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Everything I own fits in a 35L RiutBag now

I haven't written a post about everything I carry around with me since I, Nomad, when I gave away everything I couldn't carry and left the US for Japan. Since then, I have downsized considerably, and became a bit hooked on the idea. I left the US with a 52L top loading backpack and a 40L side loader. In Malaysia I gained and lost stuff, but gave away more than I gained; in Australia I swapped the side loader with my cousin for a more compactable (and tattered) 35L rucksack; by the time I got back to Europe the 35L was about empty and I left it at a hostel in Croatia. Then I spent eight months in Sarajevo getting more things, winter clothes, awesome boots, etc. The whole lot, filling up my 52L bag, I left to my yoga teacher, and packed the rest into an orange 40+5L I bought for €30 on amazon. I love the orange bag. For a cheap knockoff it's done very well. It's front loading, has an expandable front pocket, lots of places to attach stuff, and I can tighten many straps to size it down when it's not full. It probably has another couple of years of use in it, though it's starting to show wear; one of the straps is splitting away, and it has a lot of soy sauce stains on the inside.

I backed the RiutBag kickstarter last year, after extended questioning and personal video replies from Sarah Giblin, the designer, on twitter. They were due to be shipped in October, when I had a trip back to the UK scheduled anyway. In the end I fouled up putting my address into kickstarter properly, and it didn't get sent out with the first batch. Racing an uncertain brexit at the time, I left it as late as possible to but eventually gave up on the bag and booked last minute travel to Bulgaria. The bag arrived the day after I left.

My Mum unboxed it in a video call for me, and I spent the next few months thinking about how great it will be to have a smaller bag. The orange bag lent itself to downsizing well, as whenever I gained space I could pull in the side and bottom straps. Mostly I ended up filling the space with groceries though.

So when I got back to the UK again, it was time to find out if I'd really managed to lose 10L of stuff. This time I'd have no spare space for homemade Greek fig syrup, loaves of Balkan bread and Turkish soup mix.

pro The RiutBag 35L at full capacity, and folds into a 10L day pack. I'll be using it at full capacity most of the time. con The 10L transformation still seems a bit big on me, because I'm small.

Reservations I had were around how easy it would be to attach things to the outside. This is one of the things Sarah reassured me about, by showing the various clips and buckles on the prototype. However, con they're not really designed for attaching stuff to like a normal backpacker backpack would be, more incidental fastenings intended for the 35-to-10L transform, that are available when it's at full size.

Since one of the main design goals of the RiutBag is to be super secure pro, all of the openings are against the wearer's back. It certainly serves that purpose very well, but sets up a bit of an inconvenience for someone who is used to being able to quickly stuff into and grab from outside pockets con.

However pro there are tall pockets on both sides, made of a very stretchy fabric so a lot can go in there, but they spring right back to flat if they're empty. One will always be for a water bottle, and the other offers many opportunities for holding whatever I couldn't/forgot to pack. They also seal with a popper if the contents don't stick out the top which is a nice touch.

I took it for a practice run over Kit's wedding weekend. It wasn't stuffed full, and I didn't need to attach anything to the outside, nor have fast access to any contents, and it was pretty great. It fits at my feet on UK trains, and National Express didn't try to take it off me to stow when I boarded the nightbus to Cornwall pro.

The main attraction was the laptop compartment which sits against the back (pro good for stability) and zips all the way open for easy laptop access pro without having to unpack, move, or accidentally drop anything else on the floor. I can't stress how great this is. Even cramped up on a bus I can slip my laptop out with minimal fuss, and - and this is the kicker - get it back in again. With my last backpack, to keep my laptop in the pocket at the back, I'd have to unpack and repack an armful of stuff, and it'd usually get stuck on something on the way in, so it was impossible if I didn't have a lot of space. This meant that even when everything I had did fit in the backpack, I'd end up splitting the laptop and stuff into a small daypack so the main bag would go in the storage compartment when in transit. The RiutBag laptop compartment is also divided into two sections, so I can slip my laptop into one and keep my notebook in there too pro without the laptop tearing pages from it every time it goes in and out.

