Minimalist Travel

How to Find the Perfect Minimalist Travel Backpack and experience One Bag Living

Searching for the perfect minimalist travel backpack has been quite the process. I first started travelling with a 75-litre backpack, slowly changed to a 55-litre, and used a 33-litre pack for many years until I finally switched to a 24-litre bag.

It took awhile for me to understand what I need to bring for every trip and to embrace the idea of travelling with less and practicing one bag living.

But I am extremely happy with my current backpack, which I think is one of the best minimalist travel backpacks.

If you are an aspiring minimalist and living out of a backpack doesn’t scare you, keep reading because I will show you how you can find the best minimalist backpack and sharing all the reasons why I love my favourite minimal pack.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through them, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost. Thank you for supporting this website. For more information, please read the disclosure for more info.

3 main features of a minimalist travel backpack

But first, let’s talk about the main characteristics of a minimalistic bag. Here are my thoughts on some of the key features.

1. A carry-on travel backpack size

The perfect minimalist backpack size must be small enough for an airplane overhead cabin but big enough for all your belongings. It should be a 20 litre backpack or slightly bigger.

However, every airline has different regulations about carry-on bags, and there isn’t a fixed rule on the allowable size of a carry-on suitcase.

Check the carry-on luggage size of your favourite airline. There is a handy online chart that already compiled the cabin size of the majority of the airlines.

And also, keep in mind that the size and weight of the current allowable carry-on luggage can be changed at any time, i.e. airlines will continue to limit the physical size and weight of hand-carry luggage. So it may be wise to lean towards a smaller backpack.

2. Only a few useful compartments

Having a few useful compartments in your backpack is necessary to keep all your belongings organized.

When you don’t have enough compartments, everything just gets thrown into the backpack, and you will never be able to find your item without emptying your bag.

But when you have too many compartments, you are splitting up all your belongings into too many spots. Sometimes it could get a little confusing (especially when you first start using a new backpack), and you may not remember where you put all your things.

With the right amount of compartments, you can neatly organize all your stuff so each item can have a proper home.

3. As light as possible

It is possible to have all your belongings fit into a carry-on bag even if you are travelling long-term. And because you are carrying everything you need, you want to make sure your backpack is made with lightweight material, so the overall weight of your travel bag doesn’t weigh too much.

Some airline has a limit for 10kg for your main carry-on bag plus a personal bag (like a purse or computer bag). And other low-cost carriers limit all your carry-on weight to be less than 7kg. That means both your backpack and the personal bag has to weigh a total of 7kg. Even for me, that is pretty difficult.

When you try to pack your whole life into a carry-on bag, the weight accumulates quickly, and you will want to use every available ounce of space.

Check out my post on how to pack a 7kg carry-on bag. I also have a minimalist packing list that you can use as a guideline.

Other features to look for in a minimal travel backpack

There are other things to consider when you are shopping for the perfect, minimal travel backpack. Minimalist travellers search for the following features:

1. Comfortable shoulder straps

For a daypack, having comfortable shoulder straps is extremely important. Your shoulder holds the majority of the weight of your backpack, so you want to make sure the strap is comfortable and not digging into your skin.

For a larger backpack, having the padded shoulder straps is equally important. However, the majority of the weight of your bag should rest on your hip instead of your shoulder. But sometimes, when you are rushing or just quickly putting on your backpack, you might forget to secure your pack on your hip as well. So having comfortable should strap is essential no matter what size your bag is.

2. A proper hip belt

For a daypack (anything up to 20-litre backpack), a thin hip belt is sufficient. The hip belt stabilizes your backpack against your back while you are walking or running. Having a stabilizing point is especially important, especially when you attempt different physical activities. It keeps the backpack from bouncing off your back.

For a bigger backpack, having a padded hip belt can distribute at least 80% of the weight of your bag to your hips. When you carry a heavy backpack with a cushioned hip belt, your shoulder strap should just hover over your shoulders while the hip belt sits firmly above your hips.

3. Made with durable material

When you travel longterm, your backpack is your home. You want to make sure your backpack is made with the best material that can withstand any conditions. Having a durable backpack can give you peace of mind.

The fabric should be durable and water-resistant so that it can hold up to any conditions and weather. The hardware should be top-notched as well.

My favourite minimalistic backpack: Wanaka Adapt Backpack

I bought the Wanaka Adapt Backpack through the Kickstarter program a few years ago. A friend of mine saw it on Kickstarter and sent the information to me immediately. I’m so glad he did!

If you watch the US Amazing Race show, there was a father and son team who won season 24. The son of the duo, Connor O’Leary, designed the pack and sold it in Kickstarter.

I watched the video and read all the information about the backpack and couldn’t wait to get one. So I ordered one and waited patiently.

My review of the Wanaka Adapt Backpack is opinions of my own, and I did not receive any compensation of any kind. And I do not receive any commission if you purchase it from Kickstarter. I only want to share what I love.

Note added on May 5, 2020: A reader reached out and told me he bought the bag online but never received it. I don’t know the full story but at the same time, I feel I have the responsibility to tell all my readers about this. I had no issues when I ordered the bag few years ago through Kickstarter. But I have no idea what the company is doing now or how they operate as I am not an affiliate of theirs and I have no connection with them. I wrote about the bag because I do love the function of the bag. But I just want you to know to beware of this. 

