15 Best Minimalist Backpacks for Simple One Bag Travel 2021

Last Updated on November 21, 2021

Man walking down the street in Mexico wearing a black minimalist travel backpack for one-bag travel

The Best Minimalist Backpacks for Simple One Bag Travel in 2021

 

As a nomad who lives with less, few things get me fired up like simple one bag travel while donning my minimalist backpack. The feeling that overcomes me knowing everything I need is gently resting on my shoulders as I get to know a new place is simply exhilarating.

But fitting my travel essentials comfortably into one single bag didn’t always come naturally. Not too long ago, in fact, you could find me staggering around the streets of Western Europe with a bulging 80-liter backpack and an overstuffed suitcase. “You’re living the dream out there!” declared my family and friends.

Maybe, but that dream was dreadful to lug from one place to the next.

So I kept dragging my belongings around the continent until I met a young guy from Australia near the end of my trip. He was energetic, light on his feet, and carried a modestly sized backpack that held everything he needed to travel. Seeing him thrive with so little was a revelation, so I decided to become a one bag traveler myself.

When I got home, I bought a new backpack, overhauled my packing list, and whittled down my travel gear to the bare essentials. It’s taken me years of gradual downsizing, but all of my travel necessities now fit into a 30-liter carry-on-friendly backpack.

One bag travel with a rock-solid minimalist travel backpack is the best way to travel in 2021. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Find a simple minimalist backpack
  2. Dial in your packing list
  3. Start traveling

Now, let’s cross #1 off the list.

MINIMALIST BACKPACKS
TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Considerations for Minimalist Backpacks
2. Carry-On Bag Sizes & Rules
3. Noel’s Minimalist Backpack: Pakt Travel Backpack
4. Pro Traveler’s Top Pick: Aer Travel Backpack 2
5. Best Carry-On Backpack on a Budget: Amazon Basics
6. Most Spacious Travel Backpack: Osprey Porter 46L
7. Best Backpack for Digital Nomads: Minaal Carry-On 3.0 Bag
8. Best Pack for Photographers: Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
9. Best Anti-Theft Travel Backpack: Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45
10. Best Outdoorsy Travel Bag: REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 Recycled Pack
11. Best Segmented Simple Minimalist Backpack: Matador SEG42
12. Best Waterproof Travel Backpack: Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack
13. Most Durable Travel Backpack: GORUCK GR3
14. Best Ultralight Pack for Hikers & Backpackers: Zpacks Nero 38L ROBIC
15. Best Minimalist Travel Duffel Bag: Peak Design Travel Duffel 35L
16. Best Packable Daypack for Travel: Matador On-Grid Packable Backpack
17. Best Sling for Day Trips: Pacsafe Venturesafe X Anti-Theft Sling Pack
18. Essential Accessories for One Bag Travel
19. Final Thoughts
20. More Travel Gear, Resources & Reviews

Factors I Consider When Analyzing Minimalist Backpacks

There’s a lot to consider when choosing your next simple black backpack

 

I’m a helpless gear nerd, so I put an agonizing amount of thought and effort into analyzing the following 15 minimalist backpacks and bags on this list. I take gear very seriously, and would never write up or recommend a bag without first taking into account the following six factors:

Comfort

Whether you’re racing through airports, navigating foreign sidewalks, or squeezing onto packed subways during rush hour, your backpack shouldn’t be a distraction as you get from point A to point B. That’s why I analyze the feel, fit, and ease-of-carry for each pack you’ll find in this post. Comfort matters and you should never sacrifice it.

Internal Storage

Internal storage volume is measured in liters (L), with one liter equal to the size of a cube that’s 4 x 4 inches. The backpacks on this list range from 30 to 46 liters, and should all fit the carry-on requirements for US-based airlines (as long as they aren’t overpacked).

Your task is to find the perfectly sized backpack for your style of one bag travel. Start by finding your sweet spot by mock packing your travel essentials in your current bag (or a friend’s). Next, note the volume of the backpack, how comfortably your gear fits inside, and go from there.

Weight

The heavier your backpack gets, the more of a burden it’ll become when you’re traveling. Here’s some advice: keep your fully-packed backpack below 25 pounds (11 kilograms). Heavier loads will tug at your shoulders, strain your back, and become exhausting to lug around.

Material

If you’re spending a chunk of your hard-earned money on one of 2021’s best minimalist travel backpacks, it had better be well-made from high-quality materials. I don’t have time for cheap packs that will fray, tear, or come apart at the seams. Do you?

