The quest for the perfect bag is an elusive one. Over the years I’ve owned many awesome bags for my daily commuting, but there are always trade offs when I compare each offering to the ‘ideal’ bag that possibly only exists in my head.
Really much of getting an awesome bag comes down to the one that has the least number of things you dislike.
My daily use for a bag is bicycle commuting in rain or shine. That means any bag I use must be waterproof. I’m not talking take a swim in the river waterproof, but it needs to stand up to any rain/splash/hail that gets thrown at it day after day after day.
My previous top choice was a Chrome Metropolis, which I’ll write about in the future. For years it passed the waterproof test, but was always a bit of a bear when it came to organization options. It has a great internal cavern of a compartment, but that’s it. I’d regularly end up sifting through ‘stuff’ trying to find the single thing I needed at the coffee shop.
After 10+ years with a Metropolis I started looking around for a new choice and landed on Mission Workshop as my top choice for my next bag. The founders of Mission Workshop are actually the same people as the founders of Chrome. It seems a few years after selling Chrome they decided that they still wanted to be in the bag business and had new ideas so the started Mission Workshop.
What goes in?
Before we really start digging in to the bag and how it’s performed over the last 18 months I’ll give you a run down of what I put in it.
- 13″ Macbook Air
- iPad Mini
- Paper notebook (currently a Leuchtturm)
- small first aid kit from Adventure Medical
- Tool Roll from Road Runner
- various chargers and electronic bits
- change of clothes when I’m expecting rain
A few days a week I add to that with my mountain running gear:
It’s also common for my wife to ask me to add a 4L jug of milk or fruit or some frozen pizza to the mix on my way home from the office.
Finally, a 5 or 6 times a year I’ll change-up my load for a 100km+ commute to Vancouver where I’ll need all my electronics and clothes for a 5 day stay while I teach at a local college.
Does it fit???
I always have fun seeing what exactly will fit inside a new bag. Not just because of the looks you get with a ladder on your back as you ride down the road, but because I live on my bike (we don’t own a second car because I’m happy to ride my bike). Having a bag that can handle all the random stuff that needs to come home with me is crucial.
My biggest carry currently is a box of 864 diaper wipes my wife needed. By putting it under the flap and wrapping the bottom strap under the box corner it sat securely for a 10km ride home.
A second large carry the Shed has handled without issue is my 3 step-ladder which usually resides at my office but needed to come home so my wife could use it at our storage room. The ladder sat securely on the bag for my regular commute home with no wiggle or discomfort.
Is it waterproof?
Yes it is! The best test of the waterproofness of the bag was one of my 100km commutes home as we got 50mm+ of rain combined with a puddle filled road and large trucks. The large trucks would hit the puddles (totally not something they could avoid and stay on the road) which would spray me down from the side hard enough I was almost knocked off my bike more than once.
Nothing inside the bag in any of the pockets was wet at all.
Now I wouldn’t trust it to be dunked in a puddle for any prolonged amount of time, even if I was using the roll top closer but that’s not the intended use for this bag so don’t do it then complain.
One of the features I was interested in when I purchased a Shed was the roll top closure. I’ve used lots of roll top bags with all the canoe tripping I’ve done. I know the closure system can be entirely waterproof if done right.
In the Shed the roll top closure is not waterproof in the sense of a full underwater dunking for extended periods of time. There is simply too much fabric which folds to ensure a tight seal and the velcro closer doesn’t hold tight enough to make sure no water gets in.
The best utility I’ve found for the roll top are the days I’m off/on the bike a bunch and need to access my keys which I stash in one of the outside pockets. Rolling the main flap down means I can get at the outside pockets and my wallet inside the main zippered compartment without fighting the huge main flap of the bag up in my face.
Wet and dry separation
Possibly the biggest ‘knock’ against the Shed is really a feature I miss from my Metropolis. The Chrome bag had a ‘hanging vinyl bag’ inside the Cordura outer. This allowed you to pull the interior vinyl to the side and then put wet stuff outside the hanging bag.
Your laptop, lunch, dry clothes could still all stay dry inside the main compartment of the bag. To get around this I’ve resorted to plastic shopping bags with anything wet inside. I’m always a bit nervous about this since my laptop is usually in the main compartment of my bag and if something is really wet I could theoretically be damaging my laptop.
I’ve actually got an Outdoor Research waterproof compression sack coming to toss in my bag to combat this scenario more effectively than a shopping bag does.
