CabinZero All Lineup Scribble

The ultimate CabinZero review – Which CabinZero Backpack is the best for your travels?

In Sponsored, Travel Gear by Jaclynn Seah2 Comments

I’m a fairly recent backpack convert, especially after spending 16 months on the road during my Career Break travels. Gone are the days where I open a wheely suitcase and just fling stuff in willy-nilly – now I tote my backpack everywhere, try to be carry-on only as far as possible and I’m really conscious of what goes into my backpack whether it’s just a weekend trip or a longer journey.

Why carry-on only? It’s just easier to travel when you have less to manage on the road – you move lighter, more easily and deal better with tight cramped spaces like hostel rooms and train carriages for example. I’ve found that I don’t need that much to survive, and quite often I can get what I need on the road if I really have to.

Jac Changi Airport Departures

Toting the Classic – all packed and read to go for 4D3N in San Francisco!

It all started when I first acquired the blue CabinZero Classic backpack sometime in 2015 – I was looking for a decent carry-on backpack for weekend trips, and the idea of a bag that maximised regulatory cabin sizes just struck me as a really good idea. This 44L backpack soon became my main travel luggage, and I chose to carry the black CabinZero Military version all through my Career Break travels over 5 different continents. More recently, I got my hands on the new waterproof CabinZero Urban version to give it a test run.

CabinZero All Lineup Scribble

I started off with the Classic on the left, then the Military in the middle, and finally the Urban on the right

A quick disclaimer – while all 3 bags were sponsored by CabinZero or its distributor BOIA Pte Ltd, I definitely wouldn’t have ended up with 3 versions of the bag if I didn’t like it at all. Spoiler alert – I love this bag, but I’ve also found that each version has differing features that make quite a big impact on the user, so I wanted to be able to test them all for myself, show you these different features, and let you decide which version might fit your own travel style best if you’ve been thinking about getting one.

Also awesome – DISCOUNT CODES SAVE YOU 10% – Sign up for TOTmail or find out more here.

THE ULTIMATE CABINZERO REVIEW

Overall Features | Classic | Military | Urban | Final Thoughts | Where to Buy

 

So let’s get down to it:

OVERALL CABINZERO FEATURES

CabinZero All Lineup Back scribble

From the back

Stuff I like about the CabinZero:

  • All around loading – zippers open on 3 sides of the bag so you don’t have to yank everything out just from the top like a lot of hiking backpacks which are top-loading only
  • Relatively lightweight – the bags weight in at a lightweight 760g (Classic), 950g (Military) and 1,300g (Urban – it’s made of tarpaulin which is heavier)
  • Cabin friendly size – its 55cm x 40cm x 20cm dimension fits into most cabin regulations so you could go 100% carry on all the time. But that’s also if you don’t stuff the bag too full…
  • Very spacious – I’m not kidding when I say you can pack a ton of stuff in here. The problem I faced was that while the size passed, some budget airlines have a very low weight limit for carry-on luggage. At one point I was carrying 12-14kg in the Military version!
CabinZero All Straps Comparison scribble

The straps of all 3 bags for comparison – this turned out to be one of the most important things for me

Stuff I don’t like about the CabinZero:

  • Lack of pockets – while having less pockets means you can maximise that 1 large bag space however you want, it can make it hard to find stuff some times
  • Boxy shape – the rectangular shape is meant to absolutely maximise your carry-on dimensions compared to more cylindrical backpacks, but it can look a bit overwhelming or awkward, especially if you are very small framed
  • Laptop pocket – located on the inside back area of the bag, the position makes it such a bitch to yank your laptop out of your very full bag when going through airport security. I ended up using it mostly for separating relatively flat papers or hiding emergency cash in, and only putting my laptop in if my bag is not very full
  • Varying waterproofness – Have you ever wondered when a brand says waterproof or water resistant, what that means exactly? I’ll go into this in detail for each version because all the materials are different. My test basically involved me and a large mug of water, pouring it onto the bag and seeing how the material reacted to the water and whether it seeped through. The main point of weakness for all the bags is the zipper area which totally lets water through, even in the waterproof Urban version. So yes you still need a separate raincover for your bag!

