Sling Bags for Travel – Best Shoulder Sling Backpacks & Travel Sling Bags

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Considering sling bags for travel? Looking for an easy day pack? The best travel sling bags are comfortable, versatile and small enough to wear all day without getting in the way of larger backpacks or luggage. I’ve used a travel sling bag for several years now. Sometimes called shoulder sling backpacks, travel sling bags or cross-body bags, a sling bag for travel hangs off one shoulder. Here are our tips for choosing your best sling bag for travel.

Sling Bags for Travel Shoulder Sling Backpacks & Travel Sling Bags cover

Sling Bags for Travel – Best Shoulder Sling Backpacks & Travel Sling Bags

A travel sling bag has been part of my travel essentials for a few years now. When it comes to shoulder sling backpacks and other sling bags for travel, I think they are quite useful. Having said that, there are a few factors I’d consider before buying a travel sling bag. Each travel sling bag has its own feature set, and some are more useful than others. Here are a few of the major pros and cons of a sling backpack for travel.

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Comparison: Best Sling Bags for Travel

Pros of Sling Bags for Travel

The best travel sling bag for you may be different than the best travel sling bag for someone else. That said, here are a few of the main advantages to using a sling bag for travel over a conventional daypack.

Mobility and Agility

The best sling bag for travel is easier to take on and off than a conventional backpack. More importantly, the best sling backpacks offer quicker access to their contents.

For example, let’s say you’re walking through a crowded airport and you need to get your passport out of a backpack. With a typical daypack-style backpack, you have to take it off your shoulders and either hang it on your front or set it down to access it. In contrast, most travel sling bags slide from your back to front in one motion while never leaving your body.

Safety

The best sling bags for travel don’t have to be taken off to access their contents. Like in the example above, a sling backpack for travel can quickly move from your back (aka behind you) to your abdomen or chest (aka in front of you). All in one motion, and all without ever detaching from your body.

This comes in handy in crowds and on packed public transportation. It’s also great when getting in cars or on motorcycles. The contents of a sling bag for travel goes from between your shoulder blades to your lap in less than a second and you’re on your way. All without the need to take it off and leave it vulnerable for someone to snatch it.

Lighter, Smaller, Easier to Pack

Lots of travel sling bags are small and light enough to fit into other larger bags. This makes some sling backpacks an ideal daypack for carry-on only travelers. For example, my Patagonia Atom sling bag flattens and fits easily into my carry on suitcase or laptop bag.

Cons of Sling Bags for Travel

There are advantages to using a sling bag for travel. But even the best sling backpack for travel has a few drawbacks to conventional day packs. Here are a few of the challenges of carrying a sling bag for travel.

Limited Storage

As a daypack, travel sling bags usually hold less than a conventional two-shoulder strap backpack. They often fit an iPad or 11-inch laptop, but rarely much more. Moreover, many sling backpacks are teardrop-shaped, and can’t even fit an A4-sized folder. Some have a water-bottle pocket, but most don’t — even some of the best sling backpacks. Pockets on sling bags for travel are often smaller and fewer as well.

Sure, there are some larger shoulder sling backpacks or messenger-bags that can hold a lot more. But then those aren’t small, lightweight or collapsible, usually. For the purposes of this post, I’m focusing mostly on small and simple sling backpacks and travel sling bags.

Weight on One Shoulder

The nature of sling backpacks and all sling bags for travel is that they hang on one shoulder. That means all of their weight presses down on one shoulder, as well. We recommend switching your sling backpack from front to back occasionally to take the pressure off. Some sling packs can change the resting shoulder, but most don’t. Either way, this becomes an issue only after all-day use and when weighed down.

Sling Backpack Features to Look For

What features are best in a sling bag for travel? What should you look for in the best sling backpacks for you? Here are some of the main features that set apart a good travel sling bag from a great one.

Durability / Water Resistance

Like any backpack for travel, look for a well-built travel sling bag. Some bags are made of canvas or hemp. Both are durable, but may not be water resistant. Others are made of synthetic material, which makes them more water resistant and quicker to dry out. Yet they may be uncomfortable on the skin over long periods.

Comfortable Shoulder Strap & Back Padding

The strap of your travel sling bag will be where you feel the weight. Make sure the strap is comfortable. Some use memory foam or similar material, while others are a simple rope, webbing or padding. The larger/heavier the bag, the more important it is to have a wide and comfortable shoulder strap.

Strap Pocket

I’ll be honest here: most pockets on the shoulder strap are useless to me. They’re too small for most items unless you want to keep coins, keys, lip balm or cards in there. Sunglasses fit in some sling backpack strap pockets, but then the weight can bend them.

