Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L Review
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Camera and travel gear maker Peak Design is one of the great success stories of the modern Kickstarter economy and I’ve been fortunate to use and review a number of their products since they launched the original Capture camera clip back in 2011. There are few companies whose philosophy reflects my own as well as they do. I would sum up that philosophy with the idea that good enough is not good enough and a dedication to a continued pursuit of improvement. I get the feeling that Peak Design would never enter a market segment without a strong belief that they would make the best version of the product available. One of their latest offerings is a versatile carry-on size backpack made for travel. How well does this hold up to the company’s reputation for excellent products? Find out in our Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L Review.
Travel Backpack 45L Review: Carrying Versatility and Comfort
Like many Peak Design products, the Travel Backpack 45L was created with versatility in mind. No two travelers are exactly the same in the way they approach packing and carrying their stuff and the designers obviously took this into account. The bag comes configured as a backpack with shoulder straps for lighter loads yet you can quickly pull out a hip belt and attach the sternum strap when you need to carry a heavier load over longer distances. Just need a quick way to grab the bag and bring it from the hotel to the taxi? Put all the straps away and use the large carrying handle on the bottom.
Many travel backpacks I’ve used have fairly awful backpack harnesses and it’s always been clear that they expect you to sacrifice comfort for packability. With the Travel Backpack 45L, it seems that Peak Design wanted to stand out in this arena and put some energy into making it as comfortable as possible. The shoulder pads pivot at the top and have a nice curve to them. There is also a reasonable amount of padding without being bulky. The backpanel has a nice, thick padding that has some air channeling going on. The deployable hip belt is a bit narrow and thinly padded to help with a very heavy load but it definitely adds some stability and takes a bit of weight off your shoulders. So, how does all this work in practice? The Travel Backpack 45L is a surprisingly comfortable pack to wear when going through an airport and getting to your destination. A suspension frame and a semi rigid sheet in the back panel does a solid job of keeping the bag stable and the load distributed well. Would this be my first choice for a big hike and a multi-night trip in the backcountry? Of course not, but it isn’t trying to be that either and the bags for that are far bulkier and less versatile. One thing I did not on occasion was a tendency for the lower part of shoulder straps to dig in a little bit to my obliques when the bag was fully loaded. This is completely eliminated when you deploy the waist belt though.
When not in use, the hip belt cleverly rotates up into a magnetic storage area that keeps it out of the way without having to detach anything. This is a really smart system and I discovered the ability to fold the magnetic flaps in to create extra padding when the hip belt is being used. All of the straps have included means of keeping the excess webbing organized through elastic bands or sliding attachments. I also appreciate the strong metal hardware that is used on the adjustment points so that you don’t have to worry about a plastic buckle breaking. Peak Design carried over the removable/stowable sternum strap first introduced on their Everyday backpack and remains a mixed experience. While I love that it can easily be stored on the shoulder strap when not in use, I wish that it had the elastic shock absorber that most good sternum straps use. Wrapping up the carrying options, the Travel Backpack 45L has a total of four handles for grab and go use. It’s always nice to have multiple places to pick up a pack from when it’s on a luggage carousel, in a plane’s overhead compartment, or in a pile of other bags.
Storage and Access: Count the Ways
The trouble with reviewing something as versatile as the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L is that there are so many ways to accomplish the same goal. You can access the interior of the bag from the front, the sides, and the back, allowing you the option that works best for the moment. For full access to all the space, I like to lay the Travel Backpack 45L with the shoulder strap side facing up and use the large back panel zipper. If you are traveling somewhere that you don’t want to put the bag down but need to get something, like a clothing layer or camera gear, you can sling it in front of you and use the zippers on the side of the bag to get to strategically placed items. What I love is that I was able to secure those side zippers internally when not using them with an ingenious latch system, to prevent theft and clean up the look as well.
