Gear Review: Alchemy Equipment luggage AEL005

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.

First impressions

Wow, this bag isĀ 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.

Quality

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.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Other options

Here are some other suggestions for travel backpacks.

Photo credits: Alchemy Equipment

How to pack light for winter travel

Think winter: big coats and lots of layers.
Think travel clothes: the middle-aged American tourist look, bristling with pockets and bum-bags
Think adventure gear: functional, brightly coloured, large logos every which way
Think backpacking: an enormous hiking backpack on your back and another, smaller backpack slung across your front.

What if I told you it’s possible to achieve all the comfort and functionality of winter adventurous travel clothes without compromising on style, performance or volume? Well, that would require a serious rethink of travel. Thus, I present my guide to travelling light, even when the snow is thick, the sun scarce and the appetite for adventure insatiable.

Why travel light

First, though, why bother travelling light at all? International long-haul flights usually allow checked-baggage up to ~23kg plus carry on. Why not just take the conventional daypack and large bag/suitcase? Freedom. If you have only one carry-on sized bag, then you are free from baggage check in, the wait at the luggage carousel, the burden on your back while you walk to your accommodation. You are free from having to sort through loads of stuff each night and having to separate clean clothes from laundry. In short, you are free to experience the world in a far more intimate, raw way. Best yet, you don’t need to compromise on comfort, functionality or style. Here’s how.

Pack light, go far

Continue reading How to pack light for winter travel

Gear Review: Osprey Porter 30L Backpack

A few weeks ago my Osprey Packs Porter 30 Travel Backpack arrived in the mail. I had been searching for the best backpack to take on my light-travelling adventures. I wanted something that I could take as carry-on on the cheap European flights, comfortable enough to wear all day and spacious and durable enough to carry 3 months worth of gear. Packing light is an exercise in compromises. But with the Osprey Porter 30L, few have to be made.

A lot of backpackers take packs in the 50L + size range. The problem is, packs of that size are intended for multi-day hiking expeditions, alpine ascents and general off-the-trail-need-a-tent-and-food type adventures. They are bulky, heavy and, frankly, excessive for most itineraries. Many of the features that make them suitable for hiking the backwoods make them cumbersome for city-based travel — for example, roll tops that make packing and unpacking a chore, and large straps that get caught and torn in the luggage carousel. Of course, a wheeled suitcase has its own impracticalities. Osprey’s Porter range (they sell a 30L, reviewed here, 46-Liter, and 65-Litre) addresses these issues.

Continue reading Gear Review: Osprey Porter 30L Backpack

Discourse: Urban Techwear

“Clothes make the man”

Much of Shakespeare has transcended quotation and become proverb. This line from Polonius (strictly speaking he says “for the apparel oft proclaims the man”), the fool in Hamlet, accompanies another of Shakespeare’s proverbs: “to thine own self be true”. Perhaps Polonius recognised the tension between these lines, for he surely never followed his own advice.

Continue reading Discourse: Urban Techwear

Gear Review: Sorel Ankeny Hiker Boots

A few weeks ago I received my Sorel Ankeny Hiker Boots in the post from the USA. I wanted a do-all boot for winter backpacking trip to Europe, so I was looking for that elusive mix of durability, functionality and style. Bottom line: the Sorel Ankeny does well.

Continue reading Gear Review: Sorel Ankeny Hiker Boots

Gear Review: Alchemy Equipment

As part of my quest for functional, stylish clothing to take with me while I backpack Europe in this Nov-Feb, I began researching “urban techwear”. Urban techwear is meant to combine the utility of adventure sport clothing from established companies like The North Face or Arc’teryx with street-smart looks that won’t be out of place in a museum, night club or office. You can read more about urban techwear and other options here. This review looks at one brand operating in this high-tech, high-function and high-style market: Alchemy Equipment.

Continue reading Gear Review: Alchemy Equipment