Features of the Wanaka Adapt Backpack

When I first learned about the Wanaka backpack, I knew I wanted the minimal backpack because of how it looks and all the different features it has.

More information about Wanaka backpack:

  • Size: 24 litre
  • Weight: 1lb 6 oz
  • Measurement: 50cm high, 25cm wide, 16cm deep
  • Made with 210D double ripstop nylon and lightweight hardware
  • Durable, water-resistant coating (DWR)
  • The ultra-breathable mesh shoulder straps and can be tucked into the back of the bag
  • An adjustable sternum and waist belt
  • Three main compartments with compartment divider
  • The top compartment is a fanny pack, adventure sling and a shoulder bag all-in-one
  • Built-in laptop sleeve
  • Hypalon gear loops on the outside
  • Can use the entire backpack as a compression sack
  • Lifetime warranty against defects in materials and workmanship
  • Minimal aesthetics: sleek, clean and not too many straps
  • Looks compact: the backpack is a rectangular shape where every square inch can be utilized

The minimalistic backpack also comes with:

  • An inflatable backpack frame
  • An insulated case that acts as a camera case and cooler

Why Wanaka Adapt Backpack is perfect minimalist backpack

After using the backpack for three years, I can honestly say that I love the Wanaka backpack!

Even though it is advertised as a daypack, I like using it as my main backpack because it is the perfect size for me.

The pack has everything I want in an ultra-minimalist travel backpack where I can fit all my belongings and still have extra space. And the bag is quite affordable compared to some of the ones I’ve seen.

Here are other reasons why I consider the Wanaka backpack to be the perfect minimalist carry-on bag:

1. Perfect size for any trip

I can fit all my belongings into the 24-litre Wanaka backpack and still have extra space. I’ve done city travel, and adventure travels with this backpack. The size of the backpack is small, which is perfect for women. And it is the ideal cabin size backpack.

And the pack fits my packing cubes perfectly! It is almost as if the small packing cubes were made for this bag (they are not because they are not the same brand). I can stack two full packing cubes into the main compartment, and it sits firmly against the compartment divider without wasting any space.

2. 3 useful compartments

There are three main compartments in the Wanaka backpack: the main compartment, the bottom compartment and the top compartment that is also a fanny pack, adventure sling and shoulder bag.

I use the main top-down compartment for my travel wardrobe and wet and dry toiletries.

The bottom compartment houses my shoes and technology items

And the top compartment has my first aid kit, other miscellaneous items.

Everything I own has a proper place in the bag, and everything is easy to retrieve.

3. Minimal aesthetics

In terms of aesthetics, the backpack looks minimal and sleek. I like that it doesn’t have too many straps like a lot of other hiking backpacks. It is a sleek backpack without any fuss.

4. Lightweight travel backpack

When the backpack is packed with all my belongings, it weighs between 5kg to 6kg. It is not difficult at all to carry a few kilograms of stuff on my back. I’ve had to tweak my packing list over the years and am super happy with the final list.

Summary: what you should look for in a minimalist travel bag

If you are in the market to buy a new bag, consider buying the best of the best. An excellent pack will last for many years and is the one thing you should invest in for your travels because it holds everything you own.

In summary, here is what you should look for when it comes to finding the best minimalist pack:

  1. Perfect size (between 20 to 30 litres) for all your belongings but small enough for airplane overhead cabin
  2. Include a few useful compartments for organizing all your belongings
  3. A lightweight travel backpack made with durable material
  4. Comfortable shoulder straps
  5. Proper hip belt 

Related Post – How to make homemade eco friendly toiletries for long term travel

What is your take on the best minimalist travel backpack?

When you have the perfect minimalist backpack, travel become easier and much more enjoyable.

Up until now, the Wanaka Adapt Backpack is my favourite minimal backpack. I tried many in the past and honestly love them all. But this one stood out because of the pack looks compact and sleek. I also like how it doesn’t look fussy, i.e. not too many straps hanging off the pack like other hiking packs.

What do you think the best minimalist backpack should have? Let me know in the comments on what you think of the Wanaka backpack or if you have other minimalist backpacks that you love!

Thank you for reading my post on minimalist backpack

You might also like these other posts on minimalist travel:

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About Author

Hi, my name is Queenie, and I've been a solo traveller for 20+ years and currently based in Hong Kong. Follow me on my adventures through Instagram and my blog!


  • Carly |
    May 19, 2019 at 3:16 am

    I’m what you would probably consider a maximalist, but I can totally imagine how comfortable and freeing it would be to travel with a back that is so lightweight! (Though then I wouldn’t be able to meet cute guys by asking for their help in lifting my bag into the overhead storage compartment!).

    • queenie mak
      May 19, 2019 at 11:08 pm

      Oh I wasn’t always a minimalist traveller. It took awhile to get there! There’s always advantages and disadvantages for both. Thank you for your comment, Carly!

  • Nicola
    February 14, 2023 at 6:56 am

    Hello, I loved reading your blog. Totally inspiring.. could you point me in the right direction? I am searching for your Wanaka bag and I can’t seem to find it anywhere online. Do u have any links at all. Thanks in advance!

    • queenie mak
      February 14, 2023 at 11:21 pm

      Hi Nicola, thank you so much for following my posts. I love writing about travel and minimalism. I don’t think the bag is on kickstarter any more. But I just checked – if you google “wanaka outdoors”, it is the first search result. Thank you again for your comment 🙂


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