All packs I recommend (aside from the budget option) are constructed from high-end fabrics, reliable zippers, and strong thread. I want your pack to hold up to the harsh realities of travel, and I want it to hold up for a very long time.

Functionality

Are the backpack’s zippers in the right place? Is the laptop pocket easy to access? Are there handles on the bag everywhere there should be? Is the internal layout simple and travel-friendly? Does the pack have sufficient anti-theft features to deter criminals?

These are the questions engineers ask themselves when designing one bag travel backpacks, and they’re also the questions I ask myself when analyzing them. The backpacks I recommend must be thoughtfully designed and engineered with you, the traveler, in mind.

Price

Most of the packs on this list aren’t cheap, as most options fall between $150 and $400. The truth is, if you want a top-notch backpack for one bag travel, you’ll likely have to shell out a decent bit of cash.

These backpacks will last a long time, however, so a decent investment now should be rewarded with years of reliability, comfort, and functionality as you travel.

Carry-On Backpacks & Bags: Sizes and Rules

A black and white table with carry-on luggages size requirements and rules

Carry-on luggage max size restrictions vary by airline, but the most common size is 22″ x 14″ x 9″

 

Domestic Airlines (US)

Though the exact dimensions vary slightly from airline to airline, the most common carry-on size for US domestic airlines is 22″ x 14″ x 9″. Weight limits for carry-ons exist for a select few airlines but are seldom enforced.

International Airlines

There’s no standard carry-on size for international travel, but the vast majority of international airlines allow bags that fit the dimensions of 21″ x 14″ x 9″ and below. Weight limits also exist and usually fall at 22 pounds (10 kilograms) and below.

The bags on this list should all fit within domestic and international guidelines, as long as they’re not hopelessly overpacked. If an airline gives you guff about the weight of your carry-on, simply move some items to a packable daypack to reduce weight and claim it as your personal item.

Noel’s Choice: Best Overall Minimalist Backpack
Pakt Travel Backpack

Black Pakt brand travel backpackMSRP: $295
Capacity: 30L
Weight: 4.5 lb | 2.04 kg
Main Material: 900D rPET
The Good: Comfortable, durable, extremely functional, stylish
The Not-So-Good: Heavy, front pockets get tight when overpacked

Why am I recommending the Pakt Travel Backpack as the best overall minimalist bag? Because it’s the best backpack I’ve ever owned, and I want to spread the good word with the rest of the world.

First things first: I love the look of this bag. Its durable, weather-resistant 900D rPET fabric gives it a refined, practical look that doesn’t draw unwanted attention when I’m in transit. My favorite feature is the bag’s well-designed main compartment, which is split thoughtfully into two sections by a padded laptop pouch. This design allows me to stash my clothes snugly into one section while the other holds my photography gear and other travel essentials. My bag weighs 25 pounds when fully packed and is always very comfortable to carry, thanks to its solid internal frame, breathable padded back panel, and load lifter straps. The bag’s three external pockets work well together and stash my toiletries, chargers, headphones, notebook, and other high-use gear that I might need at a moment’s notice.

Though its internal storage fits my stuff well, the bag’s 30 liters won’t be sufficient for traveler’s who carry much more gear than I do. And, at 4.5 pounds, the bag is a big heavy for only 30 liters of internal storage, so if you’re looking for a pack with a good volume to weight ratio, there are better options out there.

The Pakt Travel Backpack is perfect for those who carry a lightweight, simple wardrobe and aren’t afraid to pare down their packing list to its absolute essentials. As a minimalist digital nomad, I’m thrilled with this simple backpack in all facets and find that it’s the best option for men and women like me on the market.

SEE PRICE ON PAKT

Traveler’s Consensus Top Minimalist Backpack
AER Travel Backpack 2

Black AER brand travel pack

MSRP: $230
Capacity: 33L
Weight: 3.7 lb | 1.68 kg
Main Material: 1680D Cordura® Ballistic Nylon
The Good: Sleek, durable, efficient use of space, great external organizer pocket
The Not-So-Good: Main compartment isn’t divided, not a ton of storage

The AER Travel Backpack 2 is sleek, highly functional, and sits atop many other lists for 2021’s best minimalist backpacks. If I didn’t love my Pakt bag so much, this might be my do-it-all backpack for one bag travel.

This backpack is indestructible. Its 1680D Cordura Ballistic Nylon fabric is built to hold up for years of travel and is incredibly weather-resistant to boot. As a frequent backpacker, I appreciate that the AER is equipped with side compression straps, which draw the bag’s weight closer to your body and make it far more comfortable to carry. Its thoughtful external organizer pocket (which is admittedly a bit bigger and better than my Pakt’s) will stash all your cords, chargers, notebooks, pens, and other gizmos for quick and convenient access. The bag’s large main clamshell-style compartment is reasonably roomy and will fit a set of three packing cubes (large, medium, and small) quite perfectly if fully packed. Though I wouldn’t find it very useful (I wear my shoes in transit), it also sports a nifty waterproof shoe pocket at the bottom of the pack, which reviewers are quite smitten about.

