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Meet Ali and Her REI Trail 40

packing challenges when traveling alone

I’ve been traveling for about four years with my trusty REI Lookout 40, but recently it was starting to wear out on me. For some reason I can’t seem to find anything besides top-loading backpacks in Germany, which I don’t like, so I waited until a visit back to Atlanta to buy a new backpack.

What’s your backpack brand and model?

My new backpack is the REI Trail 40, which cost me $109. I bought it in purple, but it also comes in gray.

>> Check out the REI Trail 40 backpack on REI. Please note, this is an affiliate, and if you make a purchase, we get a commission at no extra cost to you.

How long have you had your backpack and where have you traveled with it?

I’ve only had this backpack since mid May, but it’s already seen a decent amount of travel. Since I bought it while visiting friends and family in Atlanta, I ditched my old bag there and used the new bag for the rest of the week. More recently, I spent 3 weeks traveling to Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London and other parts of England. So far I’ve been on five flights with it, plus several train journeys.

What factors were most important to you in choosing a backpack?

I knew from my previous backpack that 40 liters is my sweet spot (read more about why 40L backpacks are perfect). It’s just small enough to go as carry-on in most situations but big enough for me to pack what I need to feel comfortable. I also really don’t like top-loading backpacks because I find them harder to get into. If I need something at the bottom, I don’t want to unpack the entire bag. Pockets are also important to me because they help me stay organized.

What do you like most about your backpack? Any down sides?

There are lots of things I like about this backpack! I love that it has lots of pockets and a rain cover. One of my favorite features is that, even though it looks like a top-loading bag at first, the main compartment actually has four zipper pulls. So I can close it on the top like normal, but if I know there’s something I want to get from the bottom, I can open one of the other zippers.

I also love that it comes in purple, my favorite color.

The things I don’t like about it are minor. On the inside there’s a bungee cord compression system, the kind you normally see on the outside of a backpack. I don’t see a use for it on the inside, and it sometimes gets in the way when I’m trying to slide my laptop in behind my clothes. At first I didn’t like using some of the pockets for things I would normally put into small make-up bags, but now it’s not a big deal.

REI Trail 40 backpack review

Tell us about the fit and comfort level of your backpack.

It’s really comfortable! Four years ago when I bought the Lookout 40, I got the men’s version because I felt like it fit me better, but in hindsight that might have been a mistake. This time, after an REI employee helped me determine the right fit (many of their bags come in different sizes to fit your torso) I ended up with a bag that feels perfect. It’s snug without feeling tight, the waist strap and other straps are easy to adjust, and it’s really easy to handle.

If you want to take your backpack as carry-on luggage, can you?

Yes! The dimensions are 21.6 x 13 x 10.5 inches (mine is a medium, the small is slightly different) so it fits within most airlines’ carry-on restrictions. So far I haven’t had any problems taking it as carry-on.

Have you found the size to be too small, just right, or too large?

I think it’s just right. It seems slightly smaller than my old one, even though they’re both 40 liter bags, but it’s worked out well for me so far. I’ve been able to pack everything I need, including my laptop. The only thing I haven’t packed in the backpack is my DSLR, which works fine separately as if it were a purse.

Overall, would you recommend your backpack?

Yes, I really like how this one fits, and it feels compact while still holding all of my stuff. The pockets are great, and I love the color. It’s also small enough to take as carry-on, which always makes me happy.

What did you think of this REI Trail 40 backpack review? If you have questions about this pack, ask them in the comments below!

>>Check out the best travel backpacks for women here.

