If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, Rolling Stone may receive an affiliate commission.
A convertible backpack isn’t just a durable travel bag, though that is one of its many costume changes. The best convertible backpacks can transform into what you need most for whatever role you’re in, whether you’re a commuter, business professional, grocery shopper, urban explorer and even yes, global traveler too.
Convertible Backpack Buying Guide
Like its name suggests, the best convertible backpacks convert from a strap-on backpack or knapsack, into a carry-all tote, side shoulder bag, messenger bag and more. Here’s what to consider when shopping for the best convertible backpacks for you.
Straps: The option of different straps isn’t only a cool and convenient design, it can also save your shoulders on long treks. A detachable long shoulder strap lets you carry the weight across your body, but having some double backpack straps tucked away helps for when the weight is starting to feel uneven. Handles to carry it horizontally or as a tote can also be an ease off your shoulders as well.
Material: This is where some backpack manufacturers go above and beyond, endlessly testing and selecting materials that’ll last a lifetime — not just against the elements, but for the general beating a bag can take. Thickly-padded walls add an extra layer of cushioning to important devices inside, and can stand up to being thrown around in transit too.
Weather: Water-resistant materials should be the minimum here too, especially if you’re taking your convertible bag outdoors. Since a backpack is meant for leaving the indoors and getting outside, a good convertible backpack should be ready for whatever nature throws at it, and not need to be sheltered from the storm.
Weight: This convertible backpack is going to be carrying your most important things, and the weight can add up fast. Smart and minimal packing can only take you so far though, if the bag itself is a deadweight. Ideally, the best convertible backpacks shouldn’t weigh more than a few pounds. Anything beyond that and you’ll start to feel it on long hauls or even short treks.
Convertibility: There’s a wide selection of bags out there that can flip and fold into different carrying options, but a slimmer pool of those that do it efficiently. From there, taking into consideration what you’ll be using it for will let you narrow it down even further. If you’ll be mostly using the bag for hiking and camping, durable protection from rain and dirt may take the top spot for your needs. A bag for city and urban based life should be roomy and have some anti-theft features, and a primarily professionally-used bag needs to look presentable while keeping your laptop and work safe inside.
What are the Best Convertible Backpacks?
We’ve reviewed some of the best convertible backpacks that you can buy online, based on performance features, versatility and durability.
1. Troubadour Bivy Tote Backpack
Troubadour’s Bivy bag transforms from backpack to tote in one quick flip, holding a little over 20 liters and weighing just 2.2 pounds.
Aesthetically, the look is smooth and clean, and fits in whether you’re wearing a business suit or swimsuit. The outside is crafted with textured waterproof nylon, and tightly sealing top zippers and lining keep your contents dry, even in a sudden downpour. Much like a freshly-waxed car, water will simply bead up when it hits the surface instead of being absorbed into it, and it can even be re-treated if the water starts to soak in after years of hard usage.
Two retractable bottle holders leave room for your water bottle and travel mug, and pockets are plentiful here, as are organized compartments including a discreet one for passports and cash. We’ve personally tested this bag and wearing the pack in the real world is cushy and comfy thanks to the narrower-than-most padded shoulder straps and ergonomic structure. When you’re ready to ditch the straps, they split into two pieces and completely tuck away, including the buckles and the pulltabs (and allow for easy access when you want them out again).
The tote handles up top are padded for an easy grip, with room enough to carry on your shoulder and support the bag’s bottom with your hand. Possibly the most impressive aspect though is that such a high-quality bag is so low-impact on the environment. Troubadour’s tough fabrics are made from recycled plastics, while the leather is “vegetable-tanned”, using hides that are a natural farming byproduct. Even the packaging is waste-sensitive too, avoiding plastics altogether.
2. Moshi Muto 3-Way Convertible Laptop Backpack
This tough little backpack works in three different forms: with traditional double shoulder straps as a backpack; as a comfortable cross-body bag; and as a chic and minimalist briefcase. The outer coating isn’t just clean and professional looking, it’s also weather-resistant, able to withstand light rain and snow, while safely protecting your valuable contents inside.
For added security, there’s an RFID-shielded zippered pocket to guard against data skimming, and hidden compartments help hide the handles and straps when not in use. The “leather” strips that line the handles are completely vegan, and carrying this for long stretches is super comfortable, not only due to the different ergonomic options, but the padded AirMesh back acts like a cushion to offset a fully loaded pack (bonus: you won’t feel sweaty against your back either).
Don’t let the slim and streamlined look fool you either: there’s a lot of storage space inside for all your daily essentials.
3. Thule Crossover 2 Convertible Laptop Bag
Thule is known for its incredibly tough and rigid products (think everything from bikes and roof racks to bags and baby strollers) and the same durable construction applies to this bag.
This convertible laptop bag features a sleek and functional style for both business and travel (and business travel). Backpack straps tuck away to reveal a comfortably padded shoulder strap, and the main pouches are large enough to hold a 15-inch laptop, a tablet, and documents, while surrounding them with protective padding. A luggage pass-through panel on the back lets you slide your suitcase’s extendable handle through it, to make running for your flight a little easier.
Even smaller items are protected with the zippered and crush-proof SafeZone compartments, and a front panel has a space for all your frequently-accessed important items, including slip pockets and a cable-management system to keep things neat during the hectic pace of a busy day.
For such a heavy-duty bag, the Thule Crossover remains surprisingly lightweight and easy to carry, whether as a tote, messenger or backpack.
4. Carhartt Legacy Hybrid
At 1.5 pounds, Carhartt designed this lightweight hybrid bag specifically for people on the go, though it’s tough enough for anyone to bring along.
The heavy-duty 100% polyester material easily repels water before it has the chance to absorb in, and can be carried four different ways: as a regular double-strapped backpack, as a shoulder tote, as a cross-body bag or as a regular tote using the top handle.
Inside, there’s enough space for a 15-inch laptop in the padded sleeve, along with things like books, supplies or even a DSLR, while two outside pockets are made for bottles and small essentials like a phone and keys.
5. CoolBELL Convertible Backpack
CoolBell’s design and color contrast immediately caught our eye, but the practicality of three bags in one make it useful and functional across the board.
This thrives over different transformations, like a three day course of commuting to work and then camping for the weekend. It’s spacious enough inside to hold up to a 17.3-inch laptop (with an egg-crate style padded wall for impact protection), along with a few days of clothes, a water bottle, and a bunch of smaller items.
At 2.65 pounds, it can be stuffed to the max, and don’t worry if you get caught in a downpour either, as water will bead up and roll right off. The real leather handles and zipper pulls, along with the straps, can be tucked inside, and this also conveniently can hook on to your luggage’s extendable carry handle too.