Topo Designs 30L Travel Bag Review
Video Review – Scroll down for text and photos
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.
I was going to try and deny being some sort of Topo Designs nutjob… Oh well.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The waist strap and the sternum straps are, thankfully, removable.
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.
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.
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
- 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