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Road Tests

Road Tests :: T-Level Infinity Roll-top 43L backpack

by , May 9, 2014
6.8
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We’re really enjoying watching the renaissance in T-Level at the moment. They’re playing with a bunch of new formats and producing interesting new stuff.

The Infinity Roll-top 43L backpack is one of their flagship products in that it has a bit of everything to it – which is both a blessing and a curse.

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Specifications

  • Name: Infinity Roll-top 43L
  • Brand: T-Level
  • Format: Roll-top backpack
  • Measurement: 32cm x 46cm (rolled up) to 88cm x 27cm
  • Capacity: 43 liters
  • Weight:
  • Zippers: YKK Water Repellent Zipper
  • Material: 1600D Invista Cordura Fabric, 1680D Invista Cordura Balistic Fabric
  • PriceUS $209

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Who it suits

This pack is for people who love the bike aesthetic. The reflective bits are great for riding, but beware that the waterproofing isn’t as good as other cycling packs out there.

Who it doesn’t suit

If you’re not using it for cycling, then the active ventilation system is a little overkill. This isn’t really a suitable option if you’re just looking for an office bag.

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DESIGN

Looks

The Infinity is totally an urban vibe; think Nike SB’s as a bag. Not only does it proudly display the urban bike signatures of a roll-top and reflective hits, but there are also loads of bright and really interesting colorway options (including a leopard-print yardage).

T-Level have traditionally used big logos. It was their thing. In recent times they’ve started knocking back the branding a little, and we dig that. With the Infinity though, it’s one of their bigger logo styles, so be prepared to represent.

All up though, this works for the intended audience. It’s fun, well resolved, and distinctive. Just don’t wear it with a three-piece suit – it’s for a more playful audience who love their sneakers.

Patterning and proportions

With a fair bit of structure, the Infinity sits well empty or full. The proportions feel balanced for a larger pack, and the pattern work feels well resolved when closed.

There’s a fair bit going on, so this is less about darts and tucks, and more about foam structure and a large volume.

Materials

In terms of fabric there’s a mix with most of the external made from a reasonably heavy tarp, then partnered with a 600D-ish polyester. Nylon lining is throughout the interior, with fleece in the laptop section.

We had mixed feelings towards the tarp used. It’s quite heavy, which should mean high durability, but it feels like a PVC tarp rather than a PU tarp, as we were already getting several wear points from our early abuse (particularly at the fold points). However, it does give the pack the rugged aesthetic that T-Level are going for.

Then there’s airmesh, but thankfully this is a pretty good variety. It’s not nearly as scratchy as most airmeshes, and has better surface durability to boot.

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Hardware

It’s generally brand name stuff, with YKK zips, 3M reflectives, excellent Duraflex buckles and really lovely webbing.

buckle

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FEATURES

Harness and ventilation

One of the most notable things about the pack is the harness system. This is a collapsible and ventilated harness system, so you can increase the amount of curve for greater airflow and ventilation. It happens reasonably quickly, and you can get quite a lot of airflow behind your back. Overall it’s a good system.

The only thing working against it is that Boreas have a sexier system which has a single pull at the top, offering a less clunky way to do things (this one requires dexterous fingers). But the net result is similar – it is a good system and when you’re riding a lot it makes good sense.

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The thing that T-Level does better than the competition is that they also add significant foam bolsters to their mesh.

Typically one of the issues with ventilated back sections is that if the whole back mesh is pressing your t-shirt into your back, even if there’s air behind it, your shirt remains pinned to your whole back and it will still get wet and sticky.

However, these additional bolsters on top of the mesh section create better airflow because there’s less contact. You have multiple channels between you and the bag, resulting in an enhanced flow of air which keeps you cooler and your shirt drier.

Organizing

While most general backpacks have organizers, many bike backpacks don’t. T-Level have added loads of pockets, sections and bits for organizing your pens, pads, power-packs and paraphernalia, while not forgetting bike bits like your U-Lock or puncture kit. This makes this pack better than many for the commuter.

Reflectivity

While many of the Infinity colorways will get attention on their own, they all get the added bonus of great reflective hits for that night ride home.

Neat compression

The compression is really interesting. The system incorporates molded G-hooks that are utilized to compress the bag in and down. Because of the bag’s foam structure the compression doesn’t really happen in an attractive way, but it’s effective. It’s reasonably quick to get the compression system out of the way and, as mentioned previously, it’s interesting.

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PERFORMANCE

Space

The Infinity is a large pack that can expand to be a huge pack. This expandability is a big feature – you can tube it right up with groceries, and still have room for Yoda.

While most of the space is in the cavernous main section, there are enough large pockets that you’re rarely left wanting for more space.