Like I said earlier, one of the big issues with my previous Chrome bag was the lack of pockets to organize little bits like my sunglasses or the power cord for my computer. Yes it had ‘sleeves’ that were outside the main compartment but the only thing keeping them truly waterproof was the flap of the bag.
I know from experience that when I got splashed from the side on heavy rain days stuff got wet. Not soaked but damp for sure.
This does not happen on the Shed though. When you lift up the flap you’ll find a long zippered pocket. The zipper used is a heavy-duty waterproof zipper that has never failed in any type of rain in my use. Inside that main pocket there are 3 pockets along the outside of the bag all closed by one long zipper. There is also a ‘laptop’ compartment along the body of the bag.
All of the material inside is made of a light but waterproof nylon so even splashes inside the pocket while its open being accessed won’t affect the stuff zipped inside.
The biggest problem with this configuration is that sticking your laptop in the provided compartment means that you have a large flat object with perfect leverage to really drive any odd-shaped things in to your back while using the bag. I’ve actually opted to just put my notebook and iPad in the compartment while my laptop ends up in the main compartment inside a zipped padded sleeve. Here it can act as a back board so things don’t jab me.
Choosing a Shoulder
Many years ago I bought my first Chrome bag for the wrong shoulder. I have no explanation why I did this but at the time I was stuck with a very expensive bag that felt odd to use. I was really unhappy but couldn’t return it because it was a custom order and the shop I purchased from didn’t process returns on custom orders.
While I’ve learned my lesson now, I never would have had this issue if Mission Workshop was around since they make it easy to change which side your strap goes on. Watch the video to see how simple it is.
As I said at the beginning, any bag is a trade-off. There are things you’re going to love and things you’re going to not like. My main goal is to find the least number of things I don’t like.
A common messenger bag complaint comes up when you’re carrying hard odd-shaped things like a few plastic containers with lunch in them. They end up jabbing in to your back making the carry totally uncomfortable. The Shed doesn’t really do anything to solve this. I’d love to see a thin foam layer in the back of the bag to take the edge off odd-shaped items. I’ve always envisioned it as something like the blue foam sleeping pads I used a decade ago while camping.
A complaint that’s specific to the Shed is that the cross strap is way to short. It’s so short that there is no room to really pull it tight without a crazy pull/shuffle where you get some tension then try to reach around your side to shuffle the plastic strap retention system further back. Then you have to pull it tight again and shuffle.
By simply adding an inch or two to the length here the problem would be totally solved. My Chrome Metropolis had a similar strap setup and this was never an issue there but when you compare the strap length it’s obviously simply a few inches longer.
When using a bag as a regular commuter you’re going to end up riding at night. While a flashing light is one of the best ways to make sure you’re seen, I really feel that a bag should have some type of reflective accenting to help with the task. The Shed has no reflective highlights of any sort. Nothing on the straps or body of the bag at all. So if your light runs out of power you’re simply invisible unless some of your clothing has reflective bits.
The Shed does come with a small loop to add a flasher though so if you’re equipping your bike with one and your bag you’re much less likely to encounter a situation where you’re going to have 2 lights with no batteries.
My third issue is that while the elastic retention system for the main strap is badass in its functionality the elastic itself is not very tough. After 18 months of use mine is about to fall off the bag. I can certainly replace it with any other tough elastic I can find and a needle but it really should be beefed up so that you don’t end up fishing it outside of the adjustment buckles for the main strap which ends up fraying it anyway.
One final issue I’ve had with pretty much all my messenger bags is good accessible key storage. Really most of them have no option but dropping the keys in one of the compartments and then fishing it out at some later point. I now get around this with a simple key lanyard from the dollar store which I’ve attached under the small pocket flap on my Shed. This lets me fish out my keys fast and store them fast without worrying about dropping them.
So the final question is, am I happy with the bag. With the caveat that I’ve never found the perfect bag and do have some issue with the Mission Workshop Shed (the lack of wet/dry separation being the biggest one) yes I’ve very happy with the bag.
It’s technically smaller than my Metropolis but I’ve found that the configuration of pockets and compartments results in more places to put things easily. This means I’ve got more of the stuff I need without the bag feeling overloaded.
If you’re looking for a solid messenger bag for your commuting needs then any of the Mission Workshop bags will make you as happy as any bag can.