Gear Closet: Eagle Creek National Geographic Utility Pack 40L Review

There once was a time when I’d set out on a trip with a massive piece of luggage packed to the brim with everything that I thought I needed in order to stay comfortable on my journey. But as I grew older, traveled more frequently, and visited more remote places, I learned the value of traveling light. In fact, I’ve come to see it as an art form, knowing exactly what you need to bring with you, nothing more and nothing less. As a result, my bags have gotten a lot smaller and more efficient over time, to the point now that I rarely have to carry a very large pack at all. With that philosophy in mind, I’ve been eager to test out the National Geographic Utility Pack 40L from Eagle Creek, a bag that was designed from the ground up for those of us who like to travel as minimally as possible, without sacrificing features, durability, and convenience.

If you’re a long time reader of The Adventure Blog and have vague memories of me reviewing a similar backpack from Eagle Creek in the past, you would be correct. Last year, I took a look at the company’s National Geographic Guide Travel Pack 65, which I found to be not just incredibly well made, but absolutely stunning to look at too. Seriously, if they handed out awards for how great a product looks, that bag would win plenty of accolades. As it stands, it is an outstanding piece of kit that is durable and well thought out in so many ways. Thankfully, the Utility Pack shares many of those same qualities, just reduced down in size for shorter adventures that don’t require as much gear.

As with its larger sibling, the Utility Pack is made from an incredible durable Tarpaulin material that not only resists abrasions, tears, and scrapes, but also moisture too. Eagle Creek stops short of saying that it is fully waterproof, choosing to call it “weatherproof” instead, but the reality is, anything short of total immersion in water is likely to be just fine. That means that I wouldn’t recommend using this pack on a rafting or kayaking trip, but if you happen to get caught outside in a steady downpour, you can rest assured that the contents of the bag will stay dry and well protected.

As the name implies, this pack has roughly 40-liters of carrying capacity. For a backpacker, that probably doesn’t sound like very much, but for an adventure traveler who likes to travel light, that is surprisingly plenty. In fact, depending on the style of the trip, I wouldn’t hesitate to hit the road with this pack for several weeks at a time, knowing that it can still carry everything I need. Those who like to bring a large wardrobe with them when they travel will find the Utility Pack to be a bit constraining of course, but most adventure travelers will have very few issues adapting to the size of this bag, even for extended journeys abroad.

When creating this pack, Eagle Creek and Nat Geo gave it a book-style opening design. That means that a zipper located in the middle of the bag can be zipped open to allow the pack to sit flat on a surface and provide access to the interior in an efficient manner. Travelers can quickly and easily scan through the items that they’ve brought along, saving time and effort in the process. This is a far better approach that rifling through a duffel bag or more traditional backpack when looking to find a specific item. As the trip goes along, you can also use this design to separate your dirty laundry from the clean close you still want to wear, which is also very handy as well.

The main compartment of the Utility Pack is where most of your items will go, but there are a few extra pockets that can be used to help keep you organized. Inside, you’ll find two zippered mesh pockets, one of which comes complete with key fob, which can be used for keeping important items separated and easy to sort through. There is also a hidden stash pocked located on the side that is great for a mobile phone, passport, and other valuables. Another zippered pocket on the front is spacious enough to hold a variety of items that you want access to without having to open the main compartment itself. There is even an onboard laptop/tablet sleeve with room enough to hold a 17″ laptop. That means, if you can organize and pack your items efficiently, this could be the only bag you ever need for a trip, especially since it is small enough to be carried on most any aircraft.

Storage capacity, durability, and convenience aside, the Nat Geo Utility Pack has another big feature going for it; It is incredibly comfortable to wear too. The shoulder straps are well padded and surprisingly nice for a pack of this size. The hipbelt, which is removable, mimics that approach and is well cushioned too. Add in a molded back panel and you end up with a travel backpack that features some of the comforts you’d expect from a more traditional backpacking bag. Here, they serve the purpose of helping you carry your load through an airport in a comfortable and efficient manner. Additional grab handles and lash points are nice touches as well, once again indicating that a lot of thought went into the design.

All of that said, Nat Geo Utility Pack isn’t for everyone. This is a bag that is built for those who are very comfortable with traveling light and only bring the essential things they need with them. If that isn’t you, you’re better off finding an option that is larger and more closely fits your individual needs. If you’re like me however, and place a high degree of value in traveling in a minimalist fashion, this pack is about as close to perfect as you can imagine. Yes, there will definitely be times when it is too small to meet the needs of the trip that I’m going on, but for travel in its purest form, it is tough to beat what the Utility Pack brings to the table.

Priced at $199, this is a pack that deliver a lot of value for the money. It is obviously possible to find travel packs that cost less, but chances are those models won’t deliver all of the design elements, weather protection, durability, and great looks that you’ll find here. This is a pack that is built to last for years (It’s backed by the “No Matter What guarantee after all!) and is made for adventure. If that sounds like the kind of bag you need to carry with you on your adventures, than this is exactly what you’ve been looking for. The National Geographic Utility Pack is as good as ti gets in terms of small luggage designed with adventure travel in mind. I suspect it will be with me on many upcoming trips, including a 10+ day journey to Africa in a few weeks time.

Find out more here.