Hauling a heavy suitcase around on your travels is a huge drag! If you’re after adventure, minimalist packing is the only way to go — and it all starts with choosing the best minimalist backpack. This guide will help you find your the right travel backpack for your travel style.
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!
Walking from the train to the hostel in England, along steep cobbled streets was a nightmare. Navigating the melee of touts and scammers at the Rome train station was misery.
To make matters worse, it was so big and disorganized that I could never find anything inside. I remember rummaging through that pack in dorm rooms around Europe, wasting precious sightseeing time looking for whatever I needed that day. So annoying!
If I could only go back and do it again, I’d take half as much stuff — and have twice as much fun!
Fast forward many (many!) years of travel and I now have, if not the perfect minimal backpack, something that comes pretty close.
Now I can sling my bag over my back and run for the bus in Vietnam, throw it on top of a taxi in Casablanca, or hold it above my head as I wade through turquoise waters to a boat in Indonesia.
I never have to ask for help to put it in the overhead bins on the plane either, like so many other travellers we encounter. Boo ya!
Minimalist packing is all about maximizing adventure — and it all starts with finding the best minimalist backpack or suitcase for your travel style.
If you’re ready to pack light, read on to discover our picks of the best minimalist packs and find out how to choose the best minimalist backpack for travel.
Best Minimalist Backpacks Quick Picks
We give full reviews of the 8 best minimalist backpacks for travel below. But if you’re in a rush, these are our top picks.
Best overall → Osprey Farpoint 40
Best backpack for Europe → Standard Luggage Carry On
Best backpack for women → Kelty Women’s Redwing
Why Do You Need a Minimalist Backpack?
The first law of minimalist travel is:
The amount of stuff you travel with will always expand to fill the space in your travel bag.
Therefore, the bigger your bag, the more useless junk you’ll collect as you travel.
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. That’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 backpack should be small enough and light enough to sling into the airplane’s 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 which will get you started on minimalist travel packing) →
How to be a minimalist traveller
Have you ever seen those backpackers that have a HUGE backpack on their back — and then another backpack strapped to their front? They always look miserable.
Why? Because backpacking and adventure travel are all about being nimble and ready to change plans on a moment’s notice.
If you’re carrying too much stuff, you will:
- Take longer to pack and unpack
- Waste time rummaging through your bag for that one lost item
- Be the one to miss the bus because you couldn’t run to catch it
- Develop aches and pains from too much weight
- Probably end up wasting money mailing half your stuff home
Here are my 5 tips for starting out on the right foot on becoming an awesome minimalist backpacker:
- Buy a smaller bag. You will always be tempted to fill your bag right to the brim. A minimalist carry on bag will force you to keep light and stay nimble.
- Change your mindset. At home, you are probably used to having every little convenience at your fingertips. As a minimalist backpacker, you’ll quickly start to understand that extra stuff does not make you happier.
- Forget fashion. In our Instagram world, it’s hard not to want a different amazing outfit for every landscape you encounter. But remember that famous travel Instagrammers are weighed down by their luggage. That’s why they stay in luxury hotels and take taxis everywhere. If you want to go for minimalist backpack travel, you’ll have to make your peace with fewer outfits — and way more fun.
- Bring only the must-haves. While you’re packing, you’ll probably end up with a pile of items that you think you “might” need. Leave those at home. Yes, all of them. If you really need it later, you can always buy it on the road.
- Leave room for luxury. Travel can be tough, so you can bring one or two luxury items along — especially if you’re going on a longer trip. I have a travel pillow. Stephen carries a hand-powered coffee grinder. You might want your teddy bear or a comfy but bulky sweatshirt. These little luxuries can go a long way to adding comfort and sanity to your trip.
What Makes a Great Minimalist Backpack?
There is no single definition of a minimalist backpack.
To me, a minimalist backpack is any pack that is carefully designed to allow you to travel comfortably with minimal stuff. Stephen and I are not ultra-minimalists. We believe that your minimal travel backpack should allow room for one or two luxuries to keep you sane on your travels.
A minimalist backpack for travel is:
- A backpack that you can carry on to any airplane (even low cost flights in Europe)
- Comfortable and small enough to carry around for up to an hour
- Well designed, so you can make the most of a small space
- Practical, without some of the silly bells, whistles, and useless “features” of other backpacks
There are lots of backpacks and suitcases that fulfill these requirements. So what should you look for in a backpack?
Keep reading to find out.
5 features of the best minimalist backpacks
The best minimalist travel bag is not just small, it’s also well designed, to maximize what you can fit inside and keep you organized.
Here are the 5 things you want to look for when choosing minimalist luggage:
- 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.
Above all, the best bag for minimalist travel is the one that you’re going to love to carry, day-in and day-out for years to come.
Which Type of Travel Bag Should You Choose?
Choosing the right minimalist travel bag 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 minimalist carry on 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 suitcase 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.
(Related: 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 Backpack is Best?
If you want to be a minimalist traveller, your backpack or suitcase definitely has to be small enough to qualify as carry on luggage! Watch out for the shrinking airline carry-on size minimums on low cost flights — some luggage that says it is carry-on size will not fit in the overhead bins of certain cheap airlines in Europe and Asia.
Round-the-world or long-term travel
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 35–40 L backpack or suitcase. If you can get one that expands, the extra space can be handy when you have to pack in rush or need to carry an extra bottle of wine!
