ALPAKA Elements Backpack Pro Review
Separating most of the ALPAKA Elements Backpack Pro’s organization in an admin panel eases main compartment access and preserves its space.
- Harness system and slim profile work well together for comfort
- Lots of options to attach HUB accessories
- Admin panel’s organization preserves main compartment for bulkier gear
- Relatively tight for bulky gear
- Tall, slim profile limits access to main compartment’s lower area
- Smart tracker pocket a loose fit for an Apple AirTag
2.86601 lb (1.3 kg)
18.90 in x 12.20 in x 7.09 in (48 x 31 x 18 cm)
Ballistic Nylon, Ripstop Nylon, YKK Zippers
Laptop Compartment Size
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Attaching “Pro” to the end of a product name is a good way to raise expectations. Far from just superficial changes, we’re keen to see features and upgrades that improve the experience. In the ALPAKA Elements Backpack’s case, its HUB system, while useful and convenient, hindered access to the main compartment. The good news is that the larger capacity and better layout of the Elements Backpack Pro provide the HUB system with the space it needs. Using the HUB system now comes with fewer caveats and becomes more compelling.
Even better, the Elements Backpack Pro keeps many of the regular version’s key characteristics that we like. The overall profile, for example, is still quite slim. That keeps the pack’s weight relatively close to the user, making it carry more comfortably. Plus, ALPAKA doesn’t have to overcomplicate its already simple but effective harness system. Just a pair of comfy shoulder straps are all the Elements Backpack Pro needs, though the magnetic sternum strap is a welcome inclusion. Make no mistake, though. The Elements Backpack Pro isn’t a small iteration, a spin-off, or a correction of the regular version. It’s a feature-rich backpack in its own right, one that requires a thorough review.
The zippers on the Elements Backpack Pro are YKK AquaGuard zippers. As the name suggests, these zippers protect against accidental splashes. By the way, you can lock these zippers together using the built-in loops on the hardware in case you want more security.
You get two side pockets for your water bottle. These can fit 18 or 21-ounce bottles without a hitch, and a compact folding umbrella fits in one of them if you wish. The expansion comes courtesy of built-in gussets and short elastics near the top. Our only worry is how well the elastic will hold up over time, as we have seen them go loose on other packs with a similar style.
At the time of writing, the Elements Backpack Pro is only available in 840-denier ballistic nylon with a Cool Grey honeycomb-pattern ripstop nylon liner. They’re not the toughest fabrics we’ve seen on a backpack, though they’re durable and certainly up to the task of daily use. Styling-wise, the pack looks a tiny bit more rectangular in the corners. Seams still dimple the top corners as per ALPAKA’s aesthetic choice, and it still achieves the clean look we like about their gear.
The top handle looks somewhat anemic, but, rest assured, it has the padding to beef it up. It’s much more comfortable to hold than those plain strips of nylon other brands put between their backpacks’ shoulder straps when you want to move the pack across short distances or when you’re trying to yank it out of an overhead bin.
The shoulder straps are contoured to let them flow more naturally down from your shoulders. Along with an aesthetic choice, it also makes arm movement easier. The polygonal pattern padding makes its way here from the regular version. The texture is quite noticeable the first time you try it on, yet it goes away over time. The pattern is arguably an aesthetic choice, though, one that few will ever see since it’s on the underside—but hey, as long as the comfort is still there, right?
Each shoulder strap has a daisy chain of loops where the included sternum strap mounts. We’re not huge fans, as the hardware (the hook) can loosen over time, sending the sternum strap AWOL. However, using a sternum strap with the Elements Backpack Pro doesn’t feel necessary for reasons we’ll discuss later in the fit notes, so we won’t harp on the subject too much. There is also one Hypalon loop on each of the shoulder straps. You can mount gear like ALPAKA’s HUB accessories, including their magnetic HUB Keychain, HUB Cardholder, HUB USB Lanyard, etc.
Lastly, the shoulder straps have simple adjusters to control the length, and strap keepers accompany each. Some users dig the strappy look, but we generally like to keep them tied down for travel reasons since loose straps can get caught on an armrest or other people’s bags, for example.
The back panel features mesh and dense padding arranged in a V-shaped pattern, leaving a large air channel in the middle. A luggage pass-through sits the pack horizontally on rolling luggage. Comfort-wise, the padding is more than enough for the 26-liter Elements Backpack Pro. That said, we find that no amount of mesh or padding can stop your back from sweating when it gets hot enough.
The Elements Backpack Pro doesn’t stray away from the Elements Backpack’s slim profile, so the way it carries remains largely unchanged. Even the additional two liters of capacity doesn’t overpower the shoulder strap’s ability to cushion the weight. The balance feels tight, with the pack sticking relatively close to the body thanks to that slim shape, another reason we don’t feel the need to use the included sternum strap; the Elements Backpack Pro does a good job with the fitment from the get-go.