Written by Ali

Ali Garland is a freelance writer, blogger, and travel addict who made it to all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She enjoys travel planning, encouraging others to see the world, and packing carry-on only. She and her husband are expats living in Berlin. You can find Ali at Ali's Adventures and Travel Made Simple.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine says

    Whenever I go into REI I ALWAYS find myself in the pack section. This looks like it might be a good option! How many days do you usually pack for with this pack? I am pretty good about taking only carry-ons, but I am wondering how this holds up for longer trips. 🙂

    • Ali says

      On my last trip through Paris, Copenhagen, London, and Amsterdam, I was on the road for 18 days. I think I had about 8 or 9 shirts, a pair of jeans (which I was normally wearing, especially on transit days), a pair of jean shorts, a pair of gym shorts and gym pants, plus underwear, socks, bras, laptop, toiletries, etc. It’s really all about doing laundry on the road and being willing to wear the same thing more than once without washing it.

  2. Meaghan says

    Do you have any pictures of HOW you fit all that stuff in the bag? Do you use packing cubes or compression sacks or…? Thanks!

    • Ali says

      I don’t have pictures of how I packed, though I will try to do that next time. The shirts are the slightly-fitted kind of shirt, so they’re small-ish and fitted, not bulky t-shirts. I roll my shirts, pants, shorts. There’s a side pocket on the bag where I put my underwear. I’m a roll and shove person, I just jam everything in there. It means finding little holes for socks and cramming things in even if it’s not neat. I used to use a small packing cube for little things like make-up, nail clippers, other non-liquid toiletries, etc., but I don’t with this bag because the pockets work better.

  3. Katie says

    What is the metal frame of this backpack like? I got a pack before with a very stiff metal/plastic frame that was very curved away from my back, which I was not a fan of. I’m looking for something thats a little more flexible and not so stiff/curved and I was wondering what your opinions are on the frame of the REI Trail 40? Thanks!

    • Ali says

      Hi Katie! The frame is stiff enough to offer good support, but there is some give to it, and there’s some padding sections that run from top to bottom. You can see some gray on the bag in between me and the purple, that’s the padding. I don’t notice any curving, and I normally have my laptop at the back of the bag. I quite like how it feels on my back. If you decide to get it, pack it like you normally would and see how it feels before you take the tags off. I hope that helps!

  4. David says

    Hi Ali! Great review. Question – did you have trouble locking the zippers on this bag? I’ve read elsewhere that doesn’t have lined-up lockable metal on the zippers like the Osprey Farpoint series. Was this a problem? Thanks!

    • Ali says

      Hi David, the problem is that there are 4 zipper pulls to access the main compartment, instead of just 2. So you can lock the “main” 2 together, but that doesn’t actually keep anyone out of the bag. I personally don’t see that as a problem because I don’t lock my bag. I fly carry-on, so it’s always with me, and I tend to believe that if someone wants to get in my bag, they won’t be stopped by a zipper lock. But if locking the zippers on your bag is a high priority, this might not be the right choice.

    • Ashley says

      I just recently purchased this bag and I was able to lock the bottom two zippers to the metal rings near the bottom of the pack that usually hold trekking poles/gear. Then I was able to cable lock the two zippers at the top. I personally will never use the bottom to zippers to open the pack from the side, so it made sense for me to just lock them down.

      • Ali says

        That’s great! Now that I look at it a little closer, I could see how that would work well. I do actually use the bottom zippers occasionally, but even then you could still lock them up again when you’re on the move. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Tanya Sharkey says

    Thank you! Perfect Timing! I’ve been looking at this bag for days on-line and have been reading blogs about which backpack to purchase for my two-month trip to India. After reading this I ordered it! I’ve been reading a ton about packing for this trip, many different bloggers and have found yours to be most helpful! Loved the toiletries for carry-on list! Though I’ve used solid shampoo many times it never occurred to me this time and I love LUSH! Thanks again! Tanya

  6. Erin says

    So when I deciding between this pack and the Kelty Redwing 40 your review was the one that helped sway me towards this one. I liked that I actually got to see how the female version fit on an actual female unlike other reviews that told me how great this pack would be to go hiking you were able to tell me how it travels, which is what its primary purpose will be until I return to the US.

