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What is a roll-top backpack? Since when have they been a thing? And why might you want a roll-top backpack in the first place? How do these bags differ from a regular backpack?
Find out below, as I demystify the pros and cons of the roll-top backpack. Then, I’ll review the 10 greatest roll top backpacks currently on the market to help you choose the best product to suit your particular needs.
Are Roll-Top Backpacks Any Good?
Roll-top backpacks originate from the world of the drybag. The drybag uses a roll-top to help keep belongings completely dry in wet conditions – such as when kayaking or water rafting.
The act of rolling the bag opening before fixing it closed meant water could be kept out effectively (even when the drybag got immersed in water). Then, backpack designers realised there were benefits to the roll-top feature and they began to use them in backpack design too.
Another advantage of the roll-top opening means the bag can usually offer a certain amount of flexible storage space. When you roll the top down you can compress the contents or simply roll the top down less, and thus you have an extendable space incorporated into the backpack.
In general, roll-top backpacks tend to use one large compartment which comes down to personal preference, you may enjoy the streamlined and simplistic design, or you may prefer a backpack with lots of compartments to organise your belongings.
So, are rolltop backpacks any good? Yes, they are more robust at protecting against water and have flexible storage to meet your changing needs. Rolltop backpacks will appeal to those who like a secure bag with one large compartment, however if you prefer organisational pockets then you might want to opt for something else.
Consider the following key features when choosing your bag. Some aspects of these products will appeal more or less depending on what you want to use your backpack for.
Fixing the Roll Top
When you choose your backpack take note of how the roll top itself fastens closed. Some will model themselves on the drybag, you will roll down the top and then bring the two clips together. This is the most effective method for keeping water out.
Or you will see the roll-top rolls down and there is a ‘one strap’ fastener in the middle of the bag. This is a sign the bag is more a fashion piece than a functional backpack.
Many roll-top backpacks will use fully waterproof materials or at the very least robustly water-resistant materials. Not all the time, but this is a common product feature.
If you will use your bag cycling to work, or you spend time walking to/from public transport/ work etc then this feature will give you peace of mind next time you get caught in a rainstorm.
High quality branded backpacks will often offer up a roll-top backpack. Many of them will use specially developed materials which are both durable, and sustainable.
Sometimes the materials will have been made from recycled materials such as plastic bottles, and sometimes they will use long-lasting natural materials (such as leather).
Flexible Storage Space
Not all roll-top bags can fasten at more than one point, but many of them can. This means you can use the top to extend the backpack. If you find what you need to pack in your backpack varies a lot then, choosing a bag with flexible storage space will give you the flexibility you need.
Padded laptop sleeve/ Organisational pockets
Traditionally roll-top backpacks would not include interior pockets or laptop sleeves. They would be a simple one compartment affair. However, many bag designers have realised pockets are important to many people. These days many roll-top backpacks feature laptop sleeves and other useful pockets.
View more backpack guides:
Best Roll Top Backpacks
Now, without any further ado, these are the 10 best roll top backpacks on the market at the moment:
- Johnny Urban – Best All-round
- Osprey Transporter Roll – Best for Outdoors
- Millican Smith – Canvas Rolltop
- Fjällräven Ulvö – Fashionable Pick
- Inateck Rolltop Rucksack – Best for Work
- Evervanz – Great for travel
- Berliner – Best Leather Rolltop
- Bagbase – Budget Friendly
- OGIO Alpha Convoy 525 – Sustainable Pick
- Rains Rolltop – Very Weatherproof
A sleek minimalistic, eco-conscious, lightweight bag suitable for a wide range of uses.
Made from recycled PET bottles, this sleek minimalistic bag makes a good choice as an all-round bag. Smart enough to take to work, and trendy enough to look stylish when out and about.
The bag has a laptop pocket fitting a device up to 15.6”. In the meantime, the flexible roll-top means you can fit up to 12.5 L when the top is rolled down, and up to 15.5 L when you unroll the top giving flexibility for those days when you have some extras to pack.
The fashionable velcro and zip openings add to the streamlined look of the bag. All in all, a good choice if you want a tidy looking lightweight bag.
Osprey Transporter Roll
A rugged backpack made with durable materials that suits both intensive outdoor use, and the commute.
A trendy product which aims to cater for city-dwellers commuting to work, or to those looking for a durable bag to be used in exposed outdoor scenarios.
The backpack’s made from durable materials which are water-resistant (400D nylon TPU double-coated). Furthermore, the roll-top opening includes a zip opening as well as improving ease of access.
A few well thought through handy features make the bag attractive for commuting or use in the outdoors: an internal padded laptop pocket, an emergency whistle, and a LED light attachment point.
Of course, being from Osprey, the bag is well designed and comfortable to carry, it includes a padded back, a chest and waist strap making for comfortable carrying. My only gripe is the interior water bottle pocket – yes it does make the bag streamlined visually, but it does make the water harder to access.
Bionic canvas bag offering durability and longevity, ideal for hiking or travel
This bag is well-made, has lots of pockets to better organise your kit. The padded ergonomic shoulder straps making the bag comfortable to carry all day.
Made to last with modern Bionic canvas on the outside, and lining from recycled polyester – helping you buy with a clear conscience.
