Hey all! I wanted to share my experiences with my Able Carry Daily Backpack and leave a review.
So, after a couple months with the bag (and a few weekend trips) here are my thoughts.
At first, I wanted to like the bag. The style and function was what really peaked my interest. I had a long list of requirements and qualifiers that were critical to my new bag purchase and I almost bought this one on impulse once I saw it. I just committed, it had the capacity (30L), enclosed bottle pocket, dedicated laptop section, interior organization and the style I was looking for. I was a bit concerned it would be too large but I had pulled the trigger anyway. Only thing I could do was wait for it to come in the mail and see.
I really, really wanted the Heimplanet Ellipse 25, but I knew in my heart of hearts that the bag wasn’t going to work for me, no matter how gorgeous it was…
First impressions; this bag is big. Upon putting it on I knew this wasn’t going to be the sleek minimal look I was after, but it did look good. Nothing else to do but test it out.
While moving everything out of my trusty Osprey Nebula 34 (the old version, which is far superior to the new version) I immediately missed all of the organization. The Nebula had a dedicated laptop/tech compartment on the back that opened all the way up and laid flat. I put my work laptop in the sleeve and had my charger and some cables in the mesh zip pocket on the other side. I would occasionally slide my chrome book between the sleeve and back panel so there were two laptops in the back. The Nebula swallowed these with ease. In the main compartment on the Nebula you have a generous document sleeve at the back which is where my notebooks would go, and I’d carry my iPad 11” in its own sleeve in that pocket. Other than that it was mostly empty, which made for an awkward carry as the back would slouch down with the unsecured iPad a few inches away from my back and no weight at the bottom.
In the admin compartment in front of that I had wipes/masks in a zip pocket with odd cords and usb devices. Every pen slot was full and I had my Matador pocket blanket stuffed into an empty sleeve. I carried my spoon, clipped to the key lanyard and above the zip pocket, three mesh pockets held my medicine bottle, wireless mouse and biz cards respectfully. Odds and ends were dumped in the bottom of this pocket or zipped into the enclosed pouch at the bottom of the panel.
On the front of the nebula was what really shined for me. The giant stretch stuff pocket. This was far and away my most used and coveted feature of Able Carry Daily Backpack and had been a requirement for all previous daily bags for me that came before it. It was so convenient just dropping whatever into it and moving on. There was also a quick access sunglasses pocket on the top that held my wallet, pens and little odds and ends. These two features seemed indispensable to me. I liked being able to reach down while seated at my desk and pull out my wallet/pens/whatever from right on top of the bag.
This brings us to the Ablecarry Max. It does not have a giant kangaroo pouch on the front, there is no quick access sunglasses pocket on top and the laptop compartment doesn’t even open up all the way, more like ¾ and only down one side of the bag, and its tight.
There is a storage compartment on the other side of the laptop area that Able Carry showed on its website that it was used for cables/mice, etc but in practice the pockets are maybe only large enough to hold an apple air mouse as my regular size Logitech does not fit in the designated stretchy sleeves inside of said pocket, which are hardly stretchy. So it jumbles around loosely. This was the first frustrating thing I discovered.
There is also no designated admin panel, so I had to use another zipped storage slot inside the flap of the main compartment of the bag and again, everything just kind of hangs out in there. I’m still working out what is going to go in which pocket which is sort of frustrating not remembering where things are when I go to the bag for a specific item. I’m sure this will change with time as I had the nebula since 2016 and used it on a daily basis. I had worked out a system and perfected my organization within that bag.
There is a giant pocket on the front of the Max, that zips down at an angle on one side. That pocket has a couple of stretch sleeves but the rips top material the bag is made out of allows no quarter for stuffing in oversized items. The pocket is large, length and width wise, and has two stretch pockets inside but it’s very slim, so only good for small, slim/wide items like a notebook or something to slide into. A far cry from the almost boundless usefulness I received from the giant stretch pocket on the nebula. Strike two.
There are no dedicated water bottle stretch pockets on both sides, instead one side has a giant zip pocket designed to hold a water bottle internally, but separated from the main compartment. This is large enough to hold a bottle of wine so my 32oz Nalgene fits just fine. While traveling I opted for my Vapur collapsible bottle since it does eat into the capacity of the main compartment fully laden. On the inside of the main compartment there is a second water bottle pocket but I use it to store my pencil case (since there is no admin panel).
