This is a review of the Ekster GRID backpack, a tech-oriented pack with plenty of features for people who earn a living on the road. It also works well as a TSA-approved, carry-on suitcase you (hopefully) won’t have to pink tag after running to your gate.
After carrying the GRID for two weeks (and walking 2 – 4 miles daily while wearing it), I’m happily impressed with my experience and would like to share my findings.
On a side note: Ekster was launched by two 22-year-old Dutch students who were on Fullbright scholarships in the United States.
The Ekster GRID backpack is a luxurious contender among laptop daypacks—especially for business travelers and digital nomads who work from wherever. If you regularly fly or commute with a laptop, tablet, and/or camera for work, this pack will protect your tools with style.
Read on to determine if the GRID backpack is an ideal choice for your needs.
- Perfect size for carry-on travel
- Surprisingly comfortable while fully loaded
- Offers secure protection for a laptop and tablet
- Opens 180 degrees—fully front-loading main compartment
- Could use some additional pockets for everyday carry items
- Empty Weight: 2.6 pounds (1.2 kg)
- Volume: 21 liters
- Dimensions: 12 x 18 x 6 inches (30.6 x 46 x 15cm)
- Laptop Size: Up to 16 inches; separate iPad/tablet sleeve
- Waterproofing: Zippers and 600D water-resistant body (more on that below)
- Zinc-alloy buckles: Why? Because they’re nice.
- Air-mesh Ventilated Back: Better for those airport reunion hugs
- Elastic Side Pocket with Strap: Works well for bottles or umbrellas
- Bandoliers: Plenty of places to clip on some ‘biners, a radio, or additional gear
The Ekster GRID Backpack
At first glance, I was worried the GRID would look like someone had attached a suitcase to my back. From the front, it looks like an innocuous, black carry-on you’d see someone doing their best to fit into an overhead. How could a suitcase with straps feel … right?
Fortunately, my fears were allayed as soon as I wore the GRID for the first time. Even fully loaded, the wide straps and perfectly balanced setup felt like I wasn’t wearing a pack at all. The mesh backing is cushy, and the weight distribution couldn’t be better.
Leave it to the Dutch to design the most comfortable pack I’ve worn. I haven’t yet sat inside a Rolls-Royce, but this is what I expect it to feel like. Your results may vary, but for myself, it felt as if the GRID had been tailored to my average torso.
My One Complaint
I could use more small pockets with outside access for EDC items (e.g., sunscreen, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, flashlight, protein bar, etc).
The zippered compartment at the top is thoughtfully designed with a magnetic flap that allows access to either the laptop sleeve or the one small pocket. I like the feature, but overall, the pocket is too small to hold much. Accessing the other pockets requires laying the bag flat and unzipping the main compartment.
Daily Carry Laptop Bag
Unlike some other laptop-centric backpacks I’ve tested, the Ekster GRID actually feels like it properly safeguards my second most important item while on the road. The 16-inch laptop pocket is snug, rigid, and accessible without opening the main compartment.
More importantly, the GRID backpack maintains an air-gapped buffer between your laptop and the bottom of the bag. Others I’ve tried actually allowed the laptop to rest on the bottom layer of the backpack—no bueno when dropping it on hard surfaces.
Although I carried the Ekster GRID backpack daily for two weeks while working for my local university, I haven’t yet had an opportunity to test it against the savagery of international travel. That said, I’m fairly certain it could survive one of my jaunts in Indonesia.
The interior lining, often the first place to show wear, is made from a rip-stop material. Meanwhile, the outside materials feel rugged enough for urban survival. The exterior seams have plenty of redundancy incorporated into the stitching. The straps and top handle are solid.
In the end, this is neither a jungle pack nor an Army rucksack. For monsoon-season excursions, you’ll probably want something with more waterproofing and less frills, like the 20-liter Overboard waterproof backpack I often carry in the field.
The RFID-Safe Pocket
The GRID backpack has a small, externally accessible pocket that’s lined for RFID protection. As a Security+ certified professional, I know how bad actors can clone chips (and steal your credentials) by “bumping” you in a cafe. The zippered ID pocket is discretely placed on the bottom right and is designed to be unzipped while wearing the backpack.
I love that the GRID backpack offers some built-in protection against RFID scanning. However, I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of carrying my most important travel item (my passport) in a pocket located out of sight. I don’t know if I’d want to keep credit cards in there, either.
All serious travelers know that zippers are often the first feature to fail on a pack. Inspecting them is almost an absentminded obsession of mine after so many gear failures in the field. Don’t bring a backpack to my house; I’ll probably inspect the zippers.
I can say the GRID’s zippers are among the best I’ve encountered. They’re waterproof, they lock, and the pulls are metallic. Someone smart put a lot of thought into these zippers.
Although the GRID backpack is accurately billed as only “water resistant,” the primary material used for the body (600D polyester) is notoriously good against water.
Again, the GRID backpack wouldn’t be my choice if I had to feed the thirsty leeches in the jungles of Sarawak, Borneo, for two weeks. I also wouldn’t wear it on the street during the Songkran water festival in Chiang Mai. But I’m more than certain the GRID backpack can handle an unexpected rainstorm or errant splashing.
Not only did I get to test drive the backpack, but I also received some useful accessories that upgrade the GRID into a stylish ecosystem for travel writers.
The tech case is made from the same high-quality materials as the GRID. In fact, it looks like a baby GRID. Ekster’s tech case is the perfect size for organizing and protecting your chargers, cables, and favorite portable SSD for travel.
The camera cube is only useful if you’re carrying a mirrorless camera or DSLR. The build quality and padding are impressive, but if you have any lengthy lenses, you’ll need some other type of case to protect them. The camera cube only fits my Nikon SLR body along with a small portrait lens. My trusty 18-200mm lens wouldn’t squeeze in.
The laptop power bank is my favorite of the accessories. Weighing in at 500 grams, the sleek device delivers a whopping 26800 mAh! And it can fast-charge three devices simultaneously—bring on the zombie apocalypse.
Sustainability and Environmental Concerns
I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Ekster GRID is made from recycled PET bottles. I’ve certainly seen enough discarded bottles bobbing in the world’s oceans. Ekster probably isn’t making much of a dent in the problem, but at least they aren’t contributing.
A quick read of their page leaves the impression that Ekster seems genuinely concerned with sustainability rather than partaking in the typical corporate greenwashing.
Where to Buy
Avoid Amazon scams and fakes—order directly from Ekster’s GRID Backpack page. Shipping is free.
US $195 (currently on sale for US$156).
I believe the Ekster GRID backpack is priced fairly, especially given the premium materials and build quality.
Until next time, happy travels!
Disclaimer: My review of the Ekster GRID backpack is based on my experience of carrying it daily for work.
Although I was not paid to write this, I was provided with a sample by Ekster. As with all travel gear, I approached this review as a road-hardened skeptic before deciding to make an honest recommendation to fellow travelers.
Images: Some of these images were provided by Ekster. I’ve no doubt you can tell which ones!