The bag would be hardy enough for commuting, a laptop padded compartment has been included to extend the bags appeal, but for some people, the style may not be smart enough to take to the office.
A product oozing sustainable Swedish classic cool, cleverly designed for the commute
This well-designed, well-made and generally well-considered rolltop bag has primarily been conceived for school, college or the commute to work. Best known for their classic Fjällräven Kanken backpack, the Ulvö also lives up to the same quality standard with ripstop material and a completely waterproof finish.
If you’re cycling to work there is a handy loop to attach a lamp, and a reflective logo improves your visibility on the road. The padded laptop pocket makes sure your device stays safe from bumps and the use of recycled materials gives added eco-credentials to the product.
The rolltop uses the classic drybag style which is very effective for keeping out water. However, the overall style isn’t super formal, which may mean anyone headed to an ultra-formal workplace may be put off.
Inateck Rolltop Rucksack
Smart style with flexible storage space and ample space for a large laptop
This smart and very cubular backpack makes the most of the roll top. It can compress down or expand to provide extra space. You can fit a large laptop (up to 17”) in the padded pocket and there is another pocket for a second device up to 11”.
The USB or headphone hole adds a bonus feature if you like to go about your day with your headphones on. While a back zipper provides a second quick access point to the contents.
This brand is not focused on durability, so don’t expect the same quality of some of the high-quality durable brands on this list, but all in all the Inateck makes a good all-round backpack for the tech-inclined.
A low budget backpack with plenty of useful features for travel and daily use
Finally, a roll-top backpack with lots of colour choices! If you’re fed up of black, granite and monochrome backpacks, this bag has 14 colours to choose from.
A good option for people on a budget, the backpack still has a number of useful features. For example, there is an emergency whistle on the chest strap, there is an anti-theft back pocket, a padded compartment for a 16” laptop, and the bag meets carry-on luggage requirements.
Made from polyester, this backpack will not be the most durable or eco-friendly. Even so, it will suit many people’s needs, and you won’t break the bank to get it.
Simple high-quality, handmade leather rolltop backpack built to last
Leather almost lasts forever. This is a leather rolltop which potentially will last you decades. And when you do eventually wear it out, it’s biodegradable because it’s a natural product.
This Berlin designed backpack is handmade, vegetable tanned (no nasty chemicals), and waterproof. The design isn’t overly fussy. What you see is what you get – a simple compartment, a roll-top and one interior pocket for a 17” laptop.
If you want a high-quality product which has been well-made and uses a sustainable business model, then this backpack makes an excellent choice.
Simply designed, no-fuss, small, budget-friendly roll-top backpack
Sometimes all you want is a small, simple, straightforward and budget-friendly bag. This is when the Bagbase tarp waterproof roll-top backpack comes in.
The bag only carries 15L which is smaller than most of the backpacks I’ve reviewed so far. However, if you don’t need to pack a lot it’s enough for light daily use.
It features one large compartment and one small hidden stash pocket. The whole bag is waterproof, and it has a handy carry-handle at the top as well as the backpack shoulder straps. This is a budget option, so if you need a very durable long-lasting product, then another backpack will make a better choice for you.
OGIO Alpha Convoy 525
An eco-friendly product geared up for easy organisation
You may recognise OGIO from my guide to recycled backpacks as they make use of recycled plastic bottles in all of their products, including this one.
The Alpha Convoy 525 really gives you the benefits of a roll-top backpack (flexible storage) as well as being geared towards organisation and convenience.
The laptop pocket (up to 15”) is fully waterproof, and there are two large water bottle pockets on the exterior. A side zip allows for quick access to the main compartment.
The backpack also features a front pocket and internal pockets. Furthermore, it has compression straps on the sides and bottom. For anyone commuting or using the backpack when cycling or hiking you will appreciate the 360-degree reflective panels.
The only slight annoyance is the multitude of straps which are not usually dominant with a roll-top backpack. Depending on your pet-peeves this could be a pro or a con.
Fully waterproof rolltop backpack ideal for cyclists, or people walking to work, school or uni.
If you’re looking for a mid-range backpack which will work well for cycling then this product has a lot of attractive features. At 18L capacity, it’s not for people with huge volumes of stuff but will work fine for heading to work or uni with essentials.
The special waterproof material will particularly suit someone who gets exposed to the elements a lot when out and about – especially someone cycling regularly.
As a bonus, the backpack has extra padding for comfortable carrying, and you can easily access the laptop sleeve (15”) with zip side access.
Which roll-top backpack is the best?
If you want to purchase a high-quality, durable product, the Osprey Transporter Roll, the Millican Smith and the Fjällräven Ulvö are ,y top picks for rolltop backpacks.
But, as you’ll see, there are plenty of backpacks for different occasions including the Rains rolltop for weatherproofing, the Inateck for carrying a laptop and the OGIO if you want an eco friendly choice.
How do you close a roll-top backpack?
You roll the opening down as if you are rolling up a sleeping bag, then use the side clips or the central strap to fix the top in place. Backpacks with thick material will need to be folded rather than rolled tightly. Backpacks using softer materials such as the Fjällräven can be rolled much more tightly and these will give a better more waterproof seal for the opening.
Kieren is the avid traveller behind the blog. His adventures have included Interrailing through Europe, road tripping the US and backpacking SE Asia.