What better way to kick off a blog about OneBag travel than with a backpack review, amirite?

First a little disclaimer: this is the backpack that I regularly use when travelling and I bought it in 2015. Osprey still sell the Nova, but the new version (the bag on the left in the above image) has some slight differences which I’ll mention throughout the review. Also, the photos is this post are… kinda crappy. I’ll figure out how to take decent product photos one day, I promise! With that out of the way, on to the review.

The Osprey Nova is a women’s specific backpack – sister of the men’s Nebula. While mine was sold as a 33L, the new model is only 32L. I doubt anyone would notice any real world difference though – backpack companies tend to be pretty lax with their quoted capacities. The new version is also slightly heavier at 1.03 kg (2.27 lbs) vs 0.92 kg (2.03 lbs) for the 2015 model. This could be due to more heavy-duty materials used in its construction, but that’s only a guess.

After 4 years of use, I can say without a doubt that the Osprey Nova is a solid piece of kit. I’ve taken it on multiple overseas trips, usually 6 weeks to 2 months in duration, dragging it through Europe, Asia and the US, as well as smaller trips throughout New Zealand and Australia and it still looks like new. On top of that, it served as my daily carrier through 3 years of university. Which brings me to the reason I bought this bag in the first place. I wanted something that was suitable for both long trips overseas and for daily use at home. I really didn’t want to drop hundreds on a travel-specific backpack and then have to buy a second one for home use. I picked up the Nova during a sale for NZ$90 (~US$60) which was a steal (granted the NZ-US exchange rate was much more favourable then). These days the list price is US$120, which still isn’t bad, but definitely look out for sales.

Osprey Nova 2015 Laptop Compartment

Now onto the features. The laptop pocket is TSA-friendly, meaning it zips open along three sides and lies flat so you don’t have to remove your laptop for x-ray scanning. A velcro tab holds your laptop in place in the padded sleeve and there is a second padded and zipped pocket for a tablet.The laptop sleeve is quite roomy. I suspect it’s designed to carry up to a chunky 15″ laptop. I have a 13″ Macbook Air which will slide around a bit if not placed within another sleeve or case. I have a black foam sleeve I zip it into before putting it in the backpack and it works well (and gives even more protection), though there’s still quite a bit of room left even then. The tablet sleeve looks like it will accommodate up to a 10″ tablet. It’s a good spot for computer cables, accessories or a hard drive instead, but if the main compartment is stuffed full then there can be quite a lot of pressure on this pocket. I would stick to putting only flat items in there if that was the case. Nowadays, I often travel with a tablet instead of a laptop, so this compartment is overkill. But the padding does add some structure and keeps the back of the pack lying flat. Still, if you don’t intend to pack a laptop in there at least some of the time, then this is not the bag for you.

Osprey Nova 2015 Main Compartment

Organisational features and lots of pockets are what many people are looking for in a travel backpack, and in this respect the Nova does not disappoint. There is a large main compartment, a front organiser compartment, a small pocket at the top (great for quick-access items), a front mesh stuff-pocket and two side mesh water bottle pockets. The interior of the bag is always a brighter colour than the exterior (my black bag has a mint-green interior) which I think is a brilliant feature. It allows you to more easily see what’s inside your bag.
The main compartment feels quite cavernous given the overall size of the bag. A pair of hiking shoes fit snugly in the bottom with a medium-sized packing cube on top and there’s still room to stuff a toiletry bag or whatever else is needed. There’s also a document sleeve for keeping any paperwork nice and flat, and an internal zipped pocket. If the main compartment is full-to-bursting, then space in the front organiser pocket is sacrificed, and vice-versa.

Osprey Nova 2015 Front Pocket Organisation

The organiser compartment has 3 great little mesh pockets at the top – the centre one is ideal for a smartphone. Below is another internal zipped pocket and sleeves for pens etc, and there’s also a key fob. Above the organiser compartment is a small pocket for things you need to access quickly.

The front mesh stuff-pocket is something I was really happy about it’s the perfect spot to stuff any wet items, such as a rain jacket, towel, bathing suit, that you don’t want to put in the main compartment. I also think it’s a handy spot to put your liquids bag for easy removal when going through airport security. One design change on the 2019 model is there’s no longer a clip at the top of the mesh pocket. Instead it relies on elastic only to hold your belongings in place. This should still be sufficient for most use cases.
A few things about this backpack may cause some people to think twice about using it as their primary travel bag. The zippers, while having great zipper pulls that allow easy access to the bag, are not designed to be lockable. I personally got around this by fixing little metal triangles that you can get at any hardware store to the metal zips that I could then pass a cable lock through. With one small cable lock I can secure both the main and laptop compartments, giving me peace of mind on travel days, knowing that no-one can easily slip their hand in when I’m not looking. Secondly, it’s obviously not going to be as comfortable as a hiking pack – there’s no internal frame and only a flimsy hip-belt. But the same could be said of any travel-specific backpack really. My holy grail is a 35L hiking pack that fits carry-on dimensions, but I have yet to find one. Hey Osprey, if you’re reading, this is what we need!

Lastly I’d just like to give a shoutout to Osprey as a company. They have a lifetime guarantee on all of their backpacks and from everything I’ve read, they live up to that guarantee. I haven’t had any tears or any breakages with the Nova, but when my cat was a kitten she chewed through all the zipper-pulls. They’re only fabric, so they’re obviously not designed to be durable, and yet Osprey sent me out brand new zipper-pulls when I sent them an email about it (thinking cat-chewing wouldn’t be covered, but happily I was wrong). You really can’t go wrong with Osprey.

What do you think of the Osprey Nova? Do you think it would make a great travel backpack, or do you prefer hiking packs, rolling luggage or duffel bags?