As I mentioned before, even the main compartment on the nebula mostly resided empty (except for traveling) so this was not a concern. If it did not have external stretch pockets then it had to have at least one dedicated space for holding a water bottle, which it does. Check.
On the opposite side of the bag from the water bottle pocket is a very slim zip pocket that goes lengthwise almost the full height of the side. I wonder what the thought was for this pocket as it initially seemed pretty useless given the lack of stretch and awkward size/location. This will take some fiddling to figure out. I guess if you were the kind of person who puts their phone in their bag instead of your pocket that might work well for you.
In the back of the laptop compartment is a sleeve that holds the back support panel that gives the bag its shape, and there is a hidden pocket inside. I guess thats where you could keep your wallet or passport, cash, whatever thats slim and you don’t want easily found. On the outside on the back is another slim zip pocket with the zipper partially hidden. This seems like it would be a good replacement for the sunglasses pocket on the top of the nebula but in practice, again, only slim items need apply. Its curious that the storage options that are provided seem to all be designed for Rite-In-The-Rain memo pads. They’re slim, tight and offer little in the way of stretch or give.
In all, the initial impression was a bit underwhelming. The bag looked thoughtfully designed and was stylish as hell and built like it’s designed to withstand a nuclear blast. I thought all the new pockets would replace the old ones I was used to and was disappointed that it wasn’t meeting my expectations.
Able Carry Daily Backpack cost almost twice what I intended to pay (almost 3x what the nebula cost) so I was committed. Maybe my intended application was wrong?
First, I had to shift my idea about how I was going to use this bag. I was not going to be afforded the built-in organization I was accustomed to. The hardest part about selecting a new EDC bag was finding one that could do everything the Nebula could do, but offer some sort of benefit over it. What I wanted was something black/grey, European sleek. I was sick of all the cables and straps hanging off the Nebula and looked like I was ready to hike the PCT when I had it loaded up heading home from the office on a Friday. Style and function are not usually synonymous and I knew that.
I was going to have to supply my own organization methods and dove down the black hole of add-on/edc pouches and organizers. I thought this would be a good compromise since the main compartment of the bag was going to live empty, I might as well have some sort of pouch or bag inside of it supplying my OCD with the hit it craved.
In an effort of preparation for this change I went through the Nebula and cut out anything I deemed frivolous. Did I need a pair of pliers and pruning shears? No. Those could live happily in the door of my truck as I couldn’t take them on a plane. Did I need every charge block I owned? Again, no, and I cut the cables down enough to JUST charge every device I planned on keeping in the bag. I’m a fan of redundancy but in the effort to minimize my EDC I knew they had to go. Not like the front line defenses got much use anyways. As I was unpacking the Nebula I was amazed at all the stuff I found in there that I had forgotten about and still thought the bag felt “empty”.
On my last trip I thought that this would be a good opportunity to try out the “one bag carry” on this trip. Aside from my CPAP I wanted to fit my entire overnight stay into this one bag. This was, after all, what it was in mind when it was being designed so let’s put it to the test.
Maybe I’m not cut out for minimalism or I just travel with too much junk but no matter how I arranged my items it was not going to cut it. I had some make-shift pouches using 3-ring binder zips and pencil cases I was trying to use until the specific ones I ordered had arrived. This is where I learned that I completely misjudged the capacity I needed. I couldn’t even get the pencil zip pouch closed, so half of it went back into various areas around the bag, thus splitting my organization even further. Again, frustrating, but this was not the bag’s fault.
I eventually gave up and got out my rolling carry on bag and filled it up with the remainder. To my surprise, there was plenty of room to spare. Not something I was used to with the Nebula… curious.
