Category: Back Packs

For several weeks I got to test Chicago’s very own Po Campo Rack Tote during the perfect time of the year to be heading out around town on a bike.

My set-up with the Po Campo
po campo rack tote

Versus my usual voluminous pannier set-up
pannier

First order of business was to empty my current “gender-neutral” pannier and repack this rack tote for my daily bike commute. The founders of Po Campo say that their bike products “bring Functional Freedom to women who bike.”

I was skeptical that such a bag could possibly suit my needs and carry all the odds and ends I often find myself toting around, so I packed and unpacked it on a day I met a friend for a picnic lunch to test if this stylish bag could indeed be functional:

To my amazement, this tote held all my needs – spare tubes/tools, mini pump, hat, cosmetic bag, random papers, camera, rain jacket, snacks, wallet, keys and cell phone – plus a Neat Sheet for laying out our picnic lunch. It’s a real “Mary Poppins” bag. If I needed to carry an extra pair of shoes, I’m sure I could fit those in the bag, too, though I may suggest adding a separate shoe/large item compartment that would help keep the grime of shoes off the rest of the bag’s items.

Unlike the awkward handles that can make carrying my pannier unwieldy, this tote’s adjustable shoulder strap tucks neatly away while riding and allows for ease of carrying off the bike.
po campo off the bike

This bag comes with reflective striping on the velcro straps along the front and back – that also serve to stabilize the bag on the bike rack as needed and can be a useful place to attach a rear light. These straps will not work quite as well to stabilize the bag on a rack with a solid platform since there is no place to loop the straps in the center. Perhaps straps that loop around at each corner of the rack (like a typical trunk bag) could offer more stability. I also would prefer additional reflective striping along the side of the bag – maybe added to the adjustable straps that loop around the bottom of the rack – so as to increase side visibility. With the solid gold vinyl tote I tested, however, the fabric provided some of its own reflectiveness. In fact, this rack tote/purse got noticed quite a bit during my rides with it and I received plenty of compliments and questions from both guys and gals.

reflection at night

The fabrics Po Campo uses are water and fade resistant; it seemed the gold vinyl may have been a bit more water resistant – and the couple times I did get caught in a rain shower, no water got into the bag. Even without waterproof zippers, I had the shoulder strap tucked in along the top of the bag and it rested over the top zipper to sufficiently keep the rain out.

On the bike commuting days that I knew I might need more cargo space – like for that grocery trip after work – the rack tote fit nicely on the rack with my pannier. My pannier does not rise above the level of the rack, so it did not interfere with the tote resting on the rack; if you are using it with a pannier that will not allow the bag to site flush on the top of the rack, the bag may tilt to one side.
Sitting flush:
rack tote with pannier

Slight tilt:
rack tote tilt

This bike rack tote comes with ample interior space – not so cavernous that your items will get lost or buried but not limiting. This gold tote came with a flashy purple lining and and a single zippered interior pocket which was good for holding a slim wallet , pen or other small incidentals.
interior lining/pocket

The external pocket is also flush against the bag so as not to catch on your clothes when you carry it off the bike. For me, it held my keys and cell phone which I wanted to keep readily accessible. A few extra conveniently accessible pockets / compartments would have been useful for quickly stowing my bike light and computer when I would park my bike.
exterior pocket

The ladies (Emily and Maria) behind Po Campo continue to update their products and add new styles to their bag and accessories line-up. Having tested this bag, I can say they know their audience and have developed bags that will not disappoint.
emily and maria

I enjoyed bike commuting all around Chicago with this sleek Po Campo rack tote.
po campo in motion

A bit of trivia – do you know where the name Po Campo comes from?

If you guessed the character in Lonesome Dove, you’re right!
Just like the character, this Po Campo dances to the beat of its own drum , developing a bike business geared at female cyclists and keeping its production running locally in Chicago.

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

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.

Several months ago, the good folks from Banjo Brothers sent me one of their Model 1050 messenger bags to test out. My review is long overdue, and I’ll get to the specifics of why in a second…

bag

First, here’s a bit from the Banjo Brothers website:

— Huge 2000 cubic inch capacity (18L x 14H x 8W when full)
— Ballistic fabric exterior with hanging liner
— Padded, removable laptop sleeve included
— One-handed, on-the-fly shoulder strap adjustment
— Lots of pockets for pens, folders, accessories
— MSRP: $79.99

2000 cubic inches is pretty large…and that’s the main reason I delayed so long in posting a review of this bag; during the warmer months, I just don’t have much to carry. Further, on a hot day, this bag covers my entire back, leaving me extremely sweaty. During the summer I used the Banjo Brothers bag as a beach bag…it allowed me to carry two beach towels, drinks and snacks and let me keep my hands free to carry toys and to hold my boy’s hand while we walked the 1/2 mile to our secret spot on Pass-A-Grille Beach.

