restrictions, and we’ve never been flagged at the gate with it, even when it was technically a little too large. We've had no issues on a flight out west and two flights to the east coast. The laptop compartment isn’t very padded; however, it can fit up to a 16-inch computer, which is stellar. Still, it’s worth using a laptop sleeve for longer trips or if you’re more demanding on your gear. When it comes to comfort, we’ve carried this thing all day long in New York City and across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and how easy that is depends on a few things. On a short trip, the padding will keep you comfortable. On longer trips, your well-being will depend on how much you have stowed inside the pack. Overstuffed loads will labor your back, but low-to-medium weights will fare fine. If you’re an over-packer (or a heavy tech user), this might not be the pack for you!

Why We Like It
  • The main compartment is sizable so that you can fit bigger gear inside
  • It comes in at a budget-friendly price point
What You Should Know
  • The logo is large and hard to miss, which we don’t love from an aesthetic standpoint
  • When fully packed, the back panel bulges and can be uncomfortable
See Full Review & Buying Options
3. EVERGOODS Civic Travel Bag 26L (CTB26)
EVERGOODS Civic Travel Bag 26L Revie

The EVERGOODS CTB26 is one of our favorite backpacks with a capacity in the mid-20s. It’s a solid contender for personal item use in the United States or abroad when flying non-budget airlines, as it’s a little large. However, we think it’s well worth it if you’re a frequent traveler because of its build quality. The pack utilizes durable materials and hardware, has numerous pockets for stowing gear, and a comfortable harness system that will stay comfortable all day. The styling is minimalistic, enabling you to blend into any environment, no matter what continent you end up on.

When it comes to how well the CTB26 fits into bag sizers at the airport, it doesn’t do that well. It isn’t going to work every time for budget airlines like Frontier or Spirit who check bags more often, though we have flown with it on both of those airlines without issue. It’s a safer bet on non-budget airlines, but there’s a higher chance you’ll get called up to the bag sizer of shame at the front of the line if you’re flying a cheap airline. When it comes to laptop storage, the CTB26 blows most packs out of the water, offering space for up to a 17-inch computer. The compartment is separate from the main one, so you can access it anytime without disrupting your other gear. In terms of comfort, the pack is one of the easiest to carry that we’ve tested because of the features that enhance comfort. There’s padding for cushion, mesh for breathability, and not a lot to get in your way. That said, this pack is on the larger side, and our team members with more petite frames find the size to be slightly cumbersome.

Why We Like It
  • The organization is thoughtful but doesn’t deter you from bringing larger gear
  • It’s sleek and stylish, so you’ll blend into your environment anywhere
What You Should Know
  • The hook-and-loop fastener logo doubles as a spot to put your favorite patch
  • The size won’t work with many budget airlines
See Full Review & Buying Options
4. Cotopaxi Allpa 28L Travel Pack
Cotopaxi Allpa 28L

Enter the fun colorways! The Cotopaxi Allpa 28L Travel Packis extraordinarily colorful, making it one of the most saturated personal item bags on this list, but that’s not it's only trick. There are attachment loops on the pack’s exterior for attaching gear, like a Bluetooth speaker or travel water bottle, and the interior has oodles of pockets for stowing your clothing, tech, and toiletries. This makes it easier for every piece of gear to have a home so you don’t have to waste space with a packing cube or tech pouch. It packs more like a suitcase than a travel backpack, which may deter some users, but it does well for extended trips or specialized vacations that require a lot of doodads.

Regarding the Cotopaxi Allpa 28L Travel Pack’s use as a personal item bag, it’ll serve you well on most airlines. Though it doesn’t meet the requirements for some budget airlines, the materials are flexible, which will help the bag fall into the slider at the airport if an associate makes you try and you haven’t stuffed the bag into oblivion. We’ve flown budget air with this pack to Portland, New York City, and Boston and had zero issues! You can stow a 17-inch computer in here, too, which is handy for those working on the go. When it comes to comfort, this pack scores incredibly well, even on long days without many breaks. It’s a long bag, so it will hit some traveler’s butts, but not in an uncomfortable way. The padding, mesh, sternum strap, and hip belt make for a comfortable carry, whether in the city that never sleeps, the city of roses, or the city on a hill.

