- Buyer's Guide
Drive By :: Outlier Ultrahigh Duffle
Taking the reins in our latest Drive By is our new contributor. Jeremy is the co-owner of Standard & Strange in Oakland, CA, and previously the co-founder of Cedar Cycling. He spends a lot of time handling USA-made bags, and is obsessed with finding the perfect bag for every situation. A lifelong bicycle commuter, and recent motorcyclist, his favorite carry tool is the milk crate zip tied to the back of his KLR650.
Outlier is known for doing some pretty kooky stuff when it comes to menswear, and their bag program is no exception. I’ve known the guys there since they were just making a pair of pants, and they’ve come a long, long way since. I’m pretty spoiled for apparel – I get everything I could want through my store – but I’ll still shell out for their goods.
Way back when, their first bag release was a collaboration with Hyperlite Mountain Gear – a simple backpack. People either understood it or they didn’t, and that applies to this latest bag creation of theirs. The Outlier Ultrahigh Duffle pushes the boundary of what a duffel bag is, and borders between art and luggage.
The base material is cuben fiber (nothing to do with Raekwon) and it’s insanely light, and incredibly strong. It’s got a nice rich sheen to it, in a way that doesn’t make it look like cheap nylon, and a crunchy hand that makes you think “This is something totally new”. There are carbon fiber frame sheets for stiffness and structure, and one of the most intricately crafted herringbone straps I’ve touched in the realm of carry goods.
“The base material is cuben fiber…and it’s insanely light, and incredibly strong.“
There are also two very convenient exterior pockets, both made from 4-way stretch Tweave (a material I know well from apparel development, and love).
What the hell did I do with the tech’d-out bag from the future? The first thing anyone would do: I strapped it to my motorcycle, and went to Trader Joe’s and filled that fucker up. There’s a finite limit on how much you can cram in there and retain functionality, but this isn’t a bag about over-filling, it’s a bag-of-moderation. Pack less than you need so there’s room to expand. That said, I did overfill it, barely got it rolled shut, and then it still stayed intact for the ride home.
“There’s a finite limit on how much you can cram in there and retain functionality, but this isn’t a bag about over-filling, it’s a bag-of-moderation.“
After that, I decided to use it to tote product to and from the photo studio for shoots – we managed to get about a dozen pieces of bulky menswear in there comfortably, and have it stay securely shut on the bike. The wide opening came in handy here, along with being able to cinch the strap down to nothing to avoid too much flapping about.
My next trial for the bag was road-tripping to LA. I managed to shove my usual packing amount into it easily. No fuss, no drama, just a nice easy lightweight duffel. I fit a week of gear in there, packed lightly, along with my Kindle, laptop, cable case, and dopp kit. No room for my jacket, but overall, a surprising amount fit in and still closed securely.
Next challenge: daily carry. I added on the extra strap, turning it from duffel to backpack, got confused (I don’t read directions), put the straps on the other way, and then loaded it up with my laptop, gym clothes, cable organizer, and spare layer.
I abused it on BART this way for a week, and while completely inappropriate for the use, it still performed well. Fully loaded for the day, it sat well on my back, was easy to hike on and off, and generally got out of my way. Once at the office, the wide opening was rad for just getting my crap out and getting to work.
Then, I decided to go all in: Take it to NYC for market week, using it as my carry-on and primary luggage. I managed to cram in everything I needed for the week, but it was definitely at the limit with heavy winter layers bulking it up. I think I would likely not push it that far again.
Who It Suits
This is a definite pickup if you’re a light packer and into the technical menswear scene, although to be fair, it looks are understated and that it plays into anyone’s style quite nicely.
Who It Doesn’t
I’d skip it if you like to pack everything and then some. It really does not deal with being overstuffed at all. It might also not jibe well with folks who are into the super-traditional canvas and leather baggage look (and not into material that crunches when fondled), but it doesn’t look the least bit out of place when lined up with Filson gear.
What I really loved about this bag was the well-designed combination of simplicity, flexibility, and easy loading. It was pretty much just a pleasure to use with the well-thought-out hardware, and was a great auxiliary bag to stuff in my main luggage for extended trips.
The weight was by far a killer feature – save the weight for the load, not the bag.
“…a great auxiliary bag to stuff in my main luggage for extended trips.“
Another aspect of the bag is that people definitely notice it, and not in a bad way.
I’ve had many conversations at the Laundromat, grocery store, on the train, and in the shop about it.
“The weight was by far a killer feature – save the weight for the load, not the bag.“
The backpack conversion, the thoughtful pocketing, and the bomber straps all added a lot to the plus side of the balance sheet for this bag.
The Not So Good
It’s hard to find many negatives about it – my primary complaint might actually be a feature. I have a similar roll-top duffel made from heavyweight waterproof rubber, and it has two fail-safes for overload: the “lips” Velcro together, and then there’s a set of buckles that cross over the top. I wouldn’t have complained about having some auxiliary hand-straps, which are also in violation of the general concept of the bag.
The strap-attachment system was clever, but a bit annoying to figure out at first. The bag comes in a number of different carry modes including Sport Mode, Mil Mode, Messenger Mode, Hand Mode, Beach Mode and Backpack Mode (which requires an additional strap).
Alternating between them can be tricky and confusing, involving readjusting G-hooks and scratching-your-head moments.
“The strap-attachment system was clever, but a bit annoying to figure out at first.“
It’s likely you’ll end up just using the bag as a duffel or a backpack, and that’s okay.
Others to Consider
My alternate picks would be the SealLine WideMouth Duffel, the Filson Dry Duffle, or for those looking for the lightweight, the Stuff Pack from HMG. There really isn’t anything on the market quite like it though, in terms of design + fabrication + functionality.
For the right person, someone who gets the techy look and load limitations, this is a great bag that I’d recommend all the way. This is an absolute must for Outlier fans, too. Folks who are looking to stuff a bag over-full won’t be at all happy with it and I’d steer them towards one of the many great alternatives.