Did you get the memo? Sling backpacks are back in vogue!
Some will argue that they were never really gone… But it doesn’t matter. Us savvy travelers appreciate what works, and sling backpacks do tick a number of important boxes.
They’re comfortable, can be worn easily as a cross body bag or over one shoulder, they’re often more sleek and lightweight than a backpack, and more practical than a messenger bag.
I’ve had a look at what’s out there and put together a roundup of the best options from a quality and practicality standpoint.
Keep scrolling for the best sling backpacks of 2021 and a few pointers on how to choose between them if you’re not sure.
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- TOP 10 Best Sling Backpacks of 2021
- What is a Sling Bag?
- Why the Sling Backpack?
- How to Choose the Best Sling Backpack for Travel
TOP 10 Best Sling Backpacks of 2021
Kavu Rope Backpack
Review: This bag comes in a variety of colors and interesting patterns which suit almost everyone’s preferences and style.
The padded back is comfortable, the rope shoulder strap is durable and eye-catching, and it comes prepared with loads of pockets.
It has two small exterior pockets that offer storage for small items like your smartphone. There are two separate main compartments and one features a waterproof lining that protects electronics.
There’s also a small interior pocket where you can keep your passport, keys and some coins.
You are not likely to fit large items in this backpack but it’s ideal for carrying around your water bottle, camera, a warm layer and a snack.
- Durable shoulder strap.
- Available in different colors.
- Padded pack.
- Two zip openings.
- Lots of fun prints and colors to choose from.
- Water-resistant option available.
- Not made to switch sides.
- A little pricey.
Osprey Daylite Shoulder Sling Bag
Review: This sleek, 7L sling bag from Osprey is practical, comfortable and designed to last a very long time.
It’s made to be worn on your right shoulder, so bear this in mind if you prefer to wear bags on your left. But aside from that, this is a versatile bag.
The anatomically-shaped shoulder strap is adjustable and the front zippered pocket is made of stretch mesh so you can squeeze larger items in there if you have to.
- Breathable, super padded shoulder strap is really comfortable.
- Shoulder strap has its own stretchy mesh pocket.
- Main compartment includes a mesh organizer and key clip.
- Compact and lightweight.
- Front mesh pocket is see-through so not suitable for anything valuable.
Meru Sling Backpack Bag
Review: This 8.5L sling is made from cotton canvas making it a nice durable option for travel.
It has a hidden credit card pocket and two zippered outside pockets, a comfortable memory foam strap, Smartphone and tablet sleeves and padded back.
There is a mesh net pocket on the inside for a water bottle, it comes in many bright designs and there is a hemp option available if you prefer.
- A good size for day trips.
- Plenty of functional pockets.
- Comfortable memory foam shoulder pack.
- Made with natural materials.
- Some travelers have had trouble with fraying.
Waterfly Sling Shoulder Backpack
Review: This popular 10L Waterfly sling bag is packed with useful features. It balls up and stores away in its own storage pocket making it a great choice for travel, and the storage pouch also becomes an inside pocket when the bag is in use.
It is made from a very lightweight water-resistant material, the wide shoulder strap is adjustable, the back is padded for comfort and its slightly larger size makes it suitable for summer day hikes.
- Lightweight with a lot of organization.
- Can switch left to right.
- Large stretch mesh water bottle pocket.
- Large enough for a small laptop.
- Hidden zippered pocket for valuables.
- The strap does not always stay tightened.
Pacsafe Metrosafe Anti-Theft Sling Bag
Review: This Pacsafe sling is a great option for the security conscious. Aside from being a comfortable and good quality bag, it also comes with multiple anti-theft features including lockable zippers, cut-proof fabric and an RFID safe pocket.
The only downside to the security-focused design is the lack of exterior pockets (just one), so it may not always be the most convenient bag. But, at least you know your things are safe!
- Plenty of internal sleeves for organization.
- Steel mesh outer material is cut-proof.
- RFID pocket and lockable zippers.
- Water-resistant outer.
- Good quality, durable build.
- A little pricey.
- Only one exterior pocket.
Patagonia Atom Sling Bag
Review: This bag won’t look so flash in urban environments (which doesn’t matter unless you’re trying to blend in with the locals), but if you’re traveling for the great outdoors, this is the sling bag you’ll want on hand.
Ideal for day trips, this 8L bag is comfortable and very durable with a few unique features like a good-sized zippered pocket on the shoulder strap and two compression straps on the front.
- Compression straps double as a way of attaching extra gear.
