Mission Workshop Helmsman Duffle :: Drive By
I have to start off by saying that I’m a Mission Workshop homer. I love what they represent and how they go about their business. So when a Helmsman Duffle from said MW came into my life, I thought I was going to fall in love all over again. But unfortunately like love, it can be fleeting at best. I wanted this bag to rock. I wanted this bag to be the best thing since sliced bread. But alas, while I liked it, I couldn’t love it. Read on to find out why.
Who It Suits
The intrepid cyclist with front rack who wants to lose a bag in the process.
Who It Doesn’t
Anyone who wants to use this like a traditional duffel, used primarily over the shoulder.
As you would expect from Mission Workshop, the bag is expertly designed in ways big and small. There are some words that you naturally associate with MW, one of which is rolltop. To me this is the bag’s biggest strength. They were able to create a rolltop that doesn’t lose volume (or shape) as you compress it down.
One of the things that blew me away about this bag was the handle. Being a duffel, it’s an often overlooked part of the carry experience as the shoulder strap gets precedence. And yet it was hands down (pun intended) the simplest yet most comfortable one I’ve held in a long time. It’s nothing more than webbing with riveted hidden snaps at either end. It’s efficient, easy to use and again I can’t stress this enough, comfortably natural in your hands no matter what’s inside.
“One of the things that blew me away about this bag was the handle. It was the simplest yet most comfortable one I’ve held in a long time.”
Things that we all know but have to be said: the construction, the materials, the utility goes without saying. Rain, sleet, snow, sunshine. Honestly it doesn’t matter. The bag is made for those conditions, teasing you to test it. It’s also worth noting that there is a shoulder strap accessory for $25 which converts the carry from over one shoulder to both, backpack style. I didn’t get to try it out and it looks a little clunky but I’d prefer that to the strap provided.
The Not So Good
When I say it’s not suited for anyone looking for a traditional duffel, I mean that it’s a bag really designed for someone on the go. I found it to be a good travel companion but honestly its bread and butter is around town going on/off the front rack. That said, there were some specific things that nagged at me.
I have a weird obsession with shoulder straps and handles. As noted above, the handle is genius, subtle and plain works. The adjustable shoulder strap was a different story. While it was easy to adjust (loosen/tighten) with one quick pull off the body, it became tiresome to constantly have to adjust as you are walking. The cinch never seemed to hold. As someone who prefers the bag high and tight, it was difficult when fully packed to seamlessly tighten it. It wasn’t the one-handed ease that it took to loosen. Often at a light, I’d find myself readjusting in some way, regularly. Is this nitpicky? Sure, but it’s why I stress that this bag is designed less for you wearing it and more for toting around.
To me this bag was stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s a modified design of the Transit series shoulder bag but with a little bit more space and added capability (i.e.: to attach to the front rack). As such, it really changes the way you move and interact with the bag. It has great bones and being made by Mission Workshop, I believe in its bombproofness. That said, it’s the first bag I’ve had in a while that I didn’t feel like it adapted to my routine/life.
“While it was easy to adjust the shoulder strap with one quick pull off the body, it became tiresome to constantly have to adjust as you are walking. The cinch never seemed to hold.”
Others to Consider
Rolltop duffels are starting to creep into the scene more and more as the market splits between tradition, nostalgia and adventure. Take Chrome, the now ex-San Franciscan brand and the Sotnik Duffle which can go pound for pound with the Mission Workshop Duffel. There’s YNOT’s Viken (still one of my favorite duffels for its versatility across use cases). And if you want a different style but built for all conditions, there’s The North Face’s famed Base Camp Duffel.
I have a soft spot in my heart for MW – their aesthetic, constant ability to create innovative products that are worth every single penny, and their apparel that makes my heart melt. But this bag and I never quite saw eye to eye. It lacked some of the punch I expected from a MW product. It felt a little bit lifeless if I’m being honest. I will be the first to admit that I used it as a more traditional bag as I don’t have front panniers (porteur style bike rack) but it surprised me how superfluous the bag on the whole felt. Did it kick ass in the rain? You bet. Is it something that can take a beating? Sure. But is it something I’d pull out for a trip or around town? Sadly, no.