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Road Tests

Road Tests :: Chrome Welded Rucksack

by , September 10, 2013

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Chrome is a company that needs little introduction in the cycling and carry world. Seventeen years ago, they created their first bag, one that defined their trademark feature that’s still used today – the iconic seatbelt buckle. They inspired other carry companies in various ways, whether it is the use of seatbelt straps, waterproofness, or the lifetime warranties. Ultimately the founders left to form Mission Workshop, which is often mentioned as a company that is “inspiring” and “cutting-edge”, when carry industry insiders are interviewed. Despite this long history, Chrome has managed to stay relevant while still producing “bombproof” bags. They are able to keep their prices affordable while keeping up with trends (see: their apparel and shoe line).

A few months ago, Chrome reached out to us and asked if we wanted to check out their Welded Transport series. I was keen on checking out a Chrome bag, having seen and used a few but never for an extended period. They sent over a Welded Rucksack to check out and I started using it as my EDC since that time. The Welded Rucksack uses “the same technology as Coast Guard boats” to deliver waterproof protection. I took that from their website but I think it is a confusing statement. Basically, what you need to know is this: welded seams are a way to connect two seams together without the use of needle and thread. In traditional sewing, the needle creates punctures (holes) in the seam, which compromises the waterproofness. Sonic welding is able to fuse the materials together, and usually along with mesh or seam-tape, provide waterproofness while reducing weight. Pretty neat, right?

Initial Thoughts

When the bag first arrived, I was surprised about a few aspects of the design. First, it’s a much more angular bag than I am used to. I did not look up many details about the rucksack prior to its arrival. Similarly, I did not look at any hi-res photos of it. It’s very much its namesake, a rucksack, complete with ninety-degree corners. It’s long to match the aspect of the human body, and of course documents, laptops and tablets. It’s also very flat. You have probably heard me mention before, but sometimes this is an issue for me. I do not care for bags that have no structure (not the case here, it “holds” its own) or bags that are too restrictive depth (front to back) wise. As such, it’s best you use this bag for the aforementioned items or anything that lays flat. If you are looking to stick a six-pack in here, look elsewhere.*

*As an aside, what is it with “urban” bag companies always showing beer runs with their bags. Surely that must account for a very small portion of their actual use.

Build and Construction

The bag feels bombproof. It seriously does. The problem is it’s often difficult to get a bag that feels elegant or clever while being bombproof. To me that’s the real beauty of a company like Mission Workshop. With the Chrome, you are definitely going the blue collar route. The waterproof coated outer shell can take a beating. You can feel how “solid” it is when you wear it. There is not much give. In fact, most of the bag is pretty stiff. Besides a couple of frayed threads, I could not detect any irregularities or problem with the stitching. The sides tuck in to avoid Ando’s Arch-Nemesis: the Prince Charles ears. The material is somewhat abrasive and as a result, sometimes some “stains” show. They are not dirty, per se, but akin to rubbing the sides of your sneakers on a cement sidewalk. A sort of dust appears on it. Nothing a moist towel would not take care of.

Interesting Features

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Waterproof

Easily the main reason you should buy this bag is its waterproofness. The seams are welded and the outside a 600 denier TPU coated shell. The one thing to note here is the outside pockets are not waterproof. They are under the flap but water could come in sideways. There are two drain holes there. I would not hesitate to put something in that can stand being wet like a pair of sunglasses or a diving watch. I would not put my smartphone or a Moleskine in there.

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Organization

I am a sucker for organization. I’d rather have the pockets than not. If I don’t use them, no harm done. The Chrome bag alleviates the problem of sacrificing pockets for a larger main compartment in a clever way. In addition to the two large outside pockets, it also has a laptop insert with organization pockets in front. The sleeve fits a 15″ MacBook Pro and stays secure to the inside with a large piece of Velcro. You can easily detach it if you want, and you’re left with more room for books, documents, etc. The sleeve reminds me a lot of something you might find from Tom Binh. There are slots for a few pens, a small notebook, and a business card holder or small PMP (personal media player). The front two pockets are perfect for a U-Lock, mints, small camera, etc.

