Help me pick a backpack to use as hand luggage
August 31, 2017 10:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm finally starting to fly without checking hold luggage. So far, I've been using a fairly small backpack as my carry-on; the type that you'd use for school or commuting. But it's clear that I need something that's slightly bigger and more suited to carrying clothing.

A few examples of scenarios in which I'd like to travel with only a backpack are:

* Two-day tech conference
* Long weekend in a city
* Five-day stint at one of my employer's remote offices
* Six-night trip to a beach location

Other details:

* I don't plan to use the backpack for outdoor activities such as hiking or camping.
* I'm not interested in a detachable day pack; once I'm at my destination, I prefer to carry a purse (I have a few that pack flat).
* I'm a five-foot-tall woman, so a smaller overall profile is good.
* I prefer a subdued color palette. Straps and such are fine.
* I need something that can securely hold a 15" Macbook Pro and a tablet.
* The budget airlines I typically use are Transavia and EasyJet, which have carry-on restrictions of 55 x 40 x 25 cm and 56 x 45 x 25 cm respectively.
* I live in Europe and don't want to order from a non-EU country because of customs duty, so that probably rules out anything from companies like REI and Tom Bihn.

I'm currently considering the Osprey Fairview 40; at 54 x 35 x 35 cm, it's slightly too deep for Transavia/EasyJet, but I might be able to get away with it if the bag isn't totally stuffed.
posted by neushoorn to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
My wife and I have accumulated months and months of travel using eBag Weekender convertible carryons.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:37 AM on August 31, 2017

I posted this ask last year when I was looking for a travel backpack that opened up like a suitcase rather than the traditional top zipper. There could be some bags in that list that would fit the bill.
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:42 AM on August 31, 2017

I was looking for a bag last year and had the same needs as you. I ended up getting the Osprey Porter 46 Travel Pack which has worked super well for me and fits within the dimensions for both airlines. I've used it on several trips (the longest has been a week and a half), it has a padded electronic pouch, and it's not too cumbersome to carry (I'm a 5' 1" woman). It looks pretty similar to the Fairview 40, so I imagine that one would work too if you feel comfortable with the dimensions.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 10:53 AM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding the eBags Motherlode Weekender. I think it would fit your needs very well, as they were my same needs and I LOVE it. Holds a shocking amount of stuff for its size, and is also very comfortable and well-made.
posted by lovableiago at 10:59 AM on August 31, 2017

The Osprey Porter comes in a 30 liter size that should be okay for EasyJet, etc. I find it can handle a four-day trip (with 15" laptop) okay, but YMMV.
posted by praemunire at 11:46 AM on August 31, 2017

The Porter 46 is too large but the Porter 30 works in length and width. The depth is slightly too large but you can cinch it down using the compression straps. I use the Porter 30 for every trip (I don't own any other luggage) and love it with all my heart. I have the older version but it's just been redesigned to be even better, such as moving the laptop compartment to sit against your back and reshaping the bag so it isn't as prone to tipping over when you stand it upright.
posted by mama casserole at 11:54 AM on August 31, 2017

Best answer: Nthing Osprey; my wife and I did a week+ in Morocco with a pair of Osprey Farpoint 40s. Which... now I'm seeing is the men's version of the Fairview. Anyway, recommended. The cinch straps do indeed work well for crunching the depth a bit if needed.
posted by supercres at 12:03 PM on August 31, 2017

I would look into Ortlieb's offerings, oh here too. They're really well made, waterproof, and most importantly, cavernous. I've had the Messenger Pro for years, and it's fantastic. It fits within your dimensions just fine, it also is pretty boxy, which is great. The only potential downside is that there isn't anything on the inside. At all. no pockets, other than the outer 'map/document' pouch. You'll probably want to invest in some packing cubes of some sort. I personally find this a feature, not a bug, because you can customize the inside with packing cubes and whatnot. I've stashed clothing necessary for a 10 day trip to El Salvador in there, and numerous domestic trips over the years. It's waterproofness is not to be underestimated. It's basically a dry bag.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:04 PM on August 31, 2017

