Gear Review: Eagle Creek Universal Traveler

As outdoor journalists, our travels often include time in the field as well as time hunkered over a computer. So, we’re always searching for daypacks that accommodate computers, tablets and other odds and ends for business. During a winter trip to Arizona, we found that Eagle Creek’s Universal Traveler was a great business assistant, and it would be near perfect with one minor tweak.

Here’s what we liked about the pack…

It’s convenient for air travelUniversal Traveler

In the airport security line, we hate the awkward dance where we try to grab a plastic tub and then pull a laptop from a pack to place it on the conveyor belt. But, going through security is a breeze with the Universal Traveler, because it has a well-padded laptop compartment that unzips and lies flat, so you don’t have to remove your computer. (There’s actually an embroidered graphic on the outer compartment that shows it’s a checkpoint friendly bag —a fun little touch to remind you that you have that option.) While the laptop compartment eliminated our awkward dance, it also reduced our load because we didn’t have to use an additional laptop sleeve to protect a computer.

While traveling we also found that the side bottle pocket was handy, as we’ve started taking an empty water bottle to fill at water stations in airports, rather than paying $4 or more for a small bottle of water.

Also, we liked that Universal Traveler—unlike many backpacks we’ve used—has a pass-through pocket on the backside so you can slide it onto the handle of a rolling bag.

It’s very comfortable

We prefer backpacks rather than shoulder/messenger bags, because they balance the load and reduce aches and pains in the shoulder, neck and back. With the Universal Traveler, you get nice padded shoulder straps, plus a sternum trap to carry a load more efficiently. We found it was very comfortable to wear, even when a laptop was loaded. Also, a backpack gives us truly hands-free use, and we know our valuables are securely on our back.

It’s an organizational dream

The front compartment of the Universal Traveler is organization nirvana. It has multiple slots for electronic gadgets, including an RFID-blocking pocket, pen holders, an extra roomy zippered pocket as a catchall, and even a key ring. It’s also roomy and deep enough to hold extras like a phone, power cords, etc.

The problem with some laptop backpacks is that the laptop rests in the main compartment and east up valuable space. But the Universal Traveler dedicates a separate compartment to a laptop, so the roomy middle section provides plenty of space to haul books, files, a rain shell, toiletries and other travel gear. On the exterior of the pack, a zippered compartment held our eyeglasses case, and we stashed a phone here occasionally for quick, secure access.

It has nice security features

It only takes a second for a thief to pull something from your pack or even snatch your whole bag when you’re looking the other way. But this pack has zippers with holes to accommodate small locks, so you can secure each compartment. Plus, each compartment has metal grommets that allow you to use a cable and lock to attach the bag to a chair or other fixed object. Add to this RFID-blocking pockets, and you have a pack that provides some peace of mind.

The downsides…

We wish the bag had one additional front zipper pocket to hold an ID and boarding pass. Life is easier when you can slide those things in and out quickly, rather than open a main compartment and expose all your stuff to the world.

Traveler’s Notebook

Retail price: $140

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