The ’90s are back and with them, the slightly edgier, far more hipster cousin of fanny packs—sling bags (and scrunchies, but that’s a guide for another time). Sling bags are, yes, a fashion statement, but also a convenient way to carry the essentials while traveling the world. Think of them as the middle ground between a backpack and your pockets.
In this guide, we’re going to walk you through how to choose the best sling bag for your situation, which means diving into all of the different aspects and explaining what works best for a variety of situations. We’re also going to provide some specific sling bag recommendations based on months of testing.
This guide is written and informed by the Pack Hacker team, all of whom are gear fiends, and some of whom have been wearing sling bags since before they were cool (#hipster). Testing and reviewing gear is our bread and butter here at Pack Hacker—our team of world travelers and digital nomads have tested and reviewed hundreds of different types of travel-specific gear at this point. In fact, we have used nearly all of the sling bags mentioned in this guide (and we’ll be getting our hands on those we haven’t very soon).
By the time you finish reading this guide, you’ll be a sling expert with all the knowledge necessary to find the best sling bag for you—or your mom, your friend, your dog, etc.
What is a Sling Bag?
This question is not as straightforward as it seems. It’s taken a team of six bona fide gear reviewers analyzing 50+ sling bags and hip packs for over two months to come up with an answer we can all get behind (and there’s still some ambiguity).
Here’s the definition we’ve landed on: A sling bag is (drum roll, please…) a bag that’s designed to be worn comfortably across the chest or back and secured to the body with a cross-shoulder style strap. The buckle tends to be off-center, the straps connect diagonally, and the body of the bag tends to have an oblong shape—we say “tends to” because there are quite a few exceptions, which we’ll get into later.
One small clarification is that while sling bags and messenger bags have a similar thing going on with the single, crossbody style of strap—the two aren’t synonymous. Messenger bags are usually bigger, boxier, and don’t contour to the body, but there’s no exact science. Really, you can go with your gut here. We tend to think you’ll know a messenger bag when you see one.
There is a massive variety of sling bag styles out there, including tactical slings (for outdoor sportsman stuff), high-fashion slings (think Gucci), and backpack slings (spacious enough for a laptop). While we’ll touch on those, we’re mainly going to focus on sling bags for travel in this guide.
What’s the Difference Between a Sling Bag and a Hip Pack?
You’ll see people on the internet equating sling bags with hip packs (or waist packs, fanny packs, bum bags, belt bags, whatever you want to call them), but sling bags and hip packs aren’t one and the same. We repeat: sling bags and hip packs are not the same things.
Simply put, a hip pack is the rebranded fanny pack, while a sling bag is something different (it’s the hipster cousin, remember?). A hip pack can almost always be a sling bag, albeit not necessarily a good one, but a sling bag is virtually never a hip pack (like a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square).
That said, almost every single company out there has its own definition of a sling bag and a hip pack. To make things even more complicated, some companies will throw in the term “crossbody bag” to describe what we consider a sling bag. So, it gets messy—and our rules and definitions are by no means absolutes.
In this guide, we won’t be discussing hip packs. Getting into the nitty-gritty of sling bags is complicated enough.
Why a Sling Bag?
Now that you know what a sling bag is, let’s talk about why one will change your life (or, at the very least, make carrying stuff easier).
Sling Bags Are Perfect for Your In-Flight Essentials
Since wearing one backpack on the front and one on the back hasn’t caught on yet (yes, we’re surprised too), a sling bag becomes a great place to keep your pocketable items, especially while in transit. Just toss all of your stuff in your sling and throw the entire thing in a bin as you breeze through airport security like a pro, thus avoiding the much-dreaded “security shuffle.”
And, unlike pockets, a sling bag will fit almost everything you could ever want in-flight (within reason—a masseuse obviously won’t fit). Of course, what you carry in your sling bag is as unique as you are. Here are a few suggestions based on what works for us:
- A smartphone
- Snacks (arguably the most important)
- USB cables
- Tech chargers
- Battery bank
- Earplugs (every plane has at least one crying baby, even if it’s your own; it’s like a law of physics or something)
- Eye mask
- Notebook and pen (something about being at 35,000 feet gets the creative juices flowing)
- An e-reader or book (depending on your sling, some are too small to fit one)
Once in flight, you can use a carabiner to hook your sling bag to the seat in front of you. That way, you can quickly grab a snack before you get hangry, some tissues because the movie you picked happens to be a lot sadder than you thought it’d be, or a phone charger because Tetris drains battery life surprisingly quickly. You know, only the essentials.
