Packable backpacks come in handy whenever you’re traveling or commuting. These lightweight bags can be compressed into your bag, ready for use whenever you need a spare backpack. There are many great options out there, but how do you find the best one?
Since you will be traveling with a packable backpack, it’s always best to go with a model that’s as light as possible. It should have adequate capacity for a day, usually around 15 to 20 liters. A packable backpack should also have at least one pocket, and be compact enough to fit in your main bag.
There are other considerations to think about when shopping for a packable backpack. Read on below to learn more.
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Features of the Best Packable Backpacks
Foldable and packable backpacks are one of the most convenient bags to have.
Unlike a traditional travel backpack or duffel bag, the difference of foldable backpacks is the fact that they are compressible. They are designed to be folded up into a small pouch to fit into your main bag or luggage when not in use.
Then, when you do need a smaller bag to carry a few things while camping, sightseeing, or for any unexpected experience life throws at you, simply unfold and use it. Packable backpacks are known for their simplicity, but they are actually very useful. It's no wonder why they are a trusted accessory, especially among travelers and commuters.
Here’s what you should be looking for in one:
Many traditional backpacks are made with thick material and bulky components, such as buckles and shoulder straps. But the best packable backpacks are extremely lightweight and constructed with ultra-thin materials so that they can be compressed when not in use.
Pick foldable backpacks that weigh under 1 pound. Ultralight versions are also available, weighing under 4 ounces. Weight is always a priority with this type of bag, so always go for the choice that’s as light as possible while also ensuring the pack meets your other needs.
Most packable backpacks are only designed to carry a few essentials that you’ll need for a day out. This could be a fleece jacket, water bottle, wallet, mobile phone, and snacks.
Because they’re so lightweight, these packs don’t have the usual capacity of traditional day packs or travel backpacks. Their load-bearing points are significantly reduced with the intention of increasing portability.
Before you shell out money for a packable backpack, it’s important to understand exactly how much it can carry. Otherwise, loading it with heavy gear such as laptops or cameras can damage it quickly.
They are much more prone to punctures, tears, and rips, which means that you can't just pack anything into it especially objects with a sharp point. Be cautious of what you pack inside foldable backpacks.
You should also consider the kind of activity you’ll be using your pack for when deciding on the size of your bag. If you intend to use it for a quick day trip, a small pack with a capacity of under 15 liters is just fine. But if you want a pack that you can use for a light hike, which may also be used to carry slightly bulkier items such as a camera and jacket, opt for a 20-25L daypack.
A majority of packable backpacks on the market usually have one primary compartment and an exterior pocket. This will suffice for short trips that require you to bring a handful of items, since you can use the smaller exterior pocket to organize things such as your wallet, mobile phone, sunglasses, and keys. Additionally, an exterior pocket is a useful place to keep belongings you will need access to in a flash.
For hikes and longer day trips, a style with additional pockets inside, outside, or both will come in handy. Even better if it has a side pocket or a water bottle pocket on each side. This way, you can ensure you have all the supplies you will need for the kind of trip you are going on.
As a general rule of thumb, at least one zippered pocket should suffice for any packable backpack.
As mentioned earlier, packable backpacks should be lightweight. This means that the materials that go into the construction of these packs are much thinner and lighter compared to other backpacks, so they are not as durable. Oftentimes, the fabrics used are similar to what you would find in travel or hiking backpacks, except they’re significantly thinner versions.
Some common types of fabric used in lightweight foldable backpacks include sailcloth, polyester, Dyneema, Cordura, and Ripstop Nylon. They are all thin, light, and durable, but still not as durable as a traditional hiking backpack or travel pack.
In addition, packable backpacks aren’t equipped with a frame, so they usually have little to no structure. This further reduces their ability to support a heavy load. If you need to carry heavy items, look for a pack that has sternum straps to help you efficiently balance the load while reducing the risk of breakage.
Depending on the brand and make, packable backpacks fold up in different ways and in varying dimensions. Some designs enable you to roll them up, sometimes small enough that you can fit them into your jacket pocket.
