After one especially exhausting travel month before the pandemic shutdown, Eileen and I felt utterly pooped. And I don’t use the word “pooped” lightly, mainly because the word triggers a giggling fit among our kids.
On that trip through Europe for wedding and fashion shoots, our Blume Trio were just six, four, and three years old. Imagine the luggage! Aside from clothes, toys and emergency diapers, Eileen and I were forced to haul three cases of photo and lighting gear.
Navigating airports was a nightmare, unpacking and re-packing at each security checkpoint. Our kids, exhausted beyond reason, would drop boneless to the floor while our name echoed over an intercom: “Paging the Blume family. Last boarding call before departure.” Yes, we missed more than one flight due to bathroom emergencies. Not good.
Where was the thrill we had once experienced as younger destination wedding photographers? It was buried somewhere under a mountain of luggage and stress. But our kids weren’t the problem. If you know us, you know how strongly we believe: Business success and family balance are more than possible; they’re stronger together!
It was our responsibility to do the research, get smarter, and find a new packing system that would bring joy back into our on-the-go lifestyle. At the center of this new system is the indispensable 45L Peak Design Travel Backpack that I’m excited to review for you now.
The 45L Peak Design Travel Backpack
Whether you plan to solo-trek or pack for a family of five, there’s something liberating about the idea of traveling with just one bag! But is one-bag travel really possible?
Imagine everything you need is at your fingertips as you glide from place to place. Until recently that dream sounded far-fetched to many photographers. But for the first time, I think I’ve found the perfect all-in-one solution for us. Having owned and tested dozens of popular travel packs or camera bags, I’m giving my highest rating yet to the Peak Design Travel Backpack. Here’s why…
First, don’t confuse a “travel pack” with a basic “camera bag.” This Travel Backpack is distinct from its little brother the 20L Peak Design Everyday Backpack, which comes in many color options and is geared heavily toward photographers’ daily workflow. That bag is similarly innovative with quick-access for shoots — but not really useful as an all-in-one bag for long trips.
Stress gone, the thrill is back! Let’s look at some of those features one by one.
Versatile and Expandable
A few days after I bought my new pack, I already felt pretty confident about putting it to the ultimate test — as my only piece of luggage (for both personal items and camera gear!) during a month of travel through Asia. As usual, we would have our three children in-tow to put the pack through its paces. Finally we would end our month by flying to Las Vegas to teach classes at the WPPI photo convention.
Thankfully the pack expands for three size options, which allowed me to adapt on the spot for different needs — as a substitute smaller camera bag during day shoots, to maximize space as an airline carry-on, and for heavier overland hauls.
When fully expanded in size, the pack is pretty massive at 45 liters by volume. This size won’t meet carry-on restrictions and, of course, the bigger your bag the heavier it is. So I found I rarely expanded the bag to its max. Still, it was nice to have the option during overland excursions. For example, in the Philippines, island roads and broken city sidewalks were no place for our kids’ ride-atop Trunki suitcases (although those kept our kids happy and mobile in airports). Instead, I loaded Eileen’s and the kids’ essentials into my Backpack along with my own.. and the cameras. Everything contained for bus and infamous “Jeepney” rides. Finally one bag to rule them all.
To shrink the pack, two pairs of snaps allow you to compress unused space near the top. As a result, the bag is somewhat (but not significantly) more streamlined and hugs your body more closely during shoots. Yet the laptop compartment and smaller camera pouch options (see below) remain full and accessible. The empty pack is only 4.55 lbs., so totally wearable during a shoot.
The pack’s default size falls in the middle — right at the max carry-on dimensions for most airlines. What’s even more perfect, though, is the pack’s Swiss Army-like design that allows you to fill every square inch, yet in compartments that make instant access a breeze! Let’s take a look.
Killer Camera Cubes
Though there are a couple other modern packs that come close to Peak Design’s innovation, none of them approach its customization for photographers. I can say so confidently because, unlike many producers, Peak Design is really a photographer’s company that happens to make equipment the travel world goes gaga for, too.
