- Buyer's Guide
ORBITGear R103 Review
It’s the middle of the night in “Port City” (Japan), the neon lights of the city reflect in the glass eye-mask of the Major Motoko Kusanagi while she stands upon the ledge at the top of a skyscraper, ready to jump at the signal… that’s the beginning of Ghost in the Shell (1995), the animated cult film by Mamoru Oshii. What’s the relation between a cyberpunk cult anime and the Indonesian brand ORBITGear? None—and at the same time, everything. (I recommend listening to the soundtrack while reading through this review).
Cyberpunk culture is at the fundamentals of techwear sub-culture, made famous by the genius of Errolson Hugh with ACRONYM (and his work for NIKE ACG). It is one of the main inspirations of this movement that celebrates a dystopian science-fictional vision characterized by a specific aesthetic. Its clothing—designed to serve a purpose over and above simply covering your body—is increasingly popular in the fashion industry. This may include heat insulation, breathability, water resistance, or additional accessory storage. ORBITGear takes inspiration from and celebrates sportswear versatility, military gear practicality, and mountaineering gear functionality. Every design piece focuses on functional details and practical features with a tailored fit for better experiences as daily wear. These concepts specifically fit the techwear essence and bring ORBITGear into the category, perhaps even coincidentally...
The brand was born in Jakarta, where the rainy season can be very long, and keeping your body and belongings dry might become a challenge. ORBITGear produces tough EDC backpacks and messengers (other than clothes as well), which would be good for a mission in a war zone or in one of those “urban exploration” (or URBEX) expeditions where people go take pictures of abandoned industrial buildings or old factories (I was one of them). “I got an inception idea when checking a promotional dry bag, got in a diving camp. The bag has a unique construction but lack of adequate quality to be used as a daily beater”. Yost, the founder, told me how he came up with the idea for the R103, the extra tough (and heavy) backpack I had the pleasure of reviewing. Using the ORBITGear R103 has been a mix of emotions. I’ve been for too long involved with ultralight backpacks or mountaineering rucksacks where every gram counts. Consequently, when I initially opened the ORBITGear package I was skeptical. This bag is heavy. At least that was my first overly-biased impression. But after putting the pack to use, all my doubts about the ORBITGear R103 were gone—washed away by the extreme comfort of the pack’s fit and its extra-padded straps.
- Name: R103
- Brand: ORBITGear
- Format: Roll-top backpack
- Measurement: 300x500x150 mm
- Weight: 1.3 kg
- Material: X-Pac and leather sailcloth, tarp liner
Who It Suits
It fits people looking for a weatherproof, versatile, tactical-inspired backpack that suits daily commutes in crowded and not-so-safe cities, where public transportation represents a challenge for the security of your own belongings. It also suits people who love techwear culture and want the perfect bag to go with their favorite ACG cargo pants and Nike X ACRONYM sneakers.
Who It Doesn’t
People looking for minimalism, feature simplicity, and an ultralight EDC backpack. People who don’t need to do long commutes, exposed to the unreliable weather forecast, and live in the safest country in the world (like Japan).
Aesthetically pleasing, the R103 looks like a way through a military tactical pack and a typical bike messenger backpack. To be a 20-25 liter pack it actually looks smaller than what it can really carry. If you are a fan of daisy chains, you’ll find plenty on the R103. The entire pack body is customizable with modules sold on the ORBITGear site—to create an external carry space or add a couple of carabiners. The closure system is redundant for each access. When I ask Yostria why he was purposely reducing accessibility, he explains how difficult it is for daily commuters in Jakarta to have peace of mind when using public transportation without worrying too much about pickpocketing.
The pack is a classic cylinder box with a roll-top closure and zipped back panel access.
All around the pack, military-inspired daisy chains made of seat-belt webbing allow fastening of external modules like pouches, bottle holders, or multifunctional flapped pockets. The shoulder straps are very thick and extra-padded to deliver comfort when carrying heavier loads. The bottom of the pack feels built to last, with an overkill piece of leather where the pack sits. The entire pack exterior acts as a shell for the internal waterproof liner which ensures your belongings are kept safe and dry.
X-Pac and leather sailcloth, tarp liner
The ADV series from ORBITGear is made in X-Pac, which differentiates it from the regular model (built in canvas) for waterproof properties and lightness. The internal material is a 210D PA liner.
The roll-top access with a redundant double closure system, two V magnetic buckles and two 20mm magnetic buckles, feels very sturdy and provides the sense that your belongings are well protected.
The extra-padded back panel has a chunky YKK zip closure, which allows access to the internal storage and is secured with two plastic buckles placed on the top of the shoulder straps and two magnetic buckles at the end of the roll-top access. In theory, when rolling the top of this backpack, you are also twisting (and by doing that, you put them in position) the main buckles to engage and close the back panel access.
There are two front pockets, an upper fairly large pocket, closed by a waterproof guarded zip which also contains a small security pocket on the inside. The bottom pocket is barely perceivable and is ideal for small items such as keys or chargers.
