luggage for minimalists (or anyone).

February 24, 2016

minimalist luggage | reading my tea leavesHere’s the great news: you don’t have to have embraced every tenet of minimalist living to decide to pack lightly while traveling. But if you do decide to pack lightly, you’ll likely end up with less hassle, less mess, and more fun. My sister Cait’s working on a little guest post about traveling lightly with a toddler, but in the meantime I thought it’d be nice to share a few of the bag options that we looked into when we decided to upgrade our luggage recently. 

We’re hoping to do a bit of traveling this summer and with our upcoming trip to LA, we’ve been brainstorming an upgrade to the multiple duffel dance we’ve been doing for the past two years. I love those little duffels, but we’ve found we needed something a little bit more strategic, a little leaner, and a little easier to carry when traveling (especially when traveling with a kiddo).

I delved a bit into the world of travel gear blogs (Lord, almighty) to get some ideas for what’s best for lean travel. A warning: none of these options are the world’s sleekest. You’re not going to win awards for being the most fashionable traveler. Your bag might clash with your general sartorial vibe. But it will be durable and hardworking and sensible. (For readers who like their blog posts with a side of Anne of Green Gables references: Marilla would approve.)

Here’s what I was looking for:

+ Backpack straps: I recently decided to part with the enormous, bulky, Cheryl-Strayed-in-Wild-style trekking pack that I used for most of my twenties. The thing was a nightmare to pack neatly, too big to carry onto flights, and bulky to store with all of those flapping straps and clips. Most importantly, when it was full, I couldn’t really carry it. But! Backpacks are practical and a hard-cased, rolling suitcase is a non-option for tiny apartments and walking with a toddler (trust me on that last bit). Even more specific: I wanted to find an option with backpack straps that could be tucked away for travel (and storage).

+ Modest Size: You’ll fill the bag you have. You just will. So if you keep the bag itself a modest size and commit to only filling that bag, you’ll never overpack. Bonus: Smaller bags that fit carry-on limits mean never needing to worry about checking bags, which I avoid like the plague.

+ Easy Access: Nothing gets me flustered faster than trying to find something in a bottomless pit of a bag (just ask James!). I have almost literally no patience for rifling. I wanted a bag with a full zipper that allows the bag to open suitcase-style so I can gaze admiringly at my packing job and find that special pair of underwear I’m after in no time flat.

+ Compartments: The more the merrier. I like to keep my own things separate, separate, but if I’m also sharing my space with James and Faye, I want things to be even more compartmentalized.

Here’s what I liked best:

+ The Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 was a really tempting option. Naomi Davis did a nice post about her family’s longtime use of them and I was tempted by these no-nonsense, multiple compartment bags. There’s not a place nearby to go check them out in person, so I don’t have firsthand experience, but they come highly recommended and come with a lifetime guarantee. They have the easy access, carry-on size, and tuck-away backpack straps. They don’t have the full suitcase-style zipper that I really wanted.

+ The Patagonia MLC Headway just got a little bit of an overhaul, taking it out of dorky business traveler realm and planting it firmly into savvy traveling parent realm, with a little bit of vintage styling to boot. (It’s the bag we’ve decided on for now, so you know…just being very impartial here). It checks nearly everything on my list: compact, hide-able backpack straps, easy access, lots of compartments, lifetime guarantee. I’m even shocking myself and loving the brown and red bag pictured here. (#YOLO)

+ The L.L. Bean Quickload Travel Pack is the most Rick Steves-y of these packs. It’s the pack your dad might recommend (or mine), but before you scoff, it looks pretty awesome: there are lots of compartments, padded backpack straps that tuck away, wardrobe-style zipping, the whole kit and kaboodle. It’s currently backordered.

+ The Tortuga Travel Backpack was designed to include everything that I was hoping to find in one bag. It also has a few features the others lack: A waistband and super accessible side-pockets. It’s a little bulkier than when I wanted for myself, but a nice option for folks who plan to do a lot of walking with a heavy pack.

+The Osprey Porter 45 has a kind of cult following (along with just about every other Osprey bag). It’s a little bit less like a suitcase than I was hoping for personally, but it’s modestly sized enough to fit the bill for carry-on and minimalist packing.

And you? If you have a favorite pack to add to the list, please share!

