Hands-on review: RiutBag X35 3-in-1 backpack
Image credit: Sarah Giblin
A thief-proof backpack that morphs from sleek to sizeable to accommodate all your daily carrying needs.
RiutBag (pronounced 'Riot Bag' and derived from 'Revolution in user thinking', natch) was started by commuter Sarah Giblin in 2014 to address what she perceived as a fundamental flaw with most backpacks: when worn on the back, as on a bus or train, the zips and flaps face away from the wearer and are instead invitingly within sticky-fingered reach of any opportunistic thieves standing nearby.
Following this Damescene revelation, Giblin quit her City day job and pursued her dream of launching the 'backwards' backpack with her life savings and a Kickstarter campaign. Fast forward to today, where it's 20,000 Riutbags sold and the company recently 'bagged' a European Product Design Award.
E&T looked at the company's pandemic-inspired backpack back in May, with its focus on the specific needs of healthcare professionals and concerned citizens everywhere, featuring a wipe-clean outer material and dedicated holders for masks and hand sanitiser.
With the world opening up more, and the ongoing global conversation/negotiation about employees returning to the office more often, the company has now turned its design attention to updating the commuter's and traveller's backpack – with a twist.
The RiutBag X35 is billed as a '3-in-1' backpack. What this means in practice is that it is impressively expandable, starting out as a sleek day pack for light duties and ballooning into something much bigger that could comfortably accommodate pretty much everything you need for long weekend manoeuvres, while still staying under airline carry-on size regulations (50cm x 35cm x 20 cm) even when stuffed to its thief-proof gills.
However you cram it, the X35 shifts its shape to suit you, but always with a dedicated padded 15.6in laptop compartment, zipped inner pockets, two large bottle holders, and the option of adjustable (and removable) chest straps. No technical adjustments are necessary; the bag simply expands as you pack more in, elegantly and efficiently. This is not simply a case of squashing as much as you possibly can into a set space, like sitting on the holiday suitcase until you can zip it shut. The X35 changes its shape to better match the volume of its contents, so you're not left with a floppy sad sack on your back if you're only carrying an iPad and an apple today, after stuffing your full gym kit, towel and trainers into it yesterday. It's kind of ingenious like that.
The three sizes range from a 15-litre slim commuter laptop bag, through a 25-litre medium backpack iteration, to the largest 35-litre cabin-size travel bag. Expansion is taken care of by the side snap fastenings and top buckles; reverse the process to contract.
On the rear of the pack, double zips give access to the main compartment in the back panel, wherein the X35 opens up like a suitcase, with a brightly coloured interior that assists by dint of contrast in the finding of dark-coloured items. Inside the aforementioned zipped laptop compartment, there is a second section for another slim laptop, large tablet, folders or documents. The two zipped pockets above this tech compartment can accommodate the necessary cables, chargers, adapters etc which our gadgets oblige us to carry, as well as any travel documents, such as a passport or tickets.
The X35 also has an extra-large top pocket, a top loop for hanging, a top handle, a trolley suitcase strap, and a zipped D-pocket at the base of the spine for access on the go, whenever you need to access a specific small item (e.g. your phone) but you don't want or need to get inside the full pack.
This neat little feature – and the fact that you can access the laptop compartment without opening the whole bag – obviates the need to continually be taking the pack off your back and unzipping the main compartment, which would somewhat defeat the whole point of the X35's rear-facing security features. With this discreet D-pocket and the two side water-bottle compartments, access to the bare necessities of travel is always on hand, while still keeping the bulk of your daily load safe against your back.
The bag outer is made of hard-wearing, waterproofed Cordura and has a flame-repellent nylon outer shell, a touch TPU anti-abrasion base, and uses solid YKK zips. The foam straps are reinforced with EVA and the lined laptop compartment is cushioned with protective Lycra. The bag is also both waterproof and machine washable, however contradictory that may sound. It's clear that a great deal of thought and evolutionary design has been brought to bear on both the design and manufacture of the X35.
On the subject of manufacture, whilst being a UK-based company with Giblin designing every Riutbag herself, all the production is done in China. This may pose a purchasing dilemma for some people, whether for ethical or economical reasons, which is a perfectly reasonable position to take as a responsible 21st-century consumer. By way of mitigation, Giblin apparently spends several months a year at the specially selected factory in Fujian, southern China, overseeing a modest production line where a small team makes each Riutbag by hand. Giblin herself still thoroughly inspects every completed bag, so an artisanal element still remains in the process. When you're paying close to £150 for a backpack, these things count.
Available (at present) solely in the Henry T. Ford classic 'any colour you like, as long as it's black' colourway, the X35 makes for a good-looking, professional and sober commuting companion to the office, while still being a solid travel option for more exciting destinations. It's a basic design staple, but black always looks cool.
Providing you like the look and style – of all three sizes, in fact – of the X35 to plunk down your money, you'll get both a bag and a backpack that can safely and securely go with you to practically any destination. It is an excellent design, offering unique advantages and security over other attractive 'advanced' backpack options. In the end, it really comes down to personal taste, because there's no serious criticism that can be levelled at the X35. It's a backpack that helps move things forward, rather than reiterating the same old, same old, and that's a factor worthy of anyone's attention.
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