Review: Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack After a Two Week Europe Trip

shaneGear, ReviewsLeave a Comment

In my previous post about the Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack, I detailed its features and how I was liking the backpack so far on the short trips I had taken it. I recently returned from a two-and-a-half week trip to Spain and Portugal and now have a much better idea on how to backpack performs for extended travel.

Many of the impressions I discussed in the first post ended up holding true for the extended trip. Read on to see exactly how I packed and carried the backpack for an extended trip (which should give you an idea of what you can carry in it), and whether or not this will be my go-to backpack for future trips.

Carrying the Bag

I won’t spend too much time discussing all the individual features of the bag as that was the purpose of the previous post. Instead I will discuss how I used those features.

I mentioned before how well-built and sturdy the bag was, and given that this trip involved 9 flights, two train rides, and numerous bus and subway trips, the durability of the bag was definitely appreciated. Because of the bag’s slim profile, I was able to carry it on all the flights.

Carrying on the backpack was no problem

Even though it exceeded the weight limits for carryon items posted for my regional flights on TAP and Iberia, I had no trouble carrying it on. I think this is because it does have such a slim profile, most check in attendants don’t think too much about it. It looks much like the backpacks every other traveler is using as their carryon item.

The Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack fits easily into most overhead bins

What helps this is the ability to slim down the bag. I found that if I unzipped the expansion compartment when packing, I had enough room to fit everything, and then I could zip it down and compress the bag to give it a slimmer profile. This will be my preferred way of packing the bag in the future, only using that expansion area if I absolutely have to. I think it’s best to save that for any souvenirs I might pick up on the way.

The Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack fully loaded with everything I took on a two-and-a-half week trip to Spain and Portugal
I prefer keeping the expansion compartment compressed but like having the option to expand it on trips that require a little extra room.

To that end, I was able to fit everything for the trip inside my backpack save for my camera kit. I had initially planned on taking my Peak Design Everyday Sling 5L for my camera kit, but since I was taking a much smaller kit than usual, I used a smaller Crumpler sling I had. I technically was able to fit this inside the backpack also, but found the bag to be too crowded, so I opted to just carry it over my shoulder instead.

Walking through the streets of Cordoba with my Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack

I think whether or not I can fit everything inside the backpack in the future will largely depend on the climate of the destination I am traveling to. Since this was Europe in winter, I needed warmer, thicker clothes which took up more space. For a warm weather destination, I don’t foresee any issue fitting the camera kit inside the main compartment of the backpack.

Packing and Unpacking

I mentioned before that I liked the ability to access the contents of the backpack from any size, but in practice I found myself mostly accessing it though the back. That makes sense because it gives you the largest opening for getting to your gear. However, I also used side access often while traveling, for quickly grabbing a single item, such as liquids when going through security.

Opening the back up from the backside you can see how I had things arranged. My laptop was in the back sleeve, and my heavy jacket was folded on top of the main compartment, which I found to work best. I could also have packed it in the front expansion compartment.

The inside of my Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack with heavy jacket packed on top

Underneath the jacket you can see how organized everything was using Peak Design’s travel accessories. I used the Medium Packing Cube for my clothes, and was able to fit all my shirts, pants, socks, and underwear in just this one cube, which I found to be pretty impressive. In total I was able to pack 3 t-shirts, 2 long-sleeved shirts, 3 collared shirts, 3 pairs of pants, 6 pairs of underwear, and 6 pairs of socks in the Medium Packing Cube. Of course, I was always wearing an outfits—typically a t-shirt and sweat pants along with a light jacket, and of course socks and underwear—on travel days. (While I didn’t take the Small Packing Cube on this trip, I think for a warm weather trip, I could even fit almost everything I would take save socks and underwear in it.)

The Travel Line of accessories helps you organize your packing
I fit all my clothing inside the Medium Packing Cube
The Medium Packing Cube expanded and unzipped
All these clothes fit inside the Medium Packing Cube

In addition to my clothes, I also packed the Wash Pouch and Tech Pouch in the main compartment, an extra pair of shoes in the Shoe Pouch (this only really works with shoes that can be collapsed pretty flat; if you have a bulkier pair of shoes, I’d recommend you wear those on travel days and pack a lighter pair as a spare), along with a couple of other small personal items (my Gamevice iPhone controller and international travel adapter).

Extra pair of shoes in the Shoe Pouch
Small personal items I also packed in the main compartment

I was initially unsure of the Tech Pouch but found it to work very well holding all the miscellaneous cables and accessories for my electronics. I was able to fit my MacBook Pro charger, a hard drive, mouse, cables, card reader, camera battery charger, and other small items in there with no issue.