  7. Margot says

    Have you carried this pack on Icelandair or Ryanair? I just picked up the men’s version (which is the same size, I believe) and it’s slightly outside of what is allowed on the Icelandair website. What do you think? I definitely do NOT want to have to check it, so I want to be sure!

    • Ali says

      I haven’t used it on those airlines, but I’ve used it on Air France, SAS, and Delta with no problems. It depends on how much bigger it is from what IcelandAir’s website says. I personally wouldn’t worry about an inch, though I cannot make you any guarantees. I’d be a little more worried about RyanAir if it’s bigger than their restrictions. I think they’re more likely to want to measure everyone’s bag.

    • Ali says

      Hi Julie! I’m 5’1″ but I have really short legs and a more normal torso. So short length pants are often still too long on me, but I don’t buy petite sized shirts. The small backpack felt a bit too small/short for me so I got the medium. I hope that helps!

  8. Serendi says

    In comparison with the REI Lookout 40, which backpack do you think you would prefer and why? I’m looking to get a 40L for a 5 week trip to Spain/Portugal and the Lookout and Trail are the two I’m currently debating between.


    • Ali says

      I had the older version of the Lookout 40 for years and loved it, so when it came time for a new backpack, I actually ordered the new version of the Lookout 40. But when it arrived, I wasn’t so crazy about it. It’s not a bad bag (I have a friend who loves hers) but it didn’t have as much give as the older version and I felt like the opening of the main compartment was a little too small for me…not that it’s small, just not as big as I’d like. So I took it back to the store and looked at other bags, including the Trail 40, and that’s how I ended up buying this one. The main compartment opens much bigger, maybe even a bit bigger than necessary, but I liked that better. If you look at the photos, you can see the zipper of the main compartment, and it goes all the way around from top to almost the bottom. So I pack the bottom, then zip it up a little, keep packing, keep zipping, so stuff doesn’t fall out while I’m packing. The material seemed to have a little more give to it, which I like, so that helped me decide too. I don’t think you can go wrong with either of these backpacks, but that’s how I decided on the Trail 40. Hope that helps!

  9. Ellie says

    Hi there,

    Wondering if you could tell me what the dimension of the bag are when it’s full. I’ll be backpacking in Europe this summer and one budget airline has particularly strict rules about cabin baggage. I want to be sure this pack will make it through as a carry-on once it’s filled with my stuff!


  10. Ali says

    Hi Ellie, I looked at REI’s site, and I’d go by what they list for the dimensions. I have the medium, and it says 21.6 x 13 x 10.5 inches. The small is listed as 20.25 x 13.125 x 10.5 inches. That should work with most airlines’ allowances, but be sure to compare it to what the specific airline says they allow.

  11. Lauren says

    Is the metal frame removable? I’m going on a school trip to China and my advisor told us not to buy backpacks with metal frames because we won’t need them. Everything else about this backpack seems ideal for me. Thanks!

    • Ali says

      As far as I can tell, the frame is not removable. But I also don’t think it’s metal, or if it is, it’s really light weight. I think you’d struggle to find a decent backpack that has no frame at all, and the frame does a lot to support the weight you’re carrying on your back. Maybe your advisor meant not to get one of those bulkier frame on the outside? You don’t need that kind. But the type of frame backpacks like this have are so hidden and light, I forget they’re there, but they are well worth it for how much they help you carry everything. I’d suggest asking for clarification about the recommendation to not get a metal frame. (And again, I don’t even think this one is metal…but I can’t even get to it.)

  12. Elena Edwards says

    Just bought it for my RTW trip! Here’s to hoping I can pack this light! I have an older Kelty Women’s Coyote 75L that I’ve been on the fence about bringing because I think it may be more than I want to carry long-term, but we’ll see once I get my next practice packing attempt in and see which pack suits my needs best!

