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Hands-on Gear Review
Minaal Carry-on 2.0 Review
Cons: Expensive, business travel specific
Bottom line: If business travel is your gig, this is an excellent travel backpack.
The Minaal Carry-On 2.0 is an excellent travel specific backpack. The features are very streamlined for airport travel, and even more so for the business traveler. This is an outstanding bag for a business professional looking for a travel backpack that can be dressed up for meetings without compromising comfort in transit. It is a very thoughtful backpack, though less versatile than several of the packs in this review. However, if business travel and spiffing up is a frequent routine in your life, this is an excellent pack. It is pricey, but if it fits your needs, you'll be stoked.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Minaal was born of a Kickstarter campaign by two Kiwis who wanted to design the perfect travel backpack. As with most things from New Zealand, the clever humor comes without extra charge, mate.
This pack was a strong performer in the comfort category, stemming largely from its sleek fit and very clever design. It is important to note that we were not able to fit all of our "test load" of gear into it: the foam sleeping pad was too bulky to go inside, and also too large to be strapped to the outside of the pack. But this is not by any stretch of the imagination a travel pack that you would take on an overnight backpacking trip. That does mean, however, that this pack scored very highly in the comfort category with roughly the same weight as the rest of the packs (because that foam pad weighs hardly anything).
When we measured the comfort range of this pack, we found that it maxed out around 25 pounds: a proud achievement for such a streamlined travel pack with no hip belt. Minaal's "four point harness adjustment system," along with a stiff but moldable back panel, make this pack contour to your body, thus keeping the load close to your center of gravity by careful design, rather than forcing it to happen with elaborate suspension including load lifter straps on the shoulders.
The Minaal is not the most versatile pack in this review, but it shines in its intelligent design: it is the fast-and-light travelers' dream, running with the concept that sometimes comfort means trimming down and focusing on simplicity.
The Minaal is often compared and contrasted with the Tortuga Travel Backpack. In this review, Minaal beat the Tortuga for a number of reasons which we address below. In the comfort category, the Tortuga wins, but Minaal still makes a proud performance, and gets a scoring boost from their careful attention to design. Their attention to pack shape, light weight, and a simple suspension system add up to make this a surprisingly comfortable pack despite its seeming simplicity.
We hope that the Cotopaxi Nazca will embrace the suspension system employed by Minaal--that design would be an excellent fit for that tiny 24 liter travel backpack.
The Minaal is a very sleek and streamlined travel backpack. It excels especially on business trips, due to the professional and sophisticated look. You can zip the shoulder straps behind a flap of fabric to make it look like a soft briefcase. This also doubles to protect the straps if you had to check it in at the airport, but we doubt this is a pack you will be checking--it is very compact and makes most sense as a carry on.
The pack has an easy-to-access rain cover zipped in the bottom of the bag. This is a very fitting feature on this bag, as it allows you to brave the weather and arrive at the office looking pro, with your pack and all its contents dry.
There are a few pockets inside the main compartment, best used for shoes and socks, and perhaps toiletries, with clothing layered on top. There is a separate and easily accessed laptop sleeve which has a very clever adjustment system, so you can size it to keep your electronics secure. It also has excellent padding to protect your laptop during transit.
The only downfall of the features is that they were fairly specific to business travel. If you have a computer, some clothes, a pair of shoes, you're headed out for a long weekend and you want to look presentable (and have your clothing and shoes arrive presentable, as well), this is your bag.
The Minaal is more of a specific use bag and less versatile than our award winners, notably The North Face Overhaul 40 which looks very professional but is much more versatile, from office and school to outdoor and every day use.
Packing & Accessibility
The Minaal is a champion of accessibility for a carry on pack. The laptop sleeve is separate from the main compartment, with its own zippered access panel. Very easy to remove and send through security.
There are a couple of smallish external pockets which carry valuables and things you might need to access (or stow) quickly (or frequently), like a passport or phone. For more organizational and packing features, you'll likely enjoy The North Face Overhaul.
The compartment theme of this pack is definitely more plane/office/hotel-ready than outdoor-ready. The main compartment opens wide like a soft suitcase, so you can lay the contents out easily, but that main compartment is not the easiest to get in and out of, say, for a visit to the gym after work.
This travel pack is simple and streamlined, with little to fail. The buckles and straps were very strong, and the materials rugged and durable. The zippers and pockets opened with ease, and even when jam packed, we did not find any areas of obvious strain to zippers or seams, similar to the Cotopaxi Nazca. The Minaal is a very thoughtfully designed pack that will last through a lot of use.
Weight & Capacity
Minaal does not advertise the Carry On 2.0's capacity, claiming that the industry is rife with misrepresentations of volume. It's true that there is no standard for how a backpack manufacturer measures the volume of the pack: with or without certain pockets? With or without extension features? By pouring beans into the compartments and then counting them? Or ? We don't necessarily know. In this review, however, you can compare each pack with our images of what we could/could not pack out of a standard set of gear and clothing.
We were unable to fit a 3/4 length foam sleeping pad in the Minaal, and were unable to attach it to the outside because the side straps were too small. Note: the Gregory Compass 30 was the most impressive in its ability to carry our overflow gear externally. However, the Minaal fit everything else, and we figure if this pack is a good fit for the trip you're going on, you're probably not headed where you'll need a foam sleeping pad.
This pack has been criticized for losing volume because of its rounded shape. This is certainly true; however, the benefits from the contoured design and simplicity add to its light weight and carrying comfort. So: trade offs.
The Minaal is advertised for office, trail, and urban use. We concur, though the features are not optimized for daily office use, nor for hiking. This is an excellent travel specific bag--even business travel specific, we might add. It does very well in airports, and looks sleek and professional for those important first impressions overseas.
The high price point of the Minaal demands that you be absolutely sure this is the best pack for your needs, otherwise you'll be out $299 for a pack you hardly use.
The success of this travel pack is easy to miss on first glance: it is so thoughtfully designed that it slides effortlessly into your travel life, and you might never notice how much thought was put into it. But the Kiwis (New Zealanders) who designed the pack insist that it has been a long and at times painful ordeal perfecting this bag, with lost sleep, and even a black eye.
Thanks for the thoughtful travel pack, Minaal. We won't ask.
— Lyra Pierotti
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