Volume: 1,850 cubic inches
We Like: Clamshell design makes for easy main compartment access
We Don’t Like: Top compression cinch buckle is difficult to close
The best thing about the Topo Designs Travel Bag is that it’s not just a travel bag. It’s a race day bag, an office bag, a grocery bag, and an anything-you-can-cram-into-it bag. At first glance, the Travel Bag seems cavernous, far too large for under the airplane seat — and it is. But it fits perfectly in an overhead bin and is sized just right for overnight trips with 1,850 cubic inches of storage space.
In other words, it may be the only backpack you’ll need.
That makes it easier to stomach the $229 price tag, considering this bag’s capabilities. It’s constructed of 1000d Cordura outer material and nylon pack cloth liner inside. The shoulder straps are lightly padded, as is the back panel. A dedicated laptop sleeve in the front zipper pocket, along with three zippered organizer pockets, makes this a great bag for work or play. Inside the main compartment, keep dirty clothes separated from clean clothes with the divided pocket. Smaller items go in the mesh pocket, and you can stow your water bottle in one of the two side sleeves, also great for holding your phone or keys. It’s also refreshing to leave the world of plain black bags behind with eye-catching color schemes, though Topo also offers a plain black option.
But those are just standard features. Lots of bags have those. The Travel Bag sets itself apart with two important components: the three-sided zip front that lets you open the bag like a clamshell, and the various methods by which you can carry the bag.
The three-sided zip means you can easily access everything in the pack, not just the stuff at the top, without having to remove anything except what you’re looking for. Forget about packing and re-packing a hundred times on your trip. Lay the bag down, unzip all three sides, and get the lay of the land, no rooting around required.
When you’re on the town or on the trail, use the backpack straps for stability and comfort. When you’re headed to the office, stow the backpack straps in the dedicated sleeve behind the back panel, and hook on the shoulder strap to carry it like a messenger bag. Or, forget about straps altogether and carry it like a briefcase with the hand straps. The beauty of the three-sided zip becomes apparent when you go from one carrying orientation to another: All your stuff is easy to access from just about any angle.
An external daisy chain adds even more mounting options should you be toting something like a tripod or ski poles. The leather lash straps are a nice aesthetic touch, but perhaps extraneous given the versatility of the daisy chain.
With all those great features, there was one thing we didn’t love: The buckle on the top cinch strap wasn’t always very easy to close. It opens easily enough with a pinch, but closing the small metal gate was cumbersome, especially when we were in a hurry. It’s a trifle for a bag as good as this, but one that consistently had us leaving the strap undone in lieu of its frustration.