Gregory is on the right track with the Compass, but it is not yet a strong competitor in the travel pack market.
The Gregory Compas 30L travel backpack.
The Gregory Compass 30L is a very comfortable backpack, but only up to a point. It has no waist belt to get the weight off your shoulders, so it is not well designed for loads much heavier than 20 pounds. It also loses its shape when stuffed to the max: the back panel is not rigid enough to resist the shape of the items stuffed in the bag.
However, for lighter loads, this is a very comfortable backpack. The back panel provides a soft frame that allows the pack to contour to your body, but provides enough structure that it doesn't bunch up or sag when the backpack is not full.
The Minaal Carry On 2.0 has a similar design, relying on a contoured fit and firmer back panel to provide some support. However, the Minaal's back panel is slightly stiffer and stronger, which acts more like a supportive frame, and it is still relatively light weight, comfortable, and non-cumbersome to carry.
Gregory Compass Maxes out quickly at 30 liters, but remains surprisingly comfortable despite how it looks due to the conforming but supportive foam backpanel.
The Compass backpack is relatively versatile, but we struggled to identify its best use or overall design focus. This pack has features that make it sensible for school or work use, but it opens up wide to make it easier to pack like a suitcase or duffel. It lays flat, which is a nice feature for laying out climbing equipment or a rope at the crag, and its has a sewn daisy chain on the outside so you can clip things like a chalk bag to the outside. It is also nicely shaped so that it collapses when minimally loaded, remaining comfortable even with very few items inside.
Ultimately, it is in this category where Gregory really starts to fall behind the rest of the packs in this review. With travel backpacks, one of the first features we consider is pockets. The ideal design has enough pockets to keep you organized, but not so many that you get lost in them. This pack has a very nicely designed laptop sleeve which is accessed through the side of the pack. This part we liked very much.
The Compass had one of our favorite laptop sleeves, accessed on the side of the backpack..
However, the main compartment is also accessed via the back of the bag, and the zippers are easy to confuse. This made it very puzzling when trying to get into the pocket you wanted to access. We often found ourselves turning the bag around and upside down like a Rubik's Cube, trying to solve the riddle so we could get our computer out of the bag. But without this design glitch, we thought the laptop sleeve itself was just right: light foam to protect your electronics and provide comfort by lending a little added pack rigidity and structure, and stability (to keep the laptop from excess movement and jarring) by resting close to your back. The Minaal Carry On 2.0 is a similar design with much more intuitive features for travel.
A jungle of zippers made it hard to locate the main compartment.
The backpack has nice handles. They are strong, soft, and well placed except that there is one on either end which further adds to the Rubik's Cube effect: at times, we had a heck of a time figuring out the top from the bottom of this pack, and there was no easy clue by placing a handle only on the top and side(s) of the bag, for example.
We think this pack requires a little mental re-training in order to really love it, since it looks like a normal pack, but the access is under the shoulder straps and through the back. The up side to this, however, is security. It is borderline impossible to get into this backpack's main compartment while it is on your back (without a knife, that is), so it might be a nice feature if you're concerned about pickpockets. For us, it was a relatively constant annoyance when having to get into the bag, so the tradeoff was not there. But that all depends on how and where you travel--and if you're a young dog still able to learn new tricks.
Packing & Accessibility
The capacity of the Gregory Compass 30L travel backpack: the bulky sleeping pad and wetsuit had to be strapped to the outside, which was easy to do and quite secure! (The standard set of gear, top, was packed into each bag to compare capacities with an actual load rather than relying on the company's reported volume numbers.)
The Compass received a low score in this category due to the same pocket issues underlined in the Features section. The back panel access proved to be this pack's Achilles heel, affecting two metric scores in our review, which are designed to be mutually exclusive, but collectively exhaustive. This makes it worthwhile to note that if this feature does not seem like something that would bother you, it might still be a great pack for your uses. If ease of access is an important attribute for your would-be travel backpack, check out The North Face Overhaul.
We did like the accessibility to the laptop compartment, and this bag is almost worthwhile if that's the only part of the pack that you use! This is a very handy feature if you're carrying this pack onto a plane; however, the pack is a little small to be your only luggage for trips much beyond a long weekend.
If you're packing this for travel, it is good to know that the soft and floppy sides don't stand up. This can be a nice feature for packing dress clothes and keeping them neat and folded during transit.
The Compas is supple and lightweight, but floppy, making it less suited to business travel where you might want to keep your clothes neatly folded.
The fabric used to make this pack is relatively durable: middle of the road for ruggedness in this review, but more than adequate for its purposes. There were no other red flags for durability with this pack: the zippers were smooth and strong, and well placed so they didn't strain when overstuffing. The workmanship is of very high quality. For another option in small but durable travel backpacks, check out the Cotopaxi Nazca.
Weight & Capacity
This is by far the lightest pack in this review: it is half the weight of its closest competitor, the Arc'teryx Covert CO. It is, however, also one of the smaller packs in this review at only 30 liters capacity. However, the straps on the outside of the pack make up for some of that loss by allowing you to clip or strap lightweight items to the outside: overall, it rocked this category.
The excellent side straps allow you to attach things that won't fit in the relatively small 30 liter interior.
The side straps of the Compass have enough length for a 3/4 length foam sleeping pad.
The Gregory Compas 30L travel backpack worked pretty well for a trip involving a small laptop and climbing gear, what we like to call a good day at the office.
This is a relatively versatile pack with some key limitations. It works well for a day at school or at the office, followed by a trip to the climbing gym, for example. But it is not the best for extended travel, or anything beyond a simple weekend outing, visiting friends, or maybe doing a bit of hiking. This pack does well in pick-pocket-prone destinations for its hard-to-access main compartment. It would make a great lightweight, airport-friendly, and comfortable carry on pack for longer trips where you will be checking a larger bag.
This pack is a steal at only $99! If it suits your needs, it will last a long time and provide many comfortable, unencumbered outings. If not, however, it might be worth spending a few more bucks on a pack that is more versatile and easy to use.
The Compass is a mixed bag, pun intended. We loved the laptop sleeve, but were frustrated with the design of the main compartment. We had trouble figuring out the most appropriate uses for this travel pack. It is on the lower end of the capacity spectrum in this review, which is limiting. But the quality is high and we are optimistic that future iterations of Gregory travel packs will be something to keep an eye on.