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Road Tests

Road Tests :: Mission Workshop Vandal Backpack

Road Tests :: Mission Workshop Vandal Backpack

by , July 11, 2010
8
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I’ve wanted to get my hands on a Mission Workshop pack from the moment I saw one… (cue cheesy music)

The guys that helped kick start Chrome bags have moved on and started afresh. Their Vandal and Rambler packs are roll-tops like the Chrome line-up, but with the ideas pushed further.

They’ve been good enough to send us a Vandal (the larger of the two), which I’ve been using for well over a month now, with both daily ritual and interstate trips covered. It’s a great pack, and is holding up well to the abuse.

Mission Workshop Vandal

The Mission Workshop guys were awesome in sending us this pack, and also in agreeing that we shouldn’t hold back. So I want to cover both the highlights, and the areas that I think could be improved.

As always, this is an honest review of both the good and the not as good. We’re just lucky that the pack is mostly good…really good.


Specifications

  • Name: Vandal
  • Brand: Mission Workshop
  • Format: Backpack
  • Measurement: 15'' x 21'' x 6''
  • Capacity: Compact: 1,800 cu.in. (29 L); Expanded: 4,000 cu.in. (64 L)
  • Weight: 4.4lbs (2 kg)
  • Zippers: Urethane-coated
  • Material:
  • PriceUS$ 324.98

BUY THIS ITEM

Who It Suits

Commuters: This bag lets you live on your bike, responding to any impulse and taking everything you need with you. There are not many bags that do that.

Adventure seekers: This thing can roll with any mission, adjusting and responding as you need it to.

Experienced bag users: I wasn’t sure whether to put this in or not, but the Vandal is a reasonably complicated pack. There are a lot of configurations, sections, and inter-relationships of space, so you need a bit of nous to get your head around it. Having said that, when you do, you get rewarded with an amazingly flexible tool.

Who It Doesn't

Tech fiends: There is still an under-supply of pocketing if you carry a heap of tech. You can get around this with good inserts, but make sure you plan for that.

Mission Workshop Vandal


Design

Looks

I’m still a sucker for a good-looking pack. Roll-tops just look more grown-up and better, and the Vandal is probably the most evolved roll-top of any. The fabric was a little techie for my initial taste, but it has really grown on me when I see the upsides to its water-resistance and reflectiveness (visibility at night is pretty important).

Mission Workshop Vandal

Construction

The build quality is high, looking as good in the flesh as it does in the photos. The main elastic closure is awesome. It serves as a quick lock-down for the roll top (if you can’t be bothered rolling), but more impressively, it lets you tuck a helmet, jacket, or even a Baby Bjorn behind it, providing quick access without issues. The elasticity also means you rarely need to adjust it, with it stretching to fit most needs.

Mission Workshop Vandal

"The main elastic closure is awesome. It serves as a quick lock-down for the roll top (if you can’t be bothered rolling), but more impressively, it lets you tuck a helmet, jacket, or even a Baby Bjorn behind it, providing quick access without issues."

Mission Workshop Vandal

Materials

It’s a really well-made pack, with good componentry and quality fabrics. On a personal take, I would swap the common airmesh for something less scratchy on bare skin (almost all bags have this though) and upsize some of the zips, but that would bring other compromises.


Performance

Space

The MW guys have found a great compromise with this format. In regular configuration, the pack is about the right size for a trip or gear-filled daily commute. But when you need it to, the Vandal will grow like the Hulk, swallowing whole cities in its wake. Why does this matter? Have you ever tried to bike home your weekly shopping? I can finally stop dangling bags from my handlebars. The pack's massive expansion abilities are wonderfully demonstrated here.

Mission Workshop Vandal

"In regular configuration, the pack is about the right size for a trip or gear-filled daily commute. But when you need it to, the Vandal will grow like the Hulk, swallowing whole cities in its wake."

