Bellroy Venture Backpack 22L Review
Bellroy’s Venture Backpack 22L takes a similar design approach as the Apex—same main compartment accessibility, a better key clip, but at a lower price.
- Main compartment fully opens for easy packing
- Well-balanced interior organization
- Versatile side pockets—can either hold bottles or everyday carry items
- Small gear can get lodged in the top pocket’s upper corners
- Shoulder straps’ adjusters slip easily
- Main compartment’s sides can poke out where dirt and water can get in
2.23 lb (1 kg)
19 in x 13.2 in x 4.8 in (48.3 x 33.5 x 12.2 cm)
YKK Zippers, Nylon
Laptop Compartment Size
We like Bellroy’s Apex Backpack. From its fully-opening main compartment to its eye-catching styling, it’s a textbook example of a concept product; Bellroy’s vision of a backpack. The fact that they’ve given it the name “Apex” shows how much faith they have in it. That’s like naming your product “The Holy Grail,” “The Pinnacle,” or “The Michael Jordan”—it has to be the best.
While it is a good backpack, the Apex does have its fair share of flaws that stops it from being the best, most notably a ribbon-like key clip which jammed the nearby zipper on our sample. Fortunately, the rest of the Apex’s DNA is making its way down to Bellroy’s other bags, including the Venture Backpack 22L.
A key feature we’re going to be looking at is the fully-opening main compartment. Technically speaking, the Venture Backpack also shares this feature with its Melbourne sibling. Sadly, since that bag has the unfortunate tendency to pop open, we’re keen to see the Venture Backpack do better.
Spoiler alert: it does.
Starting at the front, we have a feature that’s not on the Apex: a bike light loop. As far as extra features go, this one’s particularly handy for those who like to ride their bikes regularly. It may be a simple addition since it’s just an extra loop, but we won’t take it for granted.
Up at the top, you get the usual handle. The nylon Bellroy uses here isn’t quite like the seatbelt-like ones we typically see on other bags. This feels a bit more textured, which is good for grip but not so much for comfort. There is padding embedded within the handle, and you can even take a peek at it if you dig into the seam underneath.
The shoulder straps on the Venture Backpack are relatively low-profile, meaning they’re a bit thin at first glance. Looks can be deceiving, however, since the inner edges are black and blend in with the back panel. In reality, you can lift up the straps and feel just how generously padded they are. They’re lined with cushy foam padding that’s covered with a stretchy fabric. This fabric does feel a bit like mesh, though the very fine weave doesn’t give it a ton of breathability.
The back panel is pretty straightforward. There’s no funky pattern going on here, just a shaped foam panel covered in the same stretchy fabric as the shoulder straps. There is a vertical seam in the middle. However, it’s too shallow and doesn’t reach any of the edges, so we’re not counting this as an air channel.
One subtle feature of the shoulder straps is how they’re stitched up at the top. Instead of having foam all the way, the straps are joined to the top of the bag by fabric alone. This gives them the flexibility to move about, kind of like the arms of a doll. That said, you won’t have to worry about them being flimsy despite the thin joints. As far as we’ve tested, these straps hold up just as well as any other. Bonus points: Bellroy’s made these joints more seamlessly integrated than they have with the Oslo by not using separate nylon straps.
Next up is the sternum strap, and it’s a much better one than what’s on the Apex. Instead of a thin strap anchored to loops on both sides, the Venture Backpack’s is much wider and mounted on rails. These are our favorite kind because they’re easy to move and have a large degree of adjustment. In fact, you can slide the Venture Backpack’s sternum strap all the way down near the adjusters. We also like the fact that Bellroy includes a little strap keeper here to make sure the slack doesn’t flap around on windy days—it’s the little things, right?
Unfortunately, there is a glaring problem with the Venture Backpack’s harness system: the metal adjusters. These are very slippery and do not hold the adjustment in place despite the many times we’ve dialed it in. The result is we end up with looser-than-desired straps, and this, as you can imagine, affects carrying comfort.
Before we finish that thought on comfort, let’s talk about the looks. The styling has been passed down from the Apex but toned down a bit to look more minimal. The cover no longer extends out of the sides to form the distinguishing T profile we’ve seen on the Apex. Instead, the Venture Backpack looks more uniform from top to bottom. Of course, you get the usual subtle accents courtesy of the small logo, loops, and other hardware.
The recycled nylon fabric in this Nightsky colorway looks quite classy and subdued. If we really want to double down on being stealthy, we’d probably go with the Midnight colorway. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Ranger Green is quite the head-turner, especially if you’re a green tea drinker.
Looks are good and all, but let’s get back to the fit of the Venture Backpack. As we’ve said, the shoulder straps’ adjusters don’t hold properly. Flexing our arms forward or even shifting the straps causes them to loosen. Consequently, we get a bit of a saggy feel when we’re carrying the Venture Backpack.
Inside The Backpack
We’ll start with the top quick-grab pocket and one of its cons. When it’s fully packed out, it can sag the bag’s cover, giving it this caved-in look. The bag has a good overall structure, but this part is an exception.
