- Buyer's Guide
9 Great Ultra-Compact Men’s Crossbody Bags
Anyone who’s seen my articles about one-bag travel knows I love to travel light. Now with the current travel restrictions, sadly I’m traveling less and less. Most of the time I’m leaving the house these days it’s for long walks or socially distant meetings outside with friends or clients. Since I’m taking very little with me I started looking into the world of ultra-compact crossbody bags and fanny packs. I didn’t have high hopes of finding any crossbody bags that really impressed me, but after some digging and a few months of testing, I’ve found nine crossbody bags that I really enjoy using – especially when I’m just bringing along the essentials.
I’ve had my eye on Rickshaw Bags for a couple of years, but hadn’t had the chance to see one in person until a few months ago. They make custom messenger bags right here in the USA. Yep, custom. They have over 50 different fabric choices and hundreds of combinations available. So if you’re looking for some crazy color combination or something sporty, more business-like, etc., the options are all there. I got their Fanny Pack in White Camo X-Pac with a Bahama Blue X-Pac liner.
When the bag arrived, the first thing I noticed was the craftsmanship. It’s just a simple fanny pack, but the fit and finish are among the best I’ve seen on any bag. The design maximizes the space inside the bag, allowing for a lot of storage for such a small footprint of just 5″ x 9″ x 3″. There’s a zipper pocket on the outside which easily holds even the largest smartphones. The main compartment has a D-ring for attaching keys and a slim pocket that runs the width of the bag. That’s it.
It’s not filled with a bunch of extra pockets, leaving plenty of room for bulkier items like a small water bottle, pack jacket, travel towel, big paperback, etc., or several organizational pouches. If you’re looking for crossbody bags that have tons of built-in organization, this is not the bag for you. But if you live the modular bag life I like to do, you won’t find a bag with better craftsmanship.
I really love this bag and it’s almost always the bag I grab when I’m looking for something to carry so I can keep my pockets empty.
Design-wise, I appreciate how simple and open this bag is. I would like to see a second one of the exact same slim, inside pockets added to the padded inside side as well since they don’t take up any space and it would give me an additional option for carrying along an ebook reader stashed away farther from where I’d clip my keys.
The only other change I would make is adding some sort of webbing catchers. The belt webbing is long so it can be worn across the chest or back and still be tightened enough to be worn around the waist. But when it’s worn around the waist there is a lot of extra webbing that dangles about. That sort of thing drives me a bit crazy. I wish they’d included a webbing catcher or elastic to hold up the extra webbing. I ended up grabbing a pair of elastic hair bands and I’m using those to keep the extra webbing in place on long walks. Other than that I have to say this is my favorite fanny pack I’ve ever used. Attractive. Rugged. Clean.
In fact, I liked the Rickshaw Bags Fanny Pack so much I had to try their iPad Zero Messenger bag. I got it in a matching custom fabric combination to the Fanny Pack and added the small Deluxe Drop Pocket for a really compact EDC crossbody bag to use on days where a fanny pack wouldn’t hold all my gear or fit the dress code.
Once again I was really impressed with the quality and craftsmanship of this bag. These are custom made to order from their huge selection of really nice quality fabrics. It didn’t take long to arrive, but the bag definitely doesn’t feel rushed.
For a messenger-style bag it is really small (just how I like them), but big enough that I was able to put a padded camera cube and lens case inside and use this as an extremely stealthy full frame mirrorless camera bag. Under the flap is an outside pocket for slimmer items – though big enough to hold a couple of water bottles. The main pocket inside is just an open 10.75″ x 9.75″ x 3″ area of space. It’s perfect for us modular baggers. But it’s also got a strip of Velcro so if you want to get more organized you can add their small Deluxe Drop Pocket with a zippered pocket, several pen slots, and more. This takes up almost no additional space. I love that it’s an option and can be added or removed as needed.
Because the bags are custom built to order you can have them make it with or without things like buckles or a waterproof liner. I find the Velcro under the flap more than sufficient to keep it closed and elected not to have buckles added – keeping it nice and sleek.
If you’re looking for ultra-compact custom messenger-style crossbody bags with top-quality construction and materials where you get to pick the color combos, definitely check out the iPad Zero Messenger bag from Rickshaw Bags.
