- Buyer's Guide
Inside Line Equipment Travel Pack Review
You don’t have to be a bag enthusiast to know the giants like Chrome Industries and Timbuk2. Both companies started with cyclists and bike messengers as their core audience, gradually expanding into the “average Joe” territory. Yet, there is another carry brand that deserves more recognition and attention – California-based Inside Line Equipment.
ILE is a somewhat legendary brand among bike enthusiasts. Based in Berkeley, CA the company was founded by Eric Fischer back in 2012 with the primary focus of creating ridiculously durable yet extremely simple products. That means no gimmicks or features for the sake of features alone – just reliable, functional products that won’t fail. In a world where things get more complex each year, where every new iteration of the product is stacked with more features, a company that strives to keep things simple and strips away all that is not essential to the end experience is a breath of fresh air.
Another factor in ILE’s appeal is that the brand is not mainstream. The product line is quite modest compared to aforementioned Chrome and Timbuk2. The products are handmade exclusively in the US in limited batches by a small team.
The 40L Travel Pack is one of ILE’s recent creations. Shortly after release Carryology shortlisted it as one of the best carry-on bags of 2020. I was excited to use this bag for nearly two months in both urban and rural environments as my gear hauler, travel companion and even a “carrier” for other bags I had to ship internationally. Allow me to walk you through my experience.
- Name: Travel Pack
- Brand: Inside Line Equipment
- Format: Travel backpack
- Measurement: 12 x 8 x 21 inches (27.9 x 15.2 x 53.3 cm)
- Capacity: 40L
- Zippers: YKK AquaGuard
- Material: Dimension Polyant VX21
Who It Suits
- People who want a tank of a pack – to be abused, put through the wringer of worst weather and all kinds of activities
- Those who seek the best access to their gear would appreciate the panel loading as well as side access using one of two side zips.
- Those who prioritize high levels of comfort of any load would be happy to find the Travel Pack supremely comfortable to carry.
Who It Doesn’t
- People who need a business-appropriate carry solution. The Travel Pack has a distinctive technical look, reinforced with the AustriAlpin Cobra buckle. The whole package is not subtle and would feel out of place in most formal environments.
- Those with a smaller frame would also find the Travel Pack gigantic. The boxy shape in combination with the deep silhouette could dwarf people below 170cm in height.
- If you like your big bags to be compressed when not fully loaded, the Travel Pack might not be the best option. Technically the side straps could compress the bag but I found this finicky and detrimental to the bag’s overall look.
- If you are not into packing cubes and prefer a bag with clear compartment separation, the Travel Pack would ask you to adapt.
The bag looks brutal and boxy, there is no way around it. You won’t find gentle curves and an elegant silhouette and to me, it’s part of the Travel Pack’s strong appeal.
The look can differ substantially depending on the color you choose. Each color comes with a different main fabric that not only looks different but also has a unique feel. All of the options today are Dimension Polyant X-Pac fabric. However, I would not be too surprised to see Cordura and Waxed Canvas options down the road since other ILE products use those materials.
MultiCam Black/Alpine come in X50 fabric that has a matte look and more rigidity/structure.
Black VX25 and Grey VX21 have subtle sheen to it, while White VX42 and Olive VX42 are more neutral and don’t have much sheen in my experience.
Since each color alters the properties of the bag, I recommend trying the bag in person if you have the chance.
To sum up the look, it is unmistakably contemporary and somewhat polarizing so you love it or hate it. There is no middle ground.
The Inside Line Equipment Travel Pack looks simple at first but it has a number of great details that allow it to retain its signature boxy shape. The combination of VX21 which has its own structural rigidity, straight lines and durable water-resistant YKK zippers make the bag look the same empty or filled to the brim.
The bag stands on its own but be mindful of your carry. Unlike most of the bags on the market the laptop compartment is located at the front of the bag. On one hand, your back does not feel like it is pressing against a wall. Nothing solid is pushing against your body, which is great. On the other hand, carrying my MBP 16 in this bag did shift my center of gravity. It was an unusual, frankly weird feeling at first but it became less noticeable the more I used the bag.
Another point with the laptop being at the front – if you have relatively light contents in the main compartment and a heavy laptop, despite the flat rectangular bottom the bag will topple over and fall on the front in most cases.
Materials & Hardware
The choice of materials offers an excellent weight-to-durability ratio with Dimension Polyant VX21 fabric in my review unit.
The hardware is a combination of:
- Duraflex on the sternum strap, waist belt and D-rings on the straps
- The overkill but badass 50mm AustriAlpin Cobra buckle for the main opening
- Unique custom CNC 6061 aluminum pull-toggles on both sides of the bag that allow you to open the front panel fully
- Metal G-hooks on both sides of the bag offer compression. I personally left them undone 90% of the time simply because these G-hooks get in the way of the side zippers and I would prefer not to have these straps at all. ILE folks are clever to attach the straps to the sides in a way that even when undone, they do not flap uncontrollably. Thank you for that, ILE!
Overall, the hardware choice on the Travel Pack is second to none and offers supreme durability, longevity and fun use.
The Inside Line Equipment Travel Pack is probably the first non-tactical bag I have seen that has an expandable beavertail on the front. Convenient for storing items and having quick access to your gear.
The huge quick-access pocket on top of the bag is one of the biggest in my experience and has an unusual shape. It folds at the front and creates a sort of flap. In my experience, the contents of this pocket tend to shift in that folded portion of the pocket, making it inconvenient to access things. Moreover, the documents I put in the pocket folded with the pocket, so this pocket, despite being very generous in size to me, was a mixed experience.
The fin-shaped, generously padded removable waist straps are great for enhanced weight distribution but I personally did not use them much and removed them after one week of use. I have not felt the need to put them back on ever since.
