And they’ve turned their hand to backpacks too.
In this Tropicfeel Shell backpack review, we’ll dive into the travel bag to see if it’s as versatile and pioneering as the Tropicfeel shoes!
Disclaimer: Tropicfeel sent us The Shell free of charge for this review. Included was The Shell, a tech pouch, a toiletry pouch and a camera cube. We wrote this review after months spent testing and evaluating The Shell. The review was not sent to Tropicfeel before being published. None of our reviews are ever edited to keep a brand happy!
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At the time of writing Tropicfeel produce three backpacks: The Cruiser, The Shell and The Nest.
Each fulfils a specific role:
- The Cruiser is a lightweight, collapsible daypack.
- The Nest, their latest offering, is a versatile everyday carry bag.
- The Shell, the subject of today’s review, is their all in one expandable travel backpack.
Each backpack has received rave reviews on the web and is designed with sustainability and versatility in mind. They’re good looking, durable and are made from predominantly recycled materials.
Tropicfeel Shell At A Glance
- Dimensions – 20inches x 12inches x 7.5inches — The kangaroo pouch adds 5-6inches onto the height of the bag.
- Weight – 1.6kg
- Straps – Padded shoulder straps. The hip belt and sternum strap are webbing.
- Guarantee – Standard two-year warranty covers manufacturer defects but not normal wear and tear. Warranties may be different if you backed the bag on Kickstarter before it was released to the general public.
- Pockets – One main compartment with a laptop sleeve and two mesh pockets. Three external pockets (two hidden) and attachment points for an additional external accessory pouch.
- Colourways – The Tropicfeel Shell is available in Black, Green or Red.
Tropicfeel Shell Pros and Cons
What we love about the Tropicfeel Shell backpack…
- Small enough for carry on
- Sleek looking and doesn’t stand out
What could be improved on the Tropicfeel Shell backpack
- Expansion is a bit of a gimmick
- Not suitable for those with a long torso
- Wardrobe is overrated
Tropicfeel Shell In-Depth Review
The Shell is expandable, weatherproof, features a padded laptop sleeve and attachable accessories to make travel easier. On paper, the Tropicfeel Shell is the ultimate travel bag but how does it stack up to real-world testing?
Since receiving my bag from Tropicfeel, I’ve travelled up and down the UK — Southeast Asia has been off the cards for quite some time. During my journeys, I’ve taken the pack on coaches, buses, trains and in cars. I’ve hiked along rugged coastlines and wandered through busy cities with the bag. I’ve spent countless hours wearing it and it’s spent countless more in overhead lockers, coach storage bays and on train station floors.
I’ve put the bag through its paces and here’s what I’ve learnt.
Tropicfeel Shell Size
At its maximum, the Tropicfeel Shell is a 40-litre backpack. That puts it into the most popular size bracket for backpackers, as voted by our readers.
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The Shell is expandable from 22-litres up to 40. At least, that’s what Tropicfeel claim.
To be honest, this expandability is mostly marketing. The main compartment of the pack isn’t compressed or expanded by zips. Instead, you just pack less stuff and cinch the lid (or brain) of the pack tight. It’s expandability in its simplest form and it feels like too much emphasis is put onto this aspect of the bag.
That said, the expandable kangaroo pocket beneath the bag is excellent and offers the perfect way to store shoes or other bulkier items while on the move. When not in use, the pocket packs away into its own small pouch at the bottom of the bag. When unfurled, it adds an extra 6-litres of volume without making the pack look or feel bulky — it stays in place using the attached G-hooks and also features elastic strapping so you can store even more gear beneath it. I wish more travel backpacks had a kangaroo pocket feature!
Packing The Tropicfeel Shell
The Tropicfeel Shell can be packed like a top-loading backpack or as a clamshell opening bag.
As a top loader, the bag isn’t the easiest to pack. The opening doesn’t feel wide enough to get really big items through but it’s adequate for most of your gear. The bag can also be a chore to load up, especially to begin with. It tends to collapse and drape about when empty but after you’ve got a few bits in, the bag holds its shape much better.
The lid is kept closed by two rugged buckles. It would be nice to see some sort of drawstring closure around the opening as well but the bag does close securely as is.
Really though, you don’t need to use the top-loading aspect of this bag until you’ve got most of your gear packed away.
By undoing the zip that runs around the back of the bag, you can fully open the back panel to give you full unfettered access to the main compartment. This makes packing or unpacking a breeze! Once you’ve got all your gear in place, you can zip the back panel back up and throw the last few bits in through the top.