Top Access

One of the downsides to this excellent extendibility is that access is harder, because you have to get past all this extending material first.

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The roll-top is the most obvious part of that access challenge, with a thick tarp used and then retained by two straps and clips (many roll-tops only use one retaining strap). Because this took more time to get past, we found ourselves just using one strap, and angling it across to the other clip. While not elegant, this was an effective work-around.

The other access limiter is the sock, which can be extended over a larger load, or cinched in for great water resistance. When you’re not using this feature though, you get the sock and cord hanging about inside your main section. While not ideal, we’d loop the cinch strap to the laptop buckle to try and keep it out of the way.

Side Access

Since the roll-top access is a bit fiddly, the pack offers a side access zip that gives you entry into the main section. However, the issue with this is that there’s no waterproof zip on it, so despite the elaborate waterproofing for the roll-top, water can gain easy entrance through the side zip. This same issue is on the side pocket zip also (both of which had a few trickles of water slide past on our rain ride).

The second issue that cropped up is that the side access doesn’t really work for a laptop. The pack does have a good laptop section but you can’t get to it from the side, so you have to go through the top. Therefore if you are using the pack as a work commuter bag it kind of forces you to use the roll-top entry.

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Pockets and organization

In terms of exterior pocketing it’s an eclectic mix. There’s that broad and flat pen organizer on the front, which is a little hard to get the Velcro fully aligned for. But then there’s a great long side pocket, and a nice document pocket behind that flat front flap.

A confusing one are the short stubby pockets down low on each side, which are fleece lined. We couldn’t work out what these are, as they fill up with water on a rain ride, and you wouldn’t want to put sunglasses or fragile small items down the bottom of a bag (where it gets dropped).

On the inside, there’s a good laptop pocket with enough gusset that you can still get a bit of flex in the back ventilated section without snapping your laptop. There’s also a nice mesh pocket on the side that is out of crush zones and is suitable for storing a variety of items.

There are then webbing sections and external clips, as well as a small waterproof vertical zip pocket that is great for your wallet and keys.

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Construction

The construction is solid without being remarkable.

Comfort

The Infinity does pretty well for comfort, with that ventilated system also working nicely to suspend hard bits away from your back. The downside to that is heavy loads move further away from you, but you can reduce the curve to fix this, which is great.

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The shoulder strap width is good and the pack hugs close enough to the body (although having the load-lifters mounted on an unstructured top panel reduces their effectiveness a little).

The waist strap is a touch confused on the Infinity, as it’s really wide 50mm webbing (which then requires a large and heavier buckle), without any padding to justify that width. You can tuck it away, but it does have that fairly large 50mm buckle to deal with.

Weatherability

The Infinity’s weatherability is its Achilles heel. To have such a bomber roll-top system, using double straps, heavy duty tarp, and an additional sock lining, it all then feels silly when both side zips have unlined zip tape. So you’ll resist a light drizzle, but if you want to ride through storms you’ll need something different.


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Alternatives to consider

An obvious alternative to consider is the Mission Workshop Arkiv System. You end up paying a little bit more once you’ve spec’d it up, but it’s more waterproof and a bit more resolved in several areas. However, with Mission Workshop you don’t get the back ventilation or the organizing features.

You should also look at Boreas Bolinas for their back ventilation system. Boreas is probably on par for waterproofness but offers a bag that is much lighter in weight. The Boreas misses some of the organizing also, but makes up for it in usability.

Then there’s 1001 other new roll-top options, including loads from Timbuk2, Chrome, and an army of brands playing in this space.


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THE GOOD

  • Excellent expandability
  • Excellent ventilation
  • Super fun colorways
  • Lots of organizing

THE NOT AS GOOD

  • Heavy, with a fair bit going on
  • Access can be time-consuming
  • Weatherproofness let down by side zips
  • Some small niggles

Verdict

There is a lot to like about this pack, from the great extendability to the super fun colorways.

But, and there is a but, the overall feel is that there’s a bit too much going on and it’s not really as resolved as it should be.

T-Level needs to work out whether they want to provide proper side access or not. If they do then it should be waterproofed – after all, if you’re going to bother with such an elaborate double clip and waterproofing for the roll-top, then you should go the whole way and waterproof the rest of the bag.

Having said that, we are excited by the new movement at T-Level. These guys have some excellent ideas through their ranges, and can bring a really valuable point of difference to the global carry scene. We look forward to seeing the small niggles get polished.

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Editor's note: The pack for this road test was supplied by T-Level.

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access
6
Organization
7
Comfort
6

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
7
Build, Materials & Hardware
7
Features
8

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
6
Brand experience
7
Value
6
X Factor
8

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