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Review: Peak Design Travel Backpack

Back in 2015, when my wife and I were looking for a bag she could carry her laptop and other work-related items in, we stumbled across a Kickstarter project for the Everyday Messenger from Peak Design. It wasn’t the cheapest option, but it looked like it would stand up to the wear and tear of daily use. And it looked like the company had put a lot of thought into making a solid bag that would meet her needs.

After a bit of research, and comparing it with other bags, we bought one. It was our first experience with Peak Design products. But it certainly wasn’t our last.

Photo of Peak Design's Travel Backpack

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

My wife, who is not a photographer, still uses it every day. In fact, we were so impressed with it that I bought their follow-up product – the Everyday Backpack – for myself.

I take it on my bicycle commute to work every day. I also use it to carry my camera gear when I shoot photos for clients. Its quality, usefulness, and thoughtful design touches are impressive, and illustrate how Peak Design made these products to suit photographers as well as everyday people.

When I found out Peak Design was expanding its offerings from everyday-style bags to a line of products that focus on travel, I was intrigued. The Messenger and Backpack bags have served my wife and I well over the years, and I was eager to see whether the Travel Backpack could live up to the legacy created by their other products.

Travel Backpack filled with camera gear.

The Travel Backpack isn’t specifically focused on photographers, but Peak Design has clearly kept photographers in mind with this bag.

Testing the Traveler

To thoroughly test the Peak Travel Backpack I used it to carry everything I needed for a five-day, 1800-mile road trip up and down the midwest United States to see friends and family. I stuffed it to the brim with:

  • my camera
  • shorts, socks, shirts, and pants
  • my personal care items
  • a Nintendo 2DS XL
  • a host of chargers
  • an iPad for watching Netflix in hotel rooms.

It was tossed around in my car, loaded and unloaded multiple times, and hoisted up and down so many flights of stairs that I lost count.

It performed flawlessly.

I was immediately impressed at the level of design and consideration that went into the Travel Backpack. They’ve made dozens of tweaks and flourishes to every aspect of this bag that separate it from most run-of-the-mill carrying companions. It’s the attention to detail you’d expect with a bag of this caliber and price. The fabric is thick, the fasteners and clips are sturdy, and the zippers are easily accessible. It’s got pretty much everything I wanted in a travel container, as well as some things I didn’t even realize I was looking for.

Image: Photo courtesy of Peak Design

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

When I returned my wife, who’d recently attended a work conference on the East Coast, said she wished she’d had the Travel Backpack instead of her usual carry-on suitcase. And I’d say the same would hold true for just about anyone. We have a nice set of luggage that works just fine, but having used the Travel Backpack I’d rather take it over our other travel gear.

Pockets, Pockets Everywhere

The Travel Backpack is big enough to hold everything from cameras and clothes to shoes and shower items, yet small enough to fit in an airplane carry-on cargo hold. Pockets abound in the Travel Backpack, with every nook, cranny, corner and flap having a cavity or pouch tucked away for all manner of trinkets, tchotchkes, memory cards and power cables.

The well-padded shoulder straps can be tucked away beneath thick flaps that snap shut with a satisfying magnetic click. When the bag is zipped up and read to be tossed into a trunk or overhead airplane bin, additional pockets on the sides let you get to your essentials at a moment’s notice.

Image: Photo courtesy of Peak Design

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

Of course, all those extra are useless if you can’t get to them easily. Thankfully the Travel Backpack gives you plenty of ways to get to your cargo. The back of the unit (the part that you actually carry on your shoulders) unzips and folds back to reveal the entire contents of the pack, leaving nothing hidden or tucked away behind recessed side panels. In a nod to the Everyday Backpack, the sides unzip so can grab something quickly without having to open up the entire bag. And the front zipper lets you access a separate portion of the bag, which can be useful for stowing laptops, tablets, notebooks and other thin items.

One of the hallmarks of the Travel Backpack is how you can tweak and change it to suit your needs. Want more space? Gussets on the front unzip so you can stow significantly more cargo. Need less space? You can squeeze the bag down to a more manageable size by collapsing the top with two convenient snaps. Don’t need  the shoulder straps? Tuck them away behind the magnetic flaps to keep them out of your way.

