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Published Sep 18, 2022 2:10 PM

Roll top backpacks are a bit of a sleeper category in the wide world of “bags that hold your stuff.” As the name implies, they’re equipped with a top flap that you pull back to gain quick access to your gear. Even for a backpack, they’re very simple. They’re also gaining popularity for city and outdoor life alike. 

Whether you’re a hardcore hiker, city dweller, or daily commuter, there’s a roll top backpack for you. We do the testing and research so you don’t have to, so read on for the best roll top backpacks.

The Timbuk2 Especial Supply Roll Top ranks as the best overall for several reasons. Chiefly, it’s got one of the best roll-top designs we’ve ever seen. It opens wide and rolls up tight, locking with magnetic buckles, to protect the bag’s contents from the elements. Plus, Timbuk2 provides a lifetime warranty and a dedicated staff willing to fix any hole or tear.

The San Francisco-based Timbuk2 calls the Especial collection “a daily workhorse” that’s “well-equipped to take on all the elements of the day” — and that’s fairly accurate. In addition to the simple closure system, the Especial roll top sports a weather-proof design that’s not quite waterproof, but it’ll keep your stuff dry in the rain. It also has several reflective components so you’re visible to drivers on the road or off on a remote trail by searchers looking for your body. The padded straps make it comfortable while carrying a load during a hike or ride.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 2 pounds
  • Volume: 19.5 liters compressed, 22.5 liters expanded
  • Materials: “Weatherproof exterior with sealed seams,” per Timbuk2
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Timbuk2 roll top is all-around awesome, with weather-resistant seams, magnetic closures, padded shoulder and sternum straps, a ventilated back panel, and an unmatched lifetime warranty.
PROS

Weatherproof design with sealed seams and a magnetic closure for the main opening

Up to 22.5 liters volume when expanded

Expanding side pockets for bottles or other extras

Sternum strap for comfort on longer commutes

Reflective materials incorporated in the bag for safety

Lifetime warranty

CONS

Only holds up to a 13-inch laptop

Not fully waterproof

Best Budget

Costing just shy of $15, the Johnny Urban Emil cannot be beaten for the price, so it comes in as our best budget roll top bag. If a roll top bag is a simple backpack, then the Emil is a simple roll top bag. It’s essentially a sheet of fabric sewn into the shape of a bag. While it’s not designed for hardcore use, the material — made from recycled PET bottles — is.

This travel rucksack is equipped with two pockets — the main compartment and a zippered interior pocket for smaller items — giving you about 18 liters of storage. Although it doesn’t look like it, this bag is adjustable. The main compartment closes with a single snap, but you can condense it by rolling up the slack and securing it with a Velcro strap. As an added bonus, the bag comes in three attractive colors.

As one would expect, there are drawbacks to a bag at this price point. For me, the shoulder straps are too narrow and unpadded with no sternum strap, so therefore I wouldn’t want to carry anything heavy for any distance. In the unrolled configuration, rain could get around the single snap at the main opening, and the single Velcro strap for rolling the bag down could wear out over time. Lastly, at 17 inches wide, a larger laptop won’t fit. That said, if you’re looking for a simple roll-down bag with several great features, look no further than the Johnny Urban Emil.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 13 ounces
  • Volume: 18 liters (manufacturer doesn’t specify if rolled or expanded)
  • Materials: Water-repellent recycled PET bottles
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Johnny Urban Emil has most of the things you need and nothing you don’t. It’s water-resistant, sleek, ultra-simple, comes in three color options, and costs around $15.
PROS

Ultra-simple operation, closes with snap or Velcro

Made of recycled PET bottles

Very attractive retail price of around $15

Lightweight at 13 ounces

CONS

Very simple, narrow shoulder straps

No sternum strap

Not fully waterproof

Velcro closure may wear out over time

Best Waterproof

Ranking as the best waterproof roll top backpack is Earth Pak’s Summit Dry Bag. It combines the waterproofness of a dry bag with the practicality of a rucksack. It’ll function just as well as a dry bag for watersports as it would for a tough day hike.

