Bag Week 2018: Chrome’s Niko Hold secures compact camera gear in a sleek package

Most camera bags prioritize function over form, which makes sense for protecting some of your most expensive gear, but it’s still a bummer. If you’re both practical and interested in cultivating cool, aloof photographer vibes instead of dorky ones, Chrome’s Niko lineup of camera bags is definitely worth a look.

Chrome’s Niko Hold ($60, Chrome Industries) is the company’s smallest camera bag, but if you’re looking for something larger the Niko Messenger and the Niko F-Stop backpack share its sensibilities with a larger form factor. The Niko Hold fits a pretty specific niche, but given the soaring popularity of small-bodied mirrorless full frame cameras and increasingly powerful compact cameras, it’s a pretty wide one.

With a volume of seven liters, the Niko Hold won’t carry a full-size DSLR or big zoom lenses well but it’s a great fit for a smaller setup. I used to carry the old version of the Niko backpack, but these days it’s just too much case for my cameras and I’ve been looking for something tough that’s a more suitable size but doesn’t look like it came from the clearance section at Best Buy.

To test the Niko Hold, I carried this for a week of off-and-on event photography near Los Angeles, both fixed shooting on stages and more candid outdoor shooting. The bag is sleek and solid, with a very structured rectangular vibe that looks and feels professional without being boring. I felt confident that my equipment would be safe if the weather suddenly turned, but this pack is more water resistant than fully waterproof, but you’d probably have a special housing for extreme weather needs anyway. There are plenty of circumstances I shoot in that would be a bad fit for this camera bag but for event and street photography it proved ideal. Obviously, you shouldn’t take the Niko Hold on a backpacking or climbing trip, it’s much more of an urban bag than one designed for the outdoors.

To be clear, the Niko Hold isn’t great for fast access, but it worked well for my shooting needs which were mostly carrying my camera, lenses and accessories to and from a location securely. The Niko Hold’s seam-sealed zipper isn’t fast for getting things in and out, but if I’m ready to shoot my camera would be on my hip anyway. Of course, that won’t always be the case, but there are plenty of other designs with faster access in mind, including the Niko Messenger.

Within the Niko Hold, two dividers offer a little customizable organization, while there are just enough zippered pockets for stashing SD cards and other small accessories, like a phone and wallet if it’s the only bag you’re carrying.

The Niko Hold is small, but it can accommodate plenty of compact gear. In my time testing it, the Niko Hold carried my Sony A7S II body, an 18-200mm lens, all of the necessary chargers, SD cards and extra batteries and sometimes even a backup Sony RX 100 II. Its all-black 1050d ballistic nylon construction meant that the bag looked and felt like a small set of armor for my gear, which was ideal. More than anything, this camera bag feels snug and secure.

Small camera cases are usually intended for casual photographers, but this felt like pro level protection and thoughtfulness, which was refreshing for a professional photographer who has downsized my gear over the years. If you’ve converted to camera equipment on the smaller side, carrying your stuff in Chrome’s Niko Hold will give both your gear and your shooting style the respect it deserves. Finally.

Bag Week 2018: Timbuk2’s Launch featherweight daypack is tough and tiny

If you need something small, lightweight and indestructible, Timbuk2’s Lightweight Launch Backpack ($129) might be right up your alley. The pack, constructed from famously tough Tyvek, can fit a 13″ laptop comfortably and plenty else. At only 18L, it sounds small, but due to its drawstring-top design and large main compartment, it holds more than enough to make it a functional all-purpose daypack for work or play.

The Launch’s distinct look will be what makes up most people’s minds about this pack. Beyond the drawstring design and this fun lemon-lime interior color, the Launch doesn’t have too many bells and whistles. Still, it checks important boxes with the inclusion of stuff like a water bottle holder, a sternum strap and weather resistant build material.

If you’re a fan of tough lightweight packs, know that the Launch’s Tyvek material gives it more structure than most stuff made out of this kind of material. That’s both a good and bad thing: more structure is great so your pack doesn’t just collapse into a little pile, but because the Tyvek lacks any stretch whatsoever both its front pocket and the top compartment that sits on top of the main part of the pack can be a little tricky to dig things in and out of.

