Backpacks

Road Tests :: Mission Workshop VX / R8 Arkiv Field Pack

by , April 18, 2013

We put Mission Workshop’s top-of-the-line backpack through the ringer

Want some juice on the winner of our Carry Award for the Best Work Backpack? After bouncing this carry solution amongst a bunch of testers, we finally feel ready to report.

In short: It finds a great niche, has some excellent elements, but won’t be for everyone. If you’d like more details than that, read on…

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About the pack

The Field Pack is part of a new modular backpack approach utilising Mission Workshop’s proprietary Arkiv attachment system. In simpler words, you can bolt on all sorts of bits to a few versions of these packs. The Arkiv system is along the lines of the military MOLLE system, only more urban in vibe. Formed metal brackets slide down over webbing rails, with a velcro closure keeping them locked in.

The VX/R8 we were given is the top end version of these Field packs. It has 8 ‘rails’ (the ‘R8′ bit) to which you can attach modules that you purchase. It also has fancy fabrics that make it extra water-resistant (the ‘VX’ bit, made up of 1000 denier Cordura ripstop shell backed with a PTFE waterproof membrane, and lined with a lightweight VX70 ripstop). We then opted for the smaller of the sizes, which at 1,250 cubic inches felt just right.

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Configurations

If all you buy is the base backpack, you’re going to miss out on the whole point of this system. Thankfully we were able to test lots of the modules, and so we’ll give you a rundown on a few contributors’ favorite configurations.

While you can keep piggy-backing modules till the cows come home, it does become a little unwieldy soon enough. We all preferred slightly sleeker configs…

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Ando’s carry

I haul a 17″ MBP around, which is just too small for the front laptop module. Thankfully, my laptop can squeeze into the rear pocket (in the main section), with a sock at the bottom of the pocket to protect a little against impacts (not ideal, but it works). My backpacks are always primed for travel, so I loved having the flexibility of sections and configurations. Those side pockets are gold.

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Josh’s carry

While Josh only carries a 13″ MBP, he felt like the laptop module was a bit too heavy for his likes, and also left the weight too far out for his rigorous awesomeness. He also carried his laptop in the main section. While generally happy with the modules and pocketing, he would have loved another delicates pocket for his sunglasses, feeling like they were exposed a little to knocks in the side ones. Oh, and Josh liked the flap-down configuration, feeling it is faster than rolling.

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Lincoln’s carry

Linc used the laptop module, and was fine with it. He likes a bit more organizing than MW generally provide, but was slowly getting used to the ‘chuck it in’ approach to pocketing.

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The Good

Getting it dialed

If you can get a configuration dialed into your needs, it’s a great backpack. It looks good in both a workplace vibe and an adventure vibe. It is interesting without shouting, and it holds up well with a variety of loads. I really enjoy using it.

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Versatility

This is a proper Everyday Water Proof pack (EDWP2), which will outlast any storm you want to play in. There is a sealed hanging liner for the main section, and water-resistant zips with storm flaps or fold-overs for the other entries. I had one of the side pockets set up as my toiletry bag, which I removed a few times to take with me, and the laptop module even comes with an optional shoulder strap for work excursions. This pack adapts really well for work and play.

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The modules

Many modular systems just give you different sizes for the same basic cubes. These modules have more thought and care put into their design, working well together or apart, and either way up. We all loved the Vertical Zip Pockets, which could be hung with zips facing backwards for access on the go.

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Easy-to-use geometry

The Field Pack is pretty square. That means it stands up on its own, fits work stuff really well, and it is easy to get your head around the volumes. The downside is that if you have to carry lumpy or irregular objects they can cause bottlenecks.

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The lining

It’s white, so you can see your contents easily. It’s slick, so you can wipe down spills quickly. And it’s MUCH lighter than most other tarp linings found in cycling bags.

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The Not As Good

As with every carry piece, there are elements that we feel could be improved. This is especially so with innovative systems, which typically take a little bedding in and refinement.

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The Rail Stops

This is a small one, but the rail stoppers are more fiddly than they need to be. Threading the velcro takes a teeny bit of time, without any real benefit (you typically run velcro through a ‘pulley’ to gain a mechanical advantage, which is not needed in this application). We’re not sure what the better solution looks like, but we’re sure there is a better solution, which would let you swap configurations even faster and with less fuss.