The Tech Pouch grew on me after using it

I really like the organization of the Wash Pouch. It’s far larger than what I need, but I found that makes things easier to access. If I needed to cut space on a future trip I might swap this out for a smaller/lighter toiletry kit, but for now I think it will be my toiletry kit of choice. If you pack a lot of cosmetics or medical items, the extra space in here will be appreciated.

The toiletry kit is very spacious

The mesh pockets that divide the main compartment from the expansion compartment didn’t see much use from me on this trip. I used these pockets to store my beanie, neck warmer, and gloves. This was an ideal spot for these items to make them quick access.

In the expansion compartment I kept my Bose headphones and travel wallet. In the inside pockets of the front flap I kept quick access items such as a battery bank, phone charging cables, pen, sunglasses and Kindle.

In the front mesh pockets I stored a winter hat, gloves, and neck warmer
Small, quick access items in the front flap pocket

I ended up not really using the outside front pocket. I expect it would get more use if I were using the backpack as a daypack, but since I had my shoulder sling camera bag, I never used the backpack in its daypack configuration.

The two side pockets got limited use as well. Most of the time I had my rain jacket in one side, and on occasion I would stuff my travel wallet in the other side if I thought I was going to need to access it again soon after. I definitely could see these pockets getting more use on a longer trip where I was also taking a tripod.

My rain jacket was close at hand in the side pocket

What Didn’t Fit

In all, I think I was able to fit an impressive amount of clothing and great, while still maintaining a slim profile. The expansion pocket was available to me if I needed to pack more, but I am unsure what I would really want to go in that space. I wouldn’t want it to be totally crammed as that would make accessing the inside pockets for small items like my battery pack and charging cables a pain.

As mentioned before, I ended up carrying my camera bag over my shoulder, but in a warmer weather situation with less bulky clothing I don’t think that would be necessary. I also couldn’t fit my DJI Mavic Air drone, which is something that often goes with me. I decided there wouldn’t really be an opportunity to use it on this trip so I left it behind, but in the future I think there will be plenty of space in the main pack on warm weather trips.

I appreciated all the organization to help me quickly in and out of the backpack

I don’t have any holdups about being able to fit everything I’d want to take on an extended trip in a warmer climate. If I needed to carve out some extra space, I could expand the bag, or swap out the Wash Pouch for a more compact toiletry kit.

In the event that I ever need to check the bag, my Loctote Flak Sak can be the carryon item I stash my laptop and other essentials in. I typically take it anyway as a day bag, especially to beach destinations.

Things I Didn’t Like

My reservations about the hip strap and sternum strap still remain. Again, this trip involved 9 flights, 2 train rides, and numerous bus and subway rides, and I never had an issue with either strap, but I still wish they would have done a more traditional buckle. On the other hand, the solution they’ve implemented allows easier buckling with one hand, which is handy if you are using it as a camera backpack and have one hand occupied holding your camera body.

The other main issue is the weight, which is the tradeoff that comes with the bag being so well-built. Hard to complain too much about this, but if they were somehow able to trim off 40% of the weight in a version 2 while still keeping it just as sturdy, it would definitely elevate the bag.

Beyond that, I’d like to see something radically innovate in a version 2. I feel Peak Design has created the best “modular” travel backpack system I’ve seen that has a solution for photography, so a V2 could up the ante by truly making a backpack that can accommodate every travel scenario. Right now I feel like this bag isn’t something I’d want to use on a cross-country, multi-day hike. But with a better suspension system it could be. I’d like to see Peak Design offer up their take on Osprey’s Ozone Duplex travel backpacks. A full-featured camera backpack that had a detachable cargo space would be pretty ideal. A pack like that would have been perfect for our Nepal trek to Everest Base Camp: the cargo space with clothes that would have been handled by porters, and the daypack that would have had my camera kit (the Duplex’s lack of a dedicated camera solution is what holds it back).

Conclusion

The above quibbles aside, I have elected to keep the Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack and make it my go-to backpack for one-bag travel. I had already been leaning this way anyway, ready to retire my Osprey Farpoint 70L in favor of something more conducive to our current style of travel: two-to-three-week trips of mostly air travel in premium cabins (using points and miles), and staying in urban areas with public transportation at centrally-located hotels (also on points). The Osprey Farpoint style seems better suited to longer-term travelers in far-flung areas who are walking out their door and not sure when/if they’re ever going to return.

The Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack isn’t the One Bag to Rule Them All, unfortunately, but it gets as close as any I’ve used so far. If you’re want one-bag travel with room for a robust camera kit, this just may be the backpack you’r looking for.

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