March 29, 2016 - Ken San Juan
Topo Designs seems to have come out of nowhere with a huge line of products. I first saw their bags in Urban Outfitters and I feel like I often see one anytime I'm walking around downtown Chicago or traveling. A friend of mine has been carrying one of their bags so I reached out and asked his thoughts on it. He originally bought the bag for use while at school, but has since then carried it to numerous countries around the globe.
The Topo Designs Mountain Pack is a perfect size for what you need. It has enough space to hold clothes and toiletries for a weekend trip and if you are going on a longer trip, it will hold all of your electronics that you could possibly need. There are a lot of organization pockets within the bag as well, which should hold your chargers and other loose ends as you travel around with the bag.
One of the best features of the bag are the large side pockets, which allow for storage of larger and longer gear. A 64 oz Nalgene easily fits in the side pocket and can be easily accessed if you are on a hike or need a drink while walking around a city. I have also seen pictures online of people carrying tripods for their cameras in the side pockets, which could make it a nice bag to transfer camera gear around.
There are many straps all over the bag that make it easy to secure and strap gear to your bag or compress your pack if it is bulging. The yellow straps on front allow you to tie or use a carabiner to the outside of your bag. For day hikers, the straps would be very useful to increase the amount of gear that you could carry. For long term travelers, I've seen people use similar features to strap shoes to their backpack so they don't get mixed in with all of your other gear.
If you don't need the chest or waist straps you can easily remove them so you don't have loose straps waving around as you use the bag. While this isn't a major feature, it can be nice if you are wanting the bag only for light, everyday use.
I always carry a laptop and love bags that allow for easy access to my laptop. There is a long zipper on the side that gives you immediate access to the laptop sleeve so you don't have to unpack your bag to get out your laptop. This is particularly useful on a plane when you need to quickly get access to your back or when it is a tight squeeze trying to pull your laptop out from your bag when it is under the seat in front of you.
Topo designs focus a lot on the design of their bags both inside and out. I like that there are a lot of different color schemes that help you bag stand out from others that are available. They seem to have a design for every style and I really liked their attention to a solid backpack, as well as the look and feel of it.
I am a relatively price sensitive consumer. If something is high quality, I am willing to pay a premium for it, but only up to a point. The Topo Designs Mountain Pack retails for around $180, which tends to be on the higher end for a backpack. You can find the new types of "smart" backpacks that include things like portable batteries and other features at the same price point. That being said, the quality of the bag is very high, but if you are looking for a budget back, this probably isn't it.
In the pros section, I talked about how the large pockets allowed for a lot of storage. While this is true, it didn't necessarily make it easy to grab my items out of the side pockets. I found myself having to completely take off my backpack to grab my water bottle. Longer items, like tripods, might be easier to grab if they stick out of the side pockets, but in my experience it was difficult to grab my gear from the side pockets.
I loved the amount of straps for securing gear, but when it came to the waist strap it was too thin to provide any real support. Most waist straps have very thick and padded waist straps. On this bag, they were the same size as the chest strap, which lessened the usefulness of the strap. If plan walking long distances with this bag, make sure to keep that in mind if you normally use a waist strap for support.