Six months later: Macpac Orient Express 65 review

February 21, 2011 | Review, Travel | 24 Comments
Macpac Orient Express 65

When I bought my new pack in preparation for last year’s backpacking adventures, I wasn’t sure that spending $300 on it was really necessary.  After six months of carrying, dragging and kicking it around the world, I’m now completely convinced that it was.

“What I wanted”

I had a few requirements of any new backpack that I bought, namely:

- it had to be a lot smaller than anything else I’d used in the past.  80 or 90 litres wasn’t an option – I wanted something about half that size.

- it had to have a good harness mechanism.  Even though the smaller pack would mean less weight, crappy straps and a dodgy frame would turn carrying even 10kg for long periods into a back breaking experience that I could happily live without.

- it had to be tough.  Not ‘hiking the Amazon’ tough, but still pretty durable.  I knew that several months in Asia in the rainy season wouldn’t be easy on any item of luggage and the last thing I needed was for zips to break or fabric to rip in the middle of nowhere in Cambodia.

- it had to fulfil all my other standard requirements for a travel backpack – opening from the front rather than the top, a ‘sleeping bag’ compartment for dirty clothes and shoes at the bottom, an attachable daypack (although I’m becoming increasingly less convinced of this as time goes by), etc.


“What I got”

What I ended up with was the Macpac Orient Express 65.  The website has a million different specifications listed, but the ones that mattered to me were:

- the main pack holds 50 litres, with a further 15 in the daypack.

- heavy duty weatherproof fabric

- nearly all of the zips are lockable

- internal compartment at the bottom for dirty stuff

- high quality adjustable harness – honestly, it was the most comfortable backpack I’d ever tried on

- a strap that lets me carry the pack on one shoulder but tucks away when not in use

- a zip up flap that covers the harness entirely for bus or plane rides, and folds away the rest of the time

- a separate internal mesh section for stuffing random things into that need to be accessible

- plenty of pockets and little nooks and crannies to hide valuables in


“The low down”

Overall I couldn’t have been happier with this backpack.  It got soaked for hours on top of a bus in the Philippines, sat in a puddle of dirty water in a boat in Laos, was dropped in the mud more times than I care to remember and got hauled around in the tropical sun every other day for months, and yet shows virtually no signs of wear.

My clothes remained dry even in the heaviest rain storms, the zips still run freely and other than being a bit faded the fabric hasn’t been damaged at all.  Even the plastic clips and zip pulls – usually the first things to break – are all still fully intact.  The only thing that detached the entire time I was away was one of the straps on my daypack when I pulled it far too hard.  I’ve still got it, though, and next time there’s a long rainy weekend I’ll probably get bored enough to try to put it back on again.

Speaking of daypacks, I detached it before my first flight last June and have never reattached it since.  Suffice it to say that I no longer find ‘attachability’ to be a key attribute…

Lockable zips were a great idea, both for keeping my dirty undies safe from marauding thieves in the dorm room and for stopping dodgy baggage handlers from trying to turn me into the next Schapelle Corby.  I wasn’t originally convinced about the ‘sleeping bag’ compartment not being accessible from outside the pack, but in the end it was probably a good thing – one less zip to have to lock up each day.  Thanks to that great harness the pack stayed comfortable during long walks even as the weight slowly grew from 10 to 15kg by the end of the trip.

The design of the harness mechanism had another benefit beyond comfort – it was possible to hide a little plastic bag with emergency money and ATM card deep in its recesses, far from any prying eyes or fingers.  That approach seemed to work out just fine, as the plastic bag was still there when I pulled it out at Kuala Lumpur airport before my final flight.

“What’s wrong with it?”

So was there anything about it that I didn’t like?

Well, to be honest, not much.  The handles on the top and side were a bit too soft to be ideal when carrying the pack with a bit of weight in it – the bag just flopped around and became uncomfortable pretty quickly.  A bit more sturdiness would have helped a lot with that.

It would have also been handy if all of the zips were lockable – while the main ones were, the top and side pockets weren’t.  Obviously I never stored anything valuable in them, but there was nothing to stop anybody else putting something in there.

“Would I buy it again?”

Those are very minor niggles though, in what was overall a fantastic piece of travel equipment.  I’d highly recommend the Macpac Orient Express 65 to anybody looking for a robust, practical and useful mid-size travel pack.  Will I be using it for my next round the world adventure?  Knowing what I know now, would I buy it again?

In a word, yes.  I absolutely would.


Note that I’m not receiving any sort of compensation from Macpac or anyone else for writing this review – I’m just a very satisfied customer.

