Road Test | Boreas Gear Repack 15
The carry world had a more than just their morning espresso to wake up to when word of San Francisco start-up Boreas hit the blogosphere. Comprised of industry veterans from brands such as The North Face and Eastern Mountain sports, Boreas aims to cut the fat that they feel is weighing down (figuratively and literally) the carry industry and return the focus to clean design and functionality. Creating versatile bags destined for specific purposes, the brand is starting out with a Fall launch of four models. Today, we’ll take a look at the smallest offering, the Repack, a 15 liter bag designed to be used as a fast-going, active, day pack.
The bag weighs just over a pound and has a torso measurement of 18.5″ which I would classify as Small/Medium. It’s made of primarily 140D nylon ripstop with a UTS silicone coating. What that means to you and me is that the pack is waterproof yet remains soft and supple instead of brittle the way bags with polyurethane (PU) can get.
It has one large main compartment which you access with dual zippers which run nearly the full perimeter. Inside, you’ll find a simple cavity void of any superfluous pouches or compartments. There is a simple sleeve area and a buckled loop to hold a hydration pack. Speaking of bladders, the Repack allows you to route the tube through your choice of left or right shoulder; which is perfect for lefties.
On the top of the pack, you’ll find a smaller compartment in the lid. It has a simple clip for your keys and is meant to hold small items you want to reach quickly such as sunglasses, wallet, cell, GPS, etc. If you don’t put much in the top compartment, it folds forward and flat when cinched down – a nice touch. The chest stability strap is designed very well. I have seen three or four techniques manufacturers have implemented to adjust the position of chest straps, but I like the Repack’s the best. The straps are attached via friction fit on a semi-rigid “rail” that goes up and down both sides of the chest. Simply adjust your shoulder straps, waist belt, then move the chest straps into place. This is a great system which allows for the full range of adjustment; a real godsend for women.
At first glance, the Repack looks like your standard run-of-the-mill fastpack but upon closer inspection, you start appreciation the subtle details that are there; or in some cases, what’s not there. What really stood out to me was how the Boreas designers went through a typical pack and really trimmed away what wasn’t needed. The Repack holds 15 liters which is more than enough to get you through a day in the city or a few hours hiking up and down the local hills at night, but relatively speaking is a light bag. Since the Repack was intended for these quick adventures, it is not intended to carry a large amount of weight or volume. All around the bag, you will notice how Boreas kept this in mind as they designed the bag.
Minimized or eliminated straps: The top carry handle (bless them for including one), is simply a band about twice the thickness of paracord. The strap is comfortable to hold despite its narrow profile. I can imagine that if you were to lift a large amount of weight, the cord would start cutting into your fingers, making it uncomfortable. However, this is unlikely because, again, this bag is not designed to haul large loads. Why have a large wide strap, if this is the case?
The same is true for the tightening straps for the shoulders and the compression straps on both sides of the main compartment. Something stood out about them but I could not place my finger on it. Then it dawned on me that the width of the straps was oh so slightly smaller than the other bags I owned. In cases, where a wide strap helps with load or comfort, they should be used. Otherwise, go for narrow.
I also noticed the lack of load stabilizer all together. Two straps plus clips would mean additional weight for a feature not really needed in a pack this size. Where they don’t skimp is the straps to tighten the waist belt. They are a nice 1.5 inches wide and keep things nice and snug.
Hidden gear loops: There are cleverly implemented gear loops hidden in both the shoulder straps as well as down the center of the pack. When they are not in use, they lay perfectly flat under two flaps. When you need them, you simply hook a finger down and pull them out individually. There, you can hook on a carabineer and carry a water bottle, headlamp, trekking poles etc.
Daisy chained webbing is not new on packs but most companies don’t do it well. Boreas knows that having too much gear dangling from your pack can throw off the balance and just create a real uncomfortable experience, but they also know the customers demand it. As a compromise, they’ve provided plenty of loops but found a way to keep it unobtrusive. It’s a marvel to use and something you really need to see in person to appreciate. You would never know it’s there from just looking at the pack but it totally speaks to Boreas mantra.
Snug, comfortable fit: It’s really hard to quantify how a pack feels or fits since it’s so subjective. I will say, that for me, this bag wears like a dream. The molded foam, corrugated backpanel provides multiple entry and exit ways for airflow between your back and the bag, minimizing that awful sweaty back syndrome. On the back panel Boreas are using a flat mesh (which is not airmesh) over the perforated EVA Foam. The undersides of the shoulder straps are using airmesh. The top sides of the shoulder straps are flat mesh covering die cut eva foam.
The padding design in the shoulders straps should be highlighted as well. Instead of the aforementioned wave designed, there’s a criss-cross “snowflake” patter in the shoulders. A pack resting on the back behaves differently than a strap on a shoulder/chest so they must be cooled differently. In contrast to the minimized straps, the belt is large and that plays a key role in how comfortable the whole system works. Proper load carrying dictates that most of the weight should rest on your waist, not your shoulders. With a comfortable strap, the bag all but disappears. When the x-bungee and compression straps are used, the Repack gets downright flat. Like I mentioned, it expands to a respectable 15 liters but if you are only lugging a light jacket and a hydration pack, there’s no reason not to tighten it down.
Accessory pouches: Most of the bag is made out of ripstop nylon so I paused when my hand ran over the waist pockets. Sporting one on each side, the pockets are quite large and feature a fine stretch mesh. The designers cleverly placed a semi-rigid liner along the top of the pouch which creates a pillowy volume, rather than a lay-flat pocket. How many times have you reached for a wallet or keys inside a rigid flat pocket only to struggle to find then grasp the item? The pockets on Repack waist-belt are a joy to use. Personally, it’s where I am keeping my headlamp/flashlight, wallet, and GU packs.
