The Kathmandu Connect Smart Pack ($499.98) is a bag you can’t lose – but will you want to keep hold of it?
On the outside, the Kathmandu Smart Pack is an unassuming travel backpack. But inside you’ll find hidden tech.
Kathmandu claims this pack with “ground-breaking layers of security” means you can “stay connected while travelling for days without recharging”.
The brains of the Smart Pack is its Joey T3 controller, which uses Bluetooth to link to an app on your phone. This creates an invisible bond between the bag and your phone – if they become separated, an alarm sounds.
The alarm was easy to set up and worked well. Both phone and bag ring, so you’re protected if you wander off with your phone and not your bag, or misplace your phone. I got about 30m separation before an alarm sounded – or as soon as I walked behind a wall. The alarm shut off once I got back in range.
The Joey’s 6200mA battery also works like a powerbank to charge smartphones, tablets and other small devices. It allows “pass-through charging”, so you can boost a device while simultaneously recharging the Joey. Through the app, you can also opt to give devices a short charge (between 10 and 60 minutes).
The controller goes to sleep when not in use. A single charge lasted a three-day business trip – I had the separation alarm enabled while travelling and boosted my phone charge at the airport. It would have lasted a couple of days longer without recharging, too.
The pack was stopped once for a closer look at the airport x-ray machine. After a brief discussion, the staff sent it through. If it was stopped, the electronics could be removed for inspection (though doing so is a bit of a faff).
The “dumb” part of the Smart Pack is its well-designed 28L backpack. I really liked the attention to detail that made it, mostly, a pleasure to use.
It’s made of semi-rigid foam, which means the bag keeps its shape, even when empty. You can put it down to grab things without it flopping around, and it’s easy to see what’s inside. The downside is it’s bulky, even when empty. I was very aware of how big it was when standing on a crowded bus.
The Smart Pack had enough compartments to separate my gear, without so many that I forgot where I put everything. Two angled, full-length spaces make good use of the whole bag. One holds the Joey controller and has a pocket for cables, a flap to hold a phone while charging, and padded sleeves for a 15” laptop and a tablet. The main front space is big enough to swallow enough clothing and gear for an overnighter.
I used this bag on few short trips and on my daily cycle commute over winter. I found the harness comfy, even when the bag was fully loaded. It has a stabilising chest strap, though I wish it had a simple waist strap too, to stop it bouncing about. There’s a carrying handle on top, so you aren’t limited to using the back straps. Ideally one of the two outer side pockets would be elasticated to carry an easy-to-reach water bottle.
After a few months’ use in all conditions the Smart Pack looks as good as new. Grime from my cycle commute sponged off its smooth surface, and the pack remains unscuffed after some less-than-careful handling. While it shrugs off showers, and despite having covered zips that look waterproof, it doesn’t keep out a downpour. It looks business-smart, if a little dull, in timeless matt black (no other colours are available).
The Smart Pack is a well-designed travel backpack with useful tech packed inside. Would I buy it? If I needed a new travel bag, it’d make my shortlist. However, it’s expensive and I already have a good “dumb” travel backpack. I do like the “smart” part though, so I’ve put my own together using a 5000mA power pack and a Tile Mate tracker. The electronics cost me $65 and are totally portable – they can be placed into my current favourite backpack (or transferred easily to any bag I choose).
Dimensions: 54x34x26cm (fits Air New Zealand and Jetstar carry-on size)
Includes a USB-C cable (for charging the built-in battery)
Single USB-A port for charging devices
Kathmandu sells the Connect Smart Pack for $499.98. Or rather, it could. The prominent price in-store and online is the “members price”, currently $349.99 ($299.99 when I bought it). It’s easy to access the lower price – you just give up a few personal details, or wait for one of the regular store-wide sales.