The Earth Pak bag features a thick 500D PVC shell that’s both waterproof and abrasion-resistant, and the exterior splash-proof zippered pocket adds easy access to smaller items. What really stands out, though, is the hiking-oriented features. The padded back panel and shoulder straps add comfiness, and the sternum and waist straps help distribute heavier loads for longer overland stretches. Thoughtfully, Earth Pak added reflective accents to improve your safety on the water, trail, or road.

There are not too many drawbacks to this standout waterproof roll top bag. If we’re splitting hairs, the thick PVC shell is not breathable at all, adding to the risk of sweaty swamp back and not allowing damp articles inside to dry. Also, the PVC may not stand up to repeated dry land use/extensive abrasions. That said, this is an excellent choice for the water enthusiast who also needs to do some hiking on their adventures. If you need something more, check out our review on the best waterproof backpacks.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Volume: 35-, 55-, and 85-liter options available
  • Materials: 500D PVC shell, 100D PVC MOLLE webbing
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Earth Pak Summit expertly combines the waterproofness of a dry bag with the ergonomics and durability of a rucksack to earn the title best waterproof roll top bag.
PROS

Completely waterproof, can be submerged for up to 10 seconds

Excellent ergonomics for a dry bag, with padded back and shoulder straps

Sternum and waist strap for added support

500D PVC shell stands up to mild abrasions

Exterior “splash-proof” easy-access pocket

Reflective material improves safety

CONS

PVC shell is not breathable

Slightly heavier than other roll-top bag options

PVC may not hold up to extensive dry land use/abrasions

While the Ogio Alpha Convoy 525R Backpack ranks as the best recycled roll top backpack, it also takes the spot for best organization. Obviously, this bag has a lot going for it, so we’ll start at the beginning.

Ogio constructed this bag from 100 percent Cordura Eco Fabric, which the company describes as “premium sustainable fabric.” It’s ultra-durable and made from recycled plastic, so it should appeal to eco-friendly shoppers. As for the organization, it has multiple well-thought-out pockets, a side zipper entrance, and full-size external water bottle holders.

This otherwise awesome bag does have an Achilles heel, unfortunately. Ogio makes no claims about water resistance, and several reviewers have found that rain may infiltrate the laptop compartment. That said, this is a solid, smart, eco-friendly bag.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 2 pounds
  • Volume: 25 liters rolled, 27 liters expanded
  • Materials: 100 percent Cordura Eco Fabric
Why It Made The Cut
  • This Ogio bag takes the best recycled roll top backpack spot due to its host of extremely well-thought-out features and its 100 percent Cordura Eco Fabric construction. If not for the lack of any water resistance claims, this bag would have taken best overall.
PROS

Constructed from 100 percent Cordura Eco Fabric made from recycled bottles

Multiple well-thought-out pockets, zippered side entrance

Adjustable, padded shoulder straps and sternum strap 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, return within 100 days for 100 percent refund

Dedicated 15-inch laptop pocket

Reflective elements designed into the bag for added safety

CONS

Ogio makes no claims regarding the water resistance of this bag

The Vanguard Veo Select 43RB is perfect for any field photographer because it’s equipped with functional compartments ideal for a camera bag, as well as the quick accessibility of a roll top.

The main compartment is accessible from the zippered front flap and has purpose-built dividers for a camera, a few lenses, a tripod, a flash, and smaller accessories. The dividers are heavily padded for protection and brightly-colored, making finding your items in low light a snap. A laptop sleeve is also accessible from the front flap. The back panel has a hidden zippered sleeve to keep prying fingers from your important travel documents. For your travel extras, the roll top section expands, then cinches, with a single strap.

