Back in 2015 I discovered Alchemy Equipment in my search for clothes to take with me for 3 months backpacking in a European winter. I was impressed by their build quality, clever materials and understated styling—you can read my initial review here. Now, in 2019, I’m looking at returning to Europe and have had another look at Alchemy Equipment’s offerings. This time, however, it will be Europe’s spring, so the focus will not be heavy coats and thermal leggings but on versatile garments that can see me comfortable, stylish and unencumbered with a single daypack sized bag.
The bag: AEL005
I picked up the AEL005 on sale for NZD100; it has since been discontinued and replaced with a number of similar, stylish options in the 20-35L range. At 25L, the AEL005 is definitely a daypack rather than a hold-all duffel, and because of its design and configuration is more familiar than clamshell backpacks like the Osprey Porter 30L travel backpack that I reviewed here. It comes with a well protected laptop compartment for up to 15″ devices and is overall designed more for commuting than minimalist backpacking adventures.
Wow, this bag is rigid. The AEL005 is solidly constructed from durable ballistic-weave nylon and retains it shape due to a lightweight, tough molded EVA back panel. At this size, it’s unlikely to cause any problems having a rigid backpack as it has a low profile and is not very large. However, don’t expect it to crush down much. Conversely, the rigidity provides extra protection to a laptop and valuables and ensures that its sleek profile won’t change much no matter how much or how little you put in it.
The build gives every impression of quality, which doesn’t surprise me from Alchemy Equipment. For its sale price, it was of course a bargain. The rest of Alchemy Equipment’s backpacks range from NZD160 to NZD500, pricing reflective of quality components (eg zips that are waterproof and durable and fabric that is water repellent) and a subtle but stylish design.
I bought this bag to be a do-it-all. I needed a plain black bag for my commute and work, so for that reason I didn’t want anything too bulky. I also wanted a backpack that I could use for lightweight backpacking in Europe later this year. Back in 2015-6 I spent 3 months on my own with just a 30L bag and my take away was: not only is lightweight travel better, 30L was possibly too much. You can read more about that here. I already have a cheap 20L backpack that I bought for $8 at Target and, while everything I want to take on my next 3 week trip fits in it, the build quality didn’t inspire me with confidence.
I like the design. It looks good, although I prefer the waxed look on some of Alchemy’s other offerings. As far as practicality goes, the bag is limited primarily by its rigidity, which makes it a bit less adjustable comfort-wise, and the fact that, like most backpacks, the zips only go halfway down on either side. Ultimately, the clamshell design of the Osprey Porter, Arc’teryx Blade etc is more practical. But, if you don’t have much stuff, it isn’t much trouble rummaging through it.
The AEL005 isn’t really ideal for travel, unless you are travelling light. That’s precisely what I intend to do, so I’m sure it will work well—I’ll report back after my trip. Build quality, materials and style are all top-notch, so it’s definitely worth looking at Alchemy’s other luggage offerings to see what suits you.
Here are some other suggestions for travel backpacks.
Photo credits: Alchemy Equipment