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  • Reply Ricarda February 24, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Oh gosh, I went though exactly that sort of thought process last summer. I was somewhat bemused to find that some people take their backpacks VERY SERIOUSLY. I’m a bit more of a happy go lucky kind of girl.

    After plenty of research (for me) I settled on an Osprey Farpoint 40. I tried on the Osprey Porter as well but the Farpoint just fit me be better. I couldn’t be happier. We have literally been round the world together, from travelling rickety 4x4s across the Bolivian salt flats to rocking up at a professional conference, it’s done everything with me. It holds up great, packs flat (yay for under bed storage) and I can fit everything I need inside. It was possibly the best investement I made last year.

    If I may make another suggestion: get some packing cubes. They have literally changed my life and travel. I use them for everything, from tossing gym gear into my work bag to packing an overnight set into my handbag. They keep things organised and compressed so I can fit a lot more into my backpack. A medium and two smalls fit my backpack perfectly and hold everything I need. I’ve got these, and they have held up to a year of use without a sign of strain, but I’m sure there are other great ones out there.
    Sorry for the long, rambling post. No affiliate links, just genuine enthusiasm 😉

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 10:34 am

      Ha! Totally. Very intense feelings about luggage out there. I’ve never been a cube girl, though I do use little drawstring bags for separating things like underwear and dirty laundry! Investigating these links shortly! xo.

    • Reply Christie February 24, 2016 at 11:30 am

      It’s funny, but I actually have come to the opposite conclusions regarding travel bags. I have two kids (5 and 2), and I have traveled internationally with them twice. I prefer to check our luggage. I even check my luggage when I’m flying solo to a work conference. I like having my one bag on the plane with me and not having to fight through the crowds. I find travel to be stressful enough not to have to haul two bags on a plane. My carry-on (and really day-to-day bag) is a backpack. Traveling with the kids, I put the younger into an ergo with the backpack on my back. I prefer the roller suitcase because having to wrangle two children and my carry-on AND carry another suitcase is too much. One small carry-on would not be enough for the kids and me to travel for a week on.

      • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 11:40 am

        Interesting! Definitely most of this comes down to personal preference!

      • Reply Emily February 25, 2016 at 4:30 pm

        We found that too when we were traveling with our daughter last spring – we wound up going with a tiny crib, each a roller and a personal item (diaper bag, purse), and the toddler in an ergo. Plus the car seat. Which is a lot for two people to carry, plus a toddler! We looked around at everyone in the giant check-in line at one point and realized… it would probably be a lot easier to check some of those bags. Especially when it comes to chasing a toddler! There may have been some dramatic racing-through-the-airport sprints that would have been easier without all the luggage, too. I think we could try to bring less, for sure, but may give in to checking the crib and car seat sometime (especially that we now have baby #2!)

    • Reply Shivani February 25, 2016 at 7:17 am

      I also love my Osprey Farpoint 40 (also agreed that it’s much nicer than the Porter)! gotten me through SO many trips now — Alaska, Spain, Maine, weekend trips — everything. I also strongly recommend the packing cubes or stuff sacks or ziploc bags (although I prefer avoiding the plastic). I have these ones and I got these when they went on sale for my sister before she left for a six month, 3-season trip.

    • Reply Emily February 25, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      I love the muji travel cubes I bought last time we were in JFK – they’ve made packing a lot easier! ( I also use some little drawstring bags, but the cubes are nice for packing everything flat and keeping it orderly. I’ve been using a little one tossed into a backpack as a diaper bag insert, which works well!

    • Reply Mo January 14, 2017 at 8:09 am

      Another shout out for the Osprey Fairpoint 40. I bought it in anticipation of my summer vacation after 4 years of trying to get by on my large day pack after my old travel backpack got lost in a move and I love it. I’ve even managed to pack for three very varied weeks in Scotland. Packing for city rambling, museums, theatres, hiking, 2 balls and 1 week of dance classes was a breeze. I don’t see myself longing for another one any time soon.

      Had to laugh at the cult following, I spent a boat ride bonding with a guy over our love for our Osprey Fairpoints and traditional Scottish music!

  • Reply first milk February 24, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Rilla. My. Rilla.

