Mission Workshop Vandal Cargo Backpack Review

I’ve been testing the Mission Workshop Vandal Cargo Backpack for the last few months. Before I get into the details of the review, below is some information regarding the bag.

The Vandal

The meat and potatoes of this bag is that you can carry anything from meat to potatoes and all food groups in between, in a weatherproof and flawlessly constructed example of what is rapidly setting the urban backpack standard.

* 3 weatherproof compartments
* 2 external accessory pockets
* Expanding cargo compartment
* Messenger bag durability
* Water-resistant urethane coated zippers
* Rugged internal frame
* Made in America with a lifetime warranty

Dimensions – Compact
Measures – 15” x 21” x 6”
Volume – 1,800 cu. in. / 30 L / 6.75 Gallons
Dimensions – Expanded
Measures – 15” x 21” x 12”
Volume – 4,000 cu. in. / 65 L / 15 Gallon
Price: $239

I’ve been using this bag for just about everything I need a big bag for. I’ve spent countless miles with it on my bike whether I am going to and from work or picking up some groceries; I have also used the Vandal for a recent camping trip. I’ve always preferred backpacks to carry my stuff while commuting, so when the opportunity to review the Vandal came up, I jumped on it.


One of my favorite features of the Vandal is its pretty green color. It’s definitely a nice contrast against a busy scene of cars in traffic. This is good because everyone knows that visibility is a bike commuter’s best friend.

The Vandal has 4 large compartments that can host your clothing, food, shoes, and beer. I was able to separate my shoes from my clothes, which is nice because I don’t want either of them to touch during transport. For one, I don’t want any dirt from my shoes to get on my clothes, and I wouldn’t want my clothes to smell like my feet. In my previous bag, I’d have to wrap up my shoes with a plastic bag before putting them in.

In the compartment close to my back, my 17″ laptop and charger called it home with room to spare.
mission worhshop vandal

The Vandal offers wide straps with multiple height adjustments for the chest strap.

Mission Workshop claims the Vandal is water resistant. Since I didn’t see any rain during the time that I was testing the bag, I decided to call on the help of my garden hose. I set it to a nice shower-like spray and made sure the bag was thoroughly soaked. Just to let you know, I kept the hose on for about 5 minutes.

…like water off a duck’s back

When I opened the zippers I found the inside contents of the bag were nice and dry. Good job Vandal!

When I first learned about Mission Workshop and the Vandal, I thought, “that’s a nice backpack.” Though it has some great features like the water resistant material and zippers and multi location cargo holders, I was more impressed with the fact that they offer a Lifetime Warranty. Yeah I know that the $239 sticker price is a bit steep, but you’re paying for a good quality bag and based on their warranty, you can pretty much do no wrong and they’ll still fix it for you. Well, there are exceptions, but you’ll have to read about it.

Let me get into the adjustibility of the Vandal. As I’ve mentioned you have a chest strap that can be position higher or lower to provide a better fit for the rider. You also receive the standard height adjustment on the shoulder straps. What stuck out the most about this back pack is that it had additional straps to either tilt in/out the bag to make it easier to carry. This feature is pretty helpful especially if you’re carrying a heavier load. Personally I like having my cargo as close to my back as possible.

Though I’m 5’7″ the Vandal fit me just fine. But if you were any shorter, this bag might be a bit big on you. But don’t worry, Mission Workshop has a smaller bag — actually its their medium version called the Rambler.

When it comes to stability, the Vandal is pretty darn secure. If you’ve ever carried cargo on your back that cause you to use your bag’s full capacity, then you’ll understand that when you’re on your bike taking off from a red light, your backpack will sway back and forth. The Vandal was pretty stable when I had a full load in the bag. I expanded it to make sure that all my stuff fit. To prevent it from swaying side to side when sprinting out of the intersection, I previously adjusted the tilt straps and I also adjust these straps below to make sure that my cargo was secured in its place. You see the orange part of the clip in the photo below? That right there is spring loaded and there’s enough tension on it to prevent your buckles from slipping out of place.

Last but not least, “does the bag keep pointy objects from touching my back?” Absolutely. The “back” part of the bag is reinforced with some sort of rugged frame to prevent your machetes or bike parts from poking you.

For the commuter who prefers a backpack over panniers or a messenger bag, a bag like the Mission Workshop Vandal would be a good fit for you. It’s full of features, compartments and if you can get over the the initial sticker shock of the bag, you end up with a product that is designed to last longer than most cars on the road. I gotta be honest with you, it’s their warranty that sold me on the Vandal. Nowadays, its pretty rare to see a “lifetime warranty” on products. Some may have 30-90 days or even up to 2 years. But the words “lifetime” was music to my ears. If anything, just consider it an investment.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.


13 Comments

  1. db July 15, 2010 6:48 am 

    I’ve heard some good things about these guys and their products. Thanks for the thorough review.

