Monday, November 9, 2009

Seal Line Urban Backpack Review

Finally retired my Timbuk 2 bag after 10 years of daily use - the waterproof lining was pretty shot and it just wasn't waterproof anymore.  So, I decided to go with the Seal Line Urban Backpack.  I wanted something that was super waterproof (living in Seattle) and was a backpack.  I looked at Banjo Brothers biking backpacks and Ortlieb messenger bags.  Banjo Brothers pack was kinda ugly and the Ortlieb was a little on the expensive side and, well, are kind of everywhere in Seattle.  I ended up buying the Seal Line at Amazon for a pretty good price with free shipping.  The reviews I read were good (but were done by people getting free backpacks from Seal Line) and it is made in Seattle.  I also bought the organizer at Amazon.  I think that the organizer should be included with the backpack, but, alas, it is not.

First of all, this pack is quite roomy.  Out of all the backpacks I looked at, this was by far the biggest.  It was also lighter than the Ortlieb - not that I am a weight weenie, but lighter can't hurt, as long as it is durable.  I haven't really loaded it down yet, but I hauled a pretty good load the first day I was using it - including an eight inch cake still in the pan (long story).  The cake fit very nicely flat on the bottom, since the pack kind of has an oval shape.  All in all, I probably had a good 15 pounds in it.  I could really load this thing up with clothes and/or groceries, but haven't yet.  The organizer isn't so hot - it needs some bigger pockets, but it is better than nothing - I put a wallet, phone(s), checkbook, keys, pens, and a few other small items.  It also has a built-in outer pocket (the black "patch" on the outside) which is pretty roomy.  I put a small frame pump, some tools, and an ID badge in it - still a lot of room left over.  The pack does pretty well with a small load, but you can't "roll it down" more than the three recommended rolls, but it collapses fairly well and doesn't look that huge.

As for comfort, it is much better than a "messenger style" bag.  The sternum straps and waist belt stop any movement well.  I think you may not really need the waist belt, but I haven't tried it without yet.  I have an 11 mile each-way commute and it it felt great.  I'll have to wait for the summer months to try out the 40 mile "detour" (which was hell with a messenger bag).  One thing I noticed was that it doesn't help you keep your back straight, which a messenger bag tends to do, since it rides lower on your back.  This isn't a problem, but I always liked being forced to straighten my back, since I tend to bend it.  Overall, I really feel it is a better fit and design than a messenger bag.  One thing to note - I think this bag really does increase your wind resistance.  The design of the roll-down flap keeps the upper part of the bag sticking out beyond your shoulders.  I had a 15 MPH head-wind the other day and I'm pretty sure I could feel some slow down (above and beyond the usual).  This is a little concerning for me, but I'll live with it.  It also obstructs vision very slightly - a very casual glance back to look behind you and you see some of the top of the bag - I need to twist my head a little but more, but it is not a big problem at all.

Finally, for waterproofness.  The first day I used it I rode in a pretty raging Western Washington November storm.  It was raining, heavily.  After 40 minutes or so in this, everything in the bag (including the outer pocket) was bone dry.  I wonder about durability of the lining, but no way to tell about that after having it for a week.  The bag material is different than Ortlieb, which kind of looks like it is vinyl.  The Seal Line has kind of a cordura-like material, with what looks like a coating inside.  don't know the difference between the two, but they are different - might be worth some research.  The other concern I have about durability is the zipper on the outside pocket.  While it looks totally durable and is waterproof, I think that lots of use may take a toll on it.  Overall, I think it will work great and all I have read makes it seem like it will last, you never know until people have been using them for a long time.

Overall, so far, so good.  Comfortable, waterproof, light, and roomy.  Downsides are wind resistance and very slight vision obstruction.

BTW - Shoes in the photos are size 10 1/2....

UPDATE: Well, it's been almost six months with daily use of this bag.  It is holding up great.  There are no cracks/wear in the lining and the outside zipper is still working perfectly.  It wasn't the rainiest winter on record, but this thing was fully waterproof through some pretty heavy downpours.  So far, very durable.  I do not ride with the waist strap unless I am carrying a very heavy load, but the bag remains stable.   The only additional drawback I have noticed is a tendency for the straps to loosen slowly every few weeks.  Not a big deal - you just tighten up the Fastex buckle and you are good to go.


janq said...

Hi, thx for the review. But, is this a small or a large size backpack?

Matthew Ruiz said...

Great pictures!

One of the better reviews of this bag I've read. Thanks.

Matthew Ruiz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gísli said...

My personal experience with THIS backpack:

in the begining we noticed how uncomfortable the backpack straps are, behing your neck/head area, it continuosly grabs and hangs on your skin. This is due to the “handle” built out of the backpack straps which instead of seperating, unite instead.

After 2 weeks of usage in easy, light-weight day trips the backpack BROKE. A HOLE was made by the rupture of the backpack fabric right where the seam/rubber patch holds the back-straps to the fabric. This means now I have a hole where the water gushes in everytime water slips through my back in the rain…. and I bought this for its waterproof quality! bah!

Then the WAIST-STRAP, continuosly slipped-OFF the backpack, it seems there its a factory-mistake (yet another).

I later discovered that the Urban Backpack is made in CHINA. While the other-one I own Sealline PRO back pack is made in the USA.

Conclusion: the Urban Backpack is a bad-quality, expensive backpack that is in no way value for money! I would rather buy a 10 dollar bag at a chinise-cheap store, in the end, it would last just as long!

Nigel Morrison said...

super interested in potentially buying this from you, comment if you're interested, I would be able to pay shipping, etc. Would even be willing to work out a trade for the orange version?

The Thumb said...

Hi, is this a small version or large?