Just a few weeks ago Waterfield Designs released their first pack, the Staad Backback. Strangely enough, every review I’ve seen is just a regurgitation of the press release and the product page, so I thought I’d give a little write-up after actually handling the pack.
First, my current backpack is the Tom Bihn Smart Alec. This is the best backpack I have ever owned. It’s comfortable, it’s durable, it’s sufficiently waterproof to ride my bike to work in a downpour. It has the most usable pocket system I’ve ever seen in a backpack. It’s also a bit big for what I need day-to-day, so I’ve been casually browsing around for a something smaller to get me back and forth to work.
After seeing my at the Staad, I decided to go with the waxed canvas, chocolate leather slim version of the bag. I went back and forth on the sizing, but I currently have a 13” laptop and a bag big enough to haul groceries in, so if I’m going to buy a new bag I might as well go with the smallest bag that’s useful.
As I write this, I have just recived the pack, so I don’t have any real usage notes to report. Here are my first impressions; things that I was wondering about, I’ve seen people ask about or details that surprise me.
The buckle is not vintage. Every review I’ve read mentions the “vintage” buckle. I think what they mean is it is a “vintage style” buckle. The buckle itself is brand-new and plastic. That being said, it’s an interesting buckle. If you watch Gary’s video notice how smoothly he opens the flap. It really is that smooth. The video glosses over the closing action a bit and makes it hard to see the exact mechanism for closing the bag. When you want to close the bag, you push the main tab down, then manipulate the small plastic bit through the slot. On a brand new Staad this is easy, as the stiffness of the webbing and the leather tab keeps everything in place and ready to close. I’m interested to see how this changes as the bag ages and everything breaks in.
Here are some animations illustrating the opening and closing action:
This clasp is fun to operate. It is one of the most satisfying closures I’ve used, rivaling the feeling you get when you rip open the fly on old broken-in button fly jeans.
The outside pockets are small, best suited to thin objects. I’ve got medium sized hands, the pockets are almost the exact size of my hands. Too small for a Moleskine, just right for Field Notes. You aren’t going be fitting a water bottle in here. These pockets are best suited for small items, earbuds, wallets, notebooks, gum, etc. Because of the stiffness of the waxed canvas, the pockets don’t stretch or deform, so you aren’t going to be able to cram a lot of stuff in there even if you wanted to.
I didn’t notice this in any images or descriptions, but the laptop and iPad pockets have a very nice fleece lining. The iPod pocket is thin, just big enough for a bare iPad (I couldn’t put my iPad mini + cover in the pocket without the cover sliding off).
I had two bottles of wine in the house. Both fit into the main compartment easily and I think I could have fit a third in there. This assumes that none of the other pockets have anything bulky in them. The pocket tapers towards the top, so putting the wine in requires unzipping the zipper. Once zipped it is fairly secure and the wine doesn’t fall out even when the bag is inverted. There’s no way you could fit a six-pack without taking the bottles out of the carrier.
The main compartment won’t fit anything much bigger than a long-sleeved t-shirt. Pack light.
The underside of the flap is black leather.
Zipper pulls are generic plastic pulls. They’re fine, same pulls my Tom Bihn bag uses. I wish bag makers like Waterfield Designs and Tom Bihn would use something a little nicer, though.
Laptop sleeve ends about 2 inches above the bottom of the bag. You’d have to set the bag down very hard to have the laptop bump.
The interior pockets close with Velcro, but it’s a nice Velcro. The loop part is tight, the hook part is not rough or scratchy; it’s almost smooth. The pockets are not deep. A Field Notes notebook sticks up enough that the velcro closure cannot close.
This is probably obvious to everyone considering this bag, but it’s worth being explicit: this bag is going to get a worn look very quickly. The leather flap already has scratches on it from me opening and closing the clasp. The waxed canvas has some scuffs. Anyone considering buying this bag probably desires the broken-in look, but if you like your gear to keep looking pristine, this is likely not the bag for you.