Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ivan the Functional: A Review of Chrome's Midsize Roll-top Backpack...

Ah, Ivan, if you were a beer, you'd be a Russian Imperial Stout, something akin to Old Rasputin, I'd like to imagine. Robust, a bit heavy, highly satisfying, the one to have when you can have only one. Alas, you are only a pack, which means the closest you'll come to beer is hauling the damn stuff around every now and then. There are worse things in life, comrade, but let's leave that for another post. This one is a product review, so on with it.

A midsize (1680 cu. in.) roll-top offering from San Francisco's Chrome Bags,1 Ivan is a fully waterproof, made-in-the-States backpack whose main compartment is sealed by pinching opposing sides of the pack together and, as the style suggests, rolling the bundle downward, before securing it via a hook-and-loop closure flap. The end result is that your booty (and I'm not talking ass here) remains dry, regardless of what Lady Nature throws your way. Here's the breakdown as I see it...

CAPACITY: The main compartment is cavernous. Plenty of room for two six-packs or a bevy of bombers, along with some grub to soak it all up and an extra jacket or other cycling article you feel naked without, plus a laptop (pic below left shows a load of two sixers and an 18" Powerbook in a protective sheath, with room for a sub, some fries, and a backup bomber, not pictured). To give a better visual, four one-gallon milk jugs will easily fit in the main compartment, with a little room to spare.

The shape is rectangular, so the key here is to stack upward, not outward, being mindful to leave enough room near the top to get a full (180°) roll going, particularly if it's raining—no roll in a downpour means that bounty of purloined panties you liberated from the local laundromat (ya sick bastard!) is gonna get wet and heavy and begin to feel like the owners are wearing them by the time you get home, without the benefits the actual presence of these ladies might confer.

Owing to its slim design (depth), Ivan has a surprisingly low profile when you're hunched over, down in the drops, even when it's packed to the gills. Over-the-shoulder ass glances aren't a problem, as the pack sits low on the back, adding to stability while you ponder the callipygean aesthetic of passing pedestrians.

Overall usable dimensions2 come out to be around 21"x14"x6"—a good size for the solo grocery shopper who doesn't mind a return trip later in the week when the last bottle hits the bottom of the recycle bin.

FEATURES: Ivan boasts five compartments in all, including an LP-cover sized outer pocket and smaller cargo twins (u-lock size) that can be accessed without opening the main compartment. And then there's Chrome's infamous "kilo-keeper,"3 a concealed contraband compartment whose clandestine configuration was conceived to confound cagey constables on all continents who might otherwise confiscate your coveted cocaine cache4. Well, I like to think that's why it's there. The aforementioned LP-cover sized pocket has a seam-sealed zipper closure hidden beneath a storm flap, so that latest issue of Juxtapoz or Bizarre (my audience, such as it is, is nothing if not eclectic) you're hauling around stays tinderbox dry.

Waterproof all over is Ivan. Really waterproof all over. The waterproofing agent is of the truck-tarp variety, overlaid everywhere with a formidable layer of Cordura. Seams are "high frequency RF welded." Bottom line: relax—your crap is DRY. Forget about it and concentrate instead on the SUVs, buses, and cabs looking to squeeze you out of your skin at the next intersection.

Two shoulder-straps, a chest strap, and a waist strap (all adjustable) keep everything on your back where you intend it to be. Unlike some messenger bags, Ivan won't do orbits around your midsection as you spin out on a long, steep downhill. On the back, a daisy chain of three loops runs straight up between the twin cargo pockets like a spine, offering a home for a blinkie or two (though its usefulness is severely limited when the cargo twins are stuffed). Rounding out the utilitarian features are a haul loop near the shoulder yoke and two large, steel D-rings—one mounted near the top of each shoulder strap—so you can dangle your keys (or whatever) hipster-style within easy reach without removing the pack to dig for them.

DURABILITY: Bombproof. Seriously.

