REVIEW – On short trips, flying with a carry-on bag in lieu of checked luggage is a great way to save time and money – while mitigating the risk of your stuff arriving at a different destination. Rollerboards and spinner bags have been a staple of air travel, but can be a literal drag when navigating the airport or at your destination. WaterField Designs is building upon the success of the X-Air Duffel with the new X-Air Backpack, and it may just be your new favorite travel bag.
What is it?
The X-Air Backpack by WaterField Designs is a lightweight 40L backpack designed for travel. Meeting the dimensional carry on requirements for both domestic and international airline carriers, this backpack could replace your rollerboard or spinner carry on luggage – and let you traverse the airport hands-free.
We’ve featured WaterField Designs for a long time here at The Gadgeteer, and for good reason. They’ve earned a reputation for quality, and have a lot of unique products that run the gamut from EDC pouches to luggage, and everything in between. All of their products are designed and made in San Francisco.
- 40L capacity
- 13.5″ (l) x 9″ (w) x 21″ (h)
- Waterproof YKK zippers
- X-Pac® VX21 shell
- DWR (Durable Water Repellent)
- 210 denier Plain Weave Nylon face
- 0.25 mil polyester film
- Black post-consumer recycled polyester X-PLY® at 22°
- 50 denier polyester taffeta backing
- 60% Nylon
- 40% Polyester
- Reference: X-Pac
- Full-grain leather accents
Laptop compatibility (padded compartment):
- 16″ MacBook Pro
- 14″ MacBook Pro
- 13″ MacBook Pro
- 15″ MacBook Air
- 13″ MacBook Air
- 12.9″ iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard
- 11″ iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard
- 11″ iPad Air with Magic Keyboard
- Google Pixel Slate
- Surface Pro 9
- Surface Pro 7+
- Surface Laptop 4 (13.5″)
- And other similarly-sized laptops
Design and features
The X-Air Backpack has a lot of thoughtful design features which make it a standout in a crowded space. By using X-Pac VX21 material we have a lightweight, durable 40L bag that weighs in just over three and a half pounds. It’s sized comparable to a carry on item – so expect this to go in the overhead bin and certainly not under the seat in front of you.
X-Pac VX21 is inherently waterproof, and WaterField has paired this with sealed YKK zippers to ensure things stay dry if you get caught in the rain.
The bag itself has three sections – a large, open middle section with compression straps is flanked on each side with a rear and front pocket section respectively. A small top pocket with a key ring is also featured on the front of the bag. WaterField has dubbed the rear section of the bag the ‘mobile office’ where you’ll find a generous padded laptop compartment with a false bottom, and ample room for your tech. The false bottom is a must-have feature on a laptop compartment, as it effectively keeps your device from hitting the ground if you drop it in vertically. You’ll also find a collapsible bottle holder on the right side.
The familiar gold interior that is a staple of many WaterField Designs bags helps provide contrast to items, and is water resistant.
One standout feature of the X-Air Backpack is how the shoulder and hip straps can easily tuck away when they are not needed – but in a way that they’re just as easy to get to when they are. If you’ve ever used a suitcase handle pass through on a backpack, inevitably one of the shoulder straps is dangling around. WaterField has solved for this with small pocket at the bottom of the bag for the hip strap, and two loops in the back mesh for the shoulder straps to tuck away. The beauty of the simplicity here is that the shoulder straps are ready to go just by grabbing them as though you’re putting the bag on. Carry handles are found at the top (leather), and both sides (nylon) of the bag.
This is the first chance I’ve had to get a WaterField Designs product in my hands, and the build quality is nothing short of exceptional. The quality of materials and workmanship are apparent, and I have zero concerns with the durability of the X-Air Backpack.
I found the main compartment to be adequate to make this a potential one-bag option for a two or three day trip, assuming you won’t have access to a laundry (and can pack light). The main compartment can open like a suitcase, which makes packing super easy.
Inside the main compartment, compression straps are run side to side rather than top to bottom, and are pretty narrow – which may be fine if you use packing cubes. I really like the compression system on my Travelpro luggage which has anchor points at the top and bottom, and a wide surface area to help compact everything evenly.
The mobile office is a fun way to approach the “all your tech junk” section, and for me it’s actually laid out quite perfectly. I found the number and sizes of the pockets to be ideal for what I might pack. In this section I had my laptop (Surface Pro), iPad mini, Logi keyboard, battery pack, Nintendo Switch, and various cables + charger block. In the front pocket went my Sony XM5 headphones, sleep mask and pillow.
Comfort wise, the padding on the shoulder straps is adequate, but could be more substantial here. While the chest and hip straps help distribute the weight of a full bag, a wider and more fully padded strap would be welcome. It’s worth a call out here that this bag, like any luggage that isn’t a hard shell, can be overpacked as pictured below. The bag generally maintains its shape well despite its load, thanks to the X-Pac material.
When flying with the X-Air Backpack, I would recommend having a personal item sized carry on bag with you as well. While the X-Air Backpack is within both domestic and international requirements for a carry on, it will most definitely not fit under the seat in front of you. If you end up on a small regional jet, or end up boarding late, you may have to gate check the bag if there is no overhead bin space available. While I would have no qualms with the bag itself handling a ride in the cargo hold, I would not want to send my electronics down there with it (and with batteries, you shouldn’t anyway). I would suggest having a backup bag option so you have a place to stash your gear, should the need arise. WaterField has some options here – their slings or caddy may be a good choice if you’re looking to keep a hands free loadout. A mounting system for the X-Air Duffel to attach to the X-Air Backpack would be interesting and add some modularity to the X-Air lineup.
What I like
- Quality of materials and exceptional craftsmanship.
- Thoughtful design features for travelers.
- Organizational layout strikes a perfect balance between form and function.
What I’d change
- The WaterField logo on the shoulder strap is fully stitched across, opening this up would allow a glasses loop.
- A wider, more robust shoulder strap to better distribute the weight of a full bag.
- Top to bottom compression straps in the main compartment.
The X-Air Backpack is without a doubt, a fantastic bag. The materials are top notch and the assembly is flawless. Despite its quirks, it manages to pack a ton of travel-friendly features into one of the most well-built bags I’ve ever used, and it will absolutely be staying in my travel rotation.