I have been using the HP Odyssey backpack for more than three of months now, mostly commuting to work by train – and it has been a pleasure. But how did I end up with the Odyssey?
I am always in search of a comfortable and practical backpack and I have been doing quite a lot of research over the last years. I have used backpacks with great organizational options but with limited space for bulky items, others with large main compartments but with weight balancing issues (i.e. not holding their shape), slim ones, bulky ones, many different kinds.
My last addition, the Bobby Compact by XD Design, was a great experience thanks to its anti-theft features and my frequent use of public means of transportation – at the same time, its small dimensions and limited capacity made it hard for me to keep using it as my daily gear. I do not need a huge backpack for daily use, but I would definitely need some additional space for the stuff I typically carry around.
The Odyssey by HP has always been in my wish list: It is a low cost and diverse backpack with sufficient volume and nice looks. When the time came for a quick replacement of my backpack, I found it dead cheap on the market (about 25 EUR incl. shipping) so I went for it. I was concerned by its pretty deep and narrow design (referring to its main compartment) but I had the opportunity to get my hands on it after noticing a colleague of mine carrying one around and I realized that this would not be a problem for me.
My first impressions, after these months of daily use:
1. Material: Material is thick enough without being too heavy. It is a mix of a faux-leather like material (front side) and a thinner one (on the sides). The back panel is extremely comfortable, and the same goes for the straps. The same thick material is used at the bottom of the bag, so it looks pretty durable and water-resistant (at least I hope so).
2. Organization options: There are different organization option, serving different roles:
a) Laptop compartment: Instead of being a part of the bag’s main compartment, it is cleverly located as a separate slot facing your back. This not only allows for a better weight allocation (the closer to your back heavy items are, the less the discomfort), but also makes it more secure, as the double zippers are practically at the height of your neck. The laptop compartment is well-padded and fits laptops larger than 15,6-inch. It can also hold larger than A4 paper documents, books etc.). It has a double zipper that makes it easy to access and prevents accidental drop of the laptop.
b) Main compartment: As I mentioned earlier, it is rather deep and narrow; however, it fits my typical lunchbox, which was really important! Its back side features a tablet pocket and a shorter pocket for e.g. small notebooks and smaller-size documents. On the opposite side you will find a zippered mesh pocket for even smaller items that you don’t want to spill in the bag (e.g. USB sticks, micro-SD cards, short cables, stationary etc.). On the sides (internally), there are two open elastic pockets that can be used for storing e.g. external hard disks; one of them has a small opening to the external side pocket, that can be used for passing through the cable of e.g. a powerbank so that devices can be charged.
There are also 4 elastic pen slots and a key loop; the latter is located pretty low in the bag so it looks pretty useless to me.
c) Main compartment cover pocket: The main compartment has a closure with an external compartment; it looks a bit like the Thule’s SafeZone compartment, but without the extra protection. I use it for items I need to access quickly (e.g. keys, sunglasses in their case, a pen and post-it notes, access cards, transportation pass, spare change etc.). Its zip is protected by the thick, water-repellent material used in the front of the bag so it looks like well-protected from rain..
d) Side pockets: A typical mesh one for a water bottle (fits at least my 600 mL thick insulated water bottle) and another one with a zipper and an internal opening towards the main compartment (see above).
e) Safe pocket: There is a pretty small zippered vertical pocket between the water bottle pocket and the laptop compartment. It faces towards my back, so it is pretty secure. I use it for my magic wallet, a thin business card holder and my backup smartphone. A nice addition but since it lies between the water bottle pocket and the internal side pocket (occupied by my power bank), it tends to be squeezed and therefore hard to access…
3. Volume: I find it quite strange that there is no mention of its actual volume – anywhere! Based on its dimensions, I estimate it at about 18-20 lt. I can’t say it is huge (e.g. meeting my needs for a 2-3 day trip) and definitely it is not small (larger than the Bobby Compact). Its main compartment is indeed rather narrow and deep so it is mostly useful for bulky items (e.g. my lunch box, a couple of clothes, some grocery items etc.); you will have a hard time finding smaller items inside it.
Obviously, when the internal pockets of the main compartment are used, the space of the main compartment itself is minimized – the same goes for the laptop compartment, which also puts some “pressure” on the main compartment. Since I do not have to carry a laptop with me (just a 11,6-inch tablet w/ keyboard – and not all the time!), I have adequate space for a pocket book, a newspaper and other documents in the laptop compartment, which leaves some space in the main one.
The compression straps (on top and bottom of the backpack) look good but do not offer much as the bag looks hard to compress (due to its pretty thick material).
4. Practicality: It definitely is a practical backpack. It allows for quick access to its various pockets and compartments even while walking and the top pocket is great for this purpose. It has a sternum strap for better allocation of the weight, a practical front-side handle for carrying it around as a duffel bag etc.
My only complaint is the main compartment, which may get too cramped with items, restricting access to its internal pockets, mostly due to its top-loading design – but then, how often is my backpack that cramped? You can store items, you can hang items (e.g. a small flashlight, a reflective band etc.). The common water bottle / umbrella side pocket is there, quick access options are there.
I also don’t like the top handle; it is too thin and covered with this faux-leather material as the front of the bag. I would prefer a handle like the front side one, which is more soft and comfortable to use. However, I rarely use the top handle, so I do not mind that much.
5. Looks: It surely isn’t a backpack aiming at business users, to be brought to formal meetings. It looks casual and has a tactical style (see the side next to the zippered side pocket), and its front handle allows it to carry it around as a compact duffel bag (but still without the perks of it). It still has a limited footprint. I would describe it as an urban backpack, which can be used for work and e.g. gym. I went for the black/gray one, so it doesn’t have these bright red/green details of other types of the same backpack and looks more discreet.
Btw, it reminds me a bit of the Targus Seoul backpack (top opening, front side handle, almost rectangle shape), but with a thicker material and no front pockets. I was about about to buy the Seoul for about 35 EUR but I actually didn’t like the fact that it wouldn’t hold its shape when not full. It also shares a lot of common elements (design-wise) with the recently announced Belkin Active Pro. While it is more than double the price, it looks more professional sporting a leaner design both internally and externally; a colleague of mine recently managed to pack stuff for a two-day business trip in it – I guess thanks to its “cleaner” main pocket design, which allows for more space (but less organization options – you need to balance your priorities!).
6. Bonus: Anti theft design? Well, the backpack is not advertised as an anti theft one, but thanks to its design, it feels more secure compared to most of the options available. One would notice that there are no zippers or pockets in the front of the backpack. Its main compartment has a top cover with a double zipper which can close at the point of your neck, so it would be pretty hard for anyone to have access to it. The pocket on the closure of the main pocket has the zipper protected under a pretty thick material, so it is hard to open unnoticed. Last but not least, the side vertical slot/pocket facing almost at your back is also well-protected. How cool is that?
A great backpack, spacious enough, comfortable and looking neat. Holds its own weight, it looks rain-proof and sturdy. My only complaints are the top handle (too thin and uncomfortable) and the zippers (seem like the weak lpart of the bag). But for a bit more than EUR 20, it is hard to beat its value for money. I have the feeling that it will serve me well for the next years.
If you want to see more of the HP Odyssey backpack, you can take a look at the numerous video reviews on YouTube. Even though none of them will show how much stuff the Odyssey will hold, they provide a nice visual overview of the bag.