Before we get into the review, during these crazy times it was important to highlight what Pakt is doing to help combat COVID-19 (even as a scrappy, small business). Provided to Carryology from Pakt:
“As a small business, we are of course concerned about the economy, but also want to help as much as we can (being a team of 5 and a two-year-old company) so, we’ve decided to donate $10 from every Pakt One bag/Pakt Travel Backpack sale to Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid organization that is providing protective equipment and essential medical items to health workers responding to coronavirus (COVID-19) worldwide. In the U.S., Direct Relief is delivering protective masks – along with exam gloves and isolation gowns – to health care organizations in areas with confirmed COVID-19 cases. In China, Direct Relief has delivered more than 30,000 pounds of protective gear — nearly 800,000 N95 and surgical masks, more than 400,000 gloves, and numerous coveralls, face shields, and shoe covers — to frontline health workers. For more on Direct Relief and the incredible work they do, or to make your own donation, please visit here.”
With that done, let’s get onto why you’re here. The new Travel Backpack of course! One thing I’ve learned in all my travels is that a good travel backpack multiplies what you can do and where you can go. Finding just the right bag at the right price point that’s so capable feels forever just out of reach. That was until now. I’ve been putting the Pakt Travel Backpack through its paces for the last three-plus months and while not perfect, it is one hell of a travel companion for almost every situation imaginable. This makes sense since it was prototyped with over 300 travelers, 13 months and, of course, Youtube personality Chase Reeves.
Please note that I tested a sample unit which has some slight feature differences (listed at the end) compared to the final product. These alterations are small and don’t change how I feel about the bag.
Who It Suits
Anyone looking for a backpack that packs and travels like a suitcase.
Who It Doesn’t
The traveler who prefers minimalistic design. Or folks looking for gear with serious style points.
What blew me away, first and foremost about the Travel Backpack, was how much this streamlined silhouette can truly pack a punch. Typically when you go smaller, you compromise either volume or capability. Pakt’s design philosophy is quite simple: keep travel simple. And boy do they do that with a fist fulls of smart features.
Let’s start with arguably one of the best features: the packability and organization of the Pakt One inside the comfort, convenience and portability of a backpack. This is made possible with a lay-flat design with zip-around construction. On one side is a meshed zippered compartment for all your clothes and gear. This is still a stowable backpack so space is at a premium. But I comfortably, for multiple weekend trips, packed everything I needed in there. There is even a zippered pocket for laundry or an in-line Dopp kit should you choose (it was the perfect size to carry my Mini Jambox).
On the other side is a padded compartment that has a zippered slot which is good for magazines, tablets or the good old-fashioned printout. Once zipped up, this becomes volume to carry whatever you like. I used it to stow my headphones, lunches and the like. But we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that said padding is actually a zippered point to access an entirely different area of the pack. The standard access point is through the top zipper but as you’re packing and planning, having the ability to organize without having to do anything was a real ace in the hole. Quite simply, I’ve never used a backpack that packs like a suitcase.
We’ll get to organization in a minute but first, let’s talk carry, literally. I’m a firm believer that the devil is in the details. That’s what sets you or a good product apart. And this bag proves that in every which way. There are three handles for a backpack. One on top (duh), one on the side to carry like a briefcase or quickly get on/off your luggage via the pass-through, and one on the bottom so that no matter which way the bag is oriented under your seat or in the overhead, you have a way to quickly grab and go. The nylon straps are slightly padded and even fully weighed down, are very comfortable in your hand for extended periods of time. Oh and that pass-through, it’s been subtly designed as part of the back padding.
The organization on this bag is a bit out of control. Between the padded sleeve, various mesh pockets and secret hideouts (more on that later), you have relatively quick access to whatever it is that you’re looking for. The only thing that took me some time to get used to was fine-tuning where I put everything and how I got organized. Often I found myself opening the wet pocket up top because I was staring down at 3-4 zippers and had to figure out which one was what.
