The Topo Designs Travel Bag 40L is the perfect carry-on bag for any travel. The large main compartment contains internal pockets and a laptop sleeve to protect your computer from getting jostled around in transit. This backpack comes with an adjustable strap to wear it on your chest or over one shoulder.
The Topo Designs travel bag is the subject of this review. This is a 30 or 40-liter backpack with several exciting features—we have the 40-liter variation, depending on which size you pick. Topo Designs has a long history of producing antique, heritage-style backpacks and other accessories. The best part is that, despite its vintage appearance, their products are often made of high-quality materials and have innovative features.
We’re pleased to report that the Topo Designs travel bag has all of these features and more. So, let’s have a look!
Aesthetics & Materials
Topo has gone for a strong legacy sense with this pack, as they do with their other gear. All of the bright colors and boxy design reminds you of 1970s bags. It’s a little different from our usual look, but we really like it.
The travel bag is available in three colors at the time of this review: Ballistic Black, Olive, and Navy. We’ve been wearing navy lately, and although we usually travel with a black backpack, we really appreciate the colors on display here. It simply works, and it has that “typical Topo” vibe to it. “When in Rome, don’t wear a black backpack like you normally do; instead, wear a heritage-style navy backpack from Topo Designs,” as the saying goes. (At least, that’s what we do in Rome…)
From a branding standpoint, the front of the pack has a white logo, which is relatively standard for Topo Designs—they use it on almost all of their goods. A little Topo tag may also be seen on the inside and a logo on the messenger strap (later).
The outside fabric is 1000D nylon from a material standpoint. It’s worth noting that the 1000D nylon used here isn’t CORDURA®, as you’ll find on many of their other bags, but relatively regular, no-frills nylon. There is a ballistic weave around the bottom of the bag that will offer some durability—this is a frequent spot to add reinforcement since it will be continually hitting the ground and rubbing up against objects. Some of the outside is also covered with 400D nylon pack fabric.
The internal lining is a 210D pack material with a bright fluorescent hue that lets you see your stuff and what’s going on inside the bay.
Certain hues have 1680D ballistic nylon, which has a slightly different appearance and fee and more durability than the standard 1000D nylon. When choosing your shade, keep an eye out for anything unusual!
The bag’s zippers are all YKK, including an extra robust #10 zipper in the main compartment. As far as we’re concerned, you can’t get much better in terms of longevity and quality. If you manage to crack that bad boy, please contact us since we’d want to know what you were up to. The plastic parts throughout the bag are also Woojin and Duraflex hardware—specifically, at the strap adjusters where the harness system joins and where the sternum strap attaches.
Finally, although Topo makes most of its bags in the United States, this travel bag is made in Vietnam. So, take what you will from that—we’ve seen plenty of high-quality bags produced in Vietnam, as well as many of low-quality bags made in the United States, so we don’t believe this is a significant impact.
Components from Outside
The harness system will kick off the external components in a genuine Pack Hacker manner. Unfortunately, we believe the harness system is a little…meh. We have a few quibbles with it, the most significant of which being the straps. Although they are somewhat comfortable—there is some heavy padding—we have seen better straps on the market. A higher-density foam will be used in many backpacks, which will provide a little more comfort and will also last longer. These straps aren’t perfect, but they’re not bad either.
Weight lifters are located towards the top of the pack and are perfect for bringing the load closer to your back on a bunch of this size. We start looking for load lifters at 35 liters and above. Thus this is a good addition in our opinion.
Extra connection possibilities include D-rings at the bottom of the straps and two pieces of MOLLE-like material that may be used to attach additional equipment. As a result, this pack has a lot of possibilities for versatility and customization, which we enjoy. A sternum strap may also be attached and removed at this location. We’re not entirely sold on this style of attachment since it’s so simple to remove. Because we’ve lost a few sternum straps when testing bags other than this one, we usually prefer a more permanent connection point, whether it’s a buckle or anything else. However, removing a sternum strap has its advantages, as it allows you to keep the bag “cleaner” and free of hanging straps when not in use.
This whole harness system can be concealed, which is helpful for plane travel when you don’t want a bunch of extra straps whacking about, particularly if you’re going to check your luggage. You have to unzip the top half of the back panel, separate the straps from the bottom of the bag, and shove them in. Boom.
A hip belt is attached to the bottom half of the harness system and is not removable, however it may be disguised. We believe that every bag with a capacity of more than 40 liters should include the option of a hip-belt, so we were pleased to discover that Topo had included one here.
The hip belt has strap keepers to handle the extra hanging straps; however, the shoulder strap adjusters do not have strap keepers. It seems like adding them in would have been a simple adjustment for Topo, but it’s not a significant issue.
Another issue with this harness system is the absence of a frame sheet. When you’re carrying a backpack this big, you’re going to need some support, and a frame sheet may assist with that. We believe that an interior frame sheet would have been beneficial to this bundle. It improves the carry and adds a lot of structure to the bag. Although putting your laptop in the specific box might help, we believe it could have been handled better. It gives this pack the sense of a “bag you can carry on your back,” rather than a proper backpack.
But then again, when you have a bag that can be carried three different ways, it goes with the territory! Yes, this bag comes with three other moving choices.
- Backpack mode is a mode that allows you to carry your belongings This backpack employs the same harness system as the previous one, and it may be accepted as a backpack. Brilliant.
- Briefcase Mode is a mode that allows you to carry your belongings. The three cushioned grip handles situated around the pack are used for this. Carry it about like a briefcase. (This is something we don’t encourage, although it may be handy over short distances.)
