The idea of flying cars may not be that distant of a reality, but in the meantime, traveling by foot, train, plane, or just regular old car is still the status quo for most of us. And getting around without the help of an airborne automobile is infinitely easier when your load is light and efficient. Fortunately, the best minimalist backpacks have slender profiles and sleek designs that are free of excess bulk, so you can get where you're going with minimal hassle.
If you're in the market for such an item, consider a few qualities before making a purchase. First, think about the material. You'll want something that's lightweight and bulk-free yet still thick enough to be durable. Generally speaking, ripstop polyester, nylon, and PVC tarpaulin all make good choices (though the latter is a bit heavier than the first two).
Another consideration is weather resistance. If you're commuting to work or hiking in the woods, you'll want a backpack that's water-resistant. Storm coatings like DWR (aka durable water repellent) are helpful here, as are features like waterproof zippers and taped seams.
A final thing to think about is comfort. It won't matter how great your backpack is if the straps dig into your shoulder or the load is weirdly distributed — you'll never want to use it. Seek options with soft, padded shoulders and adjustable straps so you can customize the right fit. And when possible, you can always read the reviews to see what real customers have to say.
Given these parameters, take a look at the best minimalist backpacks below.
The best overall
The lowdown: This versatile Osprey backpack is a great overall choice that can be used as a laptop bag, school pack, work tote, lunch bag, or even as a light hiking backpack. It's durable and well-built, with high-quality materials (including top-grade water-resistant polyester) and a sturdy zipper along the front panel. The roomy main compartment is big enough to fit all of your things without any excess bulk. There's a quick-stash pocket on the front for easy access to small items, along with a padded laptop sleeve and key clip. Other than that, the design is simple and unified, with a water bottle holder on the side made of a stretchy material that isn't heavy or rigid. Reviewers on Amazon noted that this backpack is comfortable and easy to adjust.
One reviewer wrote: "Perfect size for a small laptop or tablet with ample room for some other school supplies. NOTE: don't plan on putting any large textbooks in this pack - really not big enough!I love that Osprey uses recycled materials for their packs - great commitment to the environment.Straps are comfortable and adjustable.Really a nice little pack - recommend!"
The best budget backpack
The lowdown: With over 9,000 reviews, this popular minimalist backpack is an excellent budget option with tons of great features. The slender, bulk-free pack is durable and water-resistant, with a handful of pockets and a custom laptop sleeve. It boasts a slanted front zipper — which can hold your phone, wallet, keys, or writing tools — along with a water bottle holder and a built-in USB charger. To use the latter, simply slide a charging bank into the main compartment and keep your phone or iPad juiced up on the go. The eco-friendly nylon is super durable, and the tough zippers open smoothly without snagging. As a bonus, the sleek backpack (which customers call "perfectly comfortable") comes with a travel lock to keep your valuables safe from thieves. )
One reviewer wrote: "I LOVE this thing! I've been looking for a slim, stylish laptop backpack forever and thought this was going to be 'too good to be true' when I found it here on Amazon for like 25 bucks. For the price, this thing is AMAZING and is absolutely worth the money. It even has a USB port on the side... I plugged in one of my portable battery packs and now I've got a hot USB port right on the side of the bag! The material feels strong and durable, and the zippers move easily and don't appear like they'll fail any time soon [...] this is an amazing bag at this price point - I would definitely buy again."
The best commuter bag
The lowdown: Constructed with high-quality weather-resistant nylon, this chic Chrome backpack boasts a winning combination of comfort, engineering, and style. The high-end backpack, which is designed with a slender, minimalist look, is especially great for commuters who regularly ride the bus, take the train, or even walk or cycle to work. The 1,680-denier ballistic nylon material is exceptionally durable, allowing it to weather the elements day to day. It has one pocket made of lightweight mesh (with a built-in key tether), and another softer pocket with a silky lining to store delicate items like sunglasses or your phone. The main compartment features in integrated laptop pocket and the exterior straps make it comfortable to wear.
One reviewer wrote: "This is a great low-profile backpack for a minimalist or someone who wants to carry only the essentials day-to-day. It looks cool and is comfortable to wear."
The best waterproof bag
The lowdown: Most of the bags on this list are water-resistant but this sleek choice from The Friendly Swede is fully waterproof with 500-denier PVC tarpaulin, welded seams, and a roll-top design. It's built for commuting in the heavy rain (for folks who bike to work, take the subway, or walk long distances), however, you can also use it for things like hiking, kayaking, or sailing. The sporty dry-bag backpack is extremely lightweight — clocking in a just 1.5 pounds — and completely free of bulky pockets or cumbersome straps. It has a smooth laptop sleeve on the inside, along with a tiny zippered pocket, and three external pouches. The bag's zippers are splash-resistant (though not fully waterproof, meaning the bag isn't submergible) and it comes with a three-year warranty.
