Backpacks

Road Tests :: Boreas Bolinas

by , July 25, 2012

We put a versatile roll-top through its paces

There are two things you’ll probably pick up as you read this post:

1. We’re pretty darn excited about the stuff Boreas is doing

2. This pack is a good example of why we’re excited

So most products in the world just copy the leaders. We know that. Innovating is hard – one new idea leads to 39 new issues with that idea, so most crew don’t bother with the new bit*.

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Digging Boreas

The good innovation usually starts with an insight – something you’ve realised that most others haven’t. In Boreas’ case, their insight revolves around the realization that most outdoor packs are too complicated, resulting in carry that is too expensive and too purpose built.

If you’re going to fork out for a good pack, you want it to be versatile. So they make light, intuitive packs that can do lots of things. The Bolinas is a great example.

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The Bolinas

Put simply, the Bolinas is a lightweight roll-top that adapts to your needs. You can collapse the back ventilation system, you can cram the pack without needing to adjust compression straps, and you can haul work tools or play toys without stress. It retails in the US for $140.

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The Highlights

Intuitively adaptible: It’s alive! Well, sort of. The art to good bag design is understanding both hard and soft structures^. The Bolinas has a series of sections under elastic tension, so they can grow as you push more into them (picture lungs expanding as you draw in more air). Bag designers worked this out on sternum straps years ago (check yours out and you’ll see a bit of elastic that allows the otherwise restrictive strap to stretch as you breath). Boreas have worked out how to apply those principles to the main body, with those subtle texture stripes actually being stretch sections that grow until the backing fabric reaches its limit.

They also apply this concept to an elastic gusset retainer in the internal laptop or document section. This means you can pack anything from an iPad to a 17” MacBook beast in the one section. There are two compression straps, but they’re small, discreet, and only occasionally get called into action.

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Collapsible ventilation system: Curved ventilation backs work well for reducing back sweat, but really mess with carrying laptops and internal capacity. The Bolinas suspension system can be pulled into its curve, or released and flattened with a simple action. Every ventilation system should be like this.

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Pocketing: Those two lower external pockets? Yep, they stretch as well, adapting to whatever capacity you need them to.

There’s also a hanging pocket in our favorite zone, the high side internal pocket, which works a treat for delicates like sunnies or a phone. It’s two-layer and really water-tight, with both a zip flap and water-resistant zipper keeping any storm out.

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If backs bend: This can fit my 17” MacBook perfectly (yep, now a dinosaur), but it does keep it flat against your back. We talk pretty often about the issues in that, which would make you think that this pack would suck because of it. But ahhhh, enter the curved ventilation system. You load up just a little curve (you can’t have the full curve or your laptop won’t fit), and then when your back curves and pushes into the void, it keeps the hard laptop away from your spine. Sorted.

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Fabric: The lightweight 210D ripstop Nylon is running with a silicon backing, so it stays light while keeping a little more structure than a PU backing. It’s tech, but it’s perfect for this pack.

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Narrow webbing: The Bolinas generally runs with 15 mm and 20 mm webbing. That’s narrower than you’ll generally be used to, but it works really well, keeping weight and buckle size down.

Details: Hypalon grips, elastic strap holders, quick grab zip pulls, reflective bits and even a transparent window section. There are loads of details that show how much these guys care.

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Another awesome detail is the way the daisy chain equivalents are tucked away for only when you need them. The pop of color you get as they emerge again adds to that ‘life’ that you feel from this pack.

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The Lowlights

Almost enough pocketing: If you’re using this as a daily work bag, it could do with another hanging pocket on the other high-side. For instance, if you want to carry sunnies and a phone, you need a sunnies case to keep them behaving in the same space.

Frame shape: There’s a frame running around the perimeter of the pack which helps the ventilation system maintain its bend. The frame is generally really good, although you can get slight hot-spots at the lower corners when carrying heavy loads. This is accentuated when you have lots of bend in the frame. It’s not significant, however it feels like a touch more curl away in the frame design could reduce this.

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Roll-top ears: Most roll-tops suffer this – it’s the rabbit ears that hang in your peripheral vision when cycling, messing with your car vision.

Thankfully this is easy to solve, as you can curl the corners in as you roll, which fixes the issue.

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Airmesh: They are so close to getting rid of our pet-hate generic airmesh. We love the perforated EVA foam straps, the durable fronting mesh to these, and the large-scale collapsible ventilation system. But drats, they then cover the contact points in airmesh which can scratch and irritate on bare skin (yep, most other bags are guilty of this as well). If my Herman Miller chair can find non-scratchy stuff, I’m hoping Boreas can as well.

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Other bags to consider

In the more tech outdoor space, you’re comparing this pack to stuff like the Osprey Stratos series, Deuter AC Lite , Mile High Mountaineering Incline and even a Mountain Hardwear SummitRocket. But those bags won’t be as versatile, or do as well come work or city time.

