Everyone needs a travel backpack. Enabling you to keep organised in airports and aeroplanes and big enough for everything you need on short trips, they’re a hands-free hero that have emerged only in the last few years. The Air Travel Backpack (opens in new tab) ($419/£318) from San Francisco-based designer and manufacturer Waterfield Design is surely one of the best around.
Its ballistic nylon build with real leather accents make it smart, stylish and comfortable. It's also unique in having space for two (and arguably three) laptops. Add a 35-litre capacity – plenty for a few days away – an excellent build quality and some must-have design flourishes and it’s hard to resist.
Waterfield Air Travel Backpack: design and features
As its name suggests, the Air Travel Backpack is all about air travel. Part of the Waterfield Air Collection alongside the Air Porter (opens in new tab), Air Duffel (opens in new tab) and Air Caddy (opens in new tab), it measures 22.5”x16”x7.5”/57.2x40.6x19 mm and 3.9 lbs/1.76 kg when empty, which is fine for the US though very slightly too tall for the general UK limit of 56 cm tall. In practice, if you keep it on your back when checking-in UK travellers should be OK.
It’s got full-grain leather grab handles on the top and on the side – in this case in gorgeous chocolate (black, blue and crimson are also available).
Like all travel backpacks, when laying on its back the Air Travel Backpack opens like a regular suitcase, therefore making it much easier to pack than a standard backpack. Inside there are a couple of compression straps and, helpfully, a gold-coloured rip-stop nylon lining that makes it easy to find things. On the lid are three basic webbing pockets for storing toiletries and cables, though one is large enough for A4 documents.
On the bag’s exterior, there are two pockets accessed from the side, one of which will fit a paperback book and one for keys (there’s a key leash sewn in). On the top of the bag is a deep and discreet zipped pocket for storing a passport.
The bag’s spine has something you rarely see on wheeled luggage or travel backpacks; a stretch pouch that can take a large 3.5-inch diameter water bottle. That's so incredibly useful when travelling. It’s elasticated so lays flat when not in use.
Inside the bag’s rear business section are two faux fur-lined areas for a 14-inch laptop and a tablet (or a second 14-inch laptop) while opposite are pockets for documents, batteries, headphones and some pen loops. Again back here is the same fabulous gold-coloured rip-stop nylon lining also found in the main clothing compartment.
Waterfield Air Travel Backpack: performance and comfort
The problem with many travel backpacks is that they droop when not packed completely full. Like its rivals, the Air Travel Backpack lacks the structure of a suitcase, but its main compartment for clothes does at least provide slightly padded sides that help give it some shape even when it’s not packed completely full. It’s a fairly shallow section, but it’s easily big enough for short trips (and if you wash ‘n’ wear, trips of almost any duration). Our only complaint is that the gorgeous golden lining could do with a few zip pockets and pouches around the perimeter for storing stuff like coins, keys and other sundries.
The back office section is adorable. Being able to easily reach for a laptop, a bunch of A4 documents or a portable battery without going anywhere near yesterday’s dirty underwear is welcome, but so is the sheer volume of stuff you can get in here. We travelled with a 13-inch Macbook Pro and an iPad in the Air Travel Backpack very easily, but in truth, we could have put two laptops in the lid’s fur-lined sleeves and another in the bag-side sleeve. That’s not normal for a travel backpack and neither are the waterproof and lockable zips, which can be clipped together using a small carabiner that’s sewn to the bag.
What Waterfield has done with the shoulder straps is unusual and very clever. While many manufacturers seek to make backpack straps thicker, more padded and therefore more comfortable, those on the Air Travel Backpack are pared-down, basic and can be completely ignored. There’s also no messy hip belt. With a full, heavy pack we didn’t have any issue with the flimsy straps, though the sternum straps – which can be positioned in four different places – did prove really important for ultimate comfort.
What we loved most about the straps were that there are no ridiculous-looking hanging cords and that the straps themselves can be really easily tucked away to keep the Air Travel Backpack’s stylish, streamlined and professional look that so many travel backpacks fail at. If you want to pick up the bag using either one of the two grab handles then you can pretend the Air Travel Backpack isn’t a backpack at all.
Waterfield Air Travel Backpack: verdict
Who is the Air Travel Backpack really for? It’s expensive, for sure, and there’s a clear emphasis on good looks, easy access to tech and simple security. Although we could happily go on trips anywhere for a week with the Air Travel Backpack, it’s designed specifically for those of us who fly frequently to take two or three-night work trips. Our only slight concern for UK travellers is its 57cm height (British Airways’ limit is 56cm height for carry-on bags).
Could you live out of the Air Travel Backpack for days on end? Sure. Could you walk off a plane straight into a business meeting with the Air Travel Backpack? Absolutely. It may have a big price tag but this beautifully made product should have just as big of an appeal.
Buy the Waterfield Air Travel Backpack (opens in new tab) today.