There are a few good sling bags for travel that have a strap pocket big enough for a smartphone. That said, I’ve been too nervous to use it like that for fear that I’ll drop it out when I pull the bag forward. Then there are some strap pockets that can hold a normal sized smartphone, but getting it out of the pocket takes several steps longer than just pulling it out on a trouser or shirt pocket. Those extra seconds matter when you want a picture or answer a call coming in.

RFID and Anti-theft Pockets

Some of the best sling backpacks and sling bags for travel have built-in features to keep your valuables safe. For example, look for “anti-theft” pockets, which usually involve a concealed zipper. A few travel sling bags even have RFID pockets, which keep credit cards safe from identity thieves.

Internal Key Clip

It’s a small thing, but I think it’s important to have a small, secure clip inside a travel sling bag to hook a keyring onto. They’re also good for securing rings, bracelets, emergency whistles, pen-lights, SD card packs, and other small clip-on items.

Internal Zipper Pockets & Sleeves

Think about what you’ll be carrying in your sling backpack. Then think about what kind of pockets you’ll need. Velcro is nice but not as secure as a zipper.

Water Bottle Pocket

This is a nice feature to have in a sling bag for travel, but it really increases the weight of the bag. As a result, more weight on a single shoulder. If a water bottle pocket is important to your sling backpack purchase, then doublecheck the size. Most water bottle pockets are only big enough for disposable plastic bottles. Not for reusable bottles.

Loops & Straps

Because of the limited space in most shoulder sling backpacks for travel, a few exterior straps are quite useful. For example, some sling bags for travel have compression straps on the back. I’ve used mine to hold a blanket or travel jacket for when the temperature drops after sunset. Also useful to hold a wet swimsuit or clip sandals on.

Extra little loops of webbing material are also a great place to hang your sunglasses to hook on a carabiner. Then you can use the carabiner to carry a hat, a water bottle or to hook the bag to a fence so it doesn’t sit on the ground. I’ve also used exterior straps and carabiners to attach the bag to a chair, table or fixed object. Sometimes the best theft deterrent is just adding an extra step to taking something. Oftentimes, simply clipping my bag to a chair — no lock, just wrapped and clipped — is enough of an extra step.

Top Sling Bags for Travel

So here are my top picks for the best sling bag and sling backpack for travel. Which would you choose?

Unigear Sling Bag Backpack

Unigear Sling Bag for Travel - Cross Body Bag for Travel, Best Chest Bag

There are a few features here that propel this to the top of our best sling bag for travel list. First off, the Unigear Sling Bag Backpack has a side water bottle pocket, which many travel sling bags lack. We also like the anti-theft pocket to secure your important items like passports and cash. Another nice feature is the strap versatility. Some of the best travel sling bags only fit over a specific shoulder. Yet this Unigear Sling Bag Backpack has hooks in both bottom corners so you can switch the side of the strap if you want.

Check Price: Unigear Sling Bag for Travel

KAVU Rope Sling Bag

KAVU Rope Sling Bag - Sling Bags for Travel - Best Shoulder Sling Backpacks & Travel Sling Bags

This is the travel sling bag for you if you want your own unique look. Kavu sling bags come in a dizzying array of colors and patterns. And each new design isn’t reprinted after it sells out. You get two roomy main pockets with two outside pockets: one velcro, one zippered. Use these for go-to items like phones, wires, notepads, and cosmetics. The strap is a soft-but-sturdy rope.

Check Price: KAVU Rope Sling Bag

KAVU Paxton Pack Backpack Crossbody Rope Sling Bag

KAVU Paxton Rope Sling Bag

Like the other Kavu travel sling bags, the Paxton Pack has funky designs and a crossbody strap made of soft rope. But the Paxton differs from other Kavu sling bags for men and women in a few significant ways. First of all, it’s deeper, which means it can hold more. There’s a water bottle pocket, as well. Secondly, it’s made from a cotton/polyester blend instead of canvas. The result is a sturdier, more stain resistant bag. That said, I still think the busier the pattern, the less dirt and stains will show.

Check Price: KAVU Paxton Pack Backpack CRossbody Rope Sling Bag

Patagonia Atom Sling Backpack

Patagonia Atom Sling Backpack

This is my favorite sling pack for travel and I use mine all the time. That said, it’s far from perfect. It’s smaller and less feature-heavy that most of the sling bags for travel listed here. As a travel sling bag, it’s not much bigger than some fanny packs I’ve seen. But the main compartment holds a lot more than it looks. In fact, my daughter calls it my “magic bag” because of how much I can stuff in it. There’s a small sleeve on the inside that fits our old iPads (and keyboard) but you’re not getting any 13”+ MacBook in there. The strap pocket and the outside zipper pocket aren’t as large as I’d like them to be — I struggle to fit my iPhone 7 (with case) in them. But they fit keys, sunglasses other small quick-access items, and I like that there’s a key clip in there too.