Unlike my Pakt Travel Backpack, the AER has only one large main storage compartment, meaning that travelers would have to stash their clothes and precious camera gear side-by-side (which I don’t like to do). At 33 liters, this bag isn’t super roomy, either, so many travelers might prefer an option with more storage. Other than that, there isn’t much else to nitpick about this stellar backpack.

Much like my Pakt Travel Backpack, the AER works best for one bag travelers who have committed to simple packing and strive to travel with only the essentials. I don’t recommend this pack for anyone who has a more extensive wardrobe or plans to pack bulky luxuries like books, over-ear headphones, or hammocks *shudder*.

SEE PRICE ON HUCKBERRY

Simple Travel Backpack on a Budget
Amazon Basics Carry-On

Blue budget travel backpack

MSRP: $51
Capacity: 40L
Weight: 3.6 lb | 1.65 kg
Main Material: Polyester
The Good: Affordable, roomy
The Not-So-Good: Boxy, uncomfortable when overpacked, made from cheap materials

If you’re hesitant to fork out $250 on your next backpack, I get it. That’s why I’ve included a functional budget option for the travelers who’d rather save their money for… well, traveling.

Regardless of what you think about Amazon, their 40-liter Amazon Basics Carry-On backpack is very well-reviewed and has worked out well for lots of travelers. Sure, this backpack’s design is a bit boxy, and it’s made from more affordable (read: lower quality) materials, but it’ll stash your travel gear semi-comfortably at an approachable price. Similar to the AER, this pack has one large main compartment and an external organizer pocket for your in-transit essentials. At 40 liters, it’ll stash more gear than the first two packs on this list, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

According to reviewers, packing this bag full can render it fairly uncomfortable to carry. It isn’t made from high-end materials like other options on this list, either, so rips, tears, and failures are going to happen far more often. Aesthetically, it’s a bit large and clunky and could easily be mistaken for a rolling suitcase that lost its wheels. In all of the reviews I’ve read, this bag has never been accused of being sleek, eye-catching, or even remotely stylish.

The Amazon Basics Carry-On backpack might be a good fit for occasional weekenders who are willing to sacrifice a bit of style, comfort, and durability to save a decent chunk of cash. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who travels frequently, though, as I don’t trust its materials to stand up to the test of time.

SEE PRICE ON AMAZON

Most Spacious Carry-On Compliant Backpack
Osprey Porter 46

Green Osprey brand carry-on backpack size 46 liters

MSRP: $160
Capacity: 46L
Weight: 3.3 lb | 1.48 kg
Main Material: Recycled 500D Nylon Packcloth
The Good: Durable, huge capacity, backed by All Mighty Guarantee 
The Not-So-Good: Bulky when packed full, not very comfortable over 25 pounds

Before I was fully committed to minimalism and hadn’t yet refined my one bag travel packing list, I owned the Osprey Porter 46 backpack. It was a wonderful bag for me at the time, but we grew apart when I decided to downsize.

So, why would I still recommend the Porter 46? For starters, it’s an Osprey bag, meaning it’s backed by their All Mighty Guarantee, which promises that they’ll repair any damage or defects for any reason. It’s incredibly roomy, too, meaning you’ll have space to haul around a few more days of clothes or some extra luxuries. And at 3.3 pounds, the Porter 46 is a reasonably lightweight bag, considering its massive 46-liter storage volume. Though it’s not the most stylish bag, it’s incredibly durable, has a solid front organization system, and has solid anti-theft features, as well.

Resist the urge to pack this bag with much more than 25 pounds of gear, as it doesn’t have an internal frame and can get quite uncomfortable if overloaded. I never found much use for the bag’s top pocket, either, which was cramped and awkward to navigate when the bag was fully packed. Like most Osprey bags, the Porter 46 puts off an outdoorsy backpacker vibe, so don’t expect to blend in like a local while traveling.

I recommend the Porter 46 to one bag travelers who crave as much space as possible in their carry-on. The fast-paced adventure traveler might also find it useful since it’s highly durable and can stand up to a beating. If you’re looking for a similar bag that’s more comfortable but not quite as spacious, check out the Osprey Farpoint 40.

