Backpack? Duffel? Carry-on? You choose! The Osprey Porter is versatile and easy to use for a variety of travel styles.
The Porter 46 is best suited to urban and airline adventures.
Osprey designed the Porter series to be a product for the traveler who wants a backpacking style pack but often travels on airplanes. The features of the Porter 46 make it more airline-ready while retaining as much of the comfort and carrying versatility of a more traditional backpacking backpack. This is a travel backpack designed to haul a lot of gear easily and comfortably.
The Porter is one of the more comfortable backpacks in this review, though it should not be mistaken for a backpacking pack. The Porter 46 feels distinctly more like putting a small bear on your back, then cinching it closer with excellent suspension. It carries impressively well for its boxy shape and for how much it protrudes from your back, but it's not a pack we would ever substitute for our backpacking or trekking pack.
The excellent suspension on the Porter 46 makes it carry comfortably despite the boxy and bulky shape.
For some other comfortable travel backpacks, you might like the Tortuga Outbreaker. It doesn't look quite as fun as the Porter, but it carries just as well. We also found the Osprey Farpoint to be quite comfortable, with slightly more of a backpacking pack design.
A significant improvement to comfort with the latest update to the Porter was switching the laptop sleeve from the outermost pocket to the back panel. This puts your fragile electronics in a safer location and helps keep the weight of the pack centered more closely to your back.
The Porter 46 is great for off-road travel adventures, where no rolling suitcase dares to go.
The Porter 46 held up well in our Comfort Test to loads up to 35 pounds, which is a lot of weight for what you are most likely packing in a travel backpack of this size. The only design quirk we disliked was that you have to deploy both the shoulder straps and the hip belt to use the shoulder straps. With lighter loads, we prefer to carry our travel backpacks with just the shoulder straps and avoid the flap and hassle of the hip belt. For this improved design feature, check out The North Face Overhaul.
We are quite pleased that Osprey switched the laptop sleeve to the back panel for this updated version of the Porter 46, instead of having it in the outer zippered pouch, which was awkward, imbalanced, and felt less well protected for our fragile electronics.
We like the simple and large main compartment of the Porter 46. It is easy to open (especially when you get dinged by TSA and an agent has to open it up to search it), easy to pack (or re-pack after said search), and has a handy zippered pocket inside for smaller items (like socks or underwear) or those you don't want flying out when the TSA agent opens the bag.
We prefer the new location of the laptop sleeve in the back panel instead of the outer flap of the bag; it's much more secure and puts the weight closer to our backs for improved carrying comfort.
The padding on either side of the pack instills confidence when you decide to check this bag, and serves as a "Straight Jacket" design to compress the contents into carry on size (or for reduced bulk and improved carrying comfort). This padding added quite a bit of bulk and was rarely necessary for what we were packing in a carry-on. Realistically, we could provide all the padding we needed with the clothing we were already packing. This bulk also proved more problematic on some smaller commercial airplanes, so be extra sure of the dimensions of your particular airline's checked bag allowance. Ultimately, we were able to cram the pack under the seat, but it was a close call.
The StraightJacket compression system provides padding for rough travel and compression to get the pack down to your airline's carry on size.
The modular carrying design is an excellent feature of the Porter. Osprey calls it a "deluxe duffel" which is spot-on. This bag can be carried by hand from a nice padded handle, or you can purchase an extra shoulder strap and clip it to the D ring buckles to carry it like a duffel over your shoulder.
The pocket design was changed slightly from the previous model, and we found it to be useful, though not a significant change from before (other than swapping the laptop sleeve to the back). We especially like the top pocket for toiletries; this instills confidence that any exploded shampoo bottles will have an extra pocket separating it from our clothing inside. And the internal zippered pockets are also great for putting your dirty or smelly shoes in quarantine and keeping socks and underwear secure.
The pocket design helps keep you organized during travel.
If you like the duffel design more than the backpack design, you might like the Patagonia Headway MLC. For a more urban-friendly backpack design, and one you might use daily as well, check out The North Face Overhaul.