On the downside, at 2.5 pounds and $150, this bag is heavier and pricier than several of the other roll top backpacks in this review. Also, if you’re on a multi-day wilderness photo shoot, you may need a separate bag for your adventure gear, as the main compartment is consumed entirely by the camera and lenses.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 2.76 pounds
  • Volume: N/A (main storage compartment is dedicated for cameras)
  • Materials: Manufacturer does not specify
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Vanguard Veo Select makes organizing your camera and gear not only painless, but almost fun. It also offers excellent protection and flexibility.
PROS

Main storage compartment has dedicated dividers for camera and lenses

Front flap has 13-inch laptop sleeve

Padded, adjustable shoulder straps with sternum strap and padded back panel

Comes with rain shroud for added water protection

CONS

May need a separate bag for other items if on a multi-day adventure

More expensive than other roll top bags (retails around $150)

Heavier than other roll top bags (weights 2.5 pounds)

If you’re in the market for a leather roll top bag, the Berline Bags Leeds is a great option and at a price point that will leave enough in the bank for a cigar and scotch on the rocks. Plus, the overwhelming majority of people who buy it, love it.

The Leeds is a stylish bag with some nice organizational features to boot. The smaller external pouch grants easy access to your frequent-use items, and the main compartment has several pockets to store larger items like a laptop or jacket. Lastly, this is one of the only leather roll-top bags that won’t break the bank, at a retail of $120 for the medium and $140 for the large.

With a focus on fashion, this bag understandably isn’t as technical as the others on this list, and at 2.6 pounds, is much heavier than its roll top competitors. Finally, there is no faux leather option, and real leather simply isn’t going to appeal to a significant number of consumers.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Volume: 17 liters
  • Materials: 100 percent vegetable-tanned leather
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Berlinger Bags Leeds Leather Backpack will help keep you prepared for the day, while also giving you that debonair look, all for a reasonable price.
PROS

Suave design will have you feeling debonair

Easy-access outer pocket

Main compartment has several small pockets for organization

Less expensive than other roll top leather bags

CONS

Heavier than other roll top bags (weighs 2.6 pounds)

No faux leather option, real leather will not appeal to many consumers

he Timbuk2 Tuck Pack was designed to give you quick access to your laptop, among other things, making it the best roll top bag for laptops. Not only that, it boasts a 16-inch wide laptop sleeve — one of the widest that we’ve seen — and is just a nice little pack by the stellar San Francisco bag company, Timbuk2.

While the biggest takeaway is the laptop sleeve, which you can access without opening up the main compartment, there are other cool little pockets, like two side pockets — one for a bottle and the other for whatever (they suggest a U-lock for your bike); a secret “anti-authority” pocket for storing illicit (or licit) materials; and a media pocket. Also, the shell is made from recycled nylon and polyester for the eco-conscious, and is coated in DWR water repellent.

The only small gripe we have with this bag is the lack of a sternum strap. When loaded down with a computer and 26 liters of stuff, it would be nice to bring those shoulder straps in closer for better ergonomics.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Volume: 20 liters when rolled down, 26 liters when expanded
  • Materials: 100 percent recycled nylon and polyester with DWR water repellent
Why It Made The Cut
  • With a dedicated 16-inch rear access laptop sleeve and 26 liters of storage space, the Tuck roll top laptop backpack is a go-to for anyone who always needs their laptop.
PROS

Rear access to the 16-inch laptop sleeve

Wide range of internal volume in rolled/expanded configurations

DWR water-resistant coating

Several external pockets for smaller frequent-use items and water bottles

Lifetime warranty Cons

CONS

sternum strap

The Fjallraven Ulvo 30 is so nice-looking that you might be hesitant to take it on the trail, but once you experience the durability of the Bergshell 400D shell, you’ll realize it’s begging to hit the single track.

Fjallraven boasts that the Ulvo is completely waterproof, so even driving rain shouldn’t be a deterrent on your next hiking adventure. The padded shoulder straps and back panel, along with the sternum and waist straps, improve load distribution on longer hikes, and the 30-liter size allows for at least a few days of gear inside.