The Friday Photo #45 – The Sentinel, Tasmania
The Friday Photo #44 – And not a rat in sight


  1. Reply


    February 21, 2011

    Thanks for this, Dave! I've been looking for a proper review of the Orient Express for some time now (I already had a hunch it was the bag for me), and this is exactly what I needed to read. Macpacs sure seem to be indestructable don't they?
    One of the best things you've clarified here is that the size 65L is inclusive of the detachable day pack, it's been quite hard to get a straight answer on that!

    • Reply


      February 21, 2011

      Thanks Sam!

      Yeah seriously, I reckon if I spent 10 minutes scrubbing the dirt off my pack you’d be hard pressed to tell that it wasn’t new. Of course I prefer it with the dirt on it – who needs postcards to remind them where they’ve been when there’s mud?

      That 65L thing is a bit odd, it’s not clear on the website or anywhere else that I’ve found. I’m basing it on what the (very knowledgable) sales assistant at the Macpac store told me when I was trying it out – she was very clear that it was 50+15. I haven’t filled it up with 50 one litre jugs of water to prove it yet – maybe that’s another job for a rainy weekend…

  2. Reply


    February 21, 2011

    What's it like traveling light? I need a 15l pack just to carry my electronics.

    • Reply


      February 21, 2011

      Have you considered employing a sherpa to cart your stuff for you? My prices are very reasonable...

      • Reply


        February 21, 2011

        Sorry, if I were to hire a sherpa she'd come with female parts.

  3. Reply

    Ben Alcock

    February 22, 2011

    Great post, Dave.

    Nice to know Macpac is still turning out great kit.

    I still have mine from a 9-month trip to South America in 1997.

    In fact, I used it when taking the kids to Italy last year. Perfect when you're lugging your gear and one of the kids needs a pick-up/hug.

    Bloody great.

    Nice one.

  4. Reply


    February 23, 2011

    I agree the detachable daypack is not really a requirement. I have never attached mind. When walking with both packs, I put my pack on my back, and it's balanced (sort of) by my daypack on the front.
    The one thing that I'm missing on my pack is the shoulder strap - I do which I had one of those for quick carrying without unzipping the harness.

    And of course you can't beat a NZ-made MacPac!

    Mud on the pack? It's a badge of honour!

  5. Reply


    February 23, 2011

    Hi Dave, I was contemplating buying this for a while, but your post does it for me!

  6. Reply

    Abbey Hesser

    February 25, 2011

    UGGHHH. This post makes me want to cry. I accidentally bought a wheelie bag. And It wasn't THAT expensive but now I have to like. Justify buying it by like... using it. And in actuality, I really should have just bought a new pack. I used to have this awesome light blue northface pack that was expensive (but has lasted me 3 years, thousands of miles and hundreds of flights/train rides) but it is literally in it's last 100 miles. Baby's about to rip at the seams.

    But I just don't know if I can afford this. It's pretty much exactly what I want. Though maybe a little small (just like joel, I need a separate pack for all my "lady appliances"). Maybe you convinced me anyway. AHH conflict.

  7. Reply


    December 19, 2011

    Hi Dave and others,
    I am looking for a pack to do me on a 2 year trip to Europe, including carrying those things that I will need to 'live a normal life' for the majority of the time - work clothes, laptop, etc. Would a 50 + 15L pack be big enough, or is it really pushing it considering all that I will need to carry with me (think work shoes, runners, casual shoes and the outfits to accompany them)

    • Reply


      December 19, 2011

      Good question. For me it kind of depends on how much you'll be moving around, and what you'll need to be carrying when you do. I moved to London and travelled around Europe on and off for three years, but I didn't need to take my work clothes etc with me when I travelled so I left them in my flat or with friends.

      If it were me, I would buy this pack and then take a small suitcase or bag to hold the things you need for a 'normal life', that can be left behind when not needed. You may find it a little small to hold everything you need for both a 'work life' and a 'travel life'.

      If you do need to carry everything on your back all the time, a slightly larger pack (maybe a 60 or 65) could give you a bit more flexibility with what you take.

  8. Reply

    Heidi Hosgood

    May 6, 2012

    Hiya! I just bought this backpack for a 3 and a half month trip through South East Asia... I will be catching quite a lot of flights - do you think a flight cover is necessary? I have read quite a few blogs about buying them and can see the benefits, not sure if I really need one for this pack though?

    • Reply


      May 6, 2012

      I've never used a flight cover, although I see a few of them on backpacks coming off the carousel. I've never quite understood why people use them unless they know they're going somewhere with regular torrential rain, or they have a pack where the straps can't zip away and risk being damaged.

      I always use the zip-away section for the straps, to keep everything contained, and haven't had a problem so far. The pack is pretty waterproof (eg. it was absolutely throwing it down at Phuket airport the other day, and although the top of my bag was wet when it came along the carousel, everything inside was bone dry).