A tall thin pocket runs from top to bottom on the inner back flap for stowing super thin items, with another pocket inside it. Or you can keep the pockets closed with the Velcro attachments and ignore them altogether.

Image: Whatever you want to bring, there’s probably a pocket to hold it. Photo courtesy of Pea...

Whatever you want to bring, there’s probably a pocket to hold it. Photo courtesy of Peak Design.

If you simply want a massive, cavernous, well-designed duffel bag, unzip the divider separating the small front portion from the spacious main portion to create a single massive chamber that can hold just about anything.

This illustrates the many ways the Travel Backpack would be great for just about anyone on the go.

Sweating the Details

Peak Design has incorporated a number of small details in this bag that make it ideal for travelers. Interlocking external zipper straps discourage unscrupulous tourists from swiping your gear. Attachment points on the inside give you convenient locations to strap down your items so they don’t move around. Handles on the top, bottom, sides and back let you carry the Travel Backpack in whatever way suits your needs. And the entire product is just the right size to fit neatly into an airplane overhead bin.

Image: Photo courtesy of Peak Design

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

The all-round build quality is astounding, just as I’d expect after owning two other Peak Design bags for several years. And no, I’m not being paid to say this. I was a K-12 teacher for five years, and completely wore out several bags inthat time. Let’s just say I can tell a cheaply made bag when I see one, and the Travel Backpack is anything but.

The outer shell is made from thick Kodra fabric, which feels tough and sturdy while still having a degree of flexibility that lets the bag squish and stretch as needed. The main zipper is thick and chunky, and all zippers are hidden beneath long thin flaps that, presumably, providing a degree of weatherproofing and  a sense of security. A casual observer probably wouldn’t even see them.

Even though I wasn’t exactly gentle with the Travel Backpack on my road trip, five days isn’t nearly enough time to assess long-term durability. For that I look to my Everyday Backpack and Everyday Messenger which, after years of near-daily use, barely show any signs of wear and tear. I’d expect no less from the Travel Backpack. Admittedly some of the inner pouches and flaps don’t have the same degree of thickness, but it’s nothing I’m worried about. Peak Design products have a lifetime warranty, so if anything did fail it would be taken care of by the manufacturer. It’s nice to see a company willing to stand behind their products like this.

Image: Photo courtesy of Peak Design

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

While the Travel Backpack itself is highly useful, customizable and durable, it really excels when paired with accessories such as the Tech Pouch, Wash Pouch, Camera Cube and Packing Cubes. These are optional, but highly recommended if you have specific use-case scenarios in mind, such as carrying cameras and lenses with your clothes and toothbrushes. These accessories are designed to fit inside the Travel Backpack and, in the case of the Camera Cube, include mounting points and special hardware to ensure minimal movement and shuffling around.

Image: If you want to use the Travel Backpack for carrying camera gear, you will definitely want to...

If you want to use the Travel Backpack for carrying camera gear, you will definitely want to get the optional Camera Cube. Photo courtesy of Peak Design

The Camera Cube is specifically designed to fit the needs of people who carry cameras and lenses. It comes in three sizes – small, medium and large – with each one using Velcro dividers to create spaces to hold your gear. While other bags use similar systems, the flex-fold dividers used by Peak Design can be folded and reconfigured to a greater degree than I’m used to seeing.

Apart from the Camera Cube, my favorite packing accessory was the Tech Pouch. It help every electronic item I brought with me (other than my iPad), and neatly stowed all my cables, chargers and game cartridges too. It stands upright when open, revealing the entire contents and giving you instant access to anything inside. The Wash Pouch is fine for holding toiletries for a single person, but if you’re traveling with a companion don’t expect everything to fit in a single pouch.

Image: The Camera Cube is secured in place by sturdy anchors you can detach. But they’re a bit...

The Camera Cube is secured in place by sturdy anchors you can detach. But they’re a bit tricky to operate, and constantly inserting and removing the Camera Cube can be frustrating, especially if you have larger fingers.

