There’s a resurgence of rolltop backpacks growing in the adventure community. An increasing number of hikers, bikers, campers, commuters, and students are all toting around rolltop bags instead of the alpine bag style wherein everything is closed with zippers, ties, or flaps. The rolltop, conversely, does exactly what it says it will do, which is have a top that rolls down like a brown bag lunch sack instead of using another means of closure. The reason people are reverting to this older, more simplistic style is due to the advantages they get with a rolltop that isn’t there when you’ve got a whole galaxy of pockets, mesh webbing, drawstrings, and whatever the hell that weird little clasp with the compression hook is called.
Why Choose a Rolltop Bag
Rolltops have several facets that alpine bags do not. These make the rolltop a much easier, simpler storage solution than even a basic zippered bag that carried everyone’s Dukes of Hazzard lunchbox.
- Fast, easy access to the huge main pocket.
- Compacts to reduce unnecessary volume.
- Works equally well when completely full or mostly empty for more utility in a greater number of situations.
- Fewer zippers, pockets, and straps to worry about.
- Produce less waste and typically cost less since they are simpler to produce.
Rolltops make good EDC bags because they’re not intended to be built for dire conditions and complex journeys. They’re satchels where you throw in all the junk you need, roll it down, strap it in, and walk on with your day. If that kind of purity appeals to you, it’s time to get serious and snap up your new go-everywhere companion.
Burton Tinder Pack
Acting as a three-fer, the Tinder is a drawstring bag that also rolls down and bears a belted flap over the top for increased waterproofing. It barely falls into the technical category of a rolltop, but the proper spirit is there. Loads of color options and styles make the 100% polyester body shine, with a no-nonsense look that is fashionably minimal at every turn. Purchase: $49
Johnny Urban Roll Top
Ready to work as a carry-on should you require it, become a tote at a moment’s notice, or act as your daily laptop bag, there’s subtle padding throughout that doesn’t make itself known until you’ve been wearing it for hours without any discomfort. A phone pocket on the front is the sole functional adornment of this timeless piece. Purchase: $60
Unsettle’s The Commuter
Right in the name, if you’re a bike commuter in need of something that can shun rain and live on your back through thick and thin, wet and wearying, you’ll be quite happy with the 1000D ripstop nylon and YKK AquaGuard zippers. Should you need more organization than the single huge pocket and laptop sleeve provide, you can dump in the Unroll Tool Roll from Unsettle to round it out. Purchase: $75
North St. Davis
Portland-based North St. can’t afford to miss a step, lest they be washed away by the rains of Portland. Clearly a product of the Pacific Northwest, the Davis day pack is a 1000D cordura, #10 duck canvas-made, waterproof wonder that protects your clothes and gear well enough that full submergence rarely causes much dampness. Each zipper is similarly sealed so cutting through is the only way for water to seep in. As an added bonus, you can customize your bag with extra velcro pockets, a waist belt, or a laptop sleeve. Purchase: $99
Timbuk2 x Apexer Tuck
Timbuk2 has been the tip of the rolltop bag spear for longer than most people knew there was such a thing. They were the first to spit out nylon bags that had thermoplastic polyurethane lining, a change that has made waterproofing commonplace. Anything with their name on it is excellent, but toss in the street art good looks of Apexer Tuck and you’ve got a little more pomp to go with your circumstance. Purchase: $119
Millican Smith’s The Roll
Forget frivolity with The Roll. It’s here to do a job waterproofing your stuff, giving you lots of options for smart fit and wear, keeping you comfortable while you wear it, and never saying die. It ain’t got time to bleed, or to pretty itself up for you. Purchase: $132
YNOT Tuck and Roll
Should the company’s clear love of puns cause them to lose your business? Not when they can still design a compact cycling bag with 1000D cordura that slips on and snaps up this quickly. A real grab-and-go bag, this can truly roll deep. Purchase: $140
Mission Workshop, The Monty
Over at Mission they seem to be in the business of manufacturing miracles. All their bags are good, but The Monty is a new animal rarely seen in the wild. It’s a rolltop messenger bag that slings to the side rather than staying strapped on like a papoose. Flap it down or roll it up, it’s 1000D nylon with its Milspec webbing for added expansion. Purchase: $165
North St. Flanders
One of the few affordable rolltop bags that comes with compression straps for real expansion, Flanders has all the same 1000D goodness and customization as the Davis, but is also cut into a smooth, hourglass shape that adds in space but also contours to your frame for a kinder fit that eliminates many aches and pains from extended carry, particularly over rough terrain. Purchase: $189
Brooks England Hackney
All urban all the time, the Hackney has a 15-inch laptop compartment, wide pockets for easy access, and a streamlined look that is pure Londoner or New York hipster chic. That’s real vegetable-tanned leather on a bag made entirely in Italy, if that matters to you. Purchase: $189
Frost River Arrowhead Rolltop
Waxed canvas that comes equipped with a lifetime guarantee, the buckles are burly brass which patinas over time adding a sense of age and wisdom to this Buy It For Life bag built for adventure. Purchase: $180-$225
Whipping Post’s The Roll Top
Stepping away from the worlds of ripstop nylon and canvas, here’s a leather rolltop that’s vegetable-tanned leather through and through, with canvas straps for comfort. It’s exactly what it looks like, though we suggest seeing and handling it in person to truly appreciate what fine workmanship this bag has. Purchase: $225
Chrome Motor Barrage
Faced with those who claim rolltop bags don’t belong on motorcycles, nor can you add tactical elements to a bag of this kind, Chrome says merely asks “What’s next?” after proving them wrong in a single move. The original Barrage bag was good for hikers, but this cranks up the toughness and adds in a mountain of tiny features that you don’t notice you need, until you’re grateful they’re there. Purchase: $240
Mission Workshop Vandal
Starting at a scant 25 liters then climbing up to 65 once you expand it all the way, converting it to an alpine-style pack, the Vandal is a big bag that’s often more space than you’ll need. You can pack to the gills with extra pockets and tool rolls, or just try to shove your mattress in it. Comes in your choice of 1000D Nylon or HT500 fabric. Purchase: $325
Though it never seems to be in stock, the UltraHigh is a festival of modern textile technology. The crinkly body is Ultrahigh Dyneema NWC, which is a polyethylene that is light as gossamer yet seems capable of standing up to lots of travel. Heavy loads aren’t good for this bag, and it’s not comfortable enough for commuting. Instead, this should be your day pack for quick hikes, road trips, or beach days. Purchase: $375
Tumi Alpha Bravo Luke
A tactical traveling backpack that starts with ballistic nylon and then offers military webbing, more pockets than the average sack, and a lot of unusual storage that allows for quick access to the bag from multiple angles. It’s also a Tumi, so go ahead and leave it outside during a nuclear strike. It’ll be there when the fallout drops. Purchase: $395
Supple leather that’s stylish and smooth, it feels as good as it looks, it looks good with everything, and it’s probably going to outlive you and look better doing it. Purchase: $459
Twill and oil-finish tin cloth that’s lined with soft cotton, if you manage to find a fault, make sure to rub Filson’s nose in it. That company is insufferably good at making things. Purchase: $475