Why We Like It
  • Seemingly endless colorway choices
  • The materials are flexible, so you can shove it into the baggage box at the gate of budget airlines if you pack a little lighter
What You Should Know
  • It’s long, which will bump your booty if you have a short torso
  • It does most of the organization for you, but this puts up barriers for bringing larger items
See Details & Buying Options
5. TOM BIHN Synik 22
Tom Bihn Synik 22 in Detroit

Calling all dads! We’ve found your pack, and it’s ready to go. Jokes aside, we actually love the look of the TOM BIHN Synik 22. The only thing we like better is how functional it is, and that’s saying something. With more pockets than you’ll know what to do with (you’ll find a way to use them all eventually) and a style that reminds us of a classic 1990s Jansport, you’ll be ready to ride in no time. TOM BIHN is known for its durable materials, rugged hardware, and a design that enables you to use the pack with other TOM BIHN gear, like the 3D Organizer Cube or Ghost Whale Organizer Pouches. The attachment loops and D-rings make modularity easy!

It comes in at 22 liters, which is one of the smaller packs on this list. It won’t work for some of the most stringent airlines, but you’ll be fine for many air companies. You can only fit a 13-inch computer inside, but that’s all most people need, especially if you’re going on vacation! In terms of our comfort testing, the Synik 22 does well. It’s well padded and there is mesh on the shoulder straps to keep you cool in hot climates. While we find that our lower backs tend to sweat a lot while wearing this pack, that isn’t totally out of the ordinary.

Why We Like It
  • There’s plenty of organization and segmentation for gear, both built-in and customizable
  • It’s compatible with other TOM BIHN gear
What You Should Know
  • The vibe isn’t for everyone, though it never completely goes out of style
  • Even though it’s durable, it is hard to get over how heavy this pack is compared to other similar capacity bags
See Details & Buying Options
6. Aer City Pack Pro
Aer City Pack Pro Review

When it comes to modern air travel, there aren’t many brands more recognizable to those in the know (aka, those who spend a lot of time at r/onebag on Reddit) than Aer. The Aer City Pack Pro has a lot going for it, but the two things we’ll focus on here are that it can be used as a daypack for your everyday adventures and as a travel backpack when needed. It has numerous pockets for storage and a clamshell opening, which makes organizing your gear that much easier. There are load lifters, a sternum strap, and a hip belt to shift around weight, which is handy if you pack a little more than anticipated.

When using the Aer City Pack Pro as a personal item-sized bag, you’ll want to stick to the non-budget air options, as it’s pretty large. Don’t get it twisted: we’ve flown with this bag on Spirit without issue, but you can’t count on that working every time. Eventually, you’ll get hit with one of those annoying mammoth fees. Still, for non-budget air, you’ll likely see no issues (other than people constantly asking what backpack you’re carrying). You can fit up to a 16-inch computer inside, which works well for those planning to go straight from the office on Friday to the airport for a weekend trip. It’s comfortable, too, with ample padding and mesh to keep you cozy and cool. The pack does feel large for its 24-liter capacity, but you can fit a ton of gear inside here, so we don’t mind that much.

Why We Like It
  • It’s organized but still has enough room for larger gear
  • The materials are incredibly durable and will last years
What You Should Know
  • It’s one of the heavier packs on this list
  • Slightly too big for budget-friendly airlines
See Full Review & Buying Options
7. Calpak Hue Mini Carry-On Luggage
Calpak Hue Mini Carry-On Luggage

Rolling luggage is one of the most convenient ways to bring your gear to travel. It’ll be convenient and leaves your body free to carry a backpack or to exist in a state of comfort you didn’t know was possible while traveling. CALPAK Hue Mini Carry-On Luggage is hard-sided and features a lot of things you’d expect from rolling luggage, like a telescopic handle and locking zippers. The interior has a large storage area with a compression system and another zippered compartment handy for stowing clothing. Plus, it’s a more stylish piece of luggage, which isn’t always the case. It’s sleek and comes in fun colorways, too!

In use as a personal item, the Hue Mini Carry-On Luggage does well for most non-budget airlines. However, it’s worth noting that you’ll likely be asked to check your bag more often with a rolling personal item, as these packs are often less malleable than backpacks. There’s no dedicated spot for a laptop; however, not every trip calls for a computer, and you can always stow that in another backpack if you choose to bring one as a carry on. Or, use this pack as your carry on (to ensure you don’t get any fees) and use a smaller backpack as your personal item. The opportunities are endless!

