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Purse sized backpack vs crossbody

Last summer and every trip before I have always used a crossbody purse or small crossbody messenger bag. Love them. However this year I have developed a back problem and neck issue. I found on the hiking days or other days in Switzerland and Austria I did fine when I had my regular bigger day pack, but I did much worse when I was in a city using my crossbody Baggalini purse. I noticed on one return flight a woman with a smallish more purse-like backpack with locking clips.

The trip this year is to England with my brother and his son, more about family roots exploration. We will be in London, Cambridge and Jersey in the Channel Islands. No hiking and really not instances where I would be taking my larger day backpack. But don’t want to give myself back and neck problems with the crossbody purse. What to do? The nice thing about crossbody bags is safety plus ease of access plus you can wear under a coat, etc.

Has anyone used a small purse like backpack? Pros and cons?

Thanks for any help

Posted by
57 posts

I definitely know what you are talking about; I get horrible neck strain sometimes with cross body bags and recently have been using very small Baggallini or Travelon crossbody purses for travel. These work okay, but like you I prefer the light weight back packs. I have tried the small, Anti theft Classic Travelon backpack which holds a ton and has safety features, but I found that it kept falling off my shoulder due to no sternum strap. Last trip, I tried the Osprey packable backpack, but it also had no sternum strap and had zero structure; it was very uncomfortable even though it weighed only ounces.

For our upcoming trip, I purchased the LL Bean packable backpack and have tried it out to make SURE this one works. It is very light, very roomy, and packs into its' own pocket for stowing. It also weights just ounces and HAS the needed sternum strap to keep it from falling down.

Posted by
597 posts

I’ve tried both and I prefer my smaller Baggallini- I do cut off the strap and add a SoRetro strap to it instead- they are wider and SO much more comfortable- plus- they are gorgeous and they extend to a length I like better - I’ve found a wider strap makes a huge difference

I didn’t like a backpack being where I can’t see it - plus it’s a hassle to remove it when I need something.

Posted by
91 posts

I just bought a new travel backpack purse for these very reasons. I’ve always used a crossbody, but have recently started having neck issues. I found one that I really like so far - it’s a Pacsafe that converts from a purse into a backpack. Locking zippers and locking straps. I just got it last week, so have only been able to use it around town - it remains “untested in the travel field.” However, I like it so far! I wish it had a water bottle pocket on the outside, but it’s just big enough to put one inside the bag with your wallet, guidebook, and sunscreen. 😁

Posted by
3681 posts

For years at home I used a cross-body bag for a purse. It was on the large side with a wide strap, but I didn't carry much in it, so it wasn't heavy. It's a Baggallini that I got at TJ Maxx. It worked great until it didn't. I lost quite a bit of weight and it was very uncomfortable on my newly discovered collar bones.

I switched to this small/mini, about 6 liter, Aotian backpack:

I use it every time I go anywhere. It isn't particularly secure, but I have tested it with a variety of fasteners that could be used to provide more security. I seriously considered it for my next trip, but it's too small to be the only backpack I take. It doesn't have a sternum strap, but it's so small that it's not needed. The straps loosen easily to get into and out of it and tighten easily once it's on. When shopping, I put my needed cards in a pocket of my pants or shirt. My grocery list and pen go in another pocket.

Switching to travel in Europe, I absolutely always wear a money belt to carry my very important stuff. I've tried them all, and prefer a step in style, so I don't have to worry about the things I really don't want to lose. Obviously you wear it under your clothes, not like the pictures show:

As a result, I can take a very small purse. For my originally planned Ireland trip in May of 2020, I bought a Baggallini Everyday Crossbody purse in juniper green. I have never used it, so I don't know how it will be on my shoulder. It is small (11x7x3) and lightweight (8 oz). I tend not to carry much of anything else, so I might take it on my hoped-for trip to Ireland this summer:

Many years ago, I bought two even lighter (6 oz) 9x9 Baggallini quilted cross-body bags in black and in red. I've used them many times on trips and loved them, but I don't know if they would work these days:

I'm also considering using one of the Eddie Bauer packable backpacks I got in the past 2 years for my carry-on personal item. Both are lightweight and pretty spacious and either would have room for either of my travel purses to fit inside. Neither has a sternum strap and I haven't tried loading them up with 5-10 pounds of stuff to see how they feel.