Happily, the Launch holds a laptop very well, thanks to a padded compartment accessible via a full-length side zipper — always the best way to access a laptop in a backpack! The laptop area is a nice touch for such a lightweight pack and makes Timbuk2’s Launch a unique, super-light laptop pack for everyday use, so long as you’re not carrying too much.

If you’re a longtime Timbuk2 fan know that the pack both looks and feels different from most of Timbuk2’s classic designs, and unfortunately doesn’t come in the bright, playful tri-color look that some of its classic messengers do. Still, if you’re into more natural, subdued tones and really don’t want your day-to-day pack to weigh you down unnecessarily, Timbuk2’s Launch is totally worth a look.

What it is: A small but not too small Tyvek daypack that carries a laptop well.

What it isn’t: A Timbuk2 design that you’re used to.

Read more reviews from TechCrunch Bag Week 2018.

bag week 2018

Bag Week 2018: P.MAI’s women’s leather laptop bag is luxury packed with utility

Welcome to Bag Week 2018. Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions.

I’ve always preferred carrying a backpack to work instead of a purse. Like many women, I’ve accepted that it means sacrificing style for comfort and utility. There are tons of women’s backpacks on the market with all sorts of colors, designs, materials and overall aesthetics.

But the minute you look for a quality, women’s leather laptop backpack the options are sparse and divided into two camps. They seem to either be casual in aesthetic and centered around a utilitarian design, or straight off the runway and built more for show than function.

P.MAI surprised me in its ability to find an uncompromising middle ground between a luxury aesthetic and practical utility.

Phuong Mai founded P.MAI after years of working in the world of management consulting. It is a world where consultants are expected to always be slightly better dressed than their clients, and they are constantly on the road traveling between client projects.

Mai’s purse caused back pain, and her doctor recommended switching to a backpack. She couldn’t find a backpack that checked all the boxes — feminine yet durable, comfortable yet sleek, utilitarian and still beautiful. So she bootstrapped P.MAI to create it.

She started by focusing on sourcing from suppliers with premium fabrics and leathers to blend beauty with durability. The backpack is constructed from full grain calf leather, two-tone nylon body fabric and poly lining. The fabrics are coated with PU to ensure water-resistance.

The design is sleek with no external protruding pockets. Instead there is one zip pocket large enough for a passport on the front, and compartments designed for the modern, professional woman inside. The padded laptop compartment fits up to a 15-inch laptop. There also are three internal slip pockets and one internal zip pocket to store and organize all of your belongings. These are complemented by an elastic lined water (or wine) bottle holder, and an internal key ring snaphook for your matching P.MAI wristlet.

The external details make the bag durable and travel friendly. There are four gold metal feet to prevent scratches on the bottom of the bag. There also is a built-in trolley strap, so it can easily be attached to the top of a roller suitcase. The top handle makes it easy to pick up like a handbag and slide the backpack on or off of a roller bag. While the external gold hardware is sleek and beautiful, I wish it included small holes suitable for a travel lock.

Mai incorporated her doctor’s advice into the design’s comfort factor. The shoulder straps are adjustable to properly distribute weight. They also have hidden airmesh padding to cushion your shoulders.

While it’s hard to find me wearing any color other than black, if black leather on black nylon isn’t your thing there are three other color combinations from which to choose; black leather and gray nylon, navy blue leather and navy blue nylon or cognac leather and navy blue nylon.

By designing a bag for women that blends a luxury aesthetic with comfortable utility, the P.MAI bag quickly rose to the the “Most Wished for” laptop backpack on Amazon last holiday season. Premium materials and quality design don’t come cheap. Still, the $450 price-tag may keep this one on the wish-list for now.

P.MAI is a refreshing laptop bag designed for the practical and health needs of professional women, while making them feel and look stylish.

bag week 2018

Bag Week 2018: Mission Workshop’s Radian rolltop starts simple but grows piece by piece

Welcome to Bag Week 2018. Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions.