More of a curiosity are the Packing Cubes, which hold clean and dirty clothes. They do a good job, but I’m not sure they’re worth the price when you can do essentially the same thing with a plastic bag. But to be fair, plastic bags aren’t made of lightweight breathable fabric, nor do they have zippers to close them up tight.

Travelers, Photographers, and Photographers Who Travel

At this point you might be asking what all of this has to do with photography. After all, Peak Design has been designing straps and clips and cases and bags for photographers since the company was founded.

But the Travel Backpack is unique in their lineup. While it’s certainly useful for photographers, particularly with the Camera Cube, it’s designed to fit the needs of anyone who finds themselves on the road and need a durable, versatile, customizable solution to carry their stuff.

Image: The 45L Travel Backpack compared to my 35L Everyday Backpack, with a DSLR and 70-200 lens for...

The 45L Travel Backpack compared to my 35L Everyday Backpack, with a DSLR and 70-200 lens for scale.

If this sounds like you, and you regularly carry cameras, lenses, filters, spare batteries, small tripods and other items, you’ll be pleased with the Travel Backpack providing you also buy the Camera Cube. But if you need a bag specifically designed to carry camera gear to gigs, or just a versatile all-in-one carrying solution, the Travel Backpack may not be for you. For those situations you might want something smaller, such as the Everyday Backpack or another bag that isn’t quite so bulky.

And therein lies the rub. While the Travel Backpack is an outstanding product, it’s hard to unequivocally recommend this bag because its usefulness depends on your expectations and how you use its many features. If you’re frequently on the move and need to transport a lot of camera gear, clothes, electronics, or even everyday items then the Peak Design Travel Backpack will definitely suit your needs. It surpasses almost every other small suitcase, backpack and carry-on luggage – and then some. I can’t think of a scenario where the Travel Backpack wouldn’t be ideal if your goal  involves traveling.

Image: Photo courtesy of Peak Design

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

As a daily multipurpose bag for schlepping cameras, lenses, lighting, clothes, documents, laptops or anything else of that nature, another product would more likely suit your needs. It’s sheer size precludes it from being a solid solution for students. And even though the top snaps to reduce its overall size, it’s still too big for photographers who need to transport a few cameras and lenses around town. But if you have a lot of camera gear the Travel Backpack, combined with a large-sized Camera Cube (which almost takes up the backpack’s entire available packing space), could be the solution you need.

Another issue is the price, and I’d be the first to admit the Travel Backpack isn’t the cheapest option on the market. The MSRP for the backpack alone is $300, and that doesn’t include any pouches, camera cubes or even a rain fly, all of which can drive up the cost significantly. If you’re used to carrying your clothes and camera items around in a $30 duffel bag, you might balk at the idea of spending ten times as much for something that, in some ways, isn’t much different.

Image: Snaps at the top allow the bag to shrink in size, but it’s still pretty large and cumbe...

Snaps at the top allow the bag to shrink in size, but it’s still pretty large and cumbersome for everyday usage.

But when you see how the Travel Backpack is so much more than a duffel bag, along with the quality of the materials, the care and attention to detail, and the way it’s designed specifically to meet the needs of busy people on the go, you might think twice. When I think about the ways my Everyday Backpack and my wife’s Everyday Messenger have come through for us over the years while showing hardly any signs of wear, and compare it to our many bags that have disintegrated, broken or fallen apart, the price of a Peak Design product starts to make more sense.

I’m a big fan of the Travel Backpack, and I hope you can see why. If you’re frequently on the road or in the air, this bag will suit your needs impeccably, especially when used in tandem with the Camera Cube, Tech Pouch, Wash Pouch and Packing Cubes. I have a closet full of duffels and suitcases to carry things on trips. But if I had to pick one bag for my travel needs, it would certainly be this one.

Check out the Peak Travel Backpack on Amazon.

Also check out Peak’s Everyday Backpack and Everyday Messenger Bag.

Durability: 5/5

Flexibility: 5/5

Cost: 4/5

Overall Rating: 5/5

Disclosure: Bag provided by Peak Design for review

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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