Minimalist travel has tons of benefits, and more people are making the switch to a minimalist approach to backpacking and traveling.
But there’s good news and bad news about minimalist backpacks…
The good news? Minimalist backpacks are amazing. They are often very modern, sleek, cater to modern travelers and are crafted with the utmost efficiency.
The bad news? There are so many awesome minimalist backpacks and different styles, that it’s completely overwhelming to know where to begin! This is exactly why I’ve put together this monster guide to the best minimalist backpacks of 2019/20.
This best minimalist backpacks guide is designed to show you the best options, and help you decide which of them is best for you. I’ve made it easy for you to choose the right minimalist backpack to suit your personal travel style. By the end of this review, you’ll know exactly which backpack is right for your style and budget.
Let’s get right to it…
Quick Answer: Best Minimalist Backpacks Review
- Best Overall Minimalist Backpack for Travel: Nomatic Travel Bag
- Best Minimalist Backpack for Women: Osprey Farpoint 40
- Best Carry-on Backpack for Minimalists: Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack
- Best Minimalist Backpack for Hiking: Osprey Stratos 36
- Best Minimalist Laptop Backpack: Incase Icon
- Best Minimalist Backpack for Day Hikes: Osprey Daylite Plus
- Best Budget Minimalist Backpack: Osprey Daylite Plus
Table of Contents
- Best Minimalist Backpacks Review: Top Picks and Performance Breakdowns
- Best Overall Minimalist Backpack:
- Nomatic Travel Bag
- Best Minimalist Backpack for Women
- Osprey Farpoint 40
- Best Carry-on Backpack for Minimalists
- Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack
- Best Minimalist Backpack for Hiking
- Osprey Stratos 36
- Best Minimalist Laptop Backpack #1
- Incase Icon
- Best Minimalist Laptop Backpack #2
- Timbuk2 Spire Backpack
- Best Minimalist Backpack for Day Hikes
- Osprey Daylite Plus
- Best Budget Minimalist Backpack
- REI Co-op Traverse 35
- How to Choose the Best Minimalist Backpack: Buying Advice
Best Minimalist Backpacks Review: Top Picks and Performance Breakdowns
This ultimate review of the best minimalist backpacks of 2020 provides you will my top picks, comparison table for easy cross-referencing, advice for first-time buyers, what I like and what I don’t about each minimalist backpack, advantages of minimalist backpacking and much more!
Let’s take a look at my top picks for the best minimalist backpacks in 2020…
|Nomatic Travel Bag||Check on Nomatic|
|Osprey Farpoint ||Check on REICheck on Amazon|
|Tortuga Outbreaker||Check on Tortuga|
|Osprey Stratos 36||Check on REICheck on Amazon|
|Incase Icon||Check on Amazon|
|Osprey Daylight Plus||Check on REICheck on Amazon|
|REI Co-op Traverse 35||Check on REI|
Best Overall Minimalist Backpack:
Price -> $229.00/279.00
Weight -> 4 lbs.
Capacity -> 40 Liters
Carry-on -> Yes
One thing should be clear from the very beginning of this review: the best minimalist backpacks are not featureless, bare-bones, impractical backpacks. Minimalist backpacking might limit the amount of stuff you can bring with you, but it certainly does not mean that you can’t travel in organized lightweight bliss.
For travelers on the move, a new minimalist travel bag is taking the internet (and the travel world) by storm. The Nomatic Travel Bag is one badass backpack.
Basically, if ever there was a minimalist travel bag to cover ALL of your minimalist travel needs, the Nomatic Travel Bag would be at the very top of the list.
The Nomatic Travel Bag comes with a ton of brilliantly thought out pockets, compartments, and gear storage options. It even comes with a mesh laundry bag. No more cramming those dirty socks in the front pocket of your backpack eh?
From start to finish the Nomatic Travel Bag features one sleek design after another. My favorite features include the fleece lined valuables pocket, the laptop pocket, the high-quality water-resistant materials they used, and the specific compartment for your shoes (there is one for socks/underwear too)!
Remember, the Nomatic Travel Bag is one of the best carry-on bags for travelers as well. Well done, Nomatic, well done.
Check out my in-depth Nomatic Travel Bag review.
- You’ll need to pay extra if you want the travel bag plus all of the accessories.