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The laptop solutions

The front laptop module brings the weight out and away from your back. The good part here is that your back can bend on a bike, but the bad part is that it can also lever around a bit out there, and it’s not as ideal if you carry a heavy laptop (or go for the large pack option).

Our ideal place for a laptop is somewhere around the mid-plane of a pack, so when we were riding with this, we’d carry it in a sleeve in the main section. That’s a bit annoying though, so when not riding, Josh and I would slip it into the main section pocket against the back panel, with just a sock or some bubble-wrap at the base of the pocket. This pocket would be lots more useful if it finished an inch higher, offering some sort of suspended protection for tech.

Components

There’s airmesh – you know how we feel about that. And there’s still velcro, which wins unwanted attention in a meeting or lecture.

All the plastic components are solid and sufficient, but they just fall short of the awesomeness that we’re starting to see more brands achieve through some customizing. Still, it’s not really complaint-worthy.

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Pricing

The way we had this spec’d, the price adds up pretty quickly ($320 for the pack and $30-$90 for each of the modules). The issue with modular packs has always been that by the time you buy all the modules, it feels like you’re paying more than if they were just pockets included on the bag. Added to that, this is the top-end, torrent-proof version with fancy fabrics and linings.

So is it worth it? Haha, totally depends on your situation. :)

Buying this for myself, I’d probably opt for the R6 rather than the R8 (2 less rails that I rarely used anyway), and perhaps just go with the black Cordura or waxed canvas. It would still be an expensive pack but it’s versatile, attractive, and should last a long time.

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Who it suits

This actually feels like Mission Workshop moving a touch away from the strictly bike community. It has broad appeal to urban folk, as well as travelers and creative professionals. You need to dig a utility look, and probably prefer your organizing to be external (and therefore reachable on the go). It also helps if you’re into geeking out on gear, as it will give you plenty to play with.

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Who it doesn’t suit

Lots of folk. It’s not a streamlined minimalist shell. This is more = more. And you can’t be scrimping for pennies (if you are, their Sanction offers more obvious value). Basically, this bag performs as expected, so you’ll know if it’s in your catchment.

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Other options to check

This bit is trickier than I was expecting. The closest competitors are all the other Mission Workshop backpacks, particularly the other Field packs and the Vandal. You get more load flexibility with the Vandal, but less joy in the everyday usability.

Then you’d have to consider a Goruck GR1 with Field pockets, which shifts most of your organizing to internal rather than external. Maybe the CamelBak Tri-Zip, and perhaps even a much cheaper option like the Quiksilver Grenade. You’re basically comparing it to Tactical/EDC bags, or their lifestyle brand equivalents, but the Field pack is more customizable than any of those.

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Overall

For me, one of the best measures for a backpack is how quickly I feel comfortable away from home, and with the VX/R8 it was fast. I liked the process of getting it dialed in, and found I’d still occasionally change things up for a specific trip. This is one of my favorite packs for everyday work, and a solid travel companion for more predictable work trips. It’s not cheap, but you can see why it costs what it does.

Unusually, none of our testers disliked it (there’s usually at least one!). But neither did all of them fall for it. The main complaint is typical to most Mission Workshop bags, which is that the pockets are just voids – there is not enough nesting and subtlety to how they arrange your contents (particularly fragiles like sunglasses and bananas). The MW guys like the care-free approach to pocketing, while many contributors like a touch more OCD.

It’s not for everyone, but the Mission Workshop Field Pack is a worthy winner of our Best Work Backpack, for the way it brings fresh ideas and systems to everyday life.

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Update: We’ve now used this pack lots, and have all come to consensus on a few configuration details. Here are our recommendations…

Go the R6 instead of the R8 – it looks better and works just as well. Skip the laptop unit on the front – it gets in the way more than helping. And do pick some external pockets – we all liked the side pockets and a front document pocket.

 

  • http://www.hiimdean.com Dean

    Nice !

    I someohow don’t ever like the bags that have so much attachments, but whatever floats your boat.

    I prefer a nice internal structure personally. I want my bag to look good, not look like its growing some tumours.

  • Jean

    Am I the only one who’s getting tired of seeing practically the same brands being reviewed all the time…?