A selling feature of the bag is also the Okoban tracking tags which essentially give your bag a tracking number in the Okoban database so it’s easy to match a lost bag to an owner. While I registered mine, it honestly doesn’t seem particularly useful because I’m not sure people even know how to use the Okoban system – I’m curious if anyone has actually lost and found their bag with this system? What would be actually awesome (but properly super expensive)? An actual tracking chip to see where my bag is at all times.

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Let’s look at the different versions and I’ll talk about pros and cons:

CLASSIC CABINZERO

South Sumatra Ranau Lake WIsma Pusri Jetty Shot

This is typically what my luggage situation is like – one large backpack, a smaller sling for important stuff. This is me at Lake Ranau in South Sumatra waiting to check in

This was my first CabinZero ever! I carried it first on a long weekend to Koh Samui and a week in South Sumatra, as well as the whirlwind trip to San Francisco.

CabinZero Classic Front-Back scribble

All the basics in the Classic

CabinZero Classic Interior-Pocket-Side scribble

The Classic was the first CabinZero on the market

Pros:

  • So many colour options omg – there are such pretty coloured and limited edition patterned options available for this model! Back when I got this there were less than 10 options – I picked the lovely Royal Blue, but given a choice now I’d consider the Samui Blue or the limited edition flags version
  • Side compression straps – this helps control the bag size, useful when you are carrying less things in the bag. It stops the bag from sagging outwards, which is both aesthetically and ergonomically pleasing
  • 36L and 28L versions available – if you find the 44L too big for you, there are smaller options available, though to me that kind of defeats the purpose of the CabinZero bag which is to max out your carry-on luggage requirements.
CabinZero Classic Wet

You can see that it’s somewhat waterproof – the water does seep into the material but it does pool as well. I had someone spill an entire cup of coffee on this bag once and I needed to wash it, but my stuff was mostly intact and dry

Cons:

  • No waist/chest strap – carrying this for awhile can get tiring without waist and chest straps to redistribute the weight
  • Not completely waterproof – The material is described as ‘waterproof nylon’ – when I poured water on to it, it does repel most of the water – there were little puddles of it on my bag surface. It does soak the material but not through to the inside – what that means is that your stuff is mostly safe from heavy rain apart from the vulnerable zipper area (make sure the zips are tucked in so they are covered and not bulging out), but you do need to sun or dry off your bag because carrying around a soggy backpack is gross.

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MILITARY CABINZERO

Career Break CabinZero Military Japan

Considering how much I carried this, it surprises me that I never took any photos of me actually carrying the bag. I think it’s because it was always too dang full! This was before I headed off to Tokyo

I got the Military in preparation for my Career Break travels, largely because of its straps which I’ll expand upon below. It spent a good 16 months on the road with me and has travelled to 5 continents, and has probably been carried on, checked in and tossed around just about everywhere.

CabinZero Military Front-Back scribble

You can see the padding on the back and the straps, making this the most comfortable of the CabinZeros to carry

CabinZero Military Interior-Pocket-Side scribble

Why no side handle??

Pros:

  • Padded chest and waist strap – this makes such a difference especially if you are carrying a lot in your backpack. I occasionally use the chest strap to help keep my smaller shoulder bags from sliding off when I am walking a fair distance
  • Adjustable and padded shoulder straps – besides the strap length, the Military shoulder strap has an additional clip that lets you adjust the angle of your bag at the shoulders. This helps to redistribute the weight to different parts of your back which means you don’t tax your back in one spot too much, and I can carry it for a longer time
CabinZero Military Shoulder Strap Top scribble

I usually tug or release these straps that are positioned above my shoulders when I carry the Military. They shift the angle of the bag on my body and redistribute the weight accordingly

Cons:

