This backpack is stylish, functional, timeless, and it works hard from Arizona to Tokyo.

Carrying Mission Rover backpack

Thomas J. Story

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The perfect luggage is an elusive thing. Trust me, I’ve been searching for it for over 20 years flying, road tripping, and trying out nearly a dozen styles and brands as a career magazine editor. Scouting locations, going on photo shoots, and writing stories in the wilds of Australia and Belize, city jaunts to Tokyo, Nanjing, Marseille, and now the deserts, mountains, forests, and cities of the West, I’ve struggled with lesser luggage. I’ve snapped a wheel off a roller in Venice, wrestled awkward canvas duffles through Malpensa in Milan, had a supposed carry-on bag summarily rejected in Heathrow, hammered down a stubborn, stuck pull-out handle in a crowded airplane aisle. I’ve witnessed the travails of other poorly-equipped travelers: a grown man nearly crying while trying to fit his $1,000 aluminum roller into the overhead bin; a group of fashionable travelers scrambling to figure out which of the Instagram-famous wheelies was theirs as the baggage carousel dispensed the lookalike candy-colored cases, Pez-like, onto the conveyor belt. 

Those days are now blissfully behind me like so many frequent flier miles of diminishing value now that I’ve had a few weeks to travel with the Mystery Ranch Mission Rover in the 45 liter size. After flights to Seattle and Arizona and road trips to Palm Springs and Big Sur, I’ve put the bag through its paces on skyways, in bins and trunks, in hotels and motels, on luggage carts, in deserts and in forests, and have resoundingly come to the conclusion that the Mission Rover is not only the best carryon I’ve ever traveled with, it also looks vintagey with its throwback waxed cotton finish. No it’s not a roller suitcase. While that might be a non-starter for some people, I’ve always preferred soft-sided luggage that you can sling over your shoulder or carry with one hand. In this world conspiring to set us in sedentary ways, I see it is a privilege to be able to work on my grip strength and balance before sitting for hours in a plane or a car. Plus they tend to just look cooler. If they have backpack straps, all the better for texting or eating while walking through the airport or waiting to board or helping someone else struggling with their roller on the escalator or stairs. 

Photographer carries Mission Rover backpack

Thomas J. Story

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While everybody travels differently, we all essentially want the same thing: something that can hold our stuff in a secure and organized fashion, serve as a surrogate closet, hold up to the abuses of travel, and look decent doing it. I’m not an adventure traveler so I don’t need tons of gear, but I do sometimes bring along a chunky full-frame camera. For most trips I pack a combination of city and country clothes that can serve me for up to a week: niceish clothes for restaurants and meetings, functional clothes for photo shoots, shoes for dinner, running shoes and workout clothes, an old-fashioned snap top Dopp kit. The bag needs to fit stringent international carryon measurements, which are smaller than domestic dimensions. The scaled-down size also means that if there’s no room in the overhead bins I can shove the bag under the seat in front of me and still sit semi comfortably. Did I mention I never check luggage? Never. Ever. My record is 10 days in three countries with one carryon. On that same trip, my fellow travelers’ bags were incorrectly routed and they spent two distracted days emergency clothes and toiletry shopping while trying to track down their bags. So yeah. Never. 

Here are the 11 reasons the Mystery Ranch Mission Rover 45L is my new favorite carryon luggage. 

The clamshell design lets you see everything at once. 

I’m a sucker for a clamshell design that opens up book-like to show you everything you need at a glance. What’s even cooler is that each half of the clamshell has a mesh cover with a built-in, see-through zip pocket that lets you see all your belongings in one glance when you open the bag up wide.

It has five compartments for stashing stuff.

As much as people love those packing cubes, I like to organize my clothes the same way I do my dresser drawers at home, which is to say as a quasi Marie Kondo array of mostly rolled clothes that allows me to easily see and select what I’ll wear that day. I stack shirts and pants in one big compartment, shoes and toiletries in the other, then distribute socks, underwear, and workout gear in the mesh pockets… no packing cubes required.

Packed Mission Rover backpack

Thomas J. Story

It has a generous exterior compartment for quick access to the stuff you need.

While a lot of hard sided bags lack exterior pockets, the Mission Rover has a wide-opening outer sleeve with a secondary ticket pocket that allows you to store your laptop, passport, itinerary, and charging cable in a secure and tidy yet accessible fashion. 

It meets international carryon requirements.

If you don’t over-stuff it, you’ll never have to check it. The 45 liter Mission Rover’s dimensions are 21″ x 13″ x 12″ while international standards are 22″ x 14″ x 9″ so you’re safely in the carryon zone no matter where you travel. 

Its deceptively spacious.

The soft sides allow you to stuff it far beyond its stated dimensions, so if you’re on a road trip and not worried about needing to check it, you can easily pack a week’s worth of clothes. 

Sunset June/July 2022 Outdoor Living Issue cover
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It has a genius built-in shoe bag. 

This means you have one less specialty bag to load. Plus it’s accessible from the outside thereby keeping any street grime far away from your clothes. 

It’s super tough but still light.

Chunky YKK zippers, waxed 210D nylon, and sturdy stitching add up to a sturdy but not-too-heavy bag. 

You can wear it like a backpack if that’s your thing.

Even though it looks like a traditional soft sided suitcase, a secret panel hides a pair of shoulder straps and a waist belt to help distribute the weight across your midsection. That way if you need to climb a lot of steps or carry other luggage, you can put it on your back and keep your hands free. 

It can augment your roller. 

And if you already have a roller you love, this Mission Rover has a handle pass through so you can use it to supplement your core luggage. 

It has handles on every side.

Loading in and out of overhead bins and trunks is a breeze because a grip point is always oriented toward you. 

It has a unique timeless look.

It looks nothing like 90% of the other bags in the bin (or baggage carousel if you, heaven forbid, need to check it). In the wood waxed colorway it has a slightly Indiana Jones vibe. 

Mystery Ranch Mission Rover

Mission Rover backpack on front steps

Thomas J. Story

The excellent bag is available in 30, 45, and 60 liter sizes but I’ve found the 45 liter to be the ideal size as it large enough for a real trip but small enough to fit carryon requirements. The black and shadow colors are cool but I find the wood waxed color way to be the handsomest.

Mission Rover, $199–$275