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Topo Designs 30L Travel Bag Review

Topo Designs 30L Travel Bag Review

Topo Travel Bag 30L

Topo Travel Bag – Daypack Mode

Video Review – Scroll down for text and photos

If you’ve followed my blog/YouTube for any length of time, you know I like Topo Designs bags and backpacks

Topo Designs lured me in with the original daypack in… 2011? I followed that up with the Duffel bag, the Mini Mountain bag, the Klettersack (which I oddly never reviewed) and then the original Travel Bag – the full size one, the discontinued Backpack Tote, the Field Bag, The Mountain Briefcase, the Cinch Tote Bag, and the Mountain Pack. In addition to that, my kid carries the Y-Pack to school every day and my wife has the Quick Pack

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

I was going to try and deny being some sort of Topo Designs nutjob… Oh well. 

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

If I’m a nut for Topo Designs bags and packs, it’s with good reason. The bags are sturdy, long-lasting, and functional. They come in great colors and unique designs. They’re carefully crafted and up until recently, they were made exclusively in the USA. I really, really like stuff made in the USA. While Topo has shifted some manufacturing overseas (I assume to meet with increased demand – they carry Topo Designs at REI now), several pieces are still made in the USA – not just in the USA actually, but right next door in Colorado. 

If any company could be said to have a geographic vibe, then Topo Designs does. Their designs fit perfectly in the Western US – in the Mountains, in the deserts. In the wide open spaces and in quirky (often tourist-packed) mountain towns. That’s not to say they won’t find a happy home in an urban environment or anywhere else in the world, but their mountain heritage is evident in the designs, materials and colors. In the beginning you could have called them “retro.” You can’t call them that anymore. They find inspiration in designs from the 70’s and 80’s, but at this point Topo Designs is doing their own thing – and they’re doing it very well. 

Topo Designs made a Travel Pack several years ago (I (embarrassingly) review it here) – a bag sized to fit airline carry-on restrictions. It came with an optional satellite pack (The Trip Pack) that hooked to the front and came off to serve as a smaller daypack or “personal item,” which is airline speak for the bag that goes under the seat in front of you and ruins what little comfort you may have had. I used the original travel bag for years and while it was a great bag, it had two issues I struggled with. First, it was too large for anything other than travel, and second, it didn’t lie flat when open. Topo has solved both these issues with this new bag – in fact they’ve gone a step further by offering the redesigned Travel Bag in two sizes. Both lie flat when open. Let’s check it out. 

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

The Review:

Topo sent me the smaller Topo Travel Bag – the 30L. By my measurements it’s roughly 13″ X 7.5″ X 20. It’s perhaps a hair larger than a what you might use for an everyday type daypack, but not terribly so. For example, I generally use the Topo Designs Mountain Pack as my go-to daypack for almost everything, and it’s about 25-26 liters vs the Travel Bag at about 30L. Unless you’re tiny or like to pack really light you could probably use the 30L Travel Bag as a daypack most of the time. 

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

In fact, using it as a daypack is exactly what I’ve been doing with it. For the last month or so, I packed it all over. I carried running gear, computer gear, and camera gear in it. I hiked a little with it and I slipped it into an overhead bin on an airplane and threw it in the back of my truck. in short, it’s an awesome, well-designed, tough bag that will serve any traveler or outdoor enthusiast quite well.  

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

Frequent travelers will note a few features that stand out as setting the Topo Travel Bag apart from the competition. I love that you can stow the shoulder straps. I drive all over for work and often I just need a bag, not a backpack. Stowing the shoulder straps makes the bag seem much sleeker and more manageable. With the shoulder straps stowed, the bag still has four other options for carry – five if you count the pass through that goes over a larger, roller bag handle. There are three handles sewn into the bag – one on top and one on each side. This means no matter how I put the bag in the truck, I’ve always got a handle I can grab to get the bag out. It’s also got the adjustable shoulder strap. I like that the strap swivels – it rarely gets tangled. 

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

The location of the pass through for the roller bag handle doubles as the back padding and adds some rigidity to the bag overall. It’s a bag that seems to really hold its shape. The padding for the the back and the pass through slot doubles as padding for the laptop compartment, which is also padded on the other side (the clothing/contents side). If you stow the backpack straps then the laptop compartment is that much more padded. 

