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Road Tests

Road Tests :: Mission Workshop Vandal Backpack

by , July 11, 2010
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I’ve wanted to get my hands on a Mission Workshop pack from the moment I saw one… (cue cheesy music)

The guys that helped kick start Chrome bags have moved on and started afresh. Their Vandal and Rambler packs are roll-tops like the Chrome line-up, but with the ideas pushed further.

They’ve been good enough to send us a Vandal (the larger of the two), which I’ve been using for well over a month now, with both daily ritual and interstate trips covered. It’s a great pack, and is holding up well to the abuse.

Mission Workshop Vandal

The Mission Workshop guys were awesome in sending us this pack, and also in agreeing that we shouldn’t hold back. So I want to cover both the highlights, and the areas that I think could be improved.

As always, this is an honest review of both the good and the not as good. We’re just lucky that the pack is mostly good…really good.


  • Name: Vandal
  • Brand: Mission Workshop
  • Format: Backpack
  • Measurement: 15'' x 21'' x 6''
  • Capacity: Compact: 1,800 cu.in. (29 L); Expanded: 4,000 cu.in. (64 L)
  • Weight: 4.4lbs (2 kg)
  • Zippers: Urethane-coated
  • Material:
  • PriceUS$ 324.98


Who It Suits

Commuters: This bag lets you live on your bike, responding to any impulse and taking everything you need with you. There are not many bags that do that.

Adventure seekers: This thing can roll with any mission, adjusting and responding as you need it to.

Experienced bag users: I wasn’t sure whether to put this in or not, but the Vandal is a reasonably complicated pack. There are a lot of configurations, sections, and inter-relationships of space, so you need a bit of nous to get your head around it. Having said that, when you do, you get rewarded with an amazingly flexible tool.

Who It Doesn't

Tech fiends: There is still an under-supply of pocketing if you carry a heap of tech. You can get around this with good inserts, but make sure you plan for that.

Mission Workshop Vandal



I’m still a sucker for a good-looking pack. Roll-tops just look more grown-up and better, and the Vandal is probably the most evolved roll-top of any. The fabric was a little techie for my initial taste, but it has really grown on me when I see the upsides to its water-resistance and reflectiveness (visibility at night is pretty important).

Mission Workshop Vandal


The build quality is high, looking as good in the flesh as it does in the photos. The main elastic closure is awesome. It serves as a quick lock-down for the roll top (if you can’t be bothered rolling), but more impressively, it lets you tuck a helmet, jacket, or even a Baby Bjorn behind it, providing quick access without issues. The elasticity also means you rarely need to adjust it, with it stretching to fit most needs.

Mission Workshop Vandal

"The main elastic closure is awesome. It serves as a quick lock-down for the roll top (if you can’t be bothered rolling), but more impressively, it lets you tuck a helmet, jacket, or even a Baby Bjorn behind it, providing quick access without issues."

Mission Workshop Vandal


It’s a really well-made pack, with good componentry and quality fabrics. On a personal take, I would swap the common airmesh for something less scratchy on bare skin (almost all bags have this though) and upsize some of the zips, but that would bring other compromises.



The MW guys have found a great compromise with this format. In regular configuration, the pack is about the right size for a trip or gear-filled daily commute. But when you need it to, the Vandal will grow like the Hulk, swallowing whole cities in its wake. Why does this matter? Have you ever tried to bike home your weekly shopping? I can finally stop dangling bags from my handlebars. The pack's massive expansion abilities are wonderfully demonstrated here.

Mission Workshop Vandal

"In regular configuration, the pack is about the right size for a trip or gear-filled daily commute. But when you need it to, the Vandal will grow like the Hulk, swallowing whole cities in its wake."

Pockets and Organizing

There really is nowhere great for your sunglasses or delicates. A good delicates pocket should be set high on the bag, preferably nearer the back (least likely spot to get crushed). I got around the lack of one by carrying a padded pouch in one of the other sections.

Mission Workshop Vandal

"There really is nowhere great for your sunglasses or delicates."

Mission Workshop Vandal

All the sections in the Vandal go right to the base. This means that items all drop to the bottom, start to get jammed, and then you fill in above them. With a small tweak, the front section could finish just above the front zip pockets (becoming a delicates section), the next section could finish an inch or two above the floor (to work better as a suspended laptop pocket), and the expansion and rear sections could remain floor to ceiling.

"All the sections in the Vandal go right to the base. This means that items all drop to the bottom, start to get jammed, and then you fill in above them."

Mission Workshop Vandal

Because the bag spoils us for choice with sections, it is a little limited with pockets. I ended up needing some modules (I wish I had a simpler life). I put in a padded pouch for a small camera and sunnies, a laptop sleeve for my 17" MacBook, and another case for all my tech cables.

Mission Workshop Vandal


If you want your waist belt to take any real load, you need your pack to have some rigidity and structure (otherwise the load cannot be ‘lifted’ from your hips). The Vandal has a semi-rigid back panel that achieves this (making it better for hauling heavy loads). The downside to this is that if you bend your back a fair bit when riding, the pack does not bend with you as much. It’s fine, just not super fine.

Mission Workshop Vandal

Speaking of hips, the waist belt is great. Wide, well structured with high density foam, and removable. I used it when traveling, then removed it when riding/commuting (it can lock your bending a little on the bike).

"...if you bend your back a fair bit when riding, the pack does not bend with you as much."

Mission Workshop Vandal Waist Belt


A pretty severe afternoon downpour and I shared some intimate time together, and the Vandal did not let a single drop in. I had all of my tech inside, and it came through unscathed. The coated fabric also means that the bag outer resists water-logging, remaining light and quickly drying.

