Finding a carry-on sized travel bag to suit your needs can be a difficult task. You need something lightweight but durable. The pack should fit all your gear, including a laptop, without being too bulky. It should be durable, and it should have extra security features.
And that’s where the Topo Designs Travel Bag comes in.
Topo Designs created this bag with city travel in mind—the slim profile is designed to rest nicely on your back as you navigate crowds on public transportation. Numerous compartments offer lots of space and enough organization to keep you on the road for weeks. And you’ll be sleeping easy at night while your backpack is safely locked up with its heavy-duty YKK zippers and security loops.
This pack comes in two sizes—30L and 40L. Both travel bags have the same features, so the only real difference between them is the size.
It also comes in an array of colors so that anyone can find something they love. From the minimalism of the ballistic black to the subdued olive, to the classic navy with pops for bright yellow and red, the Topo Designs Travel Bag offers a color scheme for everyone.
This travel backpack has garnered a lot of attention lately in travel reviews, so I decided to share my thoughts in more detail.
So, does this bag deserve all the love? Let’s dive in.
City-hopping travelers who want a simple, stylish yet functional design
Digital nomads who want to carry their laptop everywhere
Efficient travelers who want to skip baggage claim and carry their gear on their back
Versatile travelers who alternate between work trips and personal travel excursions
Ounce-counting travelers who want to minimize weight without sacrificing functionality
The organized traveler who loves countless pocket options and add-on features
Who Isn’t theTopo Designs Travel Bag For?
Hikers and backpackers will want to travel with something more specialized, as this harness system is not adequate for carrying heavy weight for miles or weeks at a time—try the Osprey Atmos 65
Heavy packers would benefit from an alternative travel backpack with an internal frame to better carry and distribute weight
People who like to travel with a lot of stuff; this backpack is meant as a carry-on
Travelers looking for traditional luggage—although there are multiple ways to transport this backpack, it doesn’t have a roll option like other carry-on luggage options
Travelers headed to sweaty environments; the lack of mesh on the back panel decreases breathability
Anyone looking to travel with a laptop bigger than 15″
Topo Designs: Who Are They?
In 2008, Jedd Rose and Mark Hansen started Topo Designs out of their basement in Fort Collins, Colorado. Armed with a sewing machine and a clear vision—to create functional, durable, beautiful products that resembled classic outdoor gear.
Jedd began designing and crafting a backpack. Mark began to work on the logistics. Together, they collected resources and built a company in accordance with their values.
Topo Designs strives to blend the outdoor experience with world travel culture. They pay homage to the classic styling of the outdoors gear they used growing up while incorporating modern additions.
And they want their products to be multifunctional and utilitarian: durable enough to outlast treks in rugged mountains, but simple and stylish enough to be used around town.
Topo Designs stands by their products, offering a “MAP Guarantee”—they ensure that your pack is durable and capable of joining you anywhere you go on the map. But they also stand by the environment: their motto is “repair, don’t replace.” They understand that gear is an extension of its owner.
Anyone who has backpacked can attest that, by the end of a trip, your backpack feels like a part of you. So, Topo Designs aims to reduce the number of products thrown away. Instead, they work to repair broken gear and return it promptly to its owner.
Topo Designs Travel Bag Features
Topo Designs works hard to ensure their travel bags are both functional and appealing. And while they maintain their classic outdoor-style aesthetic with the Travel Bag, this backpack is geared more towards airline travel than trekking.
Its square shape allows ample packing space, but the lack of a frame means the harness system isn’t strong enough to support heavy weight for long durations.
Organization pockets and security features also make this a great choice as a carry-on for some city backpacking travel or a weekend work trip.
Let’s review their demo:
Dimensions & Specifications
The dimensions for these travel bags are indicative of the pack sizes when stuffed to maximum capacity. Overall, both packs’ dimensions are smaller when unpacked, and both are carry-on compatible for most airlines.
The 30L Travel Bag is a perfect weekend travel carry-on. It fills the dimension requirements of airlines, contains a designated laptop pocket, and has extra space to spare. However, if you travel more extensively, you may find it too snug and choose to opt for the roomier 40L version.
The 40L Travel Bag fits most airline size requirements, but it’s not a guarantee. However, the additional space could be essential for longer travel. Most people traveling with this pack do not experience any problems using it as a carry-on travel pack but review your airline’s rules before you go.
Backpack Straps with Load-Lifters
The backpack straps on the Topo Designs Travel Bag are adequately padded, have breathable mesh, and are super comfy. There’s nothing groundbreaking about these straps, but Topo Designs intentionally designed them with a lot of cushion and natural body-contouring.
