Back in 2014, I bought my first fixed gear bike here in Tokyo. Until that time—my third year living in Japan—I commuted mainly through the rather efficient public transportation system. But after I joined a small design studio in the heart of Shibuya, I started hanging out with some of my Japanese colleagues—a few of whom happened to be fixed gear bike enthusiasts. They soon convinced me to purchase my first beloved fixie, a Fuji Feather. And I quickly found it necessary to upgrade my everyday carry system into a bike backpack. That was the start of my search for robust, waterproof, handmade bike messenger packs from the likes of Chome Industries, Mission Workshop, PAC design, and of course, Inside Line Equipment.
Specifically, the first contact I had with this last brand was with their beautiful camera pack, the MKII. This photographer backpack was a sturdy 35-40L made out of military-grade canvas, with a roll-top and front access to the camera compartment. The MKII was a unique design, and I had the chance to test it by borrowing it from my colleague and I fell hopelessly in love. Unfortunately, the prohibitive cost (at that time, I was broke) and the necessity for a smaller bag drove me in other directions. But ILE remained my unicorn for a while.
Why am I telling this story? Well, to explain just how excited I was when I got to review one of their latest creatures: the Inside Line Equipment Transit 25L, an X-Pac build, handmade in Berkeley (California) as usual.
For those folks who have never heard of Inside Line Equipment (or ILE), the company started as a two-person crafting company, sewing the first prototypes in their garage around 2012.
Actually, it’s pretty impressive how rapidly such a small company crossed the Pacific and landed in the Japanese market (although Japanese people are incredibly astute at discovering brands). I guess when the quality of a product is so high, “word of mouth” transcends language and distance.
Who It Suits
It suits all the folks looking for a small, classic, bike messenger-style roll-top backpack, but who don’t want to relinquish a certain degree of internal organization and external pockets.
And those people who need an everyday bag that is expandable and versatile, from carrying a single laptop to a load of groceries or a change of clothes for the gym.
It could appeal to people looking for an innovative alternative to Chrome or Mission Workshop backpacks, without breaking the bank.
Who It Doesn’t
The design of the Transit is slightly different from the iconic ILE backpack; the cylindrical body of the pack has a slightly tight waist, which paired with the geometrical front pocket creates a pretty unique look. But it’s definitely not for everyone. Also, this pack has subtle side pockets to carry two bottles, but the pocket volume is developed internally. And I guess those folks looking for easy bottle access won’t enjoy this particular design choice.
The Inside Line Equipment Transit looks like a 2021 upgrade of a simple roll-top backpack. Cylindrical body, big front pocket with AquaGuard zipper, two deep hidden external pockets to carry water bottles. Made out of X-Pac with an internal liner, the pack is pretty much waterproof yet remains lightweight.
The construction feels bombproof like every ILE product, designed for intense use throughout the city. And the material is stress-ready with a lifetime warranty.
The back panel mesh feels premium and ventilating, a bonus for those hot days of biking around the city.
The pack looks no-frills on the exterior but contains several great features. The waterproof main roll-top compartment with buckle closure offers a generous amount of space for gear and groceries. The big front pocket when unzipped reveals a weatherproof main organizer compartment with zippered pocket and key leash to carry small objects like a smartphone, wallet, keys, or chargers.
The two slim side water bottle pockets with storm flaps, accessible from the top and built on the inside of the main body, won’t compromise the backpack shape when full.
A zippered back sleeve fits a 15-16″ MacBook or other slim laptops on the back panel, a feature I define as essential for everyday carry packs. Other features: An adjustable/removable sternum strap and 1″ (2.5 cm) waist strap, padded back and shoulder straps, and two snap buttons to keep the roll-top from obstructing the closure. ILE also offers an optional aluminum/brass AustriAlpin COBRA buckle for an extra level of securement.
This backpack feels very spacious for its size; 25L is more than enough for everyday carry items, plus a laptop with charger and a change of gym clothes. It also turns out to be great for grocery shopping when going home from the office. The organization, as I mentioned, is well thought out. I never felt like “digging” for more than five seconds when searching for something inside it. I appreciate the external compartment which allows for very quick access. The ILE Transit 25L is incredibly comfortable, just like every pack I have tried from this brand. It showcases a devotion to details and superior user research. The result is a product handcrafted around specific use cases, with the goal of solving everyday carry issues.
Alternatives to Consider
We have an entire universe of brands that could compete with this pack on the same capacity and type of use, although ILE has a unique, recognizable style that I couldn’t find anywhere else. If we want to consider an alternative exclusively in the bike messenger-style sub-universe, I guess we can mention: Mission Workshop, Chrome Industries, Mixed Works, Blahol Bags, R.E.Load Bags, Life Behind Bars, and Timbuk2. All these brands produce valid alternatives to the Transit 25L, perhaps with different styles but similar materials.
ILE is synonymous with quality, handmade in California. One of their backpacks will last forever. Considering the price of the pack compared to similar products, it’s not that elevated, which makes it a great investment. The Transit is available in several different colors and materials, from normal to waxed canvas, from sleek white X-Pac camouflage to flashy orange X-Pac fabric.
A metal COBRA buckle can replace the plastic one when ordering the backpack.
I appreciated the side pockets’ design; since I’m not a water bottle carrier, these pockets look invisible when empty.
Not So Good
There isn’t much I disliked about the Inside Line Equipment Transit. I would have enjoyed the front pocket organizer being deeper and wider to accommodate bigger objects. The front pocket’s overall size feels like a trade-off between usability and aesthetic; it could have been bigger and able to carry larger items than just a wallet, keys, or smartphone. The buckle closure of the pack doesn’t feel very snug. I wish I could tuck the roll-top better, especially when the pack is half empty.
From casual to heavy users, the Inside Line Equipment Transit 25 feels just right for a large variety of people. For those folks who are looking for a pack without many bells and whistles—but who still enjoy superior quality, great organization, and, of course, a good-looking backpack—the Transit should be a no-brainer.
This article was written by Riccardo Parenti, an Italian-born photographer and product designer living in Tokyo. You can check out his work here.
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