"...the waist belt is great. Wide, well structured with high density foam, and removable."

Mission Workshop Vandal

Alternatives to Consider

Roll-tops are just starting to find their feet in the backpack game. The most similar packs are from Chrome, T-Level and Sag. But of all these, the Vandal is my new favorite. It just seems to have pushed the ideas further.

The Good

  • Great expansion capabilities to suit a variety of loads
  • Weatherproof construction
  • Versatile design for work, travel or play

Not So Good

  • Lack of pocketing for delicates, small items and tech gear
  • Items drop to the bottom of the full-length sections and get jammed
  • Semi-rigid back panel can be restrictive while cycling with the pack

Mission Workshop Vandal


This really is a great pack – one that innovates in a bunch of ways. While it’s been built with a cyclist in mind, it will still work great for climbers, surfers, dungeon masters and any number of adventure seekers as their go-to backpack.

Expansion and versatility are perhaps its biggest trump cards, but water-resistance, comfort and great looks all help.

While we found a few small things that in our eyes might be improved, we also acknowledge that these are things that are mostly about broadening its appeal – getting it more suitable to the laptop and tech wielding crowd (which many commuters now are).

"Expansion and versatility are perhaps its biggest trump cards, but water-resistance, comfort and great looks all help."

Good stuff, Mission Workshop, this is a big step forward.

Mission Workshop Vandal


We have had several crew saying that they are trying to choose between this pack and a Chrome roll-top. The major difference that we see is that the Chrome perhaps pips the Vandal for a fashion look, while the Vandal wins from a performance and technical standpoint. We’ll review the Chrome soon for more insights…

They are definitely conceived from the same parents though, so you can’t go too wrong with either.

Mission Workshop Vandal and Chrome Ivan roll-top

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
Brand experience
X Factor

Reader's Review

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All Reviews

  • Ando

    Johnson has got in touch to share a neat organiser that would be right at home in the front section of the Vandal. Check out http://www.usoutdoorstore.com/outlet/sea-line-urban-backpack-organizer.html for a basic organiser option.
    Or just dig up a pencil case, toiletry bag, or some other sort of organiser (like the stuff from a brand like Eagle Creek http://www.eaglecreek.com/accessories/accessories_packing_solutions/ )

  • huy

    I’m really interested to see this bag directly compared to the Chrome Ivan or Sultan. The material and craftsmanship definitely looks a lot nicer and more refined, albeit more technical.

    • Ando

      When I return from my current trip, I’ll snap a couple of shots of the two bags side by side (and add them to the post), as many of our community are weighing up between those two backpacks.

      The Chrome’s polyester fabric is more matte, giving it a more ‘clothing like’ look. When you add the metal pocket closures, the Chrome does have a pretty dapper look going on.

      The MW has the external fabric coating that improves water shedding, and lighter weight plastic buckles, with the net result that it looks more ‘tech’.

      If looks really matter, IMHO the darker grey for the MW is the better looking colourway, but the lighter grey is better for bike visibility.

      Ahhh, just buy them all!

  • http://www.exclamationspace.com Johnson

    Just a few follow ups with the Vandal Backpack review.

    1. When the main cargo compartment is zipped up for it unexpanded size, would a standard water/sports bottle fit between the gusset and the zip? And are the gussets waterproof too?

    2. Would the higher of the two front folding sections fit a Crumpler 15″ School Hymm laptop case? Height: 27 cm / 10.6 inches – Depth: 5 cm / 1.9 inches. http://www.crumpler.com/AU/Laptop-Bags/Laptop-Carrying-Cases/School-Hymn-M.html?SKU=SH0206A

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      another of our Carryologists has the bag at the moment, so let me give an initial answer, and then I’ll follow up in a fortnight when I get it back.

      1. There’s no great spot to carry a water bottle with this pack. The space b/w the gusset and the zip will fit one high up, but not low down where you would most like to position it. Still, it does fit higher up, so that’s something.

      2. When I get the pack back, I’ll measure the opening to see if your laptop case will fit. I can get my 17″ MacBook in with a neoprene sleeve around it, but that’s a reasonably tight fit.

      • http://www.bellroy.com ando

        Johnson, I’ve checked, and the Crumpler School Hymm should just fit the hanging pocket section. I had about a thumb’s gap around those dimensions when I tried them in it. Just don’t go down in size to the Rambler pack for your laptop, because that won’t fit the zip pockets on that.

  • http://designgoat@blogspot.com Cian

    I just picked up a Rambler from the MW guys on a visit to London.
    Putting it through some distance/storage/cargo/Irish weather tests at the moment and I’ll be sure to post my findings here as soon as I gather them.

    Initial thoughts: Very comfy on and off the bike, easy on the eyes, but not so much on the wallet! Also, as stated, there is a distinct lack of organisation pockets, though this is common in cargo/waterproof bags and means less weight and potential water leakage…

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      The Rambler (the Vandal’s smaller sibling) just has a really friendly feel to it. That slightly smaller size seems to take away some of the intimidation factor.

      Definitely keep us posted with how it wears in…

  • http://scott.arbeitman.id.au/ Scott Arbeitman

    I bought a Chrome bag in SF, but that was before I went to MW. The guys at MW seem like really nice, down to Earth people. They were super friendly, but unfortunately, the place was a little messy are they were preparing for an art exhibit. Not that I minded…

    I’m very happy with my Chrome Soyuz – the way it looks and its nice slim design – but I think having a bag that expands like a mother-bitch like the Vandal or Rambler would have been handy on numerous occasions so far. Oh well, if anything, its keeping me from buying too much on my travels.

