Eagle Creek and National Geographic have partnered to create a set of adventure travel bags designed to combine durability, versatility, and user-friendliness. The National Geographic Guide Series features two backpacks, a duffel, and two roller bags, all constructed with super-tough tarpaulin fabric, weatherproof zippers, and wide easy-access openings for optimum organization. The bags went on pre-sale today and start shipping on June 1, but we got our hands on them a few months early and put them to the test.
Here are the three we liked the most.
Utility Backpack 40L ($249)
Out of all the packs in Eagle Creek’s new line, the Utility 40L best straddles the line between technical and lifestyle. Its burly tarpaulin outer is weatherproof, keeping valuables safe from moisture, with the added benefit that you can spray it down should the Utility get dirty in transit. (The zippers are only water-resistant, so don’t go taking the pack on rafting trips and expect the contents to be untouchable.) Two handy compression straps on each side tighten everything up if you don’t pack to the brim, but if you do, a semirigid back panel keeps the Utility from sagging. A stowable hipbelt is icing on the cake.
On the lifestyle end of the spectrum, I really appreciated the separate laptop pocket that you access through a zipper at the top—clutch if you want to retrieve your computer while the Utility is stuffed under the seat in front of you on a flight. The main zippers extend all the way down the side, meaning I could splay the pack open and get to the contents buried at the bottom without emptying the whole thing. But for smaller, important items like power cords and passports, the smaller front compartment affords quick access. My only gripe there is that its zipper runs vertically down the middle, which can make it hard to open all the way without things falling out.
All in all, the Utility’s size and capability make it the only luggage I need if I’m traveling light for a weekend, comfortable in the knowledge that it’ll hold up to almost anything I put it through.
—Will Egensteiner, senior gear editor
Guide Travel Pack 65L ($349)
Weighing nearly five pounds with a 65-liter capacity, the Guide Travel Pack is overkill for someone who prefers to travel light. But for those who find themselves trekking to Everest Base Camp or bushwhacking through the Amazon, this bag can keep up.
The highlight is the super-thick and highly durable tarpaulin material—you won’t find any easy-to-tear, lightweight mesh pockets here. It offers so much structure that despite having only a plastic frame, the pack will almost stand up on its own. Besides that, it has many of the standard features I look for in a backpacking bag. There’s a cavernous main compartment and two exterior organization pockets—one in front and one on top—plus a hydration bladder pocket, external compression straps, and an adjustable torso, which helps dial in the perfect fit. The lid isn’t removable, but the clamshell design means it won’t flop around when the pack isn’t stuffed to the brim.
It’s big and heavy, but the Guide will probably outlast every other pack in your closet.
—Ben Fox, associate reviews editor
All Purpose Duffel 60L ($199)
The burly backpack duffel has become standard in many a brand’s line of accessories (and many an Outsider’s travel kit). With the 60-liter All Purpose Duffel, Eagle Creek puts its own unique twist on that classic design. Rather than a single cavern with a rectangular opening flap on the top, this hauler unzips around the sides and splays open into two halves, each with a mesh zippered cover. The upside of this is increased organization: Separate your gear and find what you’re looking for more easily without having to dig around in the dark corners of your bag.
The downside is that it’s harder to fit large, odd-shaped objects that are bigger than either of the two half-compartments (the internal mesh covers aren’t removable). Granted, this is only an issue if you’re packing expedition equipment—sleeping bags, cooking equipment, climbing ropes. For basic travel, this bag presents a happy medium between the durability and carrying capacity of a duffel and the organization of a traditional suitcase. The tarpaulin fabric is lightweight yet super durable. Quick-release straps on both sides mean the duffel expands when you’re cramming gear and cinches down when you’re traveling light.
—Ariella Gintzler, assistant gear editor