- Buyer's Guide
Topo Designs from Colorado USA is a product of the locally made movement our world is riding at the moment. Started by some rad people who believe in simplicity, spirituality and community Topo Designs makes apparel, accessories and carry gear proudly in the USA.
Initially I was attracted to the mission behind a lot of their bags, “equally at home on the streets as on the trails”. I’ve always been a fan of carry that can handle diversity, yet rarely can a pack handle opposite terrains well without sacrifice.
With that in mind I was pumped to try out the Topo Designs Mountain Pack and what the brand proclaims as “one pack that could do it all, whether as an everyday carry or a weekender…just as at home on a climbing trip as a work trip”. So I did just that, I tested this bad boy out for four months as my everyday carry, my weekend explorer, my hiking buddy and my work trip small carry-on hauler.
Who It Suits
Anyone looking for a tough American-made pack that can be used in both urban and outdoor environments. Topo’s distinct colorway options will also appeal to those who enjoy vivid and eye-catching aesthetics.
Who It Doesn’t
If you often need to carry a laptop there are better packs out there for this purpose. The Mountain Pack does have a laptop compartment but it’s not quick to access your tech, plus it could do with more padding. The interior organization is also fairly minimal, so organizers may prefer a bag with more internal pockets.
Typically, and unfortunately, I’m quite the desk jockey. Life as a creative director has me traveling to and from work in trains, planes and automobiles. I take a few short trips a month to various shoots or meetings and then have weekend explorations sandwiched in-between to keep my sanity.
“Initially I was attracted to the mission behind a lot of their bags, “equally at home on the streets as on the trails”.”
When the Mountain Pack arrived I was immediately impressed by its quality. I could tell from first glance that no shortcuts were taken to give this bad boy the strength it needed to hang with me.
I really dig that Topo Designs use the best of the best in terms of materials. The 1000D-500D CORDURA® fabric is bulletproof and the #8 YKK waterproof zippers gave me confidence that this pack would hold up to anything I threw at it.
I’m also hugely into Topo’s community mentality. They make all their gear locally by hand in Colorado with the help of their neighbors and local craftsmen. I love that they even invite customers to meet them in person to see how their gear is made – not many brands extend that type of invitation. A rarity in the global e-commerce world we live in today.
“I was immediately impressed by its quality. I could tell from first glance that no shortcuts were taken to give this bad boy the strength it needed to hang with me.”
The Mountain Pack is a classic top loader. With a top flap and inner drawstring closure it has the tradition of what one would expect with any top loader. The top flap is secured by an adjustable strap and a quality hook that even though it lacks a clipping closure never came unhooked. The top interior is secured and protected through a classic drawstring entry and weatherproof-feeling pack cloth liner material.
The winner for me though is the large vertical exterior zippered pocket that allows easy access to the main compartment without fussing with the lid and drawstring. This zipper and all others are top-of-the-line #8 YKK waterproof zippers so there is zero concern about moisture getting in. The finishings are what anyone taking a pack on a mountain expects yet us on the street often forget. Quality zipper pulls and three rows of durable daisy chain webbing give you the ability to customize and secure what and how you carry.
The colors are what divide the critics on this bag though. Some love the Lego-like block pantones while others think it looks too childish. Topo does have some more subtle options of a pure silver/grey look or a black on black variation that will surely win over the monotone fans out there.
“The colors are what divide the critics on this bag…”
The Mountain Pack has a large front pocket with an easy access vertical zipper that adequately fits a medium-sized notebook and some small accessories. I used the front pocket for a small Moleskine style notebook and various cables. Additionally, as is common with top loaders there is a decent-sized pocket on the hood. Just make sure you zip it back up before trying to access the main compartment or everything will dump out as the lid flips open. My favorite pockets were the open water bottle side pockets that go from top to bottom on both sides of the Mountain Pack. They are deep and wide and it is easy to throw most types of reusable water bottle inside (up to a 32oz Nalgene Topo says) amongst other stuff. I often would throw a water bottle in one side then a rain jacket bunched up in the other and maybe even my MacBook charger on top. A very convenient feature and great use of what would otherwise be wasted space.
“My favorite pockets were the open water bottle side pockets that go from top to bottom on both sides of the Mountain Pack.”
The carry and support system on the Mountain Pack is an awesome mix. There are adequately padded shoulder straps and a breathable padded mesh backing to keep you cool. With minimal removable sternum and waist straps it’s an easy pack to transition from the street to the slopes with. Additionally, as most good top loading packs do, the Mountain Pack has bottom and side straps to compress or expand the pack depending on the load you’re carrying.
The Not So Good
This bag has been with me for a while now so of course there are a few things that I wish it had or did differently. The first is the vertical laptop compartment. While adequate for a 15-13 inch MacBook Pro the space is snug. I always found it a struggle to get the laptop out when my pack was full of other gear, especially trying to do it quickly with a TSA agent barking down my throat. Being a top loader and having a vertical internal laptop compartment you’re always going to struggle. I would prefer a nice side access compartment so I don’t have to bother with the drawstring and front clip. Additionally, I wish the laptop compartment was better padded. The padding is minimal and I’ve definitely heard a few “thuds” when setting the bag down firmly. A padded false bottom would have been a welcome addition and some more padding in the front of the pocket would have put me at ease. Usually in this case I would sport a padded laptop sleeve but because of the snug fit it just wasn’t possible.
“I always found it a struggle to get the laptop out when my pack was full of other gear…”
The interior pockets are kept quite minimal on the Mountain Pack. On the front of the laptop pocket there is a small zippered pocket that is good for a wallet and set of keys or a few random bits and bobs. The only problem with it is there is little stretch so the depth of what you put in needs to be minimal.
“I wish the laptop compartment was better padded.”
The only other thing I would change is going for a more mellow color scheme. I love the color for the weekends on the trail but for a meeting with CMO’s it is a little wild.
The Topo Designs Mountain Pack delivers on its promises. It works from the street to the trails and is able to put up with anything you throw at it without a hiccup. The passion and care from the designers and craftsmen is evident and I feel proud to sport such a quality bag. With a few more tweaks this would be my go-to all-rounder but the fact that I have to carry a laptop everywhere just makes it a slight struggle. Still, when I get asked what my favorite backpack brands are I’m now gladly recommending Topo Designs amongst my other favorites.
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