After my 3 month trek around Asia in January, I headed back to Chicago for a few months but felt the travel bug biting again, so I decided to spend the summer living in Amsterdam. Using Amsterdam as a home base, I burned 14 free Club Carlson nights touring Copenhagen, Bergen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, and for good measure Vilnius.
As a “backpacker” spending around 6 months this year living out of a backpack, I get a lot of questions from readers asking what type of backpack is best for backpacking?
I still use both sets of bags and have taken both sets all over Asia, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Australia, India, etc without having any real issues.
While my Samsonite hardshell luggage set is doing great and still considered “top of the line”, since 2012 there have been significant innovations in the travel carry on backpack space with many new companies jumping in including Minaal, Tortuga, and Standard Luggage.
Basically over the last few years, minimalist traveling has now hit the mainstream and is considered “hip”. On Reddit, an entire community dedicated to minimalist traveling has popped up.
While I love my REI backpack, the one thing that annoys me is that there is no dedicated laptop sleeve so I have to manually unzip my entire bag to take my laptop out at security. As someone who works from their computer and travels all around the world with it, that feature is kind of a big deal for me.
So after much deliberation I decided it was time to get a new carry on backpack and donated my old REI backpack to a fellow traveler.
Narrowing Down The Options
There are quite a few options in the carry on backpack space, so it was a bit difficult narrowing down which travel backpack to get. Below is a quick run down of the available options:
Minaal is probably the “coolest” and “sleekest” looking travel bag out there but it is also the most expensive…
I almost bought the bag until I dug a little deeper and found out that the bag is only 35L capacity. Minaal makes a huge deal saying “size” doesn’t matter but I beg to differ.
I also came across this in-depth review by Carryology that made me think twice about buying a Minaal backpack.
Tortuga is probably the most well known carry on travel backpack company and they have done a great job helping to make carry on travel backpacks popular.
My friend had their bag so I was able to try it on and use it. While the Tortuga bag is highly reviewed and there isn’t anything wrong with it, there were a few features below that I thought were missing from their bag like it not being able to expand.
I came across Standard Luggage by accident, as they were running a Kickstarter for their product, the SOLO bag.
If you supported their Kickstarter, you were able to get the SOLO bag for $115.
As it was a brand new un-reviewed product, I had a ton of questions for the company about the bag so I emailed the company and the CEO was nice enough to call me on Skype and answer all my questions. Talk about customer service!
While to the untrained eye, the Tortuga backpack and Standard Luggage backpack look very similar, the thing that stood out to me about Standard Luggage’s SOLO bag was the versatility.
The Standard Luggage backpack can also be used as a professional looking shoulder bag with the backpack straps hidden away, which makes it great if you travel for work and have to go straight from the airport to the office.
While the small details like that really attracted me to the bag, the feature that really sold me was the expandable capacity.
While the normal capacity is 40L, the Standard Luggage SOLO bag also has a zipper that allows it to expand to 50L!
Now the expandable 50L probably doesn’t “technically” qualify as a carry on but it is definitely nice to have an extra 10L available to you if you are traveling by bus or train where there are no carry on size limitations.
So with all that in mind, I went ahead and took a leap of faith and ordered the Standard Luggage SOLO bag.
Standard Luggage Solo Bag Review
Maximum Allowable Carry On Size
My first impression of the bag was that it really looks like a carry on roll-aboard without the wheels, then I quickly realized that was intentional.
When filled to 40L, the suitcase is designed to fit the exact dimensions of the dreaded metal cage at the airport, so you should technically never have to check a bag because your bag dimensions are too big.
Front Loading / Clamshell Design
If you are going to buy a travel backpack, make sure you get a front loading one!
It is literally the most important feature to have and it amazes me that people travel with hiking backpack that are top loading because it is so difficult to get stuff out from the bottom of your bag
With the clamshell design, it is really easy to pack (especially if you have packing cubes).
As I said earlier, this was one of the features that I really wanted in a backpack and Standard Luggage has delivered.
Not only does the bag fit my 15 inch laptop but I can also store my power cords and other electronics things in there.
When I go through airport security, it is now extremely easy to pull my laptop out.
Built In Organization / Tons of Pockets
One thing that most carry on luggage (rollaboard & backpacks) lacks are pockets.
Most travelers these days now have phones, wallets, boarding passes, headphones, etc in their pants pockets.
This bag does a great job of having over 10 different pockets (inside & outside) where you can easily stash stuff.
Also the bag has a few zippered pouches where you can store small items that can easily get lost like paperclips to open SIM cards slots, locks, or SD cards.
I actually didn’t know this when I bought the bag but it does come with a free rain cover which is a nice touch.
On the Standard Luggage website, the bag is shown to have orange accents but the bag actually comes with 2 colors set, orange and teal.
A great feature is that all the accents are 100% removable and interchangeable so you can swap out the colors or take them all off and have a solid black bag if you want.
When I bought my REI bag, it was a huge selling point knowing that it came with a lifetime warranty. Thankfully I never had to use but it was good to have just in case.
The SOLO bag also has a lifetime warranty.
This list of cons is really more a wish list because I do love the SOLO bag. If Standard Luggage is reading this, please consider adding these features in the next round.
Water Bottle Side Pocket
Outside of the US, water fountains and free tap water can be rare so I always travel with water bottle. In a perfect world, the SOLO bag would have a expandable side pocket to fit a water bottle because right now I have to carry it by hand.
Central Point To Lock All The Zippers
This is really being knit picky but the laptop compartment and main zipper compartment are separated by a few inches but they require 2 locks to secure the bag. If there was a way to use 1 lock to secure both zippers, that would be amazing!
As I got this product from the Kickstarter, I really had no idea what to expect.
The product could have been an absolute flop but I am extremely happy that I took the chance and ordered the SOLO bag.
I have been using the bag now for over 3 months and absolutely love it.
I literally can’t imagine that I used to travel with a backpack that didn’t have a laptop sleeve!
Not only is the bag extremely functional and well designed but you can really tell by the small details that the creators of the bag are travelers and are really passionate about building a high quality bag.
As this was only the first round of the bag, I am really excited to see what Standard Luggage has to offer in the next round of bags they design.
Overall after using the bag on the road, I would 150% order the SOLO bag again and recommend it to anyone out there that is thinking about backpacking.
If you are interested in purchasing the bag, as of right now you can get the bag for $175 including free worldwide shipping.
If you have any questions for me about the bag, please leave them below and I can answer them based on my experience using it.