We technophilic, city-livin’ free radicals love our bags. Owning a stylish over-the-shoulder number that can comfortably cradle a MacBook Pro, a DVD box set of The Wire and a 12-pack of Pabst is of absolute importance.
The Rambler, little brother to Mission Workshop’s SUV-sized Vandal, is the perfect backpack for tooling around the city, whether by sidewalk, bike lane, subway or Vespa. Bike messengers may be partial to one of MW’s messenger bags, and cargo-crazy commuters will probably prefer the freakishly huge Vandal, but the Rambler, with its more populist dimensions (it fits under the seat in front of you on an airplane) is big enough for the rest of us.
The bag has three large compartments — the main cargo area, a roll-top pocket that runs down the length of the bag on the inside, and a slim zipper pocket on the outside. The cargo compartment is where all the magic happens. It’s big enough to hold a laptop, your lunch, a hoodie and a set of headphones with room to spare. But the cargo area can also expand to twice its own size. Unzip the bag all the way and the front swings out to reveal an interior “basket.” Inside, there’s a second waterproof urethane-coated zipper to close in snug around your payload, and two buckle straps to keep bigger loads secure. The roll-top can also be unfurled into a flap and buckled down over the top for extra protection against the elements. There are enough configurations hidden in the Rambler’s design to keep everything secure and dry.
Even fully expanded and stuffed to the gills, the Rambler still earns crazy high marks for comfort. The straps and back are well-padded, and an internal frame keeps the back rigid. There are also load-balancing straps on the shoulders and a chest strap to keep those Franzia boxes from tipping you over. A padded waist belt is an optional extra.
Besides taking the Rambler on my daily 7-mile bike commute every day for two months, I also used it to haul a fat stack of records to a half-dozen DJ gigs. Normally, riding my bike with 35 or 40 LPs on my back is a genuine suffer-fest, but stuffed and strapped into the Rambler, the load was comfy and well-balanced. The bag endured a rainstorm in New Orleans, keeping my change of clothes inside bone dry. The versatility of that expanding cargo basket was put to the test on countless grocery shopping trips and wine-sipping picnics in the park.
The only bummer is the lack of accessory pockets. There’s a small zipper pouch on the outside of the Rambler that’s just big enough for your wallet, or an iPhone and a set of earbuds. But any other loose objects — sunglasses, pens, USB sticks, your patch kit, a change of socks — will have to ride with the rest of your cargo in the three big pockets.
The Rambler does have a cool Easter egg, though: If you carry a U-lock, you can secure it on the outside of the bag where it won’t smoosh your sandwich. Pull the elastic buckle strap down through its cloth housing to make a small loop at the bottom. Thread the lock through the loop and lock it, then snap the buckle closed on top of it.