I just got back from a whirlwind trip in New York City where I traversed the city by foot, taxi, and subway, ate in some of the best restaurants, and cheered some 40,000 participants in the New York City marathon as they passed the 26 mile mark. With me on the trip from the West Coast was the Cote et Ciel Rucksack. If you recall from my preview, I was really stoked on the features of the pack when it arrived, but what I really wanted to see was how it would perform in the field. Click through to read the full review…
Hardware - I will try not to reiterate too much from the preview, but I have to say that the hardware Cote et Ciel chose for the rucksack was top notch. You often don’t see an intersection of good design with real-world practicality but this is exactly what they were able to accomplish. For example, instead of the nylon webbing material that is found on 99% of all backpacks, they went with a durable but soft-to-the touch fabric for the straps. Due of their inherently smoother texture, they easily slide through the rings but were still grippy enough to lock securely.
The buckles performed great and deserve another mention. They are a special pivot type I’ve never seen before and the extra ~50 degrees of movement it gives allows for a level of freedom you did not realize you needed until you’ve used the rucksack.
The zippers are top notch with large pull-tabs, complete with curved sections and r0unded edges. They are large size coils, which were continually tested by my overzealous stuffing of the main compartment.
The top handle is a welcomed addition and in my opinion, a must have for any daily-use backpack or messenger bag. Designs that omit this feature (presumably in the interest of aesthetics) are really hurting the user. The handle on the Cote et Ciel rucksack is thick and double stitched. It feels like it can support a ton.
Design – It really is a great looking bag (and pretty original too). I have not seen anything like it. The lines are organic and not industrial looking but at the same time, it’s not a art-school project. It shows evidence of an eye towards usability.
Durability – I was not friendly to this bag. I used it as my secondary carry-on which meant it was stuffed under the seat in front of me on both a regional jet and a commercial airliner. I also stuffed it to the brim (more on this later) and often stepped on the sides as I struggled to find a place for my feet in all too familiar cramped legroom of economy class [Ed note: This is one of the reasons why we avoid hardcase carry-ons!]. I also walked through rain and heavy wind with the bag on and it still looks brand new.
Organization - I have a lot of stuff. I really mean it. A lot. I was glad for all the compartments in the bag. Let’s list them off – main compartment, long zippered bag in main, small zippered bag in main, laptop/iPad compartment, 4 webbed compartments, magazine/document sleeve, and another long zippered compartment running the width in the rear. I carried: scarf, gloves, pens, Moleskine, Doane Paper notepad, Canon Elph, Panasonic LX3, Canon SLR and 2 lens all in a camera bag, Microsoft Zune HD, USB flash drive, Kindle, 2 magazines, airline boarding passes, Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10, keys, and a handful of other miscellaneous items. Most of the smaller items were placed in the rear laptop section and their compartmentalization really kept things organized and easy to fetch.
Straps - I know what you’re thinking. I just mentioned how awesome the straps were on top and now I am dissing them? Well hear me out, please. Because the pack is worn vertically, depending on what you are storing in the center compartment, the dual straps may not really be effective. I tried strapping down a fleece jacket and as soon as I turned the bag upright, it just slide through both straps and hunkered down on the bottom. I suspect anything heavier or more rigid than clothing would also make it past the grips. Perhaps one improvement could be thin rubberized lines applied to the bottom of the strap. This is a minor point since one could just avoid using the straps all together.
Rear Panel - I suspected this would be an issue with my preview and in my use it’s definitely a problem. Due to a combination of the semi-rigid top area of the back straps plus a small stuff “hood” at the top of the rucksack, it is very cumbersome to open and close the rear panel. Since most of my things were stored in the rear, this meant struggling to open and close it half a dozen times during the cross-country flight. I actually dreaded each time I had to take out my Kindle or put away a pair of headphones. In practice, we are not talking about a huge amount of time lost (seconds), but it is fairly frustrating. When you reach for a bag and want to unzip it, you want one smooth motion, not to be interrupted by snags or awkward routing.
Update: Cote et Ciel has reached out and let us know that the rear panel is being redesigned in the next release of the bag.
Conclusion – If you couldn’t tell already, I am a fan of this bag. It comes from a Parisian design collective and they were able to produce something that is both visually appealing as well as performing well. The materials they chose are soft to the touch, yet durable and functional. It is great for weekend jaunts to your favorite spot up the coast or even short flights when you’re packing light. Or be like me and use it as both a carry-on and your city bag. The bag comes in a variety of subtle colors (makes matching easier) and two sizes to support the MBP 15″ or 17″.
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