Space and Access
Apart from the materials and construction, the thing that really stands out about this pack is its versatility. The rolltop accommodates a variety of items and lets you cinch it small for daypack use or expand it for larger loads.
Imagine an all-in-one carry-on bag, day bag for urban settings, and hiking pack. Then stop imagining because this pack ticks all the boxes. Does it excel in all these niches the way specialist pieces would? Of course not, and it wouldn’t be fair to expect it to. But if you’re looking for a jack-of-all-trades, this is a good option. I’ve stuffed it in overhead baggage compartments. I’ve used it multiple times to haul groceries and weave along crowded city streets. But I’ve also used it for hikes and hauled it up and down Cape Town’s Table Mountain. Each time it’s gotten my gear where it needs to go.
Obviously due to the rolltop design, items at the base of the pack will be harder to reach than items at the top. However, the buckle is easy to unhook and fasten again, so it doesn’t take long to get inside the pack. Additionally, the bag’s height isn’t so tall that it impedes accessing items at the bottom of the pack.
Pockets and Organizing
Let’s delve into the organization now. This is a pack that will favor minimalists and those who enjoy using packing cubes, pouches and the like to organize smaller items. Not a bad thing in and of itself, but rather something to be aware of. You’ll find a total of four pockets, namely two exterior open side pockets, one exterior small zippered pocket located higher up the pack, and one interior slip pocket for a laptop or other flat items.
The two open side pockets work well enough for storing water bottles. However, if the pack is stuffed pretty full it sometimes takes a little effort to place bottles or other bulky items in these pockets, since they don’t have any stretch to them. However, they’re fine for smaller loads and sit flush against the sides to create a nice clean silhouette when not in use. I was able to retrieve and store a water bottle during hiking without needing to take the pack off. So essentially, pre-planned packing is the way forward if you’re hauling a large load.
The zippered pocket features its own organization courtesy of three interior slip pockets. One is wider and suited to items such as a phone or wallet, while the other two are much narrower and suit thin items like pens and pencils. What I like about this zip pocket is that it continues along the full width of the back panel, so you get a decent amount of space to stash smaller items. It easily stores a 7-inch tablet, passport, wallet and phone with space to spare. Plus you benefit from the back panel padding for added protection. However, like the side pockets, if your pack is stuffed pretty full you’ll eat into the volume of this zippered pocket. You’ll still be able to store thinner items like a tablet, phone or wallet inside. But you may struggle to stash bulkier items inside.
This feels like a relevant place to mention that I personally would have liked a second exterior-access zippered pocket, perhaps located on the front panel. Just for a little bit of added organization flexibility. If there were two zippered pockets, I’d keep valuables in the first (existing) one as it has good weather protection and offers a good amount of space for your daily or travel essentials. Then the second one could hold a variety of other items (for instance a map, snacks, sunglasses, charging cables, etc.) without ever having to go near your valuables when accessing it. As I said, this is personal preference.
The interior slip laptop pocket fits a 15″ device. For my particular pack, while protection is provided from the back panel padding, the pocket isn’t suspended and there’s no padding on the base of the bag. However, this issue has already been addressed for future packs, as Mark confirmed a revised version of the pack that now features padding along the base. This padded base version is now the standard for any new packs being produced, an update I wholeheartedly welcome.
In general use, I found the backpack comfy carrying a variety of lighter and heavier loads. I didn’t have any issues with pack contents digging into my back or the straps digging into my shoulders. The shoulder straps are wide and nicely padded, so they distributed the load well. And you really do feel the lumbar padding doing its job well.
It is worth being aware though that there is no sternum strap or waist strap for heavy loads and active use. For the most part this wasn’t much of an issue. However, when descending Table Mountain the route I took (Platteklip Gorge) was quite steep at times with several rocks to clamber over. Not a problem when I was going up, but when descending at times the pack would swing a bit from side to side when I had to lean over and climb over larger rocks. To be fair, the pack isn’t designed for intense outdoor use and its daypack size (18L to 20L) arguably doesn’t require the added support of a waist belt and sternum strap. I’d say a removable sternum strap would be a nice addition for a future iteration but if you use it like the urban/outdoor hybrid it’s meant to be, you’ll be fine. If you’re getting super active or need a lot of load stability, I’d suggest taking a look at a more specialized carry option.
As stated above, this pack has done its time in the rain (including three hours of rain exposure at an open-air cinema) and kept the contents nice and dry. On a related note, it also performed well in temperature extremes, striding from a Scottish winter to a Cape Town summer without much fuss. I will note though that Cape Town summers aren’t humid. So while that waxed canvas is fine for cold weather and performs adequately in hot weather, with its lack of ventilation I wouldn’t say it’s the best option for humid climates or intense activity over long periods of time.