I hate shopping. Acquiring things like food, new clothes, or household items is something I try to do in as little time as possible. There is one exception: travel gear. I enjoy shopping for new travel gear. When browsing a luggage store I always imagine how a certain item will make it easier or more comfortable to travel around.
Travel gear review series
This doesn’t translate in me buying a lot of travel gear. I am, after all, a minimalist. I don’t buy stuff I don’t really need. But when I do buy something I try to get the absolute best gear possible (within my budget). This means that I put a lot of time into researching and selecting the gear I buy. Of course, no amount of research will tell you exactly how your gear will work out in practice. For that you simply have to use it…
…or take my word for it. The gear I buy gets used extensively, since I travel at least a few months each year. And I’m willing to share my experiences with you. It could give you a sense of what an item is like in usage if you have a similar lifestyle to mine. I plan to post a review of some piece of travel gear every once in a while. For this review, and all to come, I will stick to this principle: I will never promote a specific product out of commercial interest. I’ll be ruthless in my evaluation. If something sucks, I’ll tell you so. If something is awesome, I’ll tell you too.
The Cabin Max Metz backpack
Last weekend I made a short trip (4 days) around the Netherlands, staying with friends in different cities. I was in a hurry packing, and the only bag that I had sitting around empty that was large enough, was the Cabin Max Metz flight-approved carry on bag. In this post I will review this cabin-size travel backpack.
I bought the pack about a year ago when I wanted to make a week-long trip to Morocco with my then girlfriend. We flew with Ryanair (yuck!) and wanted to limit our luggage to what we could bring inside the airplane cabin, in order to avoid unnecessary costs. Normally I would take a cabin-size trolley suitcase for this, but expecting less than optimal road conditions at our destination, I opted for a backpack instead. It’s just a lot easier to walk around with a backpack, and it stuffs into a bus more easily too. So I bought the Cabin Max Metz backpack.
Carrying capacityThe main reason that I bought this particular backpack was its 44 litre volume. With the maximum carry-on luggage dimensions of 55x35x20 cm that most budget airlines use*, 44 litres is a large capacity. (48 litres would be the theoretical maximum at these dimensions, but since no backpack is an exact cuboid, you will never get that volume.) I shopped around for a large capacity backpack within the maximum airline carry-on dimensions, but none beat the Cabin Max Metz for volume.
The volume is divided into one large main compartment, a flat front compartment, and a small front pocket. The main compartment offers the bulk of the space. It’s a so called front loader, with the zipper opening up to about 70 percent of the circumference. This means that you can pack the bag like a suitcase if you lay it down on its back. You also have easier access to your things than with a toploader.
Ease of use
There are no internal dividers, pockets, or straps inside the main compartment. On the one hand that’s a good thing, as no packing volume is wasted, but on the other hand it limits your options to separate things effectively. I especially miss a decent (padded) laptop pocket. The lack of straps means that your things get jumbled when you’re on the move, especially if the bag isn’t full. There are four external straps to compact your bag when it’s not fully packed, but this doesn’t prevent stuff from moving. Also, they make the bag harder to open. If you do pack your bag to the rim, as I did on the Morocco trip, your things will hold themselves together.
As opposed to the main compartment, the flat front compartment is full of little pockets and sleeves. This is great for carrying light and flat things like a notepad, pens, and small laptop peripherals. Because the flat compartment is… well, flat, you can’t really load it with bulkier stuff. Also, both the outside and inside material of the bag is light and flexible, which means makes it inconvenient to put heavier things (like a laptop or hard drive) into the front.
On the outside the Metz is fairly sleek, with only the back straps, a carrying handle at the top, and the four fastening straps sticking out. This is good in case you want to check-in the bag rather than carry it with you on a plane (but why would you?). It also means that you can’t easily attach extra gear to the pack, or keep something handy for immediate use, like a water bottle or a torch.
When fully loaded, the bag looks like a soft brick. It’s hardly an ergonomic shape, but hey, that’s how you get to 44 litres of packing volume. The manufacturer outfitted the Cabin Max Metz with curved straps that are somewhat more comfortable than straight straps, but wearing comfort still isn’t great.
The backpack has some thick soft padding both on the inside of the straps and on the back panel. This makes it softer to wear the pack, but also warmer. The padding acts as an extra layer of insulation to your back, without a good mechanism for airflow. If you’re travelling in, say, Norway, this may be fine. If you were to carry the bag through Malaysia, you’d die of overheating.
Because of its rectangular shape, the backpack is difficult to load in a balanced way. This problem is exacerbated if you tighten the lower external straps, as they turn the bag into an upside down trapezoid. What this does is make the bag top-heavy. If you walk around with it fully loaded, you’ll constantly feel like someone is pulling you back by your shoulders. This is not a bag to go hiking with.
The Cabin Max Metz backpack offers an enormous amount of space for its size. Combined with its weight of less than 800 grams, it enables you to maximize the amount of luggage you can bring with you on board the cabin of an airplane. This does come at the expense of both ease of use and wearing comfort. Because of the lack of straps and dividers your luggage tends to get jumbled. Its shape and padding style make the Metz not the easiest backpack to carry around for a while.
I would personally prefer a more ergonomic backpack where more thought has gone into the internal organization. Backpacks like digital nomad favourite The North Face Surge II or newcomer Minaal Carry-On Bag both seem like excellent options that beat the Cabin Max Metz hands down. It would mean sacrificing some raw packing space for a better user experience. Also the North Face and Minaal bags are three to eight times as expensive as the Cabin Max, which is priced at $39.99.
For the price you probably won’t find a better flight-size carry-on backpack than the Cabin Max Metz. If you’re going for absolute maximum packing volume, you won’t find a better bag, period. But if you’re willing to spend a bit more and sacrifice some capacity, there are better choices out there. I give the Cabin Max Metz backpack 3 out of 5 stars.
*No airline actually uses these dimensions, but both 55x35x25 and 55x40x20 are common maximum dimensions for carry-on luggage. If you want to buy only one bag that you can bring aboard any airplane, it should be no larger than 55x35x20 cm.