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      The Soyuz is a great looking slim pack. We’ll be interested to hear how you go.

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  • Justin

    Actually all 3 bags reference here were designed by the same person. Mission Workshop was founded by the original Chrome owners/designers. The MW bag is an evolution of their previous designs.

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      Yeah, Bart and Mark are pretty talented cats. Looking forwards to seeing their ideas continue to evolve…

  • Keilani

    Alright, so I’m 5’1. I’m also pretty set on getting a roll-top. But I guess by definition roll-top bags are pretty big.

    Anyway, would the Rambler be too big for a really small person on her fixie?

    • Ando

      Keilani (amazing name by the way… your folks had some taste),
      we’ve pinged the guys at MW a note to see if they have any images of suitably sized models wearing their Rambler.

      In the meantime, we found this shot of a vertically challenged Japanese charger sporting one next to a Vandal wearer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluelug/4849530192/

      To us, slightly oversize bags are like oversize watches… kinda cool if you have the attitude to pull it off.

      We’ll see if the MW guys have any images that are a little more ‘calibrated’…

      • Keilani

        Well, that was quick! Thanks on all counts.

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  • Will

    Having a pretty hard time chosing here.
    I’m looking for a bag that covers my entire back, I’m 6 foot and have a quite a wide stature (rugby player), so the obvious choice would be the ivan?
    But, I really prefer the vandals layout and versatility, and I think it would be a much better bag for my needs. Would it fit across broader shoulders?

    • Ando

      Gosh, late replies. So sorry Will.
      Both bags are pretty big. While the Ivan is broader, neither will look silly small on you, so I’d go the one that seems to have better functionality for you.

      • Matthew

        My question is similar to Will’s. I’m 6’6″ and built like a basketball player (not nearly as wide as a Rugby player). I”m trying to find a good roll-top. I do two overnight trips a week, every week, for work and need to carry the laptop, a change in clothes, and a few odds and ends (coffee mug, lunch, thermos, etc). I need to look professional, in a business casual way. The Vandal, the Ivan, the GR-2, and the Arkiv R6 are all at the top of my list. In recommendations?

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

          If you have randomness in your life, the Vandal can out expand any other bag on that list. The compromise is that the spare fabric for expansion gets in the way a touch during day to day (and weighs a bit). It almost works better for travel than for work.

          If you always lug lots, the GR-2 is great, but it is a big bag, so you might sometimes feel like you’re rocking up to work with your travel gear.

          The R6 is the sharpest for a work environment (go black with side pockets). The downside is that it will be the least awesome for organising clothing.

          The Ivan is a great looking bag, but I feel like these others have raised the bar in terms of functionality, so I’d drop that from the list (unless you just love the style).

          So, if you want to optimise for the traveling/packability, go GR-2. If you want to optimise for versatility/load expansion, go the Vandal. If you want to optimise for professional vibe, go the R6.

          Does that help?

          • Matthew

            Thanks for the reply. I was originally all about the Mission Workshop bags, but the article on the Ivan v. Vandal Head-to-Head got me thinking about the Chrome. Especially since one could get an Ivan and a Sotnik for the price of a R6 with 2 side pockets and a laptop sleeve.

            Has there been upgrades to the Vandal since the head-to-head that pushes it into the number 1 slot?

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

            No updates we know of. I think it’s that you’re keen to use this bag for lots of travel, which is a weakness of the Ivan. When overfilled, it balloons out and gets uncomfortable.

  • Pingback: Head to Head | Bike Oriented Backpacks – Carryology()

  • http://blog.spencerpage.com.au Spencer Page

    This is why I got the Vandal…

    (That is an ancient Crumpler Seedy Three crammed on top of it..)


    It was brilliant for my recent canadian holiday. I wanted a small bag around cities when I was riding around, but something that could carry all my shit inbetween cities. How? The Vandal’s secret portal to another world of storage.

    Good stuff.

  • Nick

    So I’ve had my Chrome Ivan for a little over six months now and I love it. I’ve taken it everywhere from Vegas (loaded down with ice and boos), to Mexico on a 3 day cruise, camping up near mammoth (it even fit in the carry on space when crambed full of shit on the plane ride home which surprised me), packed it with my wetsuit, fins, towel and a dive mask and snorkle at the beach and it even maintained an extra bag of ice for a bbq for a couple hours that we had nowhere else to put.

    I just saw some kid at school the other day with a Vandal and when i checked it out more online i was blown away by how much more it could handle and by a couple of key design features lacking on the Ivan. Mainly the fact that you can adjust where the pack sits on your back when loaded down with those adjustment staps on the shoulder pads and that it seems like it would sit nicer on your back because of the frame, where as when the Ivan is loaded up it has a tendency to buldge into your back and can make it sit on your back a bit awkardly and a little uncomfortably but nothing too serious).

    My main questions in looking at this bag as a possible upgrade or alternative to my Ivan are 1) are all of the compartments tarp lined and able to carry ice / insulate etc. like on the Ivan and 2) When completely full and expanded (i doubt it would but) would this thing be allowed onto a plane as a carry on item?

    • Ando

      stoked you’ve been enjoying the Ivan.

      There is no doubt that the Vandal is a better load carrier than the Ivan (I’m figuring you’ve found our Head to Head post on these bags: http://www.carryology.com/2011/03/28/head-to-head-bike-backpacks/ ).

      When fully extended, it can swallow a mountain so you’re not going to be getting it through carry-on baggage in max extension, but you can just remove stuff until the belly is slim enough. So yeah, it makes a great plane travel pack.

      Those straps don’t offer much height adjustment, so don’t bank too much on that. However if the Ivan fits you for height, the Vandal will as well, and there’s a much better waist strap for sharing the load.

