The Showers Pass Utility Backpack is just the next stage in the evolutionary blending of the hardcore road cyclist and the commited pedal commuter, a lightweight style-heavy monster ready for whatever mother nature throws at it.
Not that I’m a roadbiker. I mountain bike a bit; townie cruise when I can. But otherwise I’m usually found exploring the woods and mountains on foot, whether looking for pow in the winter, summits in the summer, or things to harvest in the fall. This won’t be my go-to pack for when I’m lugging heavy amounts of gear. The shoulder straps are a bit thin for displacement of 50-pounds and it’s nice to have a beefier waist strap for the same purpose.
But for just cruising, whether with a few extra layers and some water or a few extra papers and a laptop, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more reliable and technical pack. And for some of my lighter trips where waterproof is paramount (think canoe cruise with the family or one of the below activities I describe that required heavy washing off of my gear), I have no backpack that does the job better.
Outdoor Functionality For Urban Life
The battle for best outdoor pack is stiff; arguably second only to jackets. And yes, there are some hardcore outdoor packs that are mostly waterproof and could be dragged over razor-sharp rocks for a few hours while filled with about 60 pounds of steel and still be fine. But they’re not well-suited for carrying laptops and I certainly wouldn’t want to roll into the office or the bar with a Deuter Guide 45.
Showers Pass looks like something you’d see on somebody’s back in NYC, maybe, at least the stylish ones, and that’s a big statement. Second to my current Teton life, I’ve found NYC the toughest place on gear. New Yorkers walk everywhere, are constantly fighting through thick crowd and slamming into walls and subways and windows and such. In the past few years es-pecially erratic weather has pounded the pavement there harder than the Monday morning rush hour. If you have 2 or 3 long blocks from the subway to your work, any case that’s not fully wa-terproof runs the risk of turning into a mesh fish net by the time you hit the revolving door. The Utility Backpack marries backcountry toughness to urban steeze to give you something that stands up to the rowdiest of weather but looks good over a suit.
But I didn’t test it in New York City. I tested it in the plains, mountains and valleys of Wyoming.
Test 1: Waterproofness
I took this pack on an antelope hunt a few weeks ago (it was for meat for my family). Regardless, when field-dressing your catch everything you have can get a bit bloody. That includes my pack. But unlike my other nylon bags and canvas packs (or leather satchels), once I got it home I held it under the hose and sprayed off all the blood. I even put some clothes inside to see if anything got through the seems. Untouched.
I went on to wear it through a raw fall, wintry mix and frozen rain falling hard and heavy on my commute to work and from house to house to coffee shop to Big Holes hike. I bring my laptop with me most days to work(might I add that my laptop is my life)(full of pictures of my family, countless works of fiction and nonfiction, and more), walking through the rain a few blocks from office to coffee shop to bank to liquor store and back. Nothing going through. Weather outside was frightful. But the pack was an impermeable womb hanging off my shoulders.
Test 2: Lock it Up, Hook it On
There are gear straps all over this thing. Actually moreso even than my climbing and oputdoor packs. So I decided to test it out, hanging waterbottles and foodbags (one full of my butchered frozen antelope) and any other bits of detritus I could dig up during my home move. While the straps on the back made for some awkward weight distribution when I hung my 2- and my 1-liter Nalgene off it, that’s why there are side pockets for your water bottles and a ton of internal stor-age. Throw in an extra layer, your lunch, gym clothes for after you’re off.
To build on that, the external water bladder pocket is one of those brilliant but simple touches, separating it from the rest of the pack so a weak seal or overloaded hydration reservoir doesn’t risk your precious aquaphobic gear.
Test 3: The Dark of Night
Showers Pass is a cycling company. And as the days get shorter, most cyclists, especially the 9-7ers, are riding in the dark. On roads. Like, with cars. That could kill you very easily if they don’t see you.
Other cities have lights along the roads, giving you better visibility but I decided to test it at a place where there are no lights. The streets of Victor, Idaho. My home. Below is video footage of that test. Hear the squeak of my wet brakes (I’d given up biking for the winter when I realized it was time for a tune and the snow was falling) and see nothing but the flashing red lights. You definitely want to get the lights compatible with the pack — it’s a brilliant, clean and efficient system of illumination.
Also see the reflecting stripes on the shoulder straps. Yeah, this pack is a shot of bright in a dark world. I would feel totally confident cruising along the dark roads of Teton Valley with nothing but this pack and a headlamp.
Still, that’s also where one of its primary weaknesses lies — its visibility.
The Pitch Black Backpack… and other cons…
This backpack screams urban commuter. The black is flat, sleek, probably goes great with a suit but when biking through traffic, black isn’t very visible. Certainly not as much as, for example, orange or yellow.
The straps are minimal and so while they’re great for lighter weights, I wouldn’t want to bring larger loads. At the same time, the wide shape of the pack hurts the streamline nature of a bikepack. And it could use some more ventilation along the back. I also previously pointed out that the straps are pretty thin, as is the chest strap (though that’s somewhat countered by how the chest strap is vertically adjestable and even removable).
All of this adds up to one simple fact — for longer treks, the Showers Pass Utility Pack isn’t my first choice. But it should be the go-to for the urban biker, especially those concrete tree-huggers who prefer 2 wheels and pedals for their daily qwork commute. It’s also a bawler townie cruiser pack. For anything where you might be out in the muck and mire but have precious gear that absolutely must be kept untouched, I put this pack at the top of the list.
And if you find yourself on a dark road at night powering for your friend’s house through a freak rainstorm with your afterwork clothes and an iPad on your back, the Showers Pass Utility Back-pack ($239.99) will become your favorite piece of gear in the closet.