A Review of the Minaal Carry-on: A Contemporary Travel Bag

I switched from my go-to travel bag to the Minaal Carry-on for a long awaited group trip to Spain and Morocco, that soon came to be referred to as the “Iberian Trek.” The trip itself lasted 12 days and 11 nights, starting in Seville, Spain and ending in Rabat, Morocco. In-between were stints in Granada, Rhonda, Tarifa, Tangiers and Fes. The itinerary itself was ambitious to say the least, with several trains, buses and ferries as our primary modes of transportation. My current bag was your stereotypical bulky 90’s pack that was heavy as a brick, with straps galore and few organizational compartments. On this trip, I wanted something easier to manage. I needed a bag for today’s traveler.

I dove into onebagger forums in search of what I felt would be the perfect bag, not only for this trip, but for countless trips to come. First and foremost it had to be a maximum legal carry-on (MLC) bag since I don’t like wasting time at airport carousels worrying about my possessions being lost, stolen or damaged. I’m also way too frugal spend money on checked luggage. There’s a plethora of MLC bags out there, but so many of them only get a few things right. I was in the market for something water-resistant, lightweight but rugged, and with comfortable shoulder straps that stow-away. It also needed plenty of storage options, a secure area for my tablet and an external beverage pocket.

I compared many and ultimately opted for the Minaal. Although it was a bit smaller (35L) and a little pricier ($299) than many other bags I considered, it checked off all the boxes:

  • Dimensions: 22" x 14" x 8" (MLC for most airlines = 22” x 14” x 9”)
  • Weight: 3.08 lbs 
  • Material: Cordura (rugged!) 
  • Laptop/tablet Compartment
  • Zip-away Straps (shoulder and hip)
  • Drink Holder

When I received the Minaal carry-on the first thing that jumped out to me was the size; it was compressed like a pancake. After a slight panic I began to open up the compartments to fluff it out so to speak and was happy with what I found. The bag has two main compartments: 1) a fully accessible large compartment for clothes, shoes and other large items with additional mesh and non-mesh organizing pockets, and 2) a partially accessible compartment featuring two protective neoprene sleeves to store a 15” Macbook Pro and a 11” Macbook Air/tablet with several small organizing pockets for keys, a passport, power cords and other small items. Externally, there are two pockets towards the top for easy access to travel documents, books or a camera. At the other end I found a small pocket, a secret stash spot, to store the seam-sealed rain cover. The bag also features two external compression straps with metal buckles and a drink holder with an adjustable cord for extra security.

So, how did it hold up? The first thing I noticed when I strapped up and began making my way through airports was just how comfortable it was. It sat high on my back and close to my shoulders which made for great balance. The thick shoulder straps coupled with the adjustable, clip-away sternum strap did not irritate my shoulders at all and the padded back provided a substantial amount of cushion. When asked to remove my tablet, I found accessing the device compartment quick and easy, and once on a plane, it slipped into each overhead bin like a glove. As for size, I was able to fit everything I had originally planned for this 12-day trip; 1 rain jacket, 5 pairs of shorts, 5 tees, 2 button up shirts, 6 pairs of underwear, 6 pairs of socks, flip flops, 1 book, 1 16” travel tube for storing art purchased on the trip, 1 tablet, 1 toiletry bag, 1 DSLR with two lenses (which I was able to store in one of the top compartments), power converters/adapters and other small odds and ins.

A few criticisms: 1) Being 1” smaller in depth than many other bags may not sound like much, but it could make the world of different between a 2-week and a 3-week excursion. As a result, unless you have a couple opportunities to wash clothes along your route, 10-12 days may likely be your capacity. 2) Even though the Minaal carry-on comes with a hipbelt, it’s thin. This can be a positive for those who prefer to stash it anyway or a negative if you are of a smaller frame and need the extra support. 3) Finally, the one feature that I felt this bag was really lacking was a proper shoulder strap so it can be worn like a messenger when you are waiting in long lines, or standing in cramped buses or trains.

The Minaal Carry-on certainly embodies everything today’s traveler comes to expect in a contemporary travel bag. It’s lightweight, durable, and extremely comfortable. There are ample compartments to keep you organized and it features a lockable protective device compartment which is almost a necessity these days. The adjustable, clip-away sternum strap is a nice touch, especially if you’re like me and hate things that dangle. It also doubles as an emergency whistle! The Minaal’s clean lines and metallic blue hues certainly sets it apart from the competition, as does the removable rain cover for when it pours. If you’re looking for a go-to bag for your next one-bag adventure, you should strongly consider the Minaal Carry-on. 

Minaal Carry-on Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
-TIP

A Onebagging First with the Tortuga Travel Backpack

The Tortuga Travel Backpack helped me completely rethink how I travel.

A trip for me usually begins by pulling one of my largest suitcases out of the attic and stuffing it full of a broad spectrum of clothing and toiletry options. One never knows when a freak snowstorm, monsoon, and sweltering heat wave may happen across the same weekend, right? The few plane flights I have taken as an adult have been punctuated by sweating the weight of my checked baggage to start and the brutal wait of the luggage carousel to finish.

As someone who holds efficiency in high esteem, this struggle between situational packing and what it costs me in time and luggage weight has always been frustrating. As a terminally curious internet peruser, the whole “one bag traveling” movement is familiar to me in passing and seemed to be a sensible compromise.