      Then for using it as an ice-box, it’s only the main roll-top section that would work for that, but it’s not like you need multiple sections with ice so long as that main one can fit it all.

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  • Kaiser

    Thanks for the great review. If you have the chance, my only request would be to see a comparison of the Vandal to Chrome’s Kirov and / or Warsaw (or even better, a whole review dedicated to either bag). Both seem to be trying to fill a similar niche, and there doesn’t seem to have been too many people who have reviewed either bag. Keep up the great work.


    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      Do any of our bag shop readers have both?
      Any help out there?

      • Al

        I HAVE BOTH!!! The Warsaw and the Vandal, that is. I have used both extensively and, to be honest, there are pluses and minuses to both that make them roughly the same in my mind. I’ve noticed that, like the Ivan, apparently, the Warsaw has a tendency to bulge a bit. However, I consider this just as annoying as how high the Vandal sits on my back – really annoying to look over my shoulders on my bike. I certainly haven’t been able to choose a victor in terms of carrying capacity – at some point, the extra 10 litres that the Vandal can carry becomes moot. This was especially brought to bear when I realized that filling the Vandal’s expandable pack will severely limit its other pockets’ carrying capacities. While the rolltop portion seems useful, it’s also rather narrow and has been best suited for my clothes, more than anything. Similarly, as the Warsaw fills up it tends to bulge – as previously stated – and also becomes a sort of tetris-like game of “how best to fill my pack.”

        They both have really useful internal and external pockets and I have yet to experience any water leakage from either. The Vandal’s expanded pack leaked a little bit, but that’s only because I followed suit with a review I read and wore it in the shower. I love how much can be put into either, but I will say that the Warsaw tends to handle heavier loads a bit better, for my taste.

        In terms of weight, when both have been loaded to capacity and I hop on my bike, they’re about the same in terms of weight distribution. The Warsaw sits low and wide, while the Vandal sits high and narrow. I like both fits as they both distribute the weight comfortably for long periods of time. Also, while the Vandal does expand, it can become a tad annoying to use once expanded. The Warsaw expands, but can be tightened down quite a bit to make a larger load into a tight little package.

        Looks wise, I really have to hand it to Chrome. The Warsaw looks MUCH cooler than the Vandal, in my opinion. I was lucky enough to snag a limited edition brown Warsaw, but was forced to by a black Vandal, which scares me on a visibility level. The Warsaw’s closing clasp/ribbon has a reflecting strand in it that seems to bring me comfort.

        All-in-all, considering that they’re the same price, both have incredible warranties, and are both fantastically massive, I’d say if you’re forced to choose between them, just flip a coin. Either way, you’ll have an incredible pack.

        • http://www.bellroy.com ando

          Rad feedback Al. Super informed and on the money. Thanks loads for contributing!

        • Kaiser

          Thanks so much for the advice!

  • echo

    architecture student soon to be studying in Germany for 5 months and need bag for:
    -taking weekend trips (one week max)
    -grocery shopping
    -hauling materials/books between class and room

    seems missionworkshop bags are more ideal for traveling but am still puzzled about the size.
    note: I am 5’4″ 110lbs
    sould Rambler or Vandal be better?
    opinions please?

  • Ando

    Yeah, I think at 5’4″ a Rambler is definitely going to look more in proportion, and it’s still heaps of room for stuff.
    For my money, the only reason I’d go a Vandal if I were you is if you haul a 17″ Macbook. Other than that, I say go the Rambler.

    • echo

      I forgot to mention i’ll also be hauling around a dslr camera in its own bag- I assume that would fit in the expanded portion of the rambler?

      Thanks again!

      • Ando

        Yeah, so long as it’s not a Canon 500mm L Series lens you’re hauling, you should be fine.

        • http://ILEquipment.com Eric

          For carrying your photo gear as well as clothing/gear for a long weekend, check out our newest bag!

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  • http://www.carlonasisse.wordpress.com Carlo Nasisse

    Hey guys,

    First of all I love the website. I am having a hard time deciding on a new pack. I am a photographer, a student, musician and outdoor enthusiast. I love the expandability and durability of the Mission Workshop pack but I worry about the lack of organization. I am working full time and going to school in Austin, Texas. I need to be able to bring a DSLR a lens or two and a flash a 15′ laptop, school books and a few other essentials. I am also a musician; I play the Accordion, banjo and Ukulele and may need to haul an instrument around on my bike. Is the Vandal the right bag for me or is there another bag that you would suggest. Thanks,


    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      Firat up, thanks for appreciating.

      The Vandal can work for you if you supplement it with a couple of organizing pouches. But for sure there are other options to consider.

      The main issue you’ll have is accessing camera gear quickly and easily. If you are up for exploring camera packs, check out: http://www.bagexposure.com/ They scan lots of options which are more purpose built for image shooters.

      If you want to avoid camera specific stuff, check out something like a Camelbak Tri-zip: http://www.carryology.com/2012/02/17/carry-geeking-tri-zips/ The full access makes getting in and out way easier, and there’s plenty of versatile load carrying options.

