Tag Archives: tourism

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


  • 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








Spring Arches National Park Tours

Arches tours started up again… I did a fairly sunny Arches National Park sunset tour and then a cloudy (almost snowy) Arches tour a couple days later. It’s always good to get into a national park, even it’s one you live by and have visited a million times. There’s a reason folks come from all around to check out the park. The rainy day park tour started out cold and wet so it was pretty quiet. By the end it was a little warmer and the parking lot at The Windows section was pretty full as we were leaving. Enjoy the short video below. 

I’ve got a few new designs up in my Strayfoto Redbubble Store – some new Moab designs that are relatively new – check them out if you get a chance. 

Cool Moab Artwork

Moab, Utah Designs







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. 


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. 


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. 


  • 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


  • 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!