Bikerumor.com Review – R.E.Load Midpack Messenger Backpack

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We got our R.E.Load Midpack in just before Christmas and have been using it for various errands and trips to put it through its paces and see just how much stuff it can carry.  Suffice to say…a LOT.  Our trip to the grocery story (pics after the break) prove that you can easily haul everything you’d need for work in this and still be able to pick up the essentials on the way home.  Seriously…my load from the grocery store was over 36 lbs and the bag handled it with aplomb.

If you’re a real messenger, the type this bag was actually designed for, you can fit a lot of boxes in it.  We have pics of that too.  It’s built well, with sturdy construction, ample stitching and a waterproof liner.  If you’re in the market for a solid messenger type bag with the extra load handling of a backpack (or if you just have a bag fetish like me), read on…

Full Disclosure:  The embroidery of our awesome logo was at our expense, not a bribe for a good review.  We did get to pick the colors of the bag, though.

TEST #1:

How many ridiculously heavy groceries can it hold and still be managable?  Let’s see.

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I made a 17 mile round trip ride to the grocery store to get just the essentials:

  • Beer (for to drink)
  • Asparagus (for to grill with some steak I already had)
  • Cereal (for to eat before going to bed after drinking the beer)
  • Whole Wheat Pastry Flour (for to make waffle mix for morning after drinking beer)
  • Apples (for to avoid doctors’ offices)

Does it all fit?  Hells yeah.

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All that time playing Tetris in college wasn’t for naught.

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But wait, there’s more.  I also had a heavy U-Lock and ridiculously long cable hiding in the front part of the bag.  Total load: 36 lbs and some change.  Did I mention it never got above 40º (F) that day?  Good times.

And why did I need such a long cable lock that the folks at the bike shop mocked me?  Because Lowes Foods has oversized bike racks:

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Who’s laughing now, jerks.  Anyway:

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All tucked away, ready for the ride home. Now, I can’t say that I enjoyed having almost 37 lbs strapped to my back, but the wide straps spread the load well enough that it wasn’t ever really uncomfortable.  I wouldn’t recommend it, but if I had to, I’d do it again knowing that the bag can take the load without beating me up.  For the record, if I leaned back while riding home, it felt like I was going to flip over backward…kinda cool and scary at the same time.

TEST #2:

The next test was heading out for a ride to photograph some items we’re reviewing:

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Camera, GoPro bike camera and accessories, chamois cream, vest, laptop and a few miscellaneous items.

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Can you hear that?  That’s the MidPack laughing at such a small load.

TEST #3:

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Some boxes to mail and old video games to sell back to the local used book store.  They even bought the Halo 2 expansion map pack, which is now a free download and has been forever.  Suckaz…

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Again…laughing.  So, we’ve established the bag’s load-carrying credentials, let’s take a look at the features.

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Last test: Priority Mail boxes.  This is two of the big, rectangular ones, and I could have slipped four or five Priority envelopes in front of them easily.  I’ve also shoved a soft-sided cooler into the bag and used it to carry food and beverages with chips and other dry snacks on top and serving tray in the rear divider pocket.  It’s quite a versatile bag.

FEATURES:

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The bag’s dimensions (per R.E.Load’s website) are 18″H x 13″W x 7.5″D, but it seems much wider and deeper than that.  The top part extends up for a semi-rolldown top, which helps seal the opening off from the elements.  While not creating a totally water-tight seal, you’d have to be standing under a hose for water to get in.  The interior lining is heavy-duty 18oz vinyl-coated nylon, which creates a waterproof barrier.  The main seams along the back edges are re-covered in the vinyl, so the only way in is through the stitching…which is a non-issue unless you’re riding in a downpour for hours on end.

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From the side, you can see how the excess at the top folds over itself.  As long as you fold the side parts into it a little, it’s pretty much rain proof.  The exterior is 1000 denier DuPont Cordura, basically the thickest, highest quality stuff you can find.

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On the back, it’s got big 3″ wide straps to spread the load across your shoulders.  There’s an (C) adjustable sternum strap that has a special buckle piece the strap runs through to eliminate any slipping and unwanted loosening.  It can be adjusted (A) up and down the shoulder straps to accomodate different size bodies, too.  The bottoms of the shoulder straps (B) connect with a snapping clip, but the real genius in the design is the multiple “D” rings the make adjustment a breeze.  All of the straps are connected to the bag with some beefy stitching, and the two vertical seatbelt bits you see are for holding an optional waist strap.

Pull the bottom D-ring to tighten the shoulder straps, and pull the one that’s attached to the snap to loosen it.  Brilliance, plain and simple.

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On the front is a huge pocket with an internal divider, but no little organizing pockets, pen holders, etc.

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In the main compartment, on the back side is a large pocket with quick release closure.  It’ll hold a 15″ MacBook no problem, and probably hold its larger 17″ cousin, too (at the same time).  The exterior section is padded (against your back), but the divider flap is not.

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On the inside front is another set of pockets with organizational aids.  Personally, I would prefer that these go in the front exterior pocket because they’d be easier to access with a full load…and a business card holder would be nice, too.

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To hold the bag shut, it has the vertical velcro strips on the bag with a horizontal strip on the inside of the top flap.  To lock it all down, there’s a (B) two-clip strap.  While technically solid, it seems like a bit of overkill to have two adjustments because you have to adjust the bottom one to fit tight, then connect the top one and cinch it all down.  It seems that way…until I realized that it has the effect of being a compression strap that “sucks” everything in.  That, combined with the actual compression strap (A), keeps the bag tight and solid even with a very full load.

