A month ago, OnePlus launched its best product of 2017, but it wasn’t the hotly anticipated OnePlus 5 smartphone. I reviewed that phone and found it a mixed bag, however it was the actual bag that OnePlus introduced alongside it that really captured my attention. The descriptively titled Travel Backpack has a demure look and a surprisingly functional design. At $69, it outperforms numerous backpacks I’ve reviewed that cost multiple times more.
Taking my first look around the OnePlus Travel Backpack, I liked the cleanliness of its exterior design. One big pocket up front, one zippered main compartment at the top, and just tidy straight lines in all directions. It was unfussy in the best possible way, and the black variant of it — the one that I’ve been carrying everywhere for the past three weeks — is made out of the extremely hard-wearing Cordura material. There are multiple videos on YouTube showing a torture test of brushing Cordura with a steel-toothed brush hundreds of times and comparing that against a decently high grade of nylon: where the nylon frays and tears, the Cordura exhibits only mild discoloration. It’s accompanied by a shinier faux leather covering the front pocket, the two side pockets, and the bottom of the bag.
Rugged materials and minimalist looks are all well and good, but my expectations from OnePlus remained low. Chinese companies like Xiaomi have a habit of finding white-label products and just slapping their logo on them as an upselling tactic. Not so with this backpack, however. I talked to OnePlus and learned that it was designed entirely in-house by 28-year-old designer Hui Wang. Her approach is to look at other bags, find faults with them, and then design her way around them. That’s similar to how I approach my reviews, so it’s probably why I’ve found so much to like about the internal arrangement of this backpack. Hui has eliminated all the things I’d usually be complaining about.
There’s nothing revolutionary inside the OnePlus backpack, and there really doesn’t need to be. The front pocket has a couple of shallow organizer pockets inside it, which are repeated on the inside of the main compartment, only with a bit more depth. They’re ideal for stuffing with techie things like cables and adapters or human accessories like tissues or lip balm. There’s also a very deep zippered pocket just inside the top of the main compartment, and opposite it you’ll find a slot that can accommodate a 10-inch tablet. Beside those bits, it’s just a big old chasm. Why this works so well for me is that I already have most of my work stuff organized in modular cases: one case for my camera, one for a set of three extra lenses, one headphones case adapted for holding dongles and extra cables, and one bag for charging bricks. The OnePlus backpack carries them all with ease and, importantly, it adheres to the curvature of my back no matter how I load it up — many other bags would dig into the back of my waist if I only have something heavy like a camera in the bottom.
The neatness of this backpack is best expressed in its exterior pockets. On each side, there’s a pocket that sits flat when not in use, but can accommodate a 500ml / 16oz water bottle when required. I’ve managed to fit two bottles on the sides of a fully loaded Travel Backpack. Then there’s the side-access laptop compartment at the very back, which is amply padded and instantly accessible. I never fret about my laptop when it’s in there and I never fail to be impressed by how quickly I can pull it out or deposit it back into the slot. It’s just very well thought out and executed.
My favorite aspect about this pack, though, is the discreet valuables pocket at the top of the front of the bag. Every other zippered pocket has very obvious red pull-tabs signaling its position, but this one has been deliberately disguised with a black tab. It’s recessed inside what looks like just a fold in the fabric on the side of the bag, so I actually didn’t even know about it for over a week. Discovering it was a little delight for me. I found I could stash my wallet, passport, and smartphone in it, and they were all reasonably secure because of how well obscured the pocket is. It’s incredibly hard to make something both secure and convenient, but — until I made the fateful choice to disclose this secret pocket’s existence in this very review — I feel this ingenious design from OnePlus strikes that balance very well.
The two small feet at the bottom of the OnePlus Travel Backpack are also worthy of commendation. They’re made of a particular type of foam that OnePlus has demonstrated will cushion the fall of an egg dropped from shoulder height. I don’t know that all the padding around the bag is of that same foam, but it’s very good, in any case. I have zero complaints about the weight distribution or long-term comfort of this bag. I’ve had it on my back during extremely hot and sunny days, and it’s been as breathable and forgiving as any other that I’ve used. That’s to say, I still felt the weight and discomfort of lugging a load of tech gear around, but the backpack didn’t introduce any additional burdens.
The few downsides of the Travel Backpack are somewhat unavoidable. The Cordura material, chosen for its durability, is quite stiff and not particularly elastic. The zippers have been covered up to improve water resistance and maintain a minimalist look, however that makes them slower and more fiddly to use than others. I find myself occasionally getting a zipper stuck at the corner of the bag because of this. The internal pockets can also be rendered somewhat useless when the bag is fully filled out — I find it a struggle to access things in the front pocket with a full bag pushing into it.
Overall, though, I see a ton of pluses and very few minuses with this OnePlus backpack. It even comes with a rain cover, a neat clothes bag with two zippered compartments — one for clean shirts, the other for laundry — and a reflective brand logo that will “keep you safe at night” according to the company. If a more established name like Samsonite or Tumi had authored this backpack, we’d be praising them for showing off the smart design and attention to detail that justifies their elevated prices. Well, in this case I can wholeheartedly praise OnePlus, even without any inflated pricing. The Travel Backpack is a reasonably priced triumph.
Photography by Vlad Savov