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

If you count the laptop compartment then there’s technically 9 different pockets on the bag. There’s one on the front – with two zippered internal ones, there’s the front compartment with a zipper pouch and two slip pockets, and then the main compartment has two zippered mesh compartments. I’ve always praised Topo Designs for their restraint – they put enough pockets to be organized, but not so many users get confused. I had a small North Face pack once that I hated using because it had too many pockets. I couldn’t find anything in that bag. The Topo Travel Bag has, thankfully, an appropriate number of pockets. 

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

The laptop compartment on the 30L version of the Travel Bag easily fits my 14″ laptop. Topo claims it’ll fit most 15.6″ laptops, but I’m a little skeptical. I have an older (8+ yrs) 15.6 laptop and it definitely won’t fit. Perhaps a more modern, sleeker 15.6″ will? If you’re on the fence about the 30L version and use a 15.6 laptop, it’s worth confirming before purchasing.

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

It has clips top and bottom for attaching other Topo bags, such as the Y-Pack, or the Trip Pack, so that you’ll actually have two bags when you get where you’re going. This is a great idea. I hate having to empty out all my clothes to use the one bag I brought once I’m at a destination. The more bags I have with me, the better. 

The plastic hardware is WooJin, and while I’d never heard of it before, they feel nice and work well. It’s not cheapo plastic. It’s substantial, clean, and smooth to the touch – no rough edges that I can find. 

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

The clips that hold the potential separate pack and the shoulder straps and waist strap are a little difficult to unclip. They have a little wire bale that needs to be unhooked from the plastic catch, and I find myself using quite a bit of manipulation to get them undone. Clipping them back together is a cinch. I wish getting them unclipped was that easy. 

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

The waist strap and the sternum straps are, thankfully, removable. 

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

There’s a couple little webbing loops at the bottom of the zippers that allow users to tuck the zippers in for an added measure of security. Of course it’s no substitute for a lock or a vigilant eye, but it makes it a little more difficult for someone to quickly and quietly slip the bag open and help themselves. 

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

And finally, it lies flat. I love bags that lie flat. Once you unzip it and open it up, there’s no hidden corners or areas that users can’t see or access. 

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

lastly, there’s nothing more frustrating than reaching into and looking for something in a giant black hole of bag. I congratulate Topo Designs for keeping the bright yellow interior.  

Topo Designs 30L Travel Bag Pros:

  • Lies flat
  • Goldilocks sized – not too big not too small
  • Shoulder straps stow nicely
  • Lots of handles
  • Can attach other Topo Packs
  • Design is both bomber and fun
  • Waist strap is removable
  • Sternum strap adjustable/removable

Cons:

  • Some hardware can be tough to manipulate
  • 30L size probably won’t fit larger than 14″ laptop
  • Foreign Made (although Topo does still produce several bags in the US – one of only a handful of manufacturers to do so)
  • Premium pricing

Topo Designs 30 Liter Travel Bag Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patagonia MLC – The Best ONE Bag?

The Patagonia MLC is my go-to bag for travel. It’s been all over the world with me.

Patagonia MLC Review

I’ve been a fan of Patagonia for a while now – since about 1984 if I had to think back. Since then I’ve had about a million fleece jackets and shirts and I’ve destroyed more baggies shorts on the river than I care to imagine. I’ve found what I think are some real gems in the Patagonia line-up – gear they’ve made for years that stands the test of time both from a design and a use standpoint. I think their iconic Snap-T fleece shirt is one of those items. I think the Patagonia MLC is another. 

Patagonia MLC

Here’s my video review of the Patagonia MLC – jump down if you want the old-fashioned experience of actually reading something, 

I bought my first Patagonia MLC (Maximum Legal Carry-On) in the late 90’s? I had it for a while and sold it. I bought another one in about 2005 and sold it about ten years later. I bought the updated Headway 45L version about a year ago, then the Black Hole MLC at the end of the summer. I then actually bought back the one from 2005 (a friend had it)  and now my son uses it. The Patagonia MLC is just that good. It’s really the do-everything bag. 