The North St Bags Pioneer 12 is ruggedly built from quality parts not that far from me over in Portland, Oregon. This bag is a multifunction wonder that quickly converts from hip pack to crossbody shoulder bag with the included belt and optional shoulder strap. There’s even an inexpensive handlebar kit that turns it into a really nice handlebar bag. And since any and all of those carry straps can be easily removed, this is a great bag for us modular packers to use inside our other larger bags.
On the front you’ll find a zippered slot pocket the full width of the bag for slim items. The main zippered compartment opens up all the way – if you like – so the bag can lay flat, making it a handy tool pouch or Dopp kit. There are cinch straps on the sides to keep you from accidentally opening the bag all the way – for when you want to use it more like a standard hip pack. They also keep the bag nice and slim when you don’t have it stuffed full, but loosen the strap and you can fit two 40oz Hydro Flasks inside the main compartment!
There are Velcro strips on the front inside for adding optional North St organizing pouches. But you may not need them as the back inside features several organization pockets and an additional full-width zip pocket that includes two more pockets inside of it. I could easily see travelers using this as their day bag. The inside zip pocket seems like a great place to stash a passport, wallet, and other items that benefit from extra security.
The back of the bag has several webbing attachment points for the optional handlebar kit, belt strap, and even webbing that would let you attach the Pioneer to the outside of other bags. I think the fabrics and design lean strongly toward a cycle aesthetic. So if you’re in need of something for a night on the town or that won’t look out of place in a boardroom, I have some other crossbody bags below. But if you’re looking for a versatile, rugged, compact bag for EDC, travel, day hikes, or even bike commutes, take a look at the North St Pioneer 12.
Aer Day Sling 2 and City Sling Crossbody Bags
Where the Rickshaw and North St are definitely bicycle-style inspired, these two ultra-compact men’s crossbody bags from Aer – the Day Sling 2 and City Sling – are clearly aimed at men (and women) with more of an urban fashion sense.
The Day Sling 2 features super-clean lines and a design that keeps the bag slim and close to the body. For such a slim, sleek design it has an incredible amount of organization built in. The outside front sports a thick, waterproof zipper that runs the width of the bag. That outside front pocket is super-powered with darts allowing it to be slim, yet pop out to hold thicker items like a 32oz Hydro Flask or even your paperback copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. It’s also got two slit pockets for phone chargers and cables, etc.
Moving to the main compartment there’s a regular zipper that goes across the top and a third down each side. So the bag can really open up wide. There’s also a little bit of padding on both sides of the main compartment. Inside there’s enough room for a rolled-up light jacket and plenty of additional pockets to keep it organized: two more half-width slit pockets and an additional inside zip pocket that runs the full width of the inside pocket which also contains a key clip. Behind this zip pocket is another pocket large enough to hold a medium-sized tablet. That’s a lot of pockets.
But there’s more! Head to the outside back of the bag and you’ll find an additional full-width zip pocket. This keeps your most important valuables close to your chest.
The strap webbing is the super smooth, seat belt type webbing that looks great and shouldn’t snag those nice clothes you’ll be wearing with this bag. The strap also sports a quick-release buckle. So you can keep the bag nice and snug against your body but remove it without messing up your hair.
That brings me to the very few things that I’d love to see changed on this bag. The buckle is nothing special. It works great, don’t get me wrong. But the rest of the bag is so thoughtfully designed, I’d love to have a buckle that delighted the eyes. And then there’s the fabric. The outside fabric is amazing. But the lining fabric I like less. It’s durable, but loud. Maybe this won’t be an issue for most people. Some might even like it, but I don’t love the choice of lining fabric. It’s gray. I wish it offered a hidden color pop, and it’s surprisingly loud. I don’t know how to describe it other than it makes crinkly sounds when you use it.
These personal issues aside, it’s an incredibly well-constructed bag that would make an excellent EDC crossbody bag for anyone looking to keep their load light and their style high.
