Karen Voyer-Caravona is an admitted bicycle dilettante in Flagstaff, Arizona, who blogs about her adventures on two wheels, vÃ©lo envy, her husband’s cooking, and cross country skiing at www.sheridesabike.com. Visit her Website for her endless opinions on the most stylish shoes for pedaling, critiques of bike parking, and the best bike date dining destinations.
The BackTpack is different from any backpack or bike bag I have reviewed thus for Commute by Bike. The bag was designed by a professional physical therapist and educator for the specific purpose of encouraging "tall, strong posture,” necessary for fitness and injury prevention. She developed the bag in response to pain and injury experienced by people who regularly carry backpacks, especially school children whose packs are weighted down with textbooks.
Unlike traditional backpacks that are worn across the back, the BackTpack resembles a vest with carrying compartments (12 in all) situated at the wearers sides, about waist or hip level.
Instead of the weight of the load being on the wearer's back, often forcing him or her to lean forward to compensate for the weight, the BackTpack applies the load to the "vertical spine axis through the shoulders.”
According to its developer, this is a more efficient position for bones and muscles and for the body to work in harmony with gravity. Although I've spent a lot of time with physical therapist for any number of running and lower-back related issues, I'm not qualified to render a professional opinion about proper body alignment but the tag on the bag reads that the product is endorsed by the American Physical Therapy Association. So there!
The BackTpack Website provides a wealth of information about the bag, how it benefits good posture, how it facilitates the carrying of heavy loads, and who the product is designed for. The Website also includes an abundance of gallery photos and instructional video on how to properly load, don, and remove the pack, and how to adjust it for proper fit. The BackTpack comes in three different versions and in a variety of colors.
I was given the BackTpack3 to test in my color preference of Leaf Green (exterior) and Seafoam (interior). The bag is constructed of tough, durable crinkle nylon and is waterproof. The heavy-duty nylon straps are adjustable and come with solidly made buckles that open and close without difficulty. The two large pockets are padded all the way around and come with 12 interior and exterior pockets of various sizes. The two large primary compartment zip shut and each contain another zipped pocket in the interior. Several other pockets have flaps that close shut with Velcro. Other utility features include a key fob, a mess water bottle holder in each compartment and a headphone port for when you need music.
If you are at all familiar with my previous bike bag reviews for Commute by Bike, or with my blog She Rides a Bike, you already know that I require a nice balance between style and function when it comes to actually using a product beyond the test phase. I am ashamed to admit that style frequently trumps function with me — though at times function and utility win out.
My husband and I frequently fall back on a couple of truly unattractive, boxy panniers for big trips to the grocery store because, for the money, they really do the job.
While I originally thought that I would fall all over myself to purchase the Lane Leather Bicycle Pannier Messenger and pedal around Flagstaff like some bike commuting version of Emma Peel/Diana Rigg (Google her for the definition of eternal feminine hip and cool!), until it combines some of the practical utility of my Timbuk2 Shift Messenger Pannier I won't be making the switch.
In terms of functionality, the BackTpack really seems to do all it says it will do. It's comfortable to wear, and the straps easily adjust to a proper fit. You can carry a lot of weight in this bag and do so without pain or feeling dragged down.
I liked that the two small pockets in the front of each compartment made my cell phone and camera easily accessible, probably more so than any other bag that I currently use. I think this would be a great bag for a photographer or anyone who has a job that requires one to move fast without a car and travel with a portable office. Given the economic times, this could become the norm.
If traveling from job site to job site on a bike, the wearer only needs to lock up the bike and go because he's literally got everything he needs on him. The BackTpack3 version folds and can be carried with a briefcase-style handle built into the construction if the user prefers. Other people who might benefit from the pack are parents toting young children, or, as the Website notes, people who have to carry personal medical supplies or devises with them in case of an emergency. Personally, my favorite feature is the fabric (has a touch of shine to it) and the choice of colors. I'd give anything for a nice trench coat in the same fabric and color.
One issue I did have with functionality was the necessity of carefully arranging the both compartment to weigh roughly an equal amount. As a regular bike commuter, I accept that I have to do a bit of planning to make my trip as efficient as possible. But with all the coming and going that one might have to do during the course of the day, equalizing the weight is just something I have neither the time nor willingness to do.
All that said, I don't think that I'll use the BackTpack much beyond this test because what I gain in functionality can't compensate for what I lose in style, and I think many bike commuting urban professionals would agree with me. Despite the best efforts of my mother to convince me of the contrary, I live in a world in which appearances matter, and, unfortunately, the BackTpack just makes me look like a little garden gnome. I'm short and this bag just makes me look further hammered into the ground.
Although I received the small size, I still felt rather overwhelmed by it. On top of that, it just doesn't convey the right image. It makes me look like I'm going on vacation not to work. Frankly, despite his penchant for hopping the globe collecting objects of antiquity, I cannot see Professor Indiana Jones wearing it either. My husband remarked that all I need is a set of binoculars hanging around my neck and a safari hat to resemble a middle-aged tourist in Yellowstone National Park. He urged me never to wear it, especially in his company.
Nonetheless, I do plan to hold on to the BackTpack. I have a bike trip to the Grand Canyon planned with some friends for later this fall and I may just use it then. Bob will be going too so he'll just have to man-up and deal with his garden gnome of a wife for four days.
The BackTpack might just have real touring possibilities and it could end up being a bit of a lifesaver. I sure that most of you are well aware of the possibility of a zombie apocalypse and are as anxious as I am about preparing an escape. Obviously, car dwellers will be doomed due to their dependence on gas and the inevitable shortage auto parts and/or an utter lack of car repair skills when they break down on the highway as a hoard of the walking dead close in. Bob and I plan to high-tail it to the safe zone on our bikes but it's clear that we're going to need to take supplies. Sure bikes don't have the horsepower of an SUV but zombies are notoriously slow and clumsy so we're unlikely to be overtaken with them on I-40. A patch kit, replacement tubes, tires, a few basic small tools, and Clif Bars will be easy to carry in the BackTpack. The pack itself will provide me with body protection in the event I encounter a zombie as well as offer convenient storage for my zombie blades. Without a doubt, during a zombie apocalypse, function most definitely out-prioritizes style.