Other designs come with a pouch or external stuff sack, while some models fold up into small squares and rectangles that are the size of your palm. These features enable you to easily keep one in your car, suitcase, office desk, backpack, or even on your bicycle for those unexpected errands.
Either way, they are space-saving and you can store them pretty much everywhere. That’s why they’re so useful: with a packable backpack with you at all times, you can always be prepared with extra storage. Just check for its folded dimensions so you can determine its packability.
Given the compressible and portable nature of packable packs, their shoulder straps usually do not have as much support and padding. In fact, the padding is likely to be minimal if any. It’s not uncommon for shoulder straps to be thin and narrow, though this shouldn’t matter if you are only going to use them for a short errand run.
If you are going on extended hikes, choose a packable pack with a sternum strap and hip belt, plus padded shoulder straps. Padded straps will protect your shoulders and prevent them from digging in, which can happen with heavy loads. Mesh, and other types of breathable fabric on the back panel, are also ideal if you expect to sweat when using the backpack.
Even if a packable backpack isn’t your main bag, quality is just as important. They are so lightweight that oftentimes you may not even feel them on your back, but you don’t want to spend money on a bag that will easily rip and tear.
Do an inspection of the strap and bag stitching. There should be no loose threads; the stitching should be uniform and dense, especially in pressure-bearing areas, seams, and stress points. Otherwise, it could affect the pack's functionality.
The zippers should also be of high quality; avoid bags that use plastic zippers because they can break quickly. Metal YKK zippers are always a good bet because they are known for their durability.
Last but not least, purchasing a packable backpack with a reasonable warranty ensures that the bag will be replaced or at least repaired if it breaks on you. Of course, it also helps to read reviews before you make a purchase too.
Other Features To Consider
While not essential for everyone, there are other details that some may find useful in certain packable backpack models. Be sure to consider these factors too:
Going on extended hikes and other outdoor adventures such as biking and fishing means that you should be prioritizing hydration. Look for packable backpacks that come with a hydration reservoir, or at the very least, pockets for water bottles. Versatile models also enable you to attach extra gear including water bottles through external loops, a carabiner, and chains.
For entrepreneurs, students, and other busy people on the go, a packable backpack with a laptop or tablet storage pocket is important. These ensure that you can segregate your computer from other bag contents and have ample space for it. Just keep in mind that, due to the lightweight and frameless nature of packable backpacks, they won’t offer as much protection for laptops such as padding – so you’ll have to be extra careful not to drop them.
Whether you’re commuting or traveling to a new city, anti-theft backpack features provide extra protection and peace of mind. These features differ from one manufacturer to the other, though they typically include slash-resistant fabrics, hidden pockets, a locking main compartment, and an RFID-blocking pocket.
If you intend to use your pack in the outdoors, or in locations and during seasons where rain is possible, protect your belongings with weatherproof fabric. Many packable backpacks are either water-resistant or constructed with some level of waterproofing to keep the moisture out. This ensures your valuables stay dry no matter what the weather.
Most foldable backpacks feature a zipper opening to the main compartment, while others use a drawstring closure. There’s no wrong or right choice as it all boils down to preference, though you may want to consider a drawstring closure if you need quick access to the pack’s contents, such as while you are on the trail. For everyday use, zipper closures work just fine.
Foldable hiking backpacks may come with a daisy chain. This is useful for attaching gear you will need for mountaineering, such as poles, axes, and ice tools. If you don't already own a daisy chain, consider a backpack that comes with one.
Side Compression Straps
Foldable backpacks at the larger end of the size spectrum, such as those above 25L, can be made more compact when worn with the presence of side compression straps. They help compress the overall volume of the pack for your benefit, since it stays closer to your body. A selection of packable hiking and mountaineering backpacks have side compression straps, which you may find useful.
Our Recommendations for the Best Packable Backpack
The convenience of packable backpacks can’t be denied. They come in a wide array, with a version available for everyone. Below is a list of recommended products that are popular with many people from all over the world (some of these are available on Amazon, which shares a small commission with us if you decide to purchase it ).