Why We Like It
  • It’s hard-sided, so your gear will have an extra layer of protection
  • The locking zippers add peace of mind while traveling
What You Should Know
  • There’s no dedicated laptop compartment
  • There isn’t anywhere to stow items outside the main compartment, so your phone needs to live elsewhere
See Details & Buying Options
8. Travelpro Maxlite 5 Carry-On Rolling Underseat Bag
Travelpro Maxlite 5 Carry-On Rolling Underseat Bag

The Travelpro Maxlite® 5 Carry-On Rolling Underseat Bag has everything you’re used to using on a larger rolling bag in a small package that will work as a personal item on non-budget airlines. Packed with three external compartments, two on the sides and one on the front, you can quickly access smaller items like a snack, headphones, phone, or wallet at a moment’s notice. Inside the main compartment, there’s a compartment for up to a 13-inch laptop and ample space for clothing and other essential items. It has a clamshell-style opening, so you can get into the nitty-gritty of organizing your gear, even when on the go.

The Maxlite® 5 Carry-On Rolling Underseat Bag isn’t going to work on all budget airlines due to its size; however, you’ll likely get through without issue from time to time. That said, considering some companies' fees, it likely isn’t worth it. Get a bag you know will work, use this as a carry on, or fly a different airline. As mentioned above, there’s room for a 13-inch laptop here, which isn’t typical for rolling luggage, so we’re here for that! The side pockets aren’t the most useful, but they don’t get in the way if you aren’t using them, so we don’t mind their inclusion.

Why We Like It
  • It has three secondary compartments, which are handy in the airport for snacks and tech
  • There’s a laptop compartment, which isn’t something we often see in rolling luggage
What You Should Know
  • It won’t get through the gate every time at some budget airlines because of its size
  • Some of the secondary compartments aren’t as useful as we’d like
See Details & Buying Options
9. Bellroy Tokyo Wonder Tote 12L
Bellroy Tokyo Wonder Tote 12L Review

When you think about a personal item-sized bag for travel, you might not think about a tote. Well, we’re here to change that! The Bellroy Tokyo Wonder Tote 12L is small but mighty. Because of the size restraints of carrying a 12L tote, this likely won’t work for you as the only pack you’ll take on your trip. If you’re an ultralight packer, you might be able to make this work for a warm-weather trip. Still, it shines bright when paired with a carry on or checked bag, especially considering it has a luggage pass-through to accommodate telescopic handles. Plus, the top is zippered, so you don’t have to worry about your gear tumbling out when you put it under the seat in front of you, and there’s a dedicated laptop compartment and external pockets for goodies you want access to during the flight.

As a personal item-sized bag, this is one of the best performers on this list at the gate. It’s quite small, so it’ll work for almost all airlines. You can bring up to a 14-inch laptop, which is a solid feature considering the size of the tote. Regarding comfort, the straps are padded and have a grippy material to ensure the tote doesn’t fall off your shoulder as easily while carrying it. This isn’t as comfortable as some of the daypacks and travel backpack options on this list; however, it’s smaller and is great for daily carry once you arrive, depending on the trip. Load it up and take it to the beach, go to the local market and load up on produce, or enjoy the local library on an extended trip. When paired with a carry on, the world is your oyster!

Why We Like It
  • It has grippy material on the straps to ensure it doesn’t slide off your shoulder
  • You can stow a 14-inch computer inside, which is huge for a small tote
What You Should Know
  • You likely won’t be able to fit all your clothing inside, making another pack necessary
  • The luggage pass-through is a bit flimsy
See Full Review & Buying Options
10. TOM BIHN Nomad Tote
TOM BIHN Nomad Tote Review

The TOM BIHN Nomad Tote is a tote bag that works well in tandem with a carry on or checked bag. It’s small enough to work with most airlines, has a dedicated spot for your computer, and is crafted from durable materials and rugged hardware that’ll last. Plus, it’s compatible with other TOM BIHN gear, so all you BIHNions can get as modular as you want. Most of that modularity is packed into the secondary compartment, which has two O-rings to which gear can be attached. There’s a large luggage pass-through, which ensures that the tote is secure when you load it onto the telescopic handle of your rolling luggage. Similar to other travel totes we’ve recommended, the top has a zippered closure, so your gear won’t tumble out while under the seat in front of you.

When flying with the TOM BIHN Nomad Tote, you won’t have issues with using it as a personal item on most carriers, as it fits within most dimensions; however, there are a few for which it’s too long. Still, you’ll likely be able to make it work for most airlines, as it’s more malleable than a backpack. Essentially, it squishes easier, which is a good thing! You can only fit a 13-inch computer inside, but that’s not terrible for how small the tote is. There isn’t much padding on the straps, and there isn’t any aeration, though, we’ve found the tote straps to be comfortable for most uses, though they’ll dig in slightly when the bag is overpacked.

