- Buyer's Guide
WANAKA Adapt Backpack Review: Drive By
We’d like to give a warm welcome to our new contributor, Jovanni Bello. Renaissance man, adventurer and cell phone photographer, Jovanni is a firm supporter of doing more with less. So putting the WANAKA Adapt to the test was a challenge he couldn’t resist…
When I travel, my aim is to take the least amount of gear possible. I’ve always longed for a bag that can adapt to the different circumstances I will encounter on my trips, especially since my travels tend to involve a gamut of activities; from business and city exploration to more adventurous activities like hiking, biking or kayaking, sometimes all in the same day. Additionally, I am a Type 1 diabetic, so I always need to carry certain supplies with me.
I first saw the WANAKA Adapt System on Kickstarter, and I was intrigued. At this point, my wife was sick of me mentioning bags to her, but even she was impressed by all the things the WANAKA Adapt could do; a veritable Swiss Army knife in bag form.
What attracted me to the Adapt? Let’s look at the features:
- 24L of storage space
- 210D/420D ripstop nylon
- YKK zippers
- DWR coating
The Cool Stuff
- Inflatable inner frame
- Air mesh back panel and shoulder straps
- Laptop and hydration bladder compatible
- Packs itself into the sling, or cinches down to the size of the cooler
The Wow Stuff
- Detachable sling/hip pack “what some would call a fanny pack”
- Detachable insulated camera case/cooler
- Internal divider for increased organization
- External zipper to quickly get to the bottom of the bag
Once I got the bag, I put these features to the test on several trips, and here are some notable takeaways:
On a recent trip to Switzerland, the day began with an excursion to Jungfraujoch, “the top of Europe”, followed by a visit to a few high-end watch stores, followed by a hike, and ending in a walk by Lake Geneva. In each of these situations, a different bag was needed; the Adapt System worked perfectly, allowing me to shed the things I didn’t need while providing them when necessary.
The detachable sling bag comes off quickly for those moments when I only needed to carry the essentials: phone, keys, passport, spare battery, glasses, glucose tabs. The main compartment, though, held a Surface Pro 4, Cotopaxi puffer jacket, beanie, Moment lens cases, insulin pens in an insulated case, glucometer, tripod, and a Columbia shell jacket. On a short hike, the cooler held three cans of soda, beef jerky, and a small loaf of bread.
While only the sling bag was needed on some trips, like a day trip to Busch Gardens or walking around town during a visit to Nashville, on rougher trips the full setup utilizing the airframe allows the bag to sit well and distribute weight effectively.
“The detachable sling bag comes off quickly for those moments when I only needed to carry the essentials.”
The entire pack fits a ton of stuff inside; earlier in the year I flew to Boston for the weekend and was able to pack all the necessary clothes and gear in this one bag. Sure, it was stuffed, but the Adapt looks its best when stuffed. That being said, this thing sings when you’re traversing the wilderness, either on foot, on a bike, or on a kayak. It’s lightweight while being rugged, offering comfort features such as a sternum strap and optional hip straps. Additionally, the sling provides a three-point-contact-system that when utilized keeps the bag in place. I tried out this feature while mountain biking and trail running, it’s legit.
This is an adventure bag for sure. It’s made for being out in the wild, and while it still retains an aesthetic that is passable in the city, especially if you’re only taking the sling bag, it definitely doesn’t command your attention.
I live in Miami and don’t often need an EDC bag in my day-to-day life, but when I do, I go for a more stylish EDC – think of the Alchemy Equipment X Carryology collaboration, the Carryology X Trakke collaboration, the (ridiculously named) WANDRD Prvke, the Nomatic backpack, or the Peak Design Everyday Backpack. Those are bags you want to be seen with. Those bags call attention and demand to be commented on by passersby. The Adapt is not these things. The Adapt doesn’t care about being hip or stylish. It just wants to get you out into the unknown, exploring and being able to adapt (I see what they did there) to what comes your way.
Who It Suits
Convenience connoisseurs. If versatility is important to you, this is a great option.
This bag is excellent for travelers and adventurers who enjoy taking day trips and undertaking a wide range of activities but don’t want to be burdened with packing (and storing) multiple bags to meet each occasion.
Who It Doesn’t
Unless you desire a utilitarian, Swiss Army knife of a bag, you may want to pass on the WANAKA Adapt. Here’s why: It’s a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. That’s not a bad thing, but some folks may not need all the features this bag prides itself on. If you are looking for a bag that meets the needs of a specific activity, for example a multi-day hike that requires a hefty loadout or even a short trip with heavy equipment, the utilitarian nature of the Adapt will cause you some issues – especially in the comfort area.
“It’s a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. That’s not a bad thing, but some folks may not need all the features this bag prides itself on.”