    (We have, and greatly enjoy, the Patagonia. I also like my Lipault wheelie when business travel calls.)

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 10:37 am

      Lurve you. (And thank you for validating my choice! Phewww!)

  • Reply Cara February 24, 2016 at 10:45 am

    I have – and adore – that LL Bean one. It’s held my stuff for 2+ weeks of travel in places like Morocco, Thailand, and Europe. But it’s small enough to use for long weekend trips too. Super comfortable and keeps things neat. Recommend!

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 10:47 am

      So good to know! Thanks, Cara!

  • Reply laura February 24, 2016 at 10:47 am

    The Osprey was what I used for five weeks in Europe and I loved it. It is still our go-to for traveling for bigger trips HOWEVER the Rolling Adventure Duffle from L.L.Bean has proven to be the best bag I’ve ever used. I use it for weekend trips to fortnight trips. I believe I use the medium size. It’s got a nice waterproof lining and its light enough to carry on my arm, but oh so easy to use the wheels in airports. I am a forever fan girl of it. I know I’m getting older now that I NEED wheels for trips.

  • Reply Beth February 24, 2016 at 10:53 am

    I just got a Tom Bihn backpack for an ultralight traveling option and I’m OBSESSED with it. I, too, have no patience for rifling and all of it’s little zippered compartments get me giddy with organizational possibilities. 🙂 Great round-up!

  • Reply Erin February 24, 2016 at 10:55 am

    I’ll pipe up in support of Tom Bihn bags in general. A huge plus for those of us that care about this sort of thing is that they are made in Seattle by a great company! Excellent quality and customer service. One of my first post-grad-school purchases was a Synapse 25 backpack that has traveled to Argentina, Sweden, The Netherlands, Panama, and back again (I’m a minimalist traveler, and try to pack as little as possible). Five years later, its still a wonderful, well-wearing bag.

  • Reply Hannah February 24, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Great list! I’m always lookin’ for a good travel bag. Seriously I get into luggage like some people get into shoes haha. Backpack bags are one of my favs because you don’t have to worry about hauling them up stairs, and I always look for one that counts as a carryon because I sort of hate checking my baggage.

  • Reply Sarah February 24, 2016 at 11:10 am

    The Standard Company is a newer brand with a genius backpack shoulder bag that comes in minimalist design and stylish accent colors. I can’t recommend it enough!

  • Reply Jennifer February 24, 2016 at 11:21 am

    We also have a toddler and found that lugging our old rolling suitcases through the airport was no longer a feasible option so after much research into bags (including several that you mentioned like the Tom Binh) we went with the Patagonia bag also and are so excited to use them! Love all of the compartments!

  • Reply Joanna February 24, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Do you have a second item (a purse-type bag) you’ll carry too? If so, what is it like? A cross-body that goes over the backpack? Thanks!

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 11:30 am

      I usually wing it otherwise and depending on the trip!

    • Reply Sydni February 24, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      I love Taza’s idea (linked in post) of bringing along a reusable grocery bag for your extra bag while traveling!

    • Reply Mo January 14, 2017 at 8:15 am

      I usually carry my cross body purse under the backpack straps (i.e. put on purse, put on backpack) as I have having to remove my backpack to get to things like my phone, tickets, wallet, water bottle etc, I also seem to always need a purse at my destinationas well.

  • Reply Carmella February 24, 2016 at 11:50 am

    When our guys were little and with an airline pilot husband at the time, we did our fair share of air travel (several times me alone with three little guys), and because we flew stand-by, we had to pack minimally. My very best trick was a rolling backpack. The straps could be tucked into a pocket and zipped away when not in use. But most valuable in airport terminals was the rolling feature and the telescoping handle. At the bottom of the jetway, the baby would go into a gate-checked umbrella stroller (the small, nothing-fancy kind), the telescoping handle of the rolling backpack would hook over the umbrella stroller handle, the toddler would hop onto the rolling backpack and hitch a ride, and the eldest boy would trot beside me, holding the other umbrella stroller handle. Off we’d go lickety-split to our next gate.