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Best Minimalist Backpack for Digital Nomads
Minaal Carry-On 3.0 Bag

Grey Minaal 3.0 minimalist travel backpack for men and women

MSRP: $349
Capacity: 35L
Weight: 3.1 lb | 1.41 kg
Main Material: 600D Picton Fabric
The Good: Comfortable, very secure, protected by a lifetime warranty
The Not-So-Good: Expensive, often back-ordered, no hip belt

I nearly bought the Minaal Carry-On 3.0 Bag on several occasions but never pulled the trigger. Whether I balked at the price, the bag was backordered, or I got cold feet, this pack and I just weren’t meant to be.

Regardless of why I don’t own it, the 35-liter Carry-On 3.0 minimalist travel backpack may actually be the best option for me. For starters, the pack’s sleek exterior is made from high-end Picton fabric, which is incredibly durable, weather-resistant, and environmentally friendly. Its tech-forward design is highlighted by its divided main compartment, which keeps clothes and pricy gadgets separate (a feature I appreciate in my Pakt backpack). The bag’s shockproof laptop sleeve, discreet secret pocket, and flexible internal frame combine to create a secure and comfortable carry best for those who pack expensive gear and travel extensively. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t daydream about this bag from time to time.

So, what’s not to love about the Carry-On 3.0? Its hefty $349 price tag (plus $19 shipping to the US) is sure to scare some travelers off. This bag isn’t equipped with a hip belt, either, though you probably won’t need one as long as you’re not overloaded. Minaal’s in-demand backpacks are often backordered, too, meaning you might have to wait months to get your hands on one.

I recommend the Carry-On 3.0 Backpack to frequent or full-time travelers who simply want the best gear and value attention to detail. If packed intelligently, this 35-liter pack can hold everything digital nomads need to earn on the go, secure their precious cargo, and stay very comfortable along the way.

SEE PRICE ON MINAAL

Best Minimalist Travel Bag for Photographers
Peak Design Travel Backpack

Grey Peak Design brand backpack

MSRP: $300
Capacity: 35L | Expandable to 45L
Weight: 4.5 lb | 2.05 kg
Main Material: 300D Nylon & Poly Menage
The Good: Built for photographers, expandable storage, handy side zippers
The Not-So-Good: Expensive, heavy

Next up on 2021’s best minimalist bags comes the Peak Design Travel Backpack, an uber-popular option that photographers, digital nomads, and one bag travelers have sworn by for years.

Peak Design produces premium photography and travel gear, and their Travel Backpack lands perfectly at the intersection of those two worlds. Like most other options on this list, this pack is made from durable, weather-resistant, and environmentally-friendly materials. It features 35 liters of internal storage but can expand to haul an extra 10 thanks to its dual expansion zipper system. This bag also sports external carry straps for your tripod, a roomy main storage compartment, and side zippers for quick access to cameras and other gadgets. Built to pair with Peak Design’s line of well-reviewed camera cubes, this pack can haul and protect delicate photography gear better than pretty much anything else on this list.

At nearly $300, this bag might be a tad too spendy for some travelers. It weighs 4.5 pounds, as well, which puts it on the heavier end of the simple minimalist bag spectrum. Its large main storage compartment forces travelers to store their clothes and camera gear side by side, but that shouldn’t be a huge deal for those willing to splurge on some packing and camera cubes.

The Peak Design Travel Backpack is optimal for photographers who want a worry-free pack to stash and protect their invaluable gear along their journey. This bag works for the non-photographer travelers as well, since it’s adaptable and excels for those of us whose packing list grows and shrinks from trip to trip.

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Best Anti-Theft Travel Backpack
Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45

Blue anti-theft backpack for one bag travel

MSRP: $240
Capacity: 45L
Weight: 3.13 lb | .21 kg
Main Material: 100D ROBIC Nylon
The Good: Extremely secure, made from sustainable materials, lots of storage
The Not-So-Good: Thin material, not very weather-resistant, not much padding

The Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45 was created for travelers who’ve heard (or experienced) horror stories of theft and robbery in faraway places and want zero part of it. This bag caters to the traveler that values security and peace of mind above all else.

While the Venturesafe EXP45 is comfortable, spacious, made from recycled fishing nets, and has a lot else to like, it truly stands out because of its safety features that deter theft at every level. From its patented Roobar lockdown systems, to its wire-mesh infused slash-proof fabric, to its built-in locking cable, this backpack serves one purpose: to thwart criminals at all costs. Pacsafe is raising the anti-theft bar to the next level, and other backpack companies should take notice of their efforts.