    • Ando

      Jean, you’ve hit a nerve with that one…

      We also really want to spread out and review more brands. That is why we started the Week In Review posts, and the 5 Minutes with posts.

      The fact is we receive many more bags to test than we post about. The reason we don’t post about most of them, is that the review would be overly negative. We want to be a positive site rather than a negative one, supporting great efforts.

      So we try to only talk about carry that we can talk highly about, and that means we are limited to the brands doing good things in areas we dig.

      Caveat: We don’t dig all areas. In fact, we recently updated our About section to clarify what we dig: http://www.carryology.com/about/

      Now that I’ve explained our reasons, do you think you could recommend some new brands?
      Can you think of any other brands that mix function and style?

      We’d genuinely love to share them, as we also want to see more great brands covered!

      • Harald

        I would actually like to see reviews that are negative also! You guys know your stuff, so it will teach others what to be aware of when looking at new bags. Another benefit of that is that the producers will get some honest feedback and can improve their products.

        I’d much rather see that the producers sent you their bags to get an honest opinion than to use your page for marketing themselves…

        • Ando

          I have to be honest – it’s just too often that we’ve seen comments fields on other sites descend into Lord Of The Flies style vileness.

          We love our readers, and for the most part, our comments have been an incredible addition to the dialogue.

          We really worry that if we start tearing product apart, that will rub off.

          We make sure that we pitch in possible suggestions with every review, trying to highlight honestly why something is good, and where in our eyes it still needs improving. We hope that this approach outlines what to look for in a carry piece, without potentially triggering the negative attitudes that pervade so many other blogs.

          Perhaps we can achieve your goals in other ways…?

          We’ve started talk of building a ‘foundation posts’ library which would fill out lots of the tips we use in selecting good carry. Maybe speeding up that project, as well as some better galleries of other brands, could give everyone what they are seeking?

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

            But wouldn’t this basically make Carryology lose all its journalistic integrity ?

            If I know that you guys will not post anything bad, you basically are saying “send us free stuff, if it isn’t totally bad, we will give you free quality marketing material”.

            By not posting negative stuff, this Blog turned into a PR Machine for the few Bag makers that you guys seem to dig.

            This is worrying.

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

            Dean, we just don’t see it this way. Perhaps we have it wrong, but let me explain our view…

            We have already filtered out lots of the bad for you. If we write about a carry piece, then there are strengths that mean in our eyes it fills some sort of roll in the world of carry. We never ONLY gush. We always try to find the areas to be improved, and no matter how uncomfortable it is, we mention them.

            There are thousands of Walmart and Kmart and poory made backpacks we could write about, but you’d get sick of us saying “here are 10 bags you shouldn’t buy, can’t learn from, and should be retired before they are born.”

            I think this approach of really only dissecting the good stuff is pretty typical of good blogs around the globe, and to me doesn’t feel biased or skewed.

            Have I missed something?

          • Harald

            The foundation posts and galleries sounds like great ideas! And you are right about the positive vibe that you have on this page and in the comment sections – which is one of the reasons I keep coming back to read it!

      • http://www.coordinategear.com Paul Nel

        Hey Ando

        If you are looking for something new to review, please check out Coordinate Gear. We are a London based company specialising in protection for high value gear.

        We work with some fantastic adventure and street photographers to make sure we are always learning more about high value gear so that we can design bags for active people.

        One of the huge differences between us and Mission Workshop is that each of our components can be used independently of the system in addition to working together.

        We work with one of your contributors, James Jeffery, on the design and we would love for you to review our bags.

        Paul

  • Anil A.

    I was one of the people who voted for the GR1 for best work backpack (even though, really, I think the GR Echo or Radio Ruck are probably more suited). This bag, as beautiful as it is, seems quite ungainly to me (yes it can be both). It’s a proprietary system, unlike MOLLE and the weight distribution seems whack. That said, it at least attempts to solve my least favourite thing about Goruck bags – backs bend, laptops do not.

    It looks incredibly well made, I have no doubt about that. I actually dislike bags that are OCD about their pocketing (I’m looking at you, 5.11 RUSH bags), so that’s another point for this I suppose.

  • Gang of Four

    Jean’s comment x 10.

    I think the blog has been a great introduction to a few niche brands but now, a little ways on, it feels like those few brands are the only ones the editors care about. Which is fine except you’ve defined yourselves more broadly than “bike brands, a bit of tacti-cool, some luxe leather, and Dana Gleason.”