Pockets and Organizing

There really is nowhere great for your sunglasses or delicates. A good delicates pocket should be set high on the bag, preferably nearer the back (least likely spot to get crushed). I got around the lack of one by carrying a padded pouch in one of the other sections.

Mission Workshop Vandal

"There really is nowhere great for your sunglasses or delicates."

Mission Workshop Vandal

All the sections in the Vandal go right to the base. This means that items all drop to the bottom, start to get jammed, and then you fill in above them. With a small tweak, the front section could finish just above the front zip pockets (becoming a delicates section), the next section could finish an inch or two above the floor (to work better as a suspended laptop pocket), and the expansion and rear sections could remain floor to ceiling.

"All the sections in the Vandal go right to the base. This means that items all drop to the bottom, start to get jammed, and then you fill in above them."

Mission Workshop Vandal

Because the bag spoils us for choice with sections, it is a little limited with pockets. I ended up needing some modules (I wish I had a simpler life). I put in a padded pouch for a small camera and sunnies, a laptop sleeve for my 17" MacBook, and another case for all my tech cables.

Mission Workshop Vandal

Comfort

If you want your waist belt to take any real load, you need your pack to have some rigidity and structure (otherwise the load cannot be ‘lifted’ from your hips). The Vandal has a semi-rigid back panel that achieves this (making it better for hauling heavy loads). The downside to this is that if you bend your back a fair bit when riding, the pack does not bend with you as much. It’s fine, just not super fine.

Mission Workshop Vandal

Speaking of hips, the waist belt is great. Wide, well structured with high density foam, and removable. I used it when traveling, then removed it when riding/commuting (it can lock your bending a little on the bike).

"...if you bend your back a fair bit when riding, the pack does not bend with you as much."

Mission Workshop Vandal Waist Belt

Weatherability

A pretty severe afternoon downpour and I shared some intimate time together, and the Vandal did not let a single drop in. I had all of my tech inside, and it came through unscathed. The coated fabric also means that the bag outer resists water-logging, remaining light and quickly drying.

"...the waist belt is great. Wide, well structured with high density foam, and removable."

Mission Workshop Vandal


Alternatives to Consider

Roll-tops are just starting to find their feet in the backpack game. The most similar packs are from Chrome, T-Level and Sag. But of all these, the Vandal is my new favorite. It just seems to have pushed the ideas further.


The Good

  • Great expansion capabilities to suit a variety of loads
  • Weatherproof construction
  • Versatile design for work, travel or play

Not So Good

  • Lack of pocketing for delicates, small items and tech gear
  • Items drop to the bottom of the full-length sections and get jammed
  • Semi-rigid back panel can be restrictive while cycling with the pack

Mission Workshop Vandal


Verdict

This really is a great pack – one that innovates in a bunch of ways. While it’s been built with a cyclist in mind, it will still work great for climbers, surfers, dungeon masters and any number of adventure seekers as their go-to backpack.

Expansion and versatility are perhaps its biggest trump cards, but water-resistance, comfort and great looks all help.

While we found a few small things that in our eyes might be improved, we also acknowledge that these are things that are mostly about broadening its appeal – getting it more suitable to the laptop and tech wielding crowd (which many commuters now are).

"Expansion and versatility are perhaps its biggest trump cards, but water-resistance, comfort and great looks all help."

Good stuff, Mission Workshop, this is a big step forward.

Mission Workshop Vandal

Postscript

We have had several crew saying that they are trying to choose between this pack and a Chrome roll-top. The major difference that we see is that the Chrome perhaps pips the Vandal for a fashion look, while the Vandal wins from a performance and technical standpoint. We’ll review the Chrome soon for more insights…

They are definitely conceived from the same parents though, so you can’t go too wrong with either.

Mission Workshop Vandal and Chrome Ivan roll-top

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access
7
Organization
7
Comfort
8

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
9
Build, Materials & Hardware
8.5
Features
8

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
9
Brand experience
8
Value
8
X Factor
7

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