This is a little off-the-wall, but I've flown with my ULA Circuit in carryon a number of times and it's been great. It's meant as a long-distance hiking backpack, but really all that means is that it's very comfortable to wear. The pack itself is very light and durable and it shrinks down nicely if you don't fill it all the way. And you can certainly fit plenty of stuff for a long trip in it; I mostly see this pack being worn by thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:19 PM on August 31, 2017

I have an older version of this Patagonia bag that I like. Patagonia seems to have a presence in Europe.
posted by exogenous at 12:30 PM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also N'thing the Fairview/Farpoint 40 - I've used it for overnighters, weekend trips and two full weeks away on holiday and it does all of those really nicely. My only reservation about it is when there's a heavy laptop in it, the positioning of the laptop sleeve does pull it away from your back a little. But I try not to travel with a laptop if I can help it, so it's not a huge issue for me.

If I hadn't got the Osprey, I probably would have got the previous version of the Tortuga backpack, but they've ramped their prices up a bunch.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:36 PM on August 31, 2017

Best answer: I have that Osprey 40L bag too and highly recommend it. I paid a fortune to get mine shipped to me (no equivalent model was available here) and it was worth every penny.

I've used it for one-bag travel (2-3 weeks), weekend trips, lugging around very heavy loads of groceries, regular daily use, etc. The hip belt and strap design make it very comfortable compared to my patagonia MLC bag that was my previous 1-bag travel bag. Though the patagonia one is much more suitcase-like, making it nicer for trips where I won't be walking far with it (it's roomy and well-organized but looks and feels pretty much like a suitcase strapped to your back). I got the osprey bag 2 years ago and haven't noticed any sign of wear yet, despite quite heavy use.
posted by randomnity at 1:01 PM on August 31, 2017

Seconding exogenous on the Patagonia bag - I also have an older version of that bag, and I love it passionately. It's taken care of me on everything from a 2-week trip through Turkey, to an overnight drive to Lake Erie, and whether I cram it to its limit or just pack a couple of shirts/pants it's been comfy and easy to carry. Super-rugged, and still looks new after four years of trips. I'm sad to see that the color options appear limited right this minute, but fwiw I have a nice wine-colored one and my wife has a blue one similar to the one in exogenous' link, and they're both pretty nice looking.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:10 PM on August 31, 2017

I've got a Lowe Alpine AT Carry On 45. It's a bit more of a rucksack than the Patagonia, and less than the Osprey, the straps fold away, and it's got a compartment for a laptop (assuming the laptop's a bit more svelte than mine, which barely fits). It's no problem on Easyjet, but on smaller (turboprop) planes, it can be difficult to get in the overhead racks. I think I've managed to go on a long flight with it under the seat in front of me, too, but I can't quite remember.
posted by ambrosen at 1:28 PM on August 31, 2017

Best answer: We have a Farpoint 40 for my husband, though I also really liked it. (Fairview wasn't out back then.) We tried the Porter but did not like it. The best comparison I've found is: The Porter is a luggage with some backpack straps. The Farpoint/Fairview is a backpack that can look like luggage. So if you stuff your pack full, the Porter is really not comfortable to carry, while you can walk quite a ways with the Farpoint/Fairview and have it be just fine.

I personally ended up with the REI Trail 30 backpack, which also lets you open it all the way to fully pack it. I believe that size has been discontinued, which is why it was only $75. I have been very happy with the REI bag, but it is not quite as good as the Farpoint. For example, you can't zip the straps away, so it feels less tidy. (Here is a link to the 40L version.) On the plus side, it works very well as a day pack, whereas the Osprey felt a bit too clunky for a daypack.
posted by ethidda at 1:48 PM on August 31, 2017

I have the 40 liter version of the Gregory Compass (30L here). I love the fact that it can be opened fully, it has a separate shoe compartment, and a laptop sleeve that is accessible without going into the bag. It's very comfortable to sprint across airports with, and I'm only slightly taller than you with narrow shoulders. I have been using mine for three years of near constant international travel through some rough places. It looks brand new.
posted by eulily at 3:43 PM on August 31, 2017