Sling Bags Are Perfect for Your Day Trip Essentials
Similar to the above perk, a sling bag may just be the perfect accessory for a day trip. Sometimes all you need are the basics—wallet, keys, phone—and while pockets may get the job done, 1) some clothes lack practical pockets, 2) skinny jeans are a thing, and 3) some clothes don’t have pockets at all. (*cough* Women’s clothing! *cough*)
Even if you are #blessed with useable pockets, some day trips require a few “extra” items, although not quite enough to make lugging around an entire backpack worthwhile. A sling bag allows you to bring:
- Extra camera lenses
- Extra camera batteries
- Snacks (still the most important)
- Nintendo Switch (a gamers gotta game)
Sling bags truly are the middle ground between a daypack and your pockets. If you’re usually a daypack kind of person, switching to a sling bag forces you to think about what you’re bringing. And your back will thank you for leaving that copy of War and Peace behind because, let’s be honest, you’re just going to look at memes on your smartphone anyway. Alternatively, if you’re usually a pocket kind of person, you can avoid overly-full pockets and think less about what you’re bringing, tossing all sorts of fun goodies into your sling bag just because you can.
Sling Bags Are Lightweight and Packable
Sling bags—specifically ones designed for travel—weigh almost nothing and can easily lay flat in your travel backpack. You can pack it and forget about it until you require your sling’s services (see the above perk).
Sling Bags Provide Easy Access
Sling bags are ridiculously easy to get in and out of. When worn on your chest, the pocket(s) is (are) literally right under your nose, and when worn on your back, you can shift it around to your front. However, beware of the T-Rex arms that can happen when the sling bag is worn high on your chest (yeah, you knew exactly what we were talking about as soon as we said “T-Rex arms,” didn’t you?).
Sling Bags Are En Vogue
At least for the time being, sling bags are “in.” You’ll find them in pretty much every high street store and even luxury brands like Louis Vuitton are selling them. We don’t know about you, but we love it when fashion and convenience merge.
Other Use-Cases for Sling Bags Include:
- Festivals (both for convenience and trendiness)
- Everyday carry (especially for those who cycle to work)
- Hiking and outdoor adventuring
- Exploring cities
- Amusement parks
- A million other things
Forget the Best Sling Bag For Travel. Find the Best Sling Bag for YOU!
We would’ve loved to end this guide with “all that said, the best sling bag for travel is…” because, let’s be real, that would save us all a lot of time and effort. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the best sling bag for travel. There is only the best sling bag for you. So, let’s review how you can choose a sling bag you’ll fall in love with. To make things extra easy, we’ve broken it up into three steps:
1. Decide Why You Want a Sling Bag
Planning on rocking your sling during Milan’s Fashion Week? Opt for a designer sling made with less durable materials. Planning on backpacking Southeast Asia for three years? You might want a sling that’ll last the entirety of the trip. Different sling bags are better or worse for different situations, so make sure to think through when you’ll be using your sling bag and for what. And make sure to consider every use-case—perhaps you’ll be visiting fashion week then backpacking through Thailand. Pick your sling bag accordingly.
2. Assess Quality & Function
Take a look at the elements of a sling bag and the quality of materials. Unless you get joy out of throwing things away, you’ll probably want a sling bag that’s going to last you a little while. Pay close attention to the sling bag’s fabric, zippers, buckles, and straps. An easy tip for assessing overall quality is to take a look at the company’s warranty. If a company is willing to stand behind its products and offer a meaty warranty, then you should be able to trust whatever they’re selling.
3. Choose Your Favorite Style
A sling bag is an accessory. A useful accessory, but an accessory nonetheless. So make sure you love how it looks. In the end, if you’re repulsed by how hideous your new sling bag is, it doesn’t matter that it’ll last you until 2075.
Alright! You’ve made it to the end, folks. You may have thought that a sling bag was only a fun twist on a resurgent trend from the ‘90s, but now you know it’s so much more. We deem thee an official sling bag expert.
Good luck with all your slinging adventures—and make sure to share any other sling bag tips you’ve learned with us and the rest of the Pack Hacker community.
Explore The Sono Sling Bag now, with fully packed features for your daily commute.
The Sono Studio Team,