On both sides, under the compression straps, there are two side pockets which can fit a small umbrella or a small bottle—I managed to put my camera tripod in there and it was perfectly secured to the pack.
On the back panel, an invisible security pocket is accessible by a zip in the side of the back panel padding. This is where I usually place my wallet.
A magnetic sternum strap will also ensure stability when riding a bicycle.
The internal main compartment is accessible by unrolling the top or by a back opening similar to camera-dedicated backpacks. The panel can be unzipped 3/4 of its length, leaving the access always partially closed and forcing the user to unzip the pack while sitting it bottom down instead of resting it on its front as is common for most camera-dedicated packs.
On the internal back panel, two big padded compartments are natural-born carriers of a laptop (up to 16 inches) and an iPad.
I’ve been testing the ORBITGear R103 in an urban environment, mainly for daily commutes where I carry all my working gear such as a notebook, iPad, headphones, and a bag for all the chargers and cables, in addition to a change of clothes for the bouldering gym, my climbing shoes and a chalk bag. I’ve also used the pack as a camera bag for any occasion; the back access makes it perfect when tossing the bag on the ground to open it from behind to extract a lens. Within the bag’s inside compartment, I’ve been able to fit my “padding boxes” containing two camera bodies, three lenses, and all the other photo equipment, plus some clothes such as a shell and a sweater. I would say this pack should be a 25L but I didn’t push the max capacity for sure. I was also able to comfortably strap a tripod onto the side.
The main internal compartment is pretty roomy, and the dedicated laptop pocket and iPad pocket come in handy when carrying your work setup. If you also need to carry camera gear, it becomes necessary to add some padded camera cubes like this one from Peak Design. (I wish ORBITGear would consider building a camera-dedicated backpack, maybe evolving from this model.) The external organization is limited to the front pocket, which is useful to store your wallet and small items, the hidden back pocket to store other valuables and keys, side pockets where it’s possible to fit a Nalgene bottle or a small umbrella (or even a tripod), and a bottom pocket which I honestly never used and almost forgot about its existence.
This pack is very comfortable. I’ve been cycling a lot with this pack fully loaded with camera gear, gym gear, and computers, and I didn’t have any issue. I believe the extra-padded back panel plus the wide and thick shoulder straps makes a difference when carrying heavy loads. Adjustability is pretty good, and I fit and secure it with the elastic sternum strap, which is critical when commuting on a fixie in Tokyo’s traffic.
Alternatives to Consider
This is a tough one. We have a unique pack, designed for a specific environment and with a defined user in mind. Even if I believe there is a lot of room for improvement, it is difficult to define an alternative that somehow rings the same bell. If we consider the materials and the similar tough, bike-messenger-like rolltop or military/tactical construction, a few brands come to mind: Chrome Industries, Mission Workshop, Triple Aught Design (Axiom), ILE, DSPTCH, Mixed Works, Mystery Ranch, and Remote Equipment.
This pack is very comfortable, with a bombproof construction and premium material. It’s built to last for a long time. The internal organization is also pretty good and makes it a perfect EDC for people like me who constantly move around the city on a bicycle or public transportation, giving me peace of mind regarding the security of my personal property. When adding external modules, I also believe that the customizability brings this pack’s versatility to another level and easily competes with American brands like Mission Workshop and Chrome Industries. Did I also mention how cool it looks?
Not So Good
The ORBITGear R103 is a heavy pack. It weighs 1300 grams empty. That’s a lot for an EDC pack, especially with such relatively small capacity. The access to the main compartment may be tedious for many. To only unroll the roll-top requires unlocking four buckles. It takes even longer to close it since rolling and twisting the webbing strap requires a few moments of thought. I’m not sure if this would be the feature that kills usability in the long term and makes people move to a different pack. The great back panel access does not unzip entirely; this was probably made on purpose but became laborious when using the pack as a camera bag since I couldn’t just lay it on its face and open it entirely to access my camera boxes. The R103 is overloaded with features that can be too much for somebody; as much as I loved it, I realized I spent a lot of time wishing this was a simpler backpack.
Nice to Have
I would improve the accessibility and remove unnecessary features to make the pack lighter; for people like me living in one of the world’s most secure cities, all those extra buckles are a no-go.
Also, I would make the back panel open completely (not only 75%) to fully grant access to the main compartment.
I wish to see a camera bag that follows this construction but is specifically designed to serve a photographer’s needs—maybe a version without the roll-top but instead a zipped lid.
For this price tag, this backpack is a steal. If you like the design and don’t mind the small convenience issues, it’s more than recommended. The high quality, the attention to detail, and materials make the R103 a little X-Pac gem to own. Especially if you like the techwear-esque feeling of its design.
I want to see ORBITGear growing and getting better and better because they have all the requirements to become very competitive with their products. I would keep an eye on them for the future.
This article was written by Riccardo Parenti, Italian-born photographer and product designer living in Tokyo. You can check out his work here.