The Venturesafe EXP45 might be the best anti-theft travel backpack on the market, but it lacks a few features that could really make it shine. For starters, its 100D nylon fabric is thinner than most packs on this list, making it far less weatherproof and much more susceptible to abrasion. Padding at the corners of the pack is minimal, so your valuables won’t be protected from drops and bumps as well as most other options, either.

Those who are gung-ho about protecting their valuables or traveling in countries with high crime rates should consider the Venturesafe EXP45. Its safety and security features may seem a little overkill to some, but they could mean the difference between a trip-stopping travel disaster and a very close call.

SEE PRICE ON PACSAFE

Best Outdoorsy Travel Backpack
REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 Recycled Pack

REI brand backpack for travel, hiking, and backpacking

MSRP: $149
Capacity: 40L
Weight: 2.8 lb | 1.29 kg
Main Material: Recycled Nylon
The Good: Very comfortable, versatile for travel and outdoors, affordable
The Not-So-Good: Not technically carry-on compliant (3″ too long)

The REI Ruckpack 40 is built for the intrepid traveler who isn’t afraid to ditch their hostel and head into the wilderness at the drop of a hat. No, it’ll probably never become my personal travel bag, but it will work swimmingly for those who want a hybrid travel/hiking pack that can take them anywhere.

The Ruckpack 40 has loads of features to get excited about. Equipped with a mesh back panel, a lightweight spring steel frame, and load lifters, this pack distributes weight well and can comfortably haul up to 30 pounds of gear. As evidenced by its back sleeve that’s compatible with both laptops and water bladders, it’s a versatile bag that can thrive on a crowded sidewalk or a wide-open trail. It sports TWO water bottle holders, allows wide-open clamshell access, and even comes with a stowable rain shell for when the weather gets dicey. Priced at an approachable $149, I think this bag is a terrific value and would consider it if I were more of a hybrid traveler.

You shouldn’t have problems carrying it onto a plane, but this bag’s 25″ length technically renders it ‘non-carry-on-compliant.’ And, if you want this pack to haul your backpacking kit, that’s great, but know that it won’t be roomy enough for both a complete set of gear and all of your urban travel essentials. If you want to travel with both, get a bigger pack like the Osprey Exos 58 or buy a carry-on compliant rolling suitcase to pair with it.

Traveling outdoor enthusiasts should consider the REI Ruckpack 40, as it’s very effective for urban travel yet adaptable enough to thrive in the backcountry. It isn’t the best minimalist backpack on this list, nor would I consider it among the best backpacking bags, but it might just be the best hybrid of the two.

SEE PRICE ON REI

Best Segmented Minimalist Backpack
Matador SEG42

Black segmented minimalist travel backpack

MSRP: $200
Capacity: 42L
Weight: 2.3 lb | 1.03 kg
Main Material: 480D Nylon
The Good: High level of organization, very lightweight, highly weather-resistant
The Not-So-Good: No frame, no water bottle pockets

If you’ve never seen a backpack like the Matador SEG42, that’s because there isn’t anything else like it on the market. Divided into five flexible (and stowable) segments, this minimalist pack is excellent for those of us who crave a little organization in our hectic lives spent living out of a backpack.

The SEG42’s intrigue comes from how different it is from any other pack on this list. While other options on this list would require a set of packing cubes to create five separate compartments, the SEG42 has five levels of division built in. Each compartment is sized differently than its neighbor, but each is also ‘flexible,’ meaning it can fill the surrounding space left empty by nearby underfilled compartments. The pack also sports a large clamshell compartment underneath the segments, which Matador recommends to use for stashing shoes and dirty clothes. Aside from its unique design, this pack is also very lightweight (only 2.3 pounds), waterproof, and has an external padded easy-access laptop pocket.

I worry that my perfectionist packing style wouldn’t really gel with the SEG42, as overpacked and underpacked compartments would likely drive me nuts. This bag doesn’t have any water bottle pockets for some reason, which is a head-scratcher, seeing as it’s marketed as a rough-and-tumble outdoorsy bag. I also imagine this bag could get a bit bulgy and saggy if fully loaded, as it doesn’t have an internal frame to support the weight of a hefty 42-liter load.

I think the SEG42 backpack would work best for fast-paced one bag travelers who crave simple organization but aren’t huge fans of packing cubes. Those who dirty up their clothing and gear quickly might also find this pack useful since its waterproof internal compartments are great for keeping the clean away from the not-so-clean.