In the more ‘active to work’ space, you should be looking at the usual gang like Mission Workshop Fitzroy, Slicks Suit25, and Timbuk2 Especial Tres, but those guys all weigh more and won’t have the same ventilation.

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The conclusion

These guys rock. They really know their stuff and we’re lucky to have them on the carry scene. Guaranteed you’ll see lots of these elements getting copied by other brands.

The Bolinas is a great pack. It’s techie (which will turn some people away from it as a work pack), but its lightweight and versatile nature means I’ve been addicted to this thing since they sent it to us (a big thanks for that).

Sure there are a few niggles, and it won’t hold loads of tech or work papers, but the good parts outweigh these significantly. We now rate the Boreas Bolinas as one of our very favorite backpacks.

Well done Boreas. Darn good stuff!

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Footnotes:

*Just watch how proudly Google talk about their new tablet, where almost every single element is copied from Apple, and you’ll realise how acceptible it’s become to copy rather than actually innovate.

^It’s why most product designers don’t make good bag designers – because they generally like dealing with hard and predictable surfaces. Then most fashion designers can only really deal with soft surfaces. The best soft goods designers understand what to make hard, what to make soft, and how to get the two traits talking to each other.

  • Logan

    I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to weigh in on the tablet wars, even in footnote form, without a more thorough treatment of product design surrounding electronics than your blog has the capacity to give. Your passing reference comes across as snide rather than illustrative.

    • Taylor

      I’m a full-time Industrial Designer, and I approve Ando’s comment on the tablet design (as well as the rest of his amazing Road Test, as always).

    • Ando

      If we don’t get at least a touch contentious, we’re probably failing at our jobs…

      The funny thing is, I didn’t actually think that was going to be contentious. If you totally ignore which brands you have loyalty to for which reasons, it’s pretty hard to argue that most new tablets are anything but facsimile copies of what Apple have created with the iPad.

      We can then argue that Apple have copied their design language from Dieter Rams, that they’ve copied their magnetic power supply connection from kettles in Japan, and all number of elements from all number of sources. I love that we can all get inspired by great designs, I just find it noteworthy how little ‘original’ design is now required to release our own versions of something new and interesting.

      For what it’s worth, I write and speak a bit around these themes for other blogs and design events. For me, the question of ‘when is it OK to copy?’ is best answered by – ‘when it doesn’t feel like you’re trying to pass it off as your own.’
      If you’re interested, here was a post talking more about these themes that then referenced Carryology, creating a crazy cross references loop that might explode the internet:

      http://unclutteredwhitespaces.com/2010/11/when-is-it-ok-to-copy/

      I’m not panning Google for it, I’m just saying that it is noteworthy how much pride they seem to show for something that is radically similar to an iPad. And I’m certainly not making judgements on the electronics behind the Google Tablet, only on the ‘design’, which is all of the stuff most users actually notice.

      And fair call on the ‘snide’ element. It does sound a little snide, which I wish I was a good enough writer to avoid, as I didn’t mean it to.

      • AlexC

        Funny how people always got to the iPad or iPhone for touchscreen tablets and phone yet no one ever remembers the pioneers like Palm Pilot and Eo tech.

  • http://sketchtonic.blogspot.com Dagnel San

    “^It’s why most product designers don’t make good bag designers – because they generally like dealing with hard and predictable surfaces. Then most fashion designers can only really deal with soft surfaces. The best soft goods designers understand what to make hard, what to make soft, and how to get the two traits talking to each other.”

    I’m totally agree with you Ando ;-)

  • Moritz

    Hi,

    I really feel you don’t like air mesh that much!
    What would you prefer instead? Can you give any examples for a good materials or solutions you like?

    I’am product designer as well and I can agree – Dealing with bags, backpacks or other softgoods is tough business an not comperable with designing consumer electronics or stuff. You really need to modify your way of thinking. BUT, it is possible ;)

    greetings Moritz

  • Kyle

    How water resistant is the main body of the pack? I see water beading up on it in pictures. Did you test the pack in the rain at all? What are your thoughts on using DWR to waterproof the body? As I’m thinking about this, the stretchy fabric may get damaged? However, you did describe a backing fabric, is this the same as the no-stretchy sections?

    Thanks for the great review Ando!

    Kyle

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      In the words of Boreas:

      “Fully waterproof packs are heavy, awkward and uncomfortable. But sometimes, you need a dry place. We split the difference—a water-resistant main compartment with a totally waterproof pocket for wallets, phones and anything else that get particularly uneasy in the presence of wet.”

      I have used the pack in light rain, and you just get a tiny trickle through the seams if you’re in the wet for awhile. The nylon ripstop already has a repellent finish, so it’s sorted, it’s just the seams that let a little through (not an issue for light rain).