  • Reply Emily February 24, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    My husband and I bought the Rick Steves carryon for a 5 week jaunt in Europe/Africa about 5 years ago and since then, it has been the only luggage we ever take. Of course we also bought the Rick Steves packing cubes (huge Rick Steves fan nerds) and my pack easily fits everything I need for me and our toddler for a few weeks away. We love that they are carryons since we hate checking.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 12:01 pm

      Ah, correction! This is the most Rick Steves pack! Thanks for sharing, Emily.

    • Reply Bailey February 24, 2016 at 9:47 pm

      Yes! My partner and I use a Rick Steves Carry-on Backpack for all of our trips. Fits both of our stuff for a few weeks of travel or works well for short trips too. It doesn’t have extra unnecessary straps and it’s very simply designed.

    • Reply Amanda March 4, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Ha, I had to pipe in on the Rick Steves and dad comment. My dad bought Rick Steves backpacks for our family of 5 in preparation for our 2-week European trip 15 years ago – we were quite the spectacle, I’m sure. I grumbled at the time (and made a good bit of fun of Rick Steves on that trip), but couldn’t resist and am now a Rick Steves devotee – love spotting other travelers with their little blue travel books on our vacations 😉

  • Reply jane February 24, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    love this post! (always nice to have a side of anne with and e.) 🙂 we took two patagonia mlc’s to china with us- i loved the size and the backpack straps…and the fact that there was no need to check it. i didn’t want a roller, but i can’t exactly remember why now. i will say that i couldn’t carry mine half of the time. it may have been the new 14 month old baby that i was also carrying (it is tough not working up from a 6 lb. baby gradually)…or it may be that i’m a wimp. 🙂

    here’s what i really wanted to say…we got ours from rei and were able to return them after the trip. not that this is the goal, but it is nice to know that you can “try” the product and have a bit of a safety net.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 12:09 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Jane! Did you guys find something to else to love?

  • Reply Margaret February 24, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    I am a super light packer compared to my friends and family – one of whom asked me “What’s your secret? Have any tips?” to which I replied, “Well, just take less stuff!” I have 3 travel bags that I love and highly recommend. One is a travel Osprey pack similar to the one you feature which I bought in college – but they don’t make my model anymore – and the new designs are SO MUCH CHICER than they were 10 years ago! But I adore this bag for backpacking (camping) and more rural travel. In the past 2 years, I’ve needed to get much more professional look for my travel and bought a small leather duffle from Morocco – which has none of the savvy travel things you highlighted, but looks great and is a solid bag! Finally, last year I won a Timbuk2 rolling carry-on suitcase which I’m LOVING. I may even be a rolling bag convert. It’s super professional design, has multiple compartments and dividers/pockets, has a handle on every side (which I didn’t realize was so important or useful until I have them!!), and love that the wheels are external to the bag, so if they ever break, they are easy to unscrew and replace – which means you don’t have to throw away the whole bag! And the wheels themselves are skateboard wheels, so they’re super sturdy and a great size. Highly highly recommend for anyone wanting/needing a rolling suitcase:

  • Reply Jordan February 24, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    This post came at the perfect time. Just last night I was daydreaming about my dream Europe trip and I started obsessing over finding the perfect small backpack to carry everything. I spent a few hours mentally calculating how I would pack my bag. I oddly get more excited about organizing a minimal bag than seeing the Eiffel Tower! Also compression bags are a game changer for packing. When I was a nanny I would pack the kids stuff with these bags and it was so satisfying to have all the onesies, pants, and diapers separated and smooshed down to half their size.

  • Reply Nicole February 24, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    I have the Osprey (in green, we call it the turtle bag since it makes you look especially turtle-y), and love it. The backpack is so convenient and the way it distributes the weight is awesome. We’re taking it to Borneo in March, but I take it on small trips too. Fits in the overhead compartment. Which is, you know, noice.


  • Reply Carolyn February 24, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Tom Binh bags are the best! They are designed so well. My husband packed everything he needed into a Synapse 25 backpack for a 10-day trip to France last winter. I was so impressed! We’re thinking of getting the Synapse 19 to use as a diaper bag.

