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Topo Designs Session Pack Review

Topo Designs’ Session Pack is what we wish for in a daily bag, with lots of room for gear and a comfortable carry, though sliding in a laptop takes finesse.

Our Verdict

7.6 /10
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  • Really comfortable to carry thanks to harness system padding
  • Tons of room to pack in main compartment
  • Front pocket has independent capacity


  • Doesn’t compress even when carrying less gear
  • Difficult to slide even a small laptop into the dedicated sleeve
  • Loose threads give us concerns about long-term durability

Technical Details

92 %

Carry-on Compliance

View 134/145 Airlines

40 %

Like the Look

Polled on Instagram

  • Capacity


  • Weight (lb)

    1.2 lb (0.5 kg)

  • Dimensions

    16.5 in x 11.5 in x 5.5 in (41.9 x 29.2 x 14 cm)

  • Notable Materials

    Recycled Nylon, YKK Zippers, Woojin Hardware

  • Manufacturing Country


  • Laptop Compartment Size


  • Warranty Information

    Topo Designs Warranty & Repairs

Buying Options

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Full Review

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If you feel that a simple monochrome palette is the only way to go, you may not be familiar with Topo Designs, so let us enlighten you. This company has its roots in outdoor living and mountain culture and embraces all kinds of travel, whether to another city, country, or wilderness. However, combined with the simple and practical design, there is a sense of fun and style, especially when it comes to the choice of colorways and the color combinations found therein.

Topo Designs Session Pack Back Close
Topo Designs Session Pack | It balances fun and functionality.

That’s a long way to say that we often find bright colors and unique combinations in Topo Designs products. But don’t dash away yet if you’re a minimalist digital nomad who prefers a black-and-gray palette in all things. We’ve found plenty of more subtle options, even among the more ostentatious bags offered by this Colorado-based company. Indeed, while we’ve got the Session Pack in Olive/Navy, with accents of red, tan, and bright yellow around the bag, you can also get it in Black, which has no bright color on the exterior of the bag, just the yellow liner we find in many Topo Designs products, which we really like because it makes it easier to find your gear, even in a dark room.
So you’re over the color hump, but is this 20L backpack right for you? Stick with us, and we’ll find out!

External Components

The Session Pack has its roots in bags you carry for school days, so we’re unsurprised to find a similar style when it comes to the materials Topo Designs used. There’s 400D recycled nylon around most of the bag and for the liner, with thicker 1000D nylon on the bottom. We’re happy to see that thicker weave to help with durability since it has a wide base that lets it stand easily on its own on the dirty floor of the office, home, or next to our seat at the airport gate. Although the brand doesn’t call out any water-resistant coating, the fabric weave is thick enough to repel light moisture, as we found when we got caught in the rain for a short time.

One note on durability: our brand sample is sporting a few loose threads around the bag. They haven’t unraveled further during our testing period, and we hope that continues with added use because this seems like it should be a relatively durable bag, and it’s a little disappointing to see.

Topo Designs Session Pack Zipper
Topo Designs Session Pack | YKK zippers are easy to use thanks to paracord pulls.

In addition to sturdy fabric, Topo Designs also uses YKK zippers complete with large pieces of paracord woven through the pulls. That makes them easy to find and use, which we like. It’s also a signature part of the Topo Designs aesthetic, along with the large logo patch on the bottom left of the front pocket. You’d miss it if you’re a TD fan, so we hope it’s not something they ever change. Oh, and just so you know, while it’s white or a contrasting color on most of the colorways, it’s black on the Black.

Topo Designs Session Pack Handle
Topo Designs Session Pack | Use this loop below the carry handle to clip the Session Pack to another bag.

There’s a large webbing carry handle at the top of the bag to help you pull it out of your car, from underneath an airplane seat, or to hang it up when you get home. A small webbing loop is centered under the handle, and you’ll find a matching one at the bottom of the pack. These are PackFast™ loops to connect to bag attachment clips on other Topo Designs travel gear. You can clip them to larger bags so that you can have this travel daypack with you on your next trip without having to carry it on your back. While it can be handy if you’re packing a lot of gear, we didn’t find much of a need to use it. Luckily, they’re unobtrusive if you don’t ever use them.

Topo Designs Session Pack Pocket
Topo Designs Session Pack | You can clip gear to the front of the bag.

And if you need to clip gear to the Session Pack, there’s a daisy chain of five loops parading down the front pocket for convenience and a fun look. We use it to clip a key fob for the office so we don’t leave it accidentally at home, but it’s also a good place for hand sanitizer or a small card holder with your transit pass inside.

You can also clip gear to the shoulder straps since they each have a chain of three large loops running along their length. The straps themselves are well padded and lined with breathable mesh underneath, although the back panel lacks any sort of similar aeration. Luckily, the back panel has a nice amount of padding, although we’d be surprised if it didn’t since that’s where the laptop sleeve is located.

Topo Designs Session Pack Harness Close
Topo Designs Session Pack | Shoulder straps are well padded and include mesh undersides.