(Patagonia offers two different versions of this bag now – the Headway MLC in a ballistic nylon, and the Black Hole MLC in a ripstop, trucker tarp style. I show both in the video above, but the photos here are only of the Black Hole MLC.  I’ve fond I use it a little more, although I appreciate the subtlety of the Headway version, which lacks the bold branding on the exterior of the bag.) 

Technical stuff? The Patagonia MLC It’s 22.75″ x 6.75″ x 18″. It’ll fit a 17″ laptop. It has a ton of pockets. If you get the Black Hole version the interior is bright orange, if you get the Headway version, the interior is a more subtle gray. The interior pockets differ slightly on the two versions of the bags, but not in any meaningful way. 

Patagonia MLC

The zippers on the version I have from 2005 are huge – probably overkill. The zippers on the current version are much smaller, but seem to so the job. In fact they seem more in line with the design of the bag than a larger zipper would. The bag in these photos is blue and orange, although sometimes it definitely looks black.

Patagonia MLCPatagonia MLC

The shoulder strap works well and the backpack straps are comfortable. I’ve always loved being able to stow or hide the backpack straps when they’re not being used. While users give up a little comfort for the convenience – dedicated straps and a more complex back pad might be more comfortable over the long run – this isn’t necessarily a dedicated backpack. it’s designed to get you the airport, on the plane, and out again as quick as possible without having to check anything. 

Patagonia MLC

Patagonia MLC

The backpack straps on this version of the Patagonia MLC are a departure from earlier models. They’re a little more… curvy? I’m sure the technical word marketers and sales people will use is “ergonomic” and maybe they are – I can’t really say I find the curve to be all that useful. What I do find useful is the side-release buckles that attach the shoulder straps to the bottom of the bag. These plastic side release buckles are a vast improvement over the older, metal style clips that I always found to be finicky. 

Patagonia MLCPatagonia MLC

The backpack straps can, like all the earlier MLC designs, be stowed in the back panel when they’re not needed. I find this is one of the most useful features of the bag. I love having the straps when I need them, but I hate it when they’re in the way when I don’t need them. If i’m just carrying it from my house to my truck and then into a hotel I’ll just use the (detachable as well) shoulder strap or even opt to leave that off and just use the top handle. 

Patagopnia_MLC_Review_0037Patagonia MLCPatagopnia_MLC_Review_0039

At 45 liters, not the largest bag. I’ve noticed the amount of days I can comfortably pack for with just this bag really varies with two things; the weather, and the level of dirtbag I’m willing to adopt for the week. If it’s summer and I’m going bumming around and no place where flip-flops are frowned upon (my preferred travel style) then I’m all set. I could live out of this thing. If I’m doing more of business casual (argh!) where I have meetings and meals beyond roadside burritos, then I can comfortably get three days of clothes in it. Winter, with a jacket/fleece requirement hits me pretty hard when using this bag.  It’s tough to pack heavy clothes, warm jackets, and winter running gear all at once in this bag. Maybe I should stop running?

It’s got a pocket on the rear that opens to form a pass through so users can slip it over the handle of a rolling bag as well. If you’ve got the shoulder strap removed, and the backpack straps stowed and slip this thing on a wheelie bag, there’s nothing to hang off and trip you up. It’s pretty slick. 

Patagopnia_MLC_Review_0040

There’s some office-style pockets in the top flap/pocket of the bag, but I rarely use them. I think this bag is better suited to actual luggage than kind of an every day carry bag. Still, they’re there if you need them. There’s a padded laptop compartment in the rear of the bag as well. 

Patagopnia_MLC_Review_0043

All in all this is just about my favorite bag to use. I have tons of bags – drybags, backpacks, totes, daypacks, etc… but I use this one most for travel.  I’ve had similar bags from other manufacturers, but I usually sell them quick and come back to the Patagonia MLC. 

Pros? 

  • Bomber construction
  • Largely water resistant
  • Simple, time-tested design
  • Useful size
  • Meets Carry-on requirements 
  • Comfortable to carry in all configurations
  • Straps hide away when not in use
  • Padded laptop compartment

Cons?

