Hands-On Review of the Peak Design Travel Backpack


The new Travel Backpack  line from Peak Design has been all the rage in many of the photography and travel circles I run in since they launched their Kickstarter campaign in mid-2018.  Peak Design has a rock-star track record on Kickstarter so it was no surprise to see the Travel Backpack easily surpass its funding goal.

I was lucky enough to get a pre-production copy of the Travel Backpack complete with the photographer’s bundle, which included the medium camera cube, tech pouch, shoe pouch, packing cube and wash pouch.  Since I got such an early copy of the bag, I have been using it for several months as of the time of this article in November of 2018.  After a lot of experience with the bag, I am very happy with it.  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.

I am going to try to be somewhat concise in the review, but I am happy to answer any specific questions you may have about the backpack so feel free to comment on this article or contact me directly.

Build Quality

Coming from Peak Design, it should be no surprise that this backpack features really good build quality.  The outside material, which matches the sleek look of their other bags, is a rip stop nylon that prevents tearing and provides weather protection.  The base of the bag is an even denser fabric for extra protection.

There is also additional foam padding to give the bottom of the bag extra shape, meaning the bag isn’t going to tip over or fold up when you set it on the ground.  This is a big deal for me because I hate drying to find somewhere to lean my backpack rather than having it stand up on its own.

Zippers are always a big deal for me on a backpack.  I like zippers that are both high quality and easy to use.  Peak Design performs pretty well on this front. Nothing that is exceptionally noteworthy, but nothing that is going to cause you any concern either.  I do wish they used YKK on all the zippers, not just some of them, but I haven’t had problems so I can’t judge on it as of now.

Comfort

This backpack is really comfortable.  One of my biggest complaints about the Everyday Backpack was it wasn’t the most comfortable for me.  This new backpack is way more comfortable. It fit me really nicely. The straps are padded well for how small they are.  The ergonomic style of the straps lets them swivel to the position most comfortable for your frame, which is really really nice.

Along with comfort comes ease of use.  This bag is mostly great there. I will discuss the awesome tuck-away straps and my issues with the camera cube later.  What I want to touch on here is how easy and comfortable the bag is to use when it isn’t on your bag. Because everything tucks under magnetic latches, you don’t have to deal with any dangling straps.  

There are a whopping five high quality and comfortable carrying handles.  There is the one on top I use most often for short carrying situations. There are handles on each side for a more briefcase-carrying ability.  There is also a handle on the bottom, which I’ll never use to carry the bag, but can be helpful if you need to tug it out of an overhead compartment or other tight spot.  Finally, there is a big, flat handle on the back that allows you to carry it like a duffel bag, or slide it through the handle of your roller luggage. Big bonus points for all these handles in my mind.

Waist and Sternum Straps

I am really happy Peak Design decided to include both a waist and sternum strap on the backpack.  The sternum strap is designed really nice to be easily adjustable and easily hooked and unhooked with one hand for your convenience.  The one issue I have here is that both sides are detachable, and fairly easily detachable. This was the same set up as the Everyday Backpack, which is why my sternum strap on my Everyday Backpack is somewhere in Lisbon or Barcelona right now.

The waist strap is pretty comfortable for not having much in the way of padding.  I also love that they put pockets in the waist strap so you can easily access small things like batteries, memory cards and cloths.  My big complaint about the waist strap was I didn’t like the attachment mechanism. While it is very similar to the one on the sternum strap, I just didn’t find it easy to hook and unhook.  It wasn’t a huge issue and I am sure it will get easier with more use, but right now, it is probably my second least favorite part of the backpack.

Carrying a Tripod

This backpack has nice side pockets on each side of the backpack.  These pockets are really cool because they expand, but snap back tight to hold your items securely.  Unfortunately, I don’t think they were designed for tripods. I packed a small travel tripod in the side pockets without an issue, but I would not want to try to carry any kind of larger tripod with this backpack.

Expandable and DIVIDABLE Main Compartment

The design on the main compartment is really cool on this bag.  It can be accessed on from the rear or the front, but it is also divisible via a zippered mesh sleeve, meaning the front access part and back access part can be separate.  This is really nice in practice because you can keep all your pouches and cubes in the back compartment and then have nice open space for whatever you want in the front part of it.  Plus, the divider has additional mesh pockets where you can store more small things to stay organized.

The expandable part is really cool as well.  When compressed the bag is 35L, which is much more convenient for small trips or as a day pack once you are at your location.  It is easily expandable to 45L to give you a quite a bit more space in that main compartment for longer vacations. I really like the ability to expand because I can travel with one bag, and then continue to use that same bag as my camera backpack and day bag during my trip without having a giant backpack on me at all time.

While the bag is compact, I often use the front side of the main compartment to just carry my laptop because it is so easy and convenient.  However, the backpack also has a really nice laptop sleeve inside the rear flap. It is really sleek so you don’t even notice it without looking, but it has good padding and easily fits a larger laptop like my 15.4 inch one.  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 as well. I love how easy this bag makes carrying a bigger laptop as the trend seems to be moving more toward bags that only accommodate 13 inch laptops, or even just tablets.  Overall, the laptop compartment really knocks it out of the park.

One other thing I learned recently that isn’t obvious is that you can actually compress the backpack in addition to expanding it.  From its base 35L size, there are two buttons on each side that can be folded in, compressing the top part of the bag, and turning it into a  30L backpack. While I don’t see myself using this often, it could be useful if you are trying to squeeze the bag into a tight spot.

