When it comes to luggage, Grant and I both generally prefer to carry backpacks rather than suitcases. I have been using the eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack since 2017. After 6 years and countless trips, it has proven to be a nearly perfect travel backpack. From durability to organization and functionality, this bag really has it all!
My first trip with the Mother Lode Travel Backpack was a week-long trip to Italy. Grant and I had previously done two month-long trips to Europe with different backpacks. But on those trips, we knew we had time to do laundry, so we only needed to pack about 5 days worth of clothes. Actually carrying a full week’s worth of clothes in a backpack was a true test.
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Spoiler Alert: the Mother Lode backpack passed with flying colors! And, it has proven itself many times over on both long and short trips.
In this article, I’ll provide my full review of the eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack. And, no, this isn’t a paid review. I purchased the bag myself and am writing this review independently and without any collaboration with eBags. That said, we do have an affiliate relationship with both eBags and Amazon, as outlined in our disclosure below.
(Disclaimer: When we link to places you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes which earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our Review Policy for more information.)
Why a Travel Backpack?
If you’re new to the idea of a backpack, that’s ok. I was skeptical at first, too. In fact, when Grant and I first traveled together and he started packing his backpack, I thought he was crazy. But, I quickly realized just how nice it is to have your hands free when traveling. This is especially true when moving through the airport, getting on and off trains or subways and, really, just about everywhere!
Additionally, traveling with a carry-on size travel backpack forces you to not overpack too much! Of course, I sometimes still overpack (what can I say, I like to be prepared!) but traveling is so much easier if you don’t have too much stuff.
The first travel backpack I owned was the LL Bean Continental Rucksack. It was the same bag that Grant carried and it served us well on month-long trips to both Italy and Eastern Europe. While that was a great pack, we eventually wanted something a bit bigger and with better organization, as well as the ability to handle a laptop. After much research and deliberation, Grant decided on the Lowepro Highline BP 400 AW and I chose the eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack.
Read Grant’s review of his pack here.
Note: When I purchased this bag, it was called the TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible. They have since updated the bag (based on customer feedback) to make it more user-friendly and lightweight. Additionally, they renamed it the Mother Lode Travel Backpack.
Top Features of the eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack
- Carry-on size
- Laptop compartment
- Lots of organizational details
- Can be carried as a backpack or a suitcase
- High-quality construction
When searching for a new pack, a zippered lay-flat main compartment was the number one must-have I was looking for. This pack takes that feature and puts it on steroids! In fact, the main compartment zips open just like a normal suitcase.
Inside the main compartment, you will find compression straps to keep everything in place. There is also a fold-down “shelf” that you can use to divide the main compartment into two smaller parts.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever actually used the shelf. But, it does lay flat so it’s not in the way when not in use. And, it’s a nice feature if you do need to divide your clothes.
A zippered mesh panel allows you to divide a few things out from the main compartment. I often use this for my raincoat and flip-flops, or other small other items.
The main compartment is also expandable – something that can be both exciting and terrifying! I love the idea of being able to expand “just in case” it is needed. In a backpack, however, I don’t like the idea that my pack could become heavier as I travel. Overall, though, it is a nice feature to have even if you don’t use it regularly.
There is a separate front compartment with a U-shaped zipper. I often pack the eBags Pack-it-Flat Toiletry Kit, along with a few other items, in this part. This location is easy to get to for pulling out liquids when going through security. It’s also great for small items like socks and underwear or anything that you want separate from the main compartment.
The front flap of the compartment has three zippered pockets and a place to store a couple of pens and a small notebook. I can easily place my iPad Mini into one of those pockets. In that location, the iPad is easily available to me, but not on an outside pocket where it would be easy for someone else to get to.
There is a small front zippered pocket where you could store a boarding pass or maybe a small book. When traveling in the car, I will usually put the iPad mini in this pocket since I’m not as worried about security. It is also great for things that I need to put my hands on quickly while in the airport or traveling to/from the hotel.
