Reviews of bags for your weekday commute and for your weekend adventures

6.16.2016

Video Review: Timbuk2 Uptown TSA-Friendly 30L ($119)


The Timbuk2 Uptown TSA-friendly backpack might not be the most fashionable-looking pack, but it certainly is a functional pack.  My wife likens it to an astronaut's jetpack.  Indeed, it is boxy and utilitarian, but I kind of appreciate its nod to the Bauhaus design ethos:



Do keep in mind that Timbuk2 does offer this pack in other color options, but they are muted and professional color choices; you won't find it in red or yellow!  I chose grey simply because it is easier to photograph than black or navy.

Before reading The Good, The Bad, and The Indifferent section, check out the video below for a thorough tour of the backpack:

Video



Annotated Images:







Review:

The Good

Organization options:  This pack has a lot of options for "stuff management."  As you will see in the video above, I mistakenly thought that the large organizer compartment was the MAIN compartment.

Glasses pocket:  For me, this is essential.  Even if you are not someone who wears glasses (perscription or sun), this is a fleece-lined pocket that can be used for your mobile phone.  Either way, few packs have this option.

TSA friendly: The laptop/iPad compartment can be fully unzipped and laid flat so that you can keep your devices in the bag when going through TSA (normally, you need to remove devices and place them in a plastic bin to run through separately from the rest of your pack.

Organizer panel on front:  I think it is essential to have an organizer panel that is NOT inside the main compartment.  It simplifies removal and insertion of pens, your wallet, a pack of gum, etc., when you don't have to go into the main compartment of the bag.

Front slash pocket: The easy access zippered pocket on the front of the bag is perfect for my cell phone and big enough for much more.

Comfortable to wear:  The suspension system allows for good circulation and the shoulder straps are cut in such a way that I don't feel hot-spots or pinches.  It is well-cushioned but not so cushioned that it feels loose and unstable.  The adjustable sternum strap allows for increased stability.

A lot of smart design details:  (Almost) no zipper covers to impede zipper function. Handle on top of pack for quick grab and go. Webbing on the shoulder straps to attach pouches or key clips.  Webbing at the top of the shoulder straps allow for good shoulder strap articulation. Side webbing handle if you need to carry the pack like a briefcase.  Fleece lining in the iPad and computer pockets.  Blinky light loop for cycling. Expansion room for the large organizer pocket (hard to explain - see photos).

The Bad

Zipper covers.  The one place where Timbuk2 included zipper covers is along the bottom corners of the laptop compartment.  I assume that this was done to protect the zipper from scraping against rough surfaces, leading to zipper damage.  Unfortunately, it seriously impedes unzipping the bag at these points - something that you won't do often (as you do not need to unzip the compartment completely to remove your iPad or laptop), but when you do, it is a real pain.

Sloped base.  Timbuk2 loves to cut their bags in such a way that the bottom of the front of the pack is higher than the rear.  This makes the bag unstable when it is sitting on its bottom.  I like my pack to be able to sit on its bottom when loading and unloading it.  While the Uptown does not always fall over (stays up when your laptop is stowed in its pocket), it does fall over on its face most of the time.

Missing a matching side water bottle pocket.  The Uptown has one mesh/fabric water bottle pocket on the side but has no matching pocket on the opposite side.  I find this to be a odd and even inconvenient omission.  Also, the existing pocket is on the wrong side.  By habit, I swing my bag around on my right shoulder to access my water bottle on the right side.  The Uptown places this pocket on the left side.  They could have simply had two pockets and eliminated this as an issue.  Ideally, they would put the water bottle pocket on right side and place a rear access zippered pocket on the opposite side.

Sternum strap.  While it is adjustable, there is not a lot of adjustment in term of width.  Also, the strap moves up and down the shoulder strap too easily.  I have to always adjust it up and down when I use it. Most packs have sternum straps that slide up and down the shoulder straps, but they typically lock into place so you don't have to make the adjustment every time you use the sternum straps.

The Indifferent

The bottle opener.  This is just silly.  I am sure that this guy appreciates it:



But it doesn't work for me.  It's not a deal breaker, but clearly Timbuk2 is pandering to the micro-brew drinking, fixie riding, hipster.  I am not a hipster by any stretch.  Also, this bag is marketed as a "work bag."  Other than a bartender, I can't think of a job where opening a beer makes you a more productive worker.

Conclusion:

The Uptown is a highly functional pack.  It does everything I need a pack to do and does it well.  There are a few issues that drive me crazy (sloped base) because they could so easily be fixed, but I can mostly overlook this negatives given the highly positive positives.  None of the negatives are deal-breakers.  Additionally, Timbuk2 makes bombproof packs.  It will last and they also have a lifetime warranty if it doesn't hold up.