Once I sat down on the plane I had my first ah-ha moment with the bag. I’m a Southwest flier and my usual move is to get on the plane, sit in my seat and set the bag in the middle seat next to me. I’ll then unsnap my headphones, neck pillow and fish out my AirPods, battery pack and charging cable before I get settled into the seat. Once situated, I’ll slide my bag under the seat in front of me. It’s at this point that the Nebula showed its weakness. With everything stuffed to the brim and things hanging off the side with carabiners it was usually a struggle to get the bag under the seat and I’d have to shove it. The footprint wasn’t the problem, it was the height of the bag laying on its back. All those compartments added up and it was probably over a foot tall laid out. The benefit to the Max was that everything was able to fit inside of it, there were no external pockets for anything to fall out of (stuff pocket or side water bottle pockets) and it slid under the seat with ease. As a matter of fact, it looked even smaller sitting there. I was so shocked I took a picture.
Ok Ablecarry Max, that’s a win for you.
When my flight landed I was easily able to stuff everything I had out back into the cavernous main compartment and strap it to my back. This was when I noticed the difference between having everything zipped up inside the bag rather than hanging off of it. While walking down the aisle there was nothing swinging around and hitting the seats. I wondered to myself how many unfortunate passengers had been hit with my water bottle or neck pillow while I was boarding a plane, looking for my seat.
I also thought about how I wasn’t kicking around my water bottle or how it wasn’t making contact with the plane floor during the flight, where everyone puts their shoes. Especially in this COVID-landscape the extra protection from germs is invaluable.
I had always been worried about things falling out of the stuff pouch on the front of the Nebula and it was liberating to know that everything was secured inside of the bag and that I didn’t have to worry about it. For the last 11 years all of my bags had had some sort of pouch like this and for me, this was a unique feeling. Now, one of my most coveted features might not be something I can ever go back to. I did not realize the relief this provided me until I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.
Second point for the Max.
While in town I had some time to kill so I unwisely visited an REI. This store is dangerous for me as I love almost everything in it. It was here that I got to put my hands on a few travel/tech pouches but since I had already ordered an Evergoods CAP2L I decided against spending another $50 on redundancy. I did, however, find a nice Eagle Creek Dopp kit pouch (perfect for my Health items, as I’d designated it) and a cool gold and copper colored REI brand zip pouch, which was perfect for my misc. travel gear that didn’t have a place in my bag. $300 later I left the store with a new sling bag and several unnecessary clothing items.
When packing to leave I put these new pouches to use. I stuffed the empty, mostly useless pouches I had bought almost a day before at the bottom of the bag and was able to find everything a home, even if it was inside of a pouch inside the bag. I got a little credit card sized pouch to put in the slim front pocket which I hooked to a lanyard and looped through one of the many tech loops that are scattered throughout the bag and stuffed it in the big stretch pocket inside. I slipped my small edc flashlight in the slim pocket.
For that awkward slim side pocket I attached my Ledger wallet and titanium spoon to lanyards and latched them to the bag and fit them in perfectly. Ah, a use for that weird slim pocket and my spoon can stay separated from random items floating along inside of the bag. Ok, we may have something here.
Upon arriving at the airport the coffee was making decisions for me so I quickly found a stall and expected the delicate balance of hanging the bag on the rear of the stall door on the grab handle. This is always precarious as the extra padding can afford the opportunity to slip off and onto the ground if you’re not quick enough to catch it. The able carry max has a dedicated hanging loop at the top of the bag that seemed to be designed for JUST THIS OCCURRENCE. I took another picture.
This bag was starting to win me over. I just needed to learn how to adapt to it and maybe play by its rules. It wasn’t forcing me to do anything but rather affording me the opportunity to make my own decisions on how I was going to use it.
I’m glad to say that even after an initial disappointing first impression and a little bit of buyer’s remorse, that I’m actually growing fond of Able Carry Daily Backpack. One thing that stands out to me is being able to open it at the top and stuff literally anything I want into the bag. There always seems to be room for a jacket, lunch bag or something else bulky that I don’t want to carry around. The large cavernous main compartment just swallows it all. That has turned into my stuff pouch that I missed.
Of course, I have suggestions for improvements that might make the bag work better for ME but in the scope of things I have a positive outlook in growing WITH Able Carry Daily Backpack, and not INTO it. Simpler, more mass market bags may offer better admin panels and more storage options but come at the sacrifice of EDC usability, materials or style. Shifting what I expected out of the bag to what it could be capable of has been a revelation. I’ll work over the next few weeks to even further perfect my load out and maybe, just maybe, it’ll be second nature to reach into the right place the first time to find that damn chapstick.