Flowfold Optimist 10L Review
Lightweight and durable, the Flowfold Optimist 10L is great for everyday carry while still being packable for travel, although it’s a bit crunchy.
- Shoulder straps are pretty comfortable, despite lack of padding
- Can hold quite a bit, thanks to open concept
- Curves to fit your back
- A full front pocket cuts into main compartment
- No padding to protect gear
- Material is very crunchy
9.7 oz (275 g)
18 in x 9.5 in x 5 in (45.7 x 24.1 x 12.7 cm)
Main Compartment | 6.5 in x 11 in - Outer Pocket
X-Pac, YKK Zippers
When you’re looking to live the minimalist lifestyle, begin by paring down the bag you’re carrying. After all, we’re liable to fill the available space, whether 10 liters or 20. The Flowfold Optimist 10L fits in the former category—although it also comes in an 18L large version if you have extra gear you can’t leave behind.
Of course, one of the reasons for becoming minimalist is to leave the weight of the world behind you. If your 10L backpack still weighs as heavy on your back as a version that totes twice as much, there’s no incentive for cutting back. That’s not the case with the Flowfold Optimist, which is lightweight and thin enough to flatten and fold for packing in a travel daypack. It sounds good in theory, but how does it work in the real world? Let’s find out.
Flowfold uses EcoPack material, a recycled polyester that’s durable and waterproof, for the 10L Optimist. Since it says “eco” right in the name, you would expect it to be Earth-friendly, and you wouldn’t be wrong. According to Flowfold, EcoPak has no toxic solvents, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), or other “forever chemicals.” It’s lightweight, flexible, and designed to resist abrasion and repel moisture with a waterproof adhesive.
It is also super crunchy, both audibly and to the touch. Whether that’s annoying will be up to you, though we got used to it quickly. If you decide it’s not for you after a while, it’s also recyclable, so you can be eco-friendly even as you dispose of it. We don’t think you will do that, though, as we find it a comfortable, helpful backpack!
We can see the diamond pattern in the shinier fabric on the front of the bag, while it’s more muted on the bottom, back, and sides, where the fabric seems thicker. Flowfold doesn’t call out the denier of the materials on the Optimist. However, we like that the higher-traffic areas seem sturdier since they’re more likely to experience abrasion.
Along with the Jet Black colorway we tested, it’s available in Recycled Heather Gray and Recycled Navy classic colorways, along with Recycled Olive/Brick Red, Recycled Hot Pink, and Recycled Camo as of the writing of this review. No matter the colorway, the Flowfold logo patch, AquaGuard YKK water-resistant zippers, and the bottom and back panels are black. Speaking of the Flowfold patch, it lends a heritage design to the pack and calls out that they made this bag in Maine, USA. The only additional branding on the bag is the Flowfold brand name on the left shoulder strap.
At the top of the bag is a small, thin handle made of doubled webbing strap. Its position in between the top of the shoulder straps makes it fairly narrow, so it’s mainly useful to hang the backpack on a hook, not as a means of carrying it as it digs into your hand. On either side of the main compartment’s zipper are two loops of webbing that serve as attachment points while also providing a place to grip when opening the zipper from either direction.
As well as YKK zippers, which have paracord-like pulls to make them easy to grab, the shoulder straps feature YKK adjustment slides. The Optimist is a minimalist bag, so there are no other buckles, sternum, or hip straps. It’s so lightweight, though, that we don’t miss them.
The harness system consists solely of ergonomically-shaped shoulder straps. They and the back panel lack padding, yet, despite that, they are surprisingly comfortable. They also lack any mesh or other means of promoting breathability, though the lack of structure helps the bag conform to differently-sized and shaped users, which is nice.
Looking at the Flowfold Optimist, we see it has a casual style. The Jet Black colorway gives it a minimalist aesthetic we like, though whatever colorway you choose will fit in most relaxed and informal settings. Bike rides, walks in the park, museum visits, coffee in a cafe—the Optimist will blend well in each of these settings. It’s not a formal bag, so opt for something sleeker if you’re heading to a business meeting.
Passing it around to several members of the Pack Hacker Team, we all find it comfortable, despite the lack of padding. The shoulder straps are wide and curved, so they fit nicely around different body types. The ergonomic shape also helps them bear the load of what we toss inside, from sweaters to books. Especially with the latter, the broadness of the straps spreads the weight evenly across your shoulders, so the straps don’t dig in. However, there’s no breathable mesh or air channels, just polyester against your back. Wearing the Optimist for a long time in warm weather, you will get a sweaty back, though that happens with plenty of bags and is certainly not a deal breaker with this pack (for us, at least).
Inside The Pack
There are two sections to the Flowfold Optimist: a small front stash pocket and the main compartment. You can see the outline of the front pocket from the outside of the bag. It opens diagonally, heading upward from left to right, on the upper half of the pack. Along with causing the right side of the pocket to be 7 inches tall from the zipper, compared with the 6-inch tall left side, the pocket is also an inch-and-a-half wider at the top. It narrows from 7.5 inches wide at the zipper to 6 inches wide at the bottom. Most of that is just visually noticeable, though, and not something readily apparent when you’re using the pocket.
There’s also space above the zipper you can use: another 5 inches. For example, if you’ve already got a wallet, cash, and a small accessory pouch in the bottom of the pocket, you may be able to wedge your passport and phone in above the zipper to use the extra space.
Inside the stash pocket is a ripstop lining, and that’s it—no other bells and whistles. We toss a phone, wallet, and cash in here, and that is about it since it’s not a huge pocket. Lip balm, tissues, and other tiny travel accessories also fit, though we find it easier to put them in their own pouch first to avoid scrounging at the bottom of the pocket to find them.
The main compartment is similarly spartan. There is a super tiny “MADE IN USA” patch at the top of the pack’s back, and you see the backside diamond pattern of the EcoPak fabric. There are no additional pockets, sleeves, or pouches here—it’s simply open space. That’s good or bad, depending on your preference, though we find it easy enough to organize gear with tech pouches, packing cubes, and a laptop case.
At 18 inches tall, we have no problem sliding in a 13-inch MacBook Air. However, the lack of padding gives us pause, so we turned to an Incase Compact Sleeve with BIONIC for added protection. It fits nicely along the backside of the pack and provides a little back panel padding when we’re lugging a laptop. Without a case, you may even be able to carry a little larger device if you take extra care and don’t mind gambling with no protection, or opt for a separate laptop bag if that’s important to you.
Beyond that, there’s space for a small tech case, a slim sweater, and a water bottle—with some room to spare. Items from the front pocket bulge slightly into this space, so you have more room near the bottom and top of the backpack. Proper planning is called for to make the best use of the space, and with some, we think it would make a great personal item bag for stowing under an airplane seat. If you don’t need the extra cables in your tech kit en route, shove that pouch toward the bottom and squish an extra layer in the center of the bag where the front pocket shares the space. Then keep your e-reader or Nintendo Switch within easy access of the top. If you toss your AirPods in the front stash pocket, they’ll still be accessible for your audio pleasure.
Of course, the slender nature of this bag makes it a great pick for sliding on the bottom of your travel backpack to be used as a daypack when you arrive at your destination. It’s perhaps a quarter-inch thick when compressed and rolls up into an approximately inch-and-a-half tube. Whatever your preference, we think you’ll find plenty of reasons to take this lightweight bag wherever you go.
- Very compact; even smaller than some slings
- The shoulder straps are thin, but their width makes up for it
- Feels robust, much like its bigger 18-liter version
- A 13-inch laptop with a sleeve fits
- Pack larger items at the bottom of the main compartment
- We dig using this for daily excursions