I don’t know how you travel, but I will do almost anything to avoid or minimize checking luggage. For short-term travel, I usually carry a dry duffel for my clothes and a backpack for everything else. And when I say everything else I mean that literally. Seriously, it’s like Mary Poppins’ bottomless carpetbag in there. If you’ve ever carried an entire shopping trip’s worth of groceries into the house in one trip, you know where I’m coming from.
Every once in a while though, a long-term trip will call for me to step up my baggage game. This summer, an epic adventure issued just such a challenge — six countries and four climates in two months, half of which I intended to spend underwater. I managed it by cramming my clothes into one suitcase and my dive gear into another. But this time, I needed more than an average daypack for my everything else.
I thought the Mares Cruise Journey backpack might fill the bill, but as with any kind of gear, you never really know how it will perform until you get it out in the field. Straight out of the box, the profusion of pockets awakened my inner Swiss Army fangirl. Being able to organize is the key to luggage minimalism — and here is where the Journey really excels. There’s dedicated space for a laptop and (not or) an e-reader, a discreet spot for your passport, and a special compartment at the bottom that comes complete with a padded sleeve to protect delicate camera equipment.
That particular pocket turned out to be my favorite feature on this bag. First of all, it’s really easy to get straight to your camera when you see a great photo op and to re-stow it once you’ve captured your image. Another plus is its location at the very bottom of the backpack, which makes it practically impervious to rain and safe from all kinds of accidental jostling and bashing. This comes in handy if you’re accident-prone, like me, and get into a motorbike accident after a morning spent taking photos. My elbows and knees were a bit worse for the wear after my trip over the handlebars, but safely encased in the Journey, my camera, extra lens, GoPro, Kindle, iPod, and cell phone came through without a scratch.
The only drawback to the camera pocket is that when you have gear in it, the items thrust up into the belly of the main compartment above which sometimes made for a tight fit when I’d maxed out that space before packing my camera. If the separation between the two spaces was more structured this problem might be solved. As it was, when the backpack was fully loaded, it was sometimes a struggle to access things near the bottom.
The only other improvements I could wish for are a spot to attach a travel pillow and a sternum strap. I was able to fit an impressive 14 kg into all the various nooks and crannies, but it was a bit rough on my back. A strap across the front would’ve helped distribute the weight a little more comfortable during hikes and other day treks. For airport navigation, however, the Journey has a really cool innovation that had an unexpectedly big impact on my travel comfort.
On the back of the backpack is a wide band of fabric that slips over the telescoping handle of a rolling suitcase. Being able to shift the Journey (and everything inside) from my shoulders onto my suitcase was a welcome relief and the kind of creature comfort that helps you remember that twenty-hour layovers are all part of the adventure.
Overall, the Mares Cruise Journey is durable and well-designed. The black denier can take a lot of abuse — even after my motorbike mishap the fabric wasn’t abraded or scuffed. It’s pretty low-profile, too, so unless your dive bag is broadcasting what’s inside, no one can necessarily tell that you’re a diver, which makes me feel a little more secure about bringing along my own gear. The zippers all have easy-to-grasp pulls or wide finger-loops, and the back and straps are made to be breathable, which is crucial between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. At $110, it’s a little more than I would usually pay for a backpack but well worth it for the satisfaction of always having what I need on hand.
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- Camera compartment
- Rear zipped laptop pocket
- Adjustable padded shoulder straps
- Internal Padding
- Air mesh handle
- Multi-use pockets
- External elastic
- Wideband for telescopic handle
- Ultralight material
- A.T.O. – Air Travel Optimized
- Mares Cruise Journey Backpack $110 USD / €93.11 EUR / £82.10 GBP
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