Dragging a heavy suitcase around on your travels can be a huge drag! If you’re after adventure, minimalist packing is the only way to go — and it all starts with choosing the perfect minimalist backpack or suitcase. This guide will help you find your ideal minimalist luggage.
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When we first went backpacking around the world, we had HUGE packs filled to the brim with all sorts of crap we didn’t need. It was awful. I can still remember the pain of hefting that thing onto my shoulders!
To make matters worse, it was so big and disorganized that I could never find anything inside.
Fast forward many (many!) years of travel and I now have — if not the perfect minimalist backpack — something that comes pretty close.
I never have to ask for help to put it in the overhead bins on the plane either. Boo ya!
Minimalist packing is all about maximizing adventure — and it all starts with finding the perfect minimalist backpack or suitcase!
Read on to discover our picks of the best minimalist packs and find out…
How to Choose the Best Minimalist Backpack for Your Adventures
What’s in guide to minimalist backpacks and suitcases?
1. Why do you need a minimalist backpack or suitcase?
2. Which type of minimalist luggage do you need?
3. What size of suitcase or backpack do you need?
4. What makes a great minimalist backpack?
5. Best travel backpack for Europe
6. Best hard case carry on luggage
7. Best carry on backpack for international travel
8. Best travel backpack with wheels
9. Best travel backpack for women
Why do you need a minimalist backpack or suitcase?
The first law of minimalist packing is that your stuff will fill all available space. Therefore, the bigger your bag, the more useless junk you’ll collect on your travels.
First of all, that’s just not a good look!
Second, large luggage really limits the adventuring you can do.
A heavy suitcase will hold you back. It’s fine if you plan to take taxis and stay in hotels where the bellhop carries your bags.
But what about when you want to go on an adventure? Your suitcase should be small enough and light enough to sling into the overhead bins, balance on top of a mini bus, or carry on your back for at least a couple of kilometres.
Heavy, large luggage also costs more. You pay more to get it on the airplane, more for transportation (all those taxis), and more for tipping the bellhop!
Wouldn’t you rather spend that extra cash on travel experiences?
(Don’t miss: Stephen’s very popular post about how to pack for long-term travel in just a carry on) →
Which type of minimalist luggage do you need?
Choosing the right suitcase or backpack depends on:
- Your travel style
- Your ability and desire to carry stuff
- Your age (to some extent)
If you’re planning on staying in hostels and travelling rough, a traditional backpack is probably your best bet.
If you choose 3-star or better hotels and want to spend most of your time in Western cities with good sidewalks, or you’re not up for lifting your bags all the time, then a wheeled carry-on might be best.
If you are all over the place, luxury one night and camping the next, then a convertible suitcase or backpack is perfect.
If you’re still not sure what kind of luggage is best for you, try this fun quiz by The Professional Hobo.
What size of suitcase or backpack do you need?
If you want to be a minimalist traveller, your backpack or suitcase definitely has to be small enough to qualify as carry on luggage!
For round-the-world packing or long term travel, where you’ll be experiencing multiple climates and seasons and embarking on a few adventures, we recommend a 35L backpack or suitcase. One that expands is handy when you have to pack in rush or stuff in a couple extra bottles of wine.
If you’re a true minimalist, 35L might seem excessive.
Just make sure you’re not packing so little that you cut yourself off from certain experiences. For example, you might decide you don’t need a sweater and then find that it’s too cold to stay outside! Or you might decide not to bring hiking shoes and then miss out on some of the best nature-oriented experiences.
For summer and warm climate travels, you won’t need a winter jacket or bulky shoes. In that case, you can probably pack in a 30L backpack or smaller. But, if you plan on doing more travelling in the future, it might be smart to get a larger, more versatile backpack that will last through multiple adventures.
What makes a great minimalist backpack?
Aside from the size, there are other features you want to look out for in a great travel backpack or suitcase.
- Lots of pockets. This will help keep you organized and prevent you from wasting precious travel time digging through your pack looking for your umbrella or your glove.
Opens wide. If you travel with a backpack that only opens at the top, you will go insane in a matter of days. A great travel bag needs to open like a suitcase so you can keep your items organized and wrinkle free.
Durability. We have broken so many suitcases it is ridiculous. The zippers, handles, and wheels always go first. But the seams can tear apart too. Make sure your backpack is designed for rough handling!