Why We Like It
  • The materials are incredibly durable and will last
  • It’s compatible with other TOM BIHN gear
What You Should Know
  • It’s fairly large for the 11-liter capacity
  • It can be challenging to get your laptop out when the bag is fully packed
See Full Review & Buying Options
11. tomtoc Wander-T26 Daily Sling 5.5L
tomtoc Wander-T26 Daily Sling 5.5L Review

Though a sling will likely never be the only bag you take on a trip, it’s probably what we recommend travelers use as a personal item most often. A sling is super handy whether you’re bringing a travel backpack, rolling luggage, a checked bag, or going somewhere you don’t need clothing (like your parent’s home). The biggest selling point of the tomtoc Wander-T26 Daily Sling 5.5L is that it’s budget-friendly, so you can spend your money on experiences on your trip; however, the list doesn’t stop there. The first iteration had a squeaky strap, which we noticed on a trip to Boston. With the second version, this has been fixed, and it wasn’t an issue when traveling to Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula. You can fit a cased Nintendo Switch inside for entertainment on the plane, the strap is well padded to ensure comfort at the airport while you’re exploring your destination, and it comes in an X-PAC model, which is lightweight and highly water-resistant.

In use as a personal item, you’ll likely have no issues with this sling, no matter what airline you’re flying in any part of the world. That isn’t surprising, though, as it’s a sling. These aren’t meant to be gear haulers, so they aren’t going to maximize the space that you’ve given by any airline. You can’t fit a laptop here, but, as mentioned, you can fit a Nintendo Switch, a small tablet, and similar-sized tech gear. There’s enough space for this to become your tech pouch in most situations, which is handy for charging on the flight and keeps gear out of your carry on or checked bag. The bag is very comfortable thanks to a large padded area on the strap that slides around to ensure your shoulder is padded, no matter how you wear it. The footprint is very long, which we’ve noticed can feel a bit big on smaller bodies. Still, with how much gear you can fit inside and the comfort and versatility offered by this sling, it’s well worth considering it as your next personal item bag for travel.

Why We Like It
  • It’s budget-friendly, so that you can spend more money on your trip
  • There’s enough space for a Nintendo Switch inside a case
What You Should Know
  • It’s long, which may feel claustrophobic on smaller frames
  • Without tech, some of the organization is hard to use
See Full Review & Buying Options
12. Peak Design Everyday Sling 6L (V2)
Peak Design Everyday Sling 6L

The second iteration of the Peak Design Everyday Sling 6L is one of the most versatile slings on the market, which translates well to travel. In addition to offering configurations to carrying camera gear, there’s plenty of space here for the daily essentials and then some if you leave the camera behind. The Flexfold dividers are handy for segmenting camera gear and work for larger travel gear items, like a packable rain jacket. The exterior is durable and water-resistant, too, which is handy for rugged adventures, and you can attach gear to the bottom using the compression straps.

You’ll have no issue fitting the Everyday Sling 6L on almost every airline in the world, but it’s a sling, so we aren’t too surprised. When paired with a carry on travel backpack or rolling luggage, it adds convenience to your carry. You can’t fit a computer here, but a tablet sleeve can accommodate devices up to 11 inches, which might be the next best thing. This sling is a certified unit when it comes to size, but it’s quite comfortable to use. The strap is padded and has mesh, which will cushion the weight of your camera or travel gear. You can stow the strap away, too, which is handy on the desk at your hotel, when in storage at home, or if you’re stowing it under the seat in front of you on the plane. If the primary point of your trip isn’t photography, the Peak Design Everyday Sling 6L is perfect to bring a camera and a few lenses along for the ride without monopolizing space in your carry on bag.

Why We Like It
  • You can stow various gear here, from camera equipment to everyday travel goods
  • The strap can be stowed, which is handy once you arrive at your accommodations
What You Should Know
  • The look isn’t for everyone, even if it’s highly water-resistant
  • If you want to use it with less gear, it feels like an empty mansion
See Full Review & Buying Options

So, there you have it: some of the best personal item bag models for your next trip, no matter where you’re going. May the odds ever be in your favor, and you always get boarding agents who won’t make you put your bag in the slider!

June 12, 2024

Pack Hacker