Recently I purchased a minimalist travel backpack for my regular travel. I was fed up of wheeling around a little case. Especially for short hop trips. So I wanted the freedom of a backpack and a more minimal system for short term travel. So I had been researching the best travel backpack and chose to opt for a minimalist travel bag and ethos.
I decided that it was important for me to cut out the excess and start honing down. I’m not ready for ultra-minimalist travel, but I want to start being more intentional with my packing.
I have always been a frequent traveller. So I know that the first thing you need to do is decide on your preferences and priorities. If you don’t, you will end up with a bag that’s not a perfect fit in some way.
When considering your needs, you need to consider both the size of the backpack and the intended use. What’s a reasonable size and weight for you? Will you need it to protect a laptop or camera or other tech gear? How many pairs of shoes can you really manage with? AKA how minimalist are you willing to go?
Another huge consideration is comfort. Travel backpacks often are designed to be lightweight and comfortable. Sometimes they have extra features for comfort, however, these aren’t always practical, especially when you are aiming for minimalism. So you need to weigh up priorities and consider whether comfort or clean lines are more important.
To save you spending hours repeating the same research as me, I have compiled this guide. It aims to help you answer these questions and decide on the best minimalist backpack for you. I gathered information on some of the top travel backpacks from the best backpack brands. I wanted to find the best minimal backpacks out there and help you choose the right one.
Compare Best Minimalist Travel Backpacks
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Why Travel With a Backpack?
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a wheelie suitcase but they just aren’t always practical. Think bumpy streets, the tube (Oh the stairs!) or knowing you have to carry the bag all day long, urgh. Transitioning to travelling with a backpack can take some getting used to. Yet there are so many benefits to ditching the wheels and shouldering your belongings.
Firstly, it’s handsfree. The benefit of this cannot be overstated. Travelling is a time you most likely need both hands, as you will be multitasking often in a strange environment. Think maps, foreign money, travel tickets, translator apps and maybe even children.
A more minimalist backpack forces you to be intentional. Both about packing but also ultimately what you want to get out of your trip. The limited space forces you to look at your intentions versus reality and be much more ruthless when making decisions. This is ideal when you want to be more intentionally minimalist in your travel approach.
If you are strategic with your choice, you can also cut out waiting around at luggage carousels. Everything you need is on your back. I don’t know about you but I get ridiculous anxiety waiting for my luggage. Cutting that out just takes a level of stress away from my travel experience.
What does Minimalist Travel Mean to You?
What do you absolutely need to bring on short travel trips? Make a minimalist travel packing list to stick to, but be realistic in what is suitable for you. Swearing you only need 5 items when you know you’ll struggle with less then 3 pairs of shoes is pointless. Even if it does feel good pretending. You need to choose based on your needs, or you’ll waste your money on a bag that is too small. Be really honest about what your minimum is.
Minimalism is different for everyone. Base your choice on your own needs and block out others opinions. Though reading my review is still fine, I promise!
Also when you are looking for a minimalist backpack are you also wanting a minimalist style? Is is it all about getting the most bang for your buck on any given trip.
Things to Consider
How light do you travel? Are you fit enough to hump a giant bag all day with no issues? Do you need to carry a laptop or tent with you? What else do you need to think about before you start looking at minimalist travel backpacks?
Minimalist bag brands offer so many options for all people and occasions. Therefore there is no such thing as a perfect bag for everyone or the best backpack in the world. Everyone has different needs and preferences and figuring out yours will put you on the path to travel backpack nirvana.
Size & Weight
What size is right for you? At what point will you begin to resist carrying it? A really heavy bag is no fun. Also, remember if you are flying you also have to consider weight restrictions. Remember that no matter what size bag you buy, you will always fill it up.
It’s also important to think about what size bag is too small for you? Yes, it might be great to fantasise about extreme minimalist travel. Maybe you dream about only packing 3 pairs of underwear for a 7-day trip. Maybe finding a place to do laundry might be problematic, or you need to 3 types of shoes. If so, then buying the small travel backpack is going to be a mistake.
This is such a huge consideration. I’ve been guilty of choosing big bags I don’t want to carry and packing things I don’t need. Lots of things.
Similar to weight and size, it is smart to think about the profile of any bag you might carry. I personally hate a bulky bag. It makes me into a liability in public places, but obviously slim backpacks have less capacity. Again it is important to weigh up where you land in between these options.
Low profile backpacks when travelling are important. You will be less likely to bump into other people or things when your bag isn’t sticking out as much.
Additionally, consider the configuration of the backpack, as some have a laptop sleeve in a pocket away from your body. This means there is less protection for your laptop. It also pulls the bag down making it uncomfortable over the day.
