- Buyer's Guide
Remote Equipment Alpha 31: Drive By
Watch out world, the Alpha 31 has landed, and in two words, it’s amazing. You’ll notice that there’s some buzz around this brand that just launched on Kickstarter, and rightfully so. Philip de los Reyes has taken more than two years, going through iteration after iteration of this bag. I first saw this bag nearly a year ago while it was very much in beta (full disclosure, I provided feedback to Philip, which helped inform this finalized version). It wasn’t half the bag it is today. As readers know, I have a soft spot in my heart for DSPTCH’s Ruckpack as my EDC. That’s the bar. And much to my pleasant surprise, after three months of testing, I can say with confidence that the Alpha 31 was more than up to the task.
Who It Suits
Someone who needs an EDC that is bombproof and intended for whatever life hands your way: work, play and the occasional weekend away. I had no issues rocking it at the office 9-5 despite its slightly aggressive style.
Who It Doesn’t
This isn’t a bag for someone who prefers style over function. Or doesn’t want to spend $350 on a bag.
There are so many places this bag shines. Day-to-day as an EDC, as the perfect travel companion and as a weekend warrior, be it for a trip to the mountains or meeting up with friends to play tennis. So let’s break down how it does that.
First, comfort and materials. There are so many subtle details packed into this bag. The feel of the shoulder straps is spot on with what seems like just the right contour and angle. They’re also strategically tacked into a dedicated seam so you will never have to worry about them fraying or wearing down (it’s happened to me a few too many times when they get attached at the top seam).
It’s also a hydration-ready pack, with the passthrough port and requisite tethers. Win.
“There are so many places this bag shines. Day-to-day as an EDC, as the perfect travel companion and as a weekend warrior.”
The material choices are top-notch on this bag. Not only does the X51 fabric (500D x 1000D Cordura) look ready to take a beating, it is! It’s a three-layer material that’s abrasion resistant with the help of the inner laminate, and super weather resistant. The zips are almost exclusively weatherproof YKK AquaGuard, and for the outer passthrough, the YKK RCoil has rain flaps to prevent any water ingress. The hardware is all ITW. Enough said there.
Now let’s talk size and access. The bag itself comes in at 31L but can be expanded up to 36L if you want to push the scale and use the roll-top’s full capability. There are two main access points: roll-top (which is handy when you’re packing it to the gills) or front access which is my preferred method.
On the inside of the front access is a mesh pocket perfect for your iPad or Kindle. I found 31L to be more than ample room for day-to-day use and even on trips, and rarely found a need to leverage the extra tow capacity. That said, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
One of the smartest and best features is the internal high-visibility interior, courtesy of a 400D bright white nylon liner (if you read our stuff, you know we’re always banging on about this). It’s such a subtle detail but exemplifies the thought that goes into every facet of the user’s experience.
It especially comes in handy with the two front vertical pockets (which I’ve affectionately dubbed “sausage rolls”). Given that these pockets can be victims of gravity and lack any organization, things can tend to fall to the bottom of the pocket. As such, the liner inside was helpful to quickly spot the cable, external battery pack or even film camera. Also speaking of the pockets, one thing I loved about them was that they are readily accessible with one shoulder. Sling the bag like a messenger and suddenly you’re into that side (left or right) pocket. No need to take the bag off to get into the bag.
The same can be said for the top “hidden” pocket. One of the things I love about the DSPTCH Ruckpack is that I can access this pocket on body. It’s a short list of bags that allow me to do that and I’m happy to report, the Alpha 31 made the cut. My only gripe about this pocket is that it’s a black mesh bag instead of white so it stands out against the internal liner (when it should technically blend in being “hidden” and all). It’s a small detail and one I hope changes in future iterations.
Moving on, when was the last time you saw a bag with not one but two top handles? Why does a bag even need two handles? Well I learned in my experience that having them is actually quite handy. The front one can be used as a grab-and-go for when your bag is under the front seat on an airplane, while the back one is perfect for the coat hanger in my cubicle to have the bag hang flat against the wall.
“One of the smartest and best features is the internal high-visibility interior, courtesy of a 400D bright white nylon liner.”
And now let’s talk about the wattle bottle holder. Historically, these are poorly executed and hardly ever usable zones on backpacks. I can count on probably one hand the number of bags where when fully loaded, the water bottle holders are still actually usable. Again, the Alpha 31 makes the short list. The secret is with a gusseted approach that lies flat when not in use but expands without creating additional space into the bag. It’s a clever design, a great detail and combined with the side cinch straps, it works great and can swallow so many shapes and sizes of water vessels. Tick.
Last but certainly not least, a few obligatory requirements for an EDC-type bag. First, the dedicated side access for a laptop (or water bladder) for both easy access and maximizing the internal organization by being removed from the “main” compartment so your laptop won’t get buried underneath or jabbed at by whatever else is in your bag.
Another is the webbing for your bike light. Also the reflective bungee shockingly came in handy when needing to carry something like my tennis racket and adds a small amount of reflectiveness to a dark bag while riding, never a bad thing. When combined with the tool loops, it does make it easy to carry helmets, tripods, trekking poles and the like. And of course there’s the side cinch straps to yet again add to exterior carrying capability.
The Not So Good
Perhaps my biggest gripe with the bag is the shape of the bottom contour. Although it gives you a little bit of extra space and helps with some interior organization (being the perfect size to fit my dopp kit or pair of running shoes), the byproduct of a bag with a bottom contour means that it can’t lie flat. It’s gotta lean back like Terror Squad featuring Fat Joe. This was something that I never quite got used to, and would constantly find myself putting it down only to catch it quickly as it fell forward because of the bottom contour.
A note to bike commuters: as I like to wear my bag high and tight, the roll-top would constantly butt up against my helmet forcing my neck/head forward. As a result I’d loosen the straps, which isn’t a deal-breaker but annoying as the moment I got off I had to tighten them. The other thing to know is that while the bag is extremely comfortable on body, and the back pad in particular is soft, there is no direct air flow so expect the dreaded back sweats. So for you active types who love your air flow systems, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Again, not the end of the world in my opinion, I just want to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
“I would constantly find myself putting it down only to catch it quickly as it fell forward because of the bottom contour.”
Others to Consider
As you would expect, the first bag that comes to mind is DSPTCH’s Ruckpack given its similar size, structure and overall feature set. You can’t talk about bombproof bags and not mention Mission Workshop whose Vandal is forever in the pantheon of bag lore. The surprise appearance goes to Tom Bihn and their Brain Bag. Tom Bihn is a company often overlooked but I speak from experience when I say that this bag will stand the test of time and look just as good no matter what you throw at it years later.
“There is no direct air flow so expect the dreaded back sweats.”
Given that this is a Kickstarter campaign, insert the fingers crossed emoji that Remote Equipment Company can hit their mark. This bag, especially being the first one out of the gate, is sure to become your go-to. It’s comfortable on body (especially when fully loaded) and displays an attention to detail that I admire for a new up-and-comer. With the Alpha 31 in the can, I for one can’t wait to see what Philip will put out next!