    How about exploring some “vanilla” small brands? Mention has been made of Tom Bihn and Red Oxx (with good-ish reasons for why you haven’t covered them), but they’re both small shops who’ve successfully keyed in on certain segments. Maybe a deeper exploration of their stories would offer as much as, say, innovative messenger bag maker number 18. Surely, if you can do an entry on a square backpack with modular pouches and a roll top, you can do a bit on 3-way carry options in the Tom Bihn travel duffel. I get that the designs maybe aren’t as sexy but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to learn.

    Similarly, it’s a given that a majority of readers are cultish about Porter, but why not explore the reasons why? Anything from the rigorous standard they require of their (Japanese) craftsmen to some of the more interesting technical fabrics they use (cotton/Cordura weaves are interesting but I don’t know much about them) would be great as far as exploring why the mystique is so (un)deserved.

    Or maybe a look at the heritage brands: Filson, Archival, Makr, et al. The trend may be a bit played out but it’s been largely ignored by this blog… despite the copycat Hershel brand being out in force on the streets of New York.

    I like that you’ve done a bit of EDC, but why not apply the same idea to “one bag” carry-on only travelers? Both of these are valid use-categories whose proponents get pretty passionate about their options. I think this blog is ultimately all about the bags (which I like) but the technical challenges users face is a key part of any genuine design solution. You can go farther than “backs bends, laptops don’t” without going far at all.

    Or even go meta and explore the pros/cons of local artisanal shops vs. Asian factories. The idea that you can evolve designs much faster or that there is a deeper knowledge base in Asian factory workers isn’t one you hear often (as opposed to the widespread and boring “slave labor=bad,” “on-shoring=good” arguments). As a non-industry reader, I’d be keen to know more.

    Anyway, that’s just my two cents from my desk over here in the States. I’m sure there are just as many cool ideas in Europe/Asia.

    Oh and why the hell is Visvim so expensive?

    • http://www.carryology.com/ ando

      Ummm, like wow. Want to come write for us?

      Or at least keep plugging us with lists like that?

      Great ideas which we’ll try and explore in coming months :)

    • http://wurdmunk.com Michael St Louis

      I was thinking the same thing. Great writing here. Recently new to this site, I’m glad I got a heads-up about what and why they are reviewing what they do. While I would like to see reviews which may be more negative, it is enjoyable to learn more about bags in general.

      For years I’ve collected bags and backpacks from all over and every company. From good bags to quality bags, whatever I can find. Thrift stores have been a treasure trove of finds as well. Hope to see some more of your thoughts.

  • valter

    Visvim?
    psychological pricing.

    For all the hipsters, including me.

  • valter

    + 1
    for the travel bags.

    review the mei voyageur and the BAD bags 3 sp with stowable backpack straps.

  • Fletch

    I have the R6 pack and agree with your post! I also found that if you don’t need certain items to be accessed “on the fly”, you can stash them in the main compartment. IE, I have my laptop charger and ipad a/c adaptor and cable in one of the vertical zip compartments, if I don’t need them right away, I place it inside my main compartment, and if I need the space in the main area, I just put it back on the rails. Same can be made with the folio, etc. I also cover the arkiv metal outside with a bit of gaff tape so it doesn’t puncture or get caught on anything on the inside….just something that works for me, and makes it a bit slimmer to start the day with.

  • Scott

    Hey,

    So I have been thinking of moving to a backpack from messenger to backpack for a while now. The two backpacks that I think I have narrowed it down to are the Goruck GR1 and the Missionworkshop R2. I bike a lot… so am worry about the arkiv stuff moving around. I like the rolltop on the mission workshop for expandability.

    I am looking to carry up to 30 pounds… which do u think could carry the load better?

    What I like a lot about the goruck is that I can use it as my hiking bag… but am wondering on how easy it might be to clean? My missionworkshop monty isnt the easiest to clean, and thats a big deal to me.

    • http://www.carryology.com/ ando

      From the two you describe, I’d be leaning towards a smaller R2 with a waist belt added. It will be more water tight, and the waist option will work better for hikes.

      If you really want to get active, you could also consider a backpack with more compression options like some of the tactical packs we review.

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