There are so many different types of travel backpacks and an equal number of things to consider under this heading. So much so that you may not even have considered some of them but you definitely should.
- Do you need to carry a laptop or other expensive gadgets? If so, does the bag cater for this?
- Opening – Would you rather have a Clamshell or Top opening backpack? It is infinitely easier to see everything in your bag with a clamshell. If you need access to the main compartment of your bag a lot, a top-loading bag may be better.
- Will you be using it for more than travel? The Commute? Weekends out with the kids?
Compartments are very important as they can add convenience and ease to your backpack experience. Earlier I urged you to really think about minimalist packing for travel. Take out the list you wrote, look over it and decide items that you need easy or frequent access to.
If you need to carry a laptop, it is useful if there is a special compartment for this. Below in the reviews, I have separated out some great options for the best minimalist laptop backpack for travel. These bags will keep your laptop secure and also allow easy access.
Compartments in the main part of the bag can also be helpful. But consider whether they will be useful for you. Bear in mind, you can always use packing cubes to aid organisation.
This is an insanely important part of choosing a backpack. Comfort is paramount when you are carrying everything you need for a trip on your back. However, most of the best quality travel backpacks pay particular attention to the strap comfort when designing the bag.
Things to pay attention to when you are looking at possibilities for your next minimal backpack are;
- whether you can remove or hide the straps,
- how adjustable they are
- additional support like chest straps and hip belts
Other things to consider:
- Waterproof – Will you be outside a lot? Is a rain cover included?
- Visibility – If using for commuting or you will be out at night then consider whether there are reflective strips? Also, a colourful bag might be more suitable that a black minimalist backpack.
- Carry Handles – These give extra flexibility, especially if there is the ability to stow away the regular backpack straps. They also assist when you are on public transport; lifting it into overhead bins, or storing by your feet may be better than keeping it on your back.
- Anti-Theft – If you carry things with a lot of additional worth when you travel, this is a key consideration.
Best Minimalist Backpacks Overall
Osprey Farpoint 40 Minimalist Travel Backpack Review
This is one of the top-rated men’s minimalist backpack, which is durable and very comfortable to carry. Osprey also has a specific women’s version of this backpack called the Fairview, so keep reading.
It has the ability to zip up the straps, harness and hip belt behind a panel. So with handles on the side and top, stowing your bag on public transport is made much easier.
The straps are nicely padded, with a chest strap and hip belt for added comfort. Also although there are no claims about the bag being waterproof, it holds up pretty well in wet weather.
The bag is a clamshell opener, so you can pack it like a suitcase. I find this handy although I prefer to use packing cubes anyway for added organisation. There is a front pocket which looks roomy but is reliant on the main compartment having space. You will also find a laptop sleeve and a tablet pocket. These are padded but not seriously, so you need to be aware of that when carrying tech. I do find it mildly annoying having the laptop away from your body like this. As it puts off the weight distribution of the backpack.
Finally, there is a small zippered pocket on the front of the bag. This is handy for small items and things like your passport when going through security.
This bag has been reviewed a lot. It is also widely available. Therefore it is easy to go and try before you buy on this one.
Top Minimalist Laptop Backpack
If you are looking for a minimalist laptop bag, it’s likely that you are after a changeling bag. So it can double both as a travel backpack as well as a minimalist daypack or minimalist commuter backpack. Therefore there is a little dip in size on this one. If you want a bigger bag, please see other sections in this guide.
Peak Design Everday Backpack (V2) 30 Minimalist Travel Backpack Review
If you are looking for a sleek laptop backpack, then you have to consider the Peak Design Everyday Backpack (V2). This backpack also comes in a 20L version if you are after a simpler and smaller everyday carry. Take note that the bag is only 30L if you have it on the top latch, which doesn’t look great. So if you need the full 30L capacity regularly, I would consider a different option.
This backpack was built with photographers in mind so it is built around “access, organisation, expansion and protection”. This makes it great as an everyday carry if you have lots of tech gadgets.
There are swivel points on the top of the straps that make access a doddle with springy comfortable straps. The straps are really easy to adjust. They have magnets in them so you can tuck them away against the back of the pack. This makes it a more low profile slim laptop backpack. There is a removable chest strap, though it may not be the most sturdy.
The back panel is padded which helps with airflow. It also has a magnetised luggage panel. This is such a step up from some of the velcro options that are out there.
There are 3 handles on this bag, one at the top and two on the sides. Below the handles are two side pockets, which lay flat with magnets. Both can easily fit a decent sized water bottle. Also, there are lash staps for the bottom and the front of the bag. Something you may not use if this is an everyday carry, but a bonus nonetheless. Especially as they maintain the minimalist look of the bag.