And for another take on how to convert a carry on into a checked bag, check out the Osprey Farpoint or Minaal Carry On which have flaps you can deploy over the pack's suspension system, making it look a little more sleek and professional in duffel mode (the Minaal even looks almost like a soft briefcase).
Packing & Accessibility
The Porter 46 is well designed to pack in a hurry and allow access to important items. Access to the main compartment is through the front panel which opens wide making packing easy. When we got stopped by the TSA X-Ray technician when running late for our flight, we were also pleased with how easy it was for a stranger to open and search the contents, and then put everything right back in place and zip it up for us to grab and run to the gate.
The new laptop sleeve is well placed with padding in the back panel, allowing us to easily slide it out for the security screening process, then slide it back and go. We really like the zippered compartments inside the main compartment which allowed us to keep socks and underwear secure and minimize embarrassment when the TSA officer searched our bag.
The top features a separate toiletries pocket that makes it easy to remove them for the TSA checkpoint, and also adds some protection for your clothing in case your shampoo explodes during travel.
The additional zippered compartment at the top of the bag made it really easy to extract toiletries for the TSA checkpoint—as well as adding a layer of protection from our clothing in case our shampoo bottle exploded.
The cavernous main compartment holds a lot of stuff, and the side zippered pockets provide a great place for socks and undies, and save you embarrassment when TSA searches your bag.
Part of the ease of packing the Porter comes from the firm side panels—when you open the bag, it stays open much like a suitcase, but then it carries comfortably like a backpack. If you like the ease of packing a suitcase and you don't really need the backpack to be as comfortable, you might like the design of the Arc'teryx Covert CO.
The Porter is an impressively durable travel backpack that we would never hesitate to cinch down with the padded StraightJacket and send off as a checked bag if we packed too much for it to be a carry-on. The 420 denier nylon can handle the abuse of conveyor belts, rough surfaces, and even minor insult from some sharper objects.
The manufacturing is sound, with sturdy stitching and excellent, big, smooth zippers. We also liked how the zippers were placed—even when we overstuffed the bag we did not see much strain on the zippers.
Weight & Capacity
The Porter 46 scores well for the weight held per liter of volume.
This is an excellent feature for any backpack—since you will be carrying all that weight on your back, it's nice if the pack itself isn't too heavy before you've even put anything inside of it. For a super light and straightforward travel backpack, check out the Arc'teryx Covert.
Check with your airline, as the Porter 46 was sometimes bit bulky for our carry on uses, depending on how we packed. The StraightJacket compression system might help, but only if you're packing compressible items.
Osprey calls the Porter travel backpack a "deluxe duffel," and we agree. This is a highly versatile travel backpack that can morph to carry in the most convenient way for wherever you are. It is not the right shape to be used as a backpacking backpack, however, so we think this backpack fits in a relatively narrow niche of travel uses. It seems best suited to airline travel where you want to stay light and nimble with just a carry-on, but you want as much space as possible. It is boxy like a suitcase and bright and oddly-shaped with the StraightJacket's padded wings, so it doesn't look formal enough for business travel. But for those taking off on shorter adventures and keeping bags light and small, this could be the ideal travel companion.
The Porter 46 looks bulky but carries well. It was the ideal bag for a weekend getaway to Stuart Island in the San Juan Island in Washington where you arrive by boat and walk to your house!
The Porter went up in price $10 from the last model, but it is still a great deal at $140. It is super durable and easy to pack, so if it meets your needs, we are sure you'll be stoked.
The Porter 46 is an excellent travel backpack; it is very comfortable, easy to pack, and highly durable. It is an excellent companion for airline travel with the padded StraightJacket compression system and the easy panel loading (and unloading—or TSA-searching!) design. It will keep your electronics safe and organized, and ensure you're light and nimble on your journey through the airport and your next adventure destination.
When the Porter 46 didn't fit in the overhead bin, we were able to wrestle it under the seat, but we don't recommend counting on this.