One of the things that can make or break a ride is a bag, many of us like to carry a lot of stuff and most of it for no logical reason. A bag that is good for wearing when you’re on foot isn’t necessarily going to be comfortable or particularly practical when you’re hunched over your bars bombing through traffic in the rain.
In the past the diagonal strap messenger bag was the first choice for ‘urban cyclists’, everyone wanted to ride around in a bubble pretending they were delivering plans to architects (rather than tins of beans to their kitchen) but recently there has been a big shift towards backpacks.
Mission Workshop is a fairly young brand but they have donkey’s years of experience, it is owned by the guys who created Chrome and they have taken everything they learned running that brand, refined the aesthetic and are now creating bags that are, for want of a better word, perfect. I have been using The Rambler backpack for about six months or so now, when I think back to the time before it came into my life I shudder.
The Rambler isn’t simply a well made backpack, it’s actually two incredible handmade backpacks masquerading as one. I used to have to decide what bag to take out with me in the morning depending on what I was planning on doing throughout the day, not anymore. With The Rambler you have a small big bag and a massive huge bag, I know that sounds odd but its true. It’s actually quite difficult to explain with words just how special this backpack is, I could almost cry when I’m talking about it. Some people keep photos of their kids in their wallet, I keep photos of my Rambler.
In a nut shell, or is that a coconut shell?
This is a very unassuming backpack, it’s the epitome of simplicity but it’s a cunning master of disguise. In the blink of an eye you can convert it into something that you will struggle to fill, every time I unzip and expand it I can’t help but smile.
At it’s most basic it can be used as a slimline flap down backpack with one main compartment that you can stuff your day to day bits and bobs in and be sure that they’ll still be dry when you get home. This is the state that you’ll probably use it in most often and the one that I think is actually more clever than when it’s in it’s larger guise because at the end of the day, who wants to carry a ginormous bag around at all times?
For me The Rambler is actually a large bag that becomes smaller rather than the other way around. When I think of other bags that claim to expand I think of a piece of second rate material that is often somewhat superfluous and added just because it can be done relatively cheaply and added to the spec sheet. At it’s full size The Rambler is 100% functional, it’s not just an additional feature but the essence of the backpack, the real feature is that it can be folded away gracefully without losing any of its functionality.
As well as the full size and reduced size main compartment there is the slim rolltop section at the back and a similar full size thin pocket at the front but with a zip fastening rather than a velcro roll. A small pocket at the front right corner completes the line up.
Inside and out
The Rambler is constructed from a seriously water-resistant material, I have never had so much faith in something to keep the rain out. I happily store my iPhone in the small front pocket when it is absolutely pissing down, I don’t worry and place it in the main compartment which has more layers of protection because there is no need, not even a single drop of rain has ever appeared inside this front pocket let alone the main compartments. Every zip is urethane coated to make sure that the rain doesn’t sneak through anywhere, an essential feature that is often missing from other bags.
The shoulder straps are nice and wide but not so wide that they’re ridiculous. They are filled with a high density foam so they hold their shape, aren’t thick and spread the load very nicely across your shoulders. They can be adjusted as normal at the bottom but also at the top, they are attached to the bag a few inches lower than the top which lets the bag sit higher on your back. When it is expanded, full and heavy the top straps prevent it from pulling you back and keep the whole thing feeling nice and solid. There’s an elasticated sternum strap which you can clip across your chest to prevent the straps from falling off your shoulders, I use mine at all times because my broken collarbone has left me with a shoulder that the strap want’s to fall off all the time.
There is a full length carbon fibre back plate which stops irregular shaped cargo from sticking in your back and making every second of your ride miserable. This sounds simple but in terms of usability it makes a huge difference to how comfortable the bag is. It’s easily one of my favourite things, not only on the bag but in the whole wide world.
The full expanded internal capacity of the main compartment is 44L yet measures just 5″ deep when zipped down into it’s smaller 22L half size. I use the main compartment day to day for carrying around all manner of stuff: clothing, shoes, bike parts, cameras, food etc; I use it in it’s smaller state most of the time.
I can very comfortably fit a whole week’s worth of shopping in when it’s unzipped and in it’s full 44L glory. Full up the top is wider than the bottom so you can load it up with tins, bottles and other heavy stuff at the bottom then put stuff like bread and other crushables on top and they sit there without losing their shape. I know that this isn’t exactly a ‘shopping bag’ but lets face it, most of us are going to use it to carry food home far more regularly than anything else.
I am yet to experience a situation where I have looked at the Rambler and thought ‘I’ve run out of space’, I came close once with the ‘4 kitchen roll episode’ but the front strap is elasticated so that problem didn’t last long. I simply zipped it up, placed the kitchen roll on top and clipped the flap over it, it held them securely all the way home without squashing them because it wasn’t forced. I have used this strap to carry wheelsets a few times and it does a great job, it’s these subtle little differences that separates Mission Workshop from the rest.
The two other substantial compartments expand upwards rather than outwards so are best suited to thin items. The front will comfortably take a 15″ laptop with a whole bunch of other stuff at the same time. I often use the roll top pocket to carry my skateboard. It’s not just the outside material that is hardwearing, the internal is as tough as old boots too, the griptape on my deck hasn’t yet left a single mark which is pretty amazing considering what a mess it makes of clothes and skin.
The small pocket on the front is well positioned, it’s designed so that you can swing the backpack under your right arm and access the essential bits and bobs you need regularly. The only criticism I ever hear about The Rambler is the apparent lack of ‘organisation pockets’, personally I’ve never found that to be an issue. At the end of the day this is intended as a no bullshit bag, if you think you need 20 little various sized pockets for your pen, your pencil, your 15cm ruler, the sugar sachets you steal from Costa, your wallet and the unopened box of condoms you will never get a chance to use then maybe it’s time for you to simplify your life, you nerd. Put small stuff in the small pocket, thin stuff in the thin pocket, big stuff in the big compartment and long stuff in the roll top pocket. This bag doesn’t lack organisation pockets because you don’t actually need them.
There is an optional waist strap available for The Rambler for those times when you’re going to be carrying a lot of weight, it’s also filled with high density foam and is extremely sturdy. As with everything Mission Workshop produce it’s not an afterthought, it is a top quality piece of additional kit that adds another dimension to The Rambler. I recently used it for a weekend away, I carried all my stuff to the destination using the waist belt then removed it, used the bag as normal all weekend and then fitted the strap again for the journey home. It’s the bag that just keeps on giving.
This bag changed my life and it will change yours too
I know the £200 price tag is putting you off but, in theory, this bag could outlive you. All Mission Workshop bags are hand made in the USA and carry a lifetime warranty.
If any part of your bag fails at any point down the line they will repair it for you free of charge; if any part wears out due to heavy use they will repair it for a small charge. I have heard multiple stories of people being run over and sliding across the road with just their Mission Workshop bag between them and severe road rash, those people report that their bags weren’t really harmed in the incidents so they are unlikely to wear out except in the most extreme of circumstances.
The Rambler has changed the way I live my life, not in a profound way or the way that the iPhone has but I don’t think I could live without it now. It is extremely well made, incredibly versatile and really is two backpacks rather than just one. Yes, you have to drop a fair chunk of money on it but it’s worth every single penny and more, ask anyone that owns one and they’ll tell you that i’s the best BEST BAG EVER.
The Rambler and all other Mission Workshop backpacks and messenger bags are available from Urban Cyclery with 10% off using the exclusive code ‘tfd-uc’. Nice!