Review: Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L (A Most Frustrating Camera Bag)

The Peak Design Travel Backpack has a lot wrong with it.

I spent perhaps an hour talking about this review with Imaging Resource’s Jaron Schneider before I even started writing it for the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L. We spoke amongst ourselves and a number of other journalists on a press trip. In short, none of us like it; the only person I’ve met who does like it is a random guy on the plane who seemed a lot like an influencer or part of what I like to call the Peak Design cult. I tend to be harder on Peak Design products because I know they’re a company that can do better; they hired a designer from Apple for Christ’s sake! They’re a company that consistently hauls in more money than I’ll probably ever see in my life and unfortunately, this ranks up there with the lens swapper as one of the worst products I’ve ever used from Peak Design.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Weather sealing is great
  • So many pockets that I’ve actually gotten things lost and forgotten where they are.

Cons

  • Requires muscle memory
  • Not at all an every day bag
  • Looks like you’re carrying a massive time capsule or sneaking into the lair of a giant spider to siphon one of its young for a cure to spider bites
  • Side pockets are supposed to have straps for tripods. This version, the prototype, does not.
  • WHY THE HELL WOULD I WANT TO CARRY MY TRIPOD ON THE SIDE AND NOT ON TOP OR ON BOTTOM WTF PEAK?!!!
  • I mean, at least find a way to make the bag more balanced when doing this…
  • Very annoying when it comes to taking all your gear out of the bag during flights
  • When you pack a camera cube, there is little room for clothing and stuff up top. It’s almost useless in that regard
  • It’s going to take up as much room as a roller bag in flight storage
  • The straps are strong for sure, but sometimes they feel like they’re going to break when the bag is packed full and you’re trying to sling the bag onto your back
  • No clear or major separation between your gear
  • Due to the fact that it isn’t very convertible to a smaller bag, I found almost no reason to want to take this onto a hike in Hawaii, but I did.
  • Peak Design’s attempt at doing what WANDRD does well has failed.

Gear Used

We tested the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L with Sony gear, Canon gear, and the most clothing we were able to stuff in (maybe a pair of shoes or two). It can greatly benefit from a smaller cube of some sort or having a roll top like WANDRD.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from our News post

MSRP: $299.95
Available on Kickstarter for a Limited Time: $235

Access

  •  Full back panel-load access for packing
  •  Dual zippered side hatches for instant camera access
  •  Quick tablet & laptop access
  •  Dedicated front organization panel
  •  Soft-lined sunglasses pocket
  •  Hidden passport/document pockets
  •  Bag sits upright on floor when packed or empty

Expansion & Compression

  •  Maximum international carry on size in normal 35L state
  •  Expansion zip gives additional 10L of storage (45L max)
  •  Compressible down to 30L day bag size
  •  Expandable side pockets for water bottles, tripods
  •  Tuck-away external carry compression straps

Organization

  •  Rigidly supported sidewalls for easy packing
  •  Zippered dividing panel separates bag into 2 compartments, or stows away for 1 large volume
  •  Front organization panel contains 4 zippered mesh pockets for smaller items
  •  Mount Camera Cubes (sold separately) internally for back or side access to photo, drone, or video gear
  •  Protected luggage tag holder

Comfort & Portability

  •  Magnetic strap storage system
  •  360-degree grab handles
  •  Full-size padded hip belt with additional pockets and attachment points for Capture & Range Pouch (soldseparately)
  •  Axial strap attachments for shoulder & hip straps give constant comfort for all body types and carry loads
  •  Proprietary sternum strap
  •  Luggage pass-through and duffel grab handle
  •  Back panel folds under for increased ventilation & comfortSecurity

 

Security

  •  400D weatherproof 100% recycled nylon canvas shell
  •  DWR impregnated, PU-coated interior for water resistance
  •  Oversized #8 (front, side) and #10 (back) main zips are weatherproof and lockable
  •  Rugged 900D weatherproof bottom liner
  •  Ultralight padded foam provides security, structure, and aesthetic cleanliness around entire bag

 

Packing Cubes (MSRP: Sm – $29.95, Md – $39.95) – Compressible, easy to access, and dividable, Peak Design Packing Cubes are available in two sizes. A tear-away main zip lets you access contents instantly, and an internal divider allows separation of clean and dirty clothes. An expansion/compression zip doubles available space or compresses clothes so you can fit more in your bag.

Camera Cubes (MSRP: Sm – $49.95, Md – $69.95, Lg – $89.95) – Camera Cubes provide protection, organization, and instant access to camera, video, and drone gear. Securely mount Camera Cubes inside the Travel Backpack and access your gear via the rear or side zips. Tuck-away lids let you access camera gear from outside of the bag via a single zip, while a system of intelligently designed dividers allows for endless organization and customization.

Ergonomics

The Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L looks like a low key sort of bag. It’s got very clean lines and overall looks like a pod of some sort. It’s cool looking, but I’m the last person to say that it’s stylish.