Although these cushioned straps will suffice for long layovers and extensive travel days, they are less comfortable than those of a designated hiking backpack. So if you have long walking days in your future, or plan to do much hiking with this bag, you’ll want to go light or seek out other options.
Enhance your experience and use the load-lifter straps, especially when you carry the 40L pack. These straps help to keep the pack close to your upper back while shifting most of the weight onto your hips. Keep in mind, these load-lifter straps are virtually useless without the optional waist-belt.
Carry Handles and Shoulder Strap
This travel backpack comes with a versatile “three ways to carry” system.
In addition to the backpack straps, this bag contains a removable shoulder strap so you can carry it as a messenger bag or duffel. D-rings on the side of the pack to attach this shoulder strap make the transition easy.
This may be especially useful for professional travelers who want luggage that they can carry to work meetings in a messenger bag style, with the option of switching to a backpack later.
(If that’s the case, I recommend this bag in black for a sleek, professional look.)
Keep in mind that the shoulder strap may be better suited for the 30L version, as the 40L is a bit big for the duffel-style to be practical.
Additionally, the hefty side and top grab handles allow you to carry it briefcase-style. This isn’t the most practical method, but it can be useful to grab and go. These handles are incredibly durable and they also sit close to the bag, so you can forget about them when you’re not using them.
Removable Sternum Strap and Optional Waist Belt
Both the removable sternum strap and optional waist belt increase the load capacity of this bag. The sternum strap helps with balance while keeping the pack stable on your shoulders. When you’re not using it, simply remove the sternum strap from its attachment clips and tuck it away in your bag.
The cushion on the waist belt is fairly thin, but this feature is helpful nonetheless. The waist belt can be tucked away into the back panel when it’s not in use. It doesn’t feel bulky when it’s tucked away, so that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to live with.
Stow-Away Harness System
This innovative stow-away system allows you to hide the backpack straps in a zipper compartment. This is helpful if you intend to carry it as a duffel bag for extended periods of time.
Additionally, stowing the backpack straps is crucial if you ever decide to check this bag through an airline. It will keep the straps safe and secure even while your bag gets tossed around.
The Travel Bag’s stow-away harness system succeeds in securing dangling straps without being bulky. It’s hard to even tell they’re there.
This travel backpack has so many pockets. It’s amazing to me that they could incorporate so many features and still keep the bag lightweight. And for the organization-enthusiast, there are a lot of packing options. Let’s review.
First, on the front panel, you have a side-zipping security pocket for small items. Inside this pocket, there are two smaller zippered pockets. It’s nice to know that the gear in the front of your bag is safely stowed away in a maze of zippers as you navigate busy city streets.
The front panel also houses another interior compartment. There are dual slip pockets, and yet another zippered pocket. These are significantly larger and can be used to stow maps, notebooks, or other gear which requires easy access.
Then comes the main compartment. This is where the organization options really shine. When you unzip the bag, you’ll see four zipped pockets: two mesh and two nylon. Behind the mesh pockets, you can reveal yet another zippered compartment. (At this point, I’m wondering who even needs this many features.)
And you’re not even fully into the main compartment yet. Finally, you unzip the last section to reveal the roomy main compartment. This is where you’ll want to keep the bulk of your gear. Topo Designs has pack bags (their version of packing cubes) which rest nicely in this space.
The last pocket is a padded laptop compartment (which I’ll review next).
Some will love the plethora of pockets, while others will find the number of zippers overwhelming and unnecessary. It all depends on what kind of packer you are.
I can say without a doubt that if you value packing and organization above all else, you’ll be a fan of this pack. Alternatively, you might want to consider a NOMATIC Backpack, which has many of the same organization features.
The laptop storage pocket is well-protected and easy to access. Anyone who has traveled by plane with a laptop knows how crucial it is to be able to unload your laptop without making a mess out of your carefully packed backpack.
However, the zippered compartment seems small when it actually comes time to fit your laptop in. Topo Designs attests that this pocket fits most laptops up to 15″, but it’s better if your laptop is smaller than that. The compartment is roomy, but the zipper isn’t quite long enough.
This makes it difficult to fit an older-model 15″ laptop in the 30L pack, which increasingly becomes a problem if you tightly pack your travel bag. However, if you’re traveling light and have room to spare, your laptop should fit with no problem.
Clamshell Opening Front and Main Compartment
I love that this travel bag functions as a backpack, but opens like a suitcase to the main compartment. This is the best of both worlds: you can easily access your belongings and optimize your organization, but you don’t have to dig around for all your things.
In addition to the main compartment, there is another large compartment on the front panel that allows U-shaped entry. The pack cloth liner on the interior is yellow on most of the color options, so your stuff easily stands out. However, the ballistic black color option includes a black pack cloth liner to keep the design simple and more professional looking.