      • Reply

        Heidi Hosgood

        May 7, 2012

        Ok fab... thank you! I won't bother buying one then... it's good to hear from someone who actually uses it!

  9. Reply


    July 3, 2012

    Hi Dave, I'm looking at heading to south America for 6-12 months. Do u think that the Macpac Orient Express would be a good choice? My main concerns are capacity and durability. I traveled light in Thailand for 3 weeks with just the Macpac Rapaki 28 Litre, was so awesome it felt weightless.

    • Reply


      July 4, 2012

      I think it'd be a great choice! In terms of durability, I've travelled for well over a year with mine now and it's still in perfect working order despite the beating I give it.

      If you travelled for 3 weeks in Thailand with a 28 litre pack, you'll be fine with the Orient Express - plenty of room for the additional gear you'll need in South America.

      I'd say head down to the shop, throw a whole bunch of weight in one and test it out!

  10. Reply


    July 20, 2013

    hello dave,

    i am try to buy macpac Koru 35 old version. i was wondering if is worth to buy macpac brand.

    worth to buy macpac pack? i read a lot of rumours and news from internet that the company was took over by another company which make their quality control and manufacturing drop.

    some say the packs quality now is not as good as the old ones.

    macpac beg now made in NZ or made in china?

    please comment

    • Reply


      July 20, 2013

      Hi Andy,

      I've heard similar rumours in the last year or two, but I don't have any personal experience of it myself one way or the other - my Orient Express is still going strong after 2+ years of constant travelling, so I haven't had to buy a new pack.

      Macpac got new owners around 10 years ago, and I believe moved its manufacturing offshore around the same time. There is a very long thread on this article - - talking all about this stuff, including several comments from one of the Macpac owners.

      In my opinion (and this is just my opinion) I think that the higher end Macpac gear is great for travelling and light to moderate hiking. It may not be as good as it once was for more extreme conditions, but I've got no way of knowing that for sure - and I don't tend to put myself in those conditions, so don't have a need for gear that can survive them.

      I guess all I can say is that at this point, I'd happily buy another Macpac pack to travel with when my current one does finally break.

  11. Reply


    September 9, 2013

    Hello!! Thank you for the review Dave!! I´m planning a trip to Asia and yesterday I saw this backpack at the store.. so today I started looking for more details... I think I´m going to buy it! I cannot carry heavy things and think that the size is the strength ;) Thx!!

  12. Reply


    November 12, 2013

    Hi Dave - I bought the orient express in 2000 and the waterproofing lasted until 2011 when it started to flake off. It's been around the world 3 or 4 times, through rain, snow, hail and sunshine. the shell remains very much sturdy and in tact and I loved it so much!! Really attached to it (sentimental value through all the travels) but currently grieving for it since it seems to have gone missing (possibly accidentally taken during a move or thrown out from storage). I'm so happy you wrote about it about it... I never comment on these things on the internet but since I'm going to Nepal soon I need a bag so researching options and keep coming back to a brand I can trust! I bought a Kathmandu pack I just bought but nowhere near the same quality or workmanship... What was the final decision that made you leave the corporate world altogether? I dream of doing it again but .... enjoy your travels. be safe. peace out traveller.

    • Reply


      November 12, 2013

      Hey LG... yeah, I totally know what you mean about being sentimentally attached to a trusty old pack. Even though the one I had from 1998 to 2008 was a piece of crap compared to the one I have now, I was very sad to see it go. It died for the same reason, actually - the waterproofing started to disintegrate and just left a black sticky mess in the bottom of the pack (or more likely, all over my clothes). :P

      The corporate world thing - well, it's hard to say. I think I'd been looking for a way to extend my travels indefinitely ever since I started them, but that way didn't really exist for someone with my skills up until a few years ago (and it took me a while to figure it out, even then). I was also just becoming increasingly disillusioned with the amount of time I spent each day sitting in an office doing something that felt both meaningless and dissatisfying. The number of times that I'd quit, sold everything and left to travel meant that I wasn't really attached to much in the way of 'stuff' anyway, so doing it for the last time wasn't hard either. Perfect storm, I guess? ;-)

  13. Reply


    December 24, 2013

    Day pack straps: How do the day pack straps attach to make them straps? Do you just push that square do-flicky in that rectangular hole? I did that, but it seems to come out a lot....... Any thoughts? Can't seem to find a pic anywhere...

    • Reply


      December 25, 2013

      Hi Lesley,

      I've recently ditched the daypack part of this pack -- it was starting to wear out and I was looking for something a little bigger anyway -- so unfortunately I can't test it, but from memory it did just attach via the plastic clips. If you're really struggling, maybe just pop into a Macpac store (if you're still in Aus/NZ) and ask, or take a look at the display models. :)

Would you like to share your thoughts?

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