      In the coming months we’ll review a few fun camera bag hacks (you can buy inserts to hack an existing bag), or just scan all those links and see if anything grabs your fancy 🙂

  • http://www.carlonasisse.wordpress.com Carlo Nasisse

    Thank you for the suggestions,

    I have a hulking camera bag that I bring on assignments so I am looking for non-camera specific bag that I can adapt to carry just my essential camera gear. I am traveling a lot and putting my bags through wet, dirty and sharp places.. (mostly rock climbing with some mountain biking and kayaking). I am a little picky and am not attracted to the ‘tactical’ look of some of the durable bags with military origins. Do you have any other suggestions for backpacks that have the bike friendly, commuter aesthetic but could also stand up to my lifestyle and carry needs? I look forward to reading the posts on camera bag hacks. Thanks for your help,


  • Ando

    It ain’t cheap, but ILE take a Mission Workshop sort of aesthetic and pimp it as a camera bag: http://ilequipment.com/store/

    Or Camelbak have started building the Tri-zip opening into more of their recreational backpacks, including some neat winter packs: http://www.camelbak.com/Sports-Recreation/Packs/2011-Pit-Boss.aspx
    The Tri-zip works well with bulky and weird inserts, so it’s a nice bonus.

    Or Goruck don’t really show their tactical origins, and give you multiple size options for fitting an insert system just right: http://www.goruck.com/

    Do any of those work?

    • http://www.carlonasisse.wordpress.com Carlo Nasisse

      Do you feel that I should opt for one of those instead of the Mission Workshop because of the organization it offers? I do like the Go Ruck but am having trouble justifying the price!

      • http://www.bellroy.com ando

        The downside for Mission Workshop with cameras is that many of the ‘tube’ roll top main sections make it hard to get at bulky camera stuff. That’s where something like the Tri-zip opening is great, as you can zip down to get at things below that bulky dSLR lump.

        A good way to choose a pack is to start with the most demanding aspects of what you will use it for. Is tear- resistance when stumbling around climbs the most important (go a cPU coated river pack)? Or dunk-proofness when transferring between boats more vital (go a submersion proof roll-top)? Or is easy access to camera stuff in the daily grind more important (now you need more zip access, which reduces water-proofness)?

        If you can start with the most demanding parts of your routine, it will make life easier to chose the right pack.

        Reading those adventures again, I’m actually thinking you’d be better off with a proper adventure pack that still has good zip access. A few good ones are:



        or if you like the roll-top:

        I know it feels odd buying a fishing pack, but Simms really are great value for what you are getting.

  • Paul Musicman

    Hey Carryology. Y’all are the best… i’ve been on this site every night for the past week looking up reviews of the best roll-tops. I’ve seen just about every video and read just about every review of the Chrome Ivan (and the smaller Pawn), Mission Workshop Rambler, and the new Timbuk2 Especial Tres. The only one I’ve seen and examined in person was the Timbuk2.

    I’m looking for a new backpack and I know I definitely want a rolltop… now the question is… which one?! They all seem so good and look so good that I just can’t decide. The prices are all kinda similar so that isn’t really helping me either. As for what I would use it for… I commute on my bike and I almost always bring my 15″ MBP with me. I would like a bag that with decent organization as well as balance and good back support since I do ride a TON each day… Waterproofing is important as well, but they all seem to be quite waterproof. I know that all three bags are great bags for my use but which do you think would be the best? Is there anything I should know about that will steer me away from a certain bag?

    Some help from those with lots of experience with these backpacks would be greatly appreciated! and seriously, great website… i love it.

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      Thanks Paul. Nice to hear appreciation, as all the crew put in lots of time on it.

      The main question we’d ask is do you ride a lot with your laptop in the pack? If so, that changes things, as laptops suck when hard against your back (they stop you bending properly).

      If you do, I’d steer away from the Tres (where it’s against your back), and the smaller Rambler (where it would also be). You could upsize to a MW Vandal or Chrome Ivan (where it can go in the front pocket), but they are both pretty big packs, so if you’re under 5’10” or so they might overpower your stature 🙂

      Haha, let us know with that info, and we can then try to target things in a little more.

  • Shu

    Thank you for the great review. I read your blog every week.

    I am about to purchase to Rambler but I’ve been unable to find a bag in my country to test it for myself.

    I have a fat Thinkpad which is about the same size as two 15″ Macbook Pros. I tried it on a Sanction rucksack (the store near my house only has the Sanction!) and it fit snugly. Do you think it will fit the Rambler?

    I’m a pretty short person at 5′ – 5″, do you think it will be too big for my body?

    I would really appreciate some advice as I cannot seem to find this bag in my country (yet)!

    Love your blog!

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      I think it will fit in the roll-top section of the Rambler, but I’m not positive. It definitely won’t fit in the front pocket, as only a 13″ Apple or smaller can fit there.
      That does meant that the main use section will be taken up with your laptop, which is a little annoying, but you can still use the expandable middle section for all your other bits.
      Size-wise, I think it should look OK 🙂

  • Andrew

    Great blog!

    I ordered the Mission Workshop Vandal based on your review. Here are my thoughts on the bag and the Customer Service experience.

    The Vandal is absurdly huge even when compressed. The entire bag can literally cover your back. Typically bags of this size cater to the Mountaineering or World Travel market. The only cyclists who would be able use this bag for its intended purpose are probably professional couriers.

    For regular bike commuters, the bag can easily tower over your shoulder. This presents a built-in liability. Over-the-shoulder rear view visibility can be obstructed. In the urban environment with unforgiving traffic, this is can be dangerous.

    The material is top-notch. It feels stiff and hard, especially the back but more on that later. I didn’t really care for the standard grade black buckles and I didn’t want to drop the change for the newer Arkiv Closure buckles.

    I didn’t spend any time playing with the roll-top or flap-down option so not much to offer on that topic.

    Zippers are everywhere on this bag. Good and bad. These are good zippers but as most know, they generally fail when you least expect it. The Fitzroy may be a better option for simplicity–less is more.

    There are some small external pockets but nothing substantial or impressive. It’s missing a water bottle pocket which most mainstream commercial bags have.

