Bellroy Apex Backpack Review
The Bellroy Apex Backpack's clever accessibility, build quality, and unique style makes it stand out, but it comes at a hefty price.
- Fold-out design makes packing the main compartment easy
- Materials and build all feel very premium (save for the key strap)
- Leather-accented shoulder straps are also comfortable to wear
- Trapezoidal shape not as space-efficient as more squared-off designs
- Sternum strap can loosen on its own
- Our key clip’s strap jammed with the zipper in small side pocket
3.09 lb (1.4 kg)
21.65 in x 13 in x 7.87 in (55 x 33 x 20 cm)
Leather, Nylon, Polyester, YKK Buckles, Metal
Hidden within the deepest depths of any brand’s lab are prototypes, concepts, and ideas that showcase their innermost, unrestrained visions for a product. Sometimes these wild ideas make it past the drawing board and actually get made. If they feel like it—and to gauge people’s interest and reaction to them—they even bring them out to expos, festivals, or at the very least, social media or their HQs’ lobbies. If things go really well, maybe, just maybe, these concepts make it to the production line.
Bellroy’s Apex Backpack is the culmination of the brand’s experience in the field, and it certainly looks the part. If we’re to sum it up, this is Bellroy’s raw and unfettered idea of a backpack. The style, comfort, and left-field design all feel very Bellroy-like but dialed up to eleven. It’s not infallible, though, and we definitely had our fair share of trouble with the Apex when we took it for a trip to New York City. Not least of these troubles involved our keys getting trapped inside—not the ideal way to end a trip to the Big Apple. We’ll discuss all that and more in the review below, so let’s dive in.
Materials & Aesthetic
The Apex doesn’t actually look all that different from Bellroy’s usual lineup of backpacks. Mind you, that doesn’t mean it looks mundane, not by a long shot. The Apex, like its siblings, is oozing with style. It’s a classic knapsack-style backpack with an inverted trapezoidal shape that looks very sleek. The overall style is tastefully minimal but thoughtfully crafted at the same time. Check out the front of the bag; the zippered sides create a semi-floating illusion that makes the 26-liter bag appear more chiseled. The branding is quite minimal as well, with just a small debossed logo on a leather tab seemingly disguised as one of the five loops at the front.
Bellroy’s gear is also typically well put together with premium-feeling materials. The Apex’s outer shell is made out of their signature Baida nylon, which has kind of a slick feel to it that’s easy to clean. Just wiping it with a damp cloth is enough to get off most of the dirt we typically pick up in our day-to-day use. Not even bird poop proved a challenge for the fabric, as we were able to clean that off with relative ease during our trip. We really did our best to keep it clean since we think the fabric makes up a significant portion of the Apex’s aesthetic. The fabric is recycled as well, so it’s kind to mother nature without compromising on looks or quality—always a plus in our book.
At the time of writing, there are only two colorways available: Onyx (the one we have) and Raven (black). The Onyx colorway is gray with a hint of blue that makes it a bit crisper. Regardless of the colorway you choose, the Apex’s leather accents really help bring out the classiness of the bag. Our favorite part has to be the tan leather just underneath the main compartment’s flap that looks distinct from the rest of the black leather bits. But just to clarify, the Raven colorway gets chocolate-colored leather for all its accent pieces.
As for the rest of the Apex, everything feels up to the job, and then some. The zippers are ever-reliable YKKs, though we did encounter an issue involving them that’s specific to the Apex—more on that later. Other materials include satisfying magnets and aluminum hardware. Both of these add to the solid experience of actually using the Apex, especially in the case of the aluminum adjusters, as we’ll explain in the next section.
First up are the shoulder straps, and these look quite thin as far as backpack straps come and go. At 26 