The right bag can make all the difference, and there are a hell of a lot to choose from, as we saw during Bag Week. For the gadgeteer, I found the Mamba Shift was great — for a laptop jockey, the Buran is a dream. But if I was travelling or shopping, I wouldn’t choose either if I had the option of the Mission Workshop Vandal. As long as you’re not carrying around a lot of little gadgets, this is a great choice for an all-purpose backpack.
Keep in mind during this review that the Vandal has a younger sibling, the Rambler, which is slightly smaller and costs $30 less, so if things seem a little big, there’s always that option.
So the general idea is that this is a relatively normal-sized backpack, weather-sealed of course, until you need it to carry a ton of junk, in which case you can unzip the sides and it accordions open, revealing a big-ass 800 cubic-inch space. In there goes your laundry, your groceries, your clothes for a trip, etc etc. I finally got a chance to put this to the test on a beautiful day in Seattle. I’d just had a long ride, which is why I’m winded in this video:
You know, in the video it doesn’t really look like that much stuff comes out of the bag, but trust me, it was packed. So that probably expresses more or less what I really need to say here.
Also: I’m very bad at taking pictures of backpacks and bags for some reason, which is why I’m using Mission Workshop’s official shots, except for this one:
Since it was nice out whenever I happened to take this bag with me, I didn’t really get to test out its weather sealing. So into the shower it went! I was happy to see that the water beaded up and flowed right off, as planned. Furthermore, there didn’t appear to be many catch points where the rivulets would collect, which points to good design on their part. It should be noted that the expandable portion of the backpack is not weather-sealed. I imagine this was necessary to let it compact well, but it’s a bummer nonetheless. That said, it’s not like it’s made of cheesecloth. You just can’t wear it in the shower. Also worth nothing: the padding that your back rests on is absorbent as well.
Another minor issue was that the straps have no elastic bands or obvious places to stow them. If you’re riding your bike, this leads to them whipping around and hitting your ears and back. A problem present on many backpacks to be sure, but it would have been nice to be able to lock those down.
I also felt there could have been more padding between the sections. The middle weather-proofed section is the logical one to put a laptop in, but there’s really nothing protecting it from shocks on either side. Likewise, there isn’t anywhere to put something like a camera and lens — to be fair, this is a problem shared by the Buran and many other backpacks, even the gadget-oriented Mamba Shift. But with so much cargo space, I’m disappointed there wasn’t a “safe area” for stuff like that.
At $229 (or $199 for the slightly smaller Rambler), the Vandal is an expensive backpack. But that’s because it’s a durable, versatile, weather-proof backpack, not some $30 piece of garbage with a zipper that’ll break off after three months. I wish the Vandal had more padding and more ready access pockets, but that’s not really the kind of pack it is. I’d take this thing on a trip around the world in a second — wish I’d had it in Luxembourg when I stashed my regular-style pack under a bush and it started pouring like crazy. If all you need is something to pop your laptop and a book or two in, you’d be better off with a smaller, more tech-friendly bag. But if you’re the kind of person who really uses a pack like this, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.