I don't think that it will replace my ECBC Lance, but it does come closer than any pack I have tried so far (June of 2016).

6.12.2016

Video Review: Timbuk2 Showdown Laptop 22L ($89-$99)


Introduction

After months of a fulfilling relationship with the ECBC Lance crossover daypack, I began the process of looking around again.  Not because I was dissatisfied with the Lance, mind you.  The renewed search was driven by a desire to see what was out there in 2016.  My next four reviews focus on packs made by Timbuk2 out of San Francisco.  First up:  The Timbuk2 Showdown Laptop.

3.20.2016

Reviews coming soon...


I just ordered this/these bag(s).  Will be reviewing soon!


1 crossover daypacks from Timbuk2:

The Command TSA-Friendly



And this one "fashion pack" that my daughter will review:

The Octavia

























3.19.2016

19 Rare Features I Crave in a Crossover Daypack


I have looked at a lot of crossover daypacks over the past couple of years.  Some packs have rare features that I wish all packs had. This list is less about a set of features that I look for before I purchase a pack and more about the rare cool things that I have seen when reviewing packs. If a company included all these things into one pack, I might pass out with joy.  

Video Review: Gregory Border 25L ($150)



Introduction

If you are a loyal reader, you know my current goal: see if there is a pack out there that beats my current favorite - the ECBC Lance reviewed here. Recently, I did find a pack by Dakine (the Gemini 28L) that might not have outright knocked the Lance off its perch, but it at least found a spot beside it.  As I concluded in the review of the Gemini (posted here), it has a different feel and look when compared to the Lance that makes it a good alternative – it’s like having a dark grey suit versus a seersucker suit. 

3.18.2016

Video Review: Dakine Gemini 28L ($125)



Introduction

As you all know, my recent reviews of Crossover Daypack focus on what can beat my current favorite pack (The ECBC Lance reviewed here).  It will not be easy as there are so many things that the ECBC offers (which is why it currently stands atop the mountain).  I recently stumbled across the Dakine Gemini online and was pleasantly surprised at the design and specs.  So, I bought it to see if the reality matched the marketing.

3.14.2016

Video Review: OGIO Ascent 21.3 L ($120)



Introduction

As I have stated in a previous post, despite finding a crossover daypack that works well for me (ECBC Lance reviewed here), I have not stopped looking. The goal now is slightly different in that I am looking at packs through the lens of comparing packs to what the ECBC pack has to offer. If there is a better pack for me, then I will move on to that pack.  The OGIO Ascent, is the next candidate in the battle to displace the ECBC incumbent. Does it?  Read on to find out.

3.13.2016

Video Review: Vaude PETros 25L ($110)




Introduction

I still love my ECBC Lance crossover daypack, but as a daypack freak, I always want to see what else is out there.  My mindset when looking around is to see if there is a pack that can knock the ECBC off the top of the mountain.  I can typically dismiss a pack just by looking at the photos and specs online. 

3.09.2016

Review of the MindShift BackLight 26L




Introduction

Finding a backpack for your photo gear is a lot like dating.  You spend a lot of time and energy looking for the perfect match, you find someone that seems to meet your standards, you take become an item, and then a few weeks later your partner’s flaws start to show themselves.  Eventually, those flaws are too big to overlook and you start the process all over again. 

7.20.2015

The MindShift Horizon 34 L






Introduction: Determining a Need

The search for the one perfect camera bag is over!  Not because I found the perfect bag, however.  My search is over because I came to the realization long ago that you cannot have one bag to cover all of your needs as a photographer.  I want to save you time and effort right now: if you are a burgeoning enthusiast photographer, you will need at least two camera bags.  Maybe three...

5.23.2015

Think Tank Urban Approach 10 Review - Camera bag


Video:




Think Tank Urban Approach 10 - Petite and Smart

Think Tank never rests on their laurels.  They design and redesign their bags and seems to keep up with the changing demands of the photographer.  The Urban Approach series is designed for a compact system camera kit (AKA mirrorless systems).  Everything about it is scaled to the compact system.     

