Cabin Max Manhattan Stowaway XL Review
The Cabin Max Manhattan Stowaway XL is the perfect size for a personal item on budget European airlines. Unfortunately, it’s not very comfortable to carry.
- Bucket main compartment has tons of space
- Lockable zippers provide extra security
- Flexible fabric is easy to squish under plane seat
- Backpack straps dig into neck
- Lack of structure makes it uncomfortable to carry
- Sparse organization and external pockets
1.1 lb (0.5 kg)
15.7 in x 9.84 in x 7.87 in (39.9 x 25 x 20 cm)
Leather, Polyurethane, Suede, Twill, SBS Zippers
Laptop Compartment Size
Finding a cheap flight to your next destination is awesome until you realize the budget airline you’re flying on charges out the wazoo for a carry-on. Now that you’ve got your no-frills, basic airfare ticket to Europe, it’s time to find the smallest bag with the most optimal space that can pass as a free personal item bag. That’s where the Cabin Max Manhattan Stowaway XL comes in. It was literally made to be the exact size of budget airline Ryanair’s personal item dimensions (40x20x25cm). Cabin Max’s website even refers to it as the “Ryanair sized Backpack/Shoulder Bag.”
This 20L pack is essentially a giant bucket that you can stuff full of packing cubes. Since the fabric and frame sheet are so flexible, it’s easy to shove under the seat in front of you on the plane. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get down with this bag. It was seriously uncomfortable to carry as both a backpack and messenger bag. Would we grab the Manhattan Stowaway next time we’re trying to get to Europe for cheap? Maybe. But we’d leave it at the hotel and switch to a packable daypack for exploring as soon as possible. We’ll cover all the things this boxy little pack excels (and doesn’t excel) at in this review, so let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Materials & Aesthetic
The primary material on the Cabin Max Manhattan Stowaway is a UV-coated Twill. It feels pretty thin and doesn’t have much structure. As we mentioned above, this makes it easier to squish under the seat in front of you on the plane. It also means it’s more malleable, and you can stuff it to the brim. It’s almost like a corset—shove everything inside, and when you zip it up, it makes a nice uniform shape, compressing everything into place.
There’s a panel of Eco-suede on the front that makes up the quick grab pocket. This doesn’t feel very premium either, but we don’t have any issues with durability—rips, tears, or snags—to report after two weeks of testing, so no complaints here! You’ll also notice a small Cabin Max logo on the front. It’s the only place on the bag you’ll find any branding. We generally think logos plastered all over a product make you look more like an obvious tourist, so we appreciate that Cabin Max kept it simple here.
The zippers are made by SBS. Now, if you’ve ever read any of our reviews before, you know that we are huge fans of YKK because we never have issues with their zippers. They’re pretty much the gold standard in the zipper world because of their tough construction, so when we see a brand that’s not YKK, it usually gives us durability concerns.
We didn’t have any issues with the zippers on this bag, however. They’re thick and robust while still managing to be lightweight, and the zipper pulls are nice and grippy for easy opening. They’re also lockable, which gives us extra peace of mind when traveling internationally. Almost nothing is worse than having your passport or wallet stolen in a foreign country—except maybe having your zipper break, and with this bag, we didn’t have to worry about either. Though we only tested it for two weeks, we’ve had zippers on other products break during that same period, so we’ll definitely give the Manhattan Stowaway XL its props.
At the time of this review, this bag is available in a black and grey base with your choice of blue, red, yellow, or grey as an accent color on the zipper tracks. Or you can just stick with straight-up black and grey like we did if you aren’t into splashes of color.
Aesthetic-wise, the Manhattan Stowaway XL straight up looks like a massive brick. The suede accents give it a slightly professional look which is nice, but there’s just no getting around that boxy profile, especially when it’s fully packed out.
Remember when we said (like a paragraph ago) the Manhattan Stowaway XL looks like a massive brick? Well, it feels like one, too, with how it weighs down on your shoulders. This happens for a couple of reasons, but primarily because of how the shoulder straps are positioned on the bag. They come with a stowaway pocket where you can hide them to carry the bag messenger style. Since they are sewn into a thin piece of fabric inside that pocket instead of the bag itself, the rest of the pack pulls forward and away from your body.
The straps have a layer of mesh for breathability and a thin amount of padding—thinner than what we’d like to see on a travel backpack. There’s also a nylon loop on each one to attach accessories or pouches with a carabiner. You can detach the straps from the bottom of the bag with a clip to stow them away when you’re ready to switch it to messenger bag mode, too. After carrying the bag for a week, we did this because it was just too uncomfortable to wear as a backpack. Not a great thing for a backpack.
