A few weeks ago my Osprey Packs Porter 30 Travel Backpack arrived in the mail. I had been searching for the best backpack to take on my light-travelling adventures. I wanted something that I could take as carry-on on the cheap European flights, comfortable enough to wear all day and spacious and durable enough to carry 3 months worth of gear. Packing light is an exercise in compromises. But with the Osprey Porter 30L, few have to be made.
A lot of backpackers take packs in the 50L + size range. The problem is, packs of that size are intended for multi-day hiking expeditions, alpine ascents and general off-the-trail-need-a-tent-and-food type adventures. They are bulky, heavy and, frankly, excessive for most itineraries. Many of the features that make them suitable for hiking the backwoods make them cumbersome for city-based travel — for example, roll tops that make packing and unpacking a chore, and large straps that get caught and torn in the luggage carousel. Of course, a wheeled suitcase has its own impracticalities. Osprey’s Porter range (they sell a 30L, reviewed here, 46-Liter, and 65-Litre) addresses these issues.
Traditional day packs in the 20-30L range have a small packable volume and are difficult to pack and unpack. They often have several compartments and pockets, which makes keeping tickets, food and water organised easy, at the expense of being unable to fit bulkier garments. The Porter, while only 30L, has a very large main compartment that is easily accessible and easily packable due to the ‘clamshell’ zip style. It opens right up like a suitcase. This makes packing and unpacking much easier than normal backpacks where the zips only go maybe 60% of the way around. In addition to the main compartment, the Porter has a front compartment with space for a laptop (up to 13-14″ I think), travel documents, a travel umbrella, playing cards, toiletries etc. It also has fairly large top pocket which I find fits my 1 litre water bottle well — the bag doesn’t have any dedicated water-bottle pockets, but this is quite good (see picture further below).
The bag has a fairly thin and unpadded sternum strap and a wide and unpadded hip belt. The sternum strap has a build-in whistle (quite loud!). The shoulder straps are padded but not very thick. The suspension system is certainly less than you’d find on a hiking pack, but bear in mind that a 30L might weigh up to 7kg when fully loaded instead of 10-15kg for a larger bag. The suspension is not only adequate but good for a bag this size.
The Porter’s suspension has a neat trick in that it can, itself, be packed away to give an entirely smooth backing. When the straps are packed away you can use the padded side or top handles, meaning that bag doubles as a duffel. This is a handy feature as it means that the straps won’t get caught on anything when loading/unloading from an overhead locker or on the bus, train etc. The top and side handles and ability to treat this bag like a duffel is also handy on public transport — other passengers rarely enjoy being pushed about by an oversized backpack, after all.
I bought the Porter in black (it also comes in bright green and red) because all of my travel clothes are dark and I wanted something less conspicuous. While bright colours are of some benefit if you’re trying to spot your bag on the luggage carousel, this is a carry-on bag so that’s irrelevant. A bag this size in black is relatively inconspicuous and might mean you’re not immediately targeted as a tourist. Having said that, the bag is still larger than what you’d normally take for a day trip (or what the locals would use) and it has the Osprey logo prominently displayed.
What it comfortably holds
To give you some idea of what this pack holds (and what I’ll be taking with me for 12 weeks of European winter wandering), here’s a list. This is (mostly) what you see in the photos (this list isn’t finalised and there’s some room to spare):
1x Outlier Climbers pants
1x Alchemy Equipment long-sleeve shirt
1x Icebreaker thermal leggings (200gsm)
1x Icebreaker thermal top (260gsm)
1x Alchemy Equipment merino hoody (280gsm)
1x Alchemy Equipment primaloft jacket
1x thongs / sandals / lightweight running shoes
1x thick merino hiking socks
1x microfibre travel towel
2x European travel power adaptor
universal sink plug
1L Nalgene water bottle
Clothing-wise I’m not taking much. In addition to that I’ll have what I wear on the plane (boots, shirt, jacket, merino leggings, merino top, gloves, socks, pants). This pack won’t fit multiple outfits and shoes, although as pictured it does fit thongs or lightweight (US size 11) runners. It will fit enough for a journey of pretty much any length if you know how to pack light. You can read more about packing light here soon.
Bearing in mind that winter clothes for a 6’2 man are reasonably bulky. I could easily compress the primaloft jacket more, for example if I need to bring back a few choice souvenirs.
I’ve taken the pack, loaded, on a test run in my home town, wearing it all day while going about my business of university, taking public transport, going to a shop and cafe etc, and found that it is comfortable for all-day wear. Clocking in at just under 7kg loaded with everything listed above, you do notice the weight after a while, but the sternum and hip straps help. When not full the Osprey “straight-jacket” compression straps on the front can be tightened to reduce volume. This should get it through even the most limiting carry-on size tests.
As for build quality and overall design, I’d say that the Porter excels. It is a premium backpack selling for AUD100 – 130 but I think that it is worth it.
Thoughts after 2 years use
This backpack has continued to impress. I find that the Osprey Packs Porter 30 Travel Backpack is a great size for carry on, plenty of space for a trip of almost any length. Usually day to day if I’m not on the road, I leave it at my accommodation and sightsee without a bag. That means I can’t take a water bottle, but that’s fine in a city where food and drink is just a few minutes and couple of euros/dollars away.
I have used it as a daily backpack, when I was going to university in Berlin. Then it only stored my laptop, water bottle and a couple of books — and was thus excess to space requirements. However, the compression straps can be done super tight to make it a lot smaller when mostly empty. I wouldn’t suggest it as a dedicated day pack, there are probably better options that are cheaper and a bit smaller, but if you think you will benefit from the flexibility then it is a great bag.
Since writing this review, new products have come onto the market and I have seen in action several other bags that are suitable for travelling light. A couple that have taken my interest and may figure in future purchases and reviews are the Heimplanet range, including the snazzy looking Heimplanet Motion Ellipse 25L Backpack and the Alchemy Equipment 30L Roll Top Daypack.