For all its advantages, this pack is a little heavy, and the 30-liter size is somewhat pricey for a roll top bag, but neither of those considerations should deter the hiker who wants a quality roll top bag from nabbing this beauty. For more great hiking packs, check out our review of the best rucking packs.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 2.29 pounds
  • Volume: 23- and 30-liter options
  • Materials: Bergshell 400D 100 percent polyamide shell, 210D polyamide liner
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Fjallraven Ulvo Rolltop 30 is a beast. It has all the ergonomic hiking features we like and is waterproof, so it’s tough enough to stand up to serious abuse.
PROS

Completely waterproof (not submergible)

Extremely durable and abrasion-resistant

Padded, adjustable shoulder straps, padded back panel

Sternum strap and removable waist strap

CONS

Somewhat heavy for a roll top bag

The 30-liter option is a bit pricey at $160 retail

Things to consider before buying a roll top backpack

Roll top backpacks are a smaller segment in the backpack industry, but they are rapidly gaining popularity for several reasons. They originated with dry bags, which are an effective closure style for keeping water out. Along with water resistance, roll top construction is simpler and therefore more durable, lighter, and generally less expensive than the zippered alpine-style bags most of us are more familiar with. 

Also, alpine-style bags generally can’t be collapsed when you’re not carrying as much gear, but roll top bags are specifically designed to collapse down for easier carry or stowing, then unroll to accommodate more essentials on longer treks.

There are four major considerations when choosing most roll top bags: weight, volume, construction materials, and price. 

Weight

Roll top bags generally weigh one to three pounds. The lighter-weight bags tend to be less water-resistant, smaller in volume, and have fewer ergonomic (hiking) features. Heavier roll tops are generally more water-resistant, durable, and comfortable for longer hikes.

Volume

Most roll top backpacks hold between 18 and 30 liters, but there are a few larger exceptions. Larger volume bags are generally pricier and heavier.

Construction materials

The two main categories are synthetic (polymer-based) and natural. Natural bags come mostly in leather and canvas. Polymer bags are generally lighter and more technical than natural bags. Natural bags are generally more stylish and can be rather expensive.

Price

Roll top bags are generally less expensive than their alpine counterparts, and cost between $20 and $200. The less expensive bags generally offer less storage space, fewer features, and use cheaper construction materials. Price goes up with more storage, more features, and better construction materials. 

FAQs about roll top backpacks

Q: What are the advantages of a roll top backpack?

A: Roll top backpacks are generally lighter, less expensive, more durable, and more water-resistant than their alpine-style (zipper) counterparts.

Q: What are the disadvantages of a roll top backpack?

A: Compared to alpine-style bags, roll-top backpacks have inferior ergonomics due to their lack of rigid frames, which makes longer hikes more painful. Roll top backpacks also have fewer pouches, pockets, and gear organization options than alpine backpacks.

Q: Are roll top backpacks good?

A: Like most things, they are neither good nor bad, rather they have advantages and disadvantages compared to their alpine-style bag counterparts.

Final thoughts

Looking for an all-around excellent roll top backpack that will stand up to rigorous hikes, driving rain, and the daily commute? Grab the Timbuk2 Especial Supply Roll Top. The water resistance, host of ergonomic hiking features, and unmatched lifetime warranty will keep you adventuring for years to come.

Methodology 

To find the best roll top backpacks, I relied on personal experience using a variety of backpacks in a variety of conditions, as well as recommendations by experts and outdoorsmen published on a number of other websites. I compiled a list of all the “best” ones mentioned and their specific award categories. 

Next, I tested all of the backpacks I had on hand to authenticate manufacturers’ claims. If I didn’t have a sample, I sourced industry expert opinions who did have first-hand knowledge. For more information on our standards and process, check out the Task & Purpose review guidelines.

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