The third and final way to access the main compartment of the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L is through a u shaped front zipper. However, this area comes set up in a way that provides a separate storage area and extra pockets for organization. I used this compartment to store my Peak Design Tech Pouch, with all my chargers and batteries, my noise cancelling headphones, and a light rain jacket. I like having these available for easier access while traveling. The flap that divides the front area from the main storage has two large pockets with really smart zippers that can be accessed from either side; a signature thoughtful feature by Peak Design. Like I said, Peak Design is all about versatility and the dividing flap can be zipped out, rolled up, and tucked away for people who value maximum space over organization. Speaking of space and versatility, the Travel Backpack 45L has the ability to go from its standard size of 35 liters to an extra 10 liters by unzipping two flaps at the front of the bag. What’s great about this is that you can have the extra space when needed but compress it down to fit on picky airline flights. I found that I liked using the zippers like a compression strap, filling the front pocket while unzipped and zipping them to pack it down. This is a good time to talk about the further compression options available as well. If you have a lighter load, you can actually get the Travel Backpack 45L down to a more manageable size by snapping the top of the bag into two buttons that remove about 5 liters from the top. No complicated straps or systems, just a simple push in and buttoning down.
Laptop and Tablet Storage
Most of us travel with either a laptop or a tablet, many of us carry both, and Peak Design made sure the Travel Backpack 45L accommodated this. A large, thickly padded compartment sits along the inside of the back panel and can hold a 15 inch laptop and a 10 inch tablet at the same time, with a pocket dedicated to each. The compartment is stitched in a way that keeps the bottom of it from reaching the bottom of the bag, thus preventing your expensive computer from hitting the ground if you put the bag down heavily. I have no problem fitting a 15 inch MacBook Pro and a small Kindle into this compartment and I’m sure it would work with a 10 inch iPad instead of the Kindle. Obviously, the bigger the computer and tablet you use, the less space you have in the main compartment for clothes and other items. One thing I don’t love is the tab used to secure your laptop from falling out of the compartment. It is fairly small and if you use a small tablet, it probably wouldn’t prevent it from coming out of the top when you open the back panel all the way. A wider strap might work better. Peak Design recommends leaving the two zipper pulls at the top of the Travel Backpack 45L when you are carrying a laptop so that you can get to it without opening the entire back panel.
Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L Review: Security by Design
Peak Design considered all the ways that pick pockets attempt to steal from travelers and did their best to make it as hard as possible for them. Most of the time, thieves will move onto the next person if there is any impediment to doing what they want so any form of prevention is greatly welcomed. I’ve already mentioned how you can internally lock the side panel zippers so I won’t repeat that. To deal with the front panel access, Peak Design came up with another clever innovation I havent seen anywhere else. A small loop at the bottom of the zipper run is just wide enough to pass the zipper pulls through flat but if you try to pull them through, they get caught. Since thieves are all about speed, they will either be discovered or move on when they try to open the front of the bag. That said, you can still open the zipper fairly easily when you’re holding the bag yourself, so it doesn’t create too much of an inconvenience. At the very least, it is far more convenient than a padlock you have to use a key or combo with. Finally, there are two secret pockets along the water bottle holders that are unlikely to be noticed by the average thief. The zippers are fairly hidden and in an unusual place, so this could be a good place to stash something you want easier access to but kept safe. They also just work well for storing soft accessories like a Buff or handkerchief.
Added Features Everywhere
On the top of the Travel Backpack 45L is a small soft line pocket which is perfect for sunglasses or a cell phone. The lining keeps things from getting scratched and it’s easy to access while out and about. If you’ve read my past reviews you’ll know that I am picky about water bottle holders. Thankfully Peak Design Team is great at designing them and the Travel Backpack 45L is no exception. The bottle pockets expand to fit pretty much anything you would put in them and compress to keep it secure so that it doesn’t fall out when you move around. The access while wearing the pack is pretty good and I didn’t have trouble getting out my bottle and putting it back in with a little practice. The side pockets can also be used as a place to stuff a light layer as well.
Improving greatly on the Every Day backpack, Peak Design create new attachment straps that are easy to connect at various points on the bag. The clips simply snap into place wherever you want them to be. You can use them to secure tall items like a camera tripod in the bottle pocket, attach a jacket to the front, or put a yoga mat or a sleeping pad on the bottom of the bag. My only complaint is that they give you just two straps included and I would like to have two more for various arrangements.
