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Drive By :: JanSport Oxidation Backpack

Drive By :: JanSport Oxidation Backpack

by , April 16, 2014

Call me cliché but I LOVE being a tourist. I get a kick out of visiting historical buildings, going to museums, and checking out iconic landmarks – especially when they’re in my home city of San Francisco. Don’t get me wrong, I like taking the path less traveled just as much as the next hipster, but I think it’s great to see where you live through the eyes of an outsider. When you’ve lived in a place for a while it’s easy to forget how much history you pass by in your day-to-day. So last weekend I carved out some time from my busy schedule and took a quick day trip to a San Francisco tourist mecca: Union Square.

As with all trips, how you carry your essentials dictates your comfort level. So I was pleased to be wearing JanSport’s Oxidation Backpack for my visit to Union Square.


The Oxidation is smartly trimmed with subtle hints of class. But at 30 liters it’s not short on performance either. Leather details and polished metal hooks give off a sense of prestige while the textured polyester construction gives confidence you can use it hard.

After a quick BART ride I arrived at Union Square. Ah yes, the excitement and chaos of it all! Street performers banging on plastic five-gallon drums. Groups of confused tourists studying their maps, cable cars thundering to a stop. There’s a faint smell of urine and diesel exhaust in the air. Looking toward Stockton Street you see an ocean of taxis and busses racing between the lights and dodging pedestrians. It’s so full of energy. So full of life.


The Oxidation had a perfect complement of storage options for my trip to Union Square. Dual external side compartments to hold water bottles, a high positioned sunglasses pocket, and a healthy sized main compartment to hold an extra jacket or two. If I wanted to bring a laptop or hydration bladder there’s a padded space to handle that. And when it came time for lunch, two integrated foil-lined compartments kept my food cool and fresh – a VERY impressive feature that I would like to see on more bags.




The pack has fairly narrow shoulder straps and minimal padding with no ventilation so it’s best suited for hauling bulky but light items. In spite of the bag’s load limitations, the minimal padding and narrow shoulder straps made the bag easier to take on and off, so I could get what I needed and get back to what I was doing.


The naturally low profile of the bag and compression straps helped keep everything tucked away when navigating through the dense crowds.  It was also valuable during the train ride. Normally when riding BART I’d remove my backpack so I don’t bang into anyone, but the Oxidation was so slim I was able to keep it on without guilt.

In spite of all these benefits, I couldn’t help but feel throughout the day that JanSport left some things on the design table with this bag. One example of this is the rear-facing patch. I’m impressed with the use of stamped leather in lieu of the standard embroidered patch, but the placement leaves something to be desired. It’s as though the designers wanted to try something different with the asymmetrical look, but ended up settling on a semi-awkward placement. Admittedly, I’m not sure where else it should go, but if I were king for a day I would have moved the zippers for the foil-lined pouch further apart so as to not sacrifice styling – you can’t go wrong with more room for food!


The other thing that bothered me about the Oxidation is a sense that it just isn’t the best value for money – it’s good but not great. To make my point let’s look at another bag with similar features for the same $100 price range: the Incase Compact City Backpack. With the exception of two things (volume and the integrated foil-lined pouch), the Incase gives you a lot more bang for your buck. Better materials, more storage, more organization, greater comfort, and killer looks. And because the Oxidation has such minimalist shoulder straps, the greater volume is almost a moot point. Frankly, there’s little arguing Incase offers better value for the money. Don’t get me wrong, the Oxidation is a very clever bag and I LOVE that integrated foil-lined pouch (that little cooler area is a brilliant idea), but I find it hard to justify the $100 sticker price when I can get so much more bag for the money elsewhere.

Regardless of these issues, this bag was right at home at Union Square and I’d imagine it would be right at home on just about any tourism endeavor. It kept me comfortable and let me enjoy the moment. Granted, I found the sticker price a bit difficult to swallow but my gripes melted away as I easily slipped off the bag and grabbed my cold sandwich from the foil-lined pouch.


Large storage capacity. Versatile design allows quick adaptation from city to school to wilderness use. Combination laptop/hydration pack partition. Fantastic integrated foil-lined cooler pouch. Nice leather trim and polished metal clasps.


Thin shoulder straps. Storage capacity exceeds comfort level of the bag.


Metal clasps could have been designed to be a bit more elegant. Leather brand patch could have been placed in a better location. Sunglass zipper pull kept getting caught on liner – appears to be a design or build flaw.

Best Suited For:

Students, commuters, professionals constantly on the go, tourists – urban and wilderness alike, and anyone who wants something subtly classy but refuses to sacrifice volume. This is a do-it-all bag.

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