Now that the cooler months are here, I don’t mind the extra coverage on my back, and I can ramp up the amount of stuff I carry (books, papers, a wind/waterproof jacket, lunch, balaclava and gloves, repair tools and a mini-pump, etc.). The Banjo Brothers bag handles loads like this wonderfully.

Let’s take a look at the construction and features of the bag: the body of the bag is made of a stout ballistic nylon fabric in black, with a grey-colored nylon interior. There’s no traditional “truck tarp” liner, but between the black exterior and the liner, there’s some type of VERY effective waterproofing. More on that in a bit…

Construction of the bag is adequate. The stitching isn’t as tight as I’m used to seeing, but at least it is even and the thread is strong. All the fabric edges are covered by finer-weave nylon and the attachment points for the straps are either bar-tacked or sewn on with a strong “X” pattern…very sturdy. I’ve had no stitching or fabric failure since I started using the bag back in May, and I’ve hauled a couple of pointy, heavy loads.

The inside of the bag is fairly simple — a large compartment with two open-topped pockets and two key clips along the front corners of the bag:

interior

On the outer wall just inside the main flap is a pair of stacked pockets — one open-topped and one with a sturdy zipper. Over these are sewn several pen slots and a strip of nylon webbing “daisy chain” to attach a blinkie or other items:

daisy

The bag is held shut by means of two quick-release buckles and a pair of vertical strips of hook and loop material. The bag’s closure system allows it to adjust for some pretty big loads, and that’s always a nice feature! Over the outside of the flap is a bag-wide strip of highly reflective material.

The reflective stuff is pretty noticeable, wouldn’t you say?

reflect

The shoulder strap system is made of wide but soft seatbelt webbing with a large integrated pad and an easy-to-use adjustment buckle. The harness also includes an anti-sway strap that fits under your arm. The bag’s harness is designed to go over your left shoulder, and there’s no way to swap that out for “righties”, as the straps are sewn directly onto the back of the bag.

strap

This is first messenger bag I’ve tried that is truly “on the fly” adjustable…with some bags, you’ve got to release a clasp or similar to lengthen or shorten the shoulder strap; not so with the Banjo Brothers bag — merely grab the bottom of the strap, hitch the weight of the bag onto your upper back and pull the strap. Voila — adjusted! To lengthen the strap, simply place your thumb under the chromed clasp and push upwards. It’s quick and painless and very effective.

One minor gripe I have with the bag isn’t really the fault of the bag, per se…because the padded area of the strap is wide and my shoulders are narrow, the bag has a tendency to slip off my shoulder. One time, the strap slipped and pinned my braking arm against my side as I approached an intersection! This problem only manifests itself when loads are light…the heavier the load, the more stable the strap (and the whole bag, for that matter) is. To prevent this from happening with lighter loads, I squeezed on a few thin bands of clear silicone to the underside of the pad…it doesn’t slip anymore!

A lot of bag manufacturers will sell you the main bag, but if you need to carry a laptop and a cell phone you may need to purchase accessories such as a padded sleeve or a holster. Not so with Banjo Brothers — both of these items are included in the purchase price.

Padded laptop sleeve:
laptop sleeve

Cell phone holster:
holster

Earlier, I mentioned waterproofing. Up until yesterday, I hadn’t had a chance to test the bag in wet conditions…but on the way to work yesterday I got caught in a fierce storm, soaking me to the bone. When I arrived at work, I had to pour water out of my shoes! Lo and behold, my work clothes and other belongings were absolutely dry inside the bag. Whew! One of the tricks Banjo Brothers uses is the way the body of the bag and the lid are cut…extra “gussets” fold down as the lid is closed, creating overhangs that eliminate water-entry points at the corners.

gussets

Timbuk2 users will know that despite the heavy truck tarp interiors of their traditional messenger bags, those exposed corners will let a bit of water in — glad to see that Banjo Brothers (and other bag makers) have addressed this with a little creative fabric cutting.

Overall, I really enjoy using this bag — the harness takes the sting out of a heavy load and prevents that load from swaying too much. The more cargo, the better the bag feels and performs. I trust its waterproofness now that I’ve had a chance to see it in action, and it’s got enough organizational features that lets me carry my things without a lot of hunting around for small bits.

Yes, it is a rather plain-looking bag…and no, there are no customizable liner colors, stripes, accessory pockets or wild exterior color schemes to choose from as with other bag makers…if it bothers you, sew on a ZPG patch and be done with it!

Likes:
— good harness system
— good capacity for heavy loads
— stable on the bike
— great value (accessories included!)

Dislikes:
— stitching and overall finishing is a bit crude but completely functional
— plain-jane color scheme may not appeal to everyone
— really hot on your back in warmer weather
— narrow shoulders may not like the wide strap pad

Banjo Brothers makes a couple other sizes of messenger bags and they also make a fantastic backpack (reviewed on our sister site The Bike Geek: click here for the review). They’ve also got a wide range of other cargo solutions for bike and for body…all at great prices! Check them out by visiting Banjo Brothers on the Web.