Samsonite Foldable Backpack: Samsonite is a world leader in luggage and travel backpacks. Since its establishment in 1941, they have grown into a famous brand backed up by the quality and superior features in every product. For minimalists and ultra-light packing enthusiasts, the Samsonite Foldable Backpack is one you can take from work to the beach.
It’s slightly heavier compared to other foldable backpacks, but that doesn’t discount its usefulness. Weighing in at 6.8 ounces, this bag features a spacious zip pocket and one mesh pocket on each side. Use it to keep a water bottle, flip flops, and other belongings.
The Samsonite Foldable Backpack is one of the best out there for hot and humid environments. The adjustable shoulder straps are made with mesh too, which significantly increases airflow for those sweaty days. As a bonus, the case it comes with can also be used as an interior pouch for added organization.
Given that Samsonite is a luxury brand, this pack has a higher price tag. However, it’s also made with extra-durable 600 Denier fabric so you can be sure that your investment will last you several years.
Matador Freerain 22 Waterproof Packable Backpack: Matador is a brand of travel bags and accessories designed for a unique class of travelers – especially those who prioritize efficiency and convenience. The Matador Freerain 22 is one of their most famous products for many reasons, but durability and versatility are among the top reasons why.
Featuring spacious 22 liter storage, this ultralight pack weighs only 300 grams. Stash all your necessities inside the rolltop closure, after which you can enjoy carefree travel knowing that it’s safe no matter what the weather. Despite the extremely light weight, they didn’t cut corners with comfort: this pack is equipped with an adjustable sternum strap, removable hip belt, compression straps, and breathable shoulder straps.
The Freerain 22 is a fantastic option for outdoor enthusiasts. The two gear loops designed with Hypalon-reinforced shock cord enable you to attach more gear as needed, truly living up to the purpose of a packable backpack. In addition, this pack is durable, featuring PU-coated sealing zippers, internally-sealed seams, and high-quality fabric, it’s everything a discerning traveler or hiker could ever need in a foldable backpack.
All that and more in an elegant bag constructed with ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene ripstop combined with nylon mini ripstop and waterproof finish.
New Outlander 35L Packable Hiking Backpack: Outlander is a trusted name in hiking backpacks. They are renowned for their long-lasting and high-quality packs that you can depend on.
The New Outlander 35L Packable Hiking Backpack comes in plenty of vibrant colors, constructed from tear and water-resistant nylon. It can accommodate up to 35 liters but folds up into dimensions of 8.5 x 8.5 x 1.2 inches – just right to keep everything you need for a weekend camping or in the mountains. Because it’s so lightweight, this bag is versatile enough to help you save room when flying to another destination.
A majority of foldable backpacks don’t have enough pockets. This does not necessarily mean these are product flaws, but the Outlander Packable Hiking Backpack is recommended for those who need several compartments. Aside from the spacious main compartment, side water bottle pockets, and two more exterior zipper pockets.
This is a pack that comes with all the thoughtful bells and whistles, quite literally: it’s equipped with a whistle buckle plus a carabiner and reflector. A chest strap ensures the pack stays firmly in place, too. All that for a price that’s so affordable – the New Outlander 35L Packable Hiking Backpack is clearly a must-have especially for the budget conscious.
Matador Beast 28 Ultralight Technical Backpack: For anyone involved in technical outdoor sports, foldable backpacks don’t get any better than the Matador Beast 28. While the brand specializes in packable backpacks and has many options to choose from, the Beast 28 is specifically designed for those who continuously enjoy testing their physical limits.
This pack will support the success of your adventure: weighing just 680 grams, it’s loaded with several features that adrenaline enthusiasts will appreciate. These include gear loops for ice axes or hiking poles, water bottle pockets, a flexible frame that moves when you do, and it’s also hydration compatible. Furthermore, the bag’s slender shape and ergonomic design stays comfortably close to your body with each movement too.
