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The Best Travel Daypacks & Carry Ons
17 Oct. 2017
The Best Travel Daypacks & Carry Ons

Great Day Packs. Period.

Americans love the latest and greatest tech, gadgets, and travel gear.  I have soft spots for those things too, and I really enjoy well made and functional travel equipment.  My first trip overseas was to Europe for 6 months as a backpacker, and from those early days of carrying nearly everything on my shoulders and arms, luggage weight, efficiency, and functionality became really important.

When it comes to travel gear, I’m in the quality vs. quantity camp and prefer to spend money on things I think are better made and what will suit my needs rather than save money and have things break down prematurely.  I don’t need bags with bling on them or that have logos sewn all over.  My days of backpacking from town to town are behind me, but I still have high expectations for gear for my travels.  With that said, here are my current favorite travel bag options.

1.   Mr. Davis Continuum Bag 2.0
2.  ThinkTank Shape Shifter 15 & 17 v2.0
3.  The HEXAD Access Duffel 40L
4.  Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack 35L and 45L
5.  Aer Travel Backpack

Specific Needs and Expectations

When I go overseas, I take cameras and lenses, an audio recorder, headphones, my laptop, and other devices that all need protection and efficient transport.  When I travel, I take cameras and lenses, an audio recorder, extra lavalier microphones, a 13″ laptop, headphones, and other devices that all need protection and efficient transport.

best-backpack-travel-gear-daypack-2017

Lots of electronics gear for my travels, and this isn’t everything!

I’ve been looking for a rectangular shaped carry-on bag that I could also use for a daypack, or “one bag travel” as I’ve heard it referred to as.  I don’t want a carry-on bag that just stores clothes or gear that can’t be used for day trips and walking around cities.  Wheeled carry-on luggage serves its purpose, but when I travel overseas, I’m not just staying for a day or two so I need a full sized piece of luggage along with a good sized daypack.  Also, a school backpack isn’t what I’m looking for, as there usually isn’t enough room for all my gear and those kinds of bags aren’t designed for electronic transportation and protection outside of a laptop compartment.

 Mr. Davis Continuum Bag 2.0

My current favorite travel bag came from — a clothing company?  Correct.  This bag really got me excited because it matched up to nearly everything that I was looking for.  It’s rectangular design and spacious compartment holds all my gear plus some clothing if I needed.  The bag was featured on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter and raised over $75,000 in seed money to build the bag.  I found the bag after the funding campaign had ended, but still managed to get a good price on it.  The company is offering a lifetime warranty and also free returns.

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All my gear comfortably fit into the Continuum bag just casually packing it up. I could fit much more into the bag too like clothes or other items.  A downside though is the lack of organizing compartments and padding.

There’s also a separate shoe bag compartment and some smaller pockets for personal items and organization.

Pros:  Great carry on sized bag that looks great.  Simple but functional.  The bag can hold electronics, clothes, or both. Priced nicely too.  Light weight for its size.  Not fully waterproof, but weatherproof.

Cons:  A bit too big to haul around as a daypack.  Construction seems good, but I’m a little skeptical about it holding up with heavy loads over time.  The sewn side and top handles are on the thin side, and with a heavy load in the bag, they don’t seem like they will hold up.  The bag doesn’t have any padding inside for electronics (although that’s easy to add with foam from your local fabric store) and gear may get damaged with movement.  I’d love a hard case for sunglasses or other valuables mixed into the design too.  Shoe bag/end zip pockets also takes up space inside the bag.

Update 5/15/18 – I’ve had a chance to thoroughly test out this bag on a 2.5 week trip to Eastern Europe and it was great.  Even though the topside sewn on handles are on the thin side compared to other bags that I’ve had and test, the durability of the entire bag is terrific.  That is definitely not in question.  The things that I’d change on the bag is that there isn’t much or enough organizational pockets for my liking.  I love easily accessible small pockets for pens and other things that I travel with, and this bag has some of that, but could use a lot more.  The bag give you larger pockets where you kind of toss lots of items into it, creating piles of stuff that you need to go through to find you things.  It’s kind of like separate purses with things all piled into single areas.  But in terms of hauling lots of my gear and electronics, it’s been great.  I’ve therefore revised my score for the bag, down to 8.5 from 9.5.  For the price it’s a great bag, and I’m quite happy with my purchase.