  13. Jan says

    Hello Ali, it looks great but is it possible to hide away the shoulder straps and carry it as a suitcase? Useful at certain places…

  14. Christy says

    Hello Ali, I’m 5ft and I bought this same backpack in medium in the color Oregano (with coral accent color). I really love the fit, location of the two pockets on the hip belt, and the water bottle pockets. It will be used for carry-on for a 3 week trip to Italy – traveling to and staying at 8 different locations. My husband has a Rick Steves backpack that has stowaway straps and a larger internal packing area than this REI bag (his bag is too big for me). Those are the two downsides to this bag and so I’ve held off being totally committed to it (tags are still on it in case I find a bag that isn’t a top load and has those other two features – so far I’m unable to find one). I do like this bag except for lacking those two features. I tried packing the bag with my Rick Steves packing list and it was full and with really no room for purchases that I want to make along the way. Thoughts?

      • Christy says

        Hi Brooke, The Packing List for Women. I will take another look at Ali’s packing list and see if that works better since I have the same backpack. I’m also thinking I could wear my LL Bean Stowaway day pack on the front of me, ha! I saw a picture of someone doing this and it really isn’t uncomfortable :). I also figured out a way to attach it to the outside of the 40L if needed. Another question. Has anyone “checked” the REI backpack (thought I could on the way home and carry another bag on flight with souvenirs, but wonder about the multiple straps getting caught since they don’t stow away. Thank you.

        • Ali says

          Christy, I haven’t checked this bag, but I have checked my older REI Lookout 40. It’s not ideal because of the straps, but I always tuck in as many as I can into the pockets, and I wrap the waist strap around the bag and cinch it up tight. It does make me nervous, and one time I did lose part of the waist strap buckle on my Lookout 40. But luckily REI has a good policy of helping out with things like that, so I went into a store next time I had a chance (unfortunately after another 2 months of traveling) and they were able to find me a similar piece to make it work.

          • Christy says

            Hey Ali, that was a good idea to wrap the waist strap around the whole bag. I think that works considering. Thank you for that tip.

    • Ali says

      I haven’t traveled on AirAsia with it yet, but so far I have only traveled with this bag as carry-on/in the cabin. I’ve taken it on easyJet, AirBerlin, Iberia, Delta, Air France, SAS, and a few others. Always check the airline’s restrictions, but so far I haven’t had any problems.

    • Ali says

      Rochelle, it unzips long ways, so not quite like a suitcase. But it’s not toploading, it definitely opens big. You can see the zippers in the photo, they go from the bottom up to the top, and there are 4 zipper pulls so you can open it from the top or the bottom. It’s one long zipper though.

  15. Maria says

    I’ve had my REI Trail 40 for 4 years now and it’s served me well in my travels. It’s been to Europe twice (2 week and one week trips), and has been my go-to bag for most of my US trips. My husband and I have the same bag and we flew with our daughter (18 months at the time) to Los Angeles for a week with only our backpacks and a diaper bag. It’s really very roomy and I love how it zips open.

  16. Janice says

    I used this pack when I hiked the 500 mile Camino in Spain in April 2018 – and also when I took a trip to Bali in August 2018. I loved how easy it was to get to my stuff – very similar to opening a suitcase (or you could just unzip the top and have it top loading). I used a small zippered packing bag for all my clothes – and a stuff bag for my bulky items and a mesh flat bag for my underwear and another for my toothbrush and stuff. These two slid down the inside pocket. It was always easy to find everything. A pair of shoes went in the outside zipper pocket – and another pair of flip flops in an outside side pocket. There were lots of outside pockets – easy to get to. Kept a down coat in one with a raincoat in an outside pocket. The thought it was very comfortable to carry – sometimes bruised my collarbones. The only problem I had is that the Camino is very hilly and I have asthma. When going uphill I felt the back was pressing on my lungs making it hard to breathe. I did stick a small inflatable pillow between me and the pack which helped a lot. I just gave the pack to my daughter who is going to live in China. I think she will love traveling with it – so I am the search for another pack with all these qualities except maybe a frame that does not sit right on my back. Any suggestions.?

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