The Matador Beast’s 28 liter storage is roomy enough for the gear technical pursuits require to stay safe. It boasts superior-quality material with an ultra tear strength (UTS) coating and waterproofing, so that you don’t have to worry about your equipment piercing through the fabric.
That’s not all: your alpine adventures are made comfortable thanks to the light padding on the shoulder straps and back panel. The breathable mesh also helps make sure you stay cool at all times. You can also make the bag more comfortable depending on how you pack it: simply pack clothes on its back wall to increase padding.
Overall, the Matador Beast 28 lives up to its name. It’s a beast of a packable bag, made for serious adventurers who require only the best in ultralight bags for their outdoor pursuits.
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Ultralight Day Pack: Sea to Summit is a world-famous Australian outdoor gear company. With humble origins beginning in 1983, they soon grew into a global brand trusted by adventurers of all kinds. The award-winning Ultra-Sil Ultralight Day Pack is easily their most popular packable backpack, which has numerous impressive characteristics for hikers who value performance.
For one, it packs down so small – to the size of a tennis ball! Despite that, it can accommodate 20 liters, making it the ideal minimalist day pack for errands, short hikes, cycling, and travel. This is also one of the lightest packable backpacks on the market, weighing only 2.5 ounces!
Second, Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Ultralight Day Pack comes with its own stuff sack plus an aluminum carabiner which you can use for attaching items to the pack’s exterior. It does not have padding, neither is it equipped with load lifters, a hip belt, or sternum strap – so this definitely isn’t for carrying heavy loads past 30 pounds. Having said that, it’s the ultimate lightweight accessory for short and quick trips.
Even if there is a lack of padding, the wide shoulder straps and ergonomic design make the Ultra-Sil very comfortable to wear. This pack is also simple and user-friendly, with just one main spacious compartment. It will last several years, thanks to the 30-Denier ripstop nylon, siliconized Cordura fabric, and bar tack stitching that has been reinforced on all stretch points.
For those looking for a versatile, flexible everyday foldable daypack, the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Ultralight Day Pack is highly recommended. All products also come with a lifetime warranty, so your purchase is insured for replacement or repair should you encounter any defects.
Osprey Ultralight Stuff Backpack: Osprey has been specializing in designing quality, eco-friendly backpacks for travelers of all lifestyles and backgrounds since 1974. Through the decades, they have only consistently gotten better, and the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Backpack is proof of their expertise.
Even if you aren’t into outdoor activities, you’ll appreciate just how handy this 4 ounce foldable backpack can be. This is perfect for keeping in your glove compartment or office for those unexpected shopping excursions, but it’s just as suitable for spontaneous trekking. It’s lightweight, but loaded with features.
The Osprey Ultralight Stuff pack is extremely compact, but designed with a side mesh pocket for water bottles or other gear. The spacious dual-zippered compartment can accommodate 18 liters of belongings plus a smaller interior compartment for easy organization. It comes in beautiful colors for both men and women, and there are endless ways you can make use of this pack.
Whether your destination is the grocery store or a weekend hike, this is a foldable backpack you’ll always want to have with you.
Kipling Large Foldable Backpack: Kipling was founded in Belgium in 1987. They are known for their signature bags and iconic logo, but more importantly, top-caliber bags that come in a wide array of sizes.
The Kipling Large Foldable Backpack is as functional as it is portable. If you are looking for a foldable backpack that you can keep in the bottom of your luggage or in your everyday pack for those unexpected moments you will need around 22 liters of storage, this bag is great. Constructed from water-repellent and lightweight fabric, it’s an essential travel accessory for everyone.
The adjustable shoulder straps add to your comfort, while the front pocket makes it simple to organize your belongings. It also comes with added features including a D-ring and key fob. Customers of every age can appreciate how simple it is to use, too: just fold it up into a small pouch when not in use, and it only takes a few seconds to unfold when you do need it.
The best packable backpacks are extremely lightweight, compressible, comfortable, and have ample space for your adventures. You never know when you may just need a packable bag, but with this guide, you’ll have everything you need to find the one that’s right for you.