Sometimes Kickstarter feels like a backpack and wallet store. Hardly a week goes by without someone proposing a revolutionary backpack that transcends everything that came before. And a lot of them come close to these aspirations. Everyone who travels with the folding-open-like-a-suitcase backpack cannot go back. Stuffing your backpack from the top now seems like pure and utter chaos.
On the other side of the Kickstarter-backpack-rainbow are the stylish urban backpacks for city dwellers and commuters. One of which is the Riutbag, and it’s back for a second round. Sarah Giblin, the founder of Riut, got the original Riutbag funded back in 2014 and then used her backers’ feedback to go for a second round in late 2015. It got it funded in just four days. I backed the second round in October 2015 and got mine just in time for Christmas.
The Riutbag is a small and light backpack that distinguishes itself with one main feature: all zippers face the backside. You can only open them after taking the bag off. This is a big deal for every commuter who carries around expensive electronics on public transport: with the Riutbag you don’t just buy convenience, but also peace of mind.
The Riutbag in this review is the 2015 model. As of right now (December 2016) there is a newer 2016 version available. I’ll get to that at the end of this article.
I bought the 15 liter, so one thing is clear: this is a small backpack (there is also a 10 liter version available which - obviously - is even smaller). If you’re looking for a backpack to be vagabonding around the world, this is not the one.
The backpack is small by design. As a result, it fits all the international carry-on rules, even those of European budget airlines. The bag comes with four colorful strips which allow for some customization. Even though I have yet to see another Riutbag in the wild, free stuff is always appreciated.
Apart from the lack of visible zippers, the most striking feature is the large handle at the top. Even though this is not the bag to carry heavy loads, it’s great and comfortable. Next to the main handle is a smaller one for hanging the backpack. There are a ton of small well-thought-out details: Along the side are small loops you could tie a tripod or a second pair of shoes to. The breast strap is adjustable in height thanks to ‘railings’ on the main harnesses. And for everyone who dislikes the excess straps of the shoulder harnesses - here you can just roll them up.
Good organization comes with a healthy selection of pockets. This is where the Riutbag shines - especially because none of the pockets are accessible from the outside. On the backside there is a small top pocket just below the handle. It’s separated from the main compartment, so you can access its contents without rummaging through all your other stuff. The pocket can hold a passport and some miscellaneous items like keys or headphones. If you’re really trying, maybe a pair of sunglasses.
The back panel has three individual pockets: a sleeve for a laptop (up to 15”) with straps to keep it from sliding out and extra padding at the bottom. Above it (with the back panel lying flat), another pocket for documents up to A4 or tablets. And lastly, a large zipper pocket with a slot for business cards and four pen holders. Moving to the front part, there are two mesh-pockets for toiletries, used clothing or whatever else you deem fit. The rest of the big compartment is just open space, true to the nature of the folding-open-backpack.
Very apparent are the bottle holsters, which protrude inside the backpack. They keep the bag’s profile slim and let you carry easily accessible umbrellas and 0.5 liter water bottles. You won’t have giant water bottles strapped to your back, but that comes with the trade-off of taking up space inside the backpack. It also limits the size of the bottle (see diagram: largest height is 25 cm/10 in). Most larger water bottles won’t fit. Travel mugs for coffee or tea won’t be a problem, but better check beforehand (for reference, the mug in the picture is 20cm tall and 9cm in diameter).
With a focus on commuters comes the need for transit tickets. The Riutbag provides two pockets for them, one in each shoulder harness. Whether the touch-point for the ticket is on the left or right affects with which hand your reaching for the card. Being able to choose from both sides is really convenient. And staying true to the bag’s longing for peace of mind, they are on the inside of the straps and fit regular credit-card-sized tickets.
The advantage of backside zippers creates less-than-ideal accessibility. In the end it comes down to your specific use case: if you only open the bag at home and at your destination (e.g. work or hotel), you’ll be fine. Similarly, if the pockets on the back panel matter the most (laptop, documents), those will always be at short reach.
