- Buyer's Guide
Troubadour Explorer Apex Rucksack Review
The crew at Troubadour have been designing durable and deeply fashionable daily carry for a while now and though their bags can take a beating, they didn’t have anything targeted for taking off the beaten path. Enter the Explorer range. This line is slick (and more affordable than their other offerings) and is designed for the way into work and built tough enough to keep you going on the long way home. So I slung the Explorer Apex Rucksack over my shoulders to see how it handles real-world use.
Who It Suits
This is targeted squarely at all you cross-over enthusiasts. So if you fancy leaving the office and heading for the hills to log a few miles before the sun sets, you’ll be pleased. This is a durable, capacious, decent all-rounder that can hang in the boardroom as well as the backcountry thanks to some durable materials.
Who It Doesn’t
There are better bags for more specific purposes. This backpack will look decent with a suit, and hauls a laptop fine. It will likely survive a ramble through the woods as well but it isn’t entirely purpose-built to either end exclusively. If you want something bespoke and even ‘soulful’ on your shoulder at the conference or conversely, if you have a water bladder or two with you any time you leave the house, you’re best off looking elsewhere.
Look and Feel
The exterior of the pack is super clean. Like a freshly painted spaceship on the launch pad. The only branding on the pack is the word “Troubadour” in a puffy applique style, oriented vertically along the left side of the bag. It is reflective which is nice for visibility’s sake, as long as the car barrelling towards you at night is coming from the left when you’re wearing the bag.
The location of the logo and even the style seems at odds with the symmetrical minimalism of the pack. This is a bag rendered in planes and angles and somehow the off-centered logo in pure white text undermines the sleek austerity of the pack to me. Perhaps a minor aesthetic niggle but one that I kept coming back to.
Space and Access
This is a big bag. Though stated at just 23 liters, the pack feels and ‘lives’ larger. I would say this pack somehow manages to feel both slightly wider and slightly taller than most daypacks I have used. The footprint on this pack is wide and feels akin to carrying a shield on your back in some scenarios. It isn’t unwieldy but you’ll know it’s back there. The fact that this pack is also tall will make you lengthier folks happy because you’ll finally feel like you’re wearing an adult-sized pack, but for anyone on the shorter side, this bag may feel not suit. For folks 5’9″ and up, you’ll feel good about this pack. Slightly shorter users may want to look elsewhere. For a minimal weekend away this pack was all I needed so that space will come in handy if you’re keen to travel light.
There is a quick stash pocket at the top sealed with a weatherproof zip. This pocket is deep enough for phones, keys, headphones, and other tiny bits, perhaps an energy bar or some version of a mini first aid kit if you’re heading out to the trail with it. It is sufficient as far as space is concerned but the nylon lining inside the pocket (and in fact throughout the pack) feels very thin and I wouldn’t necessarily trust it were I jamming a somewhat sharp object in there.
The bag opens with a lengthy weatherproof ZipGlide zip that gives you great access to your stuff on the inside. It opens wide and these are some of the most agile weatherproof zips I have ever used. There is no snag or pull, like you feel with other rubberized zippers.
There are two external water bottle pockets on either side of the pack and they disappear beautifully into the seams that wrap around the bottom.
As well integrated as these water bottle pockets are, in actual use they are a bit more difficult to appreciate. The overall shape of the bag is more rounded than it is angled and that simply means there isn’t really a side wall to the bag, so the opening of these water bottle pockets sits lower at the front of the bag than it does at the back. When you have a weighty water bottle in there, without the obvious side wall at a perpendicular angle to the base of the pack, gravity drifts the bottle back and away from your body. Said another way, you’ll be fine walking gently around town but you’re gonna lose a bottle if you scramble up that cliff face too fast. What these pockets provide in visual appeal, they lack in real-world functionality to some degree. Again, this seems like a design choice that feels well considered but only half-realized.
Comfort and Carry
The straps on the Troubadour Explorer Apex Rucksack are good; thick, well padded, and slim. In fact, they get better the more loaded down the pack is. When empty or hauling only a few items, the straps feel a touch too rigid and sort of sit ‘on’ the shoulder as opposed to melding with the shoulder’s natural curve. The foam is dense and that will serve you well when you load the bag up by encouraging the straps to bear the load while contouring to the curves of your shoulder. There is no sternum strap nor the option to apply one after-market but I have yet to feel the need for one due in large part to the form and fit of the straps; wobble has not been a serious issue at all.
The buckles are made of a durable metal and they feel unbreakably strong. The webbing on the straps is narrow but thick…quite thick and perhaps some of the thickest webbing I have ever seen. We are talking a difference of nanometers here but what a difference it does make: after many weeks of regular use, adjusting the straps etc. I’ve found pulling the webbing through the slide adjusters cumbersome. I found myself forced to lodge a thumb under the slider to adjust, using the rest of my fingers to pull down on the webbing. Relieving the tension on the adjuster like that does allow you to pull it through but it is a step or two more annoying than simply pulling at the webbing with the usual amount of force.
