The Osprey Transporter might seem, at first glance, to be just that, a duffel. Osprey classifies this bag as an "expedition duffel", but it transforms into many things. It is an impressively comfortable backpack, a very useful duffel with messenger bag style carrying comfort, and an over-the-shoulder bag that allows easy access to the main compartment. We were so impressed by the versatility of this bag that we awarded it a Top Pick for Utility. This is not the best bag for frequent airport travel or electronics-heavy missions, but we think you'll find it to be useful for a broad range of travel needs, from unexpected midday detours to weekend adventures and even as luggage on an expedition.
Osprey Transporter 40 Review
Cons: No electronics pockets, not specifically designed for airport travel
Manufacturer: Osprey Packs
#5 of 12
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Osprey Transporter 40 crosses so many categorical lines that it is hard to classify. In the strict category of Travel Backpack, it did not crush the competition—however, it was such a broadly useful bag that we give it a Top Pick for Utility—and overall, the outstanding design.
Our first brush with Osprey packs was nearly two decades ago in the remote wilderness of the southern Sierra Nevada.
A group of cheerful backpackers were bounding down the trail after a week in the backcountry, wearing tidy looking packs with nicely contoured suspension. They paused to chat and commented on the comfort of their new backpacks. With tired shoulders and aching hip bones, we took note.
Since those years, Osprey has seemed to strive to be at the cutting edge of carrying comfort. They have not always succeeded, producing a few duds, but they have always moved forward, introduced improvements, and tested age old assumptions.
With the Transporter series, Osprey has challenged the assumption that a duffel is not comfortable to carry. It is a gear-hauling machine, designed for hucking from trunk to truck to yak back to basecamp—with a few conveyor belts mixed in. Duffels are distinctly not meant to be lugged around on your back for any length of time.
The Transporter 40 does not have suspension, a frame, or even a hip belt, but it is still remarkably comfortable with loads up to 25 lbs. Osprey accomplished this comfort with well-designed shoulder straps (wide, firm padding) that keep the load close to your back and a sternum strap that allows you to situate the straps where you want them to fall on your shoulders. The thicker fabric not only makes this duffel more durable, but it also gives it a little bit of structure. Even the pocket that stows the shoulder straps for airline travel or yak rides provides a slightly stiffer panel which rests flush on your back, contouring gently while holding its shape.
But this sounds like a backpack, you say, not a duffel! Okay, so let's stow the backpack straps and bust out the shoulder strap. Gold star for Osprey, again. They have solid attachments points for the (again) nicely padded and adjustable shoulder strap… on opposite corners of the bag.
And if you want none of these straps, the duffel has big, sturdy grab handles on all four sides. Keep up the good work, Osprey. The only pack we would recommend above the Transporter for comfort—and which retains much of the similar utility—is the Osprey Porter, but this is much more of a backpack style and is less versatile than the Transporter.
The Transporter is a fairly streamlined travel backpack or a highly featured duffel bag. It doesn't have all of the airport-ready features of a travel backpack, nor the neat folded design to keep your blouses or trousers wrinkle-free. However, the features it does include are impeccably well made and useful.
For one, the zippers are burly and super smooth. Even when overstuffed, we couldn't get them to catch or stick. The large flap opening is much easier to pack than a traditional single zippered opening characteristic to a typical duffel. And there are load securing straps inside to keep your clothing from sloshing around. These buckled the bag inward when overtightened, so they weren't our favorite design—but helpful in some situations.
On the side, there is a name tag holder and a hidden zippered pocket, handy for small items, like our phone and car keys when we used this backpack as our gym bag. Inside, there is a single zippered mesh pocket which we found to be awkwardly placed, so we rarely put anything here that we needed frequent access to.
The shoulder straps stow nicely in a zippered panel on the top flap of the pack. They are easy to deploy with strong, durable, and color-coded buckles. Swap these for the shoulder strap, and you have sturdy and easy-to-operate hooks that clip on like a carabiner. Many packs in this review feature buckles which hook onto the pack and must be clipped closed with a wire gate that holds the buckle closed and provides structural integrity. These are difficult to manipulate, and when the loop of wire that closes the buckle comes undone, it will often fail under the weight of the pack (or pop off). We do not like these types of buckles—and appreciate the attention to detail from Osprey in their use of very sturdy and easy-to-operate buckles and hooks.
If you are using this duffel on an expedition, you'll be able to open and close and adjust and transform this duffel-turned-travel-backpack with ease—even while wearing gloves.
Packing & Accessibility
The Transporter is not optimized for airport travel, but it still makes packing and accessing your items easy. The large opening makes it easy to pack and unpack and ensures you can dig out your laptop for the occasional TSA visit.
The load securing straps inside keep the contents from sloshing around excessively after a ride on a yak's back, or if chucked out of a train in a hurry.
There is a single zippered pocket on the outside of the pack, slightly hidden but convenient. Inside, on the other end of the bag, there is another zippered pocket. This one is harder to get to, so we found it to be useful for infrequently used items or things we wanted to be secure and out of the way, like our passport.
This bag steals the show in this category. It is made of highly durable fabrics, so tough we could even throw an ice axe or trekking poles inside without worrying about puncture wounds to the bag. Beyond the fabrics, the features are all very sturdy, with plastic and metal buckles large enough to handle even the heaviest of loads.
The stitching and overall manufacturing inspire confidence. The grab handles are burly, with reinforced seams and excellent finishing touches.
Weight & Capacity
We were sure this bag would fall down in the weight per volume category, but we were wrong. The fabrics are burly, so one would assume this bag would be relatively heavy. However, Osprey streamlined the design of the duffel/backpack such that there is no excess, nothing you don't need. The result is a highly streamlined, simple, rugged, and still relatively lightweight travel backpack.
The only pack similar in style and utility is the Arc'teryx Covert CO, which is even lighter for the volume; however, the Transporter is far more comfortable to carry on your back.
The Transporter is truly an interdisciplinary bag. It is a duffel, shoulder bag, travel backpack, gym bag. And it is equally at home on your bike commutes and gym missions as it is in the airport or on the back of a mule headed to basecamp. And it is especially well suited to the hustle from bush plane to basecamp for those adventures in the Alaskan wilds (or other remote wildernesses).
We loved this bag for around-town missions (when we needed a lot of gear, like when heading to the climbing gym), and for weekend trips to visit friends or family. The modularity of the bag—from duffel to shoulder sling to backpack—ensures that it will seamlessly integrate into your adventurous life, filling whatever gear-hauling needs your weekend, expedition, or daily commute might demand.
At $110, this is a real bargain. The Transporter is a highly versatile, surprisingly comfortable, and an impressively durable duffel-turned-travel backpack for your myriad travel needs.
At OutdoorGearLab, sometimes we are guilty of having a distinctly outdoor bias. This certainly factors into our affection for the Osprey Transporter 40. Osprey lists this bag as an expedition duffel, and we found it to be exceedingly useful in this capacity and confidence inspiring for its durability. If you're looking for a TSA-savvy soft-sided suitcase, this might not be your best bet, but it'll still fit the bill - and it will do so much more than airport travel. This versatile expedition duffel will follow you on all your adventures, except maybe the most formal business trips. Even then, at least the bag will look neat and tidy with its shiny colors and impressive durability.
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Most recent review: April 17, 2018
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