The clamshell-style opening becomes even more important if you’re carrying a laptop or using Tropicfeel’s wardrobe but we’ll come onto that!
Other Pockets In The Tropicfeel Shell
As well as the big main compartment, the Tropicfeel Shell features a padded laptop sleeve which sits against your back while carrying the bag. It keeps the bag’s centre of gravity close to your body as well as offering additional structure.
The laptop sleeve isn’t floating like in some travel bags but it features thick padding along the bottom to keep your computer safe from small drops of knocks. It’s also got two smaller mesh pockets for storing things like cables, hard drives or other computer accessories.
You can access the laptop sleeve by going through the top of the bag but it’s easier to simply undo the back panel zips a little and slide your computer in and out that way.
As well as the internal pockets, the Tropicfeel Shell features three external pockets. There’s a zip pocket in the lid which is useful for items you may need in a rush. Don’t worry about storing anything valuable like your passport or wallet in there though, there’s a couple of “hidden” pockets for those items!
On the left-hand side, while wearing the pack, there’s a small zip pocket in the back panel. This is perfect for storing small but important items that you may need easy access to. It helps prevent pickpockets by being close to your body, having a tough zip and not being visible.
Likewise, there’s a bigger pocket hidden behind the accessory pouch mounting points on the front of the bag. This can be difficult to use when the bag is full but is a good size for storing something like a notebook or important paperwork while on the move.
Finally, there’s a water bottle pocket on either side of the bag. These are made of a stretchy material and are big enough to hold a standard 750ml bottle. You might struggle to get a bigger bottle like Nalgene in there though.
Wearing The Tropicfeel Shell
Overall, the Tropicfeel Shell is a comfortable backpack. The back panel features nice padding around the shoulder blades and lower back. It also includes channels to promote airflow and reduce the build-up of sweat. The padding is around a centimetre thick and has a memory foam feel to it which is very pleasant!
You’ll also notice an elastic strap on the back panel. This is to secure the straps while not in use.
Tropicfeel Shell Straps
The shoulder straps are thin but wide and lightweight. They’re pretty stiff and feel like they’re made of the same material as the back panel padding. This means they’re comfortable and distribute the weight of your stuff evenly across your shoulders and chest — they actually make for a far better-carrying experience than I first expected when looking at them!
The sternum strap can be adjusted using the daisy chain webbing on each shoulder strap. There are five different mount points for maximum adjustability. However, the top and bottom points are a bit tight, meaning they can be difficult to attach the clips to.
The hip belt is mainly webbing but features a tiny amount of padding where it’s attached to the bag. It’s not the most comfortable hip belt in the world but that’s to be expected with the lack of padding. The advantage to this minimalist hip belt is that it’s easy to stash away behind the padded back panel when not in use.
The biggest downside of the hip belt is its overall positioning. Unless you wear the bag particularly low, it’s hard to get the hip belt to secure on your hips. When I wear the bag, the hip belt presses uncomfortably into my stomach. I have a 21-inch torso, which is a medium to large in most backpack sizes, yet the Shell feels a little too small for me.
Although the bag is perfectly usable without the hip belt, it’s not comfortable while carrying heavy loads. This could be a problem for taller backpackers travelling with a lot of gear.
There are also two carry handles which make loading the bag into lockers or overhead storage easier. Neither are particularly comfortable to hold g but they’re perfectly suitable for manoeuvring the bag into tight spots!
Tropicfeel Shell Materials
The Tropicfeel Shell is designed to not only last but to keep your gear safe. The durable nylon and polyester construction is abrasion-resistant and weatherproof. This means your gear remains safe and dry, even if you drop your bag in a puddle or get caught in a storm!
All zips are water-resistant which can make them tough to undo but ensures they keep out as much water as possible.
It’s worth being aware that although the bag will keep your gear dry for a long period, it’s not completely waterproof. We always recommend taking a pack cover travelling as this can save you should the weather really turn!
The Shell is made from 100% recycled nylon and 60% recycled polyester. The materials are taken from both pre and post-consumer sources to ensure that there is as little waste as possible involved with making the bag.
As always, Tropicfeel only work with Bluesign certified suppliers and they include information about their entire supply chain, working conditions and environmental practices on their website.
Tropicfeel Shell Accessories
As standard, the Tropicfeel Shell comes with the wardrobe system. The more expensive packages include the wardrobe and up to three accessories. These are:
- The Tech Pouch
- The Toiletry Bag
- The Camera Cube
The Tech Pouch
It’s the smallest of the accessories and features elastic loops to keep cables and other tech tidy. To be honest, it’s a bit small for many electronics and I’ve found myself using it to store important paperwork, spare money and my passport when not in use. It’s got a water-resistant coating so anything kept inside is safe from the elements.
