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.
The Transporter 40, all packed up and ready to transport our gear to the lodge.
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.
The Transporter served double, even triple duty: not only does it make a great travel backpack and duffel, it is also a great gym bag.
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.
The offset attachment points for the shoulder strap made the duffel carry with the comfort (and ease of access) of a messenger 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.
The internal compression straps helped keep our folded clothing secure, but if you cinched too tight, the bag would buckle inward.
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.
The shoulder straps were easy to stow and deploy, and you could also stash the shoulder strap in the same hidey-sleeve.
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 were only two accessory pockets on the Transporter: the external one was very handy (and features a name tag holder), while the inside one was very difficult to get to.
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.
Lockable zippers, always a plus.
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.
Two similar packs in this review are the excellent lightweight and compressible Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler and the more structured, rigid-sided Arc'teryx Covert, both of which our duffel-leaning testers tended to prefer.
The Transporter could handle most of our official test load, though there was nowhere to strap on a foam sleeping pad, and there is no official electronics pocket so we had to carefully pack our laptop and tablet.
The Transporter is a real bargain. It is a highly versatile, surprisingly comfortable, and an impressively durable duffel-turned-travel backpack for your myriad travel needs.
Unexpected change of plans midday? No problem, just bust out the backpack straps and hop on a bike share and you're as nimble as you ever were.
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.
The Transporter might not be designed for airport travel, but it certainly handles air time well! Here, we're chucking bags onto the roof of the TomCat en route to Meany Lodge, Washington.