Two years ago I reviewed Aer’s Travel Pack 2, which I found to be a very capable and solid carry-on backpack. But… at times I also struggled to say that much about it, as it had few features that set it apart from other carry-on bags.

It’s a different story with Aer’s latest product, the Aer Capsule Pack.

It’s not just a highly functional carry-on, but it has a different internal configuration and a unique look that make it an especially compelling pack.

As always, I review backpacks in a hands-on way in order to get a real feel for them, and my reviews are never sponsored. In this case, I used the Aer Capsule for several weeks on trips to Lisbon and Seville.

Let’s dive in.

Price $250

Pros

  • Unique main compartment access design
  • Great placement for the internal travel organizer
  • Very comfortable to wear
  • All the features you'd expect from a premium carry-on

Cons

  • Main zipper can be a bit stiff

Who is this pack for?

Firstly, let’s consider the target audience. This is a premium bag with premium features, so it’s likely to appeal to frequent travellers and one-bag travel enthusiasts.

The minimalist design allows it to be used for different kinds of trips, including holidays and business travel. Due to its size and configuration, it’s best used for travel (air travel, hotel stays, etc.) and less for commutes or daily carry.

As far as backpacking and adventure travel goes, the price and quality level may exceed what such travelers are probably looking for, though I can’t see why you couldn’t use this backpack for such trips as well.

Unique aspects

The first thing you’ll notice about the Aer Capsule is its oval zipper to its main compartment. This is said to be inspired by the Nine Hours capsule hostels in Japan, whose pods feature a similar oval entry door. (Aer collaborated with Nine Hours for this design.)

I like how this zipper gives the pack its own character while still remaining minimalist and not drawing needless attention to itself.

The capsules that inspired the Capsule

Another distinguishing feature is the pack’s travel organizer — the part of a backpack that has lots of sleeves and pockets for your travel accessories. On most packs, the organization pocket is designed to be accessed when the pack is in upright position, whereas on the Aer it’s best accessed with the pack is horizontal.

I think this makes a lot of sense for a travel backpack. In practice, I find that I keep such packs horizontal in most situations, e.g. laid out on a bed, luggage rack, floor, or on a hotel room desk. It’s also during these times when I most need to get any accessories out, not while the pack is on my back at the airport or in transit. I love that the travel organizer basically acts like a shallow horizontal ‘drawer’ rather than a deep vertical sleeve.

In my testing, I’ve been very pleased with how accessible and usable this is. Part of this is probably that you can look at the organization pocket from above and see everything in it at a glance, whereas in vertical orientations in other packs part of the items may be too deep to see or obscured by an outer flap.

Other sleeves on the Aer Capsule still give you quick access to certain items if needed. For instance, there is this sleeve with felt-like material for glasses, small electronics, or other items.

Looks & materials

For my review, I looked at the 40L Aer Capsule Pack Max, but there is also a 35L version. The 40L is carry-on size but may not be accepted by the most stringent of airlines, whereas the 35L is likely to be accepted by pretty much all airlines. Of course, it also has a smaller size.

The Aer Capsule uses 1680D Cordura nylon as its main material. If that term doesn’t mean anything to you, you can maybe think of the thick and rigidly textured material that many fabric rolling suitcases are made of, except a little more flexible.

Although this material is fairly rigid, it also makes the Aer Capsule feel very durable and sturdy. Thanks to this material as well as an internal frame, the backpack keeps its shape when empty (or not fully packed).

Aer has not skimped on the materials in general, adding weather-resistant YKK zippers on all outside zips. This should remove any worries of carrying this pack in the rain. I was not able to try this in sunny Spain, but I trust it is weather-proof.

One minor criticism I have about the main compartment’s zippers is that they can be a bit stiff and difficult to open at times, at least on the review sample I received. This is probably due to its somewhat circular shape.

Aer has thankfully kept any branding to a minimum, keeping to pure black for the entire outer pack design, with a medium grey accent color on the inside. I would have liked maybe a white or light grey inner color — something I like a lot about Tortuga’s packs — but this is an entirely subjective matter.

Besides the black edition, there is also a heathered grey version.

Other features

The Aer Capsule keeps its organizational features simple, preferring to give you one big main compartment to fill as you see fit rather than needlessly subdividing this space.

Nevertheless, there is a mesh zipped compartment here for storing loose clothing items and such. If you want a bit more organization, it’ll help to have some packing cubes.

As far as the harness goes, it has all the features you’ll expect from a premium carry-on bag. It’s got a sternum strap, hip belt, and load lifter straps (to tuck the pack closer to your back at the top). The pack is generally very comfortable to wear and similar in comfort level to most other packs I’ve tested, with nothing unusual to report. Despite being quite tall, I managed to adjust the pack to fit my back very nicely.

There is a laptop compartment with a soft inner material that prevents scratches or other damage. Your laptop (up to 15”) rests inside an inner ‘hammock’, so it won’t hit the ground when you put your backpack down.

Finally, the Aer Capsule can be used in various modes. You can of course carry it as a backpack, but there is also a luggage passthrough, so that you can stow it on top of a rolling suitcase. The harness straps are also entirely stowable and the hip belt can be fully detached, so that you can carry the pack as a briefcase or like a messenger bag (the shoulder strap for this is included).

The hip belt detaches with a nice little clip, rather than with velcro or some other mechanism, so it’s easy to take off whenever you don’t need it.

Conclusion

Apart from the slight stiffness of the main compartment zipper, I can’t think of any major negatives for the Aer Capsule Pack. It also has some unique design touches that differentiate this bag from other carry-ons, giving it a big thumbs up from me.

If you’re into the overall looks and like your backpack to be a little sturdy and hold its shape well, then you can’t go wrong with the Aer Capsule.  It’s got all the features you’d want from a premium carry-on with a very nice design to boot.

 

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