Love the beautiful, sleek style and close-to-the-body design of the Day Sling 2, but seeking even smaller crossbody bags? You’re in luck! The Aer City Sling is very much like the smaller brother of the Day Sling 2. It features the smooth seat belt type webbing and generally the same pocket configuration with zipper pockets on the front, middle main compartment, and on the back. The main compartment also features nearly the same internal organization setup and rugged – though loud – gray liner fabric. The main differences between the two bags are the size – the City Sling is a couple of inches shorter and a few inches less wide and it can be worn as either a crossbody or hip bag, whereas the Day Sling 2 isn’t designed to work as a hip bag.
I’d love to see this bag with the same changes I suggested for the Day Sling 2. Namely, a quieter liner fabric in a loud color and a more stylish quick-release buckle. But other than that, it’s an impressive, incredibly compact crossbody bag.
It’s compact but easily holds just about everything I would need for a night in the city. Or even everyday essentials if you travel lean. There’s plenty of room for a Kindle, keys, hand sanitizer, pens, wallet, smartphone, and more. And thanks to the compression straps on the side you can stuff it full and still keep it slim enough to hide under a trench coat – if that’s your thing.
If you carry more than will fit in your pockets, but not enough to justify even a small messenger bag, and you’re into quality construction and slick design, check out the City Sling from Aer.
Now onto some crossbody bags for those who love the hiking / outdoorsy style. The Topo Designs Block Bag – like most Topo Designs gear – has a fun, happy vibe. The shiny fabric, block shape, oversized zippers, and giant color pop zipper pulls scream, “Yeah! Life is awesome!” The front outside features two mesh slip pockets for quick access to items that you don’t mind the world seeing. There’s also a full-width zipper pocket big enough to hold a full-size tablet along with snacks for you and the squirrels you’ll be feeding at the park.
The main compartment could easily hold a light jacket along with your daily essentials. There’s an additional full-width zip pocket inside the main compartment that hides a key strap. There aren’t any pen slots, business card pockets, or any additional organization areas. So plan on doing the modular packing thing with sub pouches if you’d like to stay organized.
The body side of the bag has very decent padding. Probably more than you’d ever need unless you’re bringing two of those park squirrels home with you – no judgment. But the padding does give the bag plenty of structure. This makes it very easy to add and remove items from the bag without getting into a fight with it.
Compression straps at the bottom keep the crossbody bag tidy when it’s not stuffed to the brim and also secures a puffy coat if needed. The webbing, though not seat belt style, is the smooth type that’s not likely to snag on your clothes. Additional webbing on one side tucks in extra shoulder strap webbing if not using the strap at full length.
This would make a great personal item bag for when I go back to flying around the world again. It also works perfectly for EDC when I don’t need to bring along a laptop. I’ve even used it for day hikes to carry my phone, sunscreen, light jacket, a picnic for two, and a 32oz water bottle.
Whether you’re a shiny happy person or an emo with a penchant for irony, the Topo Designs Block Bag is a fun, quality made, compact crossbody bag worth checking out.
The Tom Bihn Side Kick is a compact organizational masterpiece made in Seattle, Washington. It easily converts between a crossbody shoulder bag and a waist pack.
The outside zip pocket runs the full length of the bag and secures items in a big, open pocket with a small “O” ring at the top for the included, removable key strap or any number of optional organizational pockets. I like to keep keys and snacks in this pocket along with sunscreen, but there’s room for much more.
Moving over into the main zippered pocket you’ll find four “O” rings for clipping more optional pockets. But you might not need them as this main compartment is packed with organizational options. There’s a large, slim, full-width slot where I keep a tablet or my ereader. That slot pocket is backed with two cell phone / chocolate bar sized slots and two pen pockets. The other side features two slot pockets each half the full width of the bag. These are great for earbuds, phone chargers, mittens, etc. In between these two walls of pockets is space that swallows up thick books, lightweight jackets, or a bento box.
The strap – which is attached to the bag with low-profile clips – is the seat belt type webbing. This helps it glide along your clothes without snagging when moving the bag from back to front in shoulder configuration. There are hip loops on the front and back sides of the bag. If you want to arrange the bag for added security, you can put the optional waist belt on so the outside zipper is now on your body side. Very clever!
