My go-to travel backpack has been the Osprey Farpoint 70L for the last several years, and I’ve written before on its features and why I think it makes a good international carry on backpack. However, I always keep up with the latest offerings from the travel backpack space, and Peak Design‘s Kickstarter-funded Travel Line caught my attention.
Encompassing a 45L carry on backpack as well as a full line of packing accessories, Peak Design offers a versatile solution for one bag travel aimed at photographers and digital nomads. I backed the bundle that included the 45L backpack, wash pouch, tech pouch, small and large packing cubes, small camera cube, shoe bag, and rain cover. I’ve just received mine from Kickstarter, and am excited to dig deeper and share my initial impressions.
Outside the bag
The first thing you’ll notice is how sturdy the bag appears. The material is quite heavy duty and looks like it’s designed to take a beating. That’s reassuring should I ever need to check the bag. The bag has hip straps which help support and distribute the load when fully packed and can be tucked away when not needed. The straps on the back also tuck away making checking the bag a breeze. (You’d think this would be an obvious feature for a travel backpack, but there are definitely some on the market that do not have stowable straps.)
Another nice touch is the handle on the back that lets you carry the backpack duffel style if you’re just quickly carrying it from baggage claim to a taxi stand. You can also use slide this handle over a roller bag handle if you’re using it as a second bag. Additional handles on the top, bottom, and sides give you plenty of grab points when you’re hoisting it into an overhead bin.
When it comes to external organization, Peak Design has included a number of pockets and attachment options while still maintaining a sleek profile on the bag. There is a small pocket on the front of the bag suitable for sunglasses or other small items. Two large side pockets can fit a small tripod or water bottle, and are deep enough to securely hold whatever you stash there.
One of the best design features of the pack are the two quick access pockets on the sides, giving you a place to stash your passport or boarding pass when not needed. That’s handy as I like to keep my hands free while dashing through an airport, but still able to quickly access those documents.
There’s one last pocket on the left hip strap, which can be useful for small items like change or a metro pass. Additionally, a number of lash straps help you carry extra gear, be it a tripod, or sleeping mat, or whatever else might not fit inside.
Opening up the bag
The first thing I should mention are the zippers that allow you access to the interior. As with their other products, Peak Design included the highest quality zippers imaginable. It may seem trivial, but zipper quality should definitely be considered when purchasing a bag. I’ve definitely had issues with other backpacks not smoothly opening or closing, which can definitely cause frustration in a TSA line or when you need to quickly grab something out of your bag from an overhead bin. Peak Design’s zippers zip smoothly without a hitch, and securely.
Additionally, Peak Design provides the ability to use a lock on the main access zippers to keep access to your interior secure, with the side zippers able to tuck away internally. It’s not fully theft-proof, but offers enough peace of mind that no one can reach into the bag unnoticed while you’re wearing it in a crowded subway.
One of the features that makes this bag stand out is the number of ways you can access the interior. The first is to set the bag on its face and open the back flap suitcase style. This flap also doubles as the laptop/tablet holder, ideal because it keeps one of the heaviest things you’re likely to be carrying close to your back (a criticism I have of the Osprey Farpoint). When opened like this you have at-a-glance access to everything in the main storage compartment.
Flipping the bag over you can also access the interior from the front. While it doesn’t open quite as wide as the back, it still offers an alternative way to access an item that might be at the top front of the bag that would be hard to access from the back. This also gives you access to the mesh pockets on the front of the backpack that you might have small items stored in.
Finally, there are two large side access panels. This is perfect for grabbing one item out of the bag, such as a toiletry kit when going through security. Or, if you’re using it in combo with one of their camera cubes, your bag becomes a side access camera bag. It’s hard to overstate how great it is to be able to access your bag in this way. You can simply swing the back around to the front of you without taking it off, grab the needed item, and swing it back. In mad rush travel situations, having to fully take off a backpack and fish around inside can cause a lot of frustration. Peak Design’s attention to these kind of details is what elevates this bag offering above the competition.
Inside the bag
Internal organization includes the aforementioned laptop/tablet pocket on the back panel and four mesh pockets on the front panel. The front panel is technically two panels: the first opens to a front storage area, and the second grants access to the main compartment from the front. Each has two pockets. The top pocket on the front panel has some extra organization for pens, charging cables, etc. The two pockets on the second panel are double-sided, allowing access from either side. These pockets aren’t especially deep, but perhaps could be used for packing a few undergarments. Between these two panels is a 10L expandable space, giving you a little extra room if needed. My thought here is that you could pack a light jacket, or separate daypack if needed.
