Friday, 30 January 2015

Travel Gadget Review 2: High Sierra Access Backpack

The backpack is dead, long live the backpack.

In June, I retired my decade-old High Sierra backpack, which first travelled with me in 2005 across the Pacific to Tahiti, Easter Island and South America.

It was a sad day, and I sent the pack on its way with a heartfelt eulogy.

In its place, High Sierra supplied me with a new backpack to review (the pack was complimentary, but the opinion here is all my own).

The pack in question is the High Sierra Access Laptop Backpack (pictured top right),  the closest design I could find in the current range to my previous pack.

Size

The first thing I noticed is that it's subtly bigger than my old pack, while still keeping it close to the accepted dimensions of airline carry-on luggage.

As a comparison, Qantas' international carry-on dimensions are 56 x 36 x 23cm, while the Access pack's dimensions are 51 x 38 x 24cm. Slightly over in a couple of dimensions, but not enough to cause a fuss.

Sections

As far as the internal space is arranged, this pack also seems better designed than my old one. The old pack basically had five areas: a big main section with a large laptop slot; a smaller front "organiser" section containing small pockets and pouches; a flat rear section suitable for documents or an iPad; a tiny upper section; and two side pockets.

The new Access pack has a similar big main section, smaller front "organiser" section and tiny upper section. However, the flat rear section has disappeared in favour of a second, flatter pocket attached to the inner laptop slot. This area has turned out to be great for documents and the iPad, keeping the shape of the backpack flatter rather than having it bulge out at the back.

The large side pockets have been replaced by a single smaller pocket, presumably designed for a phone. But who keeps their phone in their backpack? I actually use this pocket to store my belt until I'm through security, so it won't set off the metal detectors with its buckle.

Out with the old, in with the new...

More areas

What makes up for the disappearance of the side pockets are three new sections, in addition to the ones already mentioned.

Immediately forward of the main section is a secondary storage section, still fairly large, which is just as useful for packing clothing into. This can be handy for storing items you might need to access quickly on a flight, eg a fleece jacket if the cabin is cold.

Ahead of the secondary storage section is yet another smaller section. I find this handy for storing dirty clothing away from other clothing. On that theme, I keep my Scrubba bag permanently stored here in case I need to do some hotel room laundry.

Finally, there's a longitudinal section beneath the base of the backpack, which contains a rain cover for the pack. It's big enough to carry a beverage bottle, though I use it for storing an umbrella.

Additions and subtractions

Other travel aids I keep permanently stored within the backpack are a plastic document wallet in the laptop slot; a small daypack in the big main section; pens and business cards in the front section; and a pen, a combination lock, and padlock keys in the upper section.

I'll sometimes add my foldable bowl to the main section as well.

Even though it was brand new and pristine, the first thing I did to the backpack upon receiving it (High Sierra reps, look away now) was to cut off all the excess straps, such as the sternum strap and tuck-away waist strap. I don't need them, so they just add unnecessary weight and bulk.

Speaking of which, although the pack is bigger than its predecessor, it doesn't seem heavier; I'm still able to keep the light packing down to 7-8kg, around the permissible airline limit for carry-on luggage.

So that's my new backpack. It's already accompanied me to the UK, Belgium, Germany and the USA, and we're very happy with each other. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Disclosure: The High Sierra Access Laptop Backpack was provided to me for review purposes by High Sierra. All opinion above is my own, based on actual on-the-road use.