SEE PRICE ON REI

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Best Waterproof Backpack for One Bag Travel
Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack

Black Tortuga Outbreaker backpack

MSRP: $269 | $299
Capacity: 35L | 45L
Weight: 4.6 lb | 5.1 lb
Main Material: VX21 Waterproof Sailcloth
The Good:
The Not-So-Good: 

I’m definitely understating the greatness of the Tortuga Outbreaker when I tell you it’s the best waterproof backpack for travel. Yes, this bag’s VX21 sailcloth gives it incredible weather resistance, but the Outbreaker excels at so much more.

Don’t believe me? Just ask the New York Times, whose trusted Wirecutter product review blog named the Outbreaker one of the six best carry-on travel backpacks on the market. Available in 35-liter and 45-liter versions, this do-it-all pack is thoughtfully engineered and quite deserving of all the press. Thanks to its super-adjustable harness system, generously padded back panel, and load lifters, this pack can carry large loads of gear exceptionally comfortably. Speaking of large loads, the 45-liter version of this backpack can fit a ridiculous amount of travel gear. Don’t believe me (again)? Just watch the walkthrough video on its product page. Oh, and did I mention this bag is waterproof?

So, what’s not to love about the Outbreaker? At a hefty 5.1 pounds, the 45-liter version tips the scales as the second heaviest one bag travel pack on this list. The $269 and $299 price tags might be a bit hard to swallow, too, though thousands of happy customers worldwide find it to be well worth the investment. Some don’t like the look of the bag’s rectangular shape and VX21 sailcloth, either, but I kind of dig it.

I recommend the Tortuga Outbreaker backpack to anyone looking for an extraordinarily comfortable and weather-resistant bag that’ll take their carry-on travel game to a new level. I’d opt for the 35-liter version of this bag because less is always more in the world of minimalist travel.

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Most Durable Backpack for Adventure Travel
GORUCK GR3

Green GORUCK GR3, the best durable carry-on backpack

MSRP: $395
Capacity: 45L
Weight: 5.2 lb | 2.34 kg
Main Material: 1000D Cordura Nylon
The Good: Incredible durable, comfortable, weather-resistant, patriotic
The Not-So-Good: Heavy, expensive

If you feel like you’re going to war when you strap on the GORUCK GR3 backpack, that’s not a coincidence. Made with burly Special Forces Grade 1000D Cordura Nylon, this bag was designed with both front-line soldiers and heavy use travelers in mind.

Simply put, the GORUCK GR3 is the most durable minimalist backpack on the market. Remember that 1000D Special Forces Grade nylon I just mentioned? Well, it’s about as thick, burly, tear-resistant, weatherproof, and rough-and-tumble as you could ever dream of. The “bombproof” laptop compartment on this bad boy is no joke either, as GORUCK claims you can use it to “securely take your laptop into combat.” (I don’t know insane travel plans you’ve made, but your laptop will be just fine in this pack.) Aside from its crazy durability, this pack is very comfortable and built to stand up to rain, snow, sleet, and whatever other wild weather mother nature has in store.

Because it’s made from such thick, indestructible fabric, the brawny 5.2-pound GR3 ekes out the Outrbreaker to win the honor of heaviest minimalist backpack on this list. Oh, and it’s also the most expensive bag on this list, with a premium price tag of $395. At the time of writing this, this pack has been out of stock for over a month, meaning GORUCK has fallen behind demand, and you might have to wait a while to get your hands on a GR3.

Are you a rugged traveler who puts your poor backpack through hell and has $400 burning a hole in your pocket? If so, the GORUCK GR3 is might just be the bag for you. Its unmatched durability will take any type of abuse you can throw at it, so go ahead and strap it to the back of your mud-caked ATV and get moving. I’m excited for you.

SEE PRICE ON GORUCK

Best Backpack for Ultralight Backpackers & Travelers
Zpacks Nero 38L ROBIC

Green ultralight travel backpack by Zpacks for one-bag international travel

MSRP: $189
Capacity: 38L
Weight: .8 lb | .36 kg
Main Material: 100D ROBIC Nylon
The Good: Incredibly lightweight, completely waterproof, surprisingly comfortable
The Not-So-Good: Not enough features for some, fragile, top-loading

Alas, a recommendation for the ounce-counting extreme minimalists among us: the Zpacks Nero 38L Robic. If you love to travel, hike, and backpack and have perfected your ultralight gear list, this might just be the pack for you.

Born from Zpacks’ minimalist mindset, the Nero 38L ROBIC is one of the lightest no-frills backpacking bags on the planet. Made from superlight waterproof ROBIC nylon, this bag weighs in at a stunning 12.6 ounces (or about as much as an unopened can of Coke). What you see is what you get with this pack, though, as there are no zippers, hidden compartments, or anything else that would add unnecessary weight to this pack. It’s built to haul only the most ultralight backpacking gear list but could also have space for a handful of minimalist travel essentials if your kit is truly dialed-in. This is a very simple pack and only makes sense for those who have fully committed to an ultralight style of travel.