I’ve always been wary of modular, rail-based bag systems. They’ve always struck me as rather military and imposing, which I suppose is kind of the point. Even Mission Workshop, whose other bags I have always enjoyed, put out one that seemed to me excessive. But they’ve tempered their style a bit and put out the Radian, a solid middle ground between their one-piece and modular systems.

The Radian is clearly aimed at the choosy, pack-loving traveler who eschews roller bags for aesthetic — which describes me to a tee. Strictly rolltop bags (originating in cyclist and outdoors circles) end up feeling restrictive in where you can stow gear, and rollers are boxy and unrefined. So the Radian takes a bit from both, with the added ability to add bits and pieces according to your needs.

What it is: Adaptable, waterproof, well-designed and not attention-grabbing

What it isn’t: Simple or lightweight

The core pack is quite streamlined, with no protruding external pockets whatsoever. There’s the main compartment — 42 liters, if you’re curious — and a cleverly hidden laptop compartment between the main one and the back pads. Both are independently lined with waterproof material (in addition to the water-resistant outer layer) and the zippers are similarly sealed. There’s also a mesh pouch hidden like the laptop area that you can pop out or stow at will.

You can roll up the rolltop and secure it with Velcro, or treat it as a big flap and snap it to a strap attached to the bottom of the bag — the straps themselves are attached with strong Velcro, so you can take them off if you’re going roll style. The “Cobra” buckle upgrade is cool but the standard plastic buckles are well made enough that you shouldn’t feel any pressure to pay the $65 to upgrade.

Access is where things begin to diverge. Unlike most rolltop packs, you can lay the bag on the ground and unzip the top as if it were a roller, letting you access the whole space from somewhere other than the top. The flap also has its own mesh enclosure. This is extremely handy and addresses the main ergonomic issue I’ve always had with strictly top-loading bags.

In a further assimilation of rolltop qualities, there’s a secret pocket at the bottom of the bag that houses a large cloth cover that seals up the pack straps and so on, making the bag much more stowable and preventing TSA or baggage handlers from having to negotiate all that junk or bag it up themselves.

Of course, a single large compartment is rarely enough when you’re doing real traveling and need to access this document or that gadget in a hurry. So the Radian joins the Mission Workshop Arkiv modular system, which lets you add on a variety of extra pockets of various sizes and types. Just be careful that you don’t push it over the carry-on size limit (though you can always stuff the extra pockets inside temporarily).

There are six rails — two on each side and two on the back — and a handful of accessories that go on each, sliding on with sturdy metal clips. The pack I tested had two zippered side pockets, the “mini folio” and the “horizontal zip” on the back, plus a cell phone pocket for the front strap.

They’re nice but the rear ones I tried are a bit small — you’d have trouble fitting anything but a pocket paperback and a couple of energy bars in either. If I had my choice I would go with the full-size folio, one zippered and one rolltop side pocket. Then you can do away with the cell pocket, which is a bit much, and have several stowage options within reach. Plus the folio has its own rails to stick one of the small ones onto.

There’s really no need to get the separate laptop case, since the laptop compartment would honestly fit two or three. It’s a great place to store dress shirts and other items that need to stay folded up and straight.

As far as room, the 42 liters are enough on my estimation to pack for a five-day trip — that is to say, I easily fit in five pairs of socks and underwear, five t-shirts, a sweater or two, a dress shirt, some shorts and a pair of jeans. More than that would be kind of a stretch if you were also planning on bringing things like a camera, a book or two and all the other usual travel accessories.

The main compartment has mesh areas on the side to isolate toiletries and so on, but they’re just divisions; they don’t add space. There are places for small things in the outside pockets but again, not a lot of room for much bigger than a paperback, water bottle or snack unless you spring for the folio add-on.

As for looks — the version I tested was the black camo version, obviously, which looks a little more subdued in real life than my poorly color-balanced pictures make it look. Personally I prefer the company’s flat grey over the camo and the black. Makes it even more low-profile.