- Definitely not a hiking backpack.
Best Minimalist Backpack for Women
Price -> $160.00
Weight -> 3 lbs. 1.75 oz. (size s/m)
Capacity -> 40 Liters
Carry-on -> Yes
The Osprey Farpoint 40 is not specifically a women’s minimalist backpack. In fact, it is a unisex backpack.
That said, I will not insult the adventurous lady-readers of this blog by offering up a pink, flimsy, featureless backpack. That would be pointless and not helpful in the slightest. The Osprey Farpoint may be unisex, but it is certainly one of the best minimalist backpack options for female backpackers on the market.
The backpack features a large zippered panel that gives access to the main compartment. The zippers have lockable sliders too for added security.
There are three different ways you can carry the Osprey Farpoint 40. The standard padded shoulder straps, the padded top and side handles for hand carrying, and detachable messenger-style shoulder strap.
An important point to make is that the Osprey Farpoint 40 can be carried on planes. 99% of airlines will let you use this bag as a carry on, which over your travels will save you a ton of time and money. #gamechanger.
By going with a minimalist travel-light bag like the Osprey Farpoint 40, you’ll be able to keep all of your valuables with you. Plus, you’ll save a ton of money on checked baggage fees (which pays for the bag ten times over!). For all you adventurous ladies out there, the Osprey Farpoint 40 is a great minimalist option.
Check out my in-depth Osprey Farpoint 40 review.
- Not a hiking backpack.
- Lacks the space for travelers with lots of gear needs.
- Possibly an excessive amount of padding in the laptop compartment.
Best Carry-on Backpack for Minimalists
Price -> $299.00
Weight -> 4.6 lbs and 5.1 lbs
Capacity -> 35 Liters and 45 Liters
Carry-on -> Yes
As you read in my previous breakdown of the Osprey Farpoint 40, the benefits of having an awesome carry-on backpack are huge.
The Tortuga Outbreaker backpack is one of my favorite minimalist backpacks for a variety of reasons. The 45 L model is great even if you’re a minimalist bordering on the edge of having too much stuff. The Tortuga Outbreaker 45L has a very impressive design and can fit a ton of shit in it. It’s distinct shape greatly boosts how the Outbreaker looks and performs when it is fully packed. However, all that space is too good to be true.
For this review, I am recommending the Tortuga Outbreaker 35 liter model. The 45 liter model is simply too large to be a consistent carry-on option. With the 35 liter though, you should always be able to use it as a carry-on backpack.
The height-adjustable suspension system and comfy padding make the Outbreaker very comfy in addition to it being super practical. For those backpackers obsessed with staying organized, the Tortuga Outbreaker will be your new best friend.
Now the Outbreaker is quite heavy for such a small backpack. All that padding and storage adds up! Whilst it is not an ultralight backpack by any stretch, the performance it delivers makes up for that in my opinion.
The Outbreaker’s design enables its the main compartment to be opened like a suitcase – which is 10 x’s more convenient than a traditional backpacker’s backpack. Reaching my stuff was simple, and because of the organization of the compartments, it was easy to know what was where.
I am a big fan of the Tortuga company and the gear they make as it is always top quality. For an excellent carry-on backpack, the Tortuga Outbreaker 35L is where it’s at.
Check out my in-depth Tortuga Outbreaker review.
- Heavy for a minimalist backpack!
- Doesn’t come with a rain cover.
Best Minimalist Backpack for Hiking
Price -> $170.00
Weight ->3 lbs. 4.8 oz.
Capacity -> 36 Liters
Carry-on -> Yes
I am big fan of Osprey backpacks. For the best hiking backpacks, Osprey has been an industry leader for years. The Osprey Stratos 36 is currently a good reflection of that tradition!
The Stratos 36 is a fully functional, durable, and versatile minimalist hiking backpack. It provides excellent padding, weather protection (rain fly included), and hiking performance.
36 liters does have its limits—though it also comes with a certain freedom. Having less stuff is truly a blessing. In addition to your physical body being more able to move with less restrictions, in an age of hyper-consumerism, cutting down on useless shit in your life is a liberating feeling. Having recently come off of 15 months of traveling, I can’t emphasize enough how good it felt to simply own and travel with less.
I really enjoy having a lightweight minimalist travel backpack that I can rely on for short hiking trips.
