- Buyer's Guide
Chrome Industries Avail Backpack Review
Chrome Industries is a name linked inextricably with bombproof backpacks and messengers toted by those who rely on their bags day in, day out. But the Avail Backpack represents a different direction for Chrome: enhanced comfort. So much so, they decided to attach the tagline: “the most comfortable backpack you will ever wear.” It’s a lofty claim to say the least, so over a period of two months the Avail accompanied me on a variety of missions from photo shoots to everyday commuting and cycling, to really put it to the test.
Who It Suits
If you’re looking for a high speed, low drag backpack for urban commuting and active pursuits, the Avail is a great contender.
If you’re after that all-black, slightly aggressive, no BS look, that Chrome does so well, again, this is totally your jam.
Who It Doesn’t
The Avail isn’t for those who may require absolute waterproofness or the ability to expand to varying loads.
If you want soft lines and finer details, this isn’t for you. This is Chrome after all.
The first thing that stands out about the Avail is its profile. Strapped onto your back it is low profile, tapered from top to bottom and doesn’t have any dangling straps. This is great for sliding through crowded areas such as public transport or when you’re cycling – allowing you to focus on the task at hand instead of worrying about getting snagged.
Now for the main attraction: the harness. Chrome has utilized some unique technologies to create a supremely comfortable harness and back panel.
The back panel utilizes custom-molded dual-density EVA foam covered with a poly mesh, which is incredibly plush and provides a tangible increase in comfort when carrying heavier loads. During the review period, some days edged into 40ºC+. Whilst the columns and air channels didn’t completely alleviate a sweaty back, it was certainly better than most backpacks I have carried during the height of summer.
Admittedly, the harness is quite a departure from most daypack harness systems available. Using an engineered knit over two-layer perforated EVA foam, the straps are pre-formed to match the body’s natural contours, are ribbed to help keep the pack stable, and provide great comfort when loaded up. An advantage of the engineered knit is it seems to breathe noticeably better than most straps I have experienced – minimizing some of the sweaty marks at contact points. There is also an adjustable sternum strap that comes with the bag – I removed this for the review period to minimize any dangling straps.
Is it the most comfortable commuter backpack ever, though? I’m not sure about that claim. It is certainly Chrome’s most comfortable pack, I have no doubt about that. And it certainly excels when compared to a number of airmesh or moulded backpanels I’ve used. If I were to make a comparison, I’d say it compares really well to the old Boreas cycling packs and their trampoline suspension but with even more comfortable straps.
This is really backpacking technology, placed on a wicked streamlined bike pack, and it’s done supremely well.
And now onto access and organization. Entering the Avail via its top-loading design you will find a relatively minimal interior. The main compartment is tapered, forcing you to load larger items toward the base and placing progressively smaller items towards the top. The rear panel of the main compartment has a small suite of organizational pockets to keep your daily essentials in check – think pens, wallets or small hard drives. Behind these quick-access pockets there is a larger zippered compartment suitable for flat items such as your passport (within this pocket there is also a key clip). The Avail also provides a well padded laptop pocket suitable for a 13″ laptop, which is suspended off the base of the bag, something I was really glad to see.
On the exterior of the pack you will find an elasticated water bottle pocket (which maintains a low profile when not in use) and a small D-lock holster. In use I found the holster to be a little too tight for my Palmy lock to be of use – making insertion/retrieval of the lock a little slow. On the top of the bag you will find a small zippered compartment suitable for small items such as earphones, keys or the like. Adjacent to this compartment is a minimal grab handle comprised of simple webbing.
The overall build quality and material selection for the Avail is quite comprehensive, complementing the overall design philosophy of the backpack. High-wear areas utilize 1050D nylon while the face of the bag is a sleek 420D TPU laminated nylon (in the black colorway) – this really helps moving through snaggy areas as it is very low friction. The interior is comprised of a grey ripstop nylon, providing a little more contrast for finding smaller items.
The Not So Good
Whilst I enjoyed using the Avail there were a few design features which ended up being double-edged swords. First and foremost is the tapered design and top-loading main compartment. Whilst the bag maintains a sleek profile, access can be difficult when trying to retrieve items towards the base of the pack – a full clamshell opening would have been a great addition to improve organization and access.
On the harness front, whilst being super comfortable, I was somewhat concerned about the long-term durability of the harness/shoulder strap connection. Comprised of a single bartack stitch, it would be nice to see a double bartack or similar.
In comparison to other packs with articulating harnesses (Peak Design Everyday Backpack for reference) I found the harness to be slightly constricting for those with broader shoulders. This is nitpicking as it wasn’t a huge annoyance, however it may be useful to note for those with broad shoulders.
Also, there’s no waist belt. To address this, Chrome designed a sloping back panel which hugs the lumbar and presses it in place. It worked fine for my needs, but others might like the addition of one.
For the people out there with shorter torsos, you may find the Avail a little too long for standard carry. I am 180cm and I often felt I was on the edge of finding the Avail too long. However, this feeling disappears when riding a bicycle as you tend to round your back, allowing the Avail to stretch out.
To sum it up, the Avail is a great option for daily commutes in the urban world, transitioning from on-bike to off-bike adventures seamlessly whilst being super comfortable.
If you love Chrome and are keen to try this, you’ll be blown away by the increase in comfort. It’s certainly worth a run.
If you need more capacity, rapid access or absolute waterproofness, you may need to look elsewhere.
This guest post is written by Howard Brittain, photographer, cyclist and all-round gear nut.
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