  • Reply Sarah February 24, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    This doesn’t meet the backpack or the lots of compartment requirements, but I wanted to put out there a roller option that was a dream traveling internationally with a toddler: the Rimowa Salsa Air. It’s more expensive than the backpack options, too, but I needed something that I could prop my cooler on and push through the airport on regular business travel (I pack a day’s worth of food due to allergies). It is one of the lightest bags I’ve ever encountered, and as such our toddler (at 2 1/2) was able to push it himself through both O’Hare and Heathrow airports. I was able to pack myself and him for two weeks and two climates in the 21″. I also got one for my mother-in-law and it made the trip much more manageable for her as well. I will also endorse those packing cubes above! Such a dream and rifling is a distant memory.

  • Reply diana February 24, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Your sis might cover this in her guest post, but I’ve found the secret to packing light for a longer trip is to figure out how to do laundry wherever you’re going to be. Not hard to find a wash and fold in many parts of the planet, airbnbs will often have a washer/dryer, motels often have a washer dryer, you can shell out for hotel wash and fold (can often be worth it) or bring a little bottle of handwashing soap. Maybe I’m just obsessed with doing laundry and don’t care if I spend a little energy on vacation figuring out a way to make it happen.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Yes, totally!!

  • Reply Kimberly February 24, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Oh man…travel gear blogs…talk about a rabbit hole. I ended up settling on the Osprey Ozone Convertible (it’s 22″, and 50L). It’s a roller bag, and a backpack, PLUS a backpack zips off of it so you can use it as an impromptu day pack (which, came really in handy to Hawaii last year). Patagonia’s own return policy is far better than REI’s these days (I used to work for Patagonia, if they can’t repair it, they will replace it, or give your money back). That said, I’ve been partial to Osprey’s bags (their 24/7 backpack got me through nursing school). Tom Bihn is pretty sweet tho, I have the Café Messenger (Med) and it’s great, and all of their stuff is made in their factory in Seattle. I’m pretty sure they also have a good return policy if you want to see it before using it. They have quite the flickr community though, so it might be worthwhile checking out how people use their bags.

  • Reply Heather Garbo February 24, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    I just commented on Facebook but wanted to share here the backpack I just picked up last week (and last minute) for traveling alone with 2 young kids (and a laptop!). So far it’s worked great…not bulky, and lots of pockets (plus a bright orange interior so you can easily find things) to help keep busy mamas organized while traveling.

  • Reply Erik @ Bridge & Burn February 24, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    I love this clean design from DSPTCH:

  • Reply s February 24, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    I have and love the MLC. It’s perfect for carrying on a plane, and the backpack straps are great for stairs, walking longer distances in town, making C->A->airtrain->terminal connections, etcetc. Though it’s not the most ergonomic as a backpack, I even took it for a few days’ trek in the black forest on an otherwise city-based trip. Great that one bag could do both (and from my p.o.v. better than having to use something obviously “backpackery” though obviously that also would have done!).

  • Reply Rebecca February 24, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    I have the osprey porter 30 , I love it!

  • Reply Kim February 24, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    Erin, I swear we could be bosom friends and kindred spirits. Don’t forget to pack the currant wine! Heading away myself soon with an infant. I think the key will be getting and staying organized. Plan to pick up some packing bags for inside our luggage.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 6:22 pm


  • Reply Sydni February 24, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    This is so timely! I’m planning a trip to SE Asia this summer for research. Am adding one of these to my wish list (probably the Tom Bihn!)

  • Reply Willow Westwood February 24, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    Just wanted to put in my two sense–I have had the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel for years and love it. It’s a duffel but with backpack straps that snap on really nicely and a proper suitcase-style zipper so you can see everything. Might be a bit bigger than these but I was able to pack for two weeks in Europe in it fairly easily and am about to pack it for a two-week cross country road trip (!!!!!). I essentially lived out of it for a few months this summer no problem. It doesn’t have compartments, but they’re not really something I prioritize–I’d rather use drawstring bags. It’s light, wicked sturdy, and totally soft so it stores really small in my tiny apartments. I bought it to replace an “overnight bag” and a bigger rolling suitcase (they broke) and it does both jobs better than either of those did. Plus it’s a little cute? Understated. And it fits perfectly under a subway seat.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      Aww man. We really considered that one, too! (I honestly couldn’t decide how I felt about the huge Patagonia sprawled on the side)…and the zippers drew me into the MLC…too many options!

  • Reply Laura February 24, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Just bought the Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45. I did a practice packing test (including using packing cubes) for a 2 week trip and was really happy with how everything fit and the quality of the zippers (ugh I sound old and nerdy). I love being hands free and I feel super confident about this purchase!

