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Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

by , August 26, 2011

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

A neat backpack with chameleon abilities

For most of us, we’d get a little bored wearing the same clothes everyday. Yet when it comes to carry, we’ll often sport the same bag or wallet for years. Ethnotek launched recently with a backpack that lets you change it up simply and quickly. But more than that, it provides a great canvas to showcase fair trade ethnic textiles, so you can change continents as easily as patterns. And lucky for us, our contributor James knows the founder…

James: While working for Crumpler in Vietnam, I had the pleasure of working with a Minnesotan called Jake. We were both located in Ho Chi Minh City for a couple of years. We both took a great deal of stitch and sew experience from the country, but also a love of the people culture and real faces, names and people who are involved with ‘far east’ production.

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

Jake has taken this experience and immersion into foreign cultures one step further. He has created a new start up brand, Ethnotek. Ethnotek takes an established and proven construction method (lets just call it ballistic nylon) and combines it with traditionally produced and independently sourced fabrics from various cultures, encountered through travel and exploration worldwide.

So how well do these two contrasts combine into a pack?

The Backpack

I was handed a pre-production pack to test out and take some London based location photos. I have had the bag for a couple of months and it has been in my regular rotation for that time. Its a roll-top backpack with a separated laptop pouch which sits back (closer to the wearers back) from the main compartment. For the size, the bag is surprisingly light and for the volume it fits a lot, despite not being too tall.

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

The main feature of the pack is the interchangeable front panels, called Threads. They can be purchased as a separate element to the main pack, and are the locally sourced components of the bag. While the main bag is made in Vietnam, the patterned fabrics of the front panes are sourced from, India, Africa and Asia. These fabrics give life to the bag and because they can be purchased separately to the main pack, I have more than one and change the flaps depending on mood.

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

The pack is deep, really deep. So you can cram it with loads of stuff. If you are like me and a light packer, then you will find that the best is to pull the side adjusters in a tight as they will go.


Feature wise, the main internal volume is a large clear space and there are two external slip pockets (one either side), a zip front pocket on the interchangeable panel and a zippered side pocket. The whole bag is padded and solid with the nylex lined laptop sleeve being extra padded and quite tough.

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

Shoulder straps have an adjustable sternum strap and are comfortable and well padded.

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

Hardware is all clean and generic, simple black clips always go a long way. The branding is great, with well located woven labels reinforced with the main ballistic nylon.

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

So the volume is large, external pockets are appropriate and the branding is subtle, judging by some of the sourced fabrics, subtle branding is perfect, as the main hero is the custom woven fabric.


Style wise, the bag is pretty well suited for most, as at its base it is a solid and clean backpack. There are few elements that are offensive or out of place. Also you get to choose the more flamboyant element to suit your taste, and as I have been using a couple of different ‘glamour’ Threads, I have found it handy to swap based on my mood.


I am a taller than average guy. I have found that the shoulder straps start too low on the bag for me. The main issue is that with a laptop and some heavier items packed in, the bag feels like it is pulling me backward.

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

By having the shoulder straps start higher I think that this feeling could have been reduced. The best way to get around it is to do the side straps up tight, but when you fully pack the bag there is no way to avoid it. However if you’re small to average, they’ll fit great in length.

Also, there is no specific organiser. As an ‘Inception packer‘ I am not someone who uses this, but some may feel it could be an issue.

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

Best suited to?

It’s a pack that fits well with uni or work duties (if work is a little less formal). I have not had a chance to ride with it, but its shoulder straps are solid and the sternum strap is fully adjustable. For the tube, its great. Pull those straps in tight and the bag can compress to such a slight size that pushing past grandmas for the last seat is no longer an issue.


A solid pack with tidy construction and enough karma flare to make you feel warm inside, it really its a great combo. The fabrics are sourced directly from the weavers and printers and I know the owner, who is a stand up guy, so what’s not to love : )

There is a small issue with really large loads pulling on your back weirdly, but that’s just incentive to not overload it.

With a price range between $99 USD and $199 USD it’s easy to effectively choose what you want to pay for the pack and work from there.

Check out the website and brand vids at www.ethnotekbags.com

-By James Jeffrey

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Backpack

Specifications summary

Here is the brand info from the website for us lazy web people (taken from our woven Guatemala backpack page):

The laptop compatible ETK-PACK is made from 840-denier ballistic nylon and can handle anything from your home to office commute, a weekend camping trip, or an all out adventure abroad. Includes a hand-loomed Mayan THREAD from the highlands of Guatemala.


  • Right-side slip pocket good for small accessories.
  • Left-side mesh pocket for water bottle.
  • Right-side zipper pocket to a secure a passport, iPhone or MP3 player.
  • Compression snap-buckle straps attach the THREAD to the bag and can be used to secure taller items to the bag like a yoga mat, skateboard, mailing tube, tent poles etc.
  • Laptop compartment zips open to accomodate 15-17″ MacBook Pro and most 15-17″ PC laptops.
  • Padded back-panel provides ergonomic comfort while wearing and the airmesh helps vent heat to reduce the sweaty back syndrome.
  • Padded shoulder straps have sternum strap-buckles fixed in to help stabilize heavy loads and can adjust to different heights depending on the size of it’s wearer.
  • Main compartment is accessed via the giant waterproof roll-top. The roll-top can be snapped shut, rolled down and buckled down with a heavy-duty 38mm snap-buckle for maximum security. Roll-top functionality also allows for height adjustability accommodating a minimally packed inner volume all the way to fully loaded maximized volume.
  • Remove and replace the main front panel THREAD for customization and style updates.


Main bag: 11.5″ x 19″ x 7″

Laptop compartment: 11″ x 17″ x 1.5″

Weight: 2.6lbs

Laptop Fitting: 15-17″MacBook Pro & Most 15-17″ PC laptops

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