Barcelona-based brand Tropicfeel has been making a name for itself lately with its all-terrain travel shoes. Earlier this year, they also introduced their first travel backpack: the Tropicfeel Shell.
The Tropicfeel Shell is an ambitious design right off the bat. Since it is a hybrid backpack, the Shell can function as a daypack, weekender, or even a full-blown travel backpack. With its extendable design, you can choose whether to keep it compact for daily carry or to expand it for a bigger trip by attaching extra modules.
This hybrid system looks amazing in product videos, even kind of genius. But how does it work in practice? Read on for my thoughts after taking the Shell on a recent trip.
This is an independent review. Some links are affiliate links.
Price From €225
- All-in-one design: change it from daypack to full travel backpack
- Great materials
- Kangaroo pouch for shoes is a great touch
- Wardrobe keeps all your stuff neatly organized
- Tech pouch awkwardly placed (better to get the toiletry pouch)
Hybrid backpack design
When I was first unboxing the Shell, I was surprised by how small it seemed at first.
But this was only an illusion, of course, because of its modularity. In its basic configuration, it looks like maybe a 20-liter backpack at most — a size similar to a daypack or a school backpack.
Such a size is perfect for daily carry. But… I was eager to see what it looks like when expanded, as this is how I’d use it most while travelling.
The cool thing is that like a pufferfish, the Shell can make itself bigger! If you use every extension, it can carry up to 40 liters, which is plenty of space to store your travel gear for a longer trip.
The simplest way to expand the size is to adjust the Shell’s top flap; by loosening the two buckle straps, you instantly gain a lot of volume. The top flap has a lot of slack to it, making the main compartment a very flexible space that can be bigger or smaller depending on your needs.
Besides this, there are several other ways of increasing the Shell’s capacity, which I’ll go through one by one.
The next method of expanding the Shell is with an attachable pouch. The back has four attachment points where you can fix either a toiletry bag or a tech pouch (both are sold separately).
One point of criticism I have here is that maybe the tech pouch shouldn’t be on the outside of a backpack. It seems a bit of an odd design choice, as tech pouches tend to have more valuable items in them.
That said, some of my initial concerns were quickly put to rest as the latches work way better than I thought. Small magnets make the pouches click effortlessly into place — however, tugging the pouch when attached will not remove it at all, no matter how hard I pull. You can only release it using two hidden straps, which would make it very hard for someone to take off the pouch without you knowing it.
Still, when having to choose between a tech or toiletry bag here, I would go for the latter. A tech pouch still feels a tad exposed here, whereas having a toiletry bag on the outside is a real advantage, as you can quickly unclip it and take it to the bathroom.
Another advantage is that the toiletry bag keeps liquids separated from your clothing compartment. On a trip a few years ago, I had an accidentally opened shampoo bottle wreak havoc on all my travel gear, which would not have happened with the Shell backpack in combination with the detachable toiletry bag.
The Shell’s next innovation is the kangaroo pouch. Hidden at the pack’s bottom is an extra little hammock for a few more travel items. It’s a really cool feature that I haven’t seen on any backpack before.
I should mention that this kangaroo pouch cannot be zipped shut and so it’s still a bit open at the top. The fact that this is a bit of an ‘open air’ compartment is just something to keep in mind. A pair of canvas shoes or sneakers fit here best, or maybe a pair of jeans or a hoodie or two. It’s especially very nice to have a place to keep your shoes that is separate from your clothing.
Running all along the kangaroo pouch are two elastic bands, letting you strap more items if needed; think sleeping bag, raincoat, or picnic blanket.
I think it’s a great way to give just that bit of extra packing space, while still letting you quickly tuck away this pouch when you don’t need it.
This brings us to what is surely the most eye-catching feature of the Shell backpack: its integrated detachable wardrobe.
The idea is that you can keep this wardrobe inside the main compartment, using its compression straps to pack up your clothes. You can take the whole thing out when you arrive at your accommodation, freeing up the rest of your backpack to use as a daypack.
It’s a super clever concept, though I also think it’s a love-it-or-hate-it feature. Personally, I travel so often that I have developed my own little packing system (using packing cubes and rolled up clothing), so this wardrobe may be a bit overkill for me. It adds bulk and weight and can be a little cumbersome to deal with.
