Intrepid globetrotters can all agree on at least one thing: Backpacks are the only way to go!
After all, nobody wants to drag a wheeled suitcase along a cobblestone European street or stuff an oversized duffle bag onto a packed Indian train.
And although full-sized travel backpacks are undeniably functional, they’re tortuously cumbersome and the antonym of chic.
Ever seen a backpacker in the city center rocking an 80-liter Osprey? They look excruciatingly awkward and stick out like a sore thumb.
But there’s another way.
These days, more and more people are joining the minimalist travel movement by shunning oversized packs in favor of a petite carry-on.
And for the minimalist wanderer who prefers municipal adventures over outdoor escapades, the urban travel backpack is the ideal compromise of function and form.
What’s an urban travel backpack?
The urban travel backpack is a small piece of carry-on luggage aimed at the fashion-conscious, bohemian traveler.
Many are designed for everyday inner city use. Others, however, are more suited for long-term, minimalist travel. These crafty contraptions have enough compartments to keep a lightweight traveler going for months on end.
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Why should I buy an urban travel backpack?
The biggest drawcards are discretion and style. Suave and sophisticated, the urban travel backpack is an awesome fashion accessory that’ll help you blend in with the local metropolitan crowd.
Another great plus is its small stature. Carry-on size allows travelers to save on checked luggage fees, stroll right past the airport baggage claim and effortlessly squeeze onto a crowded city bus.
The downside is that you’ll be limited for space. With minimal room to play with, the urban travel backpack owner must forgo bulky cameras, laptops and other accessories. (Or at least the bare minimum of these gadgets!) Only a modest selection of clothing will fit, which requires frequent trips to the local laundromat.
Those who love their city escapes would also benefit from the style, which is a particularly common preference among seasonal workers in Europe.
When is an urban backpack the wrong choice?
Fussy travelers on an extended journey should think long and hard about rocking an urban backpack.
Are you capable of packing light? Go for it. If not, then a regular sized backpack will better suit your style.
Travel the World in Style: The 5 Best Urban Travel Backpacks
What to consider when buying an urban backpack
Keep the following factors in mind while browsing for your new bag.
Brand and price
Unlike their larger cousins, there aren’t many dominant brands in the urban backpack sector. Some of the best hail from companies you’ve never heard of. As a result, brand name shouldn’t be a big priority.
Prices vary anywhere between $100 and $300. Any less and you’ll end up with inferior materials and shoddy stitching, which is a surefire way to see your pack fall apart.
Remember, carry-on is key.
The standard permissible cabin luggage dimensions are 22 x 18 x 10″ (56 x 45 x 25 cm), although it varies from carrier to carrier.
With that size, you won’t get much more than 40 liters of storage space at best. That’ll hold enough clothes for five to seven days.
If you’re after an everyday urban backpack for inner city use, then somewhere around the 20-30 liter mark will suffice.
Style is one of the primary considerations of the urban backpack. Therefore, you want to make sure your materials are not only sturdy but also look the part.
Leather is a good option for its durability and sheen, while neutral-colored nylon or high-end synthetic will also do the trick. Whatever you choose, opt for something reasonably water resistant and quick to dry.
The most fashionable urban backpacks tend to compromise on comfort. After all, those thickly padded shoulder harnesses and hip straps don’t exactly scream bohemian chic.
Nevertheless, you certainly don’t want to be wandering around for hours with a heavy load piled into an uncomfortable pack.
The preference you give to comfort ultimately comes down to the intended use. If you’re a long-term traveler, you’ll probably want to err on the cushy side. However, if you don’t intend to carry your bag for extended periods of time, comfort level might not be as much of a priority.
Some urban backpacks are stuffed full of compartments and innovative extras, while others are intentionally unembellished. Consider which items and accessories you need.
5 urban travel backpacks for 5 types of urban travelers
Best for long-term travelers: Tortuga Outbreaker (Find it on the Tortuga website)
Although the Tortuga may not be the prettiest pack on our list, it’s the undisputed champion in terms of functionality and support. At 22 x 14 x 9″ and with 44L in the trunk, this puppy pushes the carry-on limit to the extreme. As a result, the traveler has the most amount of room possible to squash in their gear.
Featuring all sorts of compartments and a 15″ protective laptop sleeve, the pack allows the traveler to lug all their worldly possessions on their back. Tortuga is Spanish for “turtle,” after all.
Given you’ll likely be carrying a lot, its padded shoulder and hip straps work wonders to lighten the load.
Best for digital nomads: Minaal Carry-on 2.0 (Find it on the Minaal website)
The lovechild of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Minaal Carry-on 2.0 was birthed with the minimalist digital nomad in mind. At a meager 35L, you won’t fit a whole lot of gear into this sleek and discrete number. Thus, it’s really only an option for those who know how to pack light.
Nevertheless, it has an inbuilt shock-proof laptop sleeve to keep your workstation safe and a compartmentalized suitcase style design for easy access to your gear. Exterior cords, including its padded hip strap, can quickly be stashed away for a streamlined vibe. The elements hardly pose a threat either, thanks to a retractable seam-sealed rain cover.
The only drawback is that it’s a bit on the pricey side.
Best for photographers: LowePro ProTactic 450 AW
Serious photographers need a serious camera backpack, and the ProTactic from LowePro is no laughing matter.
This discreet bit of baggage looks like a standard urban backpack, albeit an uber cool and contemporary one. As a result, the bad guys will have no idea you’re lugging around a precious load of kit.
Inside, a dizzying array of padded dividers allow you to snugly and safely store all the lenses and filters you desire. Meanwhile, three external pockets are great for grabbing odds and ends while on the run. All this comes wrapped up in high-quality synthetic materials stitched together in a super ergonomic design.
Most stylish for men: TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible
Want to look like an inner city hipster while gallivanting around the globe? Then check out the Weekender Convertible, the mother of style on the men’s urban travel scene.
Functionality wise, this offering is almost on par with the less aesthetically pleasing Tortuga. An expandable main compartment, a protective laptop sleeve and zippered interior mesh make packing and unpacking a breeze. All of this comes bundled up in a fashion-friendly design.
A drawback for long-term travelers is that it lacks a hip strap, making it uncomfortable for heavy loads.
Most stylish for women: Longchamp Le Pliage
Disclaimer: You definitely won’t be able to cram all your worldly possessions into this little number.
Nevertheless, for a super chic women’s daypack with a focus on travel functionality, Le Pliage has prestige. Tough ripstop nylon with a classy leather trim omits a sophisticated allure, one that’ll make you stand out from the stuffy backpacking crowd.
And after you’ve sussed out the city sights, the whole thing neatly rolls up for storage in your larger backpack.
Who said ladies had to look slovenly while on the road?
Do any of these stylish offerings tickle your fancy?
Traveling long-term with an urban backpack may entail a bit of sacrifice, but it’ll be worth it in the end for the freedom and fashion this luggage type affords. As a minimalist traveler with a penchant for the metropolitan, the urban travel backpack is the obvious choice for you.
Harry is a South American-based freelance writer who covers travel, the arts and culture, among many other things.
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