According to Ro, co-founder of R.E.Load, the real reason for the dual clip design is that most of the time, you’ll flip the top flap over and secure it it to the bottom clip. But, when you have a really full bag, you might need to use the top clip.  If there were only one clip, the excess strap would be really long and dangle down in your spokes, leading to bad things.  Makes sense, and a clever way to allow for maximum load carrying without sacrificing safe use.

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The bottom is the same high-density Cordura, and after four months of use, it’s not showing any signs of wear.  It’s got a blinky-light strap, and the sides have mesh water bottle pockets.

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Here’s what it looks like loaded with 36+ lbs of groceries from the side (above) and back (below).

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LIKES:

Even without the waist belt, the R.E.Load MidPack backpack was very solid and stable for all of my trips.  It easily fits a PS3, controllers, cables and whatever other crap I think I’ll need to keep the kids entertained (yes, I’m a grown man with a PS3..and XBOX 360…and Wii…, but you can totally rip movies and store them on the PS3 hard drive, giving you instant access to temper-tantrum control in the form of Curious George or Dora).  And, if you ever want to skirt airline’s carry-on policies, do it in the form of a backpack and they don’t even question you about size.

If you need to carry a lot of stuff (or just think you do), this bag can hold it.  If you actually need to hold more, they offer the “Backpack” that’s even bigger.

For commuting or running errands, it can haul as much as you’d want or need to carry.  Any more and you’d probably want to get into a system of panniers anyway.  

Construction quality is top notch, it’s made in the U.S. (Philadelphia, PA) and you can customize the bags any way you want. While I’m partial to our orange and blue color scheme, check their 53 pages of Flickr images for plenty of inspiration.

DISLIKES:

The only fair complaint I have about this bag is the rear view visibility issues it creates:

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Here’s my best over-the-shoulder shot that pretty much represents what you’ll see when you glance back while riding…and when the bag’s really full, swinging around to see if any cars are coming up on you can cause unintended swerving because of the weight shift.  The bag is most comfortable when (and, from what I can tell, designed to be) worn higher on the back, so loosening the straps to improve your blind spot may result in less comfort.

Since this bag is really intended for messenger type duties, it’s hard to fault it for not meeting needs it wasn’t designed to.  However, for pure business users, it’s a mixed bag…you can fit a week’s worth of clothes changes in it along with your laptop, projector and copies of your TPS report.  But, the organizational pockets aren’t really designed for business users, so you may find that you’re compromising to make it work the way you want.

If you’re a light commuter or just carry around a laptop and notepad, it’s overkill.  Quick access to the little stuff is hampered by how deep the bag is, but the front pocket is so big, you can keep most small items in there…they just won’t be organized.

THE BIKERUMOR RATING:

Overall, it’s a good looking bag that’s comfortable, tough, functional and priced comparably to similarly sized offerings from competing brands (MSRP $250). The stitching and attention to detail are great, and it’s freakin’ huge. The fact that it’s handmade domestically makes you feel warm and fuzzy.  It’s like the A-Team van, it’s gets the job done and does it in style. I’d just like to see a few more organizational features for work use.

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Comments

Daniel - 03/27/09 - 12:32am

This has to be the most well done review I’v seen. Informative and entertaining.

LG - 03/27/09 - 8:27am

The bag looks awesome and the review is well done. Anyone want to buy a slightly used Timbuk2 bag? I want to get one of these!

Chris Spade - 04/03/09 - 3:19pm

Love my Re-Load bags.!

Def. recommend them.

jennifer - 04/12/09 - 6:17am

I also love my reload bag :)
But I am really wanting one of these new and improved midpacks. Unfortunately I can’t let myself do that now, as I have far too many bags as it is :(
But when the time comes for a new bag, I know exactly what I’m going to get. And it’ll be from R.E. Load :)

Gavin - 06/26/09 - 9:36am

Thanks for the great review and pics. It’s hard to actually see the bag details on their website and flickr. I’ve been rocking another name brand messenger sling bag for six-plus years now to school, work, and now commuting on my bike. I developed a kink and back pain in the middle of my back due to the uneven load of a one-strap messenger bag. I quit wearing the one strap bag and my pain is gone. So now I’m looking for a waterproof, messenger-style backpack, with even weight distribution. I’m not down with the panniers, and I was split on a few brands, but this review decides it for me. Cheers!

[...] wonder how this would hold up to our “grocery getter” test?  Hmmm…only one way to find out, right guys?  *cough* Charcoal *cough* Hit [...]

[...] has modded their Midpack (which we reviewed here) to create the Roll Top Megapack, a gear swallowing backpack that’s big in every [...]

Ando - 04/19/10 - 6:56pm

Great review. Most of the nice messenger bags still feel a bit lite on with the organizing stuff. I think the fear is that if they add too much, it won’t feel core enough.
We did a post to help people decide whether to get a backpack or a messenger: http://www.carryology.com/2009/12/02/backpack-or-satchel/
The rad thing about this R.E.Load is that it is kinda both!

[...] I’ve had my R.E.Load MidPack backpack for over two years now and it’s still in as great of shape as the day I unboxed it.  It’s been to Sea Otter, Interbike, NAHBS and countless other trips, carrying cameras, schwag, brochures and plenty of beer and snacks during that time, and there’s virtually no sign of wear. It even cleans up easy with just a wet rag. They’re not cheap, but one good (enormous) bag is better than a bunch of small, cheap ones. Check the review of this bag here. [...]

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