  2. AlphaCharlieEcho July 15, 2010 8:00 am 

    Do you all ride with expensive gear like this? I take in a decent pay check every month, but I don’t know that I’d ever spend more than $70 on a backpack. The same cheep backpack I commute with, I also fish, camp, and climb with.

  3. Ghost Rider July 15, 2010 8:11 am 

    While many bike commuters tend to be rather frugal when it comes to gear, there’s a lot to be said about investing in quality equipment. In this case, an American-made, sturdy bag with a lifetime warranty is worth the extra money. Like RL said, this is an investment rather than a disposable item that may not last over the long haul.

  4. David July 15, 2010 10:31 pm 

    How was the temperature of the bag? I switched from a backpack to panniers because I was tired of feeling super-heated from the backpack.

    Let’s pray my wife never sees this article because you have totally stoked my bag-obsession.

  5. RL July 15, 2010 10:37 pm 

    David,

    The Vandal’s “temperature” is just like any other backpack I’ve worn. I’m used to wearing backpacks since I mountain bike with a hydration pack a few times a week.

    RL

  6. Mike Myers July 17, 2010 9:28 am 

    That’s an awfully nice backpack. I suppose it all comes down to a matter of preference and location when debating backpack/messenger bag vs. panniers. I’ve done my commute with my Chrome Metropolis messenger bag, and it’s way hot here in Florida. Same goes for my Schwinn bike-specific backpack, and it has wicking material where it contacts my back.

    Panniers are more comfortable, but are less secure when parking the bike. My commuter bike is never parked out of my sight, so I don’t worry about anyone stealing my Carradice panniers(which still are less expensive than this backpack). Rain bike has el cheapo Nashbar panniers which I paid less than 20 bucks for. I’d be upset if they were stolen, but not Carradice-level upset. LOL

  7. Jack July 23, 2010 10:00 am 

    This bag may well be worth the money, if you use it many days. My wife just bought a new backpacking pack for around this same amount. It will hold all her worldly possessions, well at least the ones that count, on some long trips (1 month plus). I guess your carrying a change of clothes, laptop, etc everyday on your bike is worth the same price.

    Me, I still prefer panniers. But my commute is an hour each way and I have showers at work.

  8. JOhn Osgathorpe July 27, 2010 5:33 pm 

    How does it work for carry on luggage? Any problems with the increasingly strick carry-on-baggage police?

  9. FP August 10, 2010 8:22 am 

    Quality quality bag and awesome customer service. Unfortunately for someone my size (I’m 5’5) I could make either work, especially when wearing helmet. At first I thought maybe the Vandal was too big so I tried the Rambler but am having the same issue. It’s limiting my head movement, mostly I can lift my head up enough without the top of the bag pushing against my helmet. I even tried using different bikes (drops vs flat bars) but not relief.

    Super bummed cause I really do like the bags.

    I’d be interested to hear someone of my size who had a better experience with the fit of this bag.

  10. FP August 10, 2010 8:25 am 

    Damn I should spell check before I hit submit. Let me try this again.

    Quality quality bag and awesome customer service. Unfortunately for someone my size (I’m 5′5) I could *not* make either work, especially when wearing a helmet. At first I thought maybe the Vandal was too big, so I tried the Rambler, but I am having the same issue. It’s limiting my head movement, mostly I can’t lift my head up enough without the top of the bag pushing against my helmet. I even tried using different bikes (drops vs flat bars) but no relief.

    Super bummed cause I really do like the bags.

    I’d be interested in hearing from someone of my size who had a better experience with the fit of this bag.

  11. Dinger September 12, 2010 12:58 pm 

    Nice reivew if I had the dough I’d try it out.

    But I’m not sold on their “lifetime warranty” . It’s the standard warranty many bag makers have “we have to say that our warranty covers defects in materials and craftsmanship.” That said real deal lifetime warranties are few and far between.

  12. Gary in NYC March 7, 2011 11:30 pm 

    I’m surprised that for a bag of this price you do not get better padding for the back. Although it appears to be a breathable mesh of some kind, it’s flat. That means it rests fully against your back. This is fine for cruising around a city like San Francisco, but what about in hotter climates? I’ve gone bike riding with backpacks having a similar flat back panel and they made you sweat like crazy. I ended up with a backpack that has padding channels that allow for more thorough ventilation. This definitely helps keep the back dry. Lastly, those arm straps look rather thinly padded for heavier/fuller loads. I really wonder how comfortable they’d be for multi-hour rides.

    Otherwise, this is a very cool design. It looks to have a lot of promise. I saw one video where a guy was able to lash a disassembled bike with one. Amazing! This Mission Workshop company should produce more videos, annotate them, and provide copious details in the descriptions. So far all I’ve seen is rather spartan…

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