Daisy chain webbing on the front panel provides easy attachment points. This is a great place to add smaller accessories and other items, such as water bottles—a nice touch, since this travel backpack doesn’t carry a water bottle holder.
This Topo Design bag comes equipped with a modular carry system. It contains PackFast™ attachment points to clip on an extra day pack to the outside of the pack.These clips work with compatible Topo Designs bags. This way, you can securely carry an additional backpack or bag.
For us, this attachment feature seems excessive. It turns you into a human wrecking-ball and increases the load past the point where it’s comfortable to carry.
Instead of stacking bag on bag, I would simply wear one backpack and use the messenger-bag carry option for the travel bag.
But hey, it might be useful for covering a short distance from the airport to your accommodation.
The 30L Travel Bag includes a pass-through sleeve so you can easily hook this pack on the handle of a rolling suitcase. Once you get through airport security, you can streamline your carry system and only wheel around one piece of luggage.
This feature is only available on the 30L pack. This makes sense because the 30L can serve as a “personal item” during air travel, while the 40L would be too big. The 30L travel bag stows under the seat of most airplanes. This way your laptop will be easily accessible during travel.
This travel bag is made from high-quality, durable materials. The nylon is so tough that you can carry-on or check this bag without worry.
The padded shoulder straps and waist strap are foam with overlying mesh. The back panel is padded ballistic nylon with a foam interior. There is no mesh along the back panel, so it isn’t breathable.
Heavy Duty Nylon
This bag is heavy-duty. The Travel Bag packs are made of high-quality 1000D nylon. This is standard, durable nylon that is capable of taking a beating. To give you a point of comparison, most nylon hiking backpacks are between 400D – 600D nylon—this means the Topo Designs Travel Bag is a fair bit thicker and more durable.
I haven’t quite figured out how Topo uses such thick, durable nylon and keeps the pack weight insanely light, but props to them.
Additionally, there is ballistic, heavy-duty nylon at the bottom of the pack to protect the extra-vulnerable regions (like your laptop if you drop the bag on the floor). Topo Design’s rugged mountain background really shines here: I can’t imagine much puncturing this insanely durable exterior.
Although none of this nylon is waterproof, it’s all water-repellent. Any moisture that does make it past the sturdy exterior will be stopped in its tracks by the 210D nylon pack cloth liner.
If you know anything about zippers, you know YKK are some of the best around. These zippers are equipped with a water-resistant backing. In addition, they are very chunky, easy to grab, and they slide easily. The paracord zipper pulls help these babies run smoothly. The security loop on the main compartment keeps the zipper in place and ensures that no one will be messing with your bag.
Style & Aesthetics (4/5)
The boxy look isn’t for everyone, but the square design is important for maximizing useable space. The rounded corners of other travel backpacks sacrifice a lot of useable space.
This pack comes in multiple color profiles: ballistic black, navy, olive, and charcoal. The all-black design is modern and sleek, while the olive and navy colors are a bit more playful. The recent addition of the olive color gives a middle ground for travelers looking for a product with a bit of personality. The yellow daisy-chain webbing and red paracord and strap details add pops of color without being too bold.
I personally love both the navy and olive color schemes. The vintage appearance really steps up the style!
The inside of the olive or navy pack is a bright yellow rather than the basic black that many other companies use. While many might think this color is garish, it does serve a purpose. The yellow provides a great contrast, making it easy to find your gear. Avoid the black hole experience of a more traditional pack, and the stuff you carry will certainly stand out.
If you do like the entirely black product look, you won’t be disappointed. The black color option includes a black pack cloth liner instead of the fluorescent yellow.
This bag is very comfortable for shorter durations. The contours of the strap fit nicely to your shoulders, and they are well padded. The padded waist strap and removable sternum strap allow you to travel for longer and will share some of the weight with your hips.
And, if you get tired of wearing it, you can always carry it!
While this product is decently comfortable, it is best used as an alternative to traditional luggage. If you’re embarking on a backpacking-heavy travel adventure, you may want to check out other options.
Organization was obviously a huge factor for the design of the Travel Bag, so it’s a big part of this review. There are zippered pockets of all shapes and sizes so that you can organize your gear exactly how you want it.
Additionally, the main compartment is surprisingly roomy after you dig through layers of pockets to find it. The choice is yours with this bag: you can easily customize your travel experience.
The organization is greatly improved by the addition of the padded laptop pocket on the outside. It is useful for easy access at airport security and will save you from digging through your bag.