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Metal Hardware

Instead of using the standard plastic strap tensioners, the Welded Rucksack uses small metal buckles with a spring and teeth design. They call them “shark tooth closures.” Whatever the name I really like them. It adds a level of sophistication to the bag. And they’re not all looks either; I found them quite functional and easy to use. They adjusted without any snags or issues and stayed put once they were locked down. In addition to the buckles, the top of the straps hook onto a beefy D-ring. Finally, the front flap is secured by two hooks.

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Shoulder Strap Design

Rather than the traditional backpack where the straps attach to the top of the bag, about 8 inches apart, the Chrome Welded Rucksack’s straps attach to a D-ring in the center of the back. They claim this is more ergonomic.

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Loops

There are daisy-chain loops along the top rear of the bag. I guess the idea here is you can attach MOLLE-style accessories, though I can’t imagine what you would need that for. Also, on both the right and left straps, there are large Velcro straps which let you attach a phone holder, or your walkie-talkie if you’re Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

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What I Like

There’s a lot to like about this bag. It’s affordable at $110. If I bought this bag, I could not see having a need to move on due to construction or performance issues. It’s well built and if it does fail, you have Chrome’s lifetime warranty. I appreciate the carry handle on top but wish it was padded or constructed differently. I love the removable sleeve and organization pockets and appreciate the size of the outside pockets, though sometimes I go back and forth about wanting them to be a bit smaller.

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Of course you cannot forget about the waterproofness. Often a waterproof version of a bag costs more and you are put in a position of spending a bit more for an already expensive bag, for a feature you might not really use. It’s ironic that both Chrome and MW are located in CA where it really does not rain that much. My MW bag saw the most rain it ever has when I was in Philly and Seattle, not when I was in sunny California. With that said, if you live in a climate that gets wet winters, waterproofness is obviously a higher concern.

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What Didn’t Work For Me

My biggest pet peeve about the bag were the “quick” release straps they used to secure the front flat. There are two of them and they hook into a slot on the left and right of the flap. They don’t lock so you can “easily” remove them. They are designed in a way that prevents them from accidentally coming loose. However, it is this very feature that makes them frustrating to use. I often struggled with removing the hooks. I would much rather have a simple push buckle or a system like the Arkiv, which really is quick release (and secure).

I also am on the fence about the back strap design. It’s not hard to get used to and while it’s novel, I wasn’t sure I felt the change was positive in an obvious way. Sometimes the top of the straps would rub against my back or neck in a funny way. Speaking of straps, there’s not much padding on the bag except a small amount on the back of the straps. I wish there was some attention to comfort of “softness” on the bag instead of having it be so rugged and stiff. Speaking of stiff, as I explained, the bag does not really contour to the contents well. Flat items work best in this bag.

Value

The price, right now, is $110. To me, this is a fair price but at the upper limits of what I’d pay for the bag. I don’t know of many waterproof bags for this price and the fact that this bag would probably last forever makes it good value to me. However, I feel like I would buy this bag if I was looking for strictly utilitarian use.

Who It Suits

This bag is perfect for someone who commutes (metro, bus, walk, bike) in a city where rain or debris is a concern. This is for the bike messengers or the man or woman who has to endure tough winters and the harsh city. It’s for someone who usually carries fairly flat items like a laptop, tablet, and documents.

Who It Doesn’t Suit

This is not for anyone who needs to carry items with much dimension. This would not make a good gym bag or equipment bag. It’s also not for anyone who wants some luxury or comfort in their bags. I would not want to carry this bag on a long hike or even all day exploring Manhattan in the summer. This bag would not make a great office bag.

Conclusion

The Rucksack has solid construction, with metal hardware in numerous places. It sports sonic welded seams, a waterproof exterior, and even a removable laptop sleeve. It boasts a number of interesting features, despites it’s very simple and plain exterior. For what it is – a well-built, affordable, waterproof bag – the Chrome Welded Rucksack Backpack would make a fine addition to anyone’s carry quiver. I definitely see myself putting this in the rotation but I would think very carefully about what my needs are for the trip and making sure the Rucksack can fill those needs.

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