- Buyer's Guide
SDR Traveller D3 Traveller Duffel :: Drive By
Before we dig into the bag, let’s first take a step back and give you a brief tutorial on who SDR Traveller is as this will help define your understanding of why this bag is the way it is. Like all great things, it came out of a need. The sister company to Studio D Radiodurans, a design firm whose projects take them literally to the ends of the Earth, war zones and places people might not be able to locate. Taking an anthropological/embedded approach meant that more often than not, they had to travel light and not stick out in a country when they were trying to blend in. This journey, through trial and error, led to both the development of SDR Traveller (as they figured they weren’t the only ones who had these travel requirements) and the D3 Bag.
Sticker shock. That is probably my first reaction to SDR Traveller’s D3 bag. Almost a thousand dollars, for this? You’ve got to be out of your mind. And the honest answer is that you do have to be out of your mind a little bit but not nearly as much as you’d think. You see, this bag is a chameleon. It morphs, adapts and changes to you as you to your environment. Need it to be discreet? Done and done. Need it to carry everything you’ll need on your back for an extended period of time? Done and done. It’s one of the only bags I’ve ever used across different use cases that I thought of as more than just a bag. Read on to learn why.
Who It Suits
Someone who wants a blank canvas to paint every time they use their bag.
Who It Doesn’t
If comfort and organization are at the top of your list, look elsewhere.
As I intimated in the intro, there is something more about this bag than meets the eye. At face value it’s pretty simple: a solid rectangular shape (no small design feat), four anchor points to alter carry, and two handles on either side of the bag. Yet, despite being some expensive pieces of Dyneema fabric sewn together, the SDR D3 has a sophistication in its simplicity that attaches to you like a gecko to the wall. If that doesn’t quite make sense, it’s because even after six months of taking it around town, and traveling in and out of the country, I’ve been unable to identify why other than this inanimate object has conjured a feeling I’ve never quite had in a bag.
We can start with some of the basics. Its Dyneema fabric is waterproof, ultra-lightweight, and is actually double-layered which helps explain the high price tag. It’s a decision Jan and the team at SDR must have struggled with – do we make it the bag we want to travel with or do we settle for something that’s a more attainable price point. They went with the former and I admire that about them and the bag. The thing weighs 1.13 lbs and is so modular that you can empty the contents and fold it into a small sweater.
Aside from the black color which I preferred for its discretion and ability to hide bulge, the black Dyneema means that like fine leather a beautiful patina develops over time. Having met Jan for coffee multiple times, one of the first things we always do is check the patina on each other’s bag because it in and of itself tells a unique story about the bag.
As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons that this bag is so bloody expensive is that it isn’t skimping on parts. The D3 exterior is lined with an independent interior of, you guessed it, Dyneema. This not only helps it retain its shape but also gives you the ability to stay discreet. Here’s why that’s important: a guiding principle for SDR (and serious world travelers) is to blend in and do as the locals do. By doing so, you don’t draw attention to yourself (and what might be in your bag) no matter where you are: at the airport going through security, walking around town, on a crowded bus, etc.
I keep coming back to this word ‘discreet’ because the bag is simply no frills and doesn’t stand out, no matter how you carry it. Not to mention the flexibility, no matter what I threw in it, to put it at my feet or in the overhead bin when I travel.
Access to a duffel is pivotal to its success. The D3 didn’t disappoint in that regard. The U-shaped, water-resistant zippers give you access to the entire bag. The key is to figure out an efficient way to pack it so that should something be on the bottom, you can easily snag it. In addition to this main compartment, the bag actually has three zipper pockets; one on the flap and two nestled into the side. I found myself always loading up the flap pocket (being the entire length of the bag) to have plenty of room for all of my essentials without getting lost inside the pocket (aka digging around for them). The side pockets were useful when the bag was less filled if you needed them but if you wanted to set it and forget it, then you gave yourself some extra stowage capacity without even batting an eye. And unlike other bags I’ve used, these zippers never snagged on anything.
Now we come to the details part of the bag. You are probably shaking your head. Mike, how can there be that many details on a bag this streamlined? Just like you, I was pleasantly surprised by them. There was a level of care and obsession which I’ve grown to love about Jan and the crew. The zipper pulls are all rocks picked up from the Pamir Mountain range in Tajikistan, smoothed over and somehow fit in. What I love about this is not just the level of care put into it, but that it implies to the user in a tactile way to go forth and find your own adventure. It’s also the first bag I’ve used that, in an effort to maintain the minimal approach, used carabiners as attachment points and anything else you might feel so inspired to use them for. (For those wondering, they are Petzl Ange L.)
One obvious thing not mentioned above is the adjustable carry system. With one expertly designed piece of webbing, you can within seconds carry the bag over the shoulder like a messenger, double-strapped like a backpack or in your hands like a tote. My preferred method was as a backpack, mainly because the bag perfectly nestled in the small of my back the way any other backpack would (without any fuss or major adjustment). There are some side effects which will be discussed below but the novelty of the system should be highlighted. It’s also no frills. The intention isn’t to be super comfortable. It’s to get you from point A to point B as quickly, efficiently and effortlessly as possible.
The Not So Good
Now we get to the part of the story that isn’t so flattering. Although to be honest, I don’t blame the bag. It simply isn’t meant for comfort or organization. The comfort or should I say, semi-frequent discomfort comes from the shoulder strap system. It’s a known issue to Jan and the team and the struggle is really how to make it better without diluting what the bag actually is. Here’s what I mean:
You have 2″ webbing that wants to twist on itself when the bag has any weight to it, which is always when you’re using it. While there wasn’t chaffing or anything like that, it is one of those bags that you do notice the straps and weight of what you’re carrying on your shoulders. Then again, it is a hyperlight bag so that does come with the territory.
The other thing about the strap system is that while the bag does an incredible job retaining its shape, it can still bulge. When this happens, you experience the bulge firsthand so riding around town after working out in the morning, doing the 9-5 and then playing soccer that night, back sweat was definitely a thing.
The system while flexible, definitely requires some tweaking to get personalized to you. It took me a long time to get the carabiners set just right, the length of the straps just right so the biner wasn’t digging into my side. Was this a deal breaker? For me no, but I also knew that this was what I was getting myself into.
When it came to the organizational piece, the bag itself is just a rectangle with three pockets. Don’t look for a pen holder, a place for this or a place for that. If you are the kind of traveler who has cubes that stack up neatly, then this won’t impact you. But if you’re looking for a spot for your laptop to be protected and so forth, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Others To Consider
You can’t mention Dyneema without Hyperlite Mountain Gear, who have been pioneers in their use of the fabric and materials. As such, they too have a duffel which is more standard in its shape and size. Similarly, the guys at Outlier have a cool duffel/backpack hybrid called the Ultrahigh Dufflepack which is exactly what you’d expect from them: capable, expertly designed and super functional.
Modify, adjust, customize. These three words sum up the bag to me in a nutshell. The big question I’ve set out to answer is: is this bag worth the 4 or 5 dollar signs if this were on Yelp? And the definitive answer is yes. Is this bag for everyone? Definitely not, but I think if you looked at SDR’s site, you’ve probably noticed that too. Like PB and J, this bag and I vibed in ways I didn’t fully expect. It became a companion to whatever life threw at me in that given moment. It truly shines on the go where life and spontaneity meet for stories you’ll never forget.