- Buyer's Guide
The Black Ember TL Pack is a twenty-liter pack that was perfect for a recent trip from California to Vermont. For testing this bag I approached it as a user would who had just purchased it, with no background information on the company. In reviews you usually have taglines from either the marketing department or a designer of how they intended a product to be used. I do have a little insight on this bag but I didn't want to read any information on how the bag should be used, or what the intended design purpose was. If I purchase this bag inside of a retail store, walk out and just start using it, what will that experience be like?
I received the bag with quite a few accessories that you can use to customize it to your own needs, so I kind of kitted out the bag the night before I was going to travel. Then I woke up the next morning, stripped everything off, really thought about what I needed, and customized it for this trip.
Inside I used a third-party camera pouch from a Langley camera bag and put it on the bottom of the pack. I usually carry with me a Sony A7 with a full battery pack on the bottom, usually using a 35-millimeter or a 50-millimeter lens. In this case, I brought both those lenses with me, plus a fifteen-inch Apple laptop and an iPad. I usually have a sketchbook, markers or things like that which can fit inside. On the outside I used two pouches.
Who It Suits
I've been using this bag for traveling, business, and to haul electronics around, and it absolutely nails those uses.
Who It Doesn't
This is not a bag that's going to do every single thing for you, but I don't think that's the intended use. If you're not into customizing carry setups with modular accessories, maybe look elsewhere as the customization aspect is a large part of the bag.
"I do have a little insight on this bag but I didn't want to read any information on how the bag should be used, or what the intended design purpose was. If I purchase this bag inside of a retail store, walk out and just start using it, what will that experience be like?"
I really like how this bag just stands out. Aesthetics are the first thing you see so it needs to be pleasing to the eye. Sure, aesthetics are subjective, but I'm impressed with the design of this pack.
This bag has quite a few bar-tack reinforcements. You can tell that the person or the group who designed this bag really thought about the wear points on it. That’s something I look for in a bag. It's always a good idea to check those stress points and make sure that they've been reinforced and that the product you’re purchasing is really worth the dollars you're investing. Those are things that really make a product stand out from its competitors in that context.
There are two main fabrics. One is a coated fabric on the outside of the bag that's really durable and weather-resistant. The inside is great too because the lining is coated as well, and it's a ripstop so it’s definitely going to have a better tensile strength under heavy worn conditions. There is also some cool branding on the inside. You can either take it off or leave it in there if you like.
"This bag has quite a few bar-tack reinforcements. You can tell that the person or the group who designed this bag really thought about the wear points on it."
The attachment points are bonded hypalon. Some of them look die cut. Some of them look laser cut. I’m not really exactly sure which is which but either way the finishing on this bag is on point.
The buckle system is done by Woojin, a great buckle supplier. With the aluminum hardware that is used for some of the latch points, I just love the custom design language that links back into the brand itself. The zippers on this bag are water-resistant urethane-coated YKK zippers.
On this trip, I didn’t necessarily have to use the Fidlock system. It was more of a talking point when people would pull me over or speak to me at the bar to ask me about the bag. Though the male parts on the Fidlock system definitely give it a cool design aesthetic it’s pretty industrial. It looks kind of systematic in that context but it is what it is. I definitely like the feature myself.
One of the great parts on this bag is the grab handle. The grab handle allows you to use this bag, not necessarily as a tote, but it definitely can be used as a tote in its own way if you’re walking in small areas. You can actually take off the latch points of the handle and reposition it (or remove it) under the configuration system here.
I’m not a huge fan of shoulder straps. I’ve never been. Obviously you have to use them when you need to but about halfway through my trip I ended up taking off the shoulder straps and putting them inside my main luggage and I just carried this bag around almost as a messenger. It was great like that for my use, especially when I was able to go to meetings without having to carry a clunky backpack.
"You can actually take off the latch points of the handle and reposition it (or remove it) under the configuration system here."