We’ve got a few new products to review from our crew’s recent trip to Sea Otter: a couple items from the good folks at Cycleaware including their “HotRod” MTB handlebar light —

Cycleaware HotRod

and their “Heads Up” eyeglass mirror —

Heads Up

In addition, we’ve got a really cool new pair of “Oasis” sunglasses to show off by Ryders Eyewear

ryders

and a voluminous messenger bag/laptop sleeve combo by the folks at Banjo Brothers

banjo brothers

Finally, in the next few days I will be posting the results of my long-term test of the Seattle Sports Fast Pack waterproof pannier. For right now, let me just say that this thing is bombproof. Also, I will be posting a “final thoughts” article on the Ergon BD-1 backpack that we’ve been testing.

So, stay tuned…lots of useful goodies and information coming your way!

A couple months back, we posted our first impressions of the Ergon BD1-M Team Edition backpack. I’ve had a chance to ride with this pack for all the time since (about 300 miles worth) in all weather and carrying a wide variety of loads.

First, a bit about the bag:

BD1-M

Gender • Male / Female specific
Capacity • 12 liter
Main fabric • 420 D Nylon
Hydration Pack • optional

As mentioned in the earlier article, the whole suspension system revolves (pun intended) around the novel “Flink”, or Flexible Link. Basically, this is a plastic half-sphere that allows the bag to move with the wearer, keeping the bag centered and floating without undue sway. After riding with this bag for those 300 miles, I’d say that the Flink really works!

And, as with other load-carrying backpacks, the hip belt is crucial for keeping the weight off a wearer’s shoulders. I subscribe to the Colin Fletcher method of adjustment.

“…hunch your shoulders so that the pack lifts a little, and cinch the hipbelt tight. Really tight. To achieve that end, pull firmly. Then shrug the pack even higher and tighten again. Now take a deep breath and pull even harder. If the belt hurts a little it’s about right.”

— From Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker III, originally published in 1968 and revised in 1984.

This method is a little extreme for the Ergon pack, but let’s just say the tighter the hip belt, the easier the load is on your shoulders. If the hip belt is nice and tight, you absolutely WILL NOT notice any appreciable weight on your shoulders, and that is truly comfortable. The tightness of the hipbelt, along with the sternum strap, the nicely-contoured shoulder straps and the Flink means this backpack stays right where it is supposed to with no wobbling or swaying. Towards the end of my “to work” commute, there is a nice downhill and then a sharp left turn into the edge of downtown Tampa. With this pack fully loaded, I can burn a high-speed turn at a very sharp cornering angle and the Ergon backpack would not shift an inch, even with a heavy load. Now THAT, I like!

high-speed cornering

The same goes with out-of-the-saddle sprints. When I tried either of those with my old messenger bag, I would have to reach back and adjust the location of that bag as it swayed and slipped all over the place. Not so with the Ergon.

sprint

As I mentioned in the earlier article, this bag is packed with features. There is one external and one internal zippered pocket, another open internal pocket and a large, spandex-y pocket for a hydration bladder (to go with the hose-routing loops on both faces of the shoulder straps). I emailed Ergon to ask their recommendation for an appropriate hydration bladder that would fit, as I had tried an older 70 oz. Camelbak bladder and it didn’t fit in the pocket so well. I never got a response from them, so I chalk it up to “lost in the mail” or perhaps less-than-stellar customer service. Oh well…that’s not a deal-breaker.

Here’s the internal pocket for the bladder:

water pocket

One serious drawback that kept coming back to me as I tested this bag is the capacity. It just isn’t big enough to rate as a truly serious commuting bag. Granted, Ergon does not market this bag as such — it is designed for extended mountain bike expeditions where a rider might need to bring spare tubes and tools, a rain jacket or extra warmth layers and some snacks. Nevertheless, it is something to consider. If your daily commuting load is only a few items, this bag would be a dream. If you have to carry a laptop, nice clothes or different shoes, this might not be the bag for you. My typical load for this bag was my lunch, a sweater and a hardcover book or two in addition to my mini-pump and a couple small tools. That’s about all this bag will carry without cramming items inside.

I got to test the built-in raincover a couple times, too. While the raincover doesn’t keep the bag totally dry, it does ward off the worst of the wetness. To be extra safe, it might pay to wrap sensitive items in plastic bags if you’re expecting to get caught in a downpour.

Overall, for the bike commuter who can travel light, I give this bag a resounding “YES”. It’s comfortable as can be, it is strong, and most importantly it is stable with a load. But, if you have a lot to carry, you might consider another brand bag that can handle a bulky load.

Check out Ergon’s complete line of bicycling products here.

Read this review in Spanish at ciclistafanatico.com here.


Check out these messenger bags and backpacks.