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 25, 2016 at 6:52 am

      Old and nerdy! Welcome! 😉

  • Reply Laura F. February 24, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    Agree: backpacks all the way when traveling with kiddos (or anytime, really). I’m a fan of the North Face Basecamp Duffel (it’s bulletproof and decent-looking), but it does not have any compartments, so maybe not for you.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 25, 2016 at 6:51 am

      Oh, another good one!

  • Reply Katie February 24, 2016 at 11:39 pm

    eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Jr. – I have this bag and the larger version and I like this smaller one a lot! It fits all of the things you are looking for and the price is right. Plus, the colors are fun! I’m packing for my two boys (3.5 and 2) and myself for a two week trip next month and this is the only bag I hope to bring – it’s deceiving how much it can hold! And whoever said it with laundry and littles, is right on!

    • Reply Sarah February 25, 2016 at 12:32 pm

      I specifically came down here to mention this bag! My husband and I each have one in black (they’re not really the prettiest, but black is always good), and they have held up through all of our travels. We’re talking Korea, Europe, Philippines, Japan, across the entire USA and more. They still look brand new. Before we had our son we never expanded them to their largest size, but now we just pop out the expansion and we can fit all three of our needs in the two bags. Stow-able backpack straps, crazy convenient pocket designs, and a specific place to hide your technology (padded!)! Obviously I can’t say enough, but it fit our budget on a sale (there are so many ebags sales, I’d never pay full price for their items), and terrific guarantees and customer service. We use their cubes religiously too when we travel-it makes it easy to separate baby clothes from our clothes.

  • Reply emma February 25, 2016 at 4:56 am

    Fjällräven always. I’ve been using a Kanken which was handed down to me and was bought in the early 80s and it’s still going strong and recently bought a 28liter fjällräven for short trips (and daily use) which has a couple more compartments and can be expanded and reduced a little bit which is helpful. The kanken is amazing even though it has one main compartment (but it fits more than you’d think), but since you can open it up completely it’s really useful (as you probably know looking at your recent instagramposts 😉 ) – but I use bags for different things when I travel/daily stuff anyways, so I’m not too concerned about the compartment part.

    Most of all I feel great about their fabric (which is recycled polyester and organic cotton) and the way you can use wax to waterproof it and the design is timeless and minimal (in my opinion). This sounds like an advertisement, but I just really love them, all the others I tried over the years just didn’t hold up well or seemed ridiculously ugly after a couple of years especially when they stopped looking brand new (which they did quite quickly).

  • Reply Heather P February 25, 2016 at 8:43 am

    I have the Osprey Porter. I LOVE it. I often fly stand by, and even when all the overheads are full, I and squeeze this in, which is crucial, as putting it below could mean the difference between making or missing my connection. Now that I am married, my husband and I can both fit our minimalist packing both in the same bag, which is great, since I don’t have to carry it. When traveling for work I tuck in the backpack straps to dress it up a bit. The straps are also great for shrinking it down a bit when it isn’t full. The pockets are sparse, but I find the 3 to get the job done. There is one at the top for small stuff, one inside on the side which is great for corralling small items like undies and socks, and one on the inside of the flap that opens up. The back pack straps are super heavy duty and comfy for a long day of traveling.

  • Reply Taylor February 25, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Thanks for featuring the Tortuga! We’re honored to be included 🙂

  • Reply Alexis February 25, 2016 at 10:14 am

    My son is 18 months but the last time we traveled he was 13 months. We usually buy him his own seat, which we put his carseat in, since at most of our destinations we either rent or borrow a car. We gate check the stroller (it’s a Baby Jogger). But that’s the only thing we check.

    I use a small Lipault rolling suitcase and my son’s clothes/supplies go in one of those Baggu weekender bags, which fits over the carry handle. The Lipault case is nice because when it’s not in use, it folds pretty flat.
    Partner uses a rolling suitcase as well, but a harder/sturdier one so that we can strap the carseat onto it with a nylon luggage strap. We’ve never had to check anything in.