The main internal compartment is quite spacious, much more so than the main compartment on the Tortuga Outbreaker 45L (another premium travel backpack), but not quite as spacious as the Osprey Farpoint 70L (which is to be expected, since Farpoint 70L offers 25L more overall capacity). However, I don’t take these capacity numbers at face value. What I am more interested in is usable space, i.e. how well the bag actually packs when fully loaded. To determine that I went ahead and packed it like I would for a trip to get an idea of what I could feasibly fit inside.
I packed what I would normally take on an extended trip, with more than a week’s worth of clothes, my camera, drone, laptop, misc. electronics, sandals, toiletries, and a packable day bag. It was quite snug, but it all fit using the included packing accessories from the Peak Design Kickstarter. Now, I’ve tried packing this amount in other similarly-sized travel backpacks such as the Tortuga Outbreaker 45L and the Osprey Farpoint 40L and I’ve never been able to manage it. Inevitably I have to remove my camera bag for there to be enough room.
So, as far as “usable space” goes, the Peak Design Travel Backpack seems like a winner. This is helped by the aforementioned packing accessories. These are designed to swallow your gear while neatly fitting inside the main compartment. So if you limit your packing to what can fit inside each of these accessories then you can feel confident it’ll all pack inside the backpack. That said, the backpack was very stuffed, perhaps more than I would be comfortable with, but I’ll need more time trying a few different configurations before I know what really works.
I also want to make note of the internal organization. There is enough thoughtful organization pockets to use for key items you’ll need easy access to while in transit, but not so many as to become unusable. This was a chief gripe of the Tortuga Outbreaker. It had internal organization in spades, but if you filled one mesh pocket, it bulged and prevented you from using space opposite of it. There’s no point in having all these organizational pockets if they aren’t usable. The Peak Design Travel Backpack seems to strike a nice balance. I filled all the pockets and didn’t run into a problem of not being able to zip it closed because the pockets are in use like I had with the Tortuga.
Now I’ll offer a brief overlook of the packing accessories. Two packing cubes were included, a small and medium one. These are sized to fit inside the main compartment and are quite excellent. The two together were more than enough room for all my clothes, they have zipper compression, and have an area to separate clean and dirty clothes.
My bundle came with the small camera cube, but I think I am going to stick with the Peak Design Everyday Sling 5L I already had, which also fits well inside the back and is about the same size as the small camera cube, just a little less boxy. It works better as a day sling bag, although the small camera cube could also be used that way.
The two most noteworthy additions are the wash pouch and the tech pouch. During the Kickstarter I was more excited about the tech pouch and thought the wash pouch would end up being shelved in favor of a toiletry kit I already had. But now that I have them and have test packed them, I’m thinking the opposite. The wash pouch is quite nice, with ample room for all the toiletries I typically bring as well as my electric shaver which I always struggle to find room for.
On the flip side, I’m not sure about the tech pouch. It seemed quite ingenious in the campaign materials, but testing I feel like I’d have to “under pack” it to really benefit from how it organizes everything. The verdict is still out on that one as I figure out the best way to organize everything.
As an added bonus, there’s also a rain cover and a shoe pouch, which I used for my sandals. It’s fairly straightforward, but a nice addition to make the kit “complete.”
Carrying the bag
So, with the bag fully loaded, how did it feel to carry? My initial impression is mixed. Hoisting the bag up and onto my back was made easy by all handle options on every side of the bag. It didn’t feel like a struggle to put it on the way the Tortuga Outbreaker did. The shoulder straps are well-padded and comfortable, and an adjustable sternum strap adds support. The hip straps are what I’m most skeptical of. They’re difficult to adjust while on body, leaving me unsure if I’m properly supporting the load with them. It’ll take some more carrying while fully loaded to know for sure, but the good news is that the straps seem to stay solidly in place, so once you have it properly adjusted, it should be good to go.
It’s also important to note just how heavy the bag is. Because the construction is so sturdy, the tradeoff is the increased weight. If you intend to carry on this backpack, it’s important to keep in mind. I don’t anticipate having an issue on long haul international flights, but on regional flights or budget airlines, weight limit becomes much more of an issue. The bag itself is 4.1 lbs (1.85 kg), and with the packing accessories, checks in at 6.8 lbs (3.1 kg). Given weight limits as low as 8kg on some carriers, you simply won’t be able to pack a laptop and camera kit and still expect to carry it on. In that situation, a detachable daypack like the Osprey Farpoint has would be desirable, but in lieu of that I would simply take out the Everyday Sling camera bag and use my Loctote Flaksak which typically goes with me anyway, to carry on the laptop and check the main pack.
I still need to use this bag on an actual trip to know for sure, but so far I am pleased with everything I’ve seen. Some minor concerns warrant more testing, and I intend to follow up with a post-trip review. Peak Design has a real winner on their hands, and it just might be the back that dethrones my beloved Osprey Farpoint as my backpack of choice.