- Duffel/Messenger Mode The D-rings on the side of the pack and the detachable shoulder strap are used for this. All you have to do now is connect the strap to the D-rings and you’re ready to go. Because most of us at Pack Hacker like backpacks, we haven’t used this option much, but it may be a good fit for you. This may be extremely useful if you’re carrying it with another backpack. However, we believe that this bag is a little too big to be used as a messenger/duffel bag.
Moving on, the front of the pack has two daisy-chain strips that allow extra connection choices and a great flash of color. These can also connect smaller Topo bags, which is quite extraordinary. The Topo Designs Daypack fits well in this spot, although it does make the arrangement a little bulky.
However, we must mention that if you start loading this thing up with a lot of extra weight and attachments, the absence of a frame sheet becomes even more of a concern. The carry isn’t great to begin with, but it’s even worse when you add another completely filled second bag to the mix. It also makes it difficult to access your travel bag, and turning around in a throng will rapidly convert you into a human wrecking ball.
Needless to say, we believe that connecting a second backpack to this travel bag is a little excessive. However, we appreciate that Topo has provided us with the choice, and we believe that smaller accessories might work well. Plus, don’t use it if you don’t like it!
Inside the Bundle
Let’s start with the dedicated laptop storage section. First and foremost, this is a very tiny space. Most 15-inch laptops will fit in here, but it will be a tight squeeze. We tried it with a 15-inch MacBook Pro, and it requires putting it in diagonally and then shimmying it the rest of the way in. It’s a lengthy procedure that isn’t ideal. But, on the other hand, there’s plenty of room within the compartment once everything gets in—just it’s the zipped hole that’s a touch too narrow.
A vertical quick-grab organizing pocket is located at the front of the pack. There are two zipped compartments on the bottom half of the pouch, a keyring, and then the remainder of the bag, which offers a lot of storage. This is a beautiful place to stow a compressible jacket or anything you need quickly.
We also appreciate Topo’s decision to incorporate zippered pockets, since we’ve found that some companies would provide a regular bag without zips. The issue is that as soon as you start moving the pack about (i.e. wearing it), all of your belongings will start flying everywhere.
A large horseshoe compartment with some further organizing is hidden underneath that front pocket. It’s also worth noting that the paracord zipper pulls on this pack may be woven through a loop at the bottom of the zipper track to make it a little more difficult for someone to unzip your backpack and rapidly access your belongings. It’s fantastic.
A zipped pocket towards the top of this compartment is ideal for flatter things such as papers or more extensive notebooks. A 1/3 and 2/3 partition pocket provides additional organizations.
Let’s take a look inside this bag’s main section. This room entirely opens out in a horseshoe shape, with a few of mesh dividers on the front wall. We’ve found that they are ideal for storing socks, undergarments, and other tiny things that need to be separated. On the rear, there’s a hidden zipper underneath these pockets that opens up the whole region, revealing a second compartment that’s really useful. You can use this for extra organizing, but don’t worry if you don’t want to. You won’t be wasting any space if you don’t use it.
A divider partition with two 210D pack cloth compartments is hidden below the top flap. The red zipper pulls are still there on the inside, but they are thinner paracord than the material on the exterior. Everything is kept a bit more simple and small, which we enjoy. It’s a beautiful, tiny detail that demonstrates Topo Designs put a lot of consideration into every piece of this bag.
You can finally see the accurate “main” compartment of this pack if you open the barrier inside this region. It’s essentially a giant bucket.
The zipper partition is one of our favorites since it functions as a stand-alone compression device, protecting the space in other regions of the bag. If you want to cram your clothing and compress them, that’s OK, although packing cube size is recommended. We’ve been using these while testing this bag, and they make the whole packing process a lot more enjoyable and efficient.
It’s also worth noting that the partition is entirely optional! If you don’t intend to use it, wrap it up and keep it at the bottom of the bag. We like both of these techniques, similar to how the Peak Design Travel Backpack manages its division. The main difference is that the Peak Design pack has a designated compartment for storing the rolled-up divider. Overall, it’s a great system, although it might be a little better with an extra pocket to keep excess fabric from flying about.
Any packing cube will suffice, but Topo has a handful of distinct sizes that would fit perfectly in here.
Finally, we’d like to mention the boxy design of this bag. If you want the way it looks from the outside, that’s fantastic. If you don’t like it (which is acceptable), you should know that the boxy design comes with several valuable features. In comparison to other packs with more curled edges, the overall design of this bag, and notably the corners, makes it simpler to maximize every last inch of room within. So, despite its unusual appearance, the boxy form serves a function.
Usage & Durability
We’d been using the Topo Designs travel bag for two weeks at the time of this review, mainly as a daily driver to and from coworking spaces and coffee shops. And, of course, it’s always packed to the brim with stuff.
Overall, we like the pack’s organizational features, even though the frame sheet and harness system are a little lacking. Except for a minor tearing piece of cloth on the Topo logo, there are no durability problems to disclose. We’ve actually observed this exact same logo tearing on a handful of other of their goods, which is strange but not a big deal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Topo Designs so expensive?
A: Topo Designs are well made and designed for years of performance. They cost a bit more than the average piece because they’re not mass-produced, but their quality is worth it.
What is a 40L backpack good for?
A: It is typically a large bag with shoulder straps, generally used for backpacking or hiking. They are usually not water-resistant and require protection from the elements if they get wet due to rain or sweat.
Can a 40L bag be a carry-on?
A: Yes, a 40L bag can be your carry on.
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