Nov 15 2011

Rickshaw Bags Backpack 2.0 Review

As a friend of mine is fond of saying “People fall into two categories. Those that divide things into categories and those that don’t.”

While that is only marginally germane to my topic today it does let me talk about the category that I fall into: the “I might need that” category.

I can trim a suitcase down to the bare essentials. I can slim a toiletries kit down to a Quart size ziplock. I can sit on a middle seat with my carry on for a week under my feet between two motion sick professional wrestlers and still get a nap in.

But a briefcase is my nemesis. I mean, I really might need one of three choices of back up drive. Really, how can anyone get by without a transformer isolated impedance adapter for the eighth inch output of their laptop…and a still camera…and a video camera…and a turkey baster…and a space blanket…and a Farmer’s Almanac from 1937 with pages 314-386 inexplicably torn out.

In all seriousness, it is not unusual for my briefcase to crack the 20 pound mark…and edge close to 30 pounds on occasion. Ouch.

Because of this I went through a backpack stage. It is so nice to have two straps evenly dividing the weight across your shoulders for a long hike across a convention center floor. Unfortunately, there are certain places where walking in with a back pack will label you as an intern rather than a business professional.

While it would boggle my mother’s mind to hear me say it…I do have to be professional sometime. So, I really need to be able to show up looking dapper and presentable.

Rickshaw Bags Commuter Backpack 2.0

Enter the convertible Commuter Laptop Backpack from Rickshaw Bags.

Rickshaw is fairly new to the scene with a founding date in 2007, but a rich heritage to lean on. The owner, Mark Dwight, was in product development with Kensington before he went to run a little bag and pack company known as Timbuk2. So Rickshaw brings more than a little bit of cred to their side of the equation.

The Commuter Backpack shows that experience in spades. The basic approach is a messenger style bag with a big fold over flap. The pack is about an inch deeper at the bottom than at the top and features a big (7 by 13 inch) weatherized bottom that you will be completely comfortable resting on wet pavement. The other big beauty of the flat bottom of the Commuter Backpack is that it makes it very stable when you set it down. It stands up on its own quite nicely!

The front flap is sealed with two clip buckles for great security and there is a fabric loop along the bottom edge if you needed to attach a carabiner to the bag front.

Each side has an identical mesh water bottle holder with a drawstring closure to keep the bottle secure. Behind these are three open pockets, two sized for a pen and one the perfect size for your iPhone. Above this is a small plastic D ring to encourage you to creatively attach something to the bag and a larger metal one for attaching a shoulder strap to the Commuter pack.

Turning the pack around to the back reveals a long horizontal zipper that runs the width of the pack. Tucked cozily inside are a pair of high quality back pack straps that attach with quick clips to D rings on the bottom corners of the bag. They are well padded and have moisture wicking material that rests next to your shoulders. The straps can be deployed in a couple of seconds and tucked away just as quickly.

The backpack does a great job of distributing weight across your shoulders but it does ride very high. If you are used to a teardrop type design, this may feel a bit strange to you initially.

Opening this pocket where the straps hide reveals some of Rickshaw’s intense attention to details. There is a two-inch square of velcro right in the center of the pocket along the top edge to keep the pocket from gapping open when you have the backpack straps attached. Also, if you will reach down into the bottom you will find a 1 inch thick rectangle of foam secured by velcro. This pads the spot where the bottom edge of the backpack rests against your back to keep it from digging in uncomfortably. These kind of details seem to be second nature to Rickshaw.

The top of the bag features a hang tag and a really good handle. Given the fact that this was one of the things that I missed on their Zero Messenger Bag when I reviewed it, I was particularly happy to see this.

The handle is anchored very widely on the bag and has a reinforced piece of plastic in the middle of the nylon. This means the handle never bunches up and always spreads the weight of the bag across the most surface area on your hand making it very comfortable to carry.

Lifting up the flap reveals a cavernous open storage section that is finished in a grey, waterproof nylon. One of the slickest thing about Rickshaw is the modularity of their accessory system. The backside of the open area has two long stripes of the soft side of velcro. My review unit came with a laptop sleeve for a 15 inch but my everyday carry Mac is a 13 inch. No problem, I pulled the sleeve out of my Zero Messenger and attached it inside the Backpack. Simple as that!

The front of this section also has a slash pocket that is the width of the internal section (almost 16 inches) that is suitable for storing files or an iPad or other tablet. There is also another strip of velcro along the front if you wanted to add some more organizational touches by installing one of Rickshaw’s accessory pockets.

The beauty of this approach is that you can suit the bag to your needs at the moment. If you need to store a laptop and have pockets and slots, you just set it up that way. If you want to pull everything out and have a REALLY big chunk (almost 1200 cubic inches) of space for a trip to the grocery store to prep for making dinner for your wife, you are still covered.