    However, with this next trip coming up (Seattle for 6 nights) we have to bring more stuff. A travel booster for him to sit in while eating, namely. So we are checking one large suitcase in and I’ve bought color-coordinated packing cubes for each of us. Not ideal. I typically use drawstring/shoe/Baggu flat zips to compartmentalize my bag so I’m interested to see how the cubes fare. Why is it the smaller the person, the more gear you need?

    Can’t wait for Cait’s post – please tell her hi from Alexis! We met years ago thru a mutual friend.

  • Reply Meg February 25, 2016 at 10:15 am

    I stumbled upon the Tortuga bag two years ago when I was hunting for a backpack for my mother/daughter Europe trip…. I’ll never go back! I love it! It’s soooo nice to only have to worry about one bag and not have to hassle with dragging a wheeled one on cobblestones streets or lifting it up the steps of the train. It could have fit a smidgen better but I am a 5’2” woman with a short torso. The padded hip belt was great and the small pockets there were so useful; nice for quick access to plan tickets or extra change. The laptop sleeve (accessible from top) was my favorite! Perfect for laptop, folders, or a folded jacket – it packed down flat and was quick to reach without opening up the entire bag. I was able to fit everything I needed into the bag and then some. My only complaints would be that the chest strap should be a little longer and should have a bit of padding to make it more comfortable. Other than that, I adore my Tortuga and plan to use it for many years to come! 🙂

    • Reply Michele April 30, 2016 at 2:33 am

      I’m about 5’1.5″ with torso of 17″ and was just wondering what your torso measurements are and how the Tortuga fits you? Did the should strap raise up significantly higher when you use the hip belt? Was it uncomfortable wearing the pack with the hip belt secured? I’m seriously contemplating between the Tortuga and the Osprey FarPoint 40 but I live in Canada and it’s a huge hassle to return the Tortuga if it doesn’t fit not to mention the return shipping. Thanks! 🙂

  • Reply Christine Manganaro February 26, 2016 at 10:28 am

    After extensive research in the spring of 2014, I bought an MEI Voyageur and haven’t looked back.

    I was almost sold on the Patagonia bag, and seriously considered a Tom Bihn, but price and size preferences led me to MEI. Their bags are made from the most durable materials, in the USA, are simply constructed so there is less to break or wear out, and the price is really an amazing value. My experience ordering my bag was also just really pleasant. I think the owner of the company was the guy who helped me several times and answered questions via email. With a few packing bags/cubes by Eagle Creek, this system served me as my sole bag (I’m now part of the One Bag cult) for two weeks of travel for both work and touristy times in New Zealand, in the winter (!), and has been a faithful companion on a number of flights on planes of various sizes as well as road trips. I can’t recommend the Voyageur strongly enough. I give these as gifts now.

  • Reply mariele February 26, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    I 100% endorse anything Tom Bihn. I have the Western Flyer and Copilot and they are both awesome. Sturdy, easy to pack and carry and hold everything you really need and the bag fits under the seat so they can’t make you check it at the gate.

  • Reply Reeve February 26, 2016 at 10:48 pm

    I switched to a backpack onnce I had my daughter… she is now 5 but it is still nice to have two free hands.

    I currently use a trip pack from topo designs.

  • Reply D February 28, 2016 at 9:17 am

    You should check out the ebags Ltd brand backpacks with cubes. These can be converted and rearranged to suit your needs. We use them and constantly rearrange the internal configuration.

  • Reply Genevieve March 10, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    Just wanted to say thanks for this post it was SO useful and timely as I had been after a hand-luggage-rucksack-suitcase for ages and had JUST returned one I ordered when you posted. (It was the motherload eBags one a few people mentioned above, it seemed fine and was cheap and the interior was great but it was just TOO dorky haha. Straps and zips and toggles in excess.) Anyway you clearly did a much better job of research than me! I ordered the osprey porter 46, it’s arrived today and I officially love it, absolutely perfect for my needs!

  • Reply Marianne June 27, 2017 at 4:21 am

    I have studied this post for some time! I wanted to buy a new bag for travelling, and looked for European alternatives. Eventually, I have bought the Fjällraven Splitpack, which I love for the following reasons:
    – easy access: the zip splits the backpack in two main compartments, as if it were a suitcase.
    – compartments!
    – the material is waterproof
    – the polyester is recycled and cotton organic

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