Magnetic Catches that tuck away straps

One of the absolute best parts of this backpack is that the shoulder straps and waist strap easily tuck under flaps on the back of the bag.  These flaps have magnetic catches 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.  This is great for a few reasons.

First, when packing bags into an overhead compartment or even just in a car, having the straps around, especially the waist strap, can really get in the way.  Second, there is a handle on the back so you can carry the bag from a handle without all the straps around. This handles also doubles as a hook so you can slide this bag over the handle of your luggage and not have to carry it.  This is such a game changer to me because I have to have a backpack when I travel, but on a long day, it can be so nice to get that weight off your back and onto the luggage in an easy, secure way.

Camera Cube

There are some really cool things about this camera cube, but overall, it was my least favorite part of the backpack.  I have the medium cube, which takes up about half the interior of the main compartment of the backpack.

Let’s start with the good stuff about the camera cube.  It actually attaches to the inside with four clips so it is very secure in your bag.  I do wish the clips were a little easier to disconnect so it was quicker to remove the cube from the backpack.  

The cube is actually a separate bag rather than an insert.  This is much nicer because you can remove the camera cube and take it separately when you don’t need or want to carry a backpack.  It has a weatherproof cover that is going to be just as good for protection as any camera bag. I did this at the beach with my family when I left them to go shoot the sunset  by the rocks. The bag stayed with them and I was more than comfortable just carrying the camera cube.

The camera cube uses the great Flex-Fold dividers from Peak Design that make it easy to customize how you are storing your equipment.  There are also a handful of little pouches attached to the dividers so you can store some of your smaller items, like a remote trigger, inside the dividers.  Unfortunately, I have not found a great system for my gear yet. If I travel with a bigger lens, it takes up a big area, and even my Fuji body feels a little cramped.

I like that the front zipper cover of the camera cube can be completely unzipped and tucked underneath it.  This makes it so you don’t have to unzip two zippers every time you want to access your camera gear while the cube is inside the backpack.  The tough part for me was, even with that advantage, it was still a bit difficult to access the gear because you have to unzip the entire back panel of the backpack to get into where the camera gear is.  Usually that isn’t a big deal with a camera backpack, but this is a big bag so it can be a bit annoying, especially when you are doing it while still wearing the bag around your waist. I would have loved for them to figure out a way to get easier access to my camera  and lenses for when I am out in the field and don’t want to take my bag off and completely open the whole thing.

I should mention that there are also side zippers designed to get into the camera cube without having to take the bag off.  While these are nice, they weren’t helpful for me since you still had two zippers you had to get through and my camera just didn’t fit in nicely where it was easy to get out.  I am going to keep playing with it and I am confident I will figure out a way to make it work a little more efficiently.

Tech Pouch

I like using the tech pouch quite a bit.  While I wish it was a little less bulky, you can fit a ton of gear in here, and it is organized so well.  There are multiple bigger pouches that I used to carry power banks, an external hard drive and multiple charging cords.  Then there are little pouches perfect for carrying the actual plug in adapters, flash drives, batteries and so forth. It is really the best way to keep all that electronic stuff perfectly organized all in one place.  

Packing Cube

I love having a packing cube for separating out some clothes.  The whole bag is basically different packing cubes, but the general pouch that came with my set is nice and thin so it doesn’t take up any space or add any weight.  It has a nice zipper and can be compressed to fit the load you are carrying.

Wash Pouch

The toiletry bag that came with this backpack is really nice.  It is perfect for one or two people as it has lots of organization, but isn’t too big and bulky.  I like the magnetic toothbrush pouch, the external razor pouch and the interior zippered storage. The other really cool thing is the hide-away hook that allows you to hang it while the bag is open.  Unlike a normal toiletry bag that just falls all the way open so your stuff falls out, this pouch only opens halfway when it is hanging so you can get easy access to everything inside, but you don’t have to worry about anything falling out.

Shoe Pouch

The best thing about the shoe pouch is that it is super thin so it adds zero bulk and weight to you load.  It has a nice zipper and is easy to use. I like having a shoe pouch because I used to never carry an extra pair of shoes when I travelled without a suitcase because who wants a dirty pair of shoes in their backpack.  Having this little pouch solves that problem and means I don’t have to wear my hiking shoes during a whole vacation.

Where to Get the Peak Design Travel Backpack

The whole line can be found at Peak Design’s website where you can customize the exact package you want.

While I use Amazon to order most things these days, I prefer ordering Peak Design gear directly from their site.  Peak Design is a great company that will always work with you so I like to have that more direct contact in case anything were to go wrong with ordering or shipping or anything.  I think it also makes it easier if you were to ever have an issue with the gear.  I once loosed a bolt too much on my Peak Design Capture Clip and lost it in Glacier National Park.  I contacted Peak Design with my order number from a couple years previous and they shipped me a replacement part right away for free.

My other Favorite Peak Design Gear

I have been fortunate enough to own nearly every piece of gear Peak Design makes.  They are one of my favorite companies for sure, so I recommend them a lot.  Below are a few of my favorite items from Peak Design if you are interested in more reviews.

  • The Everyday Messenger is still probably my favorite messenger bag.
  • The Field Pouch was my favorite accessory bag, though it may lose out to the new Tech Pouch.
  • The Capture Clip was my first piece of gear from Peak Design, and one of the best gifts my wife has every got me!
  • The Slide Strap used to be my favorite camera strap, but it has been replaced by the Leash, which I will hopefully get a review out on soon.
  • The Everyday Sling is an awesome little bag I use all the time.  I hope to have a review of it finished shortly.

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