    Straps are cushioned as expected. I didn’t get to test it out with a full load–walking or cycling. But it’s held together tightly with an internal suspension frame so that this is gives the bag a very stiff feel. Meaning, you can’t just roll it into a neat ball.

    As for the bags most glaring flaw–the back. It’s essentially padded mesh. For a bag of this size and price range, you would expect proper padding for air circulation. Again, the bag covers my entire back. While sweaty Fred Perry shirts may be all the rage in the Mission District in SF, it’s considered uncouth in Boston.

    So I returned the bag for a refund. I emailed MW’s Customer Service Department in hopes of soliciting opinion or ideas for potential exchange. This was a few days ago and after several attempts to get in touch with them, I finally gave up.

    The MW Vandal. So-So.

    Sure, they produce appealing videos but I just don’t feel the actual product matches the hype and glowing reviews on blog forums. Given the high price points for their bags, I expected a lot more–like air circulation padding, water bottle pocket and responsive Customer Service Department.

    For all the internet accolades about “Customer Service” and “Lifetime Warranty”, my experience with Mission Workshop ended in disappointment. So this begs the question, should we be wary about companies which spend more operating money on advertising than actual delivery and service?

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      we’re sorry to hear you haven’t had a great experience with MW. We’ve personally had good experiences with them.
      The Vandal is indeed large, which is actually a great trait for certain needs beyond just couriers. For instance, I like the pack as a Maximum Legal Carry-on for short plane trips. There is a Rambler available which is a smaller version for those that don’t want this size.
      Thanks for contributing your thoughts and experiences though. All good input.

      • Andrew


        Thanks for the perspective.

        My view is that most customers of Mission Workshop conflate “Retail Sales/Marketing” with actual “Customer Service”.

        To me, Customer Service means clarity, follow-through, timely execution, delivery and business integrity. This is what separates Whole Foods from your average grocery store.

        Mission Workshop from my experience are motivated by Sales, not Client Satisfaction. They talk a massive game about their Lifetime Warranty and bloggers praise their consumer-friendly model. But if something isn’t quite right with the product, they don’t seem very interested in standing by their claims or offering flexible solutions.

        I even felt a tad guilty about returning the Vandal so I offered to exchange it for something else in their catalog but again, radio silence on their end.

        Whether its a commission loss, a personal dislike or a very poor Customer Service Department, there is no logical reason to ignore a paying Customer. Experiences like this can create a negative ripple effect especially in the age of social media.

        I really wanted to like the Vandal. I wanted to be a repeat customer of this shop. Sadly, Mission Workshop is no different than any other money-grubbing business these days: revenue trumps client satisfaction.

  • Nico

    Well Ando…

    The Mission Workshop Vandal has been travelling good for the past month. Two hundred kilometres a day on the big commute up and down the mountain – we call it a mountain but it’s actually a high plateau two hours by rail out of Sydney Australia.

    Yeah… it’s okay. Very comfortable. Streamline, when the big compartment is zipped up. Plenty of sleeves for stuff but not so well organised or protected on the inside. The sleeves aren’t padded so there’s pressure from stuff in other sleeves…

    Very annoying…

    You get the impression that there are different compartments but it’s more like wrapping stuff in separate plastic bags and putting them all in the one. In other words the only separation is the lining. Not so good for books and computer.

    The fabric is very stiff but super strong. No easy access for a water bottle but I slide mine in on top of the inner zipped layer in the big compartment and the outer zipped layer. Yep, lots of zippers but I don’t mind…

    Still looking for the ideal backpack for my computer and my books et al…

    It’s a lot of weight and to be fair the great thing about the Vandal is it can be adjusted and sits well on my back. Very comfortable.

    Thanks for your advice but if you have any further thoughts…


  • Jason

    This site was a huge help when I started looked for a new backpack after mine was stolen.

    I decided on the Vandal, and now I am looking for some inserts. I have been perusing the site, but I haven’t found many posts on good inserts to help improve the organization. I did find a comment from Timbuk2 pointing to their tool carry, which looks like it might be a good fit for a tech organizer. Do you have any other insight/posts on these inserts or other ways to organize tech and other goodies in a cavernous bag like this?

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      The first comment on this post has a suggestion.
      Otherwise check Timbuk2, Eagle Creek, or a generic travel shop. We like a bit of mesh for seeing into the pocket (rather than clear PVC which is nasty), but are otherwise not too demanding.
      Etsy has some lovely crafty ones as well.

      • Jason

        Thanks ando. Keep up the good work here.

        I will check out Timbuk2’s site, as well as Eagle Creek.

        I completely agree with you on the clear PVC. I am hoping to find something with some pockets for organizing, and I can build a couple of themed inserts that I can grab and go when needed, in addition to my main everyday carry stuff.

        Thanks again,

  • Jason
  • Anthony

    Hey there ando! Here’s hoping you’ll be able to help me out. Excellent review btw, you really hit the details – in other reviews, too. Actually, the site as a whole is pretty damn good. :p Keep it up!

    Anyways, I need a bit of help picking a backpack – hopefully the perfect one!As you can tell I’ve become quite interested in this one, but I’d like some guidance if you’re willing to help out. :p

    I’m in first year uni, spend a couple hours on a train each day heading to uni and back, and walk around quite a bit. I’m not a cyclist, which is popping questions in my head as many of the higher quality, higher end backpacks I see seem to be geared towards cyclists and those kinds of commuters.. including the vandal here, hahah. I do carry a bit – laptop, charger for it, a couple of books (sometimes quite thick/heavy), scarf and such.. water bottle. Although there are a number of packs that’d probably suit just that quite perfectly day to day, I’m interested in something that I can also use if I were to go on a much longer trip or on a plane – basically a pack I can use for almost anything, that can still work as a day-to-day pack without being too cumbersome or anything like that.

