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This expandable, water-resistant backpack is my go-to for travel — I can easily pack a weekend's worth of stuff and retrieve items through a side zipper

 

Bellroy backpack

The water-resistant exterior ensured that all my stuff stayed dry when I was caught in the rain.

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  • Bellroy is loved by Insider Picks because of its excellent wallets, fanny packs, work bags, and more.
  • I have been using the Bellroy Shift Backpack ($220) for 10 months. It is my go-to travel bag because it has a huge main pocket that can fit enough clothes for a weekend getaway, plus it comes with crafty storage solutions so all my stuff can be smartly stowed away.
  • My favorite feature is the zipper on the side that provides easy access to the main pocket. It's been super handy for removing laptops, tablets, and food while going through airport security or sitting in tight spaces like the middle seat on an airplane.

I'm not a particularly elegant packer. This flaw, combined with the fact that I'm relatively frugal with my airline purchases, means that I am often traveling with an overstuffed backpack as my primary personal item.

I try to plan out everything in advance to avoid overpacking, but I can't resist the urge to pack a book I'll ignore the entire trip and a few extra pairs of underwear (because I've retained the same anxieties that kept me awake at night during elementary school). Things get even worse at the end of the trip when I apply the chaos-inducing crumple-and-stuff method of packing.

I thought I was doomed to a lifetime of sloppy travel until I tried the Shift Backpack from one of Insider Picks' most lauded brands Bellroy. Their wallets and fanny packs have a great reputation among my colleagues, and the Shift Backpack is just as impressive.

Specs

Bellroy's Shift Backpack has a lot of great features lacking in other bags I've used. The bag's main exterior is made of Bellroy's Venture Weave fabric, which is tightly woven polyester that the brand says is water-resistant and easy to clean. To make sure your stuff stays dry, the zip pockets on each side are also water-resistant along with the leather accents on the outside of the bag. Additionally, the back of the bag and the bottom of the straps have a soft, cushiony pad that provides lumbar support in addition to serving as a protective layer of the laptop sleeve.

The main pocket of the bag can hold 22 liters, and the overall dimensions are 20 inches by 11.8 inches by 9 inches.

What makes the Bellroy Shift stand out

Bellroy shift slide hook

The slide hook system lets you adjust the size of the bag.

Bellroy

The water-resistant materials and craftsmanship are useful when you get caught in the rain, but what's more intriguing is how you actually open the bag.

Bellroy employed a slide hook system that allows you to optimize your space without making the bag unnecessarily bulky, alleviating the need for a team of people to force an overworked zipper to close. If you're packing a weekend's worth of stuff, you can fill it to the brim and slide the hook into the top slot for maximized interior space. If you don't fill it up as much, you can use the bottom slot and compress the backpack to a more reasonable size for daily use. 

There are two ingenious pockets on the side that I've relied on for both day trips around the city and excursions that involve trekking through the airport. One side has a more standard smaller pocket meant for easy access to your phone, wallet, and keys. The other side is my favorite part of the bag.

Bellroy Shift backpack

The side zipper makes it easy to grab your stuff without unloading everything.

Bellroy

Bellroy added a side zipper-entrance point that lets you access the bottom contents without rummaging through everything inside. This has made removing tablets, food, and laptops at airport security a breeze, plus it makes it easy to grab and put away a book or tablet while you're squeezed in the middle seat on an airplane or train. Additionally, it's a great place to store a water bottle for easy access on day trips around the city.

Bellroy Shift backpack

The 22-liter main pocket plus all the different interior pockets make it easy to optimize your packing.

Bellroy

Inside the bag, the voluminous main pocket can fit a weekend's worth of clothes. Plus there are additional smart storage solutions, including a padded laptop sleeve, an additional sleeve pocket, two pouches, and a zip pocket on the front interior.

The padded laptop sleeve can hold devices with screens up to 15 inches. This combined with the waterproof exterior makes it a secure carrier for anyone who regularly travels with a laptop. I use the additional sleeve pocket to store books or a smaller device like a Kindle. The storage pouches are different sizes, one large enough to hold a water bottle and one designed to hold items like sunglasses. The zip pocket has worked well for storing chargers, a glasses case, passport, and other smaller items I want to keep secure in the bag.

Cons

A frustrating aspect of the bag is the removable sternum strap that clips onto the arms of the bag. The strap itself makes carrying a heavy bag easier on your back, but the strap has come loose and fallen off several times. 

Also, the slide hook system can be a bit difficult to close if you're not holding it at a precise angle. It has taken me a few tries to get the top of the bag to close properly at times.

The bottom line

The Bellroy Shift Backpack is now my go-to bag anytime I travel or even for a day trip to the park or beach. While my folding and packing skills still need some work, the bag helps me fit everything I need, without fighting to get a zipper closed. Plus, the Shift is designed so that I don't have to unload all my stuff to retrieve something I stored at the bottom.