The Minaal Carry-on is a $299 travel bag for the one-bagger crew. It can work as a hand carry or a backpack, and with some disciplined packing it can help you travel for a week or more. There are elements to like, but it’s also the first release from a new group to carry, so it’s not yet what it could be…
Who it suits
Someone who frequents big metal birds for business or pleasure and needs an all-in-one bit of carry to get them from A to B. And if you are getting suited up and travelling from runway to boardroom, this is the kind of bag that will look suave in either environment.
Who it doesn’t
This isn’t for people who will never travel, and are looking for a small volume bag. This is a larger bag that’s not quite maximum legal carry-on – but it’s getting close.
Hype is a strange beast; once it gains momentum it swells, entangles and whirls together into something uncontrollable, and in some cases becomes something incredibly hard to live up to.
Enter the Minaal. When we opened up the voting for our Carry Awards, the votes for the Minaal flooded through in rapid succession. And just by votes alone, it could have taken home the title. But the thing was that none of our crew had got their hands on it – so the love was all based on a supremely awesome Kickstarter page. Their spiffy vids and sexy product shots had gone a long way, connecting with a whole heap of crew.
But we don’t hand out awards based on hype alone, so we reached out to Minaal for a sample to make sure it was awesome in the flesh, and they were super cool about it, shooting us a sample express with no questions asked.
Fast-forward a week, and I cracked open a cardboard package to unveil its charcoal façade, which looked good. In fact, it looks a lot like the Arc’teryx Blade, whose designers should be given props for what seems like pretty strong inspiration.
One of the best things about the Minaal is that they do a great job explaining the bag and the inspiration behind it. All brands can learn a thing from them here.
The overall volume and shaping makes sense, where you can take enough clothes without it becoming unwieldy like some larger carry-on bags. While you’d feel a touch awkward bringing it into a work meeting, so long as they understood you’d just stepped off a plane, you can totally get by.
The thermoformed back panel is comfortable enough, and the stretch strap lining feels good on bare skin.
There are a lot of pockets and sections for bits, with a reasonable hierarchy to them. This includes mesh-lined internal pockets, and several organising sections.
And like many outdoor packs, it runs with a rain-cover, so if a shower hits you can wrap up your pack and keep on keeping on.
This is where you start to understand just how hard it is to make an amazing backpack or travel bag on your first go. That library of refinements you get from years of toiling away does add up…
The large main section is essentially a soft rectangle with organising spots for your clothes. Unfortunately this primary zone is a little underwhelming, as there’s no structure, and no load stabilization straps, so you’ll need to use packing cubes or deal with tumbling contents. This also means you can’t easily load it like a tub, as the bag collapses flat.
Because the bag can be used in portrait as a backpack, or in landscape as a hand carry, the bag is not really sure which way is up. You really understand this issue when you see the work section, where pockets face every direction and there’s never just an ‘up’. That means you need to flip the bag to access an iPad, and then flip it again to access your pens and small devices. It’s a bit like a USB, where somehow you need to flip it three times before it works.
This section is also let down by a lack of efficiency. There are lots of dead zones to the side of pocketing, which you can’t utilize. And then the pocketing that is floating mid-panel is just too short for what I wanted to use it for. For instance, it takes an iPad but it doesn’t quite take a 15″ laptop, my weapon of choice – for which it’s only just too short.
There’s a drink bottle holder on the outside that’s finished with some really underwhelming cord – it looks like a mistake in the sample or something.
And the little niggles continue: the zip arounds get caught up on the compression straps and the side handle gets caught up by the compression straps too – again, it’s quite unresolved.
The compression straps are good if you’re running a small load, but because of the clips’ length and where they’re anchored they don’t allow full compression. If they used a different clip or anchored it further down the back of the bag you’d get way more compression out of it.
The fabric had us perplexed…
It is labelled Cordura, but it looks like a really furry polyester that attracts lint and hair, like Velcro in a petting zoo. Maybe a slight exaggeration, but not a great look.
On the exterior spine piece it looks like a really open weave and of low-quality polyester, but we’re almost thinking we got a sample that wasn’t made of the Cordura it was meant to be. We contacted Minaal about these fabric issues and they stated that it is in fact made from Invista-certified Cordura, 500D and 1000D. We thought that perhaps we may have received a non-final production version – and that would clear up a lot of issues for us.
To then get really geeky with it, the load support systems are not yet resolved either…
There are load lifters on the top of the straps, but these are anchored to an unstructured panel, so they only add a touch of stability. The downside to them is that if you want to tuck the straps away, you then need to unclip and fiddle with these.
The waist strap is also for stability only, as there is not enough back panel structure or enough waist-strap padding to support much load on your hips.
And my last little nitpick, Minaal went through a lot of effort to make their Carry-on both a messenger and a backpack but they left out a shoulder strap. So you can briefcase it, but if you then want to go and visit a client there’s not a shoulder strap option, which isn’t a great aesthetic when you’re gliding into a meeting.
Other carry to consider
The Arc’teryx Blade 30 is an obvious option. It’s probably a touch smaller, but it’s really well resolved.
The GORUCK GR2 is also a great option, including the Slick version. Tom Bihn are incredible in this space, with bags like the Western Flyer really nailed.
Then there are great options from Porter, Patagonia, and all sorts of carry and travel brands that you should check out.
There was a lot of hype about the Minaal, and a promise of reinventing this bag format and creating something that you couldn’t otherwise find. If you buy this bag with that promise in mind, you’ll be disappointed. It doesn’t really solve any of the current one-bag issues, while it introduces some new ones.
If however money is not tight, and you’d like to play with a well-sized carry-on with a few niggles, you could be happy.
We look forward to seeing Minaal dig deeper into the world of great travel carry, and hope to see this first effort refined and resolved going forwards. They are excellent communicators, and should be able to help bring some of the joy of good travel to a new audience.