Road Tests :: Boreas Bolinas
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*.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
*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.