In this photo you can see a side access and more zippers. The side access pockets are nice, but in real life use you’ll still need to take the backpack off of your back as opposed to the every day bag.

The back of the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L has straps for your waist and chest. They’re comfortable enough in most situations and I like them.

Open the bag up and you’ll find this padded laptop sleeve. It will protect your precious Apple products better than previous Peak Design products can.

Now here’s the inside. That’s not a lot of clothing at all; but that’s surely a lot of gear that can stored inside.

Open the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L up on the front and you’ll see this other flap for holding books and other random things like electronics and such. It’s pretty useful when it comes to organizing, providing that you’ve got enough stuff to haul along.

Even more pockets! In fact, the pockets tend to have pockets too.

Build Quality

For all the dislike I have for the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L, I have to admit it has great build quality. I packed this bag with almost 60lbs of gear and the straps (despite feeling like they were going to break at times) handled every sling onto my back very well. On top of that, I took it backpacking in Hawaii through rain forests and much more. It handled the tough weather and even some roughage from a river pretty well. Photographers who are concerned about this won’t have any sort of problems. But, my concern is that photographers will have little to no use for this bag. Open it up and you’ll find that the camera cubes take up a lot of space. Of course, your cameras will have room, but then what about room for all the practical stuff; clothing, clean underwear, shoes, toiletries, etc. Unfortunately, during my travels (three trips) with this bag it seemed like I needed to put all my personal stuff in a giant duffel bag and all my electronics in the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L. That goes against the design philosophy of the bag and against what it’s being pitched to do.

To be fair, this made it much easier for me when it came to dealing with TSA. Being a brown man in America, I’m bound to get profiled and held up at airports by security. It happens 90% of the time and packing all my electronics into this single bag perhaps helped facilitate getting through faster. It’s nice that it has side access to be able to take things out like your camera, a surge protector, etc. For your laptop, you’re going to need to do more unzipping.

This surely isn’t an every day bag. And to that end, I think the build quality/design of a number of other bags lend themselves to being both every day bags and travel bags. Tenba and WANDRD both make roll top bags that ideal for daily usage.

Something I tend to complain about a lot; forcing me to put my tripod on the side of the bag. This is genuinely the worst place for it as the design of most bags throws off your shoulders. Backpacks are designed to be better for you than messenger bags. I’ve only used one bag that does it right with placing the tripod on the side; unfortunately the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L fails in this department. I’d ideally like to put the tripod on the top or the bottom.

Did I mention this thing looks like a glorified cocoon?

Lastly, if you want to store your gear or even separate it, you have to buy Peak Design’s Cubes. That makes things all that much more frustrating.

Ease of Use

So let’s start from the beginning. When you open up the bag, it’s best to do it in a way that allows access to the entire main section–via the rear access. You’ll put your camera gear into a cube and ensure that it’s stable. And there is tons of room; I put both Canon and Sony gear in here at one time along with shotgun mics, flashes, and more. Peak does a great job accommodating and protecting your gear like this. But then you’ll look at that sad, empty space up top and carefully contemplate what you can reasonably stuff up there. Then, you’ll scratch your head.

If you’re the hippie type that rarely showers or cares about hygiene, then you’re probably going to stuff a few pairs of underwear, some shirts, and that’s it. Otherwise, you’ll be operating with the sole pair of shoes on your feet and the single pair of pants you’re wearing. If you don’t wear pants, then kudos to you! The rest of us will sit here realizing that we’re pretty screwed. Peak should have given this portion more space or designed a smaller cube that takes up less space. What could have ultimately solved this problem is making the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L a roll top design.

The flap on the back will nicely accommodate your laptop. Then you’ll find more pockets, zippers, and random pouches than you’ll know what to do with. While Jaron loved the little kit bag that came with the review unit for the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L, I found it to be pretty useless. If Peak had made it into a proper fanny pack, then it would have received credit for effort and negative points because fanny packs…let’s be honest here.

During my use, I tried to find consistent places to put stuff like eye drops, my keys, bug spray, first aid kits, etc. But I’d put it in one place and then I’d forget. Or I’d put it in another place and realize that that zipper opened up the top of the bag instead. It was annoying at times and while folks may say that it’s over-engineered, I’d say it’s impractical.

Peak dictates that the tripod should go on the side of the bag. I’ve always found this odd and despite Peak Design’s great straps to make the bag as comfortable as possible, adding a tripod felt like a task more than anything else. Though subtle, it still threw my back off. I’ve had a bad back for years but yoga has helped me and my back recently. When I load this bag up and wear it, it throws off all that work. WANDRD, Manfrotto, and Portage Supply all have designs that don’t do this. And they’re wonderful for it. In the meantime, these brands, along with Tenba, are winning my heart when it comes to camera bag design.

Conclusions

Let me be frank here, I’m never going to use the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L ever again. I may donate it to someone in need but I’ll never use it. It’s too impractical for travel and though as a photography bag it can work, it makes no practical sense.

The Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L receives two out of five stars.