Hardware on the twin pockets and shoulder straps is stainless steel, and a beefy nylon waist buckle stabilizes the load nicely around your midriff. The chest strap also comes together via a nylon buckle.

As mentioned above, the whole works is wrapped in a tough layer of Cordura, meaning the pack should hold up well in those unfortunate situations where skin typically doesn't.

COMFORT: The shoulder straps are fairly wide and nicely padded; in fact, I've hauled some heavy stuff around in my Ivan and I've never noticed any discomfort in those areas. The pad between back and pack is just thick and wide enough to keep beer bottles and other hard objects from playing your spine and ribs like a xylophone as you pedal, and it's channeled like a set of chiseled abs to allow a little air flow during the hot summer months.

WEIGHT: As you might suspect, steel hardware, comfortable padding, and waterproof, rugged, double-layer construction mean Ivan is a bit of a pig when it comes to the scales. Mine weighed in at just under 4 lbs. But on the streets and rolling, the fit and feel of the pack render this factor largely irrelevant. You simply don't notice its comparative heftiness because Ivan cradles your body snugly like a nubile new lover. The load neither shifts nor digs into your shoulders. And all the things that amp up the weight a bit make Ivan one tough Cossack.

OVERSIGHTS: Just three, all of them minor, two of them related. First, the smallest pockets are the twin cargo pockets. These v-shaped spaces measure roughly 12"x8" (width measured at the vertical center) each, so small things get lost in them without effort. A nice zippered pouch inside one or both would be ideal. Second, no key lanyard. Anywhere. If there's no small pocket to stash keys, a key lanyard in one of the outside pockets makes sense. Lastly, the cinch webbing on each shoulder strap is overly long for my torso, leaving about 12 inches to flap in the breeze—just a slight annoyance, really, which I mitigate by tucking the loose ends inside the waist belt. Those with freakishly long torsos may not have a problem in this regard.

The verdict? Ivan is a champ, no question. I love this pack, and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a comfortable, durable, stable, waterproof bag that will carry everyday loads (and then some) for years to come, and who seeks to avoid the douche-chills that may come with wearing a messenger bag and delivering nothing5 (then again, I ride a fixed gear and I've never set foot in a velodrome, so there you have it).

1. Full disclosure: Chrome is an official sponsor of the Single Speed Outlaw Factory Team (SSOFT), of which I am a member. This influenced neither my opinion nor my review of this product.
2. Usable dimensions account for space lost when the top is rolled closed.
3. My nickname for this pocket, not Chrome's. But I'm sure they wish they'd thought of it. This same secret pocket is a feature on other Chrome bags.
4. This sentence is a pretentious example of a wonderful literary technique—generally reserved for poetry—known as alliteration.
5. The opinions expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of Chrome Bags. No, really.


Fxdwhl said...

chrome makes quality product. quite happy with my ranchero ( mid size flip top pack). as comfy as a pack can be; single strap mess bags are dead to me.

switch back and forth between the pack and porteur rack depending on my mood. did fit a case of pounders in there testing the load capacity.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the scoop. wish I'd held out a little longer. awhile back I bought a chrome kremlin messenger bag and though it's great in terms of construction and features, i do find their should strap doesn't keep it in place well enough, especially when fully loaded. wishing i had gone backpack now. one other thing for your readers when looking at any bag - beware the instinct to go bigger in volume - this kremlin is HUGE and though I thought it could never be the case, quite possibly too huge. unless you carry alot all the time, when you're carrying an average load day-to-day, stuff moves around too much.

Carlos said...

The Chrome guys are in San Fran now? I sort of knew them when they sort of sponsored me in the mid 90's. Haven't seen them since picking up some T-shirts and a jacket at thier house in Boulder. Still have the jacket, covered in grease stains and a few rips, but I still wear it in the garage.

Anna said...

Maybe we should switch bags (my Crumpler for your Chrome) and compare notes?

priya said...

Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life

Chrome Stacks