4.24.2015

Think Tank City Walker 20 (Features Score: 19.5; Access. Score: 7.7)



Overall:

Pros =  23.5 points; Cons =  -4.0 points; The Think Tank City Walker 20 Features Score = 19.5 points. (Score sheet posted below.) Accessibility score: 7.7 out of 10. (Details in Accessibility section below)

Video:



Think Tank City Walker 20 - Thoughtful Design with a Couple of Key Missing Features

If you go to any photography-related website (such as dpreview.com) and do a quick search for "favorite camera bag" more often than not, you will read about Think Tank bags.  They make a huge variety of camera bags to suit the needs ranging from the pro to the soccer mom.  In fact, they also make bags designed around laptops rather than camera gear.  It is easy to understand why Think Tank has such a devoted fan base: they make tough bags with thoughtful design.  I reviewed one of their bags recently (the Urban Disguise 40 V2.0 here) and came away from the experience having an overall positive feeling about Think Tank's products.  While the Urban Disguise did not quite meet my needs, given their vast lineup, I felt that there MUST be a bag that does meet my needs as a Crossover Commuter Bag.  This brought me to the City Walker 20.  

4.04.2015

Crossover Commuter Bag Current Rankings


To make things a bit easier for the reader to sort things out, I have compiled the following ranking lists so you can see, at a glance, which are the best Crossover Commuter Bags.  This will be continuously updated as new bags are reviewed. This list reflects reviews of bags as of 26 March 2015.  Links are provided that bring you to the review for each bag.

3.29.2015

Tenba DNA 13 Bag (Features Score: 22.5; Access. Score: 9.3/10)


Overall:

Pros =  26.0 points; Cons =  -3.5 points; The Tenba DNA 13 Bag Features Score = 22.5 points. (Score sheet posted below.) Accessibility score: 9.3 out of 10. (Details in Accessibility section below)

Video:


The Tenba DNA 13 Bag Has Great Genes

As many of you know, I had essentially written off messenger bags as a Crossover Commuter Bag.  The flap made it too difficult to access the main compartment on the fly (you have to hold it out of the way when you are wearing the bag), the design was too casual looking for business, and the bags usually lacked structure that would allow them to stand upright on their own.  Then I discovered a few, rare messenger bags that eliminated all of these issues.    The Tenba DNA 13 bag is one such bag.

3.25.2015

STM Nomad (extra small) (Features Score: 7.0; Access. Score: 8.3/10)


Overall:

Pros =  20.0 points; Cons =  -13.0 points; The STM Nomad Features Score = 7.0 points. (Score sheet posted below.) Accessibility score: 8.3 out of 10. (Details in Accessibility section below)

Video:


The STM Nomad Wanders Just Outside of Excellence

It is important to note one thing that is entirely unclear about STM Nomad.  If you look online you will find that this bag comes in three different sizes: x-small (11 inch laptops), small (13 inch laptops), and medium (15 inch laptops).  What's odd is that when you look at the specs online, all three bags have the same dimensions.  I just figured that it must be a typo.  In fact, it's NOT a typo (as you can see on the tag below).  The only thing that differentiates the bags is the size of the laptop sleeve!

3.22.2015

Pacsafe Camsafe Z15 (Features Score: 20.5; Access. Score: 9.3/10)

Overall:

Pros =  27.0 points; Cons =  -6.5 points; The Pacsafe Z15's Features Score = 20.5 points. (Score sheet posted below.) Accessibility score: 9.3 out of 10. (Details in Accessibility section below)

Video:




It might look funny, but it certainly works well



The Good Stuff

1.  "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." I like the intersecting planes and contrasting zippers.  It reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. Sort of... 


3.18.2015

Think Tank Urban Disguise 40 V2.0 (Features Score: 21.0; Access. Score: 7/10)


Overall:

Pros =  25.5 points; Cons =  -4.5 points; The Think Tank Urban Disguise 40 V2.0's Features Score = 21 points. (Score sheet posted below.)  Accessibility score: 7.3 out of 10. (Details in Accessibility section below)

Video:


Sturdy as they come, but a few issues.

The Good Stuff

It would be hard to imagine a bag that is made from better materials, was built better, had better hardware choices, and had more options than the Think Tank Urban Disguise 40 V2.0. For a guy who loves to organize, this bag was a dream at first glance because of the multitude of pockets, flaps, and user-definable spaces.  It also comes with a pile of dividers to break up the camera section in infinite ways.

3.17.2015

Gura Gear Chobe Video Review (Features Score: 20; Access. Score: 9/10)


Overall:

Pros =  25.5 points; Cons =  -5.5 points; The Gura Gear Chobe's Features Score = 20 points. (Score sheet posted below.)  Accessibility Score: 9.0 out of 10. (Details in Accessibility section below)

Video:


Gura Gear Chobe - Is it a good value?

