The new Travel Backpack line from Peak Design has been discussed a number of times in the old facebook group (now titled Master Photography Listeners) with many of you wanting to know if it would be worth that heft price tag. While the backpack itself isn't more than a top line camera backpack at $300, once you get all the add-ons you will want, the bag gets pretty pricey. My set up, which included the medium camera cube, tech pouch, shoe pouch, packing cube and wash pouch would run you over $500.
So, is the backpack really worth dropping that much? It depends how much money you have, how much travel you do, and what kind of traveling you do. I was lucky to get a pre-production copy of the backpack, so I have been using it for several months as of the time of this article in November of 2018. After a lot of experience traveling with the backpack on family vacations and photography outings, I am very happy with it for the most part. I am still working out some quirks with the camera cube, but other than that, I find the bag very comfortable, durable and full of innovations to make traveling with it so much more convenient than most backpacks. So, if you are a big time traveler and have the money, you will probably love this backpack.
This Backpack is Really Comfortable
This backpack is really comfortable. Peak Design improved leaps and bounds over the comfort of their Everyday Backpack, which wasn’t the most comfortable to me. The travel backpack fit me much nicer and the straps are padded well for how small they are. The straps have a really cool attachment mechanism that lets them swivel to the position most comfortable for your frame, which which makes it great for different body types.
I Love all the Handles
There are five great handles you can use to carry the backpack in addition to the normal arm straps used to carry it like a backpack. There is the one on the top of the bag that is great for just grabbing the backpack to move or carry somewhere close. There are handles on each side for a more briefcase-carrying ability, although they aren't centered perfectly so that may be weird if the weight gets distributed unequally. There is also a handle on the bottom, which may not be practical to carry the bag, but can be helpful if you need to pull the bag out of an overhead compartment or other tight spot. Finally, there is a big handle on the rear of the bag that allows you to carry it like a duffel bag when you have all the straps tucked away. You can also slide this handle through the handle of your roller luggage to make airport travel more convenient. This is an awesome feature for those long airport transfers where you feel like you are walking a mile with fifty pounds on your back.
The Backpack has great Build Quality
The build quality on the travel backpack matches what was on the Everyday Messenger and Everyday Backpack, which is very good in my opinion. The outside material, which gives the backpack a very sleek and classy look, is a rip stop nylon that prevents tearing and provides weather protection.
In addition to the the great fabric, which really is a big selling point on this bag, the zippers are pretty good as well. Most of the zippers are high-quality YKK brand, which I always like in a backpack that is going to get pretty heavy use.
Overall, I would not be concerned buying this bag as an investment to last you a long time. If something were to go wrong, I would trust Peak Design to fix it with their lifetime warranty. I once lost a part of my Peak Design Capture Clip due to my own stupidness, not any defect, and they sent me a new part no questions asked.
The Waist and Sternum Straps are Great Additions
The Waist and Sternum straps are great for added comfort, but I feel like they could have been a little more useful. The sternum strap is designed to be easily adjustable with a hook that easily latches, but it isn't as convenient as you would think. One issue is that both sides are detachable, and since they are designed to attach and detach easily, it also makes them a lot easier to lose.
The waist strap is pretty comfortable and works well for distributing the weight of the backpack. The pocket and lashes on alternate sides of the waist strap are also big plusses for me. My big complaint about the waist strap comes down to the attachment hooks. I wouldn't say it is a big deal, but I found the small hooks a bid difficult to get used to. While they are pretty good after some getting used to, it can be a little work to unstrap them for me.
The Side Pockets are Great for Anything Except a Tripod
Tripods are an absolute essential for me. While the pockets are really convenient for most things because they expand, but snap back tight to hold your items securely, I didn't find them great for tripods. While a smaller tripod fit just fine and was easy to carry, a bigger tripod would be a bit more burdensome and feel out of place.
The Tuck-Away Straps are Amazing
To me, this is really the show-stopper of this backpack. The shoulder straps and waist strap easily tuck under flaps on the back of the bag. These flaps are magnetic and latch to the back of the bag to keep the straps under the flaps until you pull them out. They fit so seamlessly that you don’t even notice the straps are under there. Unlike normal tuck-away straps I have used on other bags, these are no hassle to tuck away, are easy to get out, don't get in the way, and are still substantial and comfortable straps. The design here is really phenomenal and keeps those straps out of the way when you are loading the bag somewhere like an overhead compartment or on your luggage, or when you just want to carry the bag like a duffel.
The Storage on the Backpack is very Useful
While all the little gadgets on the backpack are cool, what it really comes down to is storing your stuff. The main compartment can be accessed on from the rear or the front, but it also has a zippered mesh divider (with pockets) that separates the front and back when you want. This is really nice because you can keep all your pouches and cubes in the back compartment and then have the front part be a big open pouch for storing larger items, clothes or anything else you are bringing along.
The backpack also has a great laptop pocket inside the rear flap. It is really sleek so you don’t even notice it without looking, but it has sufficient padding and easily fits a larger laptop It also has two pockets inside if you want to keep other computer gear in with your laptop, and a separate pouch that can hold a tablet.
The Backpack can Expand or Contract
The expandable part of the backpack is a really cool feature. When compressed in what I will call its normal position, the bag is 35L, which is much more convenient for small trips or easy outings where you aren't packing a bunch of overnight gear. But, the bag is easily expandable to 45L to give you a quite a bit more space in that main compartment for longer vacations. The expanding part is on the front of the bag and is just a simple zipper like you are used to with expandable luggage we have all been using for decades.
The backpack doesn't just expand though, it can also contract when you want to save some more space and don't have as much gear. From its 35L size, there are two buttons on each side, near the top of the backpack, that can be folded in and buttoned. This compresses the top part of the bag and brings its size down to 30L backpack.
The Travel Backpack is a pretty innovative backpack. I love the ability to expand and contract, to divide the main storage compartment, and to tuck away all the straps so effortlessly. There are also some aspects of the design I don't love, like the hook on the waist strap or the lack of a really solid tripod solution. Having tested and reviewed dozens of backpacks for Improve Photography, I know there is no perfect backpack out there, it is all a balancing game of what matters most to you. This backpack is going to fit the bill perfectly for a lot of travelers that have the money for its price tag.
While I normally like to use Amazon, this backpack wasn't available on Amazon at the time of publishing, but you can get free shipping I believe at Peak Design, so just pick it up there.