  • Limited colour range – there are just 3 colours: Black, Olive and Tan, and I went with black since I didn’t like the other 2 colours. Well these are military colours obviously, but it’s just a pity there isn’t something a little more exciting
  • No side handle – for some reason they decided to do away with the side handle, which means you can’t carry it briefcase style, and is one less helpful handle to haul it out of the luggage compartment. Not a big dealbreaker but just a tad inconvenient
  • Not waterproof at all – Of all the CabinZeros, this is the least waterproof of the lot. I had a backpack cover permanently attached to the top handle of my bag just in case it rained because when water gets poured on it, it soaks right through – anything in my outer pocket would definitely be wet if I got caught in the rain, as with anything on top of the bag. The zips are even more exposed than the Classic’s so that doesn’t help things, and while the bag is lined on the inside which gives you some scant protection against a drizzle perhaps, you definitely need to dry off that bag and your stuff if you get rained on. (Note: The CabinZero folk told me after they saw this review that the bag should be more waterproof than this, so I’m not sure if it’s just my bag or an actual material issue. They were a bit concerned by my remarks,  but I’m only telling you what I’ve experienced and tested for myself)
CabinZero Military Wet

You can see how the bag just soaks up the water, and when I peeked underneath, the water had seeped through to the pocket. The bag itself is lined so the main compartments would be a little bit safer, but having to dry your bag (or have it stink) is a bleah

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URBAN CABINZERO

CabinZero Urban Batam Back

Carrying the Urban in Batam

I got back from my Career Break and was pretty eager to see how this new version would compare to the others. I brought it with me to Beijing and Batam.

CabinZero Urban Front-Back scribble

Sleek, black beautiful

CabinZero Urban Interior-Pocket-Side scribble

See how when the bag is on its side, the zips are exposed on top? This… kinda defeats the purpose of making the rest of the bag waterproof

Pros:

  • Waterproof BUT SOME CAVEATS– YES this is such an important thing especially when you have such erratic weather patterns these days! It’s made of tarpaulin so water just rolls right off the bag – just take a cloth to it and wipe it off, no need to dry the bag. However, I wouldn’t go prancing around in the rain just yet – the way the bag is designed, the zips are exposed to the elements whether you carry it as a backpack or a messenger bag (they face upwards) which is honestly quite silly as these are the bits most vulnerable to water seeping through on the sides, and they are designed to almost form a catchment for rain so you’re guaranteeing yourself possible water seepage. Otherwise, the bag is pretty damn waterproof.
  • Convertible from backpack to messenger bag – this is a pretty cool feature, and is done via detachable shoulder straps and a long side strap so if you rather carry it messenger style, you can swap it over pretty easily and stylishly
  • Hidden shoulder straps – there is a zipper pocket in the outer back panel where you can stash the straps that you aren’t using. Good I think if you forced to check your bag in and don’t want the shoulder straps to catch on things
  • Large mesh inner pocket – I like being able to easily see what’s in my pockets so I don’t have to stick my hand in and dig around
CabinZero Urban Wet

Water doesn’t soak into the bag at all, just wipe and go

Cons:

  • Uncomfortable shoulder straps – the shoulder straps can be removed and tucked away so that they aren’t dangling and getting caught in stuff, but the flat design of the straps means that this bag is just not meant to be carried around for too long. I could feel the straps biting into my shoulders after awhile, quite a big no-no for me. The selling point here is the convertability and not the comfort.
  • No side compression straps – not being able to control the bag size with the compression straps is one of the biggest pitfalls of the Urban – my bag just looked huge all the time and I could feel it pulling backwards which isn’t very comfortable when you’re walking around
  • Weird zip placement – instead of opening around the side like the Classic and Military, the Urban has a bit of a lip so that when you place the bag down, you open up the top flap like a suitcase. On the one hand it means stuff doesn’t spill out as much when you open a very fully stuffed bag, but it also makes it harder to squeeze in extra stuff into the bag. I could put 2 layers of packing cubes in my Military, but there’s no way it was happening in the Urban. It doesn’t help that the Urban is also slightly smaller at 42L compared to its 44L siblings. This bit also contributes to the waterproofing issue point above.
  • No outside pocket – sometimes you just forget to pack stuff or you want something un-valuable that’s easily accessible without having to unlock your bag – you can’t do that with the Urban
CabinZero Urban From Side

You can see how the bag tilts outwards because there are no additional shoulder straps which the Military has to adjust the tilt of the bag. It’s not a big deal when you bag is light, but it makes such a difference when it’s heavy!