    And that is mainly why I’m so interested in the Vandal.. because it has that potential for expansion, but isn’t inherently large. Although I take it from your review and others I’ve read that the bag isn’t the best for carrying a laptop and other tech, and as I will generally be using it day to day for that, perhaps it isn’t such a good choice..

    what do you think?

    Thanks in advance!
    – Anthony

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      Thanks for the kind words Anthony. You’re right, many of the better bags getting released these days are cycling based. It’s probably because cycling packs have to transition between active and work, so they end up versatile bags that we like.

      For me, the Vandal works great if you expect to need it’s expansion abilities (which are significant). If instead you just needs a bag that can swallow a bit, check out the MW Fitzroy for a simpler construction.
      While none of these are ideal for laptop, they all work well enough, especially if you’re not trying to ride with them.

      If you’re after a mid size pack rather than a large pack, also check out the Gravis Metro that we love.

      Hope that helps!

      • Anthony

        Ack, my bad on a late response. Although yours was quite quick, so thanks!

        Yeah, I’d like to, say.. use the bag not just for uni day-to-day but for when I head away from home for longer periods and pack extra clothes, maybe a sleeping bag, that kinda thing.. don’t have to worry about anything getting wet or damaged. Thought the Vandal would work great as a multi-purpose pack. Does it have any padding at all (foam and such) for a laptop to sit on, or is it just the pocket/compartment can fit a laptop?

        Also, reckon it can fit a pad of A3 paper?

        Thanks so much for answering – very helpful! (:

  • Jamie

    Hi folks, love the site and very informative. Had some questions and hoping to get some opinions as I’m looking for a better bag.

    I’m looking for an every day bag, I ride my bike to work some days and drive others but would like the bag to be as close to a do everything as possible, chuckle chuckle I know but let’s see if I can get some suggestions based on bags I’ve tried and what I like and what I don’t like.

    My favorite bag at the moment is a plain old canvas messenger bag. These are the reasons for my preference

    1. Easy Access, I can get things out of the bag while walking around etc from the parking deck to the office etc (I will have to put my bike in the parking deck also

    2. Fits my Macbook AIr, 7″ tablet, Running Shoes, Gym clothes and charging cables and other small tech items


    Can’t use it on the bike, won’t stay on my back and hanging at my side is really annoying. Also if it does rain, which I never plan on getting caught in, the bag would soak everything up

    Bags I have or have tried (don’t laugh)

    5.11 Tactical Rush 12 – Still own this oneGreat bag, hold everything easily and comfortable. Only thing I would say is I have to take the bag off to access anything

    Chrome Citizen – Probably ReturningNot enough pockets for tech items and not overly accessible for me even when I swing the bag around

    Mission Workshop Rummy – returnedThe large pocket is a nightmare to get into if the bag isn’t on the floor, very hard to use like a regular messenger bag

    Timbuk2 Commuter – ReturnedDidn’t like the strap at all, didn’t feel it would stay on my back well. Strap too long IMO

    So, it seems like a backpack might be the way to go unless there’s a messenger bag out there that will accommodate more tech and some clothes and shoes. Considering looking at the Mission Workshop Rambler, Chrome Ivan which I’ve seen the reviews for here. Also looked at Seagull bags but they don’t seem setup for tech either. I know there’s a lot out there so what am I missing

    Also, there needs to be a discussion board around here, would be a nice addition

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      Most of us are backpack fans, as they are just more versatile when you travel, walk, and do all the other things that life entails.

      If you really want the access on the go functionality in a backpack, you could go a Decathlon Wed’ze Reverse One backpack, with it’s rad access system: http://www.carryology.com/2012/02/20/favorite-affordable-backpacks/

      One of the best brands for combining tech and cycling is Timbuk2. Their Especial sounds suitable: http://www.carryology.com/2012/04/10/bag-review-timbuk2-especial-tres/

      Otherwise you’re running into the issue most of us have, that the best cycling bags are still pretending that they’re all used by couriers, rather than commuters. With almost all the good ones lacking tech-ability, you can supplement things like the MW Fitzroy with tech inserts (small zip pouches).

      Does that help?

  • Ted

    Hi folks, Has anyone tried this backpack insert from Pantac. I’m considering using it for my Mission Vandal to handle my laptop and various zipper compartment duties.


    As far as I can see, the product can be sourced at this site, or on ebay for about $82 (including shipping) from Hong Kong. It appears to be well-made and could POSSIBLY fit in one of the Vandal’s two main zippered compartments. It could definitely work in the roll-top compartment–swallowed whole actually.

    Also, I love Carryology–great reviews and a good community. Thanks!

    • http://www.carryology.com/ ando

      Thanks Ted.
      None of us have tried it. If you do, let us know how it goes!

  • Q

    I’m small frame woman at 5’4″ and I’m in the market for a new bag. I’ve been obsessively researching for months, and I think I’m starting to hone in on the MW Rambler, the Timbuk2 Especial Tres and the Timbuk2 Pheonix Cycling. I basically need a bag for work, which doesn’t involve much more than a kindle, laptop, phone, water bottle, but I’d really like it to be versatile enough for the beach, weekend trips, and ESPECIALLY heavy duty grocery shopping at the farmers market (hence looking at large expandables). Waterproof is a plus, but water resistance is a must. Among these, which do you recommend most?

    • http://www.HiImDean.com Dean Grove

      I’d say the rambler is your best choice, but I haven’t really tested either in real life.

