Its much-touted security features get all of the attention, but what’s most worth noting about the Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45 is that, well, it’s also just a really great carry-on backpack.
I recently took it to the test on a trip in Portugal and was impressed with its essential features, not to mention the harness which is comfortable and nicely padded. The security features are the big cherry on top.
That said, there are still things to nitpick about. At this price point, it would have been nice to see weather-sealed zippers and a few other premium features. The security features also inevitably reduce the level of quick access — this isn’t really a negative but something to be aware of.
If security is a concern, then this is the best anti-theft backpack you can get. This is in large part thanks to the ingenious unified exterior lock, which is actually intuitive and easy to use.
- Unique feature lets you secure all compartments with one lock
- Integrated security system that you'll actually enjoy using
- Highly comfortable straps and handles
- Security being the main focus, there's no quick access pocket of any kind
- Laptop compartment is in front (back would be preferable for balance)
How secure is the EXP45?
The security features are where the Venturesafe EXP45 truly shines. It really goes far beyond what backpacks typically offer.
It’s true that some backpacks have zippers with small O-rings so that you can lock them with a padlock. In practice, I’ve rarely done this as it’s just too fiddly and typically only locks the main compartment. By contrast, the locking system of the EXP45 is a lot more thought-through and easier to use. It still takes a little while to lock everything, but at least the interaction is satisfying.
Locking both of the main access compartments is done with a pretty ingenious lock. Two sets of oversized zippers can be slid over a small bar, which you can then secure using a twisting lock.
For another added level of security, you can loop a padlock or wire lock through the security rod. To hide the locking mechanism entirely, you can cover it underneath a flap using a buckle strap.
This locking procedure is actually pretty fun to use, so it doesn’t feel as much of a chore as individually locking zippers using padlocks.
The security features don’t end there. The pack’s outer shell is made with a material that Pacsafe calls ‘eXomesh Slashguard’. If you look closely you’ll see diagonal lines running through it and this is where the material is reinforced with stainless steel. This prevents bag-slashing and cuts.
Finally, a Pacsafe wire lock is included. You can loop this through the security system or secure the backpack in other ways to a fixture, such as a luggage rack or pole.
Using the wire lock may not always be needed in every situation, but I see this as particularly useful on adventure trips, especially if you’ll use night buses or night trains. These trips are notorious for theft as it can be laughably easy to steal bags wholesale when all the passengers have fallen asleep. Luckily I’ve never been so unfortunate, but I’ve heard this happen in countries like Vietnam and Peru.
A wire lock wouldn’t stop a bolt cutter or anything, but it makes it that much harder to quickly run away with your luggage. In 99% of cases that’s all that’s needed to deter theft.
If you travel in countries known for poor security levels, then securing your luggage in this way in your hotel room can also be useful for preventing room theft.
Even hostel dorms can give a false sense of security (as everyone will be friendly with each other), but I’ve met multiple victims of theft from dorm rooms over the years. Whenever large lockers are not available, this backpack will definitely give some added peace of mind.
Is it comfortable?
The harness is better than most, but not quite as good as the best. What I mean with this is that it’s highly comfortable to wear, but the padding and design of the straps are not quite at the level of backpacks made these their key selling points (such as the Tortuga Travel Backpack or the Osprey Farpoint 40).
With a small hip belt and a sternum strap included, it’s easy to adjust the EXP 45 to distribute the weight away from just your shoulders and towards your entire back. However, it does not have load lifter straps, that would allow you to tuck the backpack closer to your back at the top. (I’ve seen load lifter straps mention in another Venturesafe EXP45 review, but I’m guessing this was a previous design.)
The back panel has a mesh texture that prevents a sweaty back, though it’s not quite as cushioned as on certain other backpacks.
Overall it’s quite good, though the straps have evidently been kept somewhat basic in order to make them fully stowable. This lets you hide the entire harness when checking in your backpack while flying, which is nice as it’ll prevent it from potentially getting stuck on any conveyor belts. However, the space that you have to tuck the straps into is quite tight, so it’s a bit of a fiddly process.
That said, the carry handle is very nicely padded and comfortable. If you feel any need to turn this backpack into a kind of suitcase, it can be done by stowing the harness.
The main compartment is simply one big space you can pack any way you like. I think it’s good not to sub-divide this space, or at least it fits the way that I like the pack, though if you need more organization here you may want to buy some packing cubes.
There is one full-size zipped mesh area which I like to use for things like socks/underwear or my travel towel. An X-shaped compression strap lets you fix items in place inside the main space.
Inside the travel organizer compartment are two zipped mesh areas for storing smaller items, plus two small sleeves.
I saw a Pacsafe 45 EXP review claim that it doesn’t have a laptop compartment. This isn’t correct as it most definitely has, though it’s positioned in the front (inside the travel organizer compartment) rather than in a more typical location in the back. This is not the most ideal place in terms of load balancing, though the typical security argument for having the laptop at the back doesn’t apply here, given that the Pacsafe is so well-locked.
The laptop compartment is very large and should easily fit up to a 17” laptop. It has a false bottom so you won’t hit your laptop on the ground.
There is nothing particularly unique about any of the organizational features, but they check the usual boxes, and I’ve found packing the EXP45 to be straightforward and easy.
EXP45 vs EXP35
The 35L has a shoe compartment at the bottom, a quick access compartment at the top, and a different security system using normal buckles. It feels more like a weekend bag, while the EXP45 is more suited to bigger trips.
The 35 and 45 actually have the same price but are very functionally different, so be sure to take a close look and compare the two products to see which one best fits your travel style.
The EXP45 has a nice clean aesthetic, plenty of packing space, a good harness and, yes, some fantastic security features.
Based on the calibre of the harness I wouldn’t necessarily take this backpack for long hiking adventures and such, as the moderately padded straps may get tiresome after an extended period of use. I admittedly haven’t tested this yet, only having used the Pacsafe mainly at airports and while in transit, for which it’s perfectly suited.
The only true weakness is something that’s inherent in the design rather than some kind of oversight. Because this pack is all about security, some accessibility has been sacrificed, so (properly) opening and closing the main compartments takes more time. It would have been nice if Pacsafe included at least one quick access compartment outside of the locking mechanism, but I suppose they just wanted to keep everything behind its fortress gates.
The Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45 is an excellent carry-on pack that works well for many types of trips. While there are other backpacks with a slightly better harness or somewhat more organizational features, no backpack can match its security features.
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