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