REI Grand Tour Travel Pack Review:
Companies like REI, Osprey, Eagle Creek and a few other big names have been releasing their own variations of these “travel packs”, to suit a growing market of adventurous travel minded consumers. Based on the selection that was available to me at my local REI store, the Grand Tour was the best compromise between a mountaineering pack and a travel bag.
Problem: Most of the travel packs I had inspected at REI were so ugly I would never allow my self to actually carry one on my back in public. As for the ones that I would consider carrying, they had such poor suspension configurations; I questioned how long I could actually carry one fully loaded before keeling over in anguish. I looked at travel bags, travel packs, and true mountaineering packs and after two weeks of research, I settled on the REI Grand Tour.
The Practical Review:
Appearances: Compared to the competition, this bag was the most aesthetically pleasing. On my back, it actually looks like a backpack rather than a duffle bag or frameless roller bag with some shoulder straps attached to it. I was especially impressed by how the accompanying daypack fastened to the main pack almost seamlessly. For appearances, the only downside I encountered was the color scheme, as there is only one option available for the men, and only one option available for the women.
Layout: the layout of the REI Grand Tour is very functional. The main compartment has ample space for me to store my general items. Within the main compartment exist two side compartments where I could store some of my smaller specialty items like a first aid kit, medicine, my herbal tea, etc. On the back side of the main fly there is a larger pocket that can accommodate some folded shirts, maybe papers, or in my case my shoes. Consistent with a traditional mountaineering backpack, the bottom of the bag has a region that can be divided and used separately or it can be a continuation of the main compartment. I chose to use it as it’s own separate compartment and store all of my climbing gear within that space (a 60 meter rope, shoes, harness, draws, nuts, slings). It was a tight fit but it fits.
On top of the main compartment, on the exterior, there is what I like to call the “brain” of the bag. Almost any mountaineering pack will typically have one of these. Independent from the main compartment, they are typically connected to each other by a series of straps that allow you to use the space in between for overflow or even as a compression mechanism. The brain is typically the most easily accessible zippered pocket on any mountaineering pack and is generally where one would put things they want readily available while trekking (speakers, sunscreen, chargers, point and shoot camera, hat, etc.). The brain on this pack differs in the sense that it is attached to the main bag, it is not quite as large as a traditional mountaineering pack but it at least has one, something that many of the competitors cannot say. The brain on this bag has ample space for my needs and, unlike many bags, even traditional mountaineering packs… did not become compressed and rendered useless when the main compartment was fully loaded.
The Day Pack, you can tell was designed mindfully. Within this smaller compartment, there are plenty of smaller partitions allowing the user to effectively organize various small items one would generally carry while out and about. It is big enough to carry an SLR and a few other small necessities.
When used in conjunction with an internal packing system like the Eagle Creek bags, I can effectively partition my items in a way that they are always easily accessible. I spent a long time looking for a pack that had a true flyaway zipper configuration granting me full access to the main compartment – this was important to me as I had grown tired of loading and unloading from the top on my old Gregory pack, and while the Gregory pack actually had a small flyaway zipper that allowed you to gain access to the main compartment, it was too small to be of any real value to me.
Suspension: Fully loaded 70 lbs, this pack was quite comfortable on my shoulders. The hip strap is effective in alleviating the load on my shoulders. In contrast to some of the big names out there, this pack has been the easiest to adjust out of any of them – it is a massive Velcro backed system that you place where you want and I have no concerns of it failing. Compared to my Gregory pack, the suspension is not nearly as customizable but for what I am using it for, it will suffice. With that said, this brings me to my last point that I would like to address.
The pack’s intended use is an important element to take into serious consideration. Will the place(s), you are visiting warrant you needing to purchase a backpack style pack versus a roller bag? If you can use a roller bag, always go with this route, your back will thank you. If you are like me and know you will be going to areas that will have unpaved roads / paths, the wheels on your roller bag will be rendered useless and you will be cursing like a sailor all the way to your intended destination.
Materials Quality: Being honest, I will say this for almost every bag that I inspected at REI. The build quality of packs today, compared to what they were in the past, is poor. If it was not for REI’s “No Questions Asked” return policy, which they have actually stood behind on multiple times (Kudos to REI), I probably would have not purchased this bag. That being said let me address my concerns.
The Zippers: the zippers are on par with my old Jansport backpack that I used in high school. I feel that the zippers are ready to blow at any minute with the pack fully loaded. Zippers are always the weak point in any pack and these seem especially weak compared to some of the more heavy duty options available.
The clips: the clips on this pack are flimsy. I would have liked for REI to have selected a higher density plastic than what is provided. I rely on these clips the hold the compression straps together and if one breaks, I am in deep doodoo.
Straps: Oh the straps… This is the reason why I haven’t purchased an REI pack in over four years. Their straps suck… I had one blow out on me within the first week of owning their XT 85L Pack and it drove me up the wall. Fortunately it was not a critical strap but it was the one I would use nonetheless. (They did take the pack back three months later when I returned home).
Nylon: the nylon used on this pack is super thin, and it is not because of some new lightweight technology, it is cheap material. So be careful what you put inside the pack and how you place it. I took a photo that compares the nylon used in this pack compared to an old Gregory pack I have had for ages…
While I am grateful that they included a rain-fly with this bag, I cannot understand why in the world they did not make it a permanent attachment. It would have been so easy for them to do at the cost of maybe a few extra dollars (or cents?). This rain-fly is my last line of defense from loosing my items in the event that a compression clip fails and my cheap zippers blow out – I do not want to lose this thing.
After all of that being said, I still chose to go with REI’s pack over the competition because I feel this bag did the best job of fulfilling the criteria I was looking for. While the materials are not the most robust, I feel confident that the pack should be able to hold up so long as the zippers do not blow on me. It is comfortable, I can fit all my gear, clothes and other various items and it has the main compartment fly away panel – I am happy.