But once you need something from the depths of the main compartment, you’re better off opening it flat. That’s fine at work, but somewhat inconvenient on the train or in a coffee shop. This is a result of the peace-of-mind design, but something to consider when you plan to use the bag for urban exploration.
What fits inside and traveling
Moving on from the pockets to what you can actually fit inside. There is more than enough space for my daily carry. Laptop, tablet, documents, Kindle, mobile battery, lunch, water… all those will fit, even into the smaller 10-liter variant (R10). I have the 15 liter, and as long as I don’t need extra shoes, there is enough space for a 2-3 day trip. Unless you need professional attire, it’ll handle a short business trip with full daily carry and two days worth of clothing.
Here’s also where the folding-open design can play its full strength. Just like packing a suitcase, you can pack it layer by layer and then stuff the remaining space with smaller items. This is especially useful when doing the reverse at airport security. Just open it up, take out electronics and toiletries and send it all through the scanner. Should security decide you look extra suspicious today and require an look in the bag, it can open up flat. No rummaging, no unpacking.
Security is the least fun part of air travel, so every chance to make the experience less terrible is always appreciated. It’s a great carry-on and secondary bag in general. Electronics and personal items usually don’t get checked and the Riutbag is perfect for those.
But once the backpack is packed, all that matters is carrying comfort. And the Riutbag is a comfortable backpack, as long as you stick to everyday carry or short trips. The size limits how much you can stuff into it anyway, but if hauling bricks is your thing, it can get strenuous. This is not what its meant for.
The breast strap takes some of the load of your back and makes sure the harnesses don’t slip of your shoulder. And again, the height adjustability is just genius. It’ll be interesting to see whether the clip and the ‘railing’ (for lack of a better term) will wear out over time. The backpack itself weighs about 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs) - a reasonable compromise between fabric durability and lightweight design.
The padding on the back and the harnesses have a mesh fabric to allow for some air circulation. I haven’t tested it in scorching heat yet, but it should let you breath underneath the backpack without getting soaked. One thing to note though is that even the best padding can only do so much when you strap a slab of metal to your back. Moving the laptop close to your back keeps it safe and secure, but reduces flexibility and wearing comfort.
The Riutbag is a great backpack, but it’s not for everyone. And that is a good thing. Not all backpacks should be made for everyone, but instead fit a specific purpose. In turn, characterizing it by all the things it does not do well can help with the buying decision. It can be a weekend trip backpack, but only if you pack light. Despite the fact that it can open up flat like a suitcase, there’s not enough room for extended travel.
You can stuff it full, but then again it looks and feels a lot nicer if it’s not bursting at the seams. It’s also not a perfect day trip backpack because of the way it opens. To access all your stuff, the best way is to lay it down flat on its front, which isn’t practical if you’re rummaging for a snack on the subway. Even though you can open it from the top, as soon as there is a laptop that stiffens the back panel, it’s hard to reach inside. So what is this backpack good for?
If you open your backpack twice a day - once when you get to work, once when you leave. If you take public transport to your workplace or a cafe. If you like having an umbrella and a water bottle always in reach, but prefer not to look like a backpacker in the middle of London. If you want a safe and accessible place for your transit tickets. And (this is the main selling point) if you want total peace of mind. If that’s what you want, a safe place for your belongings, the Riutbag is for you.
If you are looking for a backpack for your electronics, the Riutbag comes highly recommended.
The same thing is true if you are looking for a secondary backpack. A carry-on for electronics and other valuables, next to your regular luggage. If those are features you are looking for, the Riutbag is close to perfect. Not to mention that these features come in a good looking package with exceptional quality.
I can highly recommend it.
The 2016 version seems to have addressed some of these issues by offering a different selection of pockets. There is an additional pocket on the outside of the back panel (touching your back) and the shape and size of the pockets on the inside seems to have changed slightly. The overall design - and premise - however seems to remain unchanged. So if you are intrigued by the concept, this review still stands. And with it my recommendation.
The 15 liter Riutbag R15 (the one detailed in this review) retails for £89/€115/US$130, its smaller 10-liter-counterpart R10 for £79/€100/US$115. Check it out at riut.co.uk and say hello to Sarah at _riut.