Versatility & style. Sometimes you will be rattling along a muddy jungle track on the back of a tuk tuk. Sometimes you will be slinking through the streets of Hong Kong in a Tesla Uber. Make sure your choice of luggage isn’t going to embarrass you in a variety of situations.
Price. Even if you’re on a budget, try not to buy the cheapest possible backpack. If you choose well, your backpack can be a trusty travel companion for years to come, so buy the best one you can afford.
What are the best minimalist backpacks and suitcases?
We’ve selected our 4 favourite minimalist backpacks and one great minimalist suitcase.
All are around 35–40L and all will fit in most airplane overhead bins — if you don’t overpack! On some budget flights in Europe and Asia, the rules (especially when it comes to weight) are getting more strict, so if your backpack is overfull or heavy, you’ll probably have to check it.
Best travel backpack for Europe
Standard Luggage Carry-On
Versatile, stylish, and incredibly durable
$180 / €153
Jane’s pick! I’ve travelled with this bag for the last couple of years and wouldn’t trade it for anything! We call it the best backpack for Europe because that’s where the versatility of this bag really comes in handy.
When the straps are tucked away, it looks like a real suitcase, making it one of the best business travel backpacks, too. When you get the straps out, you can sling it over your back — much easier than trying to wheel it along all those cobbled European streets!
There are also plenty of pockets (which I LOOOVE) to keep me organized. With my packing cubes inside, I can pack in five minutes and find anything I need at a moment’s notice. Highly recommended!
They have free worldwide shipping and a lifetime warranty too. Bonus!
Best hard case carry on luggage
Haupstadtkoffer Alex 20″ 42L
Affordable, durable, replaceable parts
$80 / €77
Stephen’s Pick. What’s the worst thing about wheelie suitcases? Their wheels ALWAYS break! Stephen has broken so many pieces of luggage, we stopped counting a long time ago.
All that ended when he got the Haupstadtkoffer Alex a couple of years ago. Sure, he has broken the handle and the wheels BUT the parts are completely replaceable and their customer service is excellent! He has ordered new parts twice and now the suitcase is like new again.
If you’re tough on stuff and you would rather wheel than carry your luggage, definitely consider this hard sided carry on luggage.
Best carry on backpack for international travel
Osprey Farpoint 40
Great all-round travel backpack with suspension and comfy straps
$150-160 / €120
If you’re searching for a great minimalist backpack that opens like a suitcase, this Osprey travel backpack is one of the best out there. It has a 40L capacity and (if you don’t stuff it too full) can be carried on most flights. It has an internal suspension system, a hip belt to save your shoulders, and a side carrying handle too. The Osprey Farpoint 55 is essentially the same pack, but includes a 15L removable daypack.
Best travel backpack with wheels
Osprey Ozone 36L
All the benefits of a backpack but with wheels too!
$200 / €110
Though I love my Standard Luggage convertible backpack, I must admit that every once in a while I would love a minimalist backpack with wheels! When Stephen is rolling off down the airport concourse and I am lugging my (albeit lightweight) suitcase on my back, I dream of a wheeled pack.
I can definitely picture rocking this Osprey Ozone the next time I need new luggage. It has an aluminum frame, suspension straps, wheels, and a neat vented damp storage pocket, perfect for last-minute dips in the pool.
It is available in a 36L and a 46L size, but as a true minimalist, you’ll want the 36L, right?
Best travel backpack for women
Kelty Women’s Redwing 40 Backpack
Great minimalist backpack specially designed to fit a woman’s shape
To be honest, I’ve never had to worry about getting a special women’s backpack because I’m tall and not particularly curvy. But, if you have a more womanly shape, it can make a huge difference to have a backpack that’s designed especially for women. I love the look of this Kelty women’s 39L backpack (don’t ask me why they call it the 40!) because it has shoulder straps and a hip belt designed for women and is designed for hiking as well as more casual travel.
It also has lots of external pockets, including water bottle pockets, which make it easy to access everything you need in seconds. It’s also one of the cheapest on our list, so perfect for female travellers on a budget!
If you love your bag, travel seems just a little bit more exciting! We hope our guide to minimalist backpacks helps you choose the right bag to make your adventures that little bit better.
Let us know in the comments below if you have questions or if you have a travel suitcase that you love that is not on our list.
♥ Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen
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