In the three years since Vulpine launched we've become pretty familiar with its range here at road.cc, but the Laptop Commuter Backpack is its first non-clothing item to come in for review. In typical Vulpine fashion it does what it's meant to in an understated, stylish way and certainly has some nice touches, but there are better value options out there.
The backpack is an 'exactly what it says on the tin' kind of affair – it's designed for carting your laptop around in comfort and safety while also providing room for your other commuting essentials, and it has a hatful of handy design details hidden under the bonnet.
The bag consists of one large main compartment, within which is a laptop sleeve running the length of the back section and a selection of useful storage pockets. In commuting terms its stated capacity of 14 litres is enough for your laptop, a change of clothes and your lunch. It's not heaps of room if you're a heavy traveller, but it's certainly enough for a daily commute across town.
The shape of the main compartment is quite square; imagine a large box file (do people still use those?) and that gives you quite a good idea of its size and shape. The squareness is pretty rigid owing to the way the bag is stitched together, along with the zip that closes along the top and sides of the front panel. This means your belongings need to fit pretty neatly inside otherwise it's hard to close – unlike rucksacks with top closures that are easier to over-stuff.
The padded laptop sleeve comfortably fits a 13-inch laptop in a cushioned laptop case (not included), and attached to the inside of the front panel are two handy storage pockets and a zippable valuables pocket, good for that bit of loose change or your mobile phone.
The main compartment unzips to about two-thirds of the way down each side, almost revealing the whole of the inside and making it really easy to pack. It's luxuriously lined with Vulpine's signature eye-catching green.
The zip is waterproof, offering peace of mind, and to further help against the elements a large top flap closes over it. This fastens shut with an Italian gun metal buckle featuring an engraved Vulpine 'V' – very swish. The buckle is really sturdy and joins up the heavy duty webbing that runs over the top and down the front of the bag. This is great for attaching a D-lock to when you're on the move, or for looping a light through.
One minor shortcoming of the buckle/webbing setup is that there's no way to tension the webbing and the top flap, so if you're travelling really light and the top half of the bag is empty the top flap seems a bit loose and baggy. It doesn't affect the performance of the bag, but being able to adjust it would make it seem more complete.
The top has a soft leather handle, which is a nice touch if you're carrying it into a meeting briefcase-styley rather than wearing it on your back, and there's also a handy key pocket in the top flap, with a taped zip and a carabiner to keep your keys secure. Other details that give the bag an extra touch of quality include the embroidered Vulpine logo on the back panel, embroidered Vs at the base of the straps, and leather tabs on the main zips, although one of these tore off after a few weeks of use.
The main material used in the construction of the bag is a hardwearing and water-resistant Cordura Canvas. It's perfectly suited to a daily-use, year-round commuting bag that's going have all kind of conditions thrown at it. The Cordura is really tough and resistant to tears and scratches, and scuffs and dirt wipe off the surface easily so you don't need to feel too precious about it. Water resistance is also pretty impressive – it easily withstands light to medium showers for sustained periods, with your laptop staying dry as a bone, stowed away safely inside.
A large swathe of reflective material across the base of the front panel that gives a vital bit of extra visibility on the black bag.
The bag is really comfortable to ride in. The padded straps are wide and spread the load nicely across your shoulders, and are tightened easily by pulling down on the strap tensioners once the bag is on your back. The straps also feature two flashes of reflective trim, well positioned for catching the glare of oncoming car headlights. The one surprising omission here is any kind of sternum strap; these are always handy on a cycling-specific bag for keeping everything in place when you're really hammering it, and even a simple removable one would be better than nothing at all.
Four large sections of padding on the rear panel mean the bag sits comfortably against your back, even if you've got jagged or bulky items inside. The padded sections are intersected by air channels, ensuring there's a bit of air flow between the panels, regulating temperature and stopping things getting too sweaty.
With its rrp of £149, the Vulpine Laptop Commuter Backpack sits at the top end of the market, but even comparing it with its competitors it's hard to judge it as good value for money. Rapha offers an almost identically sized rucksack, also made from a Cordura material, at £90 – nearly £60 less – or for £150 you can get Rapha's larger backpack which has a wealth of features and a capacity of 18 litres, expandable to 23 litres. Another alternative is the Inside Line Equipment Default Mini Backpack we reviewed at the start of the year – a really hardwearing 18-litre handmade rucksack for £145.
A stylish and durable commuting backpack with some quality details, but the price is hard to swallow
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Make and model: Vulpine Laptop Commuter Backpack
Size tested: 14 litres, black
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The Vulpine Laptop Commuter Backpack is aimed at the smart and style conscious commuter.
Vulpine says: "A smart, superbly comfortable backpack that will protect your laptop and belongings from the elements. Tough, reflective and unfussy, its perfect for refined commuting."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
- Water resistant, Cordura Canvas outer
- Aeration and mesh cushion against back for breathability
- Tough grosgrain loops for D-lock to front
- Approximately 14L capacity. Easy access lid zipped pocket with carabiner
- Laptop sleeve
- Gun metal buckle
Rate the product for quality of construction:
A really nicely made and sturdy bag that feels good quality. It's built to deal with the elements and the everyday abuse a bag like this can suffer. Seems like it would definitely last the test of time.
Rate the product for performance:
A good size, comfortable to use, and has a nice balance of practicality and style.
Rate the product for durability:
Over the testing period the bag showed very few effects of the daily use it incurred. Scuffs and dirt brushed off the surface of the bag easily. The only slight blip on this front was the ripped leather zip tab, but hardly a major issue.
Rate the product for comfort, if applicable:
Really comfortable against your back but the addition of a sternum strap would be good to keep it really secure when you're moving at pace.
Rate the product for value:
It's hard to suggest this backpack is good value when you look at similar options available from competitors.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Generally it performed really well. A few slight design tweaks and additions would be nice, but more to enhance the experience rather than dramatically change or improve it.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
I liked the style, its durability and some of the quality detailing.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The price, and lack of sternum strap.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Not at this price.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Possibly
Use this box to explain your score
It's a comfortable, stylish and durable bag, and just a few minor tweaks to design could make it a real big hitter, but ultimately its overall score is kept down by its value for money.
Age: 29 Height: 5'10 Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: KHS Flite 100 Singlespeed/Fixed, Genesis Equilibrium 20 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed
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