CabinZero Urban Transformation scribble

How the straps are hidden away

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SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

I actually thought that I would love the Urban best – it’s the sleekest looking, the waterproofing was a big plus for me and I thought being 2L wouldn’t make much difference, but it turned out to have the most cons for me as I just didn’t like the top-opening configuration and the straps were more of a dealbreaker than anything else. I’d suggest that if you get the Urban, to pack as light as possible or reserve it for weekend trips – the messenger configuration and uncomfortable shoulder straps aren’t great for carrying too much or for too long.

CabinZero Urban Front scribble

CabinZero Urban – More cons than pros for me!

Obviously you can tell that my favourite is the Military version, not just because of sentimental value (it’s travelled the most with me) but because it’s the most functional of the lot when it comes to packing a ton and comfort. It’s got the best straps of the lot so if you are planning a long trip like my Career Break or will be carrying quite a full pack, this is your best bet. Get a simple backpack cover and the main issue of not being waterproof is taken care of.

CabinZero Military Front scribble

CabinZero Military – Yes! If only it was waterproof

The Classic is basic, and if you aren’t looking to carry too much or too heavy (so the straps aren’t so important), and are more fashion conscious than anything else, the Classic gives you the widest colour choices so you’ll never have to worry about losing sight of your bag because of its distinctive hue.

CabinZero Classic Front scribble

CabinZero Classic – can’t go wrong with a classic!

If you look around on Instagram, CabinZero is doing some serious promotion with bloggers which has made their brand much more visible than when I started carrying it, which is awesome because I think it’s a great brand more people should know about, but with this sort of travel gear, I thought it would be much more useful to hear details from someone who has actually been carrying their bags intensively for almost 2 years now. I’m happy to try and answer any questions you might have about the bags as someone who’s personally tried them all.

In addition, the Cabin cubes set accessories are also extremely useful in organising your bag and 1 large and 2 medium fit into one layer of the CabinZero perfectly, so if you don’t already have packing cubes, I’d consider getting these (or other cubes with these dimensions – they’re not super strangely sized so you can probably find these dimensions on the market) as they fit in just nice. I have actually fit in 2 layers of the cubes (bottom layer very full, top layer not so full) into the Military version, but often my packing style is bottom layer cubes, top layer everything else in various small pouches.

CabinZero Classic with Cubes scribble

The Cubes are designed to fit in perfectly!

CabinZero Cube Large Bottom Layer

To give you a sense of how I pack – this is the Large cube – I roll all my stuff, and then I add in more flat folded stuff on top of this layer until the cube can’t close. You can pack quite a lot! This is 6 tops, 3 dresses, 2 pairs of pants – I piled on another 3 pairs of shorts, 2 heattech tops and probably a scarf or two!

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WHERE TO BUY CABINZERO

Pin it: The indepth review of all the CabinZero backpacks

You can buy online directly through the CabinZero website here. Use my discount code to get 10% off your purchase.

This is an affiliate link which means clicking through and making a purchase on this link may give me a small commission but it does NOT increase your cost in any way whatsoever. Small things like these help me keep the website going!

For Singaporeans who want to get their hands on the CabinZero, you can check out their Singaporean distributor BOIA, which also lists down the retail outlets where you can find the bags. I’ve also spotted the bag on online shopping sites Lazada and Q0010.If you are a CabinZero user, drop a note in the comments and tell me whether what you like or don’t like about the bag – everyone’s experiences and needs are different so I’d like to hear what you guys think.

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Comments

  1. Glad to see a no-holds-barred web review of a sponsored product for once! I have a 44L Vintage which is practically like the Classic. I love using it but the mesh has become slack, so it’s useless now. Detachable straps like those on the Urban would be nice and allow it to be checked-in if needed. Do you know of any roller bags with such a feature?

    1. Author

      Heh thanks! Well the Vintage is the only one I don’t have but it looks useful especially for wet ground! Yeah I don’t use my Classic mesh pocket much but yeah I know what you mean. Not too sure about roller bags because I honestly haven’t used one in a long time haha ;p

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