If you’re a regular reader of Carryology, then Minaal is likely a brand you’re familiar with by now. If not, they’re an outfit based out of New Zealand that is focused on making travel and daily carry bags that are user-centric, long-lasting, sustainably made, and promote a sense of peace while on the road. Given the name of this particular model, theMinaal Carry-on 3.0, one can surmise this is now the third generation of this particular design.
They were kind enough to send one my way so I could check it out and test it for holiday travel plans… which were canceled due to COVID (as I’m sure was the case for so many of you as well). So I’ve been “traveling” at home and living out of this bag for a while now, doing my best to put it through its paces in this temporary state we find ourselves in.
- Name: Carry-on 3.0
- Brand: Minaal
- Format: Backpack
- Measurement: 21.6in x 13.7in x 7.87in (55cm x 35cm x 20cm)
- Capacity: 35L (2135.83 cu. in.)
- Weight: 3.12lb (1.41kg)
- Zippers: YKK #10RC & #8RC
- Material: 600D Picton™ fabric + 1200D Picton™ fabric
Who It Suits
The one-bag traveler or digital nomad who needs a fairly spacious option that isn’t “enormous” once packed out. Anyone needing a sleek travel bag that can quickly convert from backpack to suitcase depending on their needs.
Who It Doesn’t
Anyone not planning on traveling, this is too large for a daily carry (see theDaily 3.0for that option). If you like to have a pocket for everything, and a thing for every pocket you’ll be disappointed.
The Minaal Carry-on 3.0 (Carry-on from here on out) is, in essence, a 35L rounded rectangle you can wear on your back. Overall, it’s a fairly sleek design with minimal exterior branding and details. This makes it a great choice for those who don’t want their bag to appear overly flashy or attention-grabbing. Don’t take that to mean that it’s boring aesthetically. There are thoughtful touches throughout which showcase Minaal’s efforts to design a user-focused travel bag. The Picton™ material that the bag is made from is new for this generation too. It has a very soft look to it with a slight sheen when it catches the light (though it’s not a “shiny” bag).
Overall though, if I had to define the Carry-on’s aesthetic, I would call it “tech-minimalist”.
Whenever I’m reviewing a bag, one of the things I like to do is flip it inside-out and check out the construction methods used to assemble it. In doing so with the Carry-on, I was pleased to see that all seams were fairly well reinforced. And I didn’t see any obvious structural weak points. Thankfully the perpetual feedback Minaal has taken from the twopriorgenerations of this pack has been implemented. This has refined the user experience appreciably.
Additionally, to Minaal’s credit, they do back their bags up with a lifetime guarantee. They will support you throughout the usable life of the product as their goal is to produce a bag that you can purchase and use for several years reliably.
Materials and Hardware
The exterior of the Minaal Carry-on 3.0 is constructed primarily with a 600D Picton™ (a nod to their home turf) material which is more resistant to tears, abrasions, and water. It’s also made of recycled yarn and its suppliers are bluesign®-certified which means it is being produced with sustainable materials. The entire interior is lined with a highly wear-resistant material that has enough give to allow you to overpack a bit if you need a little extra room. There is one more plus I’d like to highlight about the material as well. Pet hair and lint simply brush right off. I have two Australian Shepherds at home and their fur is literally everywhere. Whenever it found its way onto the pack, a quick brush with my hand and it slid right off. It’s very easy to keep clean.
The shoulder straps have a comfortably padded 5mm EVA foam which runs right out to the edges to aid with overall comfort under load. Though I’d like to call out here that as an over 6′ person, I found myself wishing the straps were a bit longer as I didn’t quite have the amount of adjustment I would normally prefer.
All of the zippers are YKK #10 or #8 in size and they are very smooth to operate, even one-handed. This is wonderful when you need to get into a pocket or compartment quickly to retrieve an item or perhaps travel documents from your bag. A nice touch is that the main and tech compartment zippers feature lock loops, which allow you to use a luggage lock method of your choosing. To round things out in hardware, you’ll also find Woojin buckles featured throughout. In my experience, these have always proven to be extremely durable and hard-wearing.
Overall, the Minaal Carry-on 3.0 is made from quality materials and well-constructed. But given the Picton™ material is their own proprietary blend, time will tell how long it’ll hold up. There isn’t a “standard” material like Cordura® that we can compare against decades’ worth of data.
A travel-focused backpack needs features that make your life easier both in transit and when you arrive at your destination. Minaal calls this a state of flow, and I’m inclined to agree with that description. The intention of the Carry-on is to get you where you need to go with as little friction as possible by providing a quick-access platform that adapts to your needs as the user. In practice, I’ve found this to be mostly the case. But let’s break down the major areas and take a look at the design.
Starting with the exterior, the top of the bag has two zippered pockets which have their own dimension, but it expands primarily into the bag, which helps keep its sleek silhouette. I generally prefer exterior pockets to expand outwards if necessary so as not to eat into the interior space. But I understand why they went in this direction and I found it worked well enough despite my preference. I found that the larger of the two was perfect for housing my travel Dopp kit. But in doing so the smaller front pocket runs out of space and becomes a bit difficult to use effectively.