  • Small for long trips unless you pack very light
  • Not a great backpack, just an OK one
  • The blue color is really hard to photograph!

 

 

 

 

REI Flash 22 Lightweight Backpack Review and Video

REI FLash 22 Lightweight Backpack Review

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Check out the video review or keep reading for the old fashioned way… Thanks.

I’ve got daypacks, klettesacks, backpacks, knapsacks, shoulder bags, messenger bags, laptop bags and camera bags, but I never, for some reason, seem to have the perfect bag for any one thing. A few years ago Leah and I bought a couple REI Flash 18 backpacks for some light trail running. They’re good little bags, they hold a water bladder plus a little food and some light clothing. Perfect, right? No. Because I lost mine. Sure, maybe I loaned it someone or someone borrowed it without asking and never returned it… I don’t know. It’s gone. That much I do know. As much as I love Topo Deisgns bags, none of them are really lightweight and none of them are set up to accommodate a water bladder. I’m usually fine with a water bottle on a hike, but if I’m running I like to have a bladder. It’s easier to access and easier to carry and often it’s lighter once it’s empty – it certainly takes up less room once it’s empty than a water bottle does.

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At any rate I started shopping around. Bad idea. Now I’m pretty sure in the not too distant future I’ll have a Nathan’s Vest and an Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 in addition to the REI Flash 22 I ordered. I settled on the REI Flash 22 mainly because of price. It’s cheap. Not necessarily cheaply made, but it’s certainly an affordable bag. I ordered it from REI as a year end closeout and got it for about $38.00. Much cheaper than anything Ultimate Direction is offering.

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I waffled back and forth between the REI Flash 18 and the Flash 22 for a little while – the 18 was even cheaper than the 22, but I’d had it (and secretly I hoped (still hope?) that I’d find it again) and decided I wanted a little more room in the pack department. The 18 is (I believe) so named because its capacity is ~18 liters, and the 22 is ~22 liters, so it’s a little larger. Also I was hoping for something that’d do double duty as stuffable, but full-featured daypack for travel. I wanted something that I could put a bladder in and go for a run, but that I could roll up and stuff in a larger bag to travel with – kind of a destination backpack that wouldn’t take up as much room or weigh as much as the 1000 Denier Cordura Topo Deisgns Pack that I usually take with me.

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I originally ordered the gray Flash 22, but only because the black was out of stock. I’ve got a thing for black bags. Most of my bags are black and I wanted one that matched. No luck though, as the closeouts were only available in gray. I ordered the gray one and a couple days later I noticed the black one was back on the sale list so I ordered it as well. My original thought was that I’d just return the gray one and keep the black one. I was quite surprised a week later when the black one was going back – not the gray one.

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The gray one is so much easier to look inside. One can open the top of the bag and actually see the contents. The black one is dark enough to qualify as a black hole. Anything you have in the bag will never escape the event horizon of it’s mouth – not due to gravity but simply because you won’t ever be able to find anything in the dark. After looking inside both bags (a feature that I tried to show in the above video) I opted to keep the gray one.

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It’s a good bag. It’s lightweight, it’s easy to use, and it fits well. It doesn’t bounce too much when running, but it’s not as secure as an ultrarunning style race vest would be. I’ve run with my Camelbak bladder about half full and while I find the sloshing noise annoying, it’s secure enough. The main compartment holds a jacket and some camera gear – enough to keep me reasonably happy. It’s a decent lightweight daypack at an affordable price. I tend to prefer stuff that costs five times as much, comes with some pseudo-ethos and is made in the USA, but this is essentially just what I was looking for, and it was cheap.

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Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.

Long Term Topo Designs Daypack Review

Topo Designs Daypack Long-term Review

I’ve added a second (much better) video review of the Topo Designs Daypack and it’s it’s up now on my strayfoto Youtube Channel, also embedded here:

Keep reading for the good, old fashioned, text and photo review.

strayfoto

I bought the Topo Designs Daypack in the summer of 2011, and I’ve used it almost every day since. I’ve hiked, run, traveled, and ridden motorcycles with it. It’s carried clothes, water bottles, jackets and the occasional tick with style. Not only is it my current favorite backpack, it’s one of my favorite bags of all time.

