- Buyer's Guide
When QWSTION unveiled their new Bananatex fabric earlier in the year it was one of the most impressive textile developments to hit the carry world in quite some time. The banana plant fabric makes real improvements over current organic materials both in terms of function and minimising environmental impact. To launch this new super material the team designed two brand new bags showcasing the same level of commitment to sustainability, the Hip Pouch and the Roll Pack. Both styles take a minimalist approach, stripping back the design to its bare essentials in order to reduce environmental impact both in production and at end of life. The challenge for the team was to strike the right balance, the sweet spot of form and function. I was lucky enough to be able to test out the Roll Pack for the last couple of months to see if QWSTION had reached carry zen.
- Name: Roll Pack
- Brand: QWSTION
- Format: Rolltop backpack
- Measurement: 44cm x 31cm x 14cm
- Capacity: 20L
- Weight: 1kg
- Material: Bananatex
- PriceUS$ 340
Who It Suits
The Roll Pack is an urban all-rounder. Good for daily commuting to the office, school or university. Its modern vibe nails the problem zone of when you need a bag that’s both professional and casual. And it’s minimal and versatile enough to wear on the weekends without feeling like you’re at work.
Who It Doesn’t
With such a simple design I’m sure everybody would find this pack useful in some way, however its simplicity will be an issue if you’re looking for uber functionality. If you are someone who likes to be very compartmentalised then this is not the pack for you. Likewise if you tend to overpack or need heavy gear on a daily basis then this pack might not have enough support.
As a brand QWSTION are rooted in Swiss modernist design tradition - following classic design principles of form follows function. Their process involves prototyping and testing ideas in-house, slowly evolving the shape to meet the desired function. The Roll Pack is one of their more unique creations and it’s striking in its minimalism. It’s a super sharp-looking bag and at first I was slightly intimidated by it, especially in stark white. My wardrobe isn’t quite as progressive and I had doubts I could pull off the look. But it didn’t take long for me to realise I had nothing to worry about. The bag looks effortlessly cool and its clean facade means it never clashes with what you’re wearing.
An added benefit of super minimalist design is that it allows designers to obsess over every minor detail and you can tell the team at QWSTION took their time on this pack. Every cut and stitch feels carefully considered. The pattern is zero waste which means there are no fabric off-cuts after production. The leather handles are made from a single folded piece. And the base is formed with a clever box fold. QWSTION have even developed their own circular alternative to the ubiquitous box stitch. All these small elements come together to give a casual yet strong feeling, like a well-crafted pair of jeans. Given the simplicity of the design and the quality build there really isn’t much that can fail on the pack, so with care it should last you well into your old age.
A subtle but significant achievement of the design is how few materials are used. There are five materials in total, which is half that of even a simple school backpack. This might sound simple but it takes real commitment to design with such restraint. The pack, straps and pocket details are all made from Bananatex. If you haven’t read it already all the fabric details are covered in our previous piece, but let me just say again that it’s such a great bag fabric. Since that article was written the pack has survived a few months of bike commuting, often in rain, and it’s still looking great. The Roll Pack also features a merino wool felt liner which acts as both structural support and padding for your back and laptop. The felt wraps around the base to protect the bottom edge of the laptop, and whilst at first I was a little nervous packing my 15" MacBook Pro I’ve not had any worries since.
"Every cut and stitch feels carefully considered. The pattern is zero waste which means there are no fabric off-cuts after production."
The handles and zip pulls are built with a combination of veg-tan leather and custom aluminum G-hooks which combine to give the pack a definite touch of class. The G-hooks are particularly nice and are used across the bag in a number of functions, even to adjust the backpack straps. The metal zip is perhaps the weakest element of the bag. It’s not a poor-quality zip, more that the rest of the components are at such a high level. Even here though the team sourced a specialty cotton zip tape. Another result of this clever use of materials is an easily managed end of life. Once the pack does finally reach that point, its parts can be easily separated and sorted into either the recycling or compost.
