A good bag will make your commute a whole lot easier, but pick the wrong one and you could arrive at your destination with soggy belongings; a sore back; or even find yourself having to leave things behind.
I’ve been using the Restrap Commute Backpack for a couple of months now. Having spent even longer agonising over the right bag for my needs, I may have found the bag.
Carry all the things…
It’s not often we dedicate whole posts to products here, but this seems like a good place to start. I’ve tried a number of bags over the past couple of years, including an Altura Sector 30, a Crumpler messenger bag, a few cheap ruck-sacks; a rack & panniers and a few others.
With the exception of the Crumpler, all of the bags I’ve had have leaked and required everything be double-bagged with plastic carrier bags, which is far from ideal. The Altura did come with a fetching high-vis cover, which kept water off the front, but it didn’t fit particularly well and pinged off on the ride home one evening, never to be seen again. It also had far too many compartments, meaning that any large item was either tricky or impossible to fit in.
One thing it did have in its favour was a solid back panel that was raised off your back to allow air to circulate, however it still gave me a sweaty back. Again, not ideal.
The panniers also leaked; required a rack (heavy, a bit ugly…) and made the bike feel weird. They were also a hassle to dismantle at the beginning and end of my journey. So, it has to be a bag I can wear. It also needs to be of sufficient capacity to carry a day’s clothes and very often, my shopping. I have cats, they’re forever running out of food. I also get through a scary amount of food myself so I end up in the local shop most evenings.
So, the biggest bags seem to be around the 32 litre mark. There were two on my radar –the Life Behind Bars ‘Echelon’ messenger bag; and this one. Life Behind Bars are based in Jakarta, Indonesia and there aren’t any dealers in the UK, so I’d have to factor in shipping and potentially, import costs. So, the Restrap won.
The Commute Backpack is a 32 litre roll-top rucksack, comprising one very large compartment, with an integrated laptop sleeve and two small mesh pockets, one at the front and one around the side. Both pockets are accessible from the outside via water-proof taped zips. However, the one at the side is also accessible from the main compartment, making it ideal for storing anything you don’t want rolling around the middle –keys, wallet, spare inner tubes etc.
The laptop sleeve will take a 17″ laptop and the main compartment is truly cavernous when opened out fully. One helpful feature however, is the straps on the side that compress the bag down to around 10 litres from its usual 32. So, if you are only carrying a laptop and a few odds & ends, or you want to stop your priceless Ming vase rattling around, you can shrink the bag down to size.
Being a roll-top, this also means that particularly tall loads are less of an issue. The main compartment is closed by a single adjustable strap with a magnetic clasp. If what you are carrying is particularly long, you can just scrunch the top of the bag down as best you can and secure it with the strap.
Being a rucksack there are of course two adjustable and well-cushioned straps for your shoulders and a strap to go across your sternum. One nice feature here is that the sternum strap is adjustable, not only for varying widths of chest, but also in height. You can move the strap approximately 6 inches up or down for comfort.
I’m lucky enough to have somewhere I can lock away a week’s worth of clothing, so on Monday I pack clothes for the week, food for the day and anything else I need. For the rest of the week I can shrink the bag down to carry just a laptop and some food before Friday when I lug the whole lot back home again for washing. The bag will take all the clothes, a bunch of other things and still have enough room for any shopping I need to pick up. It’s like a Tardis.
However, aside from being bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, it’s also lined with black material on the inside, making it very dark as well as very deep. Things may well get lost down there. If Restrap produce a revised version, a light colour for the lining would really help your belongings stand out.
Handmade in Yorkshire
Restrap make everything by hand. They’re a relatively small team who are clearly proud of what they do. Every piece you buy from them comes with a card, with the name of the person who made it handwritten on. Obviously, that does mean that supplies can occasionally be constrained. If you order from the website there can sometimes be a lead-in time before your item is shipped.
Fortunately, they seem to have a deal with Evans Cycles these days, so a number of their products can be bought using their click & collect service, including this backpack; the frame bag; the saddle bag; and other products they seem to be adding to their collection. For some reason I’ve had more success obtaining their products this way.
The downside of a handmade product is that the price can be a little high when compared to a similar bag from someone like Ortlieb, such as the Ortlieb Messenger. At £127 it’s considerably more expensive that than the Ortlieb at £80.
However, if you are minded to support a smaller business, prefer Restrap’s understated designs or are just a fan of the brand, the Commute comes highly recommended.