Topo Designs Daypack The Topo Designs Daypack is sleek, somewhat minimalist, and only medium-sized. The shoulder straps are wide and comfortable but not thickly padded. The back padding too is thin but adequate and comfortable. It’s not bulky at all. The pack itself is big enough to carry everything you think you need, but small enough to make sure you don’t take any more than that.

Topo Designs Daypack

I’ve owned a ton of backpacks over the years. I’ve owned ones with too many pockets, ones with not enough pockets, and everywhere in between. I’ve owned lots with too many straps. The made in the USA Topo Designs Daypack is the right combination just a few straps and bomber design.

Daypack backpack If I have a complaint – I do occasionally wish it came with a provision for carrying a bladder/hydration system. Especially when riding a motorcycle. I’m usually a water bottle type hiker, and don’t mind taking a break to enjoy the scenery, take some photos, and fish some water out of the pack. But with a helmet on, a hydration system and a hose makes a lot of sense. I wouldn’t change anything other than a slot in the top for a hose to pass through. I suppose I could add my own, but like I said, it’s a small complaint.strayfoto

Topo Designs Daypack

If you look close you’ll notice I’ve actually posted photos of two different Topo Designs daypacks. The first one I ordered was an early model with steel hardware. I wasn’t happy with how much the shoulder straps slipped while hiking or running. I contacted Topo Designs and they replaced it immediately with a newer model with plastic hardware (I think they all come with plastic hardware now) that slips much less (not at all, really). If you look closely, you’ll notice the replacement pack has an upside-down logo, and we’ve often joked that makes it much more rare and valuable. Either way, it functions well and gets used daily.

rucksack daypack

When I travel with the backpack, I usually carry my laptop and accessories in the bag, and then use it as a normal rucksack once I get where I’m going and I’m able to leave my computer behind.

strayfoto

strayfoto

I actually own three Topo Designs Bags. In addition to the daypack, I’ve got the Mini-Mountain Bag (which I review HERE) and the duffel, which I like as well. Everything I have from Topo Designs is well-made, well-designed, comfortable to carry and, above all else, functional. I’ve had some people notice the somewhat “retro” look of the bag – I’d argue it’s more classic/functional than retro. Its made to work, and it’s design is simply dictated by its function. It’s not “retro” it’s classic. It’s classic because it works, and it works well.

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Below is a short video walkthrough of the backpack. Thanks for looking, and be sure to check out my reviews of the Topo Designs Mini Mountain Bag, and the Topo Designs Field Bag, which I use as a great little camera bag. I’ve also just added a review and video of the Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase as well. 

 

 

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I’ve written and illustrated two children’s books that are now available in print and digital versions; Coyote Life, and The Cat’s Glasses. If you’ve got kids, check them out. If you enjoy them, please leave a review, tell your friends, etc. Thanks.

The Cat's Glasses

Kid’s Books: The Cat’s Glasses

Does your cat need glasses? How do you know? Follow one little boy as he tries to find out in The Cat’s Glasses by Quinn Hall

Find out more on MagCloud

Coyote Life by Quinn Hall

Kid’s Books: Coyote Life by Quinn Hall

Coyote Life is a short, rhyming children’s book about coyotes in the Southwest.

Find out more on MagCloud

 

Don’t forget to check out some of the fine art prints for sale in my Etsy shop.

Ancient-ViewSalt_Flats_Hot_Rod_One

My wife Leah also makes and sells some pretty cool leather stuff like minimalist wallets and camera straps. Check out her Etsy store for some cool gear. minimalist leather handstitched walletCamera Strap by Aestus Gear

Photography T Shirts and Stickers at Redbubble:

Buy my work

Topo Designs Mini Mountain Bag Review

Topo Designs Mini Mountain Bag Review

Topo Designs Mini Mountain Bag

I’ve owned the Topo Designs Mini Mountain Bag for a little over a year now, and it’s become my most-used and most-loved bag of the last several years. That’s saying a lot. Continue reading