The top compartment is perfect for glasses, keys, tissues or any other small items. It also provides a good place to put stuff when going through security.
These two exterior pockets really do provide easy access to small items that you need to reach quickly. For me, that means I don’t necessarily feel the need to carry a purse along with this backpack.
The laptop compartment is on the back, exactly where it should be for security. There is a “laptop sling” that securely holds the laptop in place within the compartment. This allows you to position the laptop at a location that is comfortable for your body. It also provides an extra layer of security, in that it is one more thing to “undo” to get to your laptop.
Other features of the Mother Lode Travel Backpack include packable backpack straps – a plus for if you should need to check the bag. There is also a chest strap, which I generally prefer to not use. Thankfully, it is removable, so I took it off.
There are also three padded handles (front, side and top) so that you can easily pick up the bag from just about any angle. This is particularly useful when getting the backpack in and out of an overhead luggage compartment.
Finally, there are four compression straps outside the pack. With compression straps both inside and outside, you really can cinch things down quite a bit.
In terms of size, I have never had any issues fitting the eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack into the overhead bin on the plane. In fact, on that first Italy trip, the attendants made the announcement during boarding that carry-on suitcases would have to be gate checked. Thankfully, since I was carrying mine as a backpack, they didn’t question it at all. That is just one more reason I love carrying a backpack!
Water Bottle Holder
The one negative about my version of this backpack is the water bottle pocket. It really is just about useless. The construction of it does not provide security or stability. It will fit a water bottle easily, but it will flop around as you walk. It works in a bind but I only use it when absolutely necessary.
Thankfully, that has been updated on the current version of the Mother Lode Travel Backpack. Now, the water bottle pocket zips open to securely hold a full-size water bottle. Best of all, it zips closed to be out of the way when not in use. From what I can tell, this is the biggest (and most-needed) update on the redesigned backpack.
Honestly, I briefly considered purchasing the new bag because the new water bottle holder really is that much better than what I have! But, spending that much money mainly to upgrade the water bottle pocket doesn’t seem like a good use of my money at this time.
The eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack is made of 840D Twisted Filament Polyester. While not necessarily waterproof, it is a thick enough material that your stuff should stay dry in light rain. I always carry a rain cover with me just in case, though.
The interior is 210D orange nylon lining. I’m sure you won’t have too many items packed inside that would camouflage with the bright orange lining! It may not be the most popular lining color, but at least your stuff won’t be hidden as you unpack.
All zippers are strong and sturdy. I have not had any issues with zippers sticking or falling open even after years of use. The main, front and top compartments all have double zippers that will accommodate a luggage lock.
Unfortunately, there are no built-in security features aside from the ability to add your own lock.
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Packing for Eight Days in Italy with the eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack
For me, the true test of a travel backpack is how well it works in Europe when traveling around by plane and train. Sadly, this pack has only been on one of those trips. That was our 8-day trip to Italy in 2017 with EF Tours. Since we were chaperoning a school group, we didn’t have the same flexibility that we would if traveling just the two of us.
We also were there over Spring Break (early April), when the weather is somewhat unpredictable. Needing lots of layers and not being in control of our itinerary definitely made packing a bit harder than normal. Still, this bag handled it quite well, even if I did load it a bit overweight from my original goal.
What I Packed
So, let’s take a look at exactly what I was able to pack into the eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack. It is worth noting that I had everything packed into eBags Ultralight Packing Cubes. I used one large, one slim and two small cubes. They fit into the bag perfectly and made packing a breeze!
The benefits of packing cubes are that they help to compress your clothes, in addition to keeping things a bit better organized.
Looking for more packing tips? Check out my article How to Pack Like a Professional Traveler.
