One Bag Travel: Minaal Bag

I’m not a digital nomad by any means, but my increasingly international research agenda means I am very fortunate to travel more than the average Joe.

I’m appreciative of such opportunities, of course. Not everyone gets paid to do what they love. More than that, it’s an awesome feeling to know that folks want to hear what you have to say … to the point of paying for your travel to do so — as will be the case when I fly out to Baltimore this coming week.

At the same time, the traveling itself isn’t exactly fun, especially when flying. Airport security and baggage fees and lost luggage (as happened to me last summer) are a recipe for dread.

In an effort to minimize such terrors — and generally just simplify my life — I am increasingly interested in minimalist one-bag travel.

I’ve been using the same travel “kit” (as the collective gear is termed) for a few years. There’s been a nip and a tuck here and there, but the essentials have been the same, starting with my one bag: the Maxpedition Fliegerduffel Adventure Bag. Indeed, part of the reason I’ve kept this same kit has been that the Fliegerduffel has been such a great bag.

Not perfect, though.

The problems with the Fliegerduffel, in no particular order, are these:

  • It is heavy. Part of this weight issue is the fact that the bag material is so thick and strong that I suspect (but cannot confirm) that it will stop a knife. High manliness quotient. That said, I don’t get into many knife fights these days, whereas my back regularly aches from carrying a heavy pack. So …
  • It lacks a side handle. For reasons that escape me, there is no handle on the Fliegerduffel to allow you to carry it like a suitcase.
  • It lacks a hip belt. When you have a heavy pack, hip belts help!
  • It is a little bit too big. I’ve never been forced to check it because it was simply too big for the carry-on restrictions, but the honest truth is that it’s too big for them — especially once it’s stuffed to the gills, which one tends to do with whatever luggage one has.
  • It is hot against the back when worn as a backpack.

The Fliegerduffel has a lot of benefits, too — otherwise I would not have used it for so long — but the problems were enough to leave me longing for something more perfect.

Enter Minaal.

Minaal is a small business that owes its existence to both to Kickstarter and to the charm of its co-founders, who are digital nomads through and through. Their travel experiences pushed them to create what they believe is the ideal travel bag, and after doing as much research as I could, I bought one.

It came. I saw. I tried.

And I’m here to review it.

Minaal Bag

Fully-loaded Minaal bag alongside my simple messenger bag. Pencil for scale.

The Good

First off, this is a cool bag.

Seems odd to say that about a bag, I know, but it’s true: from the color to the cut, it’s an aesthetic marvel.  It’s also cool in a temperature sense: the design of the padding against the back makes it breath more, which is an automatic plus over the Fliegerduffel.

Another win: It’s a smaller size than the Fliegerduffel. It seems, as Goldilocks would say, to be just right.

And another win: It’s substantially lighter than the Fliegerduffel. The Minaal is just over 3 lbs, while the Fliegerduffel was over 4 lbs.

Oh yeah, and it has a hip belt and a side handle, too. So it basically solves every problem I had with my previous bag. It seems very well constructed (solid Cordura throughout), and it balances nicely.

The Bad

Alas, I wish I could say that the Minaal bag was perfect. I really do.

But it isn’t.

There are little oddities throughout the bag — like compression straps that can only compress half of the bag’s depth — but my biggest concern is with its basic loading design. The Minaal bag is billed as a bag that packs like a suitcase, and this is true in a manner of speaking.

The Minaal packs like an upside-down suitcase. You don’t pack into a tub and then pull down the lid like you do a suitcase — and, as it happens, like you do with my old Fliegerduffel — but instead you essentially pack on top of the lid and then pull the tub over your things. Watch this video to see what I mean:

This is awkward to say the least. I can’t imagine doing it without packing cubes (as are used in that video), which introduces inefficiencies if the packing cubes are not sized precisely right for the space. And since Minaal does not sell their own cubes that are thus designed, one is left grasping at straws to get the right dimensions. From my packing cube variety set only one of the four cubes really works here.

I know what you’re thinking: Just turn the bag around and load the other side; it’ll be just like loading that tub suitcase, right?

Alas, no. First, it would be difficult to sensibly load in this way if you have any concern for weight distribution — which requires starting from the bottom and working up. Second, the design of the bag means that you cannot pull back the “suitcase lid” part of it (the bottom part that goes against your back) without warping the “tub” part of it.

There seems to be no choice for loading beyond this: create a Jenga pile of cubes and whatever else you’re trying to load up, and then attempt to pull the fabric tub over the Jenga pile without knocking anything out of whack.

Forget about packing efficiencies. You’ll just be happy not to knock the Jenga pile into disarray.

(And I’m not the only one to note this problem.)

The Conclusion

Sigh.

I love so very much about this bag. It has so much going for it. And with so much attention being given to detail throughout the rest of it, the fact that the issue of loading is so poorly executed is … well, shocking.

Is it still better than my Fliegerduffel? Yes.

Is it the best bag possible? No. Not hardly.

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