If you expect to find yourself dashing through an airport or running after a departing tap-tap bus, a good travel backpack beats wheeled luggage any day. Packs like Goruck's fantastic 40-liter GR2 are sized to satisfy domestic and international requirements for carry-on luggage and hold the maximum allowable clothes and gear possible for your trip.
What sets the GR2 is its incredibly rugged construction. The pack is made from 1000-denier cordura, with 1010-denier on the bottom (most backpacks max out at 600 denier).
The pack itself is designed by a former Special Forces soldier to hold up under extreme conditions: it’s rainproof, rip-proof, and cushioned to protect your gear. The two large main compartments fold flat for easy organization, and there’s a padded slot in back for a laptop. Small mesh compartments inside hold your cell phone and camera.
The Test: We took the GR2 on a weekend trip to Manchester, Vermont, stuffing it with enough clothes for a much longer stay. To keep dress shirts wrinkle free during the trip, we used the pack in conjunction with Osprey's Flight Locker ($50), which compresses neatly folded shirts inside the bag. Our MacBook Pro felt secure in the 20-inch padded laptop pocket and an iPad in the elastic pocket inside. During the trip, we also backcountry skied with the pack, testing its comfort and ability to keep electronics and other gear steady in more demanding conditions.
What We Liked: Right from the start, the GR2 looks like a piece of serious gear. We loved the utilitarian design, which sports over 32 daisy chain loops on the outside and 18 more inside. The shoulder straps were wide and comfortable, and the see-through mesh pockets inside made navigation easy. Some packs can be hard to zip shut when you stuff them full, but Goruck covers its zipper pulls with long strips of rubber shrink wrap to offer extra leverage. A thick foam and plastic barrier on the frame sheet made the GR2 comfortable on our back and kept gear from poking into us.
What We Didn't Like: During our ski in the woods, we did worry about the security of the laptop. Where some travel packs have a velcro strap to keep a computer centered inside the pouch or a suspension system to keep it off the floor, this one lets the machine float around the 20 by 12 inch compartment with the sides and top unpadded. We fell forward in powder once and worried that the laptop would crunch a tree on the top of the bag. The GR2 doubles as a good overnight camping pack and has an optional brick sack for a sleeping bag, but the lack of a waist strap made the pack feel heavier than our other packs by the end of the day. At 5.3 pounds, the weight was more than most similar packs.