An annoyance that is never going to go away is that con the straps are always in the way of the opening. If I was bigger and they were pulled looser, this would be less of a problem. But I'm not, so I'm always poking them out of the way to pack or unpack.

The waist strap, which is pro detachable - yay - is like a seatbelt, con completely unpadded. Since I'm carrying my fully packed backpack a lot, being able to take the weight on my hips is pretty important. It remains to be seen if this will be a huge problem, but I expect I'll look into customising it with some padding at some point.

All of the buckles are a bit slidey con. The waist strap quickly loosens up as I walk, and tightening it on the fly is uncomfortable. The straps that keep the main backpack straps in place are sliding about a bit too. This was a problem my orange bag developed after about a year and a half of use which made me happy to be replacing it.

The raincover, which is pro reflective on one side to my mother's delight, just kind of came con by itself. It's also con super bulky. con It doesn't even have a clip on it. Most backpacking bags I've used have a little slot for the raincover on the very bottom, and a popper that attaches the cover to the inside of the slot. So you can pull it out and stretch it over when needed, and stuff it back in really easily, and it won't go wandering off on its own. So to keep the raincover I have a new thing to store, in my already newly limited space. In the end I hung my waterproof jacket - which folds into a little pouch - across the back of the RiutBag, and stuffed the raincover inside there. If I'm pulling out my waterproof, there's a good chance I'll need the cover at the same time, so it won't ever be in the way and I should have minimal chance of losing it. Still, I'm concerned there's no way to clip it to the bag when it's on. Hopefully I won't get caught in any particularly strong gusts of wind. I presume the bulkiness of it means it is pro very robust as well. My last one, as nicely as it stuffed away, did also develop some holes and was never properly waterproof. I mainly employed it to deter bus drivers from grabbing non-weight-bearing straps when they went to sling it under the bus; you wouldn't believe how common this is, and I've had several bag straps broken this way.

I backed a kickstarter tier that got me not only the 35L bag, but also a RiutBag Crush and a sling. I'd imagined the sling to be like a running belt, but it's actually pro huge and stretchy and designed to go across the body rather than around the waist. It's pretty cool. I tried out the various combinations of things I could stuff inside it - it takes my hammock and hammock straps perfectly. In the end I packed it full of tea, which was what the overflow flexible front pocket on my last bag was used for. With the sling strap open quite wide, I can clip it across the top of the RiutBag with the poppers that hold it in its 10L form attaching it on either side. It's pretty secure and doesn't flap around, while being really easy to remove. I hope those poppers hold up. I discovered even full of tea, there's still space to stuff an emergency sandwich in there too. I love flexible containers that can adapt to their contents; I'm gonna have more fun with the sling than I expected.

On the other hand, I'm a bit disappointed with the Crush. My last two crush-style backpacks collapsed to smaller than my fist, away into a little pouch with a drawstring loop and a popper clip. I could clip it to a belt, or it could hang on the outside of my main bag for easy access, and I'd barely know it was there. The RiutBag Crush on the other hand folds into its own front pocket, a semicircle about the size of, uh, con my face. It also isn't a negligible weight con, and it takes more time to pack it because it needs folding con rather than stuffing. Worst of all, it has no kind of hook or clip or any dangly things on the outside at all con. Once again, I can't attach it to anything! How can people live like this? Okay so the two zips are still visible, and I've put a carabiner through them, and clipped it to the top of my RiutBag that way. We'll see how that goes. All that said, my last-but-one crush backpack (from Japan) ended its life when the zip spontaneously fell off at a train station in Poland. Its replacement, a Karimor branded one bought new because I was about to go on a hike and didn't have time to shop around secondhand, lasted about 4 months before dissolving at all the seams. The RiutBag Crush is certainly better made pro than these. It also has pro more useful compartments and padded straps. So it'll definitely last, even if I use it for my laptop, but whether its lack of outer attachments or sheer size when folded will drive me mad first, stay tuned.