Versatility is where this bag shines, and I am a huge fan of how effortlessly it molds itself to my needs.
The construction and materials are top-notch; I’ve now taken over fifteen trips with this bag, either by plane or road trip, and it still looks new.
On longer days, I was thankful for the airframe. At first, I was a little skeptical, but I’ve come around to genuinely enjoy the feel of it.
One of the points that really intrigued me early on was the camera case/cooler. It works well although I’d suggest purchasing the optional dry bag to line the cooler, so the insulation doesn’t get wet. If you only plan to use it as a camera case, it’ll still prove useful to protect your gear in case of rain or inadvertently falling into a river.
The main compartment is huge, even with the airframe in place and a laptop in the sleeve. I especially enjoyed zipping up the internal divider and placing my puffer jacket and shell in the bottom compartment, giving me the ability to quickly grab those layers without disturbing the rest of the pack.
The sides of the bag include Hypalon gear loops. These prove useful when you need to carry a tripod, yoga mat, or any other cumbersome object.
Both the main compartment and the sling are bladder compatible, fitting a 2L and 1L bladder respectively. Including bladder compatibility is a nice touch and appreciated for those shorter trips where I don’t feel like carrying around a water bottle, or I am careening down a hill on my bike.
At the end of the day, if storage is at a premium, you can fold the entire bag into the sling and stuff it in a drawer, without the cooler of course. Or you can include the cooler and cinch the whole bag to slightly taller than the cooler itself; the latter is my method of choice when not in use.
Lastly, the price is astonishingly reasonable. In a time where everyone is promoting $200+ bags, WANAKA is coming in at $119 for the base price, up to $159 for a fully loaded version. This is a steal. Even if you’re not a huge adventurer, this is a no-brainer.
“I especially enjoyed zipping up the internal divider and placing my puffer jacket and shell in the bottom compartment, giving me the ability to quickly grab those layers without disturbing the rest of the pack.”
The Not So Good
For all the things I like about the Adapt, some glaring issues drive me a little bananas. Right off the bat, not having a bottle holder of some sort is a real drag. Yes, there are Hypalon straps and water bladders, but sometimes I just want to drop a 20oz bottle on the side of my bag for quick access, and the straps just don’t work well for that.
There is a bit of a learning curve when using the bag and maneuvering in and out of its diverse functions. Thankfully the guys at WANAKA have included instructional videos. Things such as how to place and inflate the airframe can be confusing, as is installing and threading the water bladders.
“Right off the bat, not having a bottle holder of some sort is a real drag.”
Against the back panel of the bag are three pockets, one for the airframe, a second for a water bladder, and a third for a laptop. With such a deep cavernous main compartment, working these pockets by touch can be confusing; I’ve stuck my laptop into the bladder pocket at least two dozen times.
Due to its packability, the material, although durable, is floppy. Unless your pack is stuffed, even with a fully inflated airframe this bag will slouch over and fall. This is especially true if the sling bag is full or has anything heavy inside. It isn’t a good look, hence why I mentioned earlier that the bag looks better when stuffed.
“Unless your pack is stuffed, even with a fully inflated airframe this bag will slouch over and fall.”
The zippers on the sling bag can be frustrating at times. A small portion of nylon, meant to ward off water, will sometimes get caught in the zipper. Additionally, when attempting to zip the sling back onto the main bag, you need to align it perfectly, and if the sling has anything inside, this could prove difficult.
Lastly, the shoulder straps are rather thin, both in width and density. Long hikes or carrying heavy loads could prove uncomfortable. Thankfully the airframe and sternum strap do a lot to alleviate this. I wish they’d sacrifice a little bit of packability to increase the padding and ergonomics of the shoulder straps. This would go a long way to making the Adapt a more likely companion for longer journeys in the wild.
“I wish they’d sacrifice a little bit of packability to increase the padding and ergonomics of the shoulder straps.”
The WANAKA Adapt is a jack-of-all-trades, Swiss Army knife, utilitarian dream. It will take you from the city, into the mountain, through the canyon, over the river, and back to the coffee shop. Its well-thought-out design, coupled with high-quality, durable materials can quickly adapt to any situation you throw at it. Simultaneously not too fancy, or too rugged. It’s the Ron Swanson of bags that will last you a long time. You probably won’t get compliments from people about it, but at the same time, it never looks out of place.
Yes, it has some issues. And it’s not surprising, as this is a first-time effort from the guys over at WANAKA Outdoors. The missing bottle holder and thin shoulder straps are the most glaring of the issues. All this being said, for its price, this bag is a must-buy if you enjoy light, varied adventure, and appreciate its ability to adapt itself to virtually any situation.
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