If you use a backpack, it’s easy to overload the thing and give yourself a backache. Messenger bags have similar issues, only move the pain to your shoulder. Sling bags solve those problems by limiting you to necessary items and distributing the weight across your body.
What Is a Sling Bag?
If you aren’t familiar with sling bags, you might confuse them with a one-strapped backpack or a messenger bag that hugs the body close. Although sling bags resemble backpacks and messenger bags, they’re neither of those things—but also a bit of both.
Like backpacks and messenger bags, sling bags typically feature a large pocket for storing heftier items (like a book, tablet, or laptop), and several small pockets for other essential items, like phones, wallets, keys, and power cords.
The significant departure is in how you wear a sling bag. You’ll find just one strap on a sling bag, but if you’re merely hanging it off the shoulder, you’re wearing it wrong. Instead, you should wear the strap across the body, starting from one shoulder and ending at the opposite hip. So left shoulder to right hip, or right shoulder to left hip. Then you tighten the strap for a snug fit to keep your bag sliding around as you walk.
Many sling bags have an adjustable strap, so you can choose which way to wear it across your body.
Why I Love Sling Bags
Most days, I’d rather wear a sling bag before any of my backpack or messenger bag options. If you give me space and tell me to pack it, I’ll fill it to the brim. Do I need my DSLR camera for walking around? Probably not, but better put it in just in case. And what about spare batteries? Those fit, too; better pack them in. So my backpacks and messengers get me into trouble.
Theoretically, I can control myself; in practice, I can’t. A sling bag takes care of the problem for me. I typically choose bags that will comfortably fit a MacBook, iPad, Kindle, my phone, some headphones, and power cords. If I’m honest with myself, that’s all I need for most days when I’m out and about.
And along the way, I’ve discovered I’m not just benefiting from the fact that my pack is lighter. With what I pack, it’s easier to stow away, too. You can flatten a backpack only so much, but because of their smaller pouches, sling bags start flatter and can stay that way—even after you fill it with your flat electronics, so they take up less room.
When I need quick access to the contents, I don’t have to take the bag off. I can loosen the strap and slide it around to the front of my body. The zippers are right there, so I can get to what I need. Some people even prefer to wear the bag on the front of their body.
Sling bags vary in how much they can carry, too, so I can pick the one that meets my needs for what I’m going to do. When I’m hiking, I bring a larger bag that lets me take more but still distributes the weight well. And for quick trips, a tiny sling bag will do, which is all the more portable. My everyday carry (EDC) bag is between the two.
And when I end the day, I ache in my shoulders and back less than I do from a backpack. And that’s ultimately my favorite part about sling bags.
If you’re interested in trying one out for yourself, here are some of the best sling bags you can buy.
The Best Overall Sling Bag: SEEU Ultralight Water-Resistant Shoulder Crossbody Bag
What the SEEU Ultralight lacks in good naming it makes up for in a large feature set at a low price. The SEEU’s bag is large enough to fit your tablet, your phone, and even a writing pad. It also has a headphone cord hole, a pocket for a water bottle, and a waist strap for additional security.
The material is a breathable nylon mesh, which should keep sweat issues at bay when you’re hiking or biking somewhere. And the shoulder strap is adjustable, so you can wear it on your left or right shoulder. Additionally, the top of the bag has a carrying strap for when you need it.
SEEU Sling Bag Backpack for Women Men, Lightweight Chest rope bag one strap crossbody shoulder backpacks for GYM Travel
This sling bag comes with all the features you'd want in a bag, from mesh material to an adjustable strap. It's big enough to carry an iPad, water bottle, and power cords, but not so big you'll hurt yourself.
The Best Outdoor Sling Bag: Red Rock Outdoor Gear – Rover Sling Pack
Occasionally, you do need a larger bag and slings bags still are great options on those occasions, too. If you plan to be outdoors for a prolonged time, the Rover Sling pack is a great choice. It features a dedicated tablet sleeve and a larger spacious main pocket for holding a first-aid kit, food, or clothes. Additional pockets are large enough for flashlights, batteries, and other supplies.
Like with other slings, the strap is adjustable for left or right shoulder carry. As an additional feature, the bag is covered in mole webbing, so you can add clips or pouches. The bottom of the bag includes draining holes to keep the water out, too.
Red Rock Outdoor Gear Rover Sling Pack Tornado/Blue
Built for the outdoors, this sling bag will keep you on the go. It's large enough for your first-aid kit and water bottles, and it's expandable. The strap is adjustable, so it should fit nearly anyone.
The Best Premium Sling Bag: Pacsafe Unisex Venturesafe X Anti-Theft Sling Pack
If you want something that looks nice and will keep your stuff safe when you travel, look at Pacsafe’s Venturesafe Anti-Theft Sling Pack. Though large enough to fit an iPad, this pack is one of the slimmer bags in this list.
Pacsafe built this pack to accommodate tourists and included features like a dedicated passport pocket, RFID blocking material, anti-slash mesh fabric, and anti-theft clasps. The top-carry handle and adjustable right or left strap will you keep you comfortable no matter how you take it with you.
Pacsafe Unisex Venturesafe X Anti-Theft Sling Pack Black One Size
When you need a sling bag that looks nice and travels well, the Pacsafe Anti-Theft Sling Pack has you covered. Featuring RFID blocking technology and anti-slashing material, your stuff will be safe in this pack.
The Best Small Laptop Sling Bag: Leaper Retro Sling Bag
Sometimes carrying a tablet isn’t enough, and you need to bring your laptop with you. The Leaper Retro is built to accommodate small laptops up to 13 inches and still has room for a dedicated iPad pocket and a medium-sized book.
On the side is a phone pocket for easy access, and the main flap is held in place by magnetic snaps. This sling also features an adjustable strap for left or right carry, along with a top-carry handle and more color options than any other sling bag in this list.
Leaper Canvas Messenger Bag Sling Bag Cross Body Bag Shoulder Bag Black, L
The Leaper Retro is large enough to hold a 13-inch laptop, and will still carry your iPad and phone. That makes it big enough to carry your important electronics but not big enough to break your back.
The Best Large Laptop Sling Bag: Mouteenoo Sling Pack
If your needs call for more than a 13-inch laptop can provide, the Mouteenoo Sling Pack can step up and carry your stuff. The main pocket in this bag can accommodate a 15-inch laptop, a tablet, some small books, and a phone. And that’s before you get to other pockets.
Alternatively, you can slip your iPad into a hidden pocket on the back to free up space in the main compartment. The strap features a removable smartphone pocket and a quick-item pouch you could use to store your wallet or keys.
Additionally, this is the only bag on the list that promises water resistance against heavy rain, something even the SEEU bag won’t guarantee in its water-resistant promises. Just be aware that this is one of the few picks without a strap you can use on either shoulder. You must wear the pack over your right shoulder.
Sling Backpack for Men and Women Bag - Mouteenoo (Dark Grey)
The Mounteenoo Sling Pack is big enough to carry even a 15-inch laptop. It boasts other useful features like a hidden sleeve for your tablet, a removable cellphone pocket, and a quick-item pouch.
Sling bags come in all shapes, sizes, and feature sets. Even if you didn’t see a bag from our list that fits your needs perfectly, it’s worth looking at more options. If a bag that carries just the stuff you need most while keeping you comfortable sounds useful to you, there’s bound to be a sling bag that you like.
Sometimes the best option is to have multiple packs for different scenarios. But start with the one that you’ll use the most. If you mainly travel from home to office, you probably can wait on an outdoor focused sling pack until later.