Putting the Alchemy Equipment AEL002 30L Daypack through its paces is Jimmy Gleeson, designer, traveler, watermelon enthusiast...
Months ago, I planned an odyssey of work and adventure. The first leg: 10 days on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido in search of late winter powder and hidden backcountry gems. Followed by a week in San Francisco, then Yosemite, and finally Austin, Texas, for South By Southwest to glean as many learnings (and to sip a few ales) as humanly possible.
With such a mix of cities, outdoor environments and the inevitable transits in between, I perused loads of carry sites in the months leading up, looking for a kind of hybrid pack that could mix it in all three surrounds.
Note: I’m a little bit of an idealist like this. I love products that can adapt and float across multiple worlds. Even if it means compromising on specific details in trade of overall versatility. Something I’m sure many a carry enthusiast would scoff at. In a sense, I was after the ‘every bag’.
And thanks to a tip from some Carryology pals, my mouse zipped across the profile of the Alchemy Equipment AEL002.
Alchemy Equipment is a New Zealand brand in its formative years. Founded by the ex-creative director from Macpac, the brand was conceived with the intention of creating a performance-driven apparel and luggage brand that nailed the modern aesthetic – and they’re doing just that.
An email or two was sent, and a sample was briskly delivered to the foot of my desk.
- Name: AEL002
- Brand: Alchemy Equipment
- Format: Backpack
- Capacity: 30L
- Zippers: #8 YKK AquaGuard zippers and #8 YKK reverse coil zippers
- Material: Upper: (A) waxed Kodra; or (B) brushed tweed; Base: 3x PU coating on 900 denier Kodra
- PriceNZD 260
Pockets and Organising
Flash forward two weeks and there I was in Tokyo, complete with hangover and karaoke regrets (thanks to an awful rendition of Under The Bridge I’d chosen to mangle the night before).
I transited to Narita Airport ready for the flight to Hokkaido. The Alchemy AEL002 main compartment was stuffed with my small carry including my 15" MacBook Pro, Sony camera, two lenses, portable hard drive, cables, fleece, and a few books for killing time.
When in transit I like to keep my travel wallet within easy access. The bag's top pocket is the perfect size for this and the added fold of material over the zip adds not only style but a little extra protection from prying hands. In the same pocket, there was also enough room for my sunglasses, ear buds and spare batteries.
Below this is another pocket, concealed in the fold line of the bag's front which fits larger carry like a notebook or spare socks. This ability to hide sections of the bag within one minimal silhouette is at the heart of why the AEL002 will appeal to so many folks. Compared to most others in the airport, the bag handles that fine line of style and functionality perfectly. Something which so often isn’t the case with hiking packs or a business briefcase.
"This ability to hide sections of the bag within one minimal silhouette is at the heart of why the AEL002 will appeal to so many folks. Compared to most others in the airport, the bag handles that fine line of style and functionality perfectly."
Comfort and Weatherability
After sitting above the clouds for a little over an hour, spending the best part of it trying to work out if I was eating a vegetable or a sea creature, I soon descended into Hokkaido. There was snow as far as the eye could see. From sea level to the hills. Despite the relatively slow season by Japanese standards, I’d timed my run just right and landed the plane surrounded by a little under a foot of fresh. If it was this good at sea level, I could only imagine what it was like up in the mountains.
Lugging snow gear is usually a pretty shitty experience and I was expecting the next few weeks to be a little uncomfortable at the least. But the AEL002's harness was far more accommodating than I thought it would be. Although its clean aesthetic could easily pigeonhole the bag as more of a fashion daypack, the premium air mesh and an airflow molded EVA panel hug your back perfectly. It reminded me of a line from Alchemy’s site, “Don’t let the good looks fool you – this capable pack is built for the journey”.
"Lugging snow gear is usually a pretty shitty experience and I was expecting the next few weeks to be a little uncomfortable at the least. But the AEL002's harness was far more accommodating than I thought it would be."
Although initially wanting a bag more for urban adventures, this next few days in Hokkaido would put the AEL002 through its toughest paces of the entire trip. Keen to test the bag’s claim of wet weather protection, taken care of by its PU fabric coatings and YKK AquaGuard zippers, we ascended Mt Yotei. A volcanic peak called the Mt Fuji of the North.
