Sometimes one simple change can make a huge difference in how useful a piece of travel gear can be. The one simple change Gregory... Gregory Savant Hybrid Backpack

Sometimes one simple change can make a huge difference in how useful a piece of travel gear can be. The one simple change Gregory made with this Savant 48-liter backpack takes it from being an also-ran to being something going on a 3-week trip to Asia with me this summer.

You see, the lightest backpacks you’ll find if you visit your local gear store and start trying things on are the ones you can stuff from the top. Since they have fewer zippers, fewer flaps, and often fewer seams, they weigh less and can be made from thinner (but still very strong) material. Just one problem: they’re a pain the ass to travel with. If you don’t believe me, just watch a few backpackers who bought one of these without knowing better as they try to retrieve something down at the bottom of their pack. They’ll either look like they’re trying to pull the prize from the bottom of a cereal box or they’ll dump the entire contents on the floor or bed and then have to repack again.

Those lightweight, stuff-from-the-top backpacks are made for hiking, not traveling.

The travel ones have a zipper on the front so you can quickly and easily get to anything inside. You can pack smartly and efficiently, using packing cubes if you want or rolling things to save space.

The story doesn’t end here though. The designers at Gregory asked, “What if…?” and combined the best of both worlds. This bag weighs only 1.5 kilos when empty—or 3 pounds five ounces—which makes it light enough to pick up with one finger. It loads from the top BUT…has a normal horseshoe-shaped zipper on the front. So you can load it from the front and stuff it from the top.  Either way, nothing you put in there is out of reach when you need it in a hurry.

That alone is reason enough to buy this backpack, but it’s also loaded with great features that make your travel life easier. The top secures with a cinch strap that can be locked into place and the flap covering that part has a separate inside pocket that’s a good protected stowaway spot. It’s got two mesh side panels on the side for water bottles or other items you need access to. There’s a big outside front flap that can hold a guidebook, camera, tablet, or whatever you want to keep handy (or dirty clothes you want to keep separate). You also get a waterproof hydration pocket you could use for hiking/biking, or it could do double duty as a safe place to stash a netbook or tablet.

The molded back panel is ridged to allow air to circulate and the straps for the shoulders and waist have breathable mesh on the parts touching your body. There are two little mesh gadget pockets on the waist straps—great for a cell phone or music player. The sternum strap can be moved up or down as needed. And here’s a nice touch: a color-matched rain fly that takes up almost no room is tucked inside a pouch in case you get hit with a downpour.

My only real quibble with this backpack is that the zippers, which have nice pulls on them, don’t have any kind of loops built in to enable locking. So this may not be the ideal bag if you’re traveling alone and will need to lock it up sometimes with valuables inside.

The Savant comes in three sizes: 38, 48, and 58 liters. I’ve been trying the 48 liter one and if you’re good at packing light or are going somewhere warm, this is a perfect size in my opinion. It’s also a good size for older kids. I’m actually having my daughter carry this one when we go to Southeast Asia for three weeks this summer. My wife and I will carry 60 or 70-liter ones since we’re twice her size. For a trip of a week or two though, I could easily get by with this one and have everything I need.

You can get the Gregory Savant  in blue, red, or black and it’s widely available in good travel gear stores. List prices range from $160 (smallest) to $200 (largest) and come with a lifetime guarantee. Check prices online by following these direct links to Moosejaw, or Sun & Ski.

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Tim Leffel

Tim Leffel is founder of the Practical Travel Gear blog, as well as the Cheapest Destinations blog and the narrative webzine Perceptive Travel. He is the author of The World's Cheapest Destinations (now in its 4th edition), Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, and A Better Life for Half the Price.