Inside, the front pocket has a ton of space for everyday carry items, such as a wallet, smartphone, keys, earphones, and other accessories. The coverage spans almost the entirety of the cover, including the top corners. Unfortunately, this means there’s a substantial amount of space where small items can tuck themselves. So, if you ever think your AirPods are missing in the Venture Backpack, be sure to check the upper corners first before ripping open the couch.
All of that said, so long as you keep items dropped into the main space below, this pocket is quite handy and spacious. It’s also lined with soft microfiber material so that it won’t scratch up fragile items like sunglasses, lenses, or smartphone displays.
Some of you may be wondering if the Venture Backpack has water bottle pockets. The answer is yes, but they’re integrated into the bag’s sides rather than being external pouches. The downside is that they take up internal space that would otherwise be dedicated to the main compartment. On the other hand, they preserve the bag’s clean profile and keep the bag’s weight more centered.
Anyway, there are two of these water bottle pockets, one on each side. Their openings are stealthily hidden by gussets, giving them some protection from the elements. They’re spacious enough to swallow our 21-ounce Hydro Flask whole, which is impressive given their integrated design. If you reach in to see how deep they go, you’ll notice how the floor curves into the base of the bag—a bit excessive, but it’s better than lacking space.
The clever thing about these water bottle pockets is that they can be used as secondary pockets if you’re not using them to store a bottle. In fact, the left one actually has a built-in key clip if you want to store keys there, and Bellroy deserves some credit for the improvement to its design.
Gone are the days of ribbon-like straps and flimsy plastic clips. The strap is now paracord, and while the clip is still plastic, it feels a lot sturdier now. Check out how it’s knotted to the paracord; now, that’s what we’d call robust. In comparison, the Apex’s (which used the ribbon-like strap) key clip got caught on the zipper when we tested it, owing to how thin it is. Needless to say, it isn’t ideal.
Now, moving on to the main compartment. There are two ways to access it: through the top cover or the side zippered openings. For the latter, the openings use AquaGuard-style YKK zippers with the same paracord used for the key clip earlier as pulls. Admittedly, the glossy finish does stick out against the background of the main fabric’s pastel color. However, we’ll take the benefit of water resistance over a minor aesthetic detail.
Meanwhile, the top cover uses a simple hook that threads through the four loops at the front. Some of you may be wondering if the hook is secure enough to hold down this flap, and the good news is that it does. The hook has a divot that prevents it from just sliding off the loop. At the same time, it’s easy enough to insert into the loop without having to jam really hard.
Something worth noting about the top cover is that there’s a chance for the sides of the main compartment to jut out from under it. As you can imagine, the resulting gap means dirt and rain can get in there. Interestingly, this is a flaw that we’ve observed with the Venture slings as well, namely the Venture Sling 6L and 9L, which have side gussets that create gaps. Long story short, make sure the flap is covering the main compartment.
Packing the Venture Backpack is an absolute breeze, thanks to the flap and zipper combo. Flap goes up, front folds down, and boom! You get a fully open main compartment. It’s a feature we like on the Apex and the Melbourne, and we’re glad Bellroy’s doubling down on it.
Space is about what you’d expect from a 22-liter backpack. There’s enough of it for a few packing cubes, though a ton of it will be taken up if you utilize all of the pockets—and there are quite a few of them here.
The internal layout is pretty diverse, with pockets and compartments all around. At the sides are stretchy mesh pockets that can fit lengthy pouches. Do note that these are separate pockets from the integrated water bottle pockets we mentioned earlier. Both sets of pockets sit against each other, meaning they are competing for space.
At the back is the 16-inch laptop sleeve with a tablet pocket and a pen pocket in front of it. A false bottom suspends the sleeve from the ground, thus preventing damage in case you drop the bag a bit too hard onto the floor.
There are two zippered mesh pockets at the front stacked on top of each other. They use the same kind of stretchy mesh fabric as the side pockets, giving them a ton of potential volume. These are great dump pockets for extra accessories which don’t need to be quickly or frequently accessed.
We’ll give Bellroy props for two things here. Firstly, for giving the bottom pocket a side-facing zipper. This way, it can be accessed relatively easily from the main compartment’s side opening. Secondly, we appreciate them giving both pockets orange liners despite the already bright white liner used for the rest of the main compartment.
We really dig the Venture Backpack for its main compartment’s accessibility. It’s quick to reach into on the go but also fully opens for those serious packing sessions. We think it’s Bellroy’s best backpack yet to feature this design, followed by the Apex and Melbourne, respectively. The only thing left on Bellroy’s to-do list is grippier adjusters; they’ve been iterating on this design, so we’re hopeful they can check it off.
- On initial glance, it looks a lot like an Apex, but the bags are pretty different
- Nice organization options with 2 zippers allowing you to fully open the pack
- Premium materials, as usual with Bellroy
- The most glaring issue is that the bag’s straps automatically loosen over time, or when the bag is put on—other than that, it’s a fantastic bag
- Dig the interior bottle pockets that fit a more cylindrical dopp kit and tech kit nicely
- Access options are great—use the top-loader or zip the bag down on the sides for full access
- Need to be careful with bag’s side flaps opening when the bag is full and cinched towards the top
- Design reminds us of the Apex, which is why we’ve been affectionately calling this bag “Apex Jr”