This 20 L one is 18x10x9 and weighs 11 oz:

This 25 L one is 17x12x6 and also weighs 11 oz:

Note that none of these bags is RFID. I'm not much of a believer in the need for that technology.

I am a believer in straps that are sewn to the purse or backpack. In fact I've had some lobster claw clasps removed and had the straps sewn onto my purses. Lobster claw clasps that go into rings are easy targets for theft by the talented thief.

Posted by
454 posts

Thanks for the help, I actually am intrigued by the convertible Pacsafe. I, too, carry all my super valuables in a money belt. I will explore all these options and see. I like the idea of trying it out at home too first.

Posted by
7595 posts

I wear a backpack practically all the time, but not ever (that I can think of) as a substitute for a purse. I would just feel too vulnerable having my wallet on my back where someone could get into it. (Now if I were traveling more “countryside” like last August in Norway, I guess it would be okay. But the fact that London is part of your travels would make me nervous.

Now, if you're disciplined about putting your important stuff in a money belt, then it could work.

Knowing myself though I would still wear some sort of tiny cross-body, because there are a few things I like to have to hand rather than having to reach around and take out of my backpack (if we presume the wallet is in the money belt, then I mean my phone, transit tickets/pass mainly).

I definitely know what you mean about the pain that can be incurred by too heavy a crossbody so I sympathize with your dilemma !

Posted by
612 posts

Lo--Those Eddie Bauer packs look a lot like the REI Flash that we have. Super lightweight and folds down teeny tiny!

Posted by
2463 posts

I too have pretty much given us on the crossbody for the same reasons. I now use either a small Fanny pack or a wristlet. I make sure the strap is under my shirt and less conspicuous. I also use a money belt when needed. I added a wristlet last September in Croatia and it worked out really well. Most of my waist bags can convert to a crossbody when needed. Backpacks just don’t work for me. I carry minimal items in my bag. For a day bag, I carry a Longchamps tote bag. I love how roomy they are for a light sweater, guidebook, a snack, what ever I think I will need for the day. They zip close which is the most important, and can be carried or thrown over my shoulder. An added bonus is my husband will carry is cause it doesn’t look like a purse. Also, if I do purchase anything during the day, in it goes. Having been pickpocketed when I was in my late teens and working on Wall Street, I am extremely careful and aware of my surroundings. I’m still ticked about the beautiful wallet that was taken - it was the first expensive thing I ever purchased for myself.

Posted by
940 posts

I've been traveling to Europe for almost 30 years and the only time I wore a money belt, it came loose under my raincoat and fell off. I recovered it some weeks later but had a lot of aggravation in the meantime. That was my first trip and last time with a money belt. :) Since then I have always worn a crossbody bag, just like many of the European natives do. For years, I used a Tom Bihn medium Cafe bag but a few years ago, switched to a Baggallini crossbody bag.

I keep it fairly light - just the essentials and maybe some ripped out pages from a guidebook. If I need to bring extra stuff for any reason (like my shopping purchases!), I use a Baggallini small (purse-size) backpack and wear it along with the crossbody bag. It works for me because the weight is distributed in 2 places. I hate to be burdened with heavy bags so this is a good compromise for me.

Have you ever checked the Tom Bihn site? He has incredible travel bags that are very well-made and made right in Seattle. They will last for decades.

Posted by
940 posts

I forgot about this - Tom Bihn has a new bag out that is very interesting. It's called Le Grande Derriere and can either be worn around the waist, as a crossbody bag or a sling across the back. It's very versatile. Someone wrote a review of it on the Tom Bihn forum and said that it was that if you get tired of carrying on your back, you just switch it to the waist and vice versa. His bags are pricy but very well worth it.