If you’re a super ultralight minimalist, 35L might seem excessive — and that’s fine.
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 great hikes.
Summer, warm-climate, or short-term travel
If you aren’t travelling for more than a month, or you’ll only going to hot destinations, 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 future adventures.
The Best Minimalist Travel Backpacks + 1 Awesome Suitcase
Best minimalist backpack overall
Osprey Farpoint 40
Great all-round travel backpack with suspension and comfy straps
Capacity around 40L
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 it includes a 15L removable daypack.
Best budget travel backpack
AmazonBasics Carry-On Travel Backpack
Best travel backpack for travellers on a tight budget
Capacity around 40L
I’m not sure how they manage it, but this AmazonBasics Backpack includes most of the features of more expensive bags at a seriously budget price.
This bag isn’t a true backpack, it’s more like a convertible suitcase. It has padded shoulder straps that tuck away, an external laptop pocket plus two other exterior pockets, compression straps inside and out, and a sternum strap and waist belt.
If you don’t have a cent to spare, this might be the right bag for you. If you do have a little extra cash, it’s better to spend a little more and get a higher quality, more durable backpack.
Best ultra lightweight backpack
Tortuga Homebase Backpack
Ultra lightweight backpack for short trips or summer travel
Capacity around 32L
If you’re going on a short trip, a summer-only trip, or are a genius at minimalist packing, the Tortuga Homebase Backpack could be your perfect travel pack.
Made of water-resistant sailcloth, the empty bag weighs 2.3lb (1kg) and the 32L capacity will make sure you only bring the essentials. With padded ergonomic shoulder straps, you could carry this bag around comfortably for an afternoon of sightseeing. The straps also tuck away to convert the bag into a soft-sided suitcase.
There is a front organization pocket with space for passports, power cables, pens, and other necessities. The backpack also comes with a packing cube that converts into a daypack. This is a great idea and saves you spending extra cash on accessories. It does reduce the space in the main compartment a little, so you’ll want to consider that before buying.
This pack isn’t the most durable on the market, so if you want to use it for extended or rough travel, another option might be better.
Best minimalist backpack womens
Kelty Women’s Redwing 40 Backpack
Great minimalist backpack designed to fit a woman’s shape
Capacity around 39L
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. It can also double as a hiking backpack for short trips into the wilderness.
The bag features lots of external pockets, including side water bottle pockets, which make it easy to access everything you need in seconds. Finally, this bag is one of the cheapest on our list — perfect for female travellers on a budget!
Best travel backpack for Europe
Standard Luggage Carry-On
Versatile, stylish, and incredibly durable
Capacity around 35L, expands to 45L
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 respectable 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. There are internal compressions straps, a dedicated external laptop pocket, and several other internal and external pockets. The bag is black, but comes with interchangeable coloured handles, so you can spot it on the luggage carousel from miles away.
They have free worldwide shipping and a lifetime warranty too. Bonus!
Best travel backpack with wheels
All the benefits of a backpack but with wheels too
Capacity around 36L
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 Fairview the next time I need new luggage. It has an aluminum frame, storable tensioned mesh back panel, wheels, and a fully opening front panel and extra mesh pockets.
The Osprey Fairview is a 36L capacity, so you’ll be wheeling or carrying it with ease.
Best minimalist backpack for digital nomads
PacSafe Vibe 40L Anti-Theft Carry-on Backpack
Perfect pack for security-conscious digital nomads
Capacity around 40L
As their name suggests, PacSafe backpacks are all about anti-theft and security. The Vibe 40L contains anti-slash wire mesh, plus it has a central lockdown spot for zippers, a puncture resistant zipper, and an RFID pocket to prevent electronic identity theft.
The internal compartment has a separated laptop sleeve and compression straps. Externally, there is a top quick-access pocket and a side pocket for a water bottle. The straps aren’t as comfy as many backpacks but they do stow away to protect them from damage while in transit.
The average traveller won’t need this much security, but if you’re carrying expensive equipment or sensitive information (or are highly paranoid), this bag will do its best to protect your stuff.
Best hard case minimalist luggage
Haupstadtkoffer Alex 20″
Affordable, durable, replaceable parts
Capacity around 35L, expands to 42L
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.
Of course, there are no external pockets, but there is an interior divider with pockets, internal compression straps, and can be expanded to fit extra stuff.
The benefit of hard-sided luggage is that it protects your precious belongings when a squishy suitcase can’t. Plus, even when it’s full, the sides don’t bulge out, meaning you will always be able to slide it in the overhead bin.
If you’re tough on stuff and you would rather wheel than carry your luggage, definitely consider this hard-sided carry on luggage.
Minimalist Luggage will Transform Your Travel
There is no one perfect minimalist travel backpack for all adventurers. We all have different needs and different preferences when it comes to packing for travel.
But the benefits of packing light are universal.
I have never heard anyone complain that their backpack is too light, or that they wish they were carrying more stuff. Once you make the transition to a minimalist backpack, you’ll never go back to your overweight, overstuffed luggage again.
♥ Happy transformational travels, Jane & Stephen
We’re not going to lie, it takes a LOT of work to create travel guides like this. But it’s easy to help us out! If you book or buy something using one of our personal links in this post, we’ll earn a small fee at no extra cost to you. Of course, we would never recommend anything we didn’t 100% believe in! Huge thanks in advance! –S&J
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