Made for backpacking, the Nero 38L won’t offer nearly the same travel functionality as other packs on this list. This pack’s delicate 100D ROBIC nylon is relatively thin and could easily be punctured or slashed if not treated with care. This top-loading rolltop pack doesn’t have any anti-theft features, laptop compartments, padded corners, or hidden pockets, either. So, if you’re looking for a maximum comfort, feature-rich minimalist bag, I’ve got bad news for you: this ain’t it.

If you’re a beginner backpacker with bulky gear, the Zpacks Nero 38L ROBIC probably isn’t the bag for you. Only those motivated to venture out with their ultralight backpacking gear and the absolute bare-bones travel packing list — think a tablet, a notebook, a pen, and one or two sets of extra clothes — should consider this bag. Everyone else should probably look for something a little more conventional.

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Best Minimalist Travel Duffel Bag
Peak Design Travel Duffel 35L

Grey 2021 Peak Design brand minimalist travel duffel bag

MSRP: $130
Capacity: 35L
Weight: 2.0 lb | .90 kg
Main Material: 400D Recycled Nylon Canvas
The Good: Very lightweight, can be worn as a backpack, affordable
The Not-So-Good: Not meant for one bag travel, duffels can be awkward to carry

Though I’ve never attempted one bag travel with a duffel, there are plenty of brave souls who pull it off. The Peak Design Travel Duffel 35L would be a great fit for the minimalists among us who want to forego the more traditional options, like backpacks or rolling suitcases.

Admittedly, I’m pretty curious why anyone would choose a duffel over a backpack or suitcase as their standalone bag. (I think duffels are a bit cumbersome to carry, personally.) That said, Peak Design has put together a very good-looking and well-designed bag, and I wouldn’t blame anyone who gave it a go. For starters, the Travel Duffel 35L is a sleek and feature-rich bag that can also be worn as a backpack. Its internal and external pockets are thoughtfully placed, and its easy-to-access main compartment looks pretty spacious for 35 liters. It’s a top-notch duffel bag, no doubt.

My biggest hangup with this bag is that duffels are inherently more awkward to carry than backpacks. Yes, it is possible to wear this duffel as a backpack, but I have serious doubts that it would be as comfortable to carry as most other options on this list. It doesn’t have load lifters, an internal frame, or side compression straps, after all. When you sling this duffel across your shoulder, its weight won’t be distributed entirely evenly, and the bag is bound to bump against your leg, back, or butt as you walk.

So, who would find the Peak Design Travel Duffel 35L useful? Well, if you’re among the minority of one bag travelers who do best with duffels over simple backpacks, it might be right up your alley. It’s my opinion, though, that this duffel would work best as a secondary bag to complement your more comfortable and less awkward minimalist backpack or rolling suitcase.

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Best Packable Daypack
Matador On-Grid Packable Backpack

Best black packable daypack/laptop bag for carry-on travel

MSRP: $65
Capacity: 16L
Weight: .5 lb | .21 kg
Main Material: 100D ROBIC Nylon
The Good: Very lightweight, packable, and comfortable to carry
The Not-So-Good: Thin nylon material, belongings can poke at your back

If you’re using your main travel backpack during your short day trips, you’re doing it wrong. That’s why I recommend bringing along the 16-liter Matador On-Grid Packable Backpack. It works great for quick and simple adventures when you only need to pack a handful of your travel essentials.

I currently own Matador’s Freerain 24 Packable Backpack but am getting ready to switch this pack since the On-Grid pack is more tech-friendly. Weighing only half a pound, this little daypack can compress into its own pouch and will stash away comfortably into the corner of your main bag. It’s made from entirely waterproof 100D ROBIC nylon, which will protect your precious contents from rain, spills, and splashes. It has a handy external front pocket for quick access to your gadgets and sports a simple laptop sleeve inside the main compartment.

Because it’s made from thin 100D nylon, you might feel this pack’s contents nudging you in the back as you wear it. To counteract this, stash your laptop or a lightweight foam pad at the back of the bag to create a nice flat surface. Other than that, I don’t see any downsides to this backpack. It’s simple, packable, and should do exactly what you ask of it.

I recommend the Matador On-Grid Packable Backpack to anyone looking for a simple, travel-friendly daypack for short trips into the city, day hikes, and any other quick adventures you can dream up. I’m excited to get my hands on one and look forward to putting some miles on it sooner rather than later.