The top grab handle is long and padded with a removable Velcro cover. One of my least favorite things on the entire bag, the Velcro cover tends to slide sideways and the general placement of the handle in combination with its length always had the lower part of the bag hit my side.
There’s a zippered pocket on each side for your water bottle or any other item you wish to store for relatively quick access. The pockets look big but did not fit my 32oz Nalgene bottle. You will have to use a smaller bottle.
Space and Access
Most bags have rounded corners and overall designs that are simply not meant to carry rectangular objects (like a shoebox or a brand new console). This is not the case with the Inside Line Equipment Travel Pack. The combination of a 40L volume with a boxy shape allows the Travel Pack to offer an excellent storage capacity and perfectly fit those angular objects.
The access to the main compartment is essentially a clamshell-opening front panel that gives you unparalleled access to your belongings. At first glance, it seems that the bag can be a top-loader but the top lid does not open. The best you can do is push away the top lid to access the laptop sleeve. Quirky, but manageable in my experience.
The two zips on the sides allowing front opening can be unzipped individually, granting side access to the bag. The side compression straps secured with metal G-hooks do get in the way, so I left them undone most of the time. I would prefer them to be removed completely in future iterations of the bag. The compression straps would make sense if the bag was made from Cordura, but X-Pac is not folded easily so the compression is weird at best.
Pockets and Organizing
Deceivingly simple at first glance, the bag is packed with different pockets and surprised me with thoughtful organization.
On the outside there are:
- Top access pocket (with folded edge)
- Two zipper pockets (one on each side of the bag)
- Front flat pocket with a vertical zip
- And the beavertail that is split into two compartments, with the bigger compartment being expandable thanks to mesh and some elastic bends
On the inside:
- Cavernous main compartment
- Laptop sleeve covered by neoprene flap
- Two mesh pockets
- A cinched compartment against the back
- And two concealed compartments running on each side of the bag, one of which splits into two pockets. Basically if you want more organization, the bag gives you that option without forcing you.
All in all, there’s plenty of compartments and organization but the main compartment is inviting you to use packing cubes. Dumping things in as is, without packing cubes, would simply make a lot of space poorly utilized (the weight of the gear would push things down, leaving the top of the bag unused).
I have to say I was a bit sceptical when I saw how boxy the entire bag is. “Sure it has good capacity, but no way can it be comfortable”. I couldn’t be more wrong.
There are no load lifters on the Inside Line Equipment Travel Pack and this was my first concern when taking the bag out of the box.
To my surprise, the bag is very comfortable and I did not miss load lifters at all.
The sufficiently padded and contoured straps make the bag a joy to wear regardless of the weight.
The included waist belt helps with better weight distribution and comfort. But in my experience the bag was very comfortable without it so I removed it and did not miss it at all.
The sternum strap is quite standard and unremarkable; it gets the job done. I would prefer if it had an elastic part for enhanced comfort and unrestricted breathing.
As mentioned earlier, the location of the laptop compartment at the front of the bag is a bit unusual and does slightly shift the center of gravity. Noticeable at first, I quickly got used to it but do keep this in mind if your laptop is a behemoth or a gaming machine.
VX21 and YKK water-sealed zippers is a tried and true combo allowing the Inside Line Equipment Travel Pack to withstand the harshest weather conditions. Even the water bottle pockets on the sides of the bag seal with a YKK AquaGuard zipper.
The only part of the bag requiring you to be mindful when it comes to water, snow, or dirt getting in is the exposed front beaver pocket. A word of advice – keep your water-sensitive items inside the bag and use the beaver pocket for things that are not afraid of getting wet.
Alternatives to Consider
Bellroy Transit Backpack Plus (38L) – if you are looking for something more classy and fit for a business environment.
Peak Design Travel Backpack (45L) – for unrivaled access and configuration of the bag and in general something stealthier.
GORUCK GR2 (34L/40L) – if you plan to insanely abuse the bag and don’t mind its less water-resistant properties. Bonus points for personalization thanks to the Velcro area on the front, as well as the more traditionally placed and externally accessed laptop compartment.
- The rectangular shape of the bag utilizes maximum space of the 40L capacity
- Excellent weather resistance, down to the water bottle side pockets
- Wonderful access via front panel as well as the sides of the bag
- Cool and spacious beavertail on the front of the bag
- Badass hardware – Cobra buckle, custom metal pull-toggles, metal G-hooks
- Unique look and aesthetics – probably the most stylish box-shaped bag you can find!
- Very comfortable no matter the load
- Handmade in the US by a small team
Not So Good
- Weirdly placed side compression straps that get in the way of front panel opening as well as side access
- Side water bottle pockets not big enough to store 32oz Nalgene
- Uncomfortable top handle with sliding sideways reinforcement
- The placement of the laptop compartment shifts the bag’s center of gravity
- The shape of the top quick-access pocket is strange. It bends soft objects like papersdocuments inside.
Perhaps it’s part of human nature to root for the underdog. Most of us rarely win big so we unconsciously hope that the small and nimble team gets the trophy despite all odds. We want the world to be just. I want to live in a world where brands like ILE thrive and prosper.
The Inside Line Equipment Travel Pack is an excellent example of a bold, functional and yet simple product that only a small, passionate team could bring to life. Even though this is my first experience with an ILE product, I can say that the design is unconventional, yet it has a very distinct ILE DNA.
Are you seeking a well-thought-out bag that is built from one of the best materials on the market? Are you dying to find a large bag that offers a unique aesthetic without sacrificing the functionality? The Travel Pack is a worthy contender to keep in mind.
To me personally, the Travel Pack is yet more proof that no bag appears in the Carryology shortlist undeserved.
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Space & Access
Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware
Warranty & Support