The Question

If you are a regular reader of this blog (all three of you), then you know that I recently asked: Why is the Gura Gear Chobe so similar to the Mountainsmith Endeavor while their prices are so different? The Chobe has an MSRP of $299.00 USD (without the camera insert, it drops to $249.00 USD) while the Endeavor has an MSRP of $124.95 USD (comes with the camera insert and can be found for $112.49 online).  The Chobe and the Endeavor are SO similar (see image below and this link) that I would think that one of the two companies would sue the other for patent infringement.  I am sure that Gura Gear would argue that their bag has $174 worth of differences over the Mountainsmith.  Would they be right?  I hope to settle that question in this article.

3.15.2015

Same bags, different price: the Gura Gear Chobe and the Mountainsmith Endeavor


[I decided to buy the Gura Gear bag and find out this answer for myself.  See the review here.]

As I was looking online for bags to review, I came across two bags: The Gura Gear Chobe and the Mountainsmith Endeavor (reviewed here).  What you will notice is that the bags are similar.  No wait.  They are pretty much the same.  It's absurd.  I am not sure who ripped off whose design, but someone did.  The only difference is that the Gura Gear is expandable.

3.14.2015

Billingham Hadley Pro Video Review (Features Score: 8; Access. Score: 7.7/10)


Overall:

Pros =  18.5 points; Cons =  -10.5 points; The Billingham Hadley Pro's Features Score = 8 points. (Score sheet posted below.)  Accessibility Score: 7.7 out of 10. (Details in Accessibility section below)

Video:


The Billingham Hadley Pro - Siren or Savior?


The story goes that Billingham started making bags for sport fishermen and then noticed that photographers were using their bags for camera equipment.  The company quickly shifted to the more lucrative market and hit pay dirt.  Since then, they have garnered a passionate following.  Like Apple products, people are willing to pay a premium for Billingham bags.  Similar to Apple, you often get what you pay for.  I picture the Hadley Pro being crafted by a wispy-haired old man, wearing a beat-up leather apron, in the back of his musty-smelling Hogsmeade shoppe. Serious old world detail!

3.12.2015

Accessibility! A new metric.

Access is Key!



The New Metric

Up until recently, I judged bags based on the feature set that they did or did not have.  This is still done and is condensed into the "Overall Score" or simply "Score" associated with each review.  In this way, a bag that has a lot of the features I am looking for will have a high score.  However, I have come to realize that the features-based overall score is more about a bags potential to be great and not about how the bag actually works in the real world.  I this way, I have devised a new metric to rate the bag on its real world usability: accessibility.

Domke Herald Video Review (Features Score: 19.5; Access. Score: 7.3/10)



Overall:  Pros =  26.0 points; Cons =  6.0 points; The Domke Herald's Features Score =  20.0 points. (Score sheet posted below.)  Accessibility score: 7.3 out of 10.

Video:




There is a lot to like about this bag, but there are some puzzling design decisions, too.  In that way, it is not unlike many of the bags I have reviewed.  However, at an MSRP of $360 USD, I expected it to be much better than the $70-$150 bags I have reviewed.  (I often think that when people invest this much in an item it has the counterintuitive result of making them less critical.  I am not one of those people.)  You will note that the score of 20.0 is pretty high. Unfortunately, this shows how incomplete my bag grading system is.  The Herald has a lot of checks in the "pros" column, but it is a case of a bag not being better than the sum of its parts.  Read on for my explanation.

3.11.2015

Mountainsmith Endeavor Video Review (Features Score: 17.5; Access. Score: 6.3/10)



Overall:  Pros = 24.5 points; Cons = -7.0 points; The Mountainsmith Endeavor Features Score = 17.5 points. (Score sheet posted below.) Accessibility score: 6.3 out of 10.

Video:
There are two thing that I really love about this bag: 1) It is more compact than most of the bags I have reviewed - comparable to the STM Quantum, and 2) the large water bottle pocket that stows when not in use (similar to the ecbc Lance crossover day pack that I own and love).  Overall, it is clear that some thought went into this bag.  However, there are some details that would have made this bag even better.

Carharrt Legacy Deluxe Work Brief Video Review (Features Score: 6.0; Access. Score: 8/10)





Overall: Pros = 17.5 points, cons = -11.5;  The Carhartt Deluxe Work Brief earns a Features Score of  6.0.  (Score sheet posted below.) Accessibility score: 8 out of 10.

Video:


To be fair, this bag falls distinctly outside of the type of bag that I have been reviewing thus far.  It caught my eye, however, with its ruggedness so I couldn't help grunting, scratching, and ordering it. Just looking at it makes me want to start moving lumber.


