I have a weakness for gear. An addiction, really. Like Carrie Bradshaw and her shoes, I’m obsessed with hoodies and backpacks. My closet is filled to overwhelmed with both, and at this point I’ve come to consider myself a connoisseur of packs. I’m always looking for the ideal pack to match my lifestyle, or hold and organize my gear better. I have packs for riding bikes in the city. Some for riding bikes in the dirt. Some for carrying camera gear. Some of carrying camera gear around town. And some for carrying camera gear while mountain biking. Needless to say, I’m always on the search for the ideal pack.
When I came across the Captain Phil Backpack by All-City Cycles, I have to admit it was their marketing copy that really hooked me. That, and the black texture just looks really effing cool. In the blurb, its described it as their dream pack made real, with all the features they’ve ever wanted. These words spoke right to me- would their dream pack be mine as well? The pack has a reasonably low retail price to boot, so click went my mouse, and a short while later I was looking at the latest addition to my closet-busting collection of packs.
I’ll admit I did a bit of looking around for better images online before jumping on this latest in a line of impulse purchases. The problem was that the photos of the bag don’t quite explain the scale and size of the bag. They offer it in both medium and large sizes, but the gallery of images doesn’t clearly differentiate the differences. (A photo with both bags next to each other would be nice) They look similar with the height of the unfolded bag being the main change.
With the outer messenger bag style flap up, the basic pack form is reminiscent of a water proof paper grocery sack with a removable liner and a back pad. It isn’t only simple, but it’s totally effective, and it is easy to utilize the space unlike many of the other packs I own. The bright color in the main compartment means finding stuff isn’t a challenge requiring a headlamp, and the roll top and the buckle closure (similar to a dry bag) keeps the elements out. The bag has a number of organizational pouches on the outside, including my favorite feature of the bag, the two side pockets. These side pockets are possibly the best executed side pockets on any bag I’ve owned. My Evolution Mini U-lock slides in perfectly and doesn’t move, even if I’m rolling through, and or over rough terrain. A water bottle fits well with a snug fit. Unlike some of my other packs, I’ve never had the lock or bottle fly out regardless of the bike I’m riding. I’ve even fit a travel coffee cup and ridden with coffee inside. The small splashes of coffee leaking from the cup are easy to wipe off the tarp-like material that has a durable, solid feel. (At the moment I have a book tucked in there.) There are a number of small organizational pockets that hold small items securely as well as pen holders and a magazine pouch- perfect for commuting via the train as I do daily. The small pockets are secured with a zipper with a flap to keep water out.
To top it off, D-ring lash down points are sewn on the exterior of the bag with included removeable cargo straps, making it possible to carry almost anything you can think of. Wheels? Yep, no problem. Using the side pockets in with the cargo straps makes it easy to carry a small tripod or light stand too. Carrying a light stand is a bit awkward since this is the smaller sized version of this bag, but that just speaks to the bag’s versatility. I tote a digital SLR almost everywhere I go, and this option means I don’t have to change out to my camera specific packs that don’t hold the daily stuff. While it isn’t designed for that purpose, it carries it fairly well. My padded camera insert fits well into the pack, and I’m easily able to take an SLR body, lens, flash and Pocketwizard tranceivers while still toting other stuff. Although I still really want to find a hybrid pack that is designed specifically for this application, (the ILE Bag is the first that comes to mind) for most folks this isn’t a consideration.
The bag often gets compliments on the street and it is a nice stand out from the typical brands I see every day on the Bart. The only aspect of the bag I’m not crazy about is the back pad, which seems like it could easily be improved on. However, for the price, this pack is hard to beat. Drawbacks? The pack doesn’t have compression straps, so squeezing through a crowd can be a challenge, even with just a few items loaded. The outer flap has to be buckled to keep everything feeling secure, (especially if you have stuff in the zipper flap, as it will swing around while riding) and lacks the quick velcro fasteners many of us have come to be used to with messenger bags. Occasionally on grocery trips I’ll run the bag over capacity on the way home and unlike my Chrome Roll-Top Pack, the outer flap is hard to stow away. I found myself wishing the inner buckle was the same diameter as well as the male version- that would be an easy solution to my over zealous shopping sprees.
However, these are all minor gripes that could easily be remedied in a future iteration of the product, and the numerous features outweigh the drawbacks. Also, in hindsight, I would have chosen the large bag over the medium. For the most part, the biggest difference appears to be the height of the bag, which during shopping trips would be extremely beneficial. Because of the roll top feature and the way the outer flap buckles down, I don’t think the additional height and slightly heavier weight would be that much more noticeable, but the maximum carrying capacity would be nice to have.
On a side note, I had an incident where one of the shoulder strap buckles was caught in a car door. All-City repaired the bag at no charge, although it was totally my fault. Thanks to the team at All City for the great customer service.
- Black aesthetic isn’t just durable but good looking
- Stows lots of gear and makes it easy to get to it
- Outer zipper pocket on flap perfect for placing items like tickets where quick access is required making it great for travel
- Weather resistant
- Very reasonable price
- Replaceable inner liner
- Tons of organizational pockets on the outside
- Lots of accessories including a cell phone holster on shoulder straps
- Removable cargo straps will let you strap almost anything on
- When over loaded, outer flap can’t secure
- If the outer buckle isn’t fastened, it swings all over the place
- Extremely basic back pad
- Made overseas
So is the Captain Phil my dream pack? I wouldn’t go that far, as my ideal pack also needs to be able to tote my SLR camera that accompanies me everywhere. My ideal pack will hold it safely in an easily accessible manner, as well as all the stuff I require while living day to day. That said, the Captain is a solid effort from the folks at All-City. Captain Phil Pack lists for $99.
check it out: Captain Phil Pack