So it’s small, but that’s also its greatest strength. I can wear it comfortably in crowds, and it slips from back to front smoothly, with perfect access to both pockets. Most importantly, it packs up small inside my other packs. This is essential when traveling carry-on only. I also love the compression straps for carrying a travel jacket or other items.

Check Price: Patagonia Atom Sling Backpack Black

Pacsafe Metrosafe LS150 7 Liter Anti Theft Sling Backpack

Pacsafe Metrosafe Sling Backpack

For those worried about theft, Pacsafe makes some of the best travel sling bags in the business. You get RFID blocking, slash-proof steel mesh fabric, and lockable zippers. (Locks are sold separately…of course). The front pocket has a place for all small go-to items like phones, pens, passports, and keys. Two padded sleeves keep phones and tablets safe from impact. I like how small and agile it is, but it can’t pack down much smaller than it already is. It’s also slightly heavier than other bags in its category. The slash-proof fabric may have something to do with that.

Check Price: Pacsafe Metrosafe LS150 7 Liter Anti Theft Sling Backpack

PacSafe Vibe 325

Pacsafe Vibe 325 sling pack

Another great anti-theft sling bag for travel from PacSafe. The Vibe 325 has the same lockable pockets and slash-resistant fabric as the Metrosafe LS150 mentioned above. Yet the Vibe 325 also has an additional safety feature: you can lock it to fixed items like columns and fences. The detachable shoulders strap is reinforced with wire. Once you lock your stuff into the pockets, then you can secure this to an immovable object. Can come in handy when staying in a dodgy area and your hotel room has no safe.

Check Price: PacSafe Vibe 325 sling pack

NeatPack Versatile Canvas Sling Bag/Urban Travel Backpack

NeatPack Versatile Canvas Sling Bag

This is as close to the opposite of the Patagonia Atom 8L as you can get. If you want pockets, then this is your sling bag for travel. The NeatPack has pockets and compartments for lots of things, with zippered mesh on the insides and a water bottle pocket on the outside. There’s also an RFID stash pocket for credit cards and other important items. I’m especially happy to see a working phone pocket on the strap. Why every travel sling bag doesn’t have this I’ll never know.

Check Price: NeatPack Versatile Canvas Sling Bag

Osprey Packs Daylite Shoulder Sling

Osprey Packs Daylite Shoulder Sling

Small and simple, the Osprey Daylite travel sling bag reminds me of the Patagonia Atom. Both are super compact and have limited pockets and features. On the other hand, that simplicity makes them easy to use. The size and design are made for fast and smooth access to both pockets. A quick pull and this shoulder sling backpack will slide forward for front access. The mesh harness pocket doesn’t hold much.

Check Price: Osprey Packs Daylite Shoulder Sling

Meru Cross Body Bag, Sling Backpack

Meru Cross Body Bag

Meru’s best sling bag for travel looks and feels a lot like the Kavu sling backpacks mentioned above. But there are a few differences. Firstly, the price: Meru sling backpacks are significantly less expensive. Both Meru and Kavu have a similar pocket design: one large main compartment with 2 outer pockets.

The Meru’s outer pockets are both zippered, with an additional small velcro card slot. The strap is memory foam. Unlike most travel sling bags, there’s a water bottle pocket, but on the inside of the bag. Better than no water bottle pocket, I think, but it means you should take extra care for spills and condensation. Grommet holes for air circulation also probably placed where they are with this in mind.

Check Price: Meru Cross Body Bag, Sling Backpack

OutdoorMaster Sling Bag – Crossbody Backpack for Women & Men

OutdoorMaster Sling Bag

Looking for sling backpacks on a budget? If so then this OutdoorMaster model may be your sling bag for travel. It’s significantly cheaper than many of the best sling bags for travel on this list. Yet it has similar features such as anti-theft pockets, a breathable back strip, and a water bottle pocket. This travel sling bag also has a reversible strap, which is especially useful for lefties.

Check Price: OutdoorMaster Sling Bag – Crossbody Backpack

What’s Your Best Sling Bag for Travel?

In your opinion, which is the best sling bag for travel? Which sling backpack for travel would you choose. Or do you already use a travel sling bag? Which one? What sling bag features are most important to you?

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you,  we might receive a small commission if you buy a sling bag for travel or shoulder sling backpack using those links. My opinions are my own and I only recommend places/services that I believe will genuinely help your travel. 

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