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.