Above the main compartment, there's a zipped slot which opens into a pocket filling the whole top of the bag. It's a good place to put things you might need to grab without opening the main compartment pro. It seems like a very spacious pocket, but it is competing with space from the main compartment on the inside. The opening is not particularly wide or flexible con, which limits the size of things you can put into it, or constrains wrestling them back out again if you fill it up. And the main backpack straps inhibit access as well. But it is good for not-too-big things that are the wrong shape for flat pockets, and are good to have handy. So far in there I'm keeping:

  • laptop and phone chargers;
  • tiger balm;
  • headphone case (various contents);
  • sunglasses;
  • and a spoon.

I tried out my kindle in there, but it's hard to get in and out when there are other things there too. I suppose I could stuff the Crush in there, if I pack things in the right order. There's definitely space left over; the top of the bag is collapsed and I can see the corners aren't being occupied.

On the inside of the laptop pocket are two flat mesh pockets. They're good for flat things that you don't necessarily need access to often or quickly, but it's handy to keep them separate from everything else. In the bottom one:

  • my second Fairphone1 and spare battery;
  • my online banking login dongle;
  • my external harddrive;
  • and my Unicornium crosstitch (which I will eventually stitch to the pocket).
  • In the top one, my kindle fits quite well, after I discarded the cover.

Ziplock bags on a blue carpet

On the bottom of the portion against my back, there's a small pocket as well pro. This is a good home for:

  • my passport;
  • a pen;
  • and ibuprofen.

The main compartment is pro a good size. I like that it's square pro, so you don't loose space to curves. And that it's pro blue-green inside. The sheer black of the RiutBag doesn't match my personality con, but at least I know there's colour somewhere. The opening is narrower than the space inside, but not so much so that packing is frustrating. It unzips all the way around of course pro - fully front-opening backpack is a dealbreaker; top-openers are the most frustrating thing in the world when you live out of one.

In here, goes everything else:

  • hammock;
  • hammock straps;
  • clothes;
  • kitchen;
  • bathroom;
  • and miscellaneous junk.

My hammock straps used to be attached to the outside of my last backpack. They're pretty bulky, but this worked well, except for being a pain in the ass to remove or reattach. I discarded some of my miscellaneous junk (I honestly don't know what all this stuff is, but I swear it's all useful enough to keep) and repurposed the little sack that some part of the Riut assemble came in, to hold the misc junk and the hammock straps. I decided to pack them inside instead of trying to find a way to put them on the outside, because there are more useful things I can put on the outside, that I actually need to access regularly (ie. tea), and also because of the aforementioned pain-in-the-ass-ness.

There's a mesh front to the main compartment that zips on pro, and can also be rolled up and clipped away. This is handy if you're half or three-quarters opening it while it's upright to get to something in the laptop section, to stop the contents tumbling out.

Finally, I clipped my running shoes to the buckles on top. The buckles are to help with the 10L version, and they super annoyingly don't extend con. But apart from that it works well. Having the shoes on top-front is better than dangling around on bottom-front like I used to, they get caught on less stuff. Also since the buckles pro aren't being used for anything else (last time they were functional in adjusting the size of the bag, or in the way for accessing the bottom zip), I don't end up having to remove the shoes to do other things.

The great test will be if bus drivers think it's too big for me to take to my seat. It's usually their discretion whether they make you stow large bags under the bus, and I've had mixed experiences with my non-full, strapped-to-compress orange bag. It's definitely small enough, but it looks bigger on me than on a normal-sized person, and all the stuff strapped to the outside might exaggerate that. If I end up having to stow it a lot, I'll have to get really fast at whipping out the Crush and my laptop, valuables and snacks.

I'm off now, to Switzerland and then Albania, back to full time travel with the RiutBag 35L as my new house.

Addendum: My old backpack came low enough to take the weight when I sat down without taking it off my back; the RiutBag doesn't con but pro I took it on the London underground and it's the perfect height to rest on the little padded shelves near the doors without taking it off.

Addendum againdum: By the time I actually published this post I had made it to Switzerland, and indeed the Flixbus people did not stop me from taking it on board. It's a squeeze at my feet, but I only have small legs and mostly occupy the nightbus curled up in a ball so I don't really need that space anyway. It's also a bit tight to get the laptop in and out, but still doable!

🏷 riutbag travel digital nomad