One Tough Bag

A number of years ago I found out about Mission Workshop bags while looking for a new backpack. After falling in love with the idea of the Rambler, Darcey talked me into splurging and buying it, since it did everything I wanted in a backpack. It’s now about two years later, and I wanted to write a review looking at all of the pros and cons of this bag.

In the interests of fairness, I’ll put the cons up front. This bag is definitely not for everyone: the removable hip belt is a nice feature, but I have a very round mid-section, and it sits a little too high to be completely comfortable. Perhaps once I lose some weight I’ll like it more, but for now it’s not getting much use. Moreover, even packed down to it’s 22L form, it’s a big bag. Although not especially deep, the bag is very tall, and reasonably wide. When expanded to full capacity, however, the depth becomes considerable, allowing a nearly ridiculous amount of stuff to be stowed in it. Because of the shape (much of the expansion in capacity is at the top of the bag) this can make for an unwieldy form factor. If you pack carefully, putting heavier items at the bottom and on the side closer to your back, you can mitigate this significantly, but it’s still an issue that you need to be careful in managing.

Finally on the critique side, the organisation of the bag (or lack thereof): There is one (tiny) zip pocket on the front of the bag, the main compartment, and two separate compartments that take the form of sacks that are as deep as the main compartment, and dangle into it, only given structure by their attachment at the top of the bag. This means that inevitably any small object in the bag winds up in the bottom of the abyssal pit of whichever compartment it was placed in.

All of that said, I still love this bag. Why?

First, the internal structure means that I can protect and remove a laptop with cover easily – it goes in the rear compartment, and slides in right to the bottom of the bag. It’s not competing for the same space as all of the other stuff in the bag. Or it is, but it just does it better. And it’s easy to arrange things so that the laptop compartment stays closed while you rummage in the main body of the bag without exposing the laptop to the elements. The front compartment is the same – I keep small things that would otherwise wedge themselves into books and damage pages away from the books. And the main compartment is for books. Because that’s what I carry the most as a teacher.

And it is comfortable to carry books, even when you have a ton. The straps are very well padded, and wide enough that I have never felt like they were cutting into my shoulders, even when biking with a bag full of heavy groceries, or piles of students’ notebooks for marking.

Also, the material of the bag is stiff enough that the compartments don’t just cause the exterior of the bag to collapse under their own weight. Which brings me to my next point: waterproofing. The sides have yet to soak through, even biking or walking in the rain, and while I haven’t dropped this bag in a river yet, the material that covers the face of the bag and the top flap both repel water superbly, and feels like it would stop a bullet.

In short, this bag feels like it will last as long as I care to use it. And that is backed up by a warranty for forever. Their words. It doesn’t cover usual wear, of course, but if any defect in materials or workmanship is ever detected, they will repair or replace the bag, and cover the return shipping. The bag is built like a tank, and if it falls apart I get a new one.

Finally, and perhaps my favourite feature, is the fact that it’s expandable – massively. It’s a 22L bag that unzips around the sides and fans out to a 44L behemoth.

Packed down, it’s sleek. When it packs down it has no bulges, flappy dangly bits, or loose ends. It’s still sizable, but it feels tight enough that even half-empty (or half-full for the optimistic among us) it doesn’t feel like carrying an oversized empty bag. I can put a notebook or two in there with a camera and not feel ridiculous.

Expanded, it’s almost too big for everyday use. It may not quite meet the requirements of a serious trekker, but for anything in a city it will carry what you need and then some. I use this bag to go grocery shopping  on my bike, and at checkout I almost always get a double-take or two for the amount of stuff I can fit inside the bag when it’s properly packed. I might squish my bread on occasion, but I can still fit a week’s groceries in here.

So, it’s definitely not a bag everyone will like, but for the people who want versatility, flexibility, and a bag that they can do anything with, anywhere, forever… it’s amazing.


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