For such a simple, single compartment pack there are a number of subtle details that make the pack quite smart. For example the top opening hardware allows you to configure the pack four different ways depending on the mission. For quick trips you can use it as a simple flapped pack. The full roll-top (either front or back roll) adds more security and weatherproofing, or you can attach the hooks to the grab handle to create a tote pack.
The same handle can also be attached to the side loops to convert the pack into briefcase mode. Once inside the pack there is a rear laptop compartment as well as three slip pockets. Cleverly, the slip pockets have been designed to allow access either from the top or side through the quick-access side zip.
As someone with a super variable work day, the Roll Pack has been up to the task and even solved a few small but significant problems. Like those times when you don’t need to take much to a meeting, the simple pattern combined with roll top means that it naturally expands and compresses really neatly. I’ve never run out of room, but as importantly it also never felt too big. So even with just a couple of loose items the Roll Pack still looks great. And its simplicity also makes the pack a social chameleon; you can go from a corporate office to a grubby bar and the bag never feels out of place.
With only four pockets for organisation packing does take some thought. If you tend to have smaller items stashed into pouches it’s less of an issue, but if you’re someone who is used to Samsonite levels of office organisation you will need to adjust your packing style. Also the lack of any small external pockets means you’ll want any quick-grab items packed near the side zip. I once was caught out packing my wallet in a difficult place and ended up having to unpack everything on the street. I quickly learnt to take a little bit more time packing my bag and I rarely have any issues now.
"Its simplicity makes the pack a social chameleon; you can go from a corporate office to a grubby bar and the bag never feels out of place."
With a 5kg load of laptop, cables, water and lunch the pack is easily comfortable enough for a day about town. My casual half-hour ride to the office is no problem. If you are planning on a much longer or more active commute the light back padding and lack of ventilation may become an issue. Also if you’re a super commuter who packs heavy you might find that the straps don’t provide enough padding. On the few times I needed to over-stuff I would have liked slightly wider, more comfortable straps. And the G-hook strap adjustment system doesn't allow for small adjustments which again doesn’t suit big loads or long hikes.
The first iteration of Bananatex has a natural beeswax finish for weatherproofing. When you combine that with the roll-top closure the pack is considerably weatherproof. So far no rain has made its way into the pack after a few decent showers. The side zip will leak in very heavy rain so it’s up to you to assess the risk before trekking into a storm.
Alternatives to Consider
If you’re after a roll-top or messenger-style pack with a similar vibe there is the Trakke Assynt, or the Bedouin Delireis. Or if you’re searching for bags with environmental credentials I really like Freitag and Mafia's use of post-consumer waste. Recently a lot more packs using sustainable fabrics have been hitting the market. Some of these are more legitimate than others so make sure you read the fine print to see what the fabric is and how it’s actually made.
"If you are planning on a much longer or more active commute the light back padding and lack of ventilation may become an issue. Also if you’re a super commuter who packs heavy you might find that the straps don’t provide enough padding."
- Bananatex, it’s a great fabric and might even save the world
- Looks great, can’t believe how many compliments I got
- Build quality is awesome
Not So Good
- Its minimalist organisation can be inconvenient at times (but I guess that’s the point)
- Can be uncomfortable with bigger loads
- The quick-access side zip is a little clunky
If you happened to stumble upon the QWSTION Roll Pack out of context it’s possible you’d not be impressed. The bag has a reasonable price tag and nothing about it screams innovation. It’s not until you view it through a sustainable lens that you get a strong appreciation of the thought and care behind every detail. It's designed with a fundamentalist approach to better environmental practices. And using it daily for the last few months has felt like I’ve been on a health kick. At first I was super enthusiastic, I would tell anyone who’d listen about the virtues of Bananatex. Then every now and then the small inconveniences frustrated me and I considered going back to my old ways. It was in those moments that trying to do better became a conscious choice. And like a successful health kick, using the pack did make me look and feel better.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Space & Access
Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware
Warranty & Support