The hipbelt, sternum straps (chest straps), and shoulder straps are all fully adjustable allowing you to obtain the perfect fit. Even better is the fact that the hipbelt straps and the sternum straps are padded with die-cut foam and covered in mesh to provide an even more comfy experience.
A big bonus is that the Stratos 36 comes with its own rain cover. With Osprey backpacks, they often do not come with a rain cover, so I’m happy the Stratos 36 does.
For a versatile minimalist backpack that will do you right in the city as well as in the mountains, look no further than the Osprey Stratos 36.
Check out my full review of the Osprey Stratos 36.
- The Side mesh pockets make it difficult to access waterbottles.
- The backpack squeaks sometimes!
- Contoured back panel shape isn’t for everyone.
Best Minimalist Laptop Backpack #1
Price -> $199.95
Weight -> Not Available
Capacity -> 17 Liters
Carry-on -> Yes
Incase is a well-known gear company in the realm of laptop storage and protection solutions. Their Incase Icon backpack is the perfect minimalist laptop backpack. With only 17 liters of storing capacity, it is amazing how Incase incorporated so many features.
The design is sleek, practical, and durable; it is no wonder the Incase Icon has won heaps of awards recently.
For storage, the main compartment provides space for larger items (laptops) and organization for flat documents and small accessories. For smaller items, the secondary compartment offers a series of organizer pockets to hold tech accessories and other odds and ends.
A cool bonus feature is the hip-side power pocket with an integrated cable port which allows easy access to a portable power bank or headphones.
My one and only complaint about this minimalist backpack is the price. A 17-liter laptop backpack isn’t super useful for much else (given that it’s not a hiking day pack) other than transporting a laptop and the associated kit. That said, if that is what you are looking for in a minimalist laptop backpack, then you have certainly found it.
I’m also a big fan of Incase’s products, and I’m sure you will be too once you put the Icon into action.
- Small (only 17 liters).
- Not super versatile.
Best Minimalist Laptop Backpack #2
Price -> $72.00 – $99.00
Weight ->2 lbs. 2 oz.
Capacity -> 30 Liters
Carry-on -> Yes
Looking for an awesome minimalist laptop backpack that is comfortable, stylish, AND lightweight? Meet the Timbuk2 Spire Pack. In addition to being a high-performing minimalist backpack, it was specifically purpose-built to safeguard your electronics and important documents.
The Timbuk2 Spire pack features expandable volume via the flap or roll top main opening. This design is cool for when you don’t need to pack HEAPS of stuff. Other backpacks end up being floppy and odd-shaped when they are not packed to full capacity.
More and more backpackers are traveling with high-end electronics. It is just a fact of life related to the modern age. Having a tough minimalist backpack that offers up sufficient padding and protection to protect you stuff is a huge bonus. Another plus is that the Spire Pack is highly water resistant, adding even more badass protection.
I’d say the Timbuk2 Spire is not the ideal long-term traveling backpack. It is simply too small to be used that way. For quick weekend trips or for everyday use in your busy digital nomad life, the Spire Pack is the perfect backpack.
- Straps can feel stiff.
- I have questions about the zipper quality.
- Some customers have expressed concern about the long-term quality of the bag.
Best Minimalist Backpack for Day Hikes
Price -> $65.00
Weight -> 1 lb. 3.8 oz.
Capacity -> 20 Liters
Carry-on -> Yes
Osprey has arrived on my best minimalist backpacks list again…. But I doubt you’re surprised 😉
For day hikes, the Osprey Daylite Plus is a top candidate for the best minimalist backpack. For most day trips where your primary needs are packing snacks, water, a few layers, and maybe some electronics, the Daylite Plus can serve all of your needs and more.
Frankly, Osprey did a truly fantastic job incorporating pockets into the Daylite Plus. Even this normally never-satisfied-by-amount-of-pockets-dude (myself) is very pleased with the number of pockets included in the Daylite Plus daypack.
A great addition to the Daylite Plus is the open-topped stash pocket for jacket or other quick-use items. To top it off a small front zip pocket allows you to store items you use frequently in their own zone.
If you are the kind of minimalist hiker that likes to keep things organized, the Osprey Daylite Plus makes it easy to keep your stuff squared away.
