The Good: The suitcase-style opening of this backpack made packing a breeze.
The Bad: I wish the outer zippered pocket opened a bit wider for easier access.
The Not-So Ugly: The blue color I tested was bright enough to pick out on the baggage carousal, but not too obnoxious for out on the street.
MSRP $180 Buy It! pacsafe.com
Suitcase Packing Design
First off, the pack is designed to open up like a suitcase, which lets you arrange your items way more efficiently than a traditional top-opening backpack. The packing cubes I used fit perfectly into the rectangular shape of the pack, and the cinching straps on the inside held everything in place. My travel partner was incredibly jealous of the setup of this bag, as she was utilizing the stuff-sack method with her traditional top-opening backpack. The outer compartment has a variety of zippered and open pockets to stash smaller items, such as notebooks, power cords, or electronics. The opening only zips open the small dimension of the pack, which makes it difficult to grab items that have slipped down to the bottom of the pocket, but works nicely for a laptop.
Despite it’s boxy, rectangular shape, I found the EXP45 to be pretty comfortable to carry around. The straps are lightly padded, and having both waist and a chest strap was nice to distribute the weight over my shoulders and hips. The sides each have two cinch straps, and the top has a fantastic oversized flap with a buckle, which I found great for strapping my jacket, travel pillow, or even a large water bottle into. There’s one side pocket, which didn’t have enough stretch for me to use while the pack was fully stuffed, but if you’re carrying less, it easily fit a 2L water bottle.
The bag held up to abuse as well; heavy rain beaded up on the fabric and didn’t soak through while wandering to find our hotel. One one rural bus traveling through the Mekong Delta, it was somewhere in the middle of a stack of luggage, produce, and a box that sounded suspiciously like chickens. The driver of our bus kept stepping on the bags to get in and out of his seat, but upon retrieval, I couldn’t find any damage to the pack, other than some smudges of (hopefully just) dirt.
Pacsafe is well known for their clever security features, and the EXP45 is no exception. The eXomesh® slashguard is built into the exterior material, keeping your bag’s contents safe from thieves and baggage conveyor belts alike. A stainless steel locking cable is included, which allows you to tether your bag to a bed post or seat leg if you need to catch some sleep on an overnight train. Their ToughZip™ zippers are puncture-resistant, and the zipper pulls interlock and fit into their Roobar™ system, which is my favorite security feature. This system allows you to secure both zippers and a little cap clicks over the opening.
That top flap covers everything, making it difficult for anyone to try getting into your bag without you knowing about it. You can further secure it with a padlock if you’re going to leave your bag in a shared dormitory and don’t want anyone rifling through your stuff. I was curious if all these security features would make it a pain for me to get into my bag, but I found that it was totally worth the extra second it took to open it for my peace of mind knowing my valuables were secure.
I took the bag as a carry-on on my flight over, and it fit into the overhead compartments easily on the larger planes. However, on one smaller domestic flight, I had to do some serious wrestling to get it to fit. I ended up winning that battle, and was pleased that the material was no worse for the wear. On the flight home, I found myself with souvenirs that exceeded TSA’s liquid requirements, so I opted to check the bag. A nice feature is that the arm and hip straps tuck into the back of the pack, leaving you with a nice suitcase-shaped pack that doesn’t have any dangling straps to get caught in conveyor belts. Upon landing, I grabbed my bag from the carousal, unpacked the shoulder and waist straps, strapped it on my back and caught the train home.
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