One reviewer wrote: "I live in the rainy Pacific Northwest and commute by bike into work. I was in desperate need of a dry pack. This pack is durable, functional, and has a sleek design. The roll top closure is secure and allows for pack expansion when stowing larger items. The pack contains several pockets both inside and outside of the bag for smaller items. I use this pack for biking, day hikes, work, travel, and weekly trips to the grocery store (and get a ton of compliments!). I’ll be taking it to New Zealand this spring! Can’t wait."
The most lightweight
The lowdown: If your primary goal is to find a backpack that's extremely lightweight and hardly takes up any space, it doesn't get any better than this stowaway bag from Eddie Bauer. The feather-light pack squishes up into a tiny ball that zips into its own pocket. It's made with strong 200-denier ripstop polyester so you can hike and bike with it, yet it also works for school or travel. The exterior fabric is treated with a StormRepel finish that makes it fairly water-resistant, and it has light padding on the shoulder straps. The sides have elasticized mesh pockets and there's a Velcro pouch on the back panel, too. This bag doesn't have any thick padding or structure so it's not ideal for items that need a lot of protection. However, it's the perfect thing to use as an extra bag to throw inside your luggage, store in your hiking pack, or keep in your purse for groceries.
One reviewer wrote: "I purchased this for a 10-day trip in Israel where we spent the majority of the time walking from site to site. This truly is lightweight, durable, has excellent room without being bulky, and easy on-off. (I have stiff shoulders and a difficult time putting on and taking off most backpacks--I didn't have to think about my shoulders once during the trip.) The travel pouch that it condenses into doubles as a pocket at the top of the backpack when it is in use--no tracking an additional piece."
The best sling bag
The lowdown: If you prefer sling bags to regular backpacks, this minimalist Stoā Agathos pack is just the ticket. It's designed with a sleek cross-body look that doesn't feel bulky or weigh you down. The custom strap is not only easy to adjust but exceptionally comfortable too, according to reviewers, and the zippered pocket is the perfect size for a wallet, keys, or ID card. It's made with durable, water-resistant material and a padded sleeve to protect your laptop. The inside has two main sections to keep things organized, and the vertical front pocket is easy to access.
One reviewer wrote: "I am in LOVE! It’s my new go-to, multipurpose bag. I’ve now used it to take my laptop and paperwork to and from my office, and as an overnight travel bag. You can wipe it clean easily if it gets dirty, the interior pockets are perfect to fit anything you need, including a padded area for a small laptop, plus there is a zipper at bottom with a large pouch for extra shoes or anything else you wish to separate from the other interior contents. It’s comfortable no matter how heavy, and I get compliments all the time. Great buy!"
The best for travel
The lowdown: This compact Victorinox backpack is similar to the Eddie Bauer choice above in that it's lightweight and extremely packable; however, the two bags have slightly different uses. While the Eddie Bauer one is meant to be an extra bag you toss in your main backpack or suitcase, this one is thicker and a tad bit heavier and designed for standalone uses. It has more shape and structure so that you can knock it around a little without having to worry about fragile items inside. It's not quite as compact as the Eddie Bauer option, but the tradeoff is that you get more padding and protection, making it as fantastic selection for travel. It folds into itself easily and can be stowed under almost any airplane seat.
One reviewer wrote: "The material is very thin and light weight but it seems to be able to handle the weight of a MacBook Air, an accessory bag, a 80 page file, two cell phones and a wallet with no problem. I fly about 75000 miles a year and many trips require connection. This backpack comes in handy when you walk between terminals. The backpack comes with two straps so it distributes the weight on your shoulders evenly."
The best for hiking
The lowdown: Whether you're a diehard hiker or a weekend warrior, this minimalist sports backpack is the perfect thing to use to hit the trails, especially if you don't like to pack a lot. It has all of the basics you need without a bunch of extra pockets, straps, or bulky compartments. The low-profile design is not only fashionable but practical too, with one main compartment and five simple pockets (including two mesh side pockets, one zippered pocket on the belt, and one pocket for trash). It's made with tough, weather-resistant ripstop nylon and breathable 3-D air mesh shoulder straps to prevent you from overheating. The backpack's belt and sternum areas feature soft, adjustable straps and it comes with a built-in compartment for a hydration bladder.
One reviewer wrote: "Works perfectly for me - my lightest pack ever, and I find it comfortable for trail running. It holds a lot, and can be flattened down with the straps when it is half empty. The right side belt pocket (the one that is not zippered) holds my iPhone 6plus. I like this pack a lot."
The best for backpacking
The lowdown: This 60-liter Granite Gear backpack offers everything you need for serious multi-day backpacking trips without any bulky or unnecessary features. Offering just the basics, it has a singular roll-top compartment with a simple double strap and buckle for compression. It's made with robust 210-denier ripstop nylon. The dual-density shoulder harness features load-lifter straps to distribute the weight evenly and prevent your back from getting sore. On top of that, this backpack has DWR-treated zippers and a removable sternum strap. In addition to the main compartment, it's outfitted with two zippered hip belt pockets for extra storage.
One reviewer wrote: "I absolutely love this bag. Large hip belt pockets. Insanely comfortable. Simple [...] So far I’ve taken on one 48 mile hike and I loved it."