If you’re staying in a hotel or vacation rental, I’m not sure if the added complexity is worth it. Just putting your clothing inside the main compartment and then leaving it on the hotel room shelves or in a physical wardrobe is easy enough already.
Then again, I recently went on a backpacking trip in the Balkans where I stayed mostly in hostels. Here, Tropicfeel Shell’s wardrobe would come in super handy. While most hostels provide a drawer or locker, these are usually meant for valuables and not for any quick access.
If you’ve ever stayed in dorm rooms you’ll know how they quickly become a huge mess. On my recent trip (which I did with my old Farpoint 40) I nearly lost a bunch of items, since I put some clothing on the dorm room windowsill where it mixed with other people’s stuff.
The Shell’s Wardrobe has a loop letting you easily hang it on a doorknob, and also a hook strap that can attach it to a curtain rail or bunk bed staircase. This makes it a great organizer for staying in hostels or guesthouses.
It does still feel a bit finicky to organize things this way. This may be a personal thing; upon seeing the wardrobe, my girlfriend immediately said “whoa, that’s amazing!” and wanted to use it herself. The wardrobe definitely gives yousome wonderful Marie Kondo level of organizing, though I would maybe leave it out for most trips. Since it’s a separate item, you can of course choose whether or not to use it.
The Shell is nice and comfortable to wear. The back panel is especially great, which is super soft and comfortable, almost feeling a bit like a memory foam mattress.
Personally, I think the shoulder straps could have used just a bit more padding. It’s certainly not bad but it could have been just a little bit cushier.
Since the Shell has to straddle the line between daily carry and travel backpack, the suspension system can’t quite compete with every other backpack on every front. The waist strap for example is very minimal; it’s what you’d expect from a daypack and not a full-size travel backpack. As I’m very tall (1.94m) the waist strap is also not precisely on my waist, but that won’t be an issue if you’re more average height.
Then again, the sternum strap does most of the work of distributing the weight. I love that the sternum strap is fully adjustable between 5 settings, so whatever your length you can ensure it’s definitely on your sternum. Load lifter straps in turn will assure the bag is properly hugging your back for maximum support.
The harness is quite good and should suffice for most scenarios when travelling. When it’s very fully packed, I maybe wouldn’t wear it for many hours on end, but for moving around in transit (or when using it as a daypack) it certainly does the trick.
Finally, let me mention the design, which I think is great overall!
I really like that Tropicfeel has given some nice color options, instead of only the usual grey/black options from other manufacturers. (Currently, the Shell is available in black, green, or red. You can compare the colors here.)
The materials also feel very solid and durable. All the exterior fabric is rain-resistant as well. One very cool thing is that Tropicfeel has chosen to use recycled materials. Yay for sustainability!
The aesthetics work no matter which ‘mode’ you have the backpack in. I really like that the shape of the backpack doesn’t look oversized at all when you are using it just as a daypack.
As for the internal design, the main compartment has both top and clamshell access. Inside along the back panel, it has two zipped organizer sleeves as well as a large laptop sleeve that easily fits my 13” Macbook (it’s said to fit up to 15”). The laptop sleeve is raised by about 1 centimetre from the bottom, preventing its contents from hitting anything when you drop your bag.
When the Shell is in compressed or in standard mode, it can be carry-on luggage. When you use every extension including the kangaroo pouch though, it will likely exceed carry-on limitations.
Is the Shell right for you?
The Tropicfeel clearly has a ton of amazing features. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a hybrid backpack; you just have to decide if a hybrid is the type of backpack you prefer.
One thing about hybrid bags is that they try to be suitable for every type of trip. However, this lack of specialization also makes them not 100% perfect for every scenario. For example, because the Tropicfeel Shell has to also work as a daypack, it doesn’t have a very thick waist strap. If that’s important to you, there are more specialized backpack designs that might be focused on doing just one specific thing.
Of course, the huge advantage of the Shell is that you are not limited in how you can use it. You can use it every day when commuting or going to studies, for shorter trips, or expand it so that it’s ready for a big trip. If you are looking for such an all-in-one solution, then the Tropicfeel Shell will be a worthy investment.
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