One year ago, I moved into the Shower’s Pass Utility backpack, designed and tested in the oppressively rainy climate of Portland, Oregon. As someone who is traveling day-to-day to work locally or nationally, any bag I have in this capacity has to carry my work gear, travel well on and off the bike, and be able to hang at campfire parties in the woods.
The feature-packed Utility Backpack did not disappoint. It has consistently exceeded expectations and offered up bonus functional surprises along the way. Despite being an avid bag enthusiast and deliberately honing my custom and commercially available bag collection for more than a decade, the Utility backpack quickly became the most used bag in my fleet.
The exterior is waterproof 840-denier 100% Ballistic nylon with waterproof zippers. Accent colors appear in the zippers and anodized functional hardware. I went with gold because it is a consistent color for my teams. Otherwise, aside from the reflective bands on the straps, the bag is a stealthy matte black.
The Utility Backpack is, for any backpack but especially a waterproof backpack, extremely lightweight at a scant 3.4lbs with all the fixings- impressive considering its 26.8L capacity.
The structure of the bag was something to note off the bat. It has an internal structure that suspends your tablet and laptop off the ground when you set it down, as well as holding the overall bag shape. I was sure that this would break in over time, flatten and collapse. This would prove not to be the case.
Lastly, there were tons of features to the bag to take note of. Tons of pockets, some seemingly way over-engineered. While I struggled to move into the bag initially, I would eventually find every pocket to serve a vital purpose. It has gone from what I considered would become an impossibly complex cavern for gear storage, I now consider it like a flack jacket. I know where everything lives, it lives there for a reason. The depth of deliberateness in the features has made it extremely easy to live in this bag, and next to impossible to move out of it.
The front most external front pocket is an expandable (via zippers and elastic) and drained situation, with an internal surface matching the exterior of the bag.
The buckle, on an elastic strap, is sized to hold a helmet, but I’ve also used it to hold wet, worn gear as well as equipment I needed easy access to (cameras, beverages, sandwiches, etc.). At the end of a trip, I’ve been delighted to hose it out and go on my way. The exterior side pockets, also drainable/hoseable, are great for water bottles, sunblock/bug repellent.
The front exterior top pocket has a waterproof zipper and is fleece lined – genius. Living in Minnesota, one of the biggest challenges is keeping your phone and lights both accessible and functional (which means keeping them warm). It is extremely difficult to accomplish both, especially when you’re spending a lot of time in the elements or stopping off at a bonfire on your way home. Nothing is worse than being without visibility or communication when you’re vulnerable from the cold.
There is also a separate hydration pocket in the back of the bag, accessible by another waterproof zipper. I’ve used this for dirty clothes, but I could see how it could be for hiding snacks/any number of other things.
There are two open front internal pockets great for holding chargers or adapters.
The top internal pocket, closed via zipper, is also fleece lined for when weather is colder.
The main structural feat, which I discussed earlier, are the two main fleece lined pockets at the back of the bag designed for your laptop and tablet. The laptop pocket fits up to a 15in notebook, though I’ve had to travel a few times with larger laptops (I removed the battery, and the slip pockets worked just fine). When you set your bag on the ground, your electronics stay suspended and protected, with the firm back of the bag providing structure.
Wearing the bag
The aluminum buckles allow you to set the strap length, giving the bag a range of fits specific to the rider. I cinched mine completely for my fit to allow the other straps to lay in appropriate places on my body. As someone with a short torso, I greatly appreciated this. It sits where I would want it to.
I only wore the waist belt when carrying heavy loads- for that, I was very happy it was there. Otherwise, it was clipped around the front of the bag (which it is designed to do) or stuffed it into the main bag while traveling.
The belt features two of its own zipper pockets, which I didn’t immediately appreciate… until I was somewhere where I needed a hip pack for phone, snacks, and keys on a ride.
Generally, carrying the bag was a pleasure. With the stiff backing, and the 3D mesh padded back, there hasn’t been a load I’ve carried that hasn’t been comfortable and a ride where I’ve arrived too sweaty.
My first evening with this bag, I was invited to a party in a foreign town with people I didn’t know. I was asked to do a beer run on my way over. Only when I got to the checkout did I realize that I wasn’t equipped with one of my highly expandable roll-top bags… which sent me into a quick panic. How would I be able to travel with the beverages I had acquired?
But with dropped jaw, I was able to load up not one, but two twelve packs of beverages as well as a bottle of whiskey the size of a small infant… with room to spare. The magic of this bag was immediately apparent.
Despite being generally pretty stealthy, the bag is equipped with a series of reflective features. The Showers Pass logo on the front pocket is printed with 3M reflective ink. The back straps feature large reflective stripes. The waist belt is woven with strands of reflective fabric.
The bag is also equipped with four removable blinky lights (two on the front pocket, one on each side pocket). Showers Pass claims they have batteries for 200 hours of use. I use mine primarily as a backup to my bright commuter lights or in case of emergencies (when I’m caught out late or in a storm without working lights). In a year, I haven’t managed to burn any out.
Visually Conservative: It comes in any color you want, as long as that color is black. The accent colors in the hardware do help to offset this… but I’m definitely one of those people who prefers bags to be expressive.
Losing parts: The removable sternum strap was great. It snapped in wherever I wanted it to. It stayed in place. It was quick to pop off. Which also meant that it was something I could lose.
Also, while the integrated LED lights are fabulous for visibility and install quickly, the lights on the side pockets of the bag aren’t backed, meaning that they had a habit of falling back into the pocket.
In retrospect, I should have kept those lights in one of my many pockets to install when needed. I didn’t. One ended up being crushed. So it goes. But! If I were inclined, replacement lights are available through Showers Pass.
A year later
As I said, I had all sorts of assumptions about how this bag would wear, that the surface wouldn’t hold up, the zippers would wear out or break, that it would lose all of its amazing structure.
I was wrong on all counts. The bag, despite being through months of abuse (I tend to throw bags and not take care of my gear- ask anyone) and gnarly little adventures, looks and functions as well as the day I got it. And I still use it for almost everything.
The Showers Pass Utility Bag is all bang for your buck. It’s lightweight. It’s waterproof. It’s got impressive capacity. It’s durable. It’s comfortable. It’s super functional. At $214 MSRP (as currently listed on the website) it is an easy investment.