Update, February 2017: The REI Traverse 30 day pack is no longer available from the manufacturer, although you may still be able to find it second-hand or elsewhere.
REI has come out with the Traverse 28 instead, a slightly smaller and narrower pack available in both men's and women's versions, with extra features like a large pocket for wet gear on the back. Read more about that model here.
Finding a good, multi-purpose day pack for city, hiking and travel use is a challenge.
Each of those environments has different requirements, and trying to make a pack that’s useful everywhere often results in one that’s not much use anywhere.
When my old day pack started to fall apart, I wasn't too upset – it had always been a little too small for my liking. I wanted a bigger, more robust pack that could handle day hikes, weekend trips and everyday use, and eventually settled on the REI Traverse 30.
After several months of use, here’s how it's fared.
With the sculpted foam back, adjustable straps and hip belt and a metal frame, the Traverse definitely looks like a pack made for hiking. Combined with the external holders for water bottles and hiking poles, plus an internal sleeve for a hydration pack, there’s no doubt that it was designed with long days on the trail in mind.
Unsurprisingly then, the pack has worked well for both short and longer walks. I even used it on the Camino de Santiago, a five week walk across northern Spain, and was very happy with the performance.
It’s easy to adjust the straps to keep weight on the hips, and airflow across the back means I haven’t got too sweaty even in hot conditions. The soft pocket at the top is useful for carrying sunglasses or my phone, as long as I remember to take other metal objects out first.
My only criticism would be that it’s hard to remove and re-attach the water bottles while wearing the pack – you’ll usually need to stop if you want a drink.
The Traverse works well for carrying around what I need each day – typically a laptop, book or e-reader, water bottle, jacket or warm clothing and a few other bits and pieces. While it’s relatively large for a ‘round-town’ bag, it’s still compact enough to be able to take on crowded trains without annoying other people.
The two side pockets are quite spacious, allowing me to keep smaller items separate from the main compartment rather than having to dig around at the bottom of the bag when I need them.
I use the pack in two different ways while traveling. While moving from place to place, it carries my electronics and other valuables. Since I use a full-size backpack as well, I place one strap of the Traverse over a shoulder and carry it that way.
It’s probably not the most ergonomic of approaches, but it works well enough even with the combined weight of a laptop, camera, Kindle and more.
Where the Traverse really comes into its own is on weekend trips. The 30 liter capacity feels huge compared to my previous pack, with more than enough room for everything I need for a night or two.
From a security perspective, the Traverse gets a pass – but only just. The main compartment has two zips that can be locked together with a small padlock or combination lock, but the top, side and hip pockets close with a single zip and can’t be secured in any way. If you’re carrying this bag in crowded spaces, transfer anything valuable to the main part of the bag first.
A nice extra security feature, however, is the bright orange clip that doubles as a security whistle.
The bag’s dimensions are well thought out – it's small enough to take as airline carry-on as long as it’s not stuffed completely full, and will fit easily under plane and bus seats.
Any bag that gets used every day needs to be durable. The base is made from a waterproof, abrasion-resistant material, which came in handy recently after discovering it had been sitting in a puddle of water for an hour. The metal zips are large and reliable, and so far the pack is showing no real signs of wear.
Overall, if you’re looking for a robust, multi-purpose day pack that won’t break the bank and is equally at home on the trail and an overnight flight, the REI Traverse 30 is well worth considering.