Just went through the same thing about six months ago when I started having to travel for work a lot more. I've been using an Arcteryx Blade and I swear it's the smartest backpack I've ever used. They make a 28L Arcteryx Blade that might suit most of your criteria (6 nights might take some clever packing). It's minimalist on the outside, so nothing gets caught, it's well thought out , carries a laptop nicely, and the shoulder straps can be tucked in to an elastic so that you can use the two minimalist handles that always happen to be on the right side. I now feel like a travel pro but also use it daily to commute to work.
posted by furtive at 9:15 PM on August 31, 2017

Best answer: I love my Osprey Porter - I just bought it this spring but have used it for several trips, including a 2 week trip to Greece, and it's been great. It packs well and I find the straps very comfortable. Putting my laptop in it does throw off the center of gravity a bit but I think that's a common laptop-sleeve-in-big-backpack problem.

I had an eBags travel backpack before and I didn't like it. It didn't wear well and the construction felt cheap. For instance, while the Osprey has a padded hip belt that you attach the shoulder straps to, the eBags just had plastic clips, one of which broke.
posted by lunasol at 10:56 PM on August 31, 2017

I'm a 5 foot tall woman who hasn't checked luggage in over 25 years. I'm currently using an Osprey Talon 33, which has always fit nicely under the seat in front of me, and has served me on trips of a month or more.
posted by kelper at 1:27 AM on September 1, 2017

I recently bought a bag for a similar purpose (with the main difference that I'm a tall man rather than five-foot-tall woman). I wanted to be able to just whichever book budget airline happened to be cheapest without worrying about bag sizes so went for a bag that met the flybe requirements (55 x 35 x 20cm), which are stricter than easyjet (56 x 45 x 25cm) or ryanair (55 x 40 x 20cm).

I eneded up with the Arcido Faroe (Brooks’ review text review, video review, video review, video review), which just fits the flybe requirements, and am very happy with it.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 3:32 AM on September 1, 2017

Hi - we're kindred spirits in the luggage department. I'm also short (below 5'), strongly prefer to travel with hand luggage only, and need to have luggage that's suitable for business trips. I bought an older version of the EXCHANGE MEDIUM EXPANDABLE DUFFLE from Briggs and Riley.

The description doesn't do justice to the bag, as it works as a very comfortable backpack as well as a hand held, with shoulder strap. It has been faaaaantastic -- one of the best purchases I've ever made. The straps tuck away into a flap at the back which zips up, so it is very neat if it never needs to be checked. On top of that, the straps have sternum straps, which help distribute the weight. You'll need to check if the size still meets cabin luggage sizing, but I have never had a problem travelling with it as hand luggage.

As to where to purchase within the EU - I believe they may have this at John Lewis UK so these may be good options until Brexit. Amazon may also work.
posted by apcmwh at 7:01 AM on September 1, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! You've introduced me to many brands that I didn't know of before, so I'll check them out.
posted by neushoorn at 1:44 AM on September 2, 2017

Best answer: I own/have owned a bunch of the bags mentioned in this thread (I have a bag-collecting problem). Used them for all trip durations (I wash clothes).

- Osprey Porter 46 (older version) - Cheaper than the Farpoint, holds a lot of stuff but uncomfortable when overpacked because it has no suspension, a wimpy waist belt, and no frame sheet - the back panel is foam and bulges when carrying too much. The side panels ("wings") are made of foam and provide some protection during travel, but are clumsy when accessing items in the bag.

- Osprey Farpoint 40 - Has a more substantial frame than the Porter so it handles both larger and smaller loads better. The waist belt is good at transferring weight off your shoulders but not really likely to be used unless you're walking several miles. The rigid frame sheet cuts into the usable space. No weird foam on this bag which might be a problem during rugged handling. Holds MBP 15 fine but it's on the outer side of the bag, not the one next to your back.

- Arcteryx Blade 28 - This is designed more like a briefcase. It's got lots of organization for small items and holds a laptop well but realistically has less than half the capacity of the Farpoint 40. I would not be able to travel with this one.

- Eagle Creek Gear Hauler (my preferred travel bag) - No frame, waist belt, or structure so it's light. Too big when fully packed for your needs so you will need to underfill it. Main plus: opens from the same side as the straps so the "bottom" of the bag faces outward (so nothing can fall out or be stolen), the straps stay off the floor if you need to open it.
posted by meowzilla at 4:06 PM on September 2, 2017

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