When you are crushing a steep ascent up a mountain under a blistering summer sun, sweat happens. The Osprey Daylite Plus helps keep you stay cool when you are active. Be sure, the backpack is not a magical anti-sweat device, though the mesh back panels really do aid in keeping the air flowing as well as is possible whilst wearing a daypack.
To add rain protection to your Daylite Plus, you can pick up a Osprey Rain Cover ($23). Be sure to take the extra small size!
Every backpacking adventure requires an awesome day backpack. For $65(!) the Osprey Daylite plus will be the perfect partner for all of you day hiking adventures.
Check out my in-depth Osprey Daylite Plus review.
- Not ideal for non-minimalists looking to pack heaps of gear for day hikes.
- Doesn’t come with a rain cover.
- Frameless backpack not intended for heavy loads.
Best Budget Minimalist Backpack
Price -> $139.00
Weight -> 3 lbs. 2 oz. (size m)
Capacity -> 35 Liters
Carry-on -> Yes
Quality minimalist backpacks are neither super cheap nor super expensive. Luckily, the best minimalist backpacks do not share the same price tag as ultralight backpacks. With the REI Traverse 35, you get a good balance of quality offered up at a decent price point.
The Traverse 35 is an excellent option for a versatile travel and/or hiking backpack. It’s intended use is in fact hiking, though it makes for an excellent travel backpack for minimalist backpackers as well.
The REI Traverse 35 holds plenty of gear for overnight hiking trips, but it’s sleek enough to carry as a daypack if need be. And it’s designed to make every step of your trail time more comfortable.
Some of my favorite features include the large zippered front pocket for on-the-go organization which lies on top of a large stuff-it pocket to store wet, dirty or bulky gear. The “stuff-it” pocket is great for storing sandals, a travel towel, or others bits and pieces too.
You may be thinking $139 bucks isn’t dirt cheap. Remember this: REI has one of the best return policies of any outdoor gear retailer. If anything whatsoever goes wrong with your Traverse 35, you can get it repaired or replaced guaranteed.
If you are planning on traveling to warm-weather climates, the Traverse 35 is a great choice for that. Two more awesome features: a rain cover is included and the backpack is compatible with a hydration reservoir. Score!
Check out the REI Traverse 35 women’s here.
- A few users have reported problems with the chest straps.
- Probably not ideal for super serious/long-distance hikers
- Heavy for a 35 liter backpack.
|Backpack||Weight||Volume||Carry-on?||Best Use||Rain Cover Included?||Price|
|Nomatic Travel Bag||4 lbs.||40 Liters||Yes||Travel||No||$229.00/279.00|
|Osprey Farpoint 40||3 lbs. 1.75 oz||40 Liters||Yes||Travel||No||$160.00|
|Tortuga Outbreaker Pack||4.6 lbs||35 Liter||Yes||Travel||No||$299.00|
|Osprey Stratos 36||3 lbs. 4.8 oz.||36 Liters||Yes||Hiking/Travel||Yes||$170.00|
|Incase Icon||N/A||17 Liters||Yes||Laptop Backpack||No||$199.95|
|Timbuk2 Spire||2 lbs. 2 oz.||30 Liters||Yes||Laptop Backpack||No||$72.00 - $99.00|
|Osprey Daylite Plus||1 lb. 3.8 oz.||20 Liters||Yes||Day Hiking/Travel||No||$65.00|
|REI Co-op Traverse 35||3 lbs. 2 oz.||35 Liters||Yes||Hiking/Travel||Yes||$139.00|
How to Choose the Best Minimalist Backpack: Buying Advice
Now that you have see my top picks for the best minimalist backpacks, you need to know a few more things before you go to buy your own minimalist backpack.
Like any piece of gear, minimalist backpacks are very activity specific. What will be an excellent choice for certain activities/uses will not translate into a good choice for other applications.
Below I’ll cover a few factors that you should consider before buying a minimalist backpack.
Finding the Best Minimalist Backpack Size
It’s a given that whichever minimalist backpack you go with, it is going to be rather small. That’s the point! Limiting what you can bring on any given journey is at the core of minimalist travel and philosophy.
For me personally, I’d say going with a minimalist backpack in the 35-40 liter range is going to give you the most versatility. Anything bigger and the backpack ceases to be minimalist. Plus, you won’t be able to use it as a carry-on backpack and things just start spiraling down hill from there.