Posted by
8396 posts

I would look for a leather or strong material backpack, preferably one with a hidden zippered pocket. You would need to flip it around and wear it in front whenever on public transportation and inside museums. Generally, backpacks are not allowed worn on the back in museums to avoid accidently bumping objects. They can be tricky and you have to know how to really hide your stuff inside. I wore one for years, despite the hue and cry from friends not to do so.

Otherwise, you could get a Scottevest vest or jacket that holds all your items in its pockets. My Scottevest is one of my favorites.

Posted by
98 posts

I carry a tiny crossbody bag for my essentials / valuables (cards, cash, phone, passport, tissues). Everything else (sweater, water, guidebook, food) goes in a nylon tote bag. This way I can check or set down the heavy things while still keeping valuables safe.

Posted by
183 posts

I usually use a Fanny pack/bum bag/utility belt to keep all my valuables in and they carry around a drawstring backpack. The nice thing about drawstring backpacks is that it’s not like someone can slip their hand in without them having the loosen the opening which you sill enviably feel the friction on your shoulders if they tried to. However the straps aren’t the most comfortable since it’s just rope so carrying anything too heavy can get uncomfortable

Posted by
437 posts

cchapin: Not exactly an answer to your quest for a "purse sized backpack", but the following 2 items worked for me on our trip to Switzerland last summer:
It is very pricey on their website; much cheaper in Italy, where I originally bought it. Since I also use a neck money belt, the only thing I carried in the zip-round purse was my phone, one credit card, and money for the more than the equivalent of about $50. I also used a carabiner to attach my mask to it. I never took it off; not even when eating in a restaurant or paying for something I purchased. It gave me peace of mind while abroad.
Over the wallet, I used the following backpack: I added a chest strap to take the weight off my shoulders. In it I had a water bottle, snack, umbrella, reading glasses, sanitizer wipes, guidebook/map, and lightweight jacket. I liked the packable aspect of it, as well as it was not very deep/wide, so items did not fall to the bottom.
When I came home, and started using my crossbody purse, my shoulder started hurting, so I started using the mywalit neck wallet/purse and the following Tom Binh backpack:
It comes in other subdued colors. I chose it because it has a chest strap...and is not very deep/wide. I can even put a small water bottle inside, and it won't fall over. And when I'm in stores, I'm pretty confident that my backpack won't knock over something behind me.
Some of the items are pricey, but I think they give me comfort and security. And where we live, we usually walk to the grocery store for quick items, so I use the Mywalit a lot!

Posted by
847 posts

No matter what you end up with, make sure you use several safety pins to lock the zippers. Buy the kind for babies (with a cap). This serves as a signal to thieves that you are proactively protecting your belongings.

Posted by
2910 posts

I'm not sure what a small backpack would mean to you. I purchased a Sherpani Sojourn for my 2020 trip, which was cancelled...but I have used it often domestically and everyday periodically. I like this bag because it is a backpack, crossbody, tote and/or can fit over luggage handles (it will also work as an add a bag due to the tote handles, which is my preference when in transition). I'd call it medium sized, about 11 x 15 x 5. I use it as my personal item and if out for the day thinking I'll need my iPad or jacket or whatever.

However, I carry my financial documents, ID and phone in a small crossbody that can fit under my jacket. I have several different types but his is the one I am now using daily at home: However, I have several styles for this because at home this is usually all I use...again, unless I'm out for the day away from home. Here is another one of my favorites:

Within this system I go even smaller for my day needs: This is what I use for my wallet for travel and at home: it has an ID, one CC, and a limited amount of cash (but at home I also put my Health Insurance cards in there). This ID is usually in my small crossbody, but elsewhere in a pocket depending on what I'm wearing when traveling...just to divide items for safety.

So I suspect I either went too big for your backpack and too small for the crossbody. LOL. But there is no perfect way and I'm always adjusting to my situation.