- Zippered pocket on shoulder strap.
- Breathable, padded, mesh back panel.
- High quality.
Victorinox Altmont Sling Bag
Review: For another top-rated and high-quality option, the Victorinox Altmont is a deceptively spacious bag.
Its sleek, close-fitting design has you fooled into thinking that it won’t hold much, but for most people, it’s more than adequate.
It has a comfortable padded back panel, a separate top grab handle which most sling bags don’t have, one large main compartment, one large front pocket, and one small phone-sized pocket.
- Phone-sized pocket on the shoulder strap.
- Very affordable for a Victorinox bag.
- Deceptive size – can hold a lot.
- Water repellent.
- Simple, sleek design.
- No internal pockets or compartments.
- Tear drop shape reduces usable capacity.
Under Armour Compel Sling 2.0 Backpack
Review: This Under Armour sling offers more of a backpack shape than most slings which is great if you’re looking for something laptop compatible.
The 16.4L capacity is massive compared to most slings which are about half that, so there’s plenty of space for a 15” laptop in the dedicated laptop sleeve.
It has plenty of additional pockets for organization including a water-resistant valuables pocket, and it’s lightweight for its size.
- Large laptop space.
- Side water bottle pocket (albeit very small).
- Adjustable strap.
- Three zippered front pockets.
- Swings around, especially on smaller people.
- Drink bottle pocket is too small for most drink bottles but it could be used for other things.
OutdoorMaster Sling Bag
Review: This bag from OutdoorMaster has loads of great features all available in a high-quality package at a really affordable price.
The highlights include being able to carry a 12” laptop, the ability to switch over the shoulder strap for carrying the bag on either the left or right shoulder, an anti-theft pocket, and a good sized external water bottle pocket on the side.
- Comes in different colors.
- Several compartments.
- Anti-theft pocket.
- Water bottle holder.
- Can be worn on either shoulder.
- Adjustable strap.
- Not water-resistant.
- Less durable than other bags on this list.
Maxpedition Sitka Gearslinger
Review: This beast of a bag brings the military look into the travel world. It is sturdy and durable and the sling design allows you to swing it to the front while you’re wearing it.
The bag features a main compartment which carries large items like laptops (up to 14.1”) and Ipads.
The top front compartment stores smaller items while it also has a water bottle sleeve that holds a 32 oz. Nalgene bottle, and the finish features polyurethane coating for water-resistance.
- Several pockets.
- Spacious main compartment.
- Water bottle holder.
- Can be worn in front.
- Durable materials.
- Not enough internal pockets.
- It has too many zippers.
- It is very expensive.
What is a Sling Bag?
This is a good place to start, because there are actually a lot of different definitions.
For the sake of what is most practical for travel and the purpose of this article, sling bags are considered to be small, narrow backpacks that have just one shoulder strap instead of two.
The strap can be worn over one shoulder or for a more secure and comfortable option, across the body similar to a messenger bag.
But, instead of sitting next to your hip, bouncing while you walk and messing with your posture like a messenger bag, sling backpacks ride in the middle of your back and are comfortable to walk with for longer amounts of time.
But you like messenger bags, I hear you say? Fair enough. There is no one-style-fits-all option when it comes to day bags for traveling.
We have an article dedicated to the best messenger bags for women so head on over there if you think that might be more your cup of tea.
Why the Sling Backpack?
Aside from how hipster they are, sling backpacks have some practical benefits too.
For the lightweight traveler, having a small, comfortable and practical bag for day to day use is pretty important.
- Make it easy to access their contents without taking the bag off which is a bonus from both a security and convenience perspective.
- Are cooler to wear in hot weather.
- Are compact, lightweight and comfortable.
- Provide just enough room for the essentials without weighing you down.
- Are the ideal bag to be considered your personal item when flying.
How to Choose the Best Sling Backpack for Travel
But despite their awesomeness, not all sling bags are built equal!
There’s actually a huge variation in design and even definition of what a sling bag is.
So, there are a few things to consider when looking for the best sling backpack for travel.
Most sling backpacks are designed for one shoulder or the other.
Sling backpacks worn over the right shoulder will typically slide around so that the bag can be accessed from under your left arm without having to take it off. Left shoulder sling bags will slide around for access under your right arm.
Which side you prefer will come down to personal preference. But best case scenario, the bag can be worn on either arm.
This means that if you’re carrying more weight and one shoulder starts to get tired, you can switch over.
