MEI VOYAGEUR TRAVELPACK: Review summary – Simple, no nonsense carry-on travelpack. Stowable backpack straps make it convertible to shoulder bag use. Super comfortable in backpack mode thanks to waist belt, lumbar pad, and internal stays. A rugged piece of outdoor gear. More pack than luggage – will appeal mostly to backpackers. Handmade in the USA.
RATING: 3 1/2 stars, a One Bag, One World recommended product.
The Voyageur pack by MEI helped start the travelpack craze. Now carryon-size packs and suitcases that sprout backpack straps are common. But while many of these products were inspired by this simple pack, the Voyageur is still very much in a class by itself. It is not for everyone and doesn’t pretend to be. The Voyageur knows what it is – a basic pack that functions as carry-on luggage and is extremely comfortable to carry when worn on the back.
The Voyageur has a standard rectangular shape with dimensions of 22x14x9. It has one main compartment, one small pouch compartment in the main compartment, and one long, flat zippered pocket on the outside of the zippered flap. The flap zips around the two long sides and one end. This allows wide open access to the large main compartment which ends up being about eight inches deep. Nearly everything you carry must go in this main compartment. It has two adjustable hold-down straps for securing folded clothes. The flat 6x9 interior pouch pocket will hold small items, a few toiletries, valuables, or documents that need to be kept secure and dry. It is sewn in at the top end of the bag. The flat 14x19 zippered pocket on the outside will hold a magazine or newspaper or two, tickets, and a few small items. Obviously, this is a simple layout that you aren’t going to get lost in, but it has some limitations.
Packing the pack
The Voyageur is not as easy to pack as many carryons, and its large interior compartment is capacious but not especially efficient. The bag is essentially unstructured except for the internal back frame (see below). This means when you lay it out to pack, the sides tend to collapse. This makes neat, careful packing tough to do. Packing is further complicated by the fact that the thick lumbar padding, stowed straps, and rigid internal stays make the floor of the compartment anything but flat and even. The lump caused by all this stuff is as much as three inches thick and is more pronounced in the center and lower portion of the pack. This pack is probably not for the business traveler or the snappy dresser. It is best-suited for those who roll and stuff their casual or outdoor clothing. The fastidious bundle packer who plots carefully to avoid wrinkles will be disappointed.
The one-big-compartment design is less efficient than a thoughtfully planned multi-compartment design – in the same way that a tool box is more efficient than a tool sack of the same volume. Packing cubes are probably essential if you want to get the most out of the Voyageur. There are many sizes of cubes to choose from and you’d need at least two or three. I used a Tom Bihn large cube which made the space much more manageable. On the plus side, if you’re a stuffer, the external compression straps will really cinch your load tight.
What’s it’s really good at
The Voyageur is a pack. Any pack carries stuff. A really good one puts the load on your back in such a way that the load seems much lighter than it really is. The Voyageur is a really good one. The very things that make the main compartment a pain for packing make this the most comfortably-carried travelpack available. The backpack straps are well-padded, but what really makes the pack work is the waist belt, the well-padded rigid internal stays, and thick lumbar padding. I tested a fully-packed Voyageur against two other convertible carryons and the Voyageur was much better at carrying the load comfortably. If you’re a backpacker and you don’t want to check a larger external frame pack the Voyageur is the clear choice. I’m guessing you could carry it all day and be quite satisfied. The construction seems first rate and the Cordura fabric is backcoated for water resistance. The zippers are beefy and all the strapping is well-sewn. And speaking of strapping, it has an abundance of loops for attaching extras to the backpack rig.
What’s not so good
This is a five-star pack, but as a suitcase it rates no better than two or three stars – if that. Travelers used to the extra amenities that many carryons provide will be disappointed with the Voyageur. It is also inadequate as a shoulder bag. The supplied shoulder strap has a puny pad, but the biggest problem is that it doesn’t ride comfortably against the body with all the backpack hardware stowed. It’s awkward on the hip and tends bulge. Without the compression straps it looks like the Voyageur could swell beyond carryon size limits.
Its styling is somewhat dated. It looks for all the world like an old-school 80’s pack. (The MEI website says the company pioneered travelpacks in 1973 and I’m guessing the Voyageur design hasn’t changed much since then) This may appeal to you, but a sometimes-business traveler may find it a little too “trail-ready”. Add to this the fact that is holds its shape poorly on the shoulder and you have a less than attractive choice for the spiffy traveler.
Who it’s for
If retro is your thing, you aren’t worried about a few wrinkles, and you’re going to carry it full-time as a backpack then the Voyageur MEI may well be your dream bag. Ditto if you’re a twentysomething who doesn’t mind (or prefers) looking a little scruffy. I believe the Voyageur is a good enough backpack to suffice for the short-term vagabonder. I just don’t think most modern carryon travelers who have widely-varying travel needs will prefer it as their first-choice bag. At $136 it is an excellent value for a USA-made product. It is available online at mei-packs.com.
· 1000 denier Cordura®
· COLORS: Black, Burgundy, Coffee, Hunter Green, Khaki, Navy Blue, Steel Grey
· DIMENSIONS: 14x9x22”; 3.5 LBS