On the flip side, the pack’s shape is also its biggest weakness. While we enjoy the comfort that comes with the Elements Backpack Pro’s design, it’s hard to fit really bulky items. Large-sized packing cubes bulge out the shape, for example. To be clear, you might be able to stretch out the main compartment and make everything fit. However, you’ll also affect how it carries once the weight begins to stick out and sag.
Inside The Backpack
On the top of the Elements Backpack Pro is a quick-access pocket protected by one of the YKK AquaGuard zippers. Our sample lacks the zipper garage at the end, but ALPAKA confirmed that this is a pre-production sample, and the retail version will have one. This is worth noting because there can be a tiny gap at the end of the track even when you pull the zipper tight—a zipper garage bridges that gap.
Inside the pocket is a soft liner meant to prevent damage to easily scratched gear like sunglasses and lenses. That said, the soft liner won’t be able to do anything if, say, you put a pair of sunglasses and a set of keys together. The liner is also black, so we don’t put too many small and dark accessories in here if we can help it. We also noticed that the laptop sleeve noticeably cuts into this top pocket to the point where we can feel the 16-inch MacBook Pro inside. Needless to say, we’d avoid putting anything sharp here as well.
There’s also a pocket at the front, stealthily hidden by a downward-facing fabric welt. Unlike the top pocket, this pocket uses a white honeycomb-patterned one. Though it’s not a soft liner, the brightness helps with visibility, so it’s easier to find gear. Space is relatively tight, but the front scoops outward to give you some volume to fit a wallet and a smartphone.
The admin panel is the most distinguishing feature that separates the Elements Backpack Pro from the regular version. Whereas the regular Elements Backpack has the bulk of its organization inside the main compartment, the Pro version puts it in a separate section.
At the front is a small zippered mesh pocket, where we like to keep a compact wallet and wireless earbuds. There’s also a smaller zippered pocket just below, which is more hidden, making it ideal for items you don’t necessarily want to be seen. In fact, there’s a dedicated slot for a smart tracker inside, definitely something you want relatively hidden for security reasons. Our only nitpick is that it’s fairly loose for an Apple AirTag, though the zipper will at least stop it from going too far.
Further below is a set of three loops, part of the HUB accessories system we mentioned earlier, where you can attach various accessories. Alternatively, you can hang your own accessories if you already have them, so long as they fit the loops. We like the additional functionality this brings and the relatively non-proprietary-ness of ALPAKA’s approach. For context, other brands might put magnetic attachment points inside their bags specifically fitted for their first-party accessories, making them nearly unusable for anything else.
That said, the most commendable improvement of the HUB system on the Elements Backpack Pro is its placement. For context, the regular Elements Backpack’s HUB system is in the main compartment, which can lead to them blocking and crowding other gear. The clunky experience is far from ideal, so we didn’t use it on that bag. On the Elements Backpack Pro, though, HUB accessories have plenty of space to hang around and occupy the open area below the loops. Fully opening the front compartment and folding it out gives you easy access to them, though we’d be careful since they can flip and spill out.
The back side has more pockets. Two liner pockets flank a single pen slot and can fit passport-size items like a mid-sized power bank. The pockets vary slightly in width, so keep that in mind if you’re putting two of the same items in each. Above is another zippered pocket in case you have other loose accessories to contain, like candy.
The main compartment opens up horseshoe-style, with the zippers going about an inch lower than the admin panel’s zippers. That’s about three-fourths of the way down the height of the pack. This type of access is typical in most daypacks and provides wide-enough access to the interior. However, because of the Elements Backpack Pro’s slim profile, the lower third of the space is hard to access once you fold the front down.
There’s also another set of three loops for the HUB system here. Just like in the regular Elements Backpack, the placement of HUB accessories here can hinder access to other gear in the main compartment. That said, we won’t gripe too much about this since you can use the set in the front compartment instead. You can think of these loops as spares if you’re really invested in HUB accessories and don’t mind them occupying the extra space.
Below the HUB system is a sleeve for documents or a tablet. As for your laptop, a padded sleeve at the backmost can fit up to a 16-inch device. It’s worth noting that it has a false bottom to buffer against mild shocks when you set the pack down on hard surfaces.
While we’re happy to see that the changes ALPAKA made are substantial enough to merit the “Pro” moniker, we’re also happy to see this backpack work great on its own—comparisons aside. The simple addition of a compartment to handle the bulk of the pack’s organization is a quality-of-life improvement over the regular Elements Backpack. We think it’s worth two additional liters, especially since ALPAKA largely preserves good carrying comfort.
- Curious to see how the “Pro” version stacks up against the regular version
- Really dig the slim profile, and it still fits slim tech pouches nicely
- Quick grab pocket on top offers ample room – it’s kind of scooped down versus 2 pieces of fabric sewn at the seam like a lot of other bags
- Comfortable carry
- Digging the added organization from the original version
- AirTag pocket doesn’t hold as tightly as we’d like
- We do have an early sample and noticed some features missing from the photos on Alpaka’s website—for example, the zipper garage on the quick access pocket