The attachment features enhance the organizational experience. The travel bag may lack any exterior pockets, but it includes daisy chain webbing so that you can carry gear on the outside of the pack as well. This also makes it easy to carry too much gear, though.
Overall, the number of pockets will streamline packing, but I think they overdid it just a little bit on the pocket front.
These travel backpacks definitely are definitely durable. The heavy-duty nylon is overkill compared to most bags on the market today, but this way you know it’s going to last.
Many companies create lightweight travel backpacks by using very thin material that’s prone to rip. But, Topo Designs has come up with a way to match thick, durable nylon with a lightweight design. Basically, this pack is the perfect blend of durable and lightweight.
This Travel Bag review wouldn’t be complete without a look at the Travel Bag kits that Topo Designs offers in addition to the backpack. These kits come complete with everything you need to perfect your travel organization system. Add on the accessories to really up the functionality of this already organized pack.
Pack bags are Topo Design’s version of zippered travel packing cubes. They are simple and perfect for bag organization.
The Dopp Kit is a triangular toiletries bag. It’s nice and structured, and the shape makes it easy to fit this in amongst your other packing luggage. When you don’t have anything in it, it folds down flat.
This Dopp Kit is simple, functional, and comes with a hang loop.
While the pack bags are designed to hold your clothes and larger goods, the accessory bags come in a range of sizes. They are built to carry smaller items, from headphones to computer charges. They’re also useful for keeping your travel bag free from a nest of cords. However, with the number of zippered pockets already in the Travel Bag, it’s easy to go without these.
Price: How Much Does the Topo Designs Travel Bag Cost?
This wouldn’t be a travel bag review without addressing the issue of cost. And the Topo Designs Travel Bag isn’t cheap.
The 30L Travel Bag starts at $189 with free shipping and returns in the United States.
The 40L Travel Bag is $229 with free shipping and returns in the United States.
These prices may seem steep for a starter travel pack, but the bag’s high-quality, durable materials and design features add to the value. This product is built to last a lifetime of travel, and this durability is backed up by its lifetime warranty.
Warranty: What Kind of Warranty Does Topo Designs Offer?
Like many reputable companies these days, Topo Designs wants their customers to have the best travel experience possible. That’s why they offer a lifetime warranty on all their backpacks, bags, apparel, and gear. They call it the MAP Guarantee and it protects against any manufacturing defects or material flaws. This warranty does not cover damage from wear and tear, neglect, or accidents.
However, if you do manage to damage this durable pack, Topo Designs will help you out. They understand that our travel bags see a bit of tough love, so they have a comprehensive repair program to return your backpack to working order. Simply email the company a repair form, send in your product, and let them do the rest. Returns generally take between 4-6 weeks.
But Topo Designs takes it a level further in their returns program. They demonstrate their dedication to sustainable product development by offering a repair reimbursement program. Instead of sending them the product, you could keep your repair local. Find someone in your area, send in a claim to Topo Designs, and they’ll send you a gift card for the cost of the repair. It may not be the most ideal option for everyone (and it may work better for apparel than bags), but I still think it’s pretty darn cool.
Shipping: Does Topo Designs Ship Internationally?
If you order directly from the Topo Designs website, they offer free U.S. shipping, as well as free returns and exchanges. This free domestic shipping can take up to a week, depending on your distance from Colorado.
Topo Designs also ships internationally. This shipping will generally take a couple of weeks. However, additional duties and taxes must be paid at the time of delivery. Keep this in mind when ordering, because these fees are not included in Topo Designs’ shipping rates.
Contact your local postal service to find out what fees you’ll encounter. And of course, you can email the company if you have any questions about their international shipping. Just review the details!
Topo Designs Travel Bag Review Summary: Final Thoughts
The Topo Designs Travel Bag is a well-designed carry-on bag perfect for shorter trips. It’s durable, has numerous pockets for organization, and includes a padded laptop pocket. It’s perfect for the digital nomad, or anyone seeking a balance of classic style and function.
This is also a great pack for a traveler looking to take the leap from traditional luggage to backpack-style travel. With various attachment points and a “three ways to carry” system, the Travel Bag is highly versatile.
However, as I think this review outlines, it’s not for everyone.
While it works well for a weekend travel excursion, the harness system may be too simple for longer travel. If you’re planning to travel for a couple of weeks, you may want to browse other options.
I love that the Topo Designs Travel Bag comes in two sizes and is full of features. The 30L is great for weekend travel but may be too small for heavy packers for longer travel. However, the 40L version pushes the limits of many airline carry-on restrictions.
This is a high-quality, durable product that is well-suited for those who seek to travel with an extensive organization system. But for the minimalist travelers among us, the Travel Bag design may seem excessive.