One to Watch: Bellroy Classic Backpack
Tony Sculimbrene 11.08.17
Bellroy makes some of the most interesting and innovative wallets out there. Their designs are clever and their materials are great. A visit to their site shows off more than a dozen different designs, ranging from passport-sized numbers to super-thin, super-slim wallets. Aside from a fully-zipped wallet, nothing from Bellroy has been anything but awesome. So news that they were venturing outside the wallet world into backpacks got me excited. If their wallets were any indication, a Bellroy pack could rank up there with some of the best in the world for general use: Tom Bihn, Mystery Ranch, and others.
The pack itself has me a bit concerned. Like quite a few other designs from companies like Topo and Herschel, the Bellroy classic has an unmistakeable look and design — uber-simple. There is a single outside pocket, no storage for water bottles or hydration bladders (can we think of a better name for this product than “hydration bladder”? It sounds like something related to a colostomy bag). Internally, there is a laptop sleeve, a sleeve for notebooks, and a single pen slot.
This is dangerously close in design to one of the worst packs I have ever reviewed, the awful Topo Designs Daypack. To quote the review: “As I was walking through NYC and the sternum strap kept coming off I wanted to take the pack, throw it to the ground, and light it on fire to warm the hobos nearby. At least then it would be serving a purpose. As a backpack it was a punch in the nuts.”
But there might be some hope here. First, it’s Bellroy. They have a pretty solid track record of designing good products. Second, the pockets in the main pack sit a bit higher than those in the Topo Designs Day Pack.
The problem with having the organizer in the main compartment is twofold: 1) you have to open the main compartment often; and 2) you can’t pack the main compartment as full as you might like. But by raising the organizer higher up, you might be a to still pack the Classic full (or relatively full) and just open the main compartment a bit and grab your stuff.
Beyond that, though, I can’t see how this is all that different from the Topo. In fact, it some ways it might be worse. The Day Pack had terrible water bottle pockets on the side of the pack, but at least it had them. I am also not thrilled with the complete lack of a sternum strap. Folks who design packs long ago realized that in the urban or wilderness setting a sternum strap goes a long way toward keeping things high and tight during long walks.
As a gear reviewer and regular user of daypacks, I can’t wait for this minimalist trend to end. These packs tend to be purposely crippled designs. I hope the Bellroy Classic is different than other minimalist packs, but I am not optimistic. Maybe we can get rid of this trend at the same time folks stop making terrible sculpted pocket clips.