“Beach to the Boardroom”
UPDATE: After 2 years, 4 countries, and thousands of miles later, I finally broke my beloved RAINS backpack. Ready my latest review here.
I’ve been looking for a backpack that fits in wherever I go, and with whatever I’m wearing; whether I’m hiking in the rainforest, or walking around the business district. That’s a pretty tall order most bags fall short of. Finding a backpack that blends in from the “beach to the boardroom” is a holy grail quest for me.
Most backpacks are designed for a fixed lifestyle; Fjallravens, Jansports and Herschels are staples of college campus carry. Tumi, Armani and other high-street labels were built for the boardroom. Designers tend to assume that our lives are structured around repetition and routine — that we spend most of our time in a single kind of habitat. But that isn’t always true: you might spend your day in the office, but then head off to the gym or for yoga at 6pm. You might go hiking on the weekends, or sometimes for a short getaway out of town.
That means that we often end up having to own multiple bags to match the look and feel of different occassions. But having carried the RAINS Backpack (black colorway) on a daily basis for nearly 6 months now, I’ve shelved the rest of my bags for a good while. Here’s why:
PROS: The RAINS backpack is a hallmark of Danish minimalism; made from a special material comprised of a polyurethane (PU) exterior welded to a woven polyester fabric interior. This gives smooth matte finish gives the backpack a look of leather-like elegance. I got the black color, but it comes in six other colorways; green, brown, smoke grey, scarlet red, pacific blue and moon white. It has a slim, rectangular profile at 4.5 inches thick, with a single strap running down the middle which closes the flap with a single swivel hook clasp. Two button magnets also hold the flap in place. Unlike most backpacks which have fat, bloated straps, the RAINS features slim, 1-inch wide polyester webbing straps coated with PVC to give it a matching matte finish.
Few materials manage to replace the sophisticated look of leather — but the RAINS backpack is a strong contender for going cruelty-free without looking cheap. It looks just as good in an office as on a day hike, making extremely versatile for everyday use without having to switch bags.
CONS: The one flaw in the flap design is that the magnetic snap buttons are often useless as they don’t lock together. This means that to keep the edges of the flap neatly aligned with the edges of the front panel, I had to cinch the front strap down as far as it would go. Otherwise, the mouth of the front panel would jut out sideways, leaving it open to rain. Also, the matte polyurethane outer material is particularly susceptible to oil stains, scratches and pockmarks. However, these are easily cleaned off.
PROS: Backpacks these days seem to be engaged in a crude dick-measuring contest — trying to outdo each other on the number of features designers can dream up into a backpack. The RAINS backpack stands above this rat race. It has just the right amount of organization you need, and nothing more. The backpack has a small, flat zipper pocket for valuables hidden against your back, and a spacious inner pocket at the mouth of the bag; great for storing smaller items like earphones, tissues, and stationery.
CONS: The RAINS backpack has a spacious interior which can hold a 1L water bottle, a 13" laptop with charging cables, a 2" thick A4 textbook, and an A4 box file, with room to spare. But accessibility is an issue. It’s tall height means that while opening and closing the flap is easy enough, its hard to get to items which can sink to the bottom. I wish they added side-access zips. To be fair, this is equally an issue with most backpacks in existence. The laptop sleeve is also not padded at all, which results in a heart-sinking thud everytime I set it down with abandon on a hard floor. Some people have complained about “false features” on the outside of the backpack like a front pocket and water bottle sleeves — which upon closer scrutiny — aren’t. But I personally never found myself lacking without these features.
The RAINS backpack has narrow straps (like the Fjallraven Kanken), and lacks padding on both the shoulders and back panel. Some people might see this as an issue. However, I personally view them as plus points. I have found that as long as I carry less than 5 kilos in weight, the narrow straps remain very comfortable on my shoulders. Also, thicker, padded straps on other backpacks I’ve owned tend to create sweat patches on my shirt — not to mention the constant soaking accumulates an awful smell.
The straps are barely adjustable (3 inches), but they fit nicely on most people I know. A shorter “mini” version is available if you’re of smaller stature. Ocassionally, when running to catch a bus, or swinging your arms at a brisk pace, the placement of the straps does cause the straps to dig into your side and brush against your arm. But the soft coating makes this no issue at all. Most of the time, I forget they’re even there.
Durability. The “beach to the boardroom” features of the backpack go beyond its looks. The pack was built to be resistant to water, sand and dirt. It is completely impervious to splashes, and spills. Dirt is easily cleaned off the PU material (like the generous splotch of nacho cheese fries which it landed on). However, the seam binding on the edges of the bag appear to wear out pretty quickly. Also, as mentioned, stains from oils, and scratches tend to be visible.
Summary. The RAINS backpack is not without its drawbacks — the edges and metal hardware seem to wear quicker than expected, and the material — while impermeable and easy to clean — tends to stain easily. Some people may have issues with the narrow straps, and the lack of padding on this backpack. But it is seldom noticeable, and also keeps the bag clean; both in looks and from sweat. At a price point of over a hundred USD, it isn’t exactly cheap either. But if you’re looking for a backpack that will carry your look from the beaches to the boardroom — I can’t think of any other carry options that come close to how sleek and sturdy the RAINS backpack has been.
If I could, I would…Add side access zippers, a padded laptop sleeve, and use a more durable seam binding tape material like laser-cut strips of hypalon or PVC tarpaulin. Also, perhaps find a better way of securing the flap to the front panel.