This soft duffel backpack is water resistant, making it a great option for outdoor enthusiasts who don’t want to sacrifice style.
The Tester: Teddy Minford, Editor, Fodors.com
The Bag: BABOON Small Go-Bag
The Trip: A six-day trip to Kenya
Recommended Fodor’s Video
I’m not what you would call “sporty”, but I am always up for an adventure. My regular go-to bag is usually a small rollerboard carry-on with four wheels (à la Herschel’s Small Trade Bag or my trusty-but-deceased Raden [RIP]). I’ve never traveled with a backpack before, unless you count an actual backcountry camping trip.
But for my recent trip to Kenya, the hotel and airline both specified that no hard-shell luggage would be allowed. To get to most safari lodges in Africa, you must board a tiny “bush plane” that seats 6-18 people. These planes have extremely limited storage and strict weight restrictions, so you must travel with soft luggage—and preferably a bag that’s as small and light as possible, since all luggage is weighed prior to take-off.
A coworker tipped me off to Baboon’s sleek backpacks, which come in two sizes and a rainbow selection of colors (and wild interiors). Technically, both sizes can be used as carry-ons, but I didn’t want to take my chances and have to gate check, so I opted for the smaller version (unnecessarily—there was more than enough room in the overhead bins on my flight to Kenya and the larger bag would have been fine).
The bags are made of a durable and water-resistant material that also seems to repel dirt and dust. I made a bold and dangerous choice by opting for the white bag, which has bright pink interiors featuring a monkey riding a stegosaurus. The small duffel is surprisingly roomy, with a large main compartment that has a stretchy net pocket at one end and a zipped pocket at the other end. The main flap opening of the bag has a zipped net pocket that’s perfect for items you need easy access to, and there’s one exterior side pocket.
The bag can be carried as a duffel or used as a backpack with two straps. You can also convert it into a crossbody bag (I didn’t do this—it seemed unnecessary) and there’s an extremely convenient handle on one end of the bag.
What I Packed
My trip consisted of a five-day safari at Angama Mara, a luxury all-inclusive safari lodge in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. I also had a full day layover in Nairobi. High-end lodges usually have same-day laundry service included in the price in order to encourage guests to pack light. I actually overpacked a bit for this trip, with four safari outfits, three frivolous dresses for evening meals, and a breezy linen outfit for traipsing around Nairobi for a day. I also brought some safari essentials: a down parka for cold mornings and evenings, a reusable water bottle, a camera, two different brimmed hats, a bathing suit, a pair of hiking boots, and a bag of toiletries with way too much bug spray and sunscreen. I also brought a pair of platform sandals for dressing up at night and a pair of slides for bopping around camp. I am a chronic overpacker of books, so I packed three novels for the short trip, of which I read half of one.
Choosing a white bag for a safari was an odd choice, but I thought it would be the best way to really test the bag—and it totally held up. The bag got a bit scuffed going through the X-ray machine at JFK, but the material is shockingly dirt- and mud-repellent. I took a photo of the bag when I got back home and it was just as shiny and new-looking as it was when I left.
Nearly everyone that saw it commented on it and it really stood out among the canvas bags and regular duffels that other travelers brought on the trip.
There’s also something really stylish about the bag. Nearly everyone that saw it commented on it and it really stood out among the canvas bags and regular duffels that other travelers brought on the trip. It felt like the perfect balance of form and function—something that will get the job done without looking like you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail or backpacking your way through Southeast Asia on your “gap year.”
Carrying stuff on your back is always going to be harder than rolling it on the ground. Having a surprisingly roomy bag meant that it ended up being quite heavy and the long walk from my taxi to the airplane gate made my shoulders ache (full disclosure though: I am a weakling).
There’s no lumbar support for this bag, but if there had been, I would have felt capable of wearing the bag for miles. I would love to see a later iteration of the bag with stowable waist straps. If you’re carrying the bag as a duffel instead of a backpack, the backpack straps look a bit messy and can get in the way. There’s no easy way to hide them and no fast way to remove and reattach them (although they are technically removable, it would be annoying to reattach them and would probably take more than a couple of minutes–you’d really need to commit to carrying it as a duffel until your next stop).
I loved traveling with this bag. The chic design and the utilitarian backpack straps made me feel like an adventure traveler without feeling like a poseur and even though it’s small, I was able to fit everything I needed (and then some). It’s the perfect bag for those traveling on an off-the-beaten-path outdoor adventure, especially where hard-shell rollerbags won’t cut it. I could also see this as a great option for the sophisticated traveler on a multi-city trip, but I would personally prefer rolling luggage on a city trip. For my next far-flung adventure, I’m thinking of investing in the larger duffel, too.