Small details: It’s the small details that can really make or break a bag, and thankfully the Repack gets most of them right. One such detail is how the waist straps run a reverse tightening system. Normally, when you are facing someone wearing a pack , the buckle system is the most forward-facing element on the waist. However, on the Repack, they designers laced the buckle so it’s underneath the adjustment straps. So instead of pulling outwardly, left and right, to tighten, you grab the straps and pull forward. It makes for a slight speed improvement which means you are on the trail quicker.
The criss-cross webbing on the outside makes it easy to quickly attach a shell on your way out the door. It also makes it easy to quickly retrieve said shell if the weather takes a turn.
The branding is very minimal on the Boreas bags and the Repack is no exception. The sample I was sent had a very attractive embroidered logo on the side and the brand name on the lower part of the bag. However, I am told that come August the “Boreas” logo and the winged icon will be eliminated altogether and the only branding will be way of a small woven label in one of the seams.
I really like the pull tabs on the zippers, which, by the way, are quite minimalist. I have to say, I appreciate Boreas not using beefy zippers when it’s not necessary. However, there were some rare occasions when I experienced a snag or a not-so-smooth action.
Oh, and you even get the now somewhat obligatory chest strap whistle. May as well…
The way it sits: Not only is the bag frameless but it also lacks any sort of structure. Think of it as more of a sack with backpack characteristics. It holds itself a lot different than a traditional pack. There is really no stiffness in it at all so if you place it down by your feet, it will collapse on itself (depending on how full it is). In some ways this is good. For example, if you only put a few things in the main compartment, you can cinch everything down and it’ll be really compressed and compact. From an aesthetics point of view, I don’t really like this. The bag only looks “right” when you fill it to the top. If the main compartment is not entirely full/stuffed, the top compartment (lid), droops to one side. The effect is pronounced if you have the top compartment full of things (e.g. if you make the bag top heavy).
Belt buckle stiffness: It takes a real effort to release or attach the two buckles together on the waist strap. This is no surprise since they are beefy pieces, but I would like to see ones that are easier to operate.
Best Suited To
Short active pursuits: For hikes under three hours, or trailblazing through the local mountains to test out your new shoes, the Repack 15 would be ideal. It has bladder support and can easily carry a 100 oz. bladder, which should buy you time on the trail.
Daypack needs: The Repack would also be good for an all-day pack, perhaps touring a city. It holds just enough stuff and has the features for load-carrying, which means less fatigue from carrying your gear and more energy devoted to taking in the sights and sounds. Just don’t try to lug much tech around in it… it’s still an outdoors oriented pack.
Not Suited To
Multi-day hikes or endurance pursuits: This bag is not designed for overnight trips or multi-day affairs. It simply cannot carry enough water or supplies for those endeavors. Loading the pack up too much would also overwhelm comfort features, making it a bear to use.
Those needing quick and constant access to gear: If you are in a situation where you are constantly needing to reach for some gear, this is not ideal. Due to it’s minimalist design and large main compartment, it can get annoying to search for items in the main compartment. Despite it being the smallest bag, 15 liters is still quite a lot of space. If you need to reach down to grab a small Gel or Powerbar and it’s at the bottom of your bag, good luck. Make sure you use the side compartments for small items. If you’re looking for something to carry your books, this is not the bag for you.
Shifting foam pads: While there is likely little to no functional disadvantage to having it the way it is, I don’t like how the foam panels seem to shift and slide inside a pocket. I prefer to have them snug and static. In both the waist strap and the back, there is excess mesh material and I am used to things being more taut. The reason the pads do this is because they are only secured on the top and bottom. The team at Boreas thought it was best not to puncture the padding in the center, which would have kept it taut. So far I haven’t seen any performance differences but I do notice that the whole bag “carries” itself funny, with the rolling foam pads not helping.
Lack of compartments: I know, I know. I am praising the pack for being minimalist and now I am asking for more compartments. I am an organizational freak and the problem with large volumes of space is things get lost. If you dropped a small object down in a bag with lots of things, it’d take some digging to find. I would like to see just one or two small compartments or sleeves in the top pouch area.
Belt buckle tensioning off: I am not sure if it’s just the sample bag I received or an issue with the tension of the buckles, but every time I went to tighten the buckles on the waist belt, one side would tighten faster than the other. This resulted in the buckle being off center. In addition to it looking weird, it also makes the pack sit slightly off. It’s not hard to adjust but it’s annoying to have to do so each time you put on the pack.
Any envy for a similar bag?
I’ve had my eye on the Arcteryx Aerios 14 for a while. It’s a decidedly different look and feel but I think it and the Repack are of the same kin. It’s a body hugging design with hydration support and is designed for the trails. I have a soft spot in my heart for Arcteryx gear.
I think Boreas has a winner on their hands here. The founders have a point – people are being sold bags that are too technical and complicated when they are participating in activities that are quite simple. It’s clear they went back to the drawing board, designing the Repack from the ground up, removing any unnecessary features and trimming the fat. The pack currently resides in my trunk, complete with a Camelbak Antidote bladder, headlamp, knife, pants, and pull-over fleece. It’s lightweight, can hold a ton if needed, or strap down nice and compact. It has just the right features. Although it’s not perfectly suited to my fit preferences, those are minor complaints and don’t detract from the usefulness of the pack.
Editor’s Note: If you want to peel a whole grip of photos that David took, hit this link.
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