Continuum Bag Black 30L
Price:
  $129 (intro pricing…option to add 13″ or 15″ laptop sleeve with the bag for more $$)

Score:  8.5 out of 10

ThinkTank Shape Shifter 15 & 17 v2.0

There are 2 different sized bags but each of them have some outstanding camera transport and protection features along with a laptop compartment.  What’s also great with this bag is that it holds the camera and electronics in place so that if you’re jogging to catch a bus or hiking up a hill, your gear isn’t mashing together getting scratched or damaged.  There’s also a roller handle slot/pass through sleeve, as well as dedicated tablet and smartphone pockets.  It’s also easy to attach a tripod or various sizes onto the bag.

I just love the logic and design features in this bag.  Both (the 15 and 17) bags also expand via a compression zipper that’s similar to the way most hand luggage allow for more room.  There’s also an optional water holder on the side of the bag as well as a dedicated tripod holder.  The only thing that I would ask for to improve the bag would be a more smaller storage areas for things like flash drives and smaller tech items.  Another large pocket apart from the camera storage area would be nice too.  I’m an avid reader and like to bring things to read with me on all my trips.  However, no bag is perfect for every traveler, and this bag is just wonderful the way it is.

Pros:  Has great camera and electronics storage that’s built into the interior of the bag.  Bag comes in 2 sizes.  Ability to compress/expand the bag.  The most efficient electronics day bag that I’ve seen yet.

Cons:  High price.  Bag is built for photographers and lacks some all around features.  It’s a specialized bag that may not be suited for travelers with simple photo and electronics needs.

Shape Shifter 15
Price:  $249.75

Shape Shifter 17
Price:  $279.75

Score:  8.5 out of 10

The HEXAD Access Duffel 40L

Another bag I found on Kickstarter, the Hexad duffel 2.0 is similar to the Mr. Davis Continuum bag but this one is heavier, and has higher quality construction.  Once open the main storage compartments have separate areas where you can store different types of clothing, store electronics or other materials like packing cubes that you need. The bag has really great organization options, with lots of quick access pockets on the sides that are perfect for a camera or other device that you’ll want close by.  The bag comes in 40L and 60L sizing, is weatherproof but not completely waterproof.

The backpack straps can be stored away that change the bag into more of a luggage piece and the quality of the reinforced straps/attachments is excellent.  Even the backpack straps were specially designed so that they can be worn over the shoulders or carried like a duffel bag in one hand while walking.  There’s also a separate shoe bag compartment that could double as a dirty clothes storage area.  This is the largest and heaviest of the bags in this post, and is the maximum allowed size for most international carry-ons.

The biggest drawback for this bag is the returns policy that states: “We stand behind our bags and will replace or repair items that fall within our warranty; However, we do not offer refunds or returns on bags / products that were received as an Indiegogo reward.”  That’s just not going to cut it for most people, as you can only gleam so much information from the internet without having a store to see and try the bag on.  I ordered the bag months ago, but didn’t realize there were no returns at the time of purchase.  With that said, my fingers are crossed for a good bag!

Pros:  Well made.  Great organization options for larger items.

Cons:  Expensive.  Made well, but also a heavier bag – and the heaviest of the three bags listed here.  Loaded up with gear it’s difficult to take with you walking around a new city for long periods of time.  Indigogo website that sells the bag is kind of confusion about the bag options and pricing.  Bad returns policy for a new product.

The HEXAD Access Duffel
Price:  $202 (intro pricing)

Score:  7.0 (bad returns policy)

Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack 35L and 45L

A very nice and versatile option for a carry-on that can double as a daypack.  For me 35L is about the perfect size bag that allows me to carry all my gear but also isn’t so big where I’d have problems carrying it around a city for hours.