If you are just looking for a smaller backpack to supplement your full-sized hiking backpacker, going with a 20-liter/30-liter is probably your best bet.
Laptop-specific backpacks need not be overly large as the main purpose is just to transport your laptop and a few other bits and pieces.
Certainly don’t be intimidated by going with a minimalist backpack. You’ll find it to be a liberating feeling to hit the road without the burden of carrying a truly massive backpack.
Organization and Design Features of Minimalist Backpacks
In order to get the most of each backpack, the designers of each backpack featured in this review have created some pretty ingenious organizational features. Some backpacks are certainly so well-endowed with pockets, sleeves, and compartments that my brain struggles to even see the backpack as minimalist at all.
For the sake of this best minimalist backpacks review however, we are defining minimalist as small-volume backpacks, not bare-bones as I mentioned before. You will have noticed that some of the more expensive minimalist backpacks featured here are loaded with cool features. In some cases, like with the Nomatic Travel Bag you’ll have to pay extra money if you want all of the available accessories and tidbits.
The Osprey Farpoint 40 strikes a good balance in my opinion. It is chalked full of awesome design features and the price isn’t overly expensive either.
You can be sure that every minimalist backpack has its own unique offerings. Dial in what sort of features are important to you and factor that into your final decision when the time comes to buy your backpack.
Hiking vs Travel Minimalist Backpacks
I understand that for some backpackers, hiking just isn’t their thing. Also for short trips, hiking opportunities might not be possible. If you don’t foresee yourself doing much hiking on any given backpacking trip, then going with a travel-only minimalist backpack is the way to go. Often you get more travel-specific features and organizational bits when the backpack is designed for travel. Makes sense.
Likewise, if you’re a keen hiker, you are probably interested in things like comfort, fit, suspension, breathability, etc.
What you intend to use your minimalist backpack for most should determine what style of backpack you go with. If the minimalist backpack you have your eye on is going to be your main travel backpack, again, you need to factor in what you will be doing most of. Simple, right?
I personally do a lot of hiking, so I need my minimalist backpack to be multi-functional. That means I sacrifice things like organizational features, pockets, and sleekness for a more practical, comfortable backpack built for trekking. That said, all of the best minimalist backpacks for hiking on my list still have plenty of cool features. They are just purpose-built for travel like some of the others.
For a stand alone pack the Nomatic Travel Bag is certainly the best minimalist backpack on my list for the reasons listed above. It has more features and clever designs built in than I have ever seen from a backpack of its size. Yet, it is compact and certainly limits what you can bring. In fact, the Nomatic is a bit of a catch 22 in the sense that it is the most tricked out minimalist backpack you’ll find.
For an awesome minimalist hiking backpack, the Osprey Stratos 36 is where it’s at.
Final Thoughts on the Best Minimalist Backpacks
Well there you have my fellow minimalist care-free travelers… we have arrived at the end of my best minimalist backpacks review.
Minimalist backpacking is one fine way to travel. You’ll quickly discover the freedom and ease of travel that comes with going with a minimalist backpack.
After reading my ultimate review of the best minimalist backpacks, you now know some of the best options available to you. Like I’ve said, each minimalist backpack from this review has its own individual merits.
Now that you have an idea of what some of the top minimalist backpacks are, you can make an informed decision based on your own personal style and preferences.
If you are still on the fence about which minimalist backpack is right for you, I recommend going with my top pick for the best minimalist backpack of the year: the Nomatic Travel Bag.
Happy stress-free travel amigos!
“Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a set of trekking poles, or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.”
Need More Inspiration?
- Best Hiking Backpacks
- Best Ultralight Backpacks for Hikers
- Ultimate Guide to the Best Waterproof Backpacks
- The Ultimate Guide to Camping Hammocks
Chris Lininger is a writer and adventurer from California. His travels have taken him to the far reaches of the globe including Patagonia, New Zealand, Nepal, Central America, Europe, North Africa, South East Asia, Lebanon, and Pakistan. He is an advocate for low budget responsible travel and for the preservation of the worlds wild places. Chris leads expeditions to Pakistan for Epic Backpacker Tours when he is not writing or plotting some outdoor adventure. He is currently based in Portland, Oregon.