So the Travel Backpack sports both built-in features and hand-in-glove accessories that make my job 10x easier. Similar to Peak’s original Everyday photo bag, you have many ways to enter the Travel Backpack’s main compartment. As deceitfully blank as its smooth surface appears, in reality it’s a mosaic of endless openings strung together by zippers (Zoom brand rather than YKK) — an engineering wonder that lets you access specific pieces of camera gear without unpacking everything.
You set up the bag up as you like. But I personally swing the pack onto my shoulder via it’s swiveling shoulder strap and then open the right-side panel, where I slide out my camera, flash, and other gear — all without even putting my bag on the ground.
Choose from three proprietary camera inserts (Peak Design calls these “cubes”), small/medium/or large to fit its three-layer packing system. The Large Camera Cube fills the entire Travel Backpack if you’re packing only gear. The Medium Cube fills 2/3 of the pack (you get the idea). Yet even smaller cubes don’t slide around since they mount securely to the bag’s interior (real clips, not Velcro!).
As a gear minimalist, I was able to fit my complete travel kit (for weddings and fashion) into the Small Camera Cube. I love how this cube itself is set up too.
What gear fits in my Small Camera Cube? Thanks to the origami-inspired folding organizers inside, I can fit: 1. two Sony mirrorless bodies; 2. four smaller size lenses; 3. extra batteries and memory cards; 4. a Godox Thinklite flash; and 5. two Godox XPro triggers. Surprised? Maybe I overpack, but it’s protected and has held up brilliantly!
In airports that require full removal of electronics, I can usually remove the cube rather than every single camera and battery. (Check out my video below to see me unpack the Small Camera Cube.)
Magical Closures and Hidden Pockets
Peak’s Travel Backpack may not be quite as spacious as Mary Poppin’s magical carpet bag. But it’s darn close!
Like other brands that offer a luxurious user experience (think Apple’s snap-shut laptops and iPad covers), Peak Design places magnets behind a smart packing system that just works. In fact, it often feels like the bag is alive — snapping closed its own pockets when you’re in a hurry to pass through security.
My favorite example of this is hidden in the pack’s innovative shoulder strap system. Rather than sewn in, each shoulder strap (as well as the hidden hip belt) is mounted to the bag by a sturdy round hinge. When not in use then, the hinge allows each strap to swivel backward, where it disappears completely behind the supportive backrest. Voila! Unlike any pack I’ve used, the bag suddenly transforms into a smooth capsule — no straps or tethers to risk snagging in machines.
But it’s far more than a “stuff pocket” for shoulder straps; the attention to detail here is impressive. What keeps the straps from popping back out? Four strong magnets along the edge of the back support self-synch to lock all straps in, keeping them invisible. Now you can use any of the pack’s five reinforced handles to hold the bag easily suitcase-style. Don’t worry, all the handles hug the bag closely to prevent snags.
Another hidden pocket on the bottom provides for wet items. I only discovered this pocket later, when I heard the pleasant “click” of the magnets that keep it shut. As a result, the wet pocket very logically (unlike other bags I’ve used) opens downward for optional rain-cover drainage and keeps items secure via built-in clips and magnets. Although the bag is very rain resistant already, after my discovery I also quickly purchased the custom Travel Rainfly that connects inside this compartment.
Somehow Peak Design read my mind and created the perfect Travel Backpack with all those features together — better than I imagined. I haven’t covered the big lay-flat bottle pockets (though I wish it were easier to reach my bottle while wearing the pack), a looping zipper system to lock out thieves, the spacious tech pouch (one of my favorites) and more.
I’ve owned many packs that included two or three smart features. Some positioned laptop pockets smartly near the back for balance and comfort. Others hinged open for suitcase-like access that made packing and folding convenient. Others provided extra protection and access for a camera, though never so easy.
Coming home after four weeks abroad, where all my possessions lived on my back, it’s funny how attached I became to this pack. Only one or two minor complaints I have, which I’ll point out in the video — but not problems as long as you’re aware of them. As for myself, I’m finally thankful for a bag’s excellent warranty — because I can actually see myself keeping this one forever!
Pros: Sleek and smart design for airports, easy access, rugged craftsmanship with limited Lifetime Guarantee, made-for-photographer features that could make this your “one bag” for world travel.
Cons: Higher price point (though fair), hard-to-reach bottle pouch while in use, non-YKK zippers less well known, unusual sternum strap takes time to get used to.