- 3 convertible pants – my favorites are prAna Sage Convertible pants and just about anything by Columbia
- 1 pair REI shorts
- 1 pair yoga pants (for lounging at the hotel)
- 4 long-sleeve button-up shirts (the Columbia Saturday Trail III is one of my favorites)
- 1 short sleeve button up
- 1 short-sleeve polo (like this one from Columbia)
- 2 short-sleeve moisture-wicking t-shirts (this Amazon Essential Women’s Tech Crewneck is my current go-to)
- 1 fleece (similar to this Columbia fleece)
- 1 zip-up cardigan
- 1 scarf – great for a light-weight wrap or to dress up your outfit
- 4 pairs socks (Wrightsock Women’s Coolmesh are my favorite light-weight hiking and travel socks)
- 4 bras
- 7 pairs of underwear (I loved this new pair from ExOfficio)
- 1 raincoat (both Eddie Bauer and Columbia make good packable raincoats)
- 1 belt (Grant and I both love this belt from Croakies)
- 1 ball cap
- 1 pair Teva Women’s Olowahu Flip-Flop – my favorite flip-flops ever
- First aid kit
- Ziplock bags – misc sizes (snack, sandwich, quart, gallon)
- Toiletries (packed in the eBags Pack-it-Flat Toiletry Kit)
- iPad Mini
- Apple Watch charger
- Inflatable Travel Pillow
- Backpack Rain Cover
- Packable Backpack/Day Bag (the Eddie Bauer Stowaway Packable Backpack is our favorite)
- Refillable Water bottle
As you can see, I packed quite a bit into this one travel backpack! But, it handled it easily. I even had room for a couple of small souvenirs to bring home. And that was all without needing to expand the bag!
Since then, I’ve used the bag for other week-long trips by air and on the road. With all the compression straps, the eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack is also great for short weekend trips. If it’s not stuffed, you can easily cinch down the straps and not feel like you are carrying more bag than you need.
Other Versions of the Mother Lode
If you like some of the features of the Mother Lode Travel Backpack but aren’t sure about the size or want a roller bag, eBags makes several other versions of the Mother Lode. I haven’t used any of them personally but they are similar enough in design that I feel they would be worth a look if you want something bigger or smaller.
- Mother Lode Jr. Travel Backpack – Same design, just a little smaller. This would be good for kids or someone who wants to keep their backpack a little lighter.
- Mother Lode Rolling Travel Backpack – Roughly the same size but with the option to carry it as a backpack or roll it like a normal suitcase. If you’re unsure of the backpack, this would be a good convertible option.
- Mother Lode Rolling Duffel – Same design but not a backpack. This is actually offered in three different sizes: Carry-On (about the same size as the backpack), Medium Checked (a little bigger but not too big) and Large Checked. While these bags only have two wheels, they also have front “feet” to prevent the bag from tipping.
On the eBags website, you can easily check out the dimensions of each bag and compare them, which is a nice feature! At the time of writing, some of these are available on Amazon, but not all of them.
Final Thoughts on the eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack
The organizational components of the eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack are exactly what I was looking for when I purchased the bag. After using it for many years, I can say it is perfect for just about any type of travel. Additionally, mine is still in great shape and is showing no real signs of wear or tear.
I love how easy it is to open up and find what you need in the bag. The extra compartments provide multiple locations to tuck stuff away that you don’t need often or just want separate. On the outside, small pockets make it easy to store and access small items.
If you pack the bag completely full, it will be a bit on the heavy side. But, the backpack is still easy to carry and easy to move around with. The straps are comfortable and it is fairly easy to make sure everything is secure. I also love that the straps pack away in the event that you do need to check the bag.
I am very glad to see that eBags has updated the water bottle pocket on the current version of the Mother Lode Travel Backpack. Honestly, that was my one major complaint about my bag. From what I’ve seen online, the new water bottle pocket design is fabulous and exactly what this bag needs.
The only small downside of the Mother Lode Travel Backpack is that it really is more of a suitcase that has backpack straps than a true backpack. Basically, it is a bit bulky and boxy for a backpack. The great organizational features and the price, however, more than make up for that.
Add in that eBags frequently runs sales and you can generally purchase this travel backpack for a very reasonable price.
Ultimately, I highly recommend the eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack for any kind of travel.
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