Peak Design Travel Backpack Review
The Peak Design Travel Backpack offers an impressive number of features. Completely opposed to minimalist bags and suitcases, it tries to cover a large variety of needs.
Our pre-production test sample is the Sage version, the other color being black. Sage is a new color for Peak Design. While we were told that final production units will have a slightly different tint, our sample is close to the real thing. Below we compare it to the Everyday Sling in the company's more classical charcoal color.
The external fabric is a very fine nylon weave, quite slick to the touch. It is treated for water resistance. Zippers are also protected against water.
The bottom uses a more robust fabric for better resistance. In order to be able to manipulate the bag in planes, trains and other tight spaces, a handle is sewn at the bottom. Two small loops are also present. These are found all around the bag, a dozen in total, and serve as latch points for various items.
The bag should have no problems with water but, for even more protection, a rain cover is available. Photo equipment should be perfectly safe inside the bag. The rain cover features a cinch cord and a grommet at the bottom for eventual water drainage. Its bottom is reinforced, just like the bag itself. The rainfly fits with the bag expanded or compressed, and can slide under the magnetic flaps at the back for more comfort (see below).
The rain cover attaches to two more loops hidden under a magnetic flap at the bottom front. This small compartment stores the rainfly when not needed.
It can also hold the two external straps intended to latch larger items to the outside of the bag. Storing the straps here is quite convenient. They tuck away easily and are always available when needed.
These external straps attach to the hidden loops even if the rainfly is also attached. Contrary to other elements on the bag, the straps' hooks are made of plastic.
The two straps are long and can be used in a multitude of configurations. As seen on the picture above, they can be crossed over the front, with the extra length covering almost the whole diagonal. It will be possible to use crisscrossing patterns with the center loops, use the straps to carry large and thick items, swing them underneath the backpack to carry a rolled-up mat or sleeping bag, or even use the strap both on the front and the side, by simply sliding the top hook through the loop and attaching it to a side loop.
A small cloth ring holds the extra length of the straps. It works well, however there is a small risk of having the strap's end slide out. If the strap is shortened significantly (for instance if using the straps on the side only) the extra length should simply be inserted in one of the available pockets.
The general shape is rather boxy. In its normal state, the bag offers 35 liters of storage. It can expand towards the front, going up to 45 liters. In a nice twist rarely seen on backpacks, it can also compress to a more manageable 30 liters by snapping push buttons near the top. This does not make the bag any lighter but makes it more compact. The rationale is that the bag can be roomy when traveling, then more compact and unobtrusive when arrived at the destination. It can then serve as a day pack.
Each side also propose a handle. These are not centered and, if the bag is bottom-heavy, can feel unbalanced. A more even load distribution provides better balance.
The animated GIF above shows the side access zippers, available on both sides. These zippers cover the full length of the bag and can be used even when the top is compressed. When worn on the shoulder, the side flaps open towards the user. We generally prefer flaps that open away to help prevent spills, however in this case the zipper's shape helps ensure a better structural integrity because of the weight distribution.
Each side also offers identical side pockets. These expand outwards since they are gusseted and do not take up space inside the bag when full. They are large enough to hold a big water bottle. They are also deep and can often hold a tripod without the need for an extra strap. Placing a small or medium tripod, or a water bottle, in the side pockets still allow the wearer to use the side zippers.
If such a strap is needed, two loops are available. The external straps or the sternum strap can be used.
Towards the back, each side pocket offers a hidden, slim storage compartment. Perfect for a passport or other small items, these compartments cannot easily be used if the larger side pocket is full.
The top of the bag offers a small and softly lined pocket at the front, well-sized for glasses, cell phones or other small items.
The front is made of one large compartment, which will be described in the following section. This compartment expands to offer the extra 10 liters when needed. A nice element is that expansion occurs from both sides: instead of having to unzip all around the bag's front, only two quick movements on each sides are needed.
The back of the backpack features an impressive number of unique elements. The most obvious one is the way the straps can be stored when not needed. Taking advantage of the company's pivoting rivets (seen on most of the Everyday bags), the shoulder and hip straps can be completely hidden if desired. This can be a godsend when traveling, as the straps will not catch and risk tearing or breaking.
The straps are stored behind magnetic flaps along both sides of the back. When all four straps are hidden, the bag functions as a duffle bag, thanks to the handle in the center. This handle also serves as a luggage pass-through. The shoulder straps can be used alone, or with the hip straps.
The shoulder straps are well padded, and somewhat stiff. They include loops to attach sunglasses or camera clips, such as the company's Capture.
The shoulder straps also hold the sternum strap. Vastly different than what is almost always found on backpacks, this strap is stored fully on one side when not needed. It can be kept at the ready as on the picture above, attached to the top and bottom loops for flat storage, or completely removed.
This strap simply and securely slides over and around a thick fold on each shoulder strap. This system has no drawbacks and one advantage: the sternum strap never dangles down and never gets in the way.
On the right side as seen from the back, a discreet pocket can hold the traveler's information or a business card. Most travel luggage features a transparent window, a more obvious way to note one's address. This pocket might be too subtly hidden for some people.
When wearing the bag, the left hip strap proposes a zippered pocket, which can expand outwards a bit. Do not hope to store a lens in there, except maybe a true pancake.
The right hip strap instead proposes stiff pads, which can accept a Capture Clip or the company's lens pouch, called the Range Pouch. This can be extremely useful, especially when coupled with a Capture Clip on the shoulder strap, to avoid having to reach inside the bag when shooting. Other company's lens pouches might also fit here.
Like almost everything on Peak Design products, the hip straps do not attach in the usual way (by means of a plastic buckle). Instead, they use a metal hook and stiff fabric (the production model might be slightly different). This makes for a slimmer profile but requires two hands to attach.
The extra length of the hip strap is held in place by a plastic clip, which works well enough but does not feel as refined as the rest of the bag.
The bag's main handle is located at the top of the back. Thick and padded, it falls nicely under the hand, and resembles what is found on the company's other bags. Note that the main compartment's zippers can be attached together to prevent theft.
The back of this backpack hides yet another trick. While the fabric is far from a hiker's dream of perforated mesh, the wearer can improve comfort and aeration by simply folding the side flaps back towards the inside, creating a slimmer contact surface.
The Peak Design Travel Backpack is not fundamentally different from other backpacks on the market. However, the sheer number of innovative elements immediately sets it apart. At every turn, it seems the designers found new ways to do things, new twists on old classics, or completely unexpected elements.
With its stowable straps, 5 handles, 12 attachment loops, expandable and compressible shape, this bag is as versatile as it is well made. The craftsmanship is excellent, even on our pre-production unit. The use of magnets in strategic locations improves usability.
While the size might be too large for some, this is a travel backpack with no obvious flaws and an astounding number of qualities.