The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Travel Backpacks

Tuesday June 16, 2020
Testing travel backpacks is good fun  even if you're just traveling around your home hood.
Testing travel backpacks is good fun, even if you're just traveling around your home hood.

Where?


Our travels have taken us from Alaska to the South Pole, from the streets of Santiago to the cobblestone squares in Moscow and the artistic alleys of Denver. For this review, we assembled a collection of the industry's leading travel backpacks and put them through the rigors of our various domestic and international adventures. These trips ranged from off-road excursions and expeditions to business trips and weekend getaways.

Travel bags aren't just for airplanes. In truth  we travel every day  even if that just means going to the store and back. And having the right bag as a companion can make all the difference.
Travel bags aren't just for airplanes. In truth, we travel every day, even if that just means going to the store and back. And having the right bag as a companion can make all the difference.

How?


We used the smaller backpacks on a regular basis for trips to the office, the gym, bike rides to the library, and numerous urban, suburban, and wilderness-based adventures. We took the bigger backpacking-style bags on longer hikes. And we took our soft-suitcase style backpacks on flights, drives, and weekend trips. Then we tried to mix it up to make sure we pushed the limits of every bag. We assessed fit and comfort for a range of body types, studied the packs' special features, learned all about their construction, and checked and double-checked reported specs to our own measurements.

We packed and unpacked these packs, carried them half empty and overstuffed, tossed them in and out of multiple modes of transport, pushed their limits on hikes, and dressed them up for business trips to the urban wilds. This review is a roundup of our notes and experiences out there in the urban, suburban, domestic, and international wilds.

Testing travel backpacks took us to some breathtaking places. What a planet we live on  eh?
Testing travel backpacks took us to some breathtaking places. What a planet we live on, eh?

Testing Metrics


Our testing criteria was comprised of five main categories. We created repeatable tests and scenarios for each so that each bag would be put through a similarly rigorous journey. Our metrics were as follows:

Comfort


This metric made up 25% of each bag's total score. We not only assessed the anatomy of straps, buckles, structures, and padding, we also carried each bag in as many ways as possible over months to suss out exactly which were the most comfortable, which needed tweaking or breaking in, and which should maybe go back to the design room floor for a second iteration.

The rigid foam makes this pack super comfy to wear for long periods of time.
The rigid foam makes this pack super comfy to wear for long periods of time.

Features


This metric also made up 25% of each product's overall score. We read up on the features of each bag on their respective manufacturer's site and then put each and every feature to use, over and over again. We packed, unpacked, and repacked in different configurations to see which features were exceedingly useful and which left us lukewarm or got in the way.

Stuffing the backpack straps away makes carrying the Patagonia MLC briefcase style much more comfortable.
Stuffing the backpack straps away makes carrying the Patagonia MLC briefcase style much more comfortable.

Packing & Accessibily


Like features, this metric was assessed by doing LOTS of packing and unpacking with different kinds of loads. All manner of weights, shapes, sizes, and fragility were placed in our bags and hauled around, from delicate camera gear to heavy climbing gear to lumpy and bumpy clothes and shoes. This metric made up 20% of each bag's final score.

This pocket on the Porter helps keep you organized during travel and is easily accessible on the go.
This pocket on the Porter helps keep you organized during travel and is easily accessible on the go.

Durability


While we cannot determine the full nature of each product's durability over the course of just a few months (albeit rigorous), we can and do determine quite a bit by not being gentle on our gear and using it through all manner of weather patterns, travel settings, and terrain. We also sit down and inspect each bag with an eye for detail, investigating each zipper, pocket, strap, panel, and stitch. This metric is 15% of the final overall score.

The Minaal comes with a rain cover zipped in the bottom.
The Minaal comes with a rain cover zipped in the bottom.

Volume to Weight Ratio


This metric also makes up 15% of the final score and is more objective. We weighed each bag and recorded that info. Then we divided the volume (liters) by the measured weight (pounds) to get a number that allowed us to compare the bags head-to-head. A bag with a larger capacity and a lower weight gave us a larger number and thus scored higher in this metric.

With its removable daypack  the Fairview is a great travel backpack for the adventure seeker!
With its removable daypack, the Fairview is a great travel backpack for the adventure seeker!

We hope our months of testing both internationally and locally, urban and forested, on planes, trains, automobiles, and bikes helps you find your perfect travel bag. After all, traveling is more fun with the right companion, both animate and inanimate!

Happy trails.