There’s no padding anywhere in the bag, so if you are the worrying type, you’ll want to look at other crossbody bags. But the compact form factor and light weight is a fair trade-off for me. The extremely high quality of construction and materials combines with the subtle design and smart organizational features to make it a must-see for anyone looking to find an ultra-compact crossbody bag that could last a lifetime.
Dig the outdoor style but looking for a retro vibe? The North Face Lumbar Pack would definitely fit the bill. I’ve received compliments on this bag every time I’ve left the house. And not just from my mom. The wife loves it and strangers, too. And I get it. It’s a gorgeous-looking hip pack. But it’s not just eye candy or a strange way to break the ice at a singles bar. I also enjoy using it for its intended purpose: carrying my junk.
The front has an old-school oversized The North Face logo patch that looks damn cool and a zip pocket. There’s nothing inside that pocket other than empty space. I fill it with my big cell phone, a hanky, wallet, and protein bar, but there is room for more.
The main zip compartment is also just a big empty space. Large enough to hold a 40oz Hydro Flask, but a 32oz would be easier to get in and out. I have no problem fitting a windbreaker in here along with car keys, an ereader, sunscreen, and other items.
The fabric is soft but rugged and the color pop zipper pulls are a fun touch. The body side of the bag is lightly padded so you should be able to store your twig collection in a comfortable fashion as you hike the hillsides in search of more lovely sticks.
The strap is plenty long if you want to take this fanny pack crossbody style. And they’ve included webbing strap catchers to keep that extra strap from dangling about when you pull it tight.
If you’re looking for a hip bag with any organizational features to take on a hike, keep walking. But if you want a stylish retro hip bag that also works as a crossbody and holds more than it looks like it should, check out The North Face Lumbar Pack.
The Patagonia Black Hole Waist Pack 5L is a no-nonsense performance hip pack. From the weather-resistant shell, massive main compartment, cinch straps, and two – yes two – water bottle pockets, this thing is built for all-day hikes, hikers who don’t want to lug a backpack, and urban commuters looking for an eye-catching design.
The first thing you’ll notice when looking at this bag is the weather-resistant fabric. I haven’t seen anything that looks like this on bags from other companies. You’ll either love it or hate it. Personally, I’m a fan. But don’t let that shiny coated fabric fool you, the bag is definitely not waterproof. I think it would do well in light rain and for some splashes. But the zippers aren’t the water-resistant type so be careful around that geyser.
The outside front pocket is slim but wide enough to hold a large cell phone and wallet. Plus you can attach your keys to the included clip. There’s room for a bit more in there, too, but the main compartment is where the real estate lives.
In the main compartment is an elastic net pocket on the body side, but other than that, no organizing pockets. Net pocket aside, I can fit a 40oz Hydro Flask in here or a rolled-up puffy coat and still have room for a small tablet or ereader.
Using the two water bottle pockets on the outside of the bag wouldn’t be my first choice if I was hoping to attract a partner. But it lets you pack the bag’s interior with other gear and still bring your thirst cure of choice. I do wish the water bottle holders expanded to be a little bigger and a couple of inches deeper. The water bottles I use don’t play well with these water bottle pockets. Some work, but feel awkward at any pace faster than a slow walk. Smaller water bottles, however, work fine.
There are compression straps over the water bottle pockets to tighten in those bottles or to compress the bag closer to your body when it’s not completely stuffed. Both the compression straps and the belt include elastic webbing catchers to keep things nice and tidy. But my favorite thing about the belt is that unlike most quick-release belt buckles that tighten the webbing at the buckle, the Black Hole Waist Pack tightens at the bag. A more satisfying and stylish choice in my opinion.
This bag is extremely comfortable worn around the waist thanks to the over-padded breathable lumbar area. This doesn’t make it impossible to be worn crossbody. But I do think it makes it less comfortable than crossbody bags without stiff padding.
If you plan to wear this exclusively as a crossbody bag, I think you’ll find some of the other crossbody bags I mentioned more comfortable. But if the modern, outdoorsy Patagonia fashion style floats your boat and you’re looking for an extremely comfortable hip pack that’ll stay comfortable even when loaded down over long distances, the Black Hole Waist Pack is sure to please.