Compared to most packs made specifically for the trail or road, the Mission Workshop Vandal is a different beast. It's not a lightweight, bright, hydration pack made to limit sweating and encourage drinking electrolytes. The Vandal is more workhorse, chameleon, simple, functional, creative yet challenging.
They've yet to reach the Colorado mainstream, but when I was working in Hollywood recently, I kept seeing guys biking to the studios with Mission Workshop backpacks.
To start with, the Vandal can be used as either a roll-top backpack or as a flap-top hooked down with a thick elastic strap. At its slimmest, weighs 4.4 pounds at 1800 cubic inches. Unzip the sides and the pack expands. In fact, it more than doubles to a whopping 4000 cubic inches. This is huge and you can fit an amazing amount of stuff in the pack. Check out this MW video to see the possibilities: http://missionworkshop.com/products/bags/backpacks/roll_top/large_vandal.php (click the little triangle that says "Watch the Bag at Work Here."
I tested the pack on the daily ride to the office in Colorado for about a month, then put it through the ringer on a month-long filming trip in the Andes in South America. Here are my thoughts:
First of all, the Vandal is a pack you have to think about a little and devise your own system for using the pack. It features a big roll top pocket in the back that is expansive enough to fit a 15 or 17 inch laptop, but just and only if it's naked. If you add a padded sleeve for your laptop, it's hard to get it in and out of this pocket, so I ended up putting the laptop and sleeve in the big central cargo pocket.
The cargo pocket is how the pack expands in size, where it more than doubles. I ended up filling this pocket with tripods, a Kessler backpack dolly, water bottles, jackets, lunch, rain jacket. While filming, I stuffed the pack so full it weighed over 50 pounds. 50 pounds in a simple back is a lot to schlep, but the carbon fiber reinforced suspension system, and thick padded shoulder straps still kept it comfortable. The optional waist belt would have been a good addition.
The front of the Vandal features two more zippered pockets where I carried wireless mics, recorders, Beachtek boxes, passport, etc. Finally, there are two small zippered pockets in the very front that fit a few things - small Moleskin notebook and a couple pens.
What I liked most about the pack:
- After using it rather heavily over two months on bikes, planes, motorcycles, boats, taxis and buses, it still looks almost new. The material is strong and washes well. In fact, the pack doesn't show any wear at all. I could see this pack lasting for many years.
- It stayed completely waterproof in the spring snows of Colorado and in the deluges in the Andes.
- Even with a lot of weight, it was fairly comfortable to wear for several hours at a time.
- At first I thought I would never really use the pack fully expanded, but I learned that it's nice to have the option and I used it.
- It's made in the USA by a company with a good ethic and a ton of creativity.
- Lifetime warranty.
- Overbuilt. It's strong.
- It looks cool. Stylish. Unusual.
What I liked least about the pack:
- It's quite big, perhaps too big for most people in daily use. MW does offer a smaller version called the Rambler which might be better for most people.
- It was a challenge in the beginning to figure out my system for the Vandal - where to put everything so it was easy to find. All the bigger pockets extend all the way to the bottom of the bag, so if you just throw small stuff in the pockets, it all falls all the way to the bottom of the bag and I had to rummage around blindly with my hand to find everything. Sometimes this was annoying.
Overall, I like the Vandal quite a lot. It's grown on me over time. I also like the company, Mission Workshop, which was started by the same guys that started Chrome. Now they're brainstorming cool new bike gear that includes these backpacks, messenger bags, modular bags and other cool stuff. See it here: www.MissionWorkshop.com
Tested by Nathan Ward. www.nathanward.com