That day the mountain had a mid-level risk of avalanche so the plan was to hike to the tree line and get a decent ride down. It was -12 and the wind was up. Sheltered in the birches, I hiked for the next three hours, making it a little under halfway up the mountain.
Despite the constant snow, and sweat from the hike, the bag's weatherproofness definitely held up. More than I expected to be honest. The 30L capacity had adequate space for my shovel, beacons, spare hoody, water bottle, my camera and various quiver of sugar snacks we’d packed for the energy. I’d attached the waist belt that morning which took a little longer than planned due to its fiddly attachment to the back section of the bag. Once on though, the support was good around my hips and up to my back, even with my board wedged through the arch. Something I know it’s not designed for but a hack that held up all the while. The only drawback on the hike was my sternum strap which used a pretty basic buckle and felt like it would crumble under some seriously strenuous testing.
Looks and Materials
After a few more days riding at some of Japan’s lesser know mountains I headed to San Francisco. This time with a much less rugged sense of adventure. Instead, using my daypack for a week ahead of work with good friends Huckberry.
Huckberry’s mission is to inspire their readers to lead more adventurous and stylish lives. Something that best summarises the AEL002’s hybrid capabilities. There’s nothing worse than taking a super outdoors-looking bag into a meeting: bright color tints, straps flailing and the silhouette looking like a deflated football when not fully loaded. This is where the AEL002 goes from being a good daypack to an awesome all-rounder.
The selection of materials, from the waxed Kodra to the leather trims, are spot on; tough enough for outside, yet refined enough for inside. The internal laptop pocket had adequate protection for my MacBook Pro, whilst the outer pockets worked fine for my mouse, portable hard-drive and cables. Although the pocketing is pretty basic, it’s fine for daily use with another two side pockets handling goods like a bike lock and water bottle.
There are definitely bags with more detailed storage on the market, but to be honest, the AEL002’s minimalist style suits my needs perfectly. Instead, trading its storage simplicity for details where it matters, like in the harness and materials.
After San Francisco, I did an overnight hike in Yosemite, camping at Glacier Peak. Followed by another week of ‘work’ at SXSW for the interactive conference… And then later, music festival. Again, the AEL002 managed each variation with aplomb.
- With the lack of overcomplicated pockets, the 30L internal storage is super generous. Even when fully loaded, the bag keeps its ergonomic shape, preferring to store upwards rather than outwards.
- The material look and feel are spot on. The waxed canvas-looking external gets better with each scuff, offset by the more technical-looking hardware.
- The bag’s performance between outdoor and urban environments is up there with the best. Where other bags struggle to nail the perfect balance, and skew in favour of one setting over the other, the AEL002’s design transitions perfectly without need for compromise.
- The harness is great. There’s enough padding to keep your back cushioned on a trek or city ride, without being too much that it overpowers the silhouette and turns the bag into more of a hiking-style pack.
The Not So Good
- There are not many glaring problems with the bag, more just subtle areas for improvement. The side pockets are difficult to access without the gusset or elasticated opening you get on other adventure bags. Getting a drink bottle in and out for example is difficult and shifts you to store it inside the bag instead.
- The waist belt has a nice buckle that gets easier to use once you get used to it. Its ability to be removed easily sucks though. Although designed to be clipped on and off of the bag, the waist strap's connectors are too tight and don’t allow enough wiggle room to slide the strap off easily.
- The sternum buckle feels cheap and feels at odds with the rest of the hardware.
- The plastic-feeling carry strap at its top is awkward to carry when the bag is full and lacks support.
The shift from adventure to urban, back to adventure and then urban again is why I initially chose the AEL002. Keen to keep my carry minimal, the bag is the perfect 50/50 for mixing it between work and play. Within reason, of course.
"The bag’s performance between outdoor and urban environments is up there with the best."
There are much better bags on the market at both ends of fashion and function. But for something that works in the middle, the AEL002 nailed it. Equally adept hiking in the cold or heat as it is flowing through downtown where aesthetics are more important. It's a solid all-rounder that makes for a versatile addition to your carry quiver.