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

        Yeah, combining your small frame with expandable grocery needs, it’s the Rambler that wins. The Especial is pretty large, and the Pheonix not as expandable or as ‘work attractive’.

  • Paolo Tamanza

    I have read your review and I have to say it’s great.
    I need your help to find the right backpack for me.
    I’m a student of architecture, so I need to carry with me my laptop, books, drawing materials, and often a tube with my prints in A1 plus rolled up.
    I need to carry all these things comfortably while riding my fixed bike around Milan.
    I really love the Vandal, but I think it’d be too big for me.
    I’m 170 cm high, I think it’s 5’7″ in USA measures.
    Will it fit right on my back?
    Or maybe I’d go better with a smaller backpack?
    Sorry for my poor english

    • Ando

      All the Mission Workshop backpacks come in smaller versions, which are probably right for you. So if you like the Vandal but are worried about size, try the Rambler: http://missionworkshop.com/products/bags/backpacks/roll_top/medium_rambler.php

      • Paolo Tamanza

        Thanks for your answer.
        I know about the rambler, but I like the 3 pockets plus the two small front pockets of the vandal.
        I don’t have the chance to see the two backpack in shop before buy it.
        I’m not worried about the size, I see from the mw site that the rambler is about 2″ shorter, not too much, and have practically the same price of the vandal.
        Only want to know if it’d fit my back without any problem.
        Thanks again.

        • ando

          Even though it’s only 2 inches, it makes a big difference in volume and presence.

          You should check out Sygyzy’s post on a similar bag: http://www.carryology.com/2012/11/14/mw_vx_small_rucksack/

          He is 5’6″ and very aware of the size of packs. He has some shots and thoughts that will give you a good feel for it.

          • Paolo Tamanza

            Thanks again, I’ll check the link

          • Marine Luzt

            I’m 5′ 3″, and I love The Vandal. Primary travel bag, bug out bag, go back, fuck you bag, laundry, grocery, motorcycle helmets. I live my life out of this thing. When I was a law student, this bag would have helped me out. I’m responding late to this thread for people who might worry about sizing for shorter people. The only reason you would worry about this size is if you think you won’t ever need that much space, or you are going out of your way to find a smaller bag.

    • Marine Luzt

      It won’t be too big. I’m shorter than you, and I use the Vandal no problem. It really comes down to how much you think you will carry beyond your EDC on a daily basis; and the extra zipper compartment makes it a no brainer to get the Vandal instead of the Rambler. Height is a ZERO issue with this bag because it’s lightweight and compacts down very narrow. I’ve never seen or used the Rambler, but I have a feeling it would slightly small for my daily intentions.

  • Susan

    I love this website! I’m in the market for a straight-of-the-plane-to-office backpack and would love your advice. The last comment applies to me somewhat, as I’m a 5’6″ woman, so I need something appropriately-sized (any ladies out there who can chime in?).

    A backpack of generous size that works as a carry-on (i am living abroad, traveling frequently, mainly in developing countries), that also feels good on my back ( considering how much I walk I must have a good waist belt). Also needs to be profession-looking enough to occasionally attend meetings with me, fresh off the plane/bus. Not easy. Would love to also shove my DSLR on top of everything else, but that’s flexible.

    I’m currently using a knock-off North face i bought for $20, but its definitely not professional and it is of course falling apart completely.

    I saw that the GR2 won the carry on award. The GR2 looks amazing and the pockets, MOLLE are amazing, but the price is too much for me.

    I’ll be in SF in a few weeks, and am hoping to check out the MW Rambler, which is pretty on the outside and can really fit a ton.

    Are you planning to review the Timbuk2 Aviator backpack soon? That is very much in the running for me, as the looks work, the price is better, and it seems well-designed for travel. Only drawback is the limiting 28L size.

    Thanks for any advice you might have, and for such a great site!

    • Ando

      Yeah, tricky combining the office aesthetic with a waist strap and not too large (as the GR2 would be for you).
      I think the Timbuk2 Aviator may also be too large for you.

      Something like the Heimplanet Daypack could work for you, although you’ll need to find a waist belt to add to it:

    • http://randomfoo.net/ Leonard Lin

      If you’re visiting SF, you should know it’s bag central. Besides MW in the Mission, you can visit Chrome HQ in SOMA (the Soyuz or Bravo might work), Timbuk2 (Phoenix or Especial Medio might be a better fit?) in Hayes Valley, and maybe a TAD store (right next door, although their bags are probably too techy to wear about). You may want to check out the Arc’teryx Blade 30 as well, which is super travel friendly and reasonably priced (~$200), but might not be as bombproof as some of those other options.

      • Susan

        Thanks for all the great advice!

  • Daniel

    I have had a Vandal for two years, and it’s mostly great. The carrying capacity is truly awesome. My problem with the bag is the zipper for the interior main pouch are so, so ginger. It’s very easy to pull the zippers off the teeth. I’ve had to send my bag back for repair, which is expensive. The exterior zippers are sturdier, but I’m surprised by how gingerly you have to zip the interior main pouch.

  • http://www.10kStepsDaily.com/ Tom Crandall

    Awesome review. I have been wanted to get my hands on the Chrome Ivan to see how it stacks up to the Vandal. Another one to compare against the Vandal is the Timbuk2 Especial Tres.

    One thing the Tres has over the Vandal IMO is airflow on the back. From my experience the Vandal runs a little hotter because the backpack sits on your back without in venting or channeling.

    I reviewed both

    As far as styling. You can upgrade the Vandal with the Cobra buckles. It does give it a little coolness factor. That said the Chrome Ivan is pretty slick.

    When comparing the Vandal to the Especial, I think the Vandal is more comfortable.


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