On the top and side of the bag, there is a double-wrapped nylon grab handle. I found it perfectly comfortable in the hand and very sufficient for the top of the bag. The side grab handle has a sufficient amount of space for any size of hand. But there isn’t any structured support on that side so the entire weight of the bag when loaded just sinks in. I don’t see this being a problem in the long run as the handle feels well-attached. But I would have liked to have seen potentially some more side support for this carry method (since the bag is clearly designed to be carried as a backpack or by hand).
There is one exterior bottle pocket that has been updated from previous iterations. But I found it couldn’t hold many of my water bottles personally, though I tend to use larger 32oz+ bottles. Depending on the size of your bottle, it may also eat into the space where your hand would naturally rest to carry the bag by its side handle. I appreciate that it stays out of the way when not in use, as I don’t see it being large enough for me to use consistently as I’m a serial hydrator.
The straps themselves can be hidden away completely. Nice for travel if you’re going to toss this into an overhead bin as nothing will get stuck or snagged. The sternum strap isn’t removable but the right strap has a female clip you can lock it into to keep it out of the way when you don’t need it. In addition, on the back panel, there is a hidden compartment that is perfectly sized to house something like your wallet or passport.
The inside of the main compartment has minimal organization and is ideal for packing cubes (Minaal makes their own, but any ones will work fine). As this is my preferred method of packing, I didn’t really utilize the zippered pockets along the back panel even though they have their own dimension. But I could easily see someone keeping quick-access items or travel necessities in there as each one has its own dimension.
The rear compartment is where you’re going to find the tech space for the bag. The main feature here is the suspended DeviceNest™ which adjusts to perfectly fit a wide variety of laptops or tablets. The nice thing is that no matter what size (up to a 16″ MacBook Pro or equivalent) device you throw in there it will be suspended off the bottom of the pack, which adds an extra layer of protection for your tech.
I tend to keep my extras in pouches and I would suggest using as flat of a pouch as you can get away with to make access clean and simple. I preferred to keep all my mobile office essentials in a couple of pouches and my laptop all accessible via the top or bottom of the pack, depending on which orientation you’re carrying it in. The tech area does have its own dimension but it is slim. So bulky pouches or items are going to be a no-go in this section.
Space and Access
The Minaal Carry-on 3.0 is designed around a premise of travel flow, keeping the “chore” of hauling your gear as low-friction as possible. I feel like this goal is largely achieved, though it’s not a perfect story. Access to each compartment is fairly easy to do. But even though it is a full clamshell opening, the depth of the main compartment is in the “front” of the bag. So some caution has to be taken when opening the bag. My suggestion is to lay it down with the back panel facing you and then open the pack. That way, your clothing or items will stay situated where you packed them.
I’ve been using the pack in the context of being a digital nomad, even while stuck at home. Effectively living out of the bag with my clothing, toiletries, and tech necessities for work. Aside from the mental gymnastics of trying to treat my own home like an Airbnb, it has been really easy to live and work out of in a primarily stationary role.
Now I’m unfortunately going to have to ding the bag some points here. But take this with the understanding that I’m a big and tall guy, so your mileage may vary here. The straps themselves are very cushy with that 5mm EVA foam and edgeless design. But I personally found that when the bag was fully loaded with clothing and tech, I could really feel the weight on my shoulders. Enough so that I wouldn’t want to have to walk a great distance with a fully loaded pack. This is at least partially because the strap padding is not quite long enough for my particular body. Again, this may not be the case for you.
The size of the pack itself is very manageable. And the weight does stay centered on your back, never feeling like it pulls away, which is a plus. Other than that, when carrying the bag in suitcase mode it was perfectly comfortable in the hand thanks to that doubled-over webbing.
The Picton™ material isn’t exclusively waterproof but it is designed to be more water-resistant than its predecessors. Additionally, the zippers are not the AquaGuard variety. If you get caught in light rain, you’ll be fine. But if the weather takes a turn for the worse you’re going to need to deploy the (included) rain-fly which is located in a small hidden compartment at the bottom of the pack. It quickly and easily fits over the whole exterior of the bag so your stuff stays protected from the elements.
Spacious and easy-to-pack main compartment
Secure tech carry in the rear compartment
Thoughtfully designed exterior quick-access pockets
Quickly deployable rain-fly is excellent for poor weather
Not So Good
Water bottle pocket is a weak point if you like to hydrate
Strap padding length could be improved to accommodate more body types
If you pack heavy, you will feel the weight on your shoulders
The Minaal Carry-on 3.0 is a thoughtfully designed travel bag that hits in some areas and misses in others. I really appreciate their approach to designing for the perpetual traveler in building a product designed to be with the user for many years. I would have really liked to have seen a more comfortable harness for this size of pack, especially considering this has been redesigned from prior generations. But my issues may not impact all users equally. If you travel frequently and have optimized your packing system, the Minaal Carry-on 3.0 is a capable companion with a lifetime warranty that would be well suited for you.