In the end I think the Radian is the best option for anyone looking at Mission Workshop bags who wants a modular option, but unless you plan on swapping out pieces a lot, I’m not personally convinced that it’s better than their all-in-one bags like the Rambler and Vandal. By all means take a look at putting a Radian system together, but don’t neglect to check if any of the pre-built ones fit your needs as well.

bag week 2018

Review: Chrome’s Vega Transit Brief makes your work commute a little less uncool

You’re either a Chrome bag person or you’re not. And if you’re not a Chrome bag person, it might be time to give the newly Portland-based bag maker another look.

I’ve been a fan of Chrome Industries bags for a long time, but over the years I’ve only owned two: the discontinued Mini Buran, a 15L, extra-small messenger by Chrome standards, and the Niko camera pack. I still use the latter periodically but I traded the messenger away early on because, in spite of being Chrome’s smallest pack and the only one that didn’t look cartoonishly big on my 5′ 4″ frame, I could never get the weight quite right. There are two reasons for that: 1) Chrome bags are huge and designed for huge hulking men and 2) I’m just not a messenger bag person.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

Chrome’s lineup of industrial-strength messenger bags has typically appealed to hardcore bike types and dudes big enough to hoist its famously burly packs, but the company is branching out with a few new offerings that should excite anyone like me who covets their designs and build quality but just can’t make most of their stuff work.

The Chrome Vega Transit Brief, part of Chrome’s new work-centric Treadwell collection, is one of those new bags. The Vega is made to appeal to professional types who maybe need to keep their look away from the “I’m a bike messenger who lives in a punk house” kind of vibe, but it’s still made of the pretty much indestructible ballistic nylon that gives Chrome bags their iconic look and feel.

At first glance, the Vega looks like any generic laptop messenger, but unlike those (boring) you can carry the Vega three different ways. The first mode lets you carry the Vega briefcase-style, with a leather hand strap. The second mode converts the bag into a messenger with a detachable strap. The third mode (my favorite) happens when you pop out two hideaway straps from the back of the bag, turn it 90 degrees and carry the Vega like a backpack. For my purposes, I switched between hand-carrying the bag and putting it on my back to carry a 13″ MacBook and other odds and ends.

Photo via Chrome Industries

At just 15L, Vega is meant to carry small, rectangular stuff — you won’t be throwing groceries on the way home from work in this thing. It’s got two main zippered compartments, one soft padded laptop sleeve that can fit a 15″ MacBook and one all-purpose-stuff pocket lined with its own sleeve and two internal zip pockets that are actually big enough to be super useful for a phone or a wallet and keys. There’s a teeny external pocket that can also hold a phone or something small, but that one is tougher to get into so I mostly didn’t use it.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

I mentioned it already, but it’s worth repeating that the Vega is very, very rectangular. Its primary compartment would be best suited to hold stuff like an iPad, a book or paper documents, but if you have anything with much depth it’s not going to be well-suited to this pack. Another thing worth noting is that the Vega looks like a big ol’ rectangle when it’s carried like a backpack. You’ll either like that look and think it’s kinda distinct and cool like I did or you’ll hate it. One criticism: The leather strap that lets you carry the Vega by its handle doesn’t stow, so it just sort of hangs there when you wear it like a backpack. It’s not super noticeable, but it bugged me a little because the snaps were tricky to open and close — a little flaw I imagine they might modify if they ever update this design.

The Vega isn’t Chrome’s most inspired design ever, but it isn’t supposed to be. If you want to show up to a meeting looking pro but still cool, like yeah you looked over the slides from the call but you drink shitty beer after work because you’re legit not because you can’t afford some triple-hopped bullshit, the Vega is probably for you. For anyone looking for a well-made bag that’s not too loud to carry to and from work meetings that happens to turn into a damn backpack, Chrome’s Vega Transit Brief is a great fit.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

What it is: A bag that looks discreet and professional while keeping work basics close (laptop, papers and the like). Great as a no-frills carry-on bag for travel or a to-the-office-and-back kind of bag.

What it isn’t: A workhorse. With its 15L volume, you’re not going to be hauling big loads around or taking produce home from the co-op with this thing.

Read more reviews from TechCrunch Bag Week 2018 here.