Product Review: Chrome Welterweight Hondo Backpack

The Hondo by Chrome.
(Review and photos by James Buckroyd) James Buckroyd is a professional product designer who happens to be addicted to cycling and is always seeking out the perfect route and the perfect piece of gear. He blogs at BuckyRides.com[1].

His last review was the OttoLock[2]. Earlier this year Chrome Industries[3], the people who are famous for starting the whole messenger bag craze, moved their head office from San Francisco to Portland[4].

The company has been around a while now (since 1995) making high quality, cycling specific, gear-hauling bags, apparel and shoes. Having had a few Chrome bags over the years, I decided to look at their most recent lineup to see what was new. The Hondo is one of Chrome Industries latest additions.

It’s minimal, contemporary and fashionably designed for the urban commuter and everyday rider. [5] I can imagine the product brief: the designers chuckled as they read, thinking “Oh man, not another one of these unicorn projects (at the seemingly fictional situation).” The brief read “Design a hip-looking pack for the commuter of all sizes that is comfortable, light, economical in materials, contains lots of features and oozes durability and ruggedness while being affordable to the average Joe.” This — a product manager’s dream — is often hard to realize. In this case however, Chrome might have nailed it.

The Hondo is aimed squarely at the urban commuter market as the solution to work gear hauling needs. At £100 and £110 it is placed in the hot market of backpacks, mid-price range for a good quality pack. As a smaller sized backpack, the Welterweight Hondo is a lightweight brother to the regular Hondo.

The welterweight uses durable but lightweight material (if you have felt most regular chrome bags you will know they are pretty burly – due to their robust materials and construction). Welterweight series indicates bags that are 50% lighter than regular Chrome items. What it’s made from:

  • Lightweight 500d nylon compared with a 1510d nylon used on other bags.
  • Weatherproof lightweight tarpaulin lining compared with waterproof welded 18oz tarpaulin.
  • Extra reflective TPU tarpaulin accent panel on front and reflective webbing on straps.

Features:

  • Stylish modern clean design.
  • Reflective by night rear panel.
  • Integrated slide-in padded area to hold a 15? laptop.
  • Pleated side pockets for small water bottles or other items.
  • Loops on the front to the bag to attach a u-lock or other items via caribiners, etc.
  • Front convenience pocket for keys, phone and other small items.
  • Multiple internal pockets.

Without a doubt this backpack comes from the Chrome stable: the construction, cut and sew carry the same classic lines and manufacturing methods.

The bag is boxy (in a good way) and of a square tube construction with well-sewn edging where materials join together. And of course the bag oozes durability. Reflective accents add for safety on the front of the bag and on the straps.

The front of the bag has a large 10? x 5? full reflective panel which is a nice safety touch and a good “plan B” in case you forget your blinkey. On the outside:

A place for your u-lock, as is usual with many Chrome products.

Thumbs up for generous reflectivity.

EVA back panels.

Front upper pocket with zipper behind strap. Two non-zippered pockets and two external zippers are on this bag.

The first zipper opens a small front compartment, which is ideal for quick-to-reach keys, wallet, and phone. The zipper is shrouded by a strap (see photo), at first I thought this was awkward and got in the way, but after thinking for a while, other than adding style points it could mask the zipper, making it more secure, hidden when in close public situations with people behind you. The second dual zipper is the main compartment and zips from both sides about 75% away around the bag on the upper half.

The large top access allows the mouth of the bag to fold forward, large and easy to get to the insides, revealing the pockets and laptop space. The inside pockets and lining are black and sometimes with lack of light it all blends together and can make finding stuff tricky in low light situations. Convenient strapping and u-lock loops adorn the outside of the bag ideal for adding a u-lock or clipping a blinky light.

On the sides, two external pockets both small water bottle size with a nice detail of a drain hole at the bottom and pleated so when not in use they don’t bulge out. On the inside:

Interior water resistant lining.

Room for a helmet and change of clothes.

Exterior close-up.

Interior pockets make organization easy. For maximum utility the the main zippered compartment has three areas.

A padded pocket for laptop or tablet that sits right behind where your back would be. Then there’s a smaller pocket that can fit large notebooks or things up to 7? wide x 9?deep, think memo pad, folded paper etc. In front of this is a small accessories pocket 4? wide x 5? deep and two pen/pencil holders.

Then there’s a main compartment, about 16? x 10.5? wide of usable space and at full capacity about 3? deep. (A normal magazine is 10.5? x 8? and 0.25? thick.) It’s a good size and can fit a helmet, a pair of jeans and a shirt without any trouble. In Use:
The Hondo is a narrower bag at around 11? wide. This makes the fit on the back quite nice as it doesn’t flop over the sides.

The overall smaller format feels more than manageable (even when loaded) and doesn’t feel massive. The straps are comfortable and easily adjusted with a simple loop over a metal buckle (not a cam-lock as used on more expensive models). The straps and back panel are made from a material covered with EVA foam and attach directly to the bag at the top.

The Hondo’s yokeless straps seem flexible and robust. In addition the front of the straps provide a couple of loops, these are great for holding sunglasses or for attaching a bluetooth speaker for those of us who like our tunes as we ride. The Hondo come with a chest/sternum strap between the two arm straps which help stabilize the bag while riding.

Even though the material is backed by a waterproof membrane, don’t expect a fully waterproof bag becaues the zippers and seams have not been sealed. I expect this bag to withstand light showers; but in a heavy downpour, your stuff on the inside will get wet. Drawbacks and future improvements:

  • With about 120 miles over 8 trips, I found that when loaded with a laptop and in riding position, the lower large central foam pad on the back creates a pressure point on the spine.

    I found the bag to be a lot more comfortable when not carrying a tablet or laptop. Maybe this EVA foam pad will break in over time, but the pad could have been designed a little different to fit the spine better. If a laptop is a must I would suggest trying the bag and simulating a leaned over riding position or being patient with a break-in period.

Things I’d like to see in future versions:

  • For navigating the pockets inside, it would be nice if the internal material was a lighter color than black, this would help with contrast and seeing things easier.
  • Add a hidden secret pocket.

    Just like in the early days of Chrome, these secret pockets made a great hiding place to put your wallet and worry even less on those occasions when bag is unattended.

  • The front pocket is pretty large and I considered the idea of making it a touch smaller, if it were not as deep — about 3? shorter — I think it would be more useful as it would be quicker to grab stuff .

Summary:
If you’re in the market for a new backpack, seriously consider the Hondo. It wins massive on style points with its minimal yet functional, no-fuss aesthetic and provides a well-designed and versatile way to organize and carry everyday gear. — James Buckroyd, @jbucky1[6] on Twitter

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, [9][10][11][12]

References

  1. ^ BuckyRides.com (www.buckyrides.com)
  2. ^ the OttoLock (bikeportland.org)
  3. ^ Chrome Industries (www.chromeindustries.com)
  4. ^ from San Francisco to Portland (bikeportland.org)
  5. ^ Hondo (www.chromeindustries.com)
  6. ^ @jbucky1 (twitter.com)
  7. ^ Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email. (eepurl.com)
  8. ^ support (bikeportland.org)
  9. ^ Front Page (bikeportland.org)
  10. ^ Products (bikeportland.org)
  11. ^ (bikeportland.org)
  12. ^ (bikeportland.org)

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