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Road Tests

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

OUTDOORS / EVERYDAY

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top Review

by , February 25, 2020
7.1
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So I’ll let you in on a secret. What first captured my attention about The Level Collective wasn’t their bags. It was the story behind the brand and what it stands for. Founded by Mark Musgrave in 2014, it was created as a polar opposite to fast fashion and disposable consumerism, offering ethically produced clothing, tools and accessories. Jump forward a few years to 2017, when Mark decided to design his own backpack. A bag that would fit well into urban environments but was hardy enough to embrace the outdoors. A pack made by hand in the UK, using quality British materials that would stand the test of time. A bag you could keep for life, and one that would adapt to your own distinct journey. And following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Winnats Roll Top was born.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

So when Mark reached out to ask if we were interested in checking out the second generation Winnats (introduced in 2019 and which welcomed even better quality materials), I was suitably intrigued. I liked the brand’s philosophy. I liked their commitment to British craftsmanship and materials, even though it wasn’t the cheapest and easiest way. But would the bag live up to my expectations? There was only one way to find out: put it to the test. A drizzly Scottish winter and the contrast of a hot Cape Town summer ought to do the job. So I slung a Winnats Roll Top on my back and went adventuring…

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

Specifications

  • Name: Winnats Roll Top
  • Brand: The Level Collective
  • Format: Rolltop backpack
  • Measurement: H: 410mm (600mm unrolled), W: 260mm, D: 135mm
  • Capacity: 18-20L
  • Weight: Around 0.79 kg
  • Zippers: YKK
  • Material: Waxed GOTS certified organic cotton from Halley Stevensons
  • Pricefrom £295

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Who It Suits

Urban commuters, minimalists who like simple and adaptable carry, travelers looking for a versatile carry-on pack and day bag, fans of quality handcrafted gear, and outdoor enthusiasts who want a durable pack for day trips and light hikes.

Who It Doesn’t

People who like a lot of inbuilt organization in their carry, outdoor adventurers tackling multi-day hikes and challenging excursions, fans of tactical-style carry, and those seeking budget-friendly carry.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top


Design

Looks

The Winnats has an understated heritage vibe to it that suits a range of urban and outdoor environments. Initially released in Forest (my pack), Navy, Mustard, and Wild One colorways, a new Stone colorway will also be joining the ranks.

The silhouette is clean and minimalist. The sort of bag you could carry to work and then venture to the gym with. A commuter companion that’s happy to explore trails on the weekend.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

Construction

I love well-made things and seeing the thought and care that people have put into making them. And for me, this pack offers that. From the material choices to the craftsmanship, everything exudes a sense of quality and durability.

Every Level Collective backpack is made by hand in the UK. Take a look inside and you’ll find a label bearing the name of the person who made the pack. Suffice it to say, this pack is built like a beast. And I haven’t babied it, hauling it on multiple flights, up and down mountains and along outdoor trails, scraped it against rocks, ventured through rain and sun, and am yet to experience any construction issues. The stitching’s neat and everything feels solid and strong in use. Hats off to my pack maker Sarah, it’s a darn fine job.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

Materials

The pack is made from a custom-weight (400gsm) waxed GOTS certified organic cotton sourced from the material masters Halley Stevensons. The weatherproof material features a fluorocarbon-free finish and really does keep the elements out (as tested through several drenches in downpours).

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

The felt padding interestingly is made from recycled wool-rich carpet fibers. The fibers are sourced from the floor sweepings in a Yorkshire-based premium carpet manufacturer. The padding not only retains its spring but also repurposes a natural product; win-win.

The webbing is British-made too; durable cotton webbing woven and dyed in Derbyshire.

The pack features Spanish vegetable-tanned leather, cut by hand and embossed in Derbyshire. If you want a vegan-friendly option, The Level Collective has you covered. An alternative is available that swaps the leather for durable cotton webbing. The leather takes on a nice patina with use and has deepened from a light cream to a rich caramel-like color over a period of around two months.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

The stash side pocket uses a weatherproof Japanese-made YKK zipper and also includes a storm flap for added protection. This zipper has a nice burly feel to it and performed well.

Hardware

Next up, the 316 grade stainless steel buckles. The custom-designed buckles are laser cut and barrel polished in Sheffield. Getting to the finished product was a challenge to say the least (you can dig into details of the design process here) but I’m pleased to say they’ve done a solid job. The rolltop buckle works well and is just the right size in my opinion; big enough to use easily and smoothly, but not so big that it detracts from the overall bag design.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top


Performance

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.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

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.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

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.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

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 Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

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 Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

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.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

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.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

Comfort

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.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

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.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

Weatherability

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.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top


The Good

Durable, handmade construction and quality materials

Versatile design and volume adapts to a range of loads and environments

Not So Good

Organization is minimalist; this will suit some users but not others

This is an expensive bag

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top


Alternatives to Consider

Trakke is an obvious alternative when I look at this bag and the brand behind it. You’ll find a lot of similarities here, from the British handcrafted construction to the choice of British-sourced materials and nod to urban/outdoor versatility.

For functionality-meets-refined-luxe and excellent British craftsmanship, Bedouin Foundry nail it.

If waxed canvas is your cup of tea, check out some of these brands for a little inspiration.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top


Verdict

I couldn’t finish this review without mentioning the price. A Winnats Roll Top costs £295 without the optional zippered stash pocket or £325 including the pocket. And there’s no denying that’s a lot of money. So is it worth it? I think it’s a matter of context and personal preferences. Price-wise it's on par with a piece such as the British-made Bedouin Delireis (and some may favor the Winnats for its side bottle pockets). Running a sustainable business with ethically produced, long-lasting gear costs money, especially when you consider this small brand is still fairly young in the carry niche. This bag uses expensive and sustainable materials that aren’t easy or cheap to source. It takes time and skill to craft by hand in the UK, where fair working wages are higher than in many other places. It’s hard-wearing, adaptable, made to serve you well for years to come, and ultimately does the job of many bags in one. Depending on your circumstances, you could feasibly make this your one investment piece and have most of your carry needs met.

But it won’t suit everyone, there are definitely cheaper alternatives out there that will give you more features, and the pack is certainly not perfect. For the price, it would be nice to see some extra features such as an included sternum strap or additional zippered quick-access pocket in a future iteration. And again for that price, it definitely needs the laptop base padding included as standard, so I’m glad it is from now on. However, if you like the design but can’t quite bring yourself to part with that amount of money, there is an alternative on hand with the Roll Top Mini, a scaled-down version that comes in at £195.

Ultimately, I think this bag is a good representation of the brand and what they want their gear to achieve. A bag that lets you embrace that work/play divide, while supporting sustainable craftsmanship and durability. It will appeal to users who like quality craftsmanship, meticulously made materials and hardware, and versatility for urban and outdoor use. People who want a straightforward, easy-to-use bag that will accommodate most day-to-day carry needs and outdoor day trips. It’s simple and not flashy and I mean that in the best sense. It slots into your setup like a trusty pair of boots or your favorite grab-and-go jacket. It won’t excel in extreme environments but if you’re looking for an all-rounder, you can trust it to get most carry jobs done – and to be in it for the long haul.

If you’re keen to make a Winnats your own, The Level Collective will be creating packs in a handful of batches per year, with pre-ordering available to secure your pack. This approach allows them to stay agile and accommodate various pack preferences, while reducing waste. The next batch will be crafted in early April 2020.

The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access
7
Organization
6
Comfort
7.5

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
8
Build, Materials & Hardware
8
Features
6

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
7
Brand experience
7.5
Value
6.5
X Factor
7

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