Peak Design Packing Cubes and Tech Pouch Review: Great Travel Companions
I can’t review the Travel Backpack 45L without mentioning my use of the wonderful Peak Design Packing Cubes and Tech Pouch. Packing cubes were a game changer for me a few years back and really enhance the packing and traveling experience. I find them to be a necessity for one bag travel, as well. As they often do, Peak Design looked at existing packing cubes and thought, “How can we make this the best it can be?” The result is a series of multiple size bags that have innovative features you can’t find on other options. For quick access, the Packing Cubes have two tabs that you pull open so you can get to your clothes right away without using a long zipper. Sure, it isn’t the biggest deal but sometimes you really need a pair of clean underwear! :D. A more useful feature is the expansion zipper, which lets you add a substantial amount of capacity when needed. Since you are usually putting soft items in a packing cube, you can use the expansion zipper as a way of compressing down your clothes to provide an easier fit in your bag. I loved this feature. I’ve used packing bags that have two sides before, one for dirty/damp clothes and one for clean/dry but the problem was that the division limited the space. The divider in the packing cubes is designed to only take up the space that it is forced to by being filled. Great solution to the issue.
Peak Design has two sizes of Packing Cube currently and they have been designed in conjunction with the Travel Backpack 45L to fit together in various configurations. I used the small cube to fit my underwear, socks, and a pair of workout shorts. In the medium cube, I put my shirts and pants. With the medium and small cubes in the Travel Backpack, you still have room for additional items. I put a pair of shoes, my mid layer jacket, and the Peak Design Tech Pouch in the main compartment and it was a good fit. You could also use three of the small cubes instead of a medium and small, if you like more separation.
I was really excited to make a Peak Design Tech Pouch review because, like many people these days, I carry an arsenal of chargers and electronics accessories when I travel. Especially being a photographer, I probably have more than average. In the past, I have had two stuff all these things including cords, batteries, etc. into different pockets in my bags. It was always a pain to change bags and I would often misplace things among them. I tried putting everything into a Ziploc bag at one point and this helps a bit but I was left with a mass of tangled cords and hard to find items. Enter the Tech Pouch. The Tech Pouch is a small bag made of the same awesome material Peak Design uses in some of its other products that contains origami style dividers, divider pockets and some zippered pockets. The way it is designed allows for it to swallow a lot of small items without taking up too much space. You can slip things into various dividers, use the zippered pockets, or just put things into the open areas. I love being able to separate my power cords and various cables for easy access and tangle prevention. Additionally, there are pockets perfectly sized for my small SSD hard drive that I take with me for back up. A set of color-coded accessory pockets are great for storing the depleted or full batteries or memory cards. I also use them for storing little micro USB to USB C adapters.
The Tech Pouch has an exterior zippered pocket with a cable pass through that perfectly fits a large cell phone or in my case a large back up battery that I can use to charge things. The bag stands up nicely on its own, which is great when you are looking for something inside it and a small handle helps you grab the bag and keep it secure in your hand while carrying it. Finally there are two attachment points for Peak Design anchors that let you attach any of their carrying straps to turn the Tech Pouch into a shoulder bag. The Peak Design Leash strap works perfectly for this. The tech pouch has become a part of my every day carry as I bring it back-and-forth to work and I love the convenience of having everything I need in that one bag. It is highly worth the price for the unique and functional design.
Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L Review Conclusion
The Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L is one of the most well thought out bags on the planet. It’s a versatile carrying tool for all kinds of travelers and is loaded with useful features. The size is perfect for one bag travel and it can be used as a duffel, backpack, or sling-bag depending on need, while still fitting in a standard overhead. A compression and expansion system allow the backpack to transform shape for different situations and there is plenty of organization possibilities inside and out. While not as comfortable as a dedicated hiking backpack, the Travel Backpack 45L is better at holding a large load than many competitors and has solid padding in the shoulder straps and a lightly padded waist belt for added support. Overall, the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L is a top choice for anyone looking at carrying solutions for their trips. For more information on the Travel Backpack and other Peak Design products, visit www.peakdesign.com or www.amazon.com/peakdesign.