Backpacks can serve a variety of roles. At their most basic, a backpack is for hauling gear. Perhaps as little as what you need for a day at work or university. But perhaps it’s what you need to ride for a day, or hike to Everest Base Camp.
A big sac with some adjustable straps will do the job, but backpacks are about more than just getting the job done. You might want to be able to store your gear in a certain manner. Your equipment might be highly specialised and need to be packed with care. You might want your bag to perform well in active sports. It might need to be light. It might need to be strong. You may need enough for a day, a week, or just a few hours. And you might even want that backpack to represent who you are, your style, your attitude, or even to identify your sporting passion.
No wonder there are so many backpacks on the market, and no wonder I seem to have such a variety at home. It is very hard to find one backpack to rule them all.
I love to travel. I love to race my bike, and I love to explore new trails and places with my bike to see where it can take me – geographically and physically. To that end, I end up resenting full time employment and constraints on how I spend my time. Sometimes, there are just too many first world problems impacting my desire to travel and race.
One item I have always searched for is the ideal backpack. Something that can complement a bike bag or box and hold just what you need. A few sets of team kit with the essentials for cold weather, trousers, shorts, a collared shirt, two t-shirts, a dark jacket, the most basic toiletries, a journal, and the least amount of electronics I can get away with. Keep the extras like your bike shoes and basic tools in your collapsable bike bag and you’re set.
For years I found that light adventure racing bags with top openings suited the role very well. At about 30L capacity, with one big pocket, some side stash panels for a water bottle or bananas, and usually a back panel to slide a laptop into – they worked. A commuting backpack also did well for a time, and I enjoyed the extra pockets for organising cameras, notepads and other items that were becoming ‘essential’.
But the desire for something custom was always there. Kedan Griffin from custom manufacturer Bike Bag Dude put me onto Dave from BOGear. Dave does a range of bags to suit the adventurer through to the hipster – with custom colours and different ways to modify his popular options.
Late in 2014 I was sent one of his trial bags, the Spare Camel. After some discussion, Dave was pretty sure that the basic idea of a Spare Camel would suit my needs. I’d told him I wanted to carry enough kit for a weekend away at a bike race, covering it for media. I’d need to carry a DSLR, an action camera, laptop, notepad, some bike shoes, kit, toiletries and a change of clothes. Being able to fit spare bottles in there, with tools and food, and attach my helmet would be a bonus.
The Spare Camel is a clamshell style bag. So if you lay it on its back, you zip all around it and open it up like a suitcase. While it’s not as easy as grabbing something out of a single shoulder courier style bag (oh I tried that for a while too) you can fit more, in more comfort. It has a large main pocket with three mesh pockets inside the top panel, and a sleeve for a laptop. Two pockets on the front use hidden zips, and there are two compression straps and a whole host of webbing for attaching other ‘modules’.
At first glance, I wasn’t sure. It was a big departure from what I would normally use. But regardless, it was the backpack I took to the Crocodile Trophy, for racing and media duties up there. It is carry on luggage approved as well – which is a big help. An overly packed adventure racing bag does draw some questions from time to time.
I put the Spare Camel through a lot that trip. Nine days of being loaded with post-race essentials and media equipment, then being loaded in and out of the luggage transport can be a struggle for a regular bag. As can carrying it comfortably. But the broad straps are bar-tacked heavily, and use seatbelt webbing where it attaches to the bag, which allows movement on a very strong material, not on a seam instead. The demo model has the waist strap included, which is an option. It helped when carrying big loads, even if it made me feel like a hiker in an airport.
That is really a standout feature of the bag, how bulletproof it is. To the point you wonder about the business model – what if people never need to buy another one? While that’s quite possible, it seems like most customers don’t stop at one, and have a few bags from the BOGear range instead. You just need to follow BOGear on Instagram for a great body of evidence.
Gear separation is pretty good. The internal pockets are brilliant for items that aren’t too bulky, like toiletries, a compact camera, sunglasses, bike spares and so on. The main compartment takes a bit more thought – but I opt to wrap my DSLR in clothing rather than it’s own padding, preferring the more economical approach for volume.
What the Spare Camel doesn’t do is provide the myriad of little internal pockets that the really big hydration system bags do. But that’s ok, I don’t ride in this bag. It’s too big for me to want to use it mountain biking. If I was a photographer I would probably feel differently. But it has safely taken me to at least half a dozen bike events, and on holidays with no damage to the bag or my gear.
I’d like it to hold a couple of bidons externally, and have a helmet clip. If I could store grubby bike shoes on the outside too, that would also be very good. Perhaps most useful of all would be the ability to access your laptop without opening the bag – a side access zip perhaps. I haven’t found a bag that allows all these things as of yet.
But BOGear can go custom. So although the demo bag is grey and purple, you can order them in a whole range of colours – or just one. If the fabric is available, it’s possible. I’ve got an order in with Dave, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished product. But I’m also keen to see more of his range, such as the bike bags, duffle bags and messenger bags.
The bags start at $AUD198, depending on colour and material choice, and what upgrades you do. If you’re after a great travel bag, you need to look them up.