Going back to the straps, they adjust with Woojin Hardware slides, which work well. We haven’t had to readjust them throughout our testing period, so we’re confident they’ll stay where you place them. Unfortunately, there are no built-in strap keepers, so smaller users miss out on the dangle-free experience. On the flip side, the long straps have made this bag quite popular with a certain Pack Hacker cat. You win some, you lose some.

Fit Notes

Topo Designs Session Pack Side by Side
Left: Kristyne Defever, Height: 5’5” (165 cm), Torso: 17” (43 cm) | Right: Eric Hergenreder, Height: 6’0″ (183 cm), Torso: 18.5” (47 cm)

No matter what colorway you opt to get, there’s no denying that this is a casual-looking bag. Sleek and elegant just isn’t really in Topo Designs’ wheelhouse, but we’re OK with that. That’s what Chanel and Gucci are for. Topo Designs, however, is for someone looking for fun and adventure every day and when traveling, and we like the durability and simplicity of their styles.

That’s why we’re happy to find the Session Pack as comfortable as we do. After all, a long-lasting pack still isn’t worth it if you don’t want to use it for years. The simple harness system on the Session Pack gets the job done, though, with enough flexibility at the top of the straps to fit a variety of users and enough padding that we sometimes still have to double-check that we re-packed our laptop inside. We’re happy to report that it’s not always completely apparent just by putting the bag on.

However, we have to mention that this is a pretty deep bag, and it lacks compression straps, so it can be a little trickier to squeeze into tight spaces. On the flip side of that coin, you’re carrying a built-in personal-space-bubble with you if you don’t want someone breathing down your neck on the train.

Inside The Pack

So what fits inside? Quite a lot, to be honest.

Let’s start with the front pocket. It’s large, with a couple of inches of independent depth that almost makes it look like we connected a mini backpack to the front of the Session Pack with that PackFast™ system we mentioned earlier (we did not). It opens with a horseshoe-style zipper to reveal a nice deep pocket for your travel-size bottles, snacks, small tech pouches, or whatever else you want to toss inside. It’s large enough to put an e-reader or travel journal inside, though there’s no extra padding to protect sensitive devices.

Topo Designs Session Pack in Use
Topo Designs Session Pack | The front pocket has independent capacity for a variety of small items.

On either side of the bag, you’ll find large travel water bottle pockets with a wide fabric gusset and stretchy elastic so that you can slide in wider bottles, like our trusty 32-ounce Nalgene Wide Mouth Water Bottle. Thanks to the elastic, slender bottles like our other favorite, the 21-ounce Standard Mouth Hydro Flask, are also held securely. We have no problem using these and find they’re also good for travel umbrellas and similarly slim gear.

Topo Designs Session Pack Laptop
Topo Designs Session Pack | You have to tilt your computer to slide it inside the laptop sleeve.

Along the left side of the back panel, there’s a zipper that opens to reveal the laptop compartment. It’s only rated for up to a 13-inch device, and you’re probably not going to fit anything larger inside. As it is, we have to angle our MacBook Air nearly sideways to slide it inside and then stand it up as the opening is not tall enough to slide it in completely vertically. Also, the zipper often runs into the fabric holding the bottom of the shoulder strap, so we often think it is all the way open, only to find that we still have another inch to go. Needless to say, it’s not our favorite, although it provides adequate protection for your device.

Topo Designs Session Pack Cubes
Topo Designs Session Pack | There’s plenty of room for gear in the main compartment.

Then there’s the main compartment, which you get to through a double-sided horseshoe-style zipper running between the top of the bottle holders. It’s nice and open, giving you space for textbooks, tech pouches, packing cubes, a small cooler for lunch, and so on. As we mentioned earlier in this review, this bag has a lot of built-in depth, so you’ve got lots of room to play with, whether you’re packing for a weekend trip in a personal item bag, studying world history and literature at university (and carrying the accompanying thick books), or like to hit the gym after work. In fact, because there’s so much space, you could always use a separate protective laptop sleeve and store your computer here if you don’t want to fight with the rear zipper.

We would recommend packing your toiletry bag closer to the top of the bag if you’re trying to use this for one bag travel, but with the way that the zipper opens from anywhere along the track, it would be easy to slide out at the security X-ray machine without disturbing the rest of your gear if the TSA officer asks you to. That also means that it should be pretty easy to grab what you need while you’re on the plane, so as long as you put your Nintendo Switch on top, you won’t be bored on that budget flight.

Usage Timeline

Initial Usage

Condition: Excellent

  • A few loose threads on our brand sample
  • Lots of places to clip gear with carabiners
  • Boxy shape seems like it will be easy to pack
2 Weeks of Use

Condition: Excellent

  • Really like that there’s independent capacity in the front pocket
  • Irritating to turn laptop each time you want to slide it in the sleeve
  • Makes a good personal item bag because it has so much space in the main compartment
By Kristyne Defever
Created December 8, 2023 • Updated December 8, 2023
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