A few weeks ago, we had the great fortune of getting hooked up with a sweet Roll Top from our friends at Velo City Bags. This Salt Lake City based brand makes messenger bags, backpacks, and bicycle accessories, and everything is handmade in the US and 100% vegan. We spent some quality time with our Roll Top (small, custom colors) and here’s what we found.
For those who are thinking TL;DR, don’t bother scrolling down. We were very impressed with this bag. It is high quality, practical, and stylish. The materials are built to last, and it has a ton of storage. The design is minimal, but there are a lot of add-ons. One of our favorite features is the vinyl lined main compartment, which makes it waterproof and easy to clean. We also loved how the bag is so customizable, especially the colors. If you want a long lasting bag that holds a lot of stuff, we would definitely recommend. I’ve already replaced my old bag with this one and I don’t think I’ll be needing another for years to come.
I noticed right away the material is different from other bags. The exterior is made out of 1000D Cordura, which is a nylon fabric but extra durable. This stuff is renowned for its toughness and water resistance. You’re more likely to see it on suitcases, so you can expect it to last. There’s also a nice feel to it, leading to a good balance between rough and soft.
I was not familiar with the roll top design, so there was a little confusion at first. There’s no top zipper. Rather, the main compartment closes by rolling or folding the top down. You can secure it by using a central large buckle, or two smaller strap buckles.
The shape is a rectangular box. This seems to be a standard for roll top bags, though you may see ones that are flatter or narrower. The dimensions measure 11”W x 17”H x 7”D, and overall it holds 1309 cubic inches [The bag we tested was size small. Medium measures 13”W x 18”H x 8”D, and large runs 14”W x 19”H x 10”D]. We’ll go more into the capacity of the bag later under the interior header.
The front contains a large pocket that assumes almost the whole front face of the bag. The flap closes securely with two large heavy duty velcro pads. A vinyl “V” is stitched onto the bottom right corner of the flap, a nice touch. Side pockets are on both left and right, and lay flat. We found that there wasn’t much room here; if you have a full bag, it’s a bit of a struggle to shove a standard stainless steel water bottle in there. Nevertheless, once I got it in there, it was secure. The side pockets also have a small metal eyelet, to let out any moisture.
The front strap and buckle system is designed so you can close the bag in several ways. The main closure is made of a heavy duty seatbelt strap and large plastic buckle. The strap is an extra wide and the buckle closes with a nice sturdy click. There are two harness straps designed to hold random larger objects on the outside. We found it really handy for using them to hold a blanket, for instance. These straps are slightly confusing at first but we figured it out in a few minutes, and realized that they can clip in a couple different ways that can handle loads of a variety of sizes.
The shoulder straps are wide and have ½” thick padding. I noticed that the adjuster is a “cam buckle,” a spring loaded metal thing with teeth that makes it much easier to adjust and has to last longer than those standard loopy plastic ones. A really small but thoughtful touch. A seatbelt strap runs down the length of each side, and affixed to these are the adjustable chest stabilizer strap and metal loop hook rings, all useful additions. The bottom is made up of double stitched, two layers of Cordura. For you bikers, there’s also a small piece where you can attach a blink light. Up top there’s a carry strap, also made of seatbelt material.
Like the outside shape would suggest, the main compartment is one large rectangular box. It is fully lined with 18 oz. vinyl coated polyester, which is durable and waterproof (if you can’t tell by now, durability is one of the running themes of this review). The vinyl lining is one of the best features of this bag. Not only is your stuff protected from the outside, but the stuff you put in doesn’t leak out! This is ideal if you’re storing wet clothes, food, booze, or anything with liquid. And if anything does leak out, you can simply dump it and hose it down. No need to have to put it in a washing machine. The vinyl itself soft, matte and feels like it will last forever.
We were surprised just how much you can fit in this bag. For a picnic outing, it handled a blanket, a large Jambox stereo, an SLR camera, and various utensils (plates, cups, and a box of forks). Here’s when the roll top came in handy. Instead of being limited to the 17”given height, once you unroll it, you get a full 10” of extra space. It was like unlocking a second little backpack. As I mentioned before, I was also able to strap a second blanket onto the front. This bag is also perfect for weekend trips, especially if you don’t like to use a duffel, or “weekender” type of bag. Unlike most backpacks, you’re able to comfortably fit a few days change of clothes, plus another pair of shoes. And since it’s waterproof, you can use it for a variety of everyday trips, such as going to the grocery store. And mind you, this bag we tested is size small. You can size up if you’re really carrying large loads (and can be paired with compression straps to keep it looking trim).
The one optional interior back pocket inside the main compartment is a Velcro sleeve sewn onto the front facing side. It wasn’t able to fit my 14” laptop, but it wasn’t designed to. It should, however, be able to fit a Macbook Air or an iPad. It’s also good for throwing in magazines or some papers you want to keep in order. I’m not sold on this feature. I think I enjoy the simplicity of having just one big compartment.
The front pocket features an organizer with room for 2 pens and other small items. Behind the organizer is another pocket, so overall the front is divided into two sections. It’s enough to drop in a large paperback and some smaller things like a passport behind it. We would have appreciated a key loop or a zippered pocket to keep certain things from falling out though.
Design and Build:
We love the overall build of this bag. As you can tell from the photographs, the materials are really high quality, as evidenced by the fact that it remains upright when empty. A typical backpack just collapses in on itself.
The roll top design is great for storage, but it comes at a slight cost of convenience. Instead of being able to access the main compartment with a quick zip, you have to unbuckle and roll it up, a process that takes a few seconds longer but nevertheless can be a hassle. Moreover, you can’t swing the bag around on one shoulder and access the main compartment easily due to the height of the bag when you unroll it. You pretty much have to take it off and put it down every time you want to access the main compartment. I’ve seen some roll top bags with a side access zipper, which does sound promising. Then again, this could come at a cost for water resistance and long term durability.
This bag is comfortable even with heavy loads. I did not experience the same shoulder fatigue like I do with my Mountain Hardwear backpack. The chest stabilizer strap does a great job in distributing weight off the shoulders. The back is padded, though I wouldn’t have minded a little more in there. The only gripe I had here was that the bottom was not padded, so there is a small strip with only a couple layers of the nylon between you and whatever is in there. We found that a really hard object could dig into your back and be very uncomfortable. You can fix this problem by putting something softer at the bottom, but that might not always be an option. Having the back fully padded is definitely important for long term usage.
The Roll Top bag starts at $200, with the ability to fully customize colors [The medium starts at $225, and the large is $250]. From there you can add on features, including: (1) organizer pocket, (2) interior back pocket, (3) compression straps, (4) laptop sleeve, and (5) matching mobile pouch. The bag reviewed came with the organizer pocket ($15) and interior back pocket ($12), so the total price would come out to be $227. I didn’t think the interior back pocket was particularly useful, so I’d advise to leave that out unless you have an iPad.
The bag is boss. We think that the description on Velo City’s site is apt: “handmade, handsome, and handy”. I received many compliments on my few trips out (honestly I don’t think the pictures on the website do them justice – we hope ours do). There are so many customizations (which we’re not listing here, just go to the website and see for yourself). It is so functional that it will be my main backpack for years to come. We think that the bag is well worth the price, and is comparable to other bags that have the same features. But, those bags are not always cruelty and sweatshop free. So yeah, head over to Velo City Bags and start customizing now! Support vegan, handmade in the US. Fin.