      The stretch sections only have a slight stretch, and they always have the nylon behind them (with excess nylon to allow for some stretch), so I’m not worried about durability. Still, this is not a Goruck designed to be dragged through horror scenarios… this is lighter and suited to more normal person use. For what most people will do to this pack, it’s going to hold up great.

      • jau

        tell me they make a decent rainfly!

  • Rowan

    I love your site you have amazing reviews, But I have to Agree your footnote was snide particularly considering on a design aspect apple has set technology back years with there cripple design factor releasing slight changes in there products which could have been released years ago.

    No company is innocent and golden, they all steal from each other clearly evident in the latest ios for apple clearly ripping features off Googles android. Apple have spent the last 2 years litigating instead of innovating taking advantage of a broken patent system and it has cost them because it gives companies a chance to refine.

    Also with your argument on tablets how many ways can u shape a tablet without it looking the same lets face it outside of making it round, there is a reason the mac book pro looks like a laptop because that is what they look like.

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      Haha, OK, I’ll try to never comment on anything Apple vs Google…

      Now let’s all get back to talking about how amazing Boreas are!

      • Rowan

        lol, Indeed!

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  • hodor

    i ordered the boreas lagunitas bag from m.e.c.. it’s cheaper than ordering form boreas themselves and it’s in canadian dollars. love it. i am dying to try out the ventilation system on this bag. also love the whole design of boreas bags.

  • cran

    Enjoying your reviews, it’s really helpful. I’m thinking of ordering a Boreas Lagunitas, but couldn’t find much review/info on the web (i know it’s quite a new product, that’s why). Would appreciate if you can review it too! Thanks yo.

  • nomorewar

    i have been using the lagunitas for a few weeks now. the bag feels great on your back. the suspension does work. i don’t sweat as much anymore. one mishap did happen : the sternum strap snapped loose on me from one side. so be careful, my sternum strap rides up the rail really high and so it went off the rails so to say. this was not a big problem, you can re-insert the sternum strap onto the rail. another things is that there are a LOT of excess straps floating around the bag. it’s everywhere. now this can be just me but i like to really strap in my straps and i pull in everything very tightly. all in all, a great and a light bag. very water resistant. the lagunitas would make a great travel bag imo.

    • cran

      Thanks, nomorewar. Know where I could find photos/details of the compartments/insides? Thinking to use it as a minimalist one-bag lightweight travel. I’m bringing a laptop.

      • nomorewar

        the inside of the lagunitas is the same as photo 5 and 6. keep this in mind if you want to travel with this bag : it has a stiff frame. you can’t really bend this bag.

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  • Vince

    You say that this bag is lightweight. Does that also mean that you do not think it will last much more than a year or two?

    • http://www.carryology.com/ ando

      No.

      If you are reasonably careful with your bags, it should last well for many years.
      It’s not built to be dragged across tarmac, but it is well constructed, reinforced in key regions, and comes with a lifetime warranty.

  • Nate

    Thanks so much for this review. I’ve been looking for a bag that would work as a bike commute pack (i.e., keeps your back reasonably dry), holds a lot of stuff, and is reasonably priced, and I think this might be it.

    Question though–does this work with roll top expanded for a short time? I would want to use the bag for groceries sometimes, so that expanded carrying capacity could be very helpful. The Boreas website says it’s 31L, which is pretty big, but it looks smaller in these photos…so basically, what’s your opinion on its usage for groceries?

    • Ando

      A bit but not heaps.

      Let me explain a little more…

      Some roll tops do that extender thing crazy lots – ie: http://www.carryology.com/2012/07/28/liking-the-flextrek-whipsnake/

      The issue with too much tube extension is that you have to roll all of it every time you open the bag. The Boreas runs with a bit less than many, because the fabric is thinner so can roll more tightly, so you don’t need as much length to roll it.

      There is certainly room to grow, but not to Whipsnake levels.

      • Nate

        Thanks for your response! lol @ the whipsnake…that’s amazing. If you have the Bolinas stuffed though, will the buckle reach around to keep it closed? Or do you have to leave it open at the top?

        I’m also curious, is there a good place to put a U-lock anywhere on this bag? As I mentioned, I’m looking to use this as a bike commute bag and would prefer not to just be sticking the lock with all my other stuff. Thanks.

        • http://www.carryology.com/ ando

          You can see in some of the images how much webbing extension you get from the roll closure. There’s a little there, but not loads.

          And I didn’t find a perfect place for the U-lock, but there are lots of OK places you can work with… Small locks can fit in the pockets. Or there are the blue gear loops that can emerge from their caves near the outside base of the bag, and the waist strap can wrap back around the pack, so between those 2 points, they’d handle a large lock.

          I just threw mine in the bag, but mine is not too grimy.

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