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Black anti-theft 6-liter sling

MSRP: $100
Capacity: 6L
Weight: 1.0 lb | .46 kg
Main Material: 200D Nylon Diamond Ripstop
The Good: Great anti-theft features, sleek
The Not-So-Good: Bulky for 6 liters, expensive

As wonderful as the 6-liter Venturesafe X Sling Pack is, I’m definitely not advocating it as your standalone travel bag. But I do think it would work well to securely carry your essentials during short trips into the city, day hikes, or as a personal item on an airplane.

Much like the Venturesafe EXP45 backpack, this stylish little sling is chock full of anti-theft features that are unmatched in the industry. From its slash-proof straps and fabric, to its Roobar locking system, to its RFID-safe blocking pockets, this beast will thwart thieves among the best of them. I’m not much of a sling guy myself, nor do I focus too much on anti-theft features, but I’m pretty impressed with how sleek, stylish, and secure this little sling is.

The Venturesafe X’s $100 price tag is bound to scare off some travelers, as there are plenty of more affordable (albeit not as secure) options on the market. While both feature-rich and impenetrable, this sling is a tad bulky for only holding 6 liters and isn’t nearly as packable as the more spacious 16-liter Matador On-Grid Daypack I reviewed above.

Those who want a slick-looking and comfortable sling that’ll keep their travel essentials secure should give the Pacsafe Venturesafe X some serious consideration. Of all the slings on the market, this little beast is as well-made and functional as they come and is versatile enough for countless travel scenarios.

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Essential Accessories for One Bag Travel

Your job as a one bag traveler isn’t entirely done once you get your hands on one of 2021’s best minimalist backpacks. You’ll need a few more pieces of quality gear to round that your packing kit of yours. These six simple accessories will do just that and could elevate your minimalist travel experience to the next level.

Compression packing cube set for minimalist travel wardrobe

Compression Packing Cube Set
Suited Nomad

Packing cubes are essential to keep your stuff organized during one bag travel. Many travelers swear by the Eagle Creek compression set; however, I love my Suited Nomad cubes, which do a splendid job for half the price.

Minaal 3.0 brand tool case for holding cords, chargers, and camera gear

Tool Case
Minaal

Is this tech-stashing tool case worth $50? I think so. Especially if you’re a digital nomad who needs to keep their cords, chargers, SD cards, and other tech gear organized and protected from the rigors of travel.

Black camera cube by Peak Design

Camera Cube
Peak Design

Many of us travelers have invested loads of money into our beloved camera kits. A padded camera cube will protect all of that pricy gear while packing it away seamlessly into the main compartment of your travel bag.

Grey minimalist toiletry bag

Toiletries Bag
Sea to Summit

Not only are travel toiletries hard to keep organized, but they’re messy. That’s why I recommend a simple, lightweight, and well-designed dopp kit that’ll help you stay fresh and nicely organized on the go.

Ultralight rain cover for backpacking and travel bags and packing lists

Rain Fly
Peak Design

Not all travelers need a rain fly. (Hell, one of the packs on this list even comes with one.) That said, I recommend a lightweight waterproof pack cover for those who anticipate a little precipitation on their journey.

TSA-approved travel locks for loackable Nomatic Travel Pack

TSA-Approved Locks
Desired Tools

Grab these TSA-approved travel locks if you want to add an extra layer of security to your travel backpack. I use them to lock my pack’s zippers, while staying in hostels, or to secure my stuff in public lockers.

A Simple Minimalist Backpack Will Make All the Difference

Black and white tuxedo cat lying on a black carry-on travel backpack

Because Shake can model a backpack better than I ever could

 

Do I miss the days of sputtering around Europe in the dead of the summer while lugging around a backbreaking amount of my belongings? Definitely not. I wish I could go back in time, actually, and sit myself down and for a nice long chat.

I’d tell myself that my excessive possessions will keep making travel less enjoyable if I don’t change my ways. “Wherever you go next,” I’d say, “You’ll feel every ounce of your belongings as you carry them around.”

“Yes, travel gear matters, but only bring exactly what you need.” I’d say as I place a hand on my younger self’s shoulder. “Oh, and you should check out this blog post we wrote about 2021’s best minimalist backpacks for simple one bag travel. Maybe you’ll find something that can help you end this overpacked charade for once and for all.”

More Travel Gear Resources & Recommendations

Which simple minimalist backpack best suits your style of one bag travel in 2021? How much does your fully-packed travel luggage weigh? Do you have any tips or advice for anyone who is considering living out of a backpack? Let me know by dropping a comment below!

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