Pockets and Compartments
Pockets and compartments may sound like an unimportant feature, but the location and number of pockets can actually make or break a bag.
Look for at least one smaller pocket or sleeve for placing small items or valuables so that they are easy to find and keep safe.
Drink bottle sleeves can be useful but are less suited to sling backpacks because the bag will usually be sitting at a diagonal angle across your back. It would have to be a pretty snug fit for your bottle to not be at risk of falling out.
Think about whether you want a separate laptop sleeve, whether you appreciate external pockets or prefer to keep everything safely contained inside the main compartment, and whether a pocket on the shoulder strap (usually for a phone) would be useful to you.
Size and Weight
Sling bags are, by design, usually small and compact. They’re designed to fall somewhere between a small purse and a regular backpack, being just big enough for the essentials.
Think about what the essentials will be for you. If you’re going to want to be able to fit a laptop, this will limit your options as most sling backpacks aren’t big enough.
Bear in mind that since all of the weight is going to be on one shoulder, you don’t want to be carrying too much! And, if you want to use it as your personal item when flying, smaller is definitely better so it doesn’t start to be considered a carry-on bag in its own right.
Teaming up a sling backpack with a wheeled backpack could just be the perfect carry-on combo.
You can wheel your backpack behind you while you wear your sling bag in the airport, and then when you arrive at your destination, you can wear the backpack on your back and the sling on your front!
Alternatively, if you’re looking for one bag to use for carry-on, have a look at our guide to the best carry-on backpacks. The right bag will make a big difference to your flying experience.
Since all of the weight is on one shoulder, you want that shoulder strap to be nicely padded, thick and well-shaped.
Ideally, you want the material to be breathable and soft enough that it won’t irritate your skin if you’re wearing a sleeveless shirt.
Depending on where and when you’re traveling, some water resistance could be useful and give you one less thing to think about if you get caught in the rain.
Also, look for how easy the material is to wash and how durable it is. Machine washable is a huge plus!
Despite a good sling bag ticking loads of boxes when it comes to convenience and comfort on the road, I get that they’re not going to be everyone’s bag of choice.
If you know you’re just going to be traveling in urban areas and won’t require all of the practicality of a sling bag, you might consider a travel purse instead.
You’ll blend in with the locals while making the most of some great anti-theft features.
If you know you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking and photography is your jam, I’ll admit, a sling backpack won’t cut it. Check out our guide to the best camera bags for hiking instead.
Are sling bags good for travel?
Yes! A resounding yes in fact. Sling bags are excellent for travel. They usually fold up small when not in use, but make the perfect grab bag for day trips in the city or easy day hikes.
Are sling bags comfortable?
Yes, the right sling bag, provided it’s not overloaded that is, is very comfortable, and may even be more comfortable than a day pack.
The best travel sling bag will have a well-padded shoulder strap that will help a lot with how comfortable it is.
Why are sling bags popular?
Sling bags have become popular for a number of reasons. Hipsters have a habit of bringing back trends from the 90s, so there’s that.
But they’re also a more comfortable and practical option when compared to messenger bags, fanny packs or regular backpacks when you just want to carry a few essentials.
What is the best sling backpack?
There is no single best sling backpack.
There are so many different designs and styles that there is a lot of personal preference involved in the decision making.
The list above contains some of the best sling bags of 2021 so it’s a very safe place to start!
Are sling backpacks bad or good for your back?
If they’re not too heavy, sling bags are perfectly fine for your back (note: no bag is good for your back exactly).
But overloading your sling bag may affect your posture as all the weight is on one shoulder. So, watch that you keep it to just the essentials.
In saying that, if you already experience back or shoulder pain, you’re probably better off going with something that will keep you more centered right from the start.
We have a list of the best backpacks for problem backs which will help you choose a bag that won’t contribute to your pain.
Are sling backpacks good for hiking?
Sling backpacks are a great choice for summer day hikes when all you need to carry are your phone, wallet, some snacks, water, a warm layer and sunscreen.
What’s the difference between a sling bag and a crossbody bag?
Sling backpacks tend to be more form fitting and ergonomically designed than regular crossbody bags or messenger bags. They usually hold a little less, but they’re more comfortable and practical to wear for extended periods of time.
That brings us to the end of this guide to the best sling backpacks of 2021.
They really are a great choice for travel, even if the inner hipster in you still hasn’t woken up to their appeal… yet!
Hopefully, you’ve found a bag from the list above to accompany you on your next trip!
Be sure to share your experiences below and have a read of our free solo travel safety ebook before you go!
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