Troubadour have thought out some clever design details for this pack and that includes, again on paper, the inclusion of a somewhat unique strap management system. At the end of each length of webbing, you’ll find little metal ‘C’ shaped hooks, similar to the sort of hardware you may be used to seeing attached to ‘removable’ sternum straps. The same idea applies here: you hook the ‘C’ shaped hardware around the webbing at the base and voila, no more dangle… Except, when the straps are adjusted within any range of my personally desired fit, then attaching and managing the webbing with this system produces two large and rather snaggable arm-tickling loops. If you wanna sling the bag really low, like really low, on your back, you can and the webbing management system will keep the dangly bits tidy, but if you like wearing your pack high and tight, then you’ll have to put up with the loops. I leave the straps unmanaged because of this.
The interior is minimal, there is nothing in there but a laptop sleeve. The sleeve itself is moderately padded (think thin neoprene rather than a denser EVA foam) and does sit off the bottom of the bag, which is a big bonus. It is worth noting here that I see a potentially missed opportunity by Troubador to push the outdoor/indoor vibe a little further. Had they placed a very simple, minimal toggle loop at the top of the pack, one could easily accommodate a water bladder in here and run it out the top of the weatherproof zip.
To mitigate the basic simplicity of the interior, Troubadour provides a detachable folio: a sleeve sized to fit a 13-inch laptop with two larger, flap-sealed slip pockets on the outside and a grab handle on the bottom. This folio does a few things well and may be my favorite thing about the pack. It creates a nice tight little package for your device along with some smaller cable and phone-shaped items. As it is detachable, that grab handle on the bottom is handy for rambling light and fast through the coffee shop gauntlet with just your tech gear.
It is worth noting that the flap and zipper orientation of the folio makes the pocketing largely inaccessible when it is clipped into the two magnetized hook attachments on the outside of the laptop sleeve. It would be a good spot for say an iPad if you carry one concurrently with a laptop but when the folio is hooked in, the laptop sleeve in the back of the bag is still your best bet for quick tech access. That said, I like this accessory a lot actually and I have even been running it in other bags as it makes a very serviceable mobile tech sleeve.
If you do choose to run the detachable folio on its own, be aware of the orientation of the pockets on the outside of the folio. The flaps are held shut with magnetic buttons and they will open downwards, towards the ground, if you’re using the grab handle. So if you accidentally un-click one of the magnetic closures, whatever lives in those exterior folio pockets will tumble out and hit the ground.
The nylon on this pack is thick. Think thick like canvas but considerably lighter. It’s somewhat textured and the weave has a coarse horizontal feel but it’s slick and almost slippery north to south. The navy colorway I have is deep, subdued and works well in most applications without announcing its presence. It is a nice, strong fabric and decidedly waterproof. I have been continually impressed with the quality of the exterior fabric.
It’s also ethically sourced. All fabrics are bluesign® approved and their leathers are naturally vegetable-tanned.
On the top grab handle, it feels nice, even luscious and it’s a perfectly suitable accent if you consider leather’s historic applications. However, the leather accent panel at the top, just above the stash pocket, seems almost coerced into being there.
Personally, I’m a patina guy, and I start to feel a little twitchy when I can’t scratch up a bag a little bit and to that end, the leather on this pack has thus far vexed me. But that’s just my taste.
That said, and while I wish the leather was a little more robust, with a better hand-feel, I understand the decision by the design team at Troubadour and it does do well to echo the brand’s overall design sensibility.
My biggest gripe with this pack is the lack of structure. See pictured above, how the top sags downwards when not fully loaded? That’s a big issue for a pack so attached to aesthetics. This pack sort of wants to be fully loaded to really indulge in the structured, streamlined patterning.
There are some nice details on the pack like Troubadour’s signature ‘hand-stitched’ edges. You’ll find those in a thick silver thread at either end of the stash pocket and on the top grab handle. The clever interior folio and the super-comfy straps are both welcomed and considered. The lines are clean, and when packed properly it has a stunning silhouette.
The Troubadour Explorer Apex Rucksack will perform well in most scenarios and I feel pretty certain that it won’t break down while doing it.
It’s a solid all-rounder, but could do with more added features to really live up to the ‘Explorer’ tagline.
This bag does do what you ask: it carries well, it feels durable, and looks slick but is held back by some of the mildly annoying use-case issues like the oh-so-tough to adjust straps and the bottle-fumbling side pockets.
It’s a good pack, but I’d love to see a version 2.0 released.