The laptop compartment sits at the back and has a cool adjustable sleeve according to the size of your laptop. This stops your laptop from touching the bottom of the bag, protecting it from damage. There is also a tablet sleeve (with magnets, of course!). Also a stretchy mesh area with 2 small pockets which are great for phones, cables or travel documents.
The main compartment is mostly a top loader, however, you can also unzip the bag from either side for access. Peak Design include origami dividers which can be configured in a myriad of different ways. Whilst designed for camera equipment, these are also great for organising your bag how you like it. Secured with velcro (not magnets ha) they stay in place surprisingly well.
The side access panels both have top pockets, with more magnets and a zippered pocket. Finally a small pocket on the front flap, which is good for a ticket or passport.
This backpack is more of a commuter bag than a travel bag but it can double as both if needed. I’m sure some people will dig the duality. This is the best executive backpack, that you can jet off with for a weekend of fun too.
Best Minimalist Travel Backpack for Women
Osprey Fairview 40 Minimalist Travel Backpack Review
Designed with women in mind, the Osprey Fairview 40 really stands out as the best women’s travel backpack. It has very similar features to the Farpoint 40 however there are some additional things to mention.
Firstly, it’s style is not the most minimalistic or chic. As the bag is built for travel it will help you BE minimal and that’s important. I should point out that my second pick for women’s backpack, the Kelty Redwing, is similarly not a looker. The Fairview does come in two attractive colours though, a brown/grey and forest green.
The straps are slightly narrower than the Farpoint, with the same amount of padding. They are shaped differently, curving in which makes them stay put on a woman’s frame much easier than it’s counterpart. The curve on the hip belt is prominent fitting ladies bodies a bit better. It sits higher and has more padding than the Farpoint.
As with the Farpoint, the laptop compartment is away from your body. Which you know I find frustrating. However the rest of the bag works so well, I can forgive this design faux pas. Overall it’s my only real niggle with this bag.
So why does the Fairview beat out the Kelty Redwing? Four things;
- Dangly straps on the Kelty.
- The durability is far superior on the Fairview.
- The overall design is nicer and more fitting on the Fairview.
- I prefer a clamshell to a top loader.
Neither bag is a looker. But I feel like the Fariview still looks a lot nicer than the Kelty.
Another Good Option for Best Women’s Minimalist Travel Backpack
Kelty Redwing 40 Minimalist Travel Backpack Review
Although not my top pick, the Kelty Redwing is one of the best travel backpacks for women. It is lightweight and has a harness system that is comfortable and sits well on a woman.
The Kelty Redwing is aimed more at outdoor than travel. This does show in the look of the pack. It has a less minimalist style but that shouldn’t rule it out for a minimalist travel companion.
It is still a contender. All the stuff that makes the pack look less streamlined do actually offer real advantages.
Firstly, the harness system, whilst being designed for women and distribution of weight on a smaller frame. The system is also highly adjustable so you should always be able to find the right fit for you. It comes with a chest strap and hip belt which are also adjustable. You can remove the hip belt which is a great bonus for when it is not needed.
On the back, there is lots of padding giving added comfort and adding ventilation. There are also compression straps to really pull in the shape of the bag. The downside to this though is the addition of lots of dangly straps.
There is a stash pocket on the front for handy access to a waterproof jacket or other quick-grab items.
This is a top-loading bag with a main compartment which essentially just one big area. There is a laptop sleeve at the back of the main compartment which is great for carrying. Not so great in terms of easy access. At the top of the backpack, there is another, more security-conscious stash pocket. The opening is against your back when you are carrying the bag making it good for the security conscious.
There are also 2 side zippered pockets which are great for chargers. Finally, there is a front pocket with a heap of organisation. Even when full there is still room in this pocket for a light jacket jumper.
You can see then why this backpack shines in terms of organisation. It deserves to be given some consideration as a minimalist travel backpack.
Best Minimalist Carry On Backpack – It’s a Tie
Deuter AViANT Carry On Pro 36 Minimalist Travel Backpack Review
The low profile Deuter Aviant Carry On Pro 36 is a great choice.
I have to say I really like the look of this backpack. It’s slim and minimal without being boring.
It comes in both a men’s and a women’s version. Although I find the fact that the women’s version comes with a detachable flower a little nauseating.
The bag has light padding which helps it keep its form even when empty, without add bulk to the bag.