Unfortunately, messenger bag mode wasn’t much better. The shoulder pad on the crossbody strap is even thinner than on the shoulder straps themselves. It’s also relatively small, so it doesn’t cover much of your shoulder in the first place. When this box of a bag is full, having it weigh down on one shoulder is not our idea of a good time, either.
In the end, we defaulted to carrying the Manhattan Stowaway XL by one of the grab handles. There are two—one on top and another on the side of the bag. Both are fairly padded. They’re convenient when it comes to grabbing the bag out of an overhead bin, but also for carrying when necessary.
The crossbody strap is attached via d-rings, and we also tucked it in the stowaway pocket when we eventually decided upon carry-handle mode. The only thing about stowing the straps here is that they are right up against your back, so sometimes you can feel them when you have the bag on.
The bag doesn’t have much of a frame sheet, and the laptop compartment is right against the back panel with a bit of padding. While that padding is supposed to protect your laptop, the bag lacks a false bottom, and your device will hit the floor when you set it down. A laptop sleeve is highly recommended. Although if you have a 16” device, it may be a tight squeeze as it’ll be right up against the corners of the bag.
There are a few more interesting features on the outside of this bag so let’s move on to those. There’s a deep front pocket for small, quick-grab items. We like that it has a vertical zipper because it makes accessing this pocket when you’re carrying it by the handles easy. We also dig the neoprene water bottle sleeve on the side of the bag. It’s pretty wide and can fit a small notebook or travel umbrella if drinking water is not your thing for some reason.
Right above that is a USB charging port to keep you juiced up while you’re on the go. It comes with a few caveats, however. The first is that since it’s right above the water bottle pocket, it feels natural to put your phone or whatever device you’re charging inside. But then, where do you put your water? The second is that the device port is USB-A, which means you may need to bring an adapter if you’re using USB-C. You could also pack something like the Nomad Goods Universal USB-C Cable, which has a few different configurations (including USB-A). But if you’re already trying to travel on a budget, having one more thing to buy may not be ideal. On the inside of the bag is another USB-A cable for you to attach a power bank. Sorry, if we’re moving a little too fast—we’ll talk about the bag’s inside in the next section.
Inside The Pack
Okay, you’ve made it. Take a quick exhale and get all out the bad juju from the uncomfortable harness system because the main compartment is where this bag shines. As we mentioned before, the Cabin Max Manhattan Stowaway XL is a big ‘ole bucket. Even though it’s technically 20L, it has a deceptively large capacity.
For longer trips where you have a ton to pack, this bag does wonders. Three Aer Packing Cubes fit in here to give you an idea—one small, one medium, and one large. The large Aer Packing Cube is a big boy at 14L, if that’s any indicator of how much this bag can handle. That was sort of a “max carry” test. In reality, a few (normal-sized) packing cubes, a toiletry bag, and a tech pouch fit comfortably.
This bag is very sparse on internal organization, which could be a bad thing or a good thing depending on your preferences. If you tend to keep things organized in pouches (which we recommend anyway), then it’s no problem. If you’re looking for multiple pockets to put your small items in, this may not be the bag for you.
Although it’s not completely void of internal organization—there are two mesh pockets on the inside. The one located on the side of the main compartment is most convenient for storing your power bank as it’s right underneath the charging port cable. You can fit a few small items in here alongside it, but the elastic on the opening for this pocket is not very tight, so your stuff might slip out.
On the opening flap of the bag, there is a much larger pocket with a zipper. It’s a good spot for smaller organizer pouches, your toiletry bag, or tech pouch. The only problem is that it will eat up space in the main compartment if you’ve got it completely full. There’s definitely a sweet spot that you have to find when arranging your gear.
Figuring out how many packing cubes and small pouches can fit inside is an exciting game of “guess and check.” For us, three loosely packed cubes left us with room to put a tech pouch and toiletry pouch in the mesh pocket. It all depends on your style and what you’ve got to carry, which is what makes finding the perfect bag for you such an enjoyable experience.
Overall, the Cabin Max Manhattan Stowaway XL fulfills its purpose—being a black hole for packing cubes that fits under the seat of Ryanair. Get your budget travel on if you need to; just don’t be surprised if this pack hurts your shoulders. We gave you a heads up.
- Rectangular design has substantial depth
- Hollowed-out main compartment makes for easy packing
- Made to fit Ryanair’s personal item restrictions
- Shoulder straps are not comfortable to carry
- Bag sags forward and away from your body when full, which puts strain on your shoulders
- When shoulder straps and crossbody straps are stowed in the hideaway compartment, you can feel them against your back
- Main compartment opens clamshell and is great for stuffing full of packing cubes and pouches