Rickshaw bills the bag as being waterproof and the inside of the backpack really reminds me of the inside of one of those soft coolers, so I decided to test out the truth of that claim.

To do so, I emptied the bag of electronics and storage pockets and filled it up with roughly 2 gallons of water. Yeah, I am an idiot. The Commuter took all I could throw at it. There was the tiniest bit of seepage that showed up as some moisture at the point where the back pack straps attached to the bottom of the pack. Did I mention that it was a tiny amount? I would be completely comfortable pressing the Commuter backpack into the role of a beverage cooler for a tailgating or beach trip.

The inside material is also really easy to clean up. It is simply a matter of wiping it with a clean towel!

Shame I didn't have a goldfish to put in there...

The front of the pack features a spacious zippered pocket (about 11 by 12 inches) with quality YKK zippers with nylon pulls on them. Inside are two slash pockets on the front wall, each 8 by 6 inches. These would be great for storing a backup drive or your computer’s power supply. Along the back wall is a permanently installed version of Rickshaw’s Deluxe Drop Pocket which features 3 pen/pencil slots, a passport sized pocket and a business card slot. Along the top is another zippered pocket which opens to reveal a 9 by 9 inch space with a key strap considerately stored inside! Lots of slots and spots to organize your kit here!
An iPad will comfortably sit in the middle of this pocket in either landscape or portrait orientation.

The front of the this pocket features 3 fabric loops down the center and two long stripes of velcro. I am not a velcro fan. It is secure and allows for a lot of adjustment, but it is just so stinking noisy.

Rickshaw must have known there were people like me in the world. The matching sides of the velcro on the flap are covered by these little patch that are labeled “shhhhh”. Did I mention that they have magnets in them? So clever these people from Rickshaw! If you want the extra security of the velcro closures just tear off the magnetic pieces (labeled “RRRRRIIIPPP!”) and the velcro is exposed. This is great for when you have radically overpacked the bag and need those hook and loop closures. Going to a lecture afterwards? Just put the magnetic closures back on and you are in silent mode again. Genius I say!

Velcro tab in silent mode!

The review unit I got came in Forest Green with Red accents and looked very smart. The dimensions of it kind of remind me of an old sample case as it is taller and thicker than a traditional briefcase.

If you don’t like that color combination, that is not a problem as Rickshaw gives you a ridiculous amount of color choices and will even make you a bag out of your own material should you choose. With 40 exterior color options and 37 different binding options you probably won’t need to resort to that extreme, but if you do you should contact Rickshaw about the type and amount of fabric they will need to do your perfect bag.

If you are not sure if you can find a color combination that will suit you because you are more particular than that Princess with the big pile of mattresses, head over here to their customer configurator and pick you our own combination. We will see you back here in an hour or so but the rest of us are going to continue along to the bottom of the page.

Rickshaw is serious about wanting you to be happy with the bag you choose. You have 30 days to exercise buyers remorse and send the bag back to them…but somehow I bet you won’t. Their limited lifetime warranty is also based on YOUR definition of something being wrong and they will repair or replace a bag at YOUR choice. That is the stance of a company that knows they have a great product and wants to be sure that you feel exactly the same way.

These bags are made in the US, from fabrics woven in the US and only a very small portion of the sub-assemblies in the accessory section are made in China. I love that dedication to local construction and materials.


The Commuter Backpack is a really well thought out bag. It holds a lot of gear and the flexibility of Rickshaw’s accessory system means you can configure the pack to do what you need it to do.

The backpack straps work well and make this case a great choice from someone with a long commute, particularly someone who needs to carry a lot. The Commuter Backpack is made of tough materials to an exacting standard of construction and with attention to the environment as well. No PVCs are used and they do everything they can to minimize waste in the way the cut the fabric for the bags. They even turn the scraps into useful bits as bike floss!

All the little touches like the velcro silencers, the waterproof lining and that little piece of padding in the back pack strap pocket just go to show that they love making bags as much as you will love using them to carry FAR TOO MUCH STUFF!

What came out of the Commuter? HDMI cable, Mac Power supply on top of an iPad one in keyboard case , hard drive in a zippered bag, Joby Gorrilla Pod, travel mouse, medium Grid-it with widgets, Monster power strip, 13 inch MBP in Rickshaw protective case, iPhone, pens, mini screwdriver, HTC View Android tablet in case, random cables in big zippered pouch, another hard drive in zippered pouch, orange and mesh organizer bag and a black bag with audio cables and accessories...and room left over.

Two thumbs up for the Rickshaw Commuter Backpack 2.0. Well thought out and darn near indestructible.

Rickshaw Bags Commuter Backpack $190

Rickshaw Bagworks, Inc.
904 22nd Street
San Francisco, California 94107
Phone: 415.904.8368
Fax: 415.723.7530
General Questions: info@rickshawbags.com

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