Travel Tuesday: Away Zip Backpack Review
For years, I’ve sworn by the use of the messenger bag for my travels. Along with full-sized carry-on items, the messenger style was my go-to for a “personal item” that could hold my laptop, a change of clothes, and other items while also serving as a daypack at our destination. Alas, it seems that the amount of tech and accessories I need to take on the road has grown, leading my previous pack to often become overly bulging — and heavy to carry on one shoulder. As a result, I recently decided to purchase a new bag from Away, specifically their Zip Backpack. Having taken the bag for its maiden voyage, let’s take a look at my thoughts on the pack so far.
The Zip Backpack From Away: What to Know
Price and purchasing
I must start with this: the Away Zip Backpack is not cheap. Yet, I was able to justify the purchase thanks to a credit card perk. Let me explain.
Currently, the Zip Backpack is $195. However, I was able to find a referral code that saved me $20. So, after tax (note: shipping was free), my order came to $186.11.
In regards to that credit card promotion, I decided to put the purchase on my wife’s Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Why? Now through March 31st, 2022, Away purchases are eligible for Chase’s Pay Yourself Back promotion. With this feature, you can claim statement credits for select purchases while redeeming your Ultimate Rewards points at an enhanced rate. Since we have the Sapphire Preferred, this rate is 1.25¢ per point. Thus, I was able to redeem 14,888 points (instead of the typical 18,611 points) to cover my entire purchase.
By the way, if you too want to save $20 on your order, you can try my referral code or search around for other offers.
Once I decided I’d be interested in an Away backpack. I had a somewhat difficult time deciding exactly which one I wanted. Part of what made this choice so hard was that, while I preferred the overall design and function of the Zip Backpack, I wasn’t crazy about the available colors. Meanwhile, The Backpack had (in my opinion) a much more attractive palette but not my favorite features.
What I settled on was the Zip Backpack in “Moss.” I will say that, on the website, this green color does look a bit more tan to my eye. But, in person, the green is much more apparent, even if it does shift in different lighting. Ultimately, while I don’t think it’s as pretty as some of the blues that other styles offered, I like this Moss color more than I thought I would — and think it was definitely the right call over the other current Zip Backpack option: black. Still, I’d be curious to see if other colors pop up in the future (not that I’ll be spending another $200 if they do).
Design and layout
The first thing that struck me about the Zip Backpack was how clean it looked. While there are some small pockets on the front, it looks very minimalistic. Speaking of those pockets, it’s pretty clever how there’s both a zip pouch and magnetic pouch to store small items you may want easy access to.
My next favorite thing is that this bag opens up clamshell-style, meaning that the zippers to the main pouch go nearly all the way down to the base of the bag. That said, there are some flaps on each side that prevent everything from just falling out when you do this. Inside this main section are a number of organizational pockets, including a zippered flat pouch good for cash, receipts, or a passport; a large and fairly deep pocket that I decided to store my camera and accessories in; an elastic mesh pocket; and a couple of others. Then, there’s also a leather key strap that makes it easy to find and pull out your keys. And of course there’s also the rest of the main pouch, which my packing cube, second camera bag, and other random items easily fit into.
Now we come to another feature that was a must-have in my eyes: a laptop pocket. On the back of the pack is a zippered, well-padded place to store your laptop. Actually, in addition to the laptop section, there’s another pocket that can fit a tablet. I was even able to fit my 11″ iPad Pro in its Magic Keyboard case into this pocket — although it was a bit close. Note that there isn’t really anything preventing your device from falling all the way down to the bottom of the pocket (and potentially hitting the ground when you set the bag down), but I think that having the iPad in there actually helped prevent this as my laptop seemed to stay further up in the pocket when I’d check on it.
Lastly, on the very back of the Zip Backpack is a strap that can be used to place your Zip Backback on top of a roller bag (putting the strap through the handle). What’s more, there’s also a “secret pocket” under this strap, that could be a secure place to store extra cash or a passport. “Secret” may be a bit of a stretch as more bags add similar pouches, but I think it’s a good inclusion nonetheless.
With this being my first rodeo, I’m still figuring out exactly where the best spots for all of my items are. Nevertheless, I’m more than pleased with the amount of space I have along with the variety of pockets available for the organization. I was also very pleased with the laptop pouch, but we’ll talk more about that later.
The good news is that, for that premium price you’ll pay for the Away Zip Backpack, you’ll be getting a quality, premium product. I love both the nylon exterior and the leather accents this bag has, especially the stiff leather handle at the top. Similarly, the metal used for the strap adjusters feel amazing. The same goes for the zippers — with a special shout-out to the laptop pocket zipper, which even has a magnetic element to keep it in place. While I can’t speak to how the bag will hold up over time, I have confidence in its longevity.
As I mentioned, I was debating between a few different Away bags before landing on the Zip Backpack. First, if you’re looking for something a bit smaller, there is literally a Small Zip Backpack for $175. At the time that I was looking, The Backpack and Daypack were also available, although I can’t seem to find them at the moment. Perhaps the new Chase Pay Yourself Back promotion has proven popular and depleted their stock (in addition to the general supply issues many retailers are facing)? I’m not sure, but I bet that there will be other Away backpack options in the future.
My Experience with the Away Zip Backpack So Far
Even though I was excited about the prospect of the laptop pocket, I wasn’t exactly sure if I’d like it in practice. Specifically, I wondered if the laptop would cause an uncomfortable bulge that would be felt in my back. To my surprise and delight, this is not the case at all. Even with both of my devices in that back pocket, I don’t even feel them when the bag is on. Granted, if I were to stuff the main pouch more, I could see more of an issue. But, so far, the padding had made this a non-issue.
Something I didn’t realize about this bag before I bought it was that it can actually stand up on its own. Once you add some items (depending on the weight and where you place them), this balance may be compromised but, more often than not, I was able to keep the bag upright without leaning it on anything. This is also notable because, even though I have a soft case roller bag, my Zip Backpack still managed to ride nicely thanks to that balancing and the attached strap. Previously, another backpack we have with a similar strap would work on my wife’s hard-case roller but not on mine. Thus, it’s very cool to now have this capability.
After all that time of using messenger bags that put all of the weight on one shoulder, distributing that to two shoulders is a game-changer for me. Of course, that’s an inherent feature of any backpack, so what makes the Away bag special? Actually, not a whole lot. While the straps are nicely padded and comfy, I wouldn’t say they’re anything spectacular or original. But, hey, they get the job done.
At a cost of $200, the Away Zip Backpack wasn’t a purchase I took lightly. However, thanks to the Chase Pay Yourself Back offer and my growing packing list, I figured it was time for an upgrade. After spending some travel time with the bag, I’m pretty happy with my purchase as it made for a much more elegant and organized packing experience. Plus, judging by the feel of the materials, I think this bag will last me a long while. So while I’m still not sure it’s worth $200, I do think it’s a quality pick if your budget allows.
Also published on Medium.