Preparing for a one bag trip always felt daunting. Why bother prioritizing and compromising when I can just stuff everything into my huge suitcase? Striking a balance between streamlined traveling and my wanton laziness and dearth of free time as a parent felt too difficult. The up-front expense inherent to trading in luggage I already own for a purpose-built bag was another big barrier. Respected and well-reviewed bags, while cheaper than a good set of luggage, still require a large up-front expense to essentially test drive a lifestyle that I’m not sure suits me. At the same time, no bag in my extensive arsenal was nearly large enough to stand in for a suitcase.

With a trip to the NJ/NY area fast approaching, the proprietor of this website offered an interesting proposition: test drive a brand new Tortuga Travel Backpack (TTB hereafter) as my sole luggage in exchange for an unvarnished review of the experience. Billed as a no-compromises alternative to a suitcase with space to accommodate a month’s worth of provisions, this pack looked like a winner and I eagerly agreed to the deal.

What struck me first about the TTB is how unfussy and plain it is, in the best possible way. It is an unassuming black monolith of a bag; this facade belies its light curb weight of 3.65 pounds (58.4 ounces). For reference, the mass of this bag compares favorably with a 13” Retina MacBook Pro (3.46 pounds). It does not appear that Tortuga sacrificed rugged durability to achieve this lightness either; the pack looks like it could survive some rough escapades and indeed acquitted itself well on my travels.

The TTB is divided into two compartments: the main packing area and a secondary outer pocket. The main compartment has an auxiliary access point to slip a laptop in-and-out below the other packed items. Padded handles at the top and to one side are always available for hand carrying. Both sides of the bag have smaller zippered pouches that work perfectly to hold a water bottle or other tchotchkes. Hidden to the rear of the bag behind a zippered flap are generously padded backpack straps and a waist belt (with its own zippered pockets) that work in unison to keep the bag comfortably pressed against you. Thankfully, back support is built in too. Two sturdily-buckled compression straps on the exterior of the bag are there to help slim the bag down when necessary. Likewise, buckled elastic in the main compartment is meant to keep its contents from shifting too drastically.

Was this bag spacious as advertised? Here is the packing list for my 3-day, 2-night trip:
4x boxers
4x undershirts
3x socks
1x shorts
3x t-shirts
4x jerseys
1x windbreaker/rain jacket
1x quart bag of toiletries
1x toothbrush in hard case
1x eyeglasses in hard case
1x Garden & Gun Magazine
1x iPhone 5s charger
1x Canon Rebel EOS XS with Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens in a Timbuk2 Sneak Camera Case

Admittedly this load-out was a bit much for such a short trip (as is often the case with me), but the main compartment had ample space to hold everything on my list (save the camera & bag) without testing my Tetris acumen. All of my clothes were folded simply and packed flat. My DSLR was squeezed in to the secondary outer pocket, which is where my toiletries, toothbrush, glasses, and charger ended up stowed as well. The magazine nestled in to the laptop pocket. In terms of letting me pack what I want how I want, the TTB performed admirably. With a bit more packing discipline on my part, I could definitely see this bag accommodating me for week-long-or-more trips.

When it came time to hit the skies, I found the TTB a mixed bag (rimshot). Although I was able to carry the TTB on my little 50-seater jet without any objections from the flight crew, it proved to be a tight squeeze in an overhead bin even filled to less-than-capacity and with the camera bag eventually removed from the front pocket. I struggled with the external compression straps and found them stiffly ineffective in shrinking the bag down to a more agreeable size. Perhaps this mismatch between bag and bin is attributable to the small jet or my lackadaisical packing style and could be partially relieved with packing cubes. In the moment, though, it was frustrating. Arriving at my hotel room I discovered that the internal elastic straps did a relatively poor job of preventing my clothes from shifting and settling; perhaps a change to adjustable straps in future revisions might help address this issue and keep contents more firmly in place.

Both external handles felt perfectly placed and made it easy to slot the TTB down the airplane’s aisle. Likewise, the backpack and waist straps welded the bag to my body and made it feel like an extension of me while I traversed the airport. I never felt any discomfort or lingering effects from carrying such a load on my back. A shoulder strap for those times when the backpack straps do not quite make sense would be a welcomed additional option.

The zippered flap for the strap enclosure tested my patience; though there is a convenient velcroed pouch at the bottom of the bag to store this flap when the straps are deployed, wrangling the flap into this pouch required far too much effort. Speaking of zippers, I sometimes found their operation to be less smooth than expected across all of the bag’s various openings.

These assorted shortcomings are minor and easy to overlook for all of the extra conveniences that the TTB (and one bag traveling in general) brought to my trip. Not having to wait in line to check or retrieve a bag reclaimed time I could use to do other things on my trip (like sleeping in a bit before an early flight home!). Likewise I did not have to worry about my luggage being lost in transit or otherwise assaulted in the storage hold. Conveying my luggage on my back meant I did not have to cajole a tiny-wheeled suitcase over uneven terrain. These are all big plusses over more traditional luggage options.

I find myself a surprise convert to one bag traveling after a single attempt and an overall positive experience with the Tortuga Travel Backpack. The efficiency and convenience that I experienced in this trip made me want this as my regular traveling style. I definitely would consider the Tortuga Travel Bag a resource in My Travel Arsenal.

Pros:
Durable
Light
Spacious
Comfortable handles, backpack straps, and waist belt
Simple styling

Cons:
Almost too large for an overhead bin
Zipper operation is sometimes not smooth
Ineffectual external compression straps
Internal elastic straps not tight enough
Backpack strap storage flap is a pain

Tortuga Travel Backpack Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
-SJS