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Backpacks

Black Ember TL Pack

Road Tests :: Black Ember TL Pack

by , June 24, 2016
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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.

Black Ember TL Pack

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.

Black Ember TL Pack


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?"

Black Ember TL Pack


Design

Looks

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.

Construction

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.

Black Ember TL Pack

Materials

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.

Hardware

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.

Black Ember TL Pack


Features

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.

Black Ember TL Pack

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."

Black Ember TL Pack

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."

Black Ember TL Pack


Performance

Space

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.

Black Ember TL Pack

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.

Black Ember TL Pack

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."

Comfort

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.

Black Ember TL Pack

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.

Weatherability

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.

Black Ember TL Pack


Verdict

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.

Black Ember TL Pack

Reader's Review

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  • joshbuller

    Nice write up Douglas.

  • Christopher R Wong

    When you say you carried as a messenger, do you mean you added your own strap? if so where did you connect it to? I ask since I did not see that as an option on the site.

    Also how heavy did the bag feel?

    Otherwise intiguing

  • Brad

    A few shots of someone wearing it and a couple of the inside would be nice. Something to reflect actual-use scenarios

    • walknseason

      That would be too easy and not becoming of some EDC customization-obsessed corporate blog…

      • Brad

        I would add to that this guy talks about just popping home and whipping up a few extra pouches for the bag with some handy magnetic attachments….Maybe I am misrepresenting his point but c’mon, 99% of us are stuck with the pockets we buy; can’t just run home and make new ones. That is a useless point to make in a review and does not “enhance” the bag in any way. Carry on.

        • walknseason

          Agree with you 100%. That, and the fact there is no photo, oozes your armchair-EDC reddit commenter and not somebody who would actually use the bag every day “off the shelf”.

  • mxm9

    Thanks Douglas, for showing Black Ember some well deserved love! I’ve been impressed with the design and modularity since the very beginning. I’ve been wanting to get the ‘slate’ pack (clam shell), but I would have liked it to be a bigger (25-30l)
    Re Brad: head over to the site for some photos of the pack being worn.

  • Reptilian Brain

    How is back ventilation for hot days?

  • Rusty Johnson

    Everyone is so excited about these packs!! Before you get too excited, you should know that they charge an arm and a leg because they want you to think the bag is weatherproof and will protect your camera, phone, or laptop. One hour bike ride in the rain and my entire bag was filled with condensation and it ruined my laptop. Black Ember looks the other way and accuses the customer of confusing weatherproof with waterproof. DON’T BE FOOLED by the advertising campaign. This is a standard bag and you should put an ugly white trash bag over it if you are going to be in the rain for more than a half an hour.

  • Magnus

    I’ve been using my TL in the Seattle rain for two years with no water intrusion issues. Are you sure you just didn’t zip up you backpack properly?

  • Shota Amano

    Gen03 I’m using every day on bike. Build quality is best I’ve seen in a long time.

  • CJ

    My new Citadel backpack looks and feels great. A week of rain and snow in Seattle and not a drop of water inside.

    • Fadi

      Hi CJ, I’m wondering how your bag is performing so far. I received my Gen03 Citadel yesterday; it looks great, but also seems to have many potential weak points in terms of wear and tear and water ingress (many zippers, stitches, and corners). I’m particularly worried about the very sharp corners on the front at the top, they seem to have started wearing out even before the pack arrived (the black fabric is starting to look whitish). Have you had an experience with this thus far?

  • BootedAgain

    Been using my Gen03 for a few months now. Solid and well-made. I’m using
    it to commute everyday on my bike. Been keeping the Seattle rain out so
    far.

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