A couple of cool features I never used but wanted to single out was that the shoulder straps are stowable via a two-step process that takes a whopping two seconds to complete. The outer pocket contained a D-ring with a clasp that can be used as a cable organizer. Again, what I can’t help but reiterate is just how thoughtful Pakt and Chase were about every single detail.
In the honorable mentions category, there is a waterproof pocket to isolate anything that might get wet and a hip strap that transforms into a sling. The pack itself is an RPET sourced from recycled water bottles that has a DWR coating. The side water bottle holder was smartly designed so that you can actually pack the bag and still use the side pocket which doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. Hell, even the side pulls are completely removable because, why not!
Not So Good
No bag is perfect and the Pakt is no exception. For starters, let’s talk aesthetics: is it the prettiest belle at the ball? Nowhere near, let’s be honest. It’s a strange mid-range, where it’s not ugly and it’s not attractive. It’s like you don’t notice it at all, and that can also be a good thing.
There’s also features and pockets and zips everywhere (this is a Kickstarter bag after all), and it could certainly be overkill for some. But this is something I personally appreciate.
My one real gripe with this bag is the back panel. It’s comfortably padded but there is little air that flows through. As a result, and given that I wear my bags high and tight, there was always a bit of back sweat no matter if it was near empty or packed to the gills. This is something to consider based on how you travel and perhaps where you’re going. This might not be an option for tropical adventures.
Now, let’s talk about straps. The shoulder strap pull straps come looped. The benefit to this is that you don’t have excess cord hanging which drives me bonkers. The problem with Pakt’s approach here is that I found myself struggling to find the right piece of loop to pull as my thumbs naturally gravitated towards the excess bar tack rather than the actual strap. It was annoying but unclipping the strap solves that problem.
Here’s another one for you. There are two pockets on the rear of the bag. One is a hidden pocket at the top of the back panel near the shoulder straps. Due to its cumbersome location, small size and the fact that the zipper is facing away from you, it can be tricky to open and use in a meaningful way. It’s truly a stash pocket for extra cash on the go, not something you use with any real frequency.
The other pocket is a “security check” pocket located at the base of your back. This is great in theory but in practice you have to already have the bag off body to use. So even if it’s being used with the pass-through, you might gravitate towards other pockets than that one. It’s a very cool detail but one I never found all that helpful.
Others to Consider
Some of the other bags in this category that pack a punch would be Aer’s Travel Pack 2 and Peak Design’s Travel Backpack. If you’re after something smaller and more compact, the Bellroy Transit is very good.
Is this a winner in the aesthetics department? No, not by a long shot. But is it one of those bags that operates like Hermione’s beaded bag in Harry Potter? Most definitely! You can throw anything at it and it simply handles it and keeps a pretty low profile, unlike a traditional travel bag (like an Osprey) – on-body, it has the silhouette and feel of your typical EDC pack.
But the true genius is in the design and details. I think this is where I fell in love with the Pakt Travel Backpack. It’s just so damn functional. The flexibility to adjust to what you need and how you want to carry it cannot be overlooked. Combine that with the fact that the backpack doesn’t get bloated on-body the way other bags with large carry potential do, and it feels like you have a secret weapon on your back.
Hell, I was able to throw all my clothes and ski gear (pants, jacket, etc.) into the bag plus my laptop and headphones. The only thing that didn’t make it in was the helmet (which I strapped externally) and my boots which went into my wife’s hardshell.
So TLDR, for $300, to me this bag is good value. And Pakt is definitely one of those brands I’m going to keep an eye on as they carve out a unique niche in the crowded bag market.
Overall Sample vs. Final Production Order Differences
- They will only include two accessory straps, not four.
- The upper front pocket will no longer include the small cord keeper.
- There will be a mesh pocket on the interior mesh divider.
- The lower front pocket will be a simple pocket with no additional organization.
- The large mesh pocket on the right-hand side inner compartment will no longer be there.