When I first started designing bags, I’d have this reasoning behind why I did something on the bag; why I put the webbing a certain way or placed a particular feature a certain way. I’ve worked with different athletes over the years and I’d watch an athlete get the bag and the athlete would automatically just grab some scissors and start cutting things off. One thing that I like about this bag is if you don’t like something on it, in the context of too many pockets, you can easily take those off with the Fidlock detachable system. It’s the same way too with webbing. If you know you’re not going to use that, you can easily cut something off. You just need to know that once you cut it off, you can’t put it back on.
"One thing that I like about this bag is if you don’t like something on it, in the context of too many pockets, you can easily take those off with the Fidlock detachable system."
The TL Pack has a rectangular size and shape. One thing that I really like about the silhouette is it allows you to explore if you want to take that route. There are quite a few different latch points around the whole bag and they allow you to get creative and make the bag yours. I used this bag traveling for business, but if I was going to use it for performance or sport activities I could make a wet and dry pocket on the outside where I could put shoes or anything that is dirty or wet.
Pockets and Organizing
There is a slit pocket on the right and there is a slit pocket on the left. They’re actually some of my favorite pockets because you can use them for random accessories. A lot of the times I’ll set my bag up to use it one way but the next thing you know I’m on the run and I pick something up inside a gift store or I pick up a snack, and I’m able to use these slit pockets. It's easy to store medium-sized items without having to open up the main compartment.
"There are quite a few different latch points around the whole bag and they allow you to get creative and make the bag yours."
On this trip I used two of the small accessory pouches. I used one as my small water bottle pocket. That was great for storing the bottle while I was running around the airport. The smaller pouch held my phone when I had too much stuff in my pockets. It was also good for storing receipts while I was traveling. When you open up the pocket there are slits which are great for holding some pens.
Being a maker myself, knowing how to sew and knowing that I can find Fidlock parts via eBay or whatever the resource is, I thought about how I could make custom pockets for this bag. I think that’s one of the cool features of this bag. Sometimes I'll buy a bag and deconstruct it for its parts and rebuild it in a new configuration. In this case, I don’t necessarily need to do that but some of the accessory pockets didn’t fit my needs. So I thought about how I would use those parts or that space or what I might be missing. You can create your own parts and your own external pockets and use the Fidlock system to customize the bag for yourself.
"Being a maker myself, knowing how to sew and knowing that I can find Fidlock parts via eBay or whatever the resource is, I thought about how I could make custom pockets for this bag."
On the back side under the harness there is an open cell mesh which is great for breathability. I kind of overheat when I’m walking through the airports, so it was great to have this ventilation system.
Being a fairly big guy, when I did use the shoulder straps they fit me really well. I’m 6'1" and I weigh about 220 pounds. The bag looks fine on me and fits fine on me, and having to walk a couple of miles with this backpack on felt really comfortable.
I used the backpack in a climate that was damp and raining, and I had a lot of electronics in it. I felt completely confident in it. Ultimately of course it comes down to how confident each individual user feels in using the pack in the rain.
This bag retails for $245, compared to for example a visvim bag that retails for $650. This bag is by far better value for money. I would say it is definitely undervalued for what you’re getting compared to other products in the market. If you compare it to other brands that don't necessarily compete with it but fit in the same genre, I would easily pay $500 to $600 for this bag if it was on the wall next to any of those bags. Plus you can customize the TL Pack, suiting it to your own needs instead of having a bag that is predesigned to be used in a certain way.
"I would say it is definitely undervalued for what you’re getting compared to other products in the market."
The level of execution and attention to detail on this bag is absolutely impressive. From a fabric perspective you’re going to feel really secure about putting any of your valuables in this bag. Secondly, the YKK zippers are really durable and most likely won’t break in the lifetime of this bag.
This is definitely my favorite bag I'm using these days. I highly recommend it. I think one of the things that gets me psyched about it is that I’m able to make my own custom pockets for this bag or I could just add any additional components that I really want to add to it. Again, I know how to do that and if you’d like to learn a little bit more about that, I’m happy to share with you where to go and where to find some of these components. If you have questions, post them below and I'll do my best to answer them as quickly as possible.