The Osprey Porter 46 is one of the most popular travel packs on the market.... Here's our honest review of this backpacks pros and cons.
Packing obsessed? Who, me? Maybe just a little! I'm constantly in search of the perfect bag and, at one point, I thought I had found it. In a previous post, I wrote that I was thrilled to have discovered the Osprey Porter 46 - but now that I've traveled with it for over a year, how do I feel?
The Osprey Porter 46 is the absolute lightest pack I've found. It weighs about 1.2 kilograms, much less than traditional backpacks and significantly less than conventional carry on suitcases. A big travel pet peeve of mine is "ultra light" carry on bags that actually weigh closer to 10 lbs! Carry on weight restrictions are increasingly enforced and this bag's tiny weight is a huge asset.
Osprey Porter 46: Pros
A second thing in it's favor? The size and shape. Many "carry on" bags are either undersized by several inches (thanks to wheels and handles) or oversize by an inch or two (normally not a big deal but airlines ARE cracking down.) The Porter 46 is designed to perfectly match standard carry on sizes -23x40x55 centimeters. This careful design means it has 46 liters of space - that's 10-12 liters more than the standard bag. Just don't overstuff it! If you do, the rounded top of the bag will technically make it 'oversized'.
In addition to the weight and size, I also appreciate the design. I like that I can tuck the straps away and change it from a backpack to a travel bag. The bag is more sleek and sophisticated than the standard backpack, which is something I appreciate when checking into nicer hotels. The two external compression straps do a great job of reducing the bag's bulk and making it more streamlined.
The Osprey Porter 46 is admittedly short on bells and whistles, but this is a pro to me. I don't want excess straps getting caught and I don't need a ton of external pocks to add bulk. I do wish however that there was a single mesh side pocket for water bottle use.
I also like the safety whistle in the chest strap and the simple but effective hip straps that can easily tuck away. I like the interior mesh pockets in the lid and the side of the bag, as well as a little pocket on the top of the bag that is perfect for tucking in my 3-1-1 kit for ease of screening. I wish the new Porter 46 model, which I have, had retained its exterior pocket on the front of the bag (which is present in Ryan's older model) - it would be perfect for tucking in last minute magazines.
The downside? To save on weight and space, the pack has minimal back support. The padded straps, the hip belt, and the chest strap do help but it is much less comfortable than a standard backpack which has adjustable stays and more extensive cushioning. The minimal support wasn't that noticeable most of the time but when I had to wear it for more than an hour (and sometimes even less) I felt strain and pressure against my back. It felt like I was carrying a much heavier load.
Osprey Porter 46: Cons
I also felt there was a fine tipping point about how much weight the Porter 46 could comfortably hold before the strain would suddenly increase. Adding a few books to my pack on the way back from a conference suddenly meant I had an uncomfortable return trip! Despite the bag's roomy interior, it allows for no slopping packing. Just tossing things in without thought to properly distributing the weight meant the bag felt off balance and uncomfortable - like it was wearing me and not the other way around.
Because there is less padding - and specifically less breathable, ergonomic cushioning - I found the pack to be warm against my back. It seemed like I was (grossness alert!) sweatier than usual when I was running through airports. It's hard to say if this was just me or if anyone else would have this problem but together these 'cons' are worth consideration if you are doing extensive backpacking or travel in very hot climates.
Overall, I find it helps to think of the Porter Osprey 46 as a travel bag, not as a backpack. If you are looking for a travel bag that you can wear on your back, the Porter Osprey 46 is perfect for you. It's the epitome of carry on friendly and the combination of weight, size, shape, design, minimal but well appointed accessories - as well as the very attractive price point made it the ideal bag for our round-the-world trip.
But if you are looking for a bag to go backpacking with, you might want to keep looking. This bag is most comfortable when it is well packed, balancing out the load, but you really start to feel the strain when it's stuffed. We were fine to wear it for an hour or so but long days lead to back pain. I think long term backpackers and nomads will want something much more supportive and comfortable.
I will continue to use this pack for medium length when I don't anticipate having to wear it for a long amount of time. No hiking with the Porter 46! For shorter trips when I'm just flying in and out of one city for 5 days or less I would consider bringing my traditional wheeled carry on suitcase so I can roam the airport for hours without the strain of the pack on my back. For longer or more physically demanding trips I would likely seek out a new pack, one that offers more back support and comfort.
UPDATE! It's been nearly 4 years now and our bags are still going strong. All of my opinions about the pros and cons haven't changed. One of the hard plastic buckle-thing that serves to hold the extra exterior tightening straps in place has broken but, other than that, all components are still in good shape. We also successfully washed both backpacks in a large-capacity washing machine following an unpleasant bed bug incident in Europe - it worked out really well!
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