What is the Best Backpack for Digital Nomads?

“…we’re going to create the ultimate backpack for digital nomads.” 

For me, few things are as pleasurable as neatly arranging all my possessions in just 2 bags, and heading off to the airport for another adventure.

Over the years I’ve written and talked a lot about my affinity for the bag I use– the North Face Surge (Digital Nomad Packing ListHow to Pack Like a Pro).

Since these posts, my kit has completely changed. I’m always tweaking my gear. But one thing has endured since 2008–my trusty North Face. 5 years of heavy use and everything works like new. Despite many worthy challengers, I have never come across a bag I preferred more…

…until this month.


My kit in early 2013. Tumi Tech laptop bag, North Face Surge. “Is that all you have?” is a common inquiry from US border agents.

The Surge has achieved a sort of cult status in our community. Our events and get-togethers are littered with them. Even if readers don’t have a Surge, comparing bags is great way to start a conversation. Digital nomads are easy to rope into a “pros and cons of my kit” conversation.

One such conversation happened last summer at one of our seminars with a guy named Jimmy. He recently quit his job and was starting a travel apparel and equipment company.

He told me: “we’re going to create the ultimate backpack for digital nomads.” 


Jimmy and I talking product design on the top of a Jeepney.

“Okay,” I said, thinking– as someone who was supposed help his business– that I was going to have my work cut out for me.

It didn’t help that he followed up with “it’s going to be nothing like the Surge.” 

Designing your own products is tough, and these guys hadn’t ever designed anything, let alone bags.

I caught myself thinking, can’t we just start a travel blog or something Jimmy?

::: fast forward one year, during which time Jimmy and his business partner Doug have been working furiously on their new company :::

Jimmy and Doug had a vision about how bags could be better, and despite many challenges they persisted– through factory tours, and prototypes, and brutal feedback sessions from picky entrepreneurs.

And what they came up with is both 1) nothing like the Surge and 2) better than the Surge.

This was surprising to me. I thought bag manufacturing was too ambitious. I thought their ideas were good but they’d never be able to execute on something so seemingly complex. That was where my head was when, just over a month ago, this showed up at my door:


I was blown away by what they had accomplished. But I wasn’t about to switch bags just because they had sent me something pretty. I needed to test it on the road, which I did a few weeks after I had received it, during my writing retreat.

For the first time in 5 years, I was hitting the road without my trusty Surge in tow.

The game-changing feature. Why I switched…

This bag opens up in a 100% clamshell fashion. Such a simple feature, but such a game changer for me.

Bottom line: I can pack tons of stuff in this bag. The clothes are easy and quick to get access to (no digging!), and they don’t get wrinkled. Here’s a shot I took after a full day on the road, just as I arrived back at my home. I was delighted to see how everything was placed perfectly in the bag just as I had left it.


In the past, there have been many times when I didn’t even bother unpacking my Surge before going to sleep. When I had a lot of stuff in there, it was annoying to pull my stuff out.

Until I encountered the Minaal design, I thought the ease of use of conventional luggage and the portability of backpacks were mutually exclusive.

With this feature alone, I would have ditched my Surge and picked up the Minaal. Here’s some other features that I was pleasantly surprised by:

Comfort and load balance. It’s not something I’ve ever really thought about, but the Minaal bag is more comfortable on my shoulders than my Surge. When I asked the guys about this they said “we thought about that.” :) Not only is the load more comfortable, but it’s more balanced, which is a factor when you are hauling these things up into the overhead compartment.


Styling. I’m not much of a style guy, but it does feel cool to have a sleek and innovative looking bag. I noticed this when my friend opened his SUV and my Minaal bag was sitting next to one of those fashionable Oakley bags with bells and whistles hanging everywhere. In comparison, the Minaal bag looked sleek and classy. People said so too.


Total volume. I can fit more stuff in this backpack than in my Surge. The science says the North Face is 32 liters, while the Minaal bag checks in at 35L. To me it feels significantly bigger than that. To me the choice of size of the Minaal bag is a perfect blend of volume and portability.

Other features I like: A pull out rain cover, a removable hip belt (I actually use these things), and the shoulder straps can be hidden away so the bag can be carried like a suitcase (cool if you are checking the bag).


Durability x factor. Can’t say anything about durability at this point, although I do know it was *ahem* made at the same factory as some of the top brands in the world, so it’s probably going to be fine (how they found their manufacturer is a great story for a future podcast!).

Not as suitable for day bag. This isn’t as much of a problem for me since I always travel with a supplemental day bag, but because of it’s design (most bags are sort of skinny a the top and fatter at the bottom) would be more awkward to cafe-hop or take to the gym.


My kit right now. Super sleek… thou shalt not roll! 

Final word. Officially, the Surge has been replaced. It’s been a really exciting switch for me, and has made traveling just a little bit more delightful. It shows in the details that guys who are living this lifestyle designed the bag.

It’ll be interesting to see if over the coming years some of the larger players start to serve the digital nomad community.

If you’d like to get a Minaal bag for yourself you are in luck, the guys are running a Kickstarter this week. The cool thing about their launch is that the prototype is completely fleshed out (8 people in our community have been traveling with the bag already), so you aren’t funding a pie in the sky idea, you are paying less than retail and getting the bag too!

You can read more about the bag here…

And even though I love Jimmy and Doug, I would never have written this post, nor backed the project if I wasn’t going to use it as my primary bag. I take this backpack stuff seriously, and I’m glad to have found a pair of  designers who feel the same.

Would love to hear about your favorite bags as well!




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