3.10.2015

Top Ten Features for a Crossover Commuter Bag


If you are reading this, you likely know that I have been searching for a type of day pack that I like to call a crossover day pack or CDP (read about it here).  A CDP as a versatile pack that can serve as a commuter pack during the week, but can work well as a pack for your weekend adventures (a.k.a., the kids' soccer games).  As many of you who have followed this site know, that includes the ability for the bag to carry my photography gear. I am a committed photographer who never goes anywhere without a real camera. This is why it is essential that all of my bags (packs or otherwise) have the ability to carry the small, padded, camera insert show below:

Timbuk2 Camera Insert - holding my "iPhone"

More recently, having happily settled on my CDP of choice (read about that here), I started a new mission to find a bag that could fill a need for me.  As I have explained elsewhere, sometimes you need the compactness, ease of access, and formality of an across the body bag (also known elsewhere in this site as a messenger bag or soft-sided briefcase).  Because I am fond of the idea of "crossover" I have decided to coin yet another term to help define what I need in such a bag: the Crossover Commuter Bag (CCB).  A CCB has a slightly different function for me than the CDP. The crossover aspect is that it needs to be able to carry my camera insert and some business essentials.  In other words, the "crossover" aspect is that it should be a combination camera bag and briefcase in its functionality.

3.03.2015

STM Quantum (S) Video Review (Features Score: 30.5; Access. Score: 7/10)

STM Quantum (S) Review




Overall: Pros = 33 points, cons = -2.5;  The STM Quantum (S) earns a Features Score of 30.5.  (Score sheet posted below.) Accessibility score: 7 out of 10.

This is a great little bag.  In fact, the big plus of this bag is that it is just that - little.  What is most attractive, however, is that despite being described by the manufacturer as being a bag for a 13 inch laptop, it fits my 15 inch MacBook Pro perfectly!  As I state in the following video, there are only a couple of flaws:

1.  The zippers don't allow the main openings to open wide enough.  This is particularly troublesome for the front organizer panel where it is difficult to pry open the pocket to access items (especially those kept in the mesh zippered pocket).  A wider zipper opening and a more gusseted pocket would have solved this problem.

Mountainsmith Network Video Review (Features Score: 15; Access. Score: 8.7/10)

Mountainsmith Network

Overall:  Pros = 25.5 points; Cons = -10.5 points; The Mountainsmith Network Features Score = 15 points. (Score sheet posted below.)

I was disappointed by this soft sided briefcase.  The issues that were most striking were that the deep zipper covers that greatly impeded opening the bag and the interior was bright yellow in some places, but black in others. Another terrible design flaw was the decision to put a small patch of Velcro at the bottom of the luggage handle pass through sleeve.  Having a bit of Velcro at the bottom of this sleeve ostensibly allows you to use the sleeve as an open top document pocket (say for a magazine or file folder).  Unfortunately, a single piece of Velcro in this spot means two things: 1) you cannot place small items here (like your hotel room key card) as they will inevitably slip past either side of this Velcro "closure." and 2) anything with a bit of mass will eventually push its way through this Velcro and end up on the concourse floor as you rush to make your connection.  I just don't know why Mountainsmith did not simply add a full length zipper here instead.  What is more puzzling is that there is a narrow boarding pass pocket within this pass through sleeve.  That leads me to believe that they knew that people might want to use this area for small document.  So why did they create a complicated ineffective solution (adding a small pocket and bit of Velcro) when a simple effective solution (full length zipper) would have sufficed?  My guess is that it was an expense issue.

3.02.2015

#2 Stupid Design Decision



I wrote about my #1 SDD (Stupid Design Decision) here.  Now I want to continue to add to this list with the #2 SDD:  Velcro.

I understand why manufacturers use Velcro on bags.  It is a cheap, quick, and an easy way to secure a flap.  It is also a good way to allow for customization as shown in the divided camera insert below:

3.01.2015

Top Three Crossover Day Packs (as of March 2015)

Note:  I will be updating this post in June!  (I am reviewing a lot of packs at the moment and there will be changes to this list.)  



Keep in mind that I only purchase a type of pack called the crossover day pack that fits the somewhat strict criteria that I laid down here and here.  As a result, the pool of packs I review is limited.  While I continue to look for cross over day packs to review, there are fewer and fewer that have escaped my eye.  What follows are my Bronze, Silver, and Gold medal winners for crossover day packs.  Given that the Gold medal pack is one that I discovered in February, it is worth checking back on occasion.

2.28.2015

#1 Stupid Design Decision

Manhattan Portage is one of the more popular choices in messenger bags.  They are a bit more expensive than the equivalent Timbuk2 bag and this might have something to do with their popularity. (Apple takes advantage of the same kind of premium cache pricing with their products.)  They are not TUMI-like in their pricing, so I don't want to be too critical.