For me the front pockets aren’t quite what I

The backpack straps are vertically adjustable so that

I ordered the bag several months ago and was really hopeful that I’d found the perfect backpack.  It was nice but in the end wasn’t quite what I was looking for.  I’ve noticed that some travel bloggers are sponsored by Tortuga, which may not mean anything, but it does make me question their bias and objectivity.

Some of the design features are questionable.  For example, the tablet storage area is opposite mesh pockets where many people would pack electronics cables.  Those cables could potentially scratch or even crack the tablet if you’re not careful.  The neoprene sunglasses holder is directly below the key chain so it would be easy for your sunglasses to get scratched from your keys jiggling back and forth even on casual walks.  The internal side mesh pockets in the main compartment look cool, but they can actually make packing more difficult.  Also, putting too many things in the bag makes some of the smaller organization pockets difficult to use because of the perforation of the bag.

Pros:  High quality construction and nice design.  Simple bag with decent storage options.

Cons:  Expensive.  Some design issues could damage electronics if not packed correctly.

The Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack
Price:  $269

Score:  7.5 out of 10

Aer Travel Backpack

A similar looking bag to the Tortuga, the Aer Travel Backpack has won some awards and is a nice option with a few flaws.  There are cinch straps on the side allow for expanding/collapsing, and a separate shoe compartment.  The quality of the bag build, zippers, and handles are solid.  There is a very large shoe bag compartment on the bottom of the bag, but the compartment isn’t separated from the main compartment so you end up loosing space quickly.

Pros: Possible to use bag as a carry-on and daypack.  Nice storage options and lots of space.  Well made and durable.

Cons:  Expensive.  Shoe bag is inside main compartment and takes up room for other items.  Compression straps dangle off the side of the bag if not being used, and also block the zip release if they are in use.  A little bulkier and heavier bag.  Lack of padding in the main storage compartment could damage electronics while traveling.  Front part of the bag is uninspiring and not as storage oriented as I like.

Aer Travel Backpack
Price:  $220

Score:  7.5 out of 10

Other bags of interest / Honorable Mentions:

The Nomatic travel bags are a nice fit for some people.  I ordered one but sent it back as it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.  Peak Design also offers a backpack and a messenger that are both geared toward the photography crowd but that have some versatility beyond that.  Minaal has a new bag called the Carry-on 2.0 Bag (Aoraki Black) and also the Daily Bag, both of which seem to be more for clothes storage and mini-backpacking.  Minaal makes nice bags but they haven’t been what I’m looking for at this stage.  There’s also the KP Tech Zero G Bag that some might find appealing too.

The downside of bringing a larger carry on/daypack with on a trip is that it is difficult to haul around for hours on end touring a city.  For that consider a lightweight, collapsable bag like Patagonia’s Lightweight Travel Tote Pack that can be a carry tote/duffel either on by hand, on the shoulder or as a backpack.  It’s really a wonderful travel bag and accessory option for a trip.

Day Bag Tip:  If you’re looking for an ultra simple, inexpensive day bag that’s really inconspicuous try a grocery bag from a local supermarket.  On almost every trip I take, I buy some simple items from the nearest supermarket and then use 1-2 grocery bags to hold my camera and misc equipment while touring the city.  If need be I’ll double bag the grocery bag for more strength, but it’s usually fine using just one bag.  Walking around with an expensive camera bag draws attention, but no one would think you have $1,000 worth of gear inside a grocery bag!  The added bonus using plastic grocery bags is that they are waterproof!

Summary

For now the Continuum bag is really great and is at the top of my list for best travel bag out there.  I’ve ordered both the Hexad Duffel 40L, which ships in the winter 2017, and the ThinkTank Shapeshifter just to be able to have some other options while on the road.  The Mr. Jones Continuum fits all my gear so well and for the price, it’s unbeatable.

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