The Toiletry Bag
The design of the toiletry bag is good albeit a little small. It can be fully opened so it lays flat and has a hook so you can hang it in a bathroom. Inside, the bag has one watertight compartment for things like soap or shampoo and another not watertight compartment for other bathroom items. There are also a couple of pouches for storing smaller items.
The Camera Cube
The camera cube is much larger than either the toiletry bag or tech pouch. It can easily hold a good DSLR camera as well as a spare lens. There’s also plenty of room for cables, memory cards and charging cables, power banks and other camera accessories. I use my camera cube to carry my Blue Yeti podcast mic, Sony mirrorless camera and a spare lens — there’s still plenty of room in there for more tech gear!
The cube comes with adjustable dividers so you can easily divvy up the space inside and ensure none of your expensive equipment gets damaged by banging together in transit.
The wardrobe is one of the biggest selling points of the Tropicfeel Shell. It acts as a closet in your bag and is supposed to help you pack more stuff into a smaller space. Tropicfeel claim that the wardrobe can reduce the size of your gear by 20%!
It has a hard top and bottom and features three internal compartments. You can pack gear into each compartment — different clothing will fit into a different spot depending on its size and shape — then use the compression straps along the sides to compress everything down. Once compressed, the whole wardrobe fits perfectly into the backpack but can only be loaded in through the clamshell opening, not via the top.
When you get to your destination, you can remove the whole wardrobe and hang it up using the strap and G-hook on top. This means less time unpacking and ensures you know where everything in your bag is!
In theory, the wardrobe sounds great but in practice, I found its usability limited. To start with, the wardrobe is heavy for its size. It can also be a bit of a pain to pack due to the different shaped compartments — especially the bottom compartment which features 10 smaller compartments for pants, socks and t-shirts.
It’s also not ideal to compress.
Due to its tall, thin shape, the wardrobe has a habit of folding under compression. This makes it bulge a lot in the middle which can make it impossible to fit into the Shell. The way to prevent this bulging is to reduce the amount of stuff inside but if you have to do that, there’s not much point compressing it anyway…
I found standard packing cubes to be a much more usable option when compared to the wardrobe.
The Fidlock Mounting System
No, those aren’t four small teats on the outside of the backpack, they’re the Fidlock mounting points…
Both the tech pouch and toiletry bag can be mounted to the outside of The Shell (only one at a time). While these mount points may look a bit weak, they’re actually pretty robust. When one of the accessory pouches is attached, you can easily lift the bag via the pouch without the Fidlock system failing or breaking. You must make sure it’s properly attached though or the accessory pouch can just fall off in transit!
The downside of this system is that it would be easy for a pickpocket to take advantage and just remove the whole pouch. You only need to pull a couple of tabs to release the magnets and snatch the pouch away, so don’t store anything valuable in the pouch. Attaching the toiletry pouch is the best way to save space and make the most of the system if you really want to use it.
I’ve found it easier to ignore the Fidlock system most of the time and to simply store the accessory pouches inside the pack.
Final Thoughts On The Tropicfeel Shell
This is a backpack with a huge amount of potential. Each feature has been thoroughly thought through and it’s clear that travellers had a huge amount of input in the creation of this bag.
However, at times it feels a little rough around the edges like it was only travellers who designed the bag, without input from professional bag experts or designers.
The accessory pouches are generally great but the Fidlock system isn’t the most efficient way of utilising them. The camera cube is excellent and even if you don’t travel with a large camera, it gives you plenty of space for important electronics! The wardrobe system is overrated in my opinion and can be more of a hindrance than a help. However, even without it, there’s plenty of room in the backpack to store enough gear for long term travel.
The bag is comfortable to wear, although a longer torso size would be good to make the hip belt usable for taller travellers. It’s easy to pack and the clamshell opening makes getting at your gear super easy. There are enough external pockets to keep smaller items organised and easy to find, while the internal laptop sleeve is good for keeping your computer safe and within easy reach.
As with all Tropicfeel products, a highlight of this bag is the sustainability practices used in its construction. Tropicfeel really do come across as a company that want to make the world a better place!
As always though, that comes at a cost to the end-user. This is an expensive bag. Although I have used mine a lot and will continue to use it, I won’t be rushing out to buy another one while they cost over £200GBP/$300USD for the basic model.
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