Road Tests :: Solid Gray
“You Have A Stormtrooper Backpack!”
This was one of the first things a friend said when they saw me wearing the hardshell backpack titled “Solid Gray” by the company aptly named Solid Gray located in the Netherlands.
So, as you can imagine just looking at the images, this wasn’t any old ordinary ‘Road Test’. The Solid Gray is a unique-looking bag with some neat features and the ability to stand up to a lot of punishment. With that in mind we sent the bag to two of our contributors to make sure it got a proper workout. First up was Taylor, he’s pretty much one of the biggest bag nuts we know of and can take a bag through its paces rather well down there in Texas. Secondly, we gave the bag to our mate Jereme, the Parkour guy, to see how it would stand up in a really active environment.
Below are both their thoughts….
“The pack has some clever features”
Introducing the Solid Gray backpack (15 litres capacity). Handmade in “one of the former Philips factories in Eindhoven. These factories are now a lively and bustling melting pot of businesses in the creative and design industry.” The Solid Gray brand and backpack come from Lijmbach, Leeuw & Vormgeving, a product design firm created by Jasper de Leeuw and Herman Lijmbach (both graduates from the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, a school with a great international reputation in product design).
It’s hard not to take a second or third look at the pack, as it isn’t something you see everyday. The pack sat next to my desk for a few days while I took notes and whenever someone would enter, like a tractor beam, the pack’s intrigue would pull them directly in, blindly past all the other interesting product design objects around. Stating the obvious, the backpack is hardgoods, not softgoods. This unique silhouette is achieved through creative construction and material use. The shell is made from polypropylene block copolymer, “an extremely durable and lightweight polymer. In fact, it is so strong, that even after being bent millions of times it will not break or tear”. This durable and flexible thermoplastic is folded like advanced origami from one single sheet of the material. “Up to now, such sheets were only used for industrial purposes. Solid Gray is the very first consumer product cut and made from such sheets”. Then, the ends are joined together using aluminum rivets, a super strong and durable method of joining materials together. It looks great too. All this is done right in Eindhoven, by Dutch hands, who are known for producing high-quality products throughout their colored history.
The pack has some clever features, which frankly I didn’t expect in my first foray with a hardshell backpack. The “multi-clip” was a nice one, which holds loose papers down securely, a good feature for business cards, bus passes, etc. The padded EPDM foam for laptops (up to 15.6″) at the bottom was executed flawlessly, with a securing inverted “Y” elastic strap, which uses natural latex rubber. The “smart snap locks” to hold the front clamshell closed work with a great tactical snap. It is also shockingly lightweight (1150 grams / 2.535 lbs) in comparison to its strength and durability. And two small compartments towards the bottom are meant for the storage of small items.
Lastly, all of their hardware is custom designed and appears to be made from the same polypropylene plastic. It’s nice that they took this challenge on themselves, rather than going with off-the-shelf hardware components. Comfort-wise, it is simply a sheet of plastic on your back without padding. However, the fact that it is a solid sheet creates an unexpected flexibility as it conforms to the shape of your back. Add some weight and it isn’t as comfortable as a $500 NASA-developed trekking backpack suspension, but it is more comfortable than you would initially think. Sometimes, simplicity is a good thing.
“It’s pretty damn awesome”
Seeing a backpack advertised to “stand up to heavy use” while being “extremely light” sent ripples of excitement through the Parkour community. Ok it sent ripples of excitement through me, Jereme Sanders. I’m a Traceur, a practitioner of the movement system Parkour, from San Antonio, TX.
When I saw the backpack, I asked Solid Gray, “What exactly do you mean by ‘heavy use’?” I have 8 years under my belt training in Parkour and as a seasoned veteran of the discipline I know what a backpack/bag has to have to stand up to the daily life of a Traceur. Solid Gray replied, “You tell us!” They challenged me to take the Solid Gray and train with it. Creatively.
I did. And you know what, Solid Gray’s ‘stormtrooper’ backpack is amazing! It’s extremely lightweight. Parkour training covers a wide range of movements and often includes running, vaulting, wall-scales, and acrobatics. Traceurs move fast. We aspire to travel fluidly across dense urban landscapes and strive for efficiency in all our movements. A bag weighed down with our gear – shoes, water, wallets, phones, etc. – plus the weight of the bag itself can add one more challenge or obstacle to achieving our goals as Traceurs. So on the lightweight aspect of Solid Gray, check!
Now for the real fun. We put the bag through its paces, our paces, a Traceur’s paces – water, sun, dirt, heights, impacts, heights + impacts (our favorite), and extreme pressures.
Things that are great ::
It’s more comfortable to wear than it seems on first impression. It’s just as comfortable and maybe even a little more comfortable than a normal bag. It fits everything I need to take to train fairly easily and keeps your items from shifting during wear. Which is a huge plus since one of the pieces of gear I take with to train is a DSLR camera.
We kicked it, we flipped while wearing it, we flipped off of it, we did handstands on it, we dropped it from heights. And Solid Gray survived! The bag didn’t collapse, dent, lose its shape, or come apart. The only damage was minimal tearing. With the extreme conditions we subjected it to, a seam ripped along the top which makes it more difficult to close when you’re using the laptop strap. Without the support of the seam, the strap pulls the notch the latch fits into out of alignment now.
Things that could be better ::
It’s not very good for running. My theory is that because it’s a hardshell backpack it doesn’t have the shock absorption you get with a soft bag, which you would find with any hardshell design. So the small impacts of running snow-ball into a bouncing affect against your back. Second possible negative, Traceurs tend to live simply and 139 Euros for a backpack is a little steep. But the long-lasting qualities might be worth it to many.
An observation I made about the functionality is that you have to put the bag down to get anything out of it. I would suggest to Solid Gray they might consider incorporating a compartment you could get to quickly through the shell from the outside for items such as a phone.
As a motorcycle rider a bag is again a daily necessity and I found Solid Gray fairly comfortable while riding my bike.
So, from Traceurs and practitioners of movement arts everywhere, the hardshell backpack Solid Gray gets a big thumbs up!
How do you open it?