As a result of a few years of messengering, I’ve developed a strong portage addiction. Messenger bags, backpacks, hip packs, fanny packs; whatever form they are, I’m fascinated by the strength of their construction, their materials, and their ability to stand up to the rigours of daily use, on and off the bike, in the city or on the road.
Since my retirement from the world of bicycle logistics, I’ve also become interested in clothing and apparel that has evolved to improve the bicycle commute. Levi Strauss & Co. is a mainstream clothing brand that has actually done a great job of making gear for the daily rider, and their Roll Top Backpack ticks a lot of my boxes.
The Commuter™ collection consists of jeans, trousers, shorts, T-shirts, collared shirts, jackets and hoodies. I’ve actually been wearing a pair of Commuter™ jeans since Levi’s® introduced the range a few years ago and they are one of the most comfortable — and, with their water-repellant qualities and reflective tabs — functional pairs I’ve ever owned.
So I was keen to see how the range had developed since then, if at all, and contacted Levi’s® to see if they were interested in offering up one of their new backpacks for review. They were, and I’ve been wearing it daily for the past few weeks. My daily commute consists of a busy train ride in the mornings with a bike, books, laptop and camera, then a 30km ride home in the evening.
During each stage of the journey, I need to access every compartment easily and quickly, and they need to be able to carry a fair amount of bulky equipment, like bike shoes, and protect sensitive equipment like my laptop. It’s been a wet Spring in Sydney so far, so the pack needed to be water resistant as well as cool while riding and when the Aussie sun starts beating down.
The bar was set pretty high, but the pack tackled each requirement easily. It’s a well styled bag that complements the rest of the range and the rest of my wardrobe, fairly neutral tones with real leather accents and signature Levi’s® copper rivets. The main body is constructed with rugged “highly water resistant Cordura enhanced canvas” which was tested in a few downpours.
The leather doesn’t like the rain too much — you’ll notice some water stains in the photos — but that should contribute towards a pleasant used look in a year or two. I’m quite confident that it should last that long, as the construction is solid enough. A loop on the front pocket provides an extra attachment point for a rear light.
A 15″ laptop can be stashed behind the back padding via a full length zip on the left. That’s the leather zip toggle you can see poking out near the top of the left shoulder strap. One feature that I truly loved was this small pocket on the right with a magnetic flap. It’s designed to allow easy access to a wallet or phone or keys without removing the pack, and it works. There’s also an elastic keychain inside.
The magnetic flap is strong enough to not open and lose any essentials, even when riding, and the flap is nondescript and fairly hidden when the pack is on the back. Smart design. One feature I had to research was that leather strip on the left shoulder strap. It’s got a press-stud which can be detached. It’s for keys, apparently, but I couldn’t figure out why you’d want them swinging around up there.
I first encountered these adjustable sternum straps on a Boreas pack and I was suspicious of them at first, but they turned out to be a great system, so I was pleased to discover them on the Levi’s® pack. They come in handy when you let out the shoulder straps to carry a bigger or heavier load and want to keep the strap support across the chest.
Another impressive feature was the back pad. Levi’s® didn’t just stick a bit of foam on there for padding. They went with “technical 3D ventilated foam” which actually does keep air moving in-between the pack and your back. Not as advanced as, say, Boreas’ Modular Super Tramp Suspension system, but very comfortable and grippy.
Inside the main compartment is a small zippered pocket to contain loose items like coins. There’s also another compartment on the opposite wall that will hold two drink bottles, should you require them, or a pair of Vans. A looped strap is affixed with a snap-lock buckle to the wall, whose purpose I struggled with, but guessed it was for more keys.
The actual litre capacity of the backpack is not listed on the Levi’s® website and I won’t hazard a guess, but I could fit a point-and-shoot camera, notebook, external hard drive, full cycling kit, DSLR camera and bag, a pair of cycling shoes and a jacket in there. That’s a good load, don’t expect to access anything at the bottom of the bag very easily.
Hats off to Levi’s® for producing such a serious bag, when it could’ve easily been a cheap, poorly made, branded afterthought. There’s some considered details here which, combined with its materials and construction, make for a bag that’s a great complement to the Commuter™ range: Hardworking gear designed for the urban cyclist by the original hardworking gear brand.
Special thanks to the staff at Levi’s® Store Miranda.