The straps are well-padded and easily adjustable. They sit a little lower on the bag. Distributing the weight of the pack higher on your back which helps balance things out nicely. You can adjust or remove the chest strap. There is no hip belt. It has a decent amount of padding and airflow on the back. There is also a luggage passthrough.
You can unclip and completely hide the straps. However, this has the drawback that occasionally the straps will unclip without warning. This is frustrating, especially if you are rushing. It’s such a neat backpack otherwise that I felt it should be included. I had to mention it though.
There are 2 carry handles, on the top and on one side, and that’s it. No water bottles, straps or widgets to mar the minimalist design on the outside. Whether you see this as a plus or not depends on preference.
Inside there’s plenty of organisation, although the front pocket is just one big bucket of a pocket. At the back of the bag, there is a huge tech compartment with organisation galore. A floating laptop sleeve with 2 pockets in front, one small. On the other side, there is a liner pocket with two smaller pockets. Whilst I loved the idea of this pocket it was a bit overkill in terms of size.
This bag is another clamshell opener, with a main zippered area. In this compartment, there is a separate shoe compartment which is removable. On the other side, there is also a mesh zip compartment with compression straps to secure items.
One final note, this bag has an NFC chip. Meaning you can find the bag if it is lost or stolen. I am not sure whether most people would bother to register this, you may find it an attractive bonus.
Thule Subterra 34 Minimalist Travel Backpack Review
If you are looking for the best slim backpack, then look no further, the Thule Subterra 34 has you covered.
It has a very slim profile and a sleek look. So it can double as both a travel backpack and an everyday carry.
Although the straps seem quite thin, they are surprisingly comfortable even at heavier weights. There are also carry handles on the top and side and a chest strap. The straps lie flat against the pack when not in use, which is a bonus.
This one is a roll-top opening with a big old bucket of a main compartment. Thule does provide a packing cube for this area though which is a nice touch. There is a laptop pocket in this main compartment. It can be difficult to access when the bag is full. Thankfully, you can also access this from a side pocket which is very nifty.
The front pocket features the pretty much standard organisation system. It has the added addition of a lower mesh pocket they call the “power pocket”. This is designed to hold a power pack that can be wired into your phone inside the bag. There is also a mesh pocket on the front side of the opening.
Outside there is just a zippered and surprisingly roomy water bottle holder, and a side pocket.
Best Budget Minimalist Travel Backpack
Amazons Basics Slim Carry On Travel Backpack 35 Minimalist Travel Review
There should be no shame in looking for a cheap minimalist backpack. The Amazon basics option is one of the cheapest on the market.
Despite this, it features durable material and the same standard of zippers of the more expensive brands of travel backpack. It doesn’t have some of the bells and whistles of the other contenders on this list. Yet it is really rather decent bag and shouldn’t be sniffed at due to its low price point.
Is it going to be on par with it’s more expensive, buddies? No, but it doesn’t lag as far behind as I expected, either.
First off it has a vast array of colours to choose from. This is nice as there is something everyone will like.
The straps are well-padded and curve nicely to fit well on your body. The back padding adds comfort and airflow with a stealthy luggage pass through incorporated. There is no hip belt however the chest strap is fully adjustable. You can also stow the straps away, which you have probably realised is a feature I really like.
There are two quick-grab handles, on the top and side which sit close to the bag when not in use. There also compression straps which come in handy both when the bag is empty and full. They are kind of annoying as they make access to the main compartment more difficult. It’s up to you if the trade-off is worth it.
There is a small bottle pocket on the side and a quick grab pocket on the front as you’d expect. Another quick grab pocket is built into the mesh padding at the base of your back. This is great for more security but obviously isn’t easily accessed when wearing the bag.
Inside, there is no getting away from the fact that it’s very, very orange. Whilst a little over the top, I actually like it. It makes navigating the contents of a bag easier somehow. You can see your stuff versus the interior of the bag much more easily.
The front pocket has lots of organisation and space as it folds down almost completely. It doesn’t have lots of space so is mostly for thinner items.
There is a laptop compartment on the back which is accessed by unzipping one whole side of the backpack. There is a sleeve but it lets your laptop rest on the bottom of the bag. Whilst there is plenty of padding, this is still sort of frustrating.
This bag opens like a clamshell and again is one large compartment. It has a cool opening at the top of the bag. So you can easily access items near the top. There is also a fabric pouch lined with this pocket so you can stash easy access things there.
Considering its budget nature, this is a nice slim backpack. It will function well for anyone who cannot afford one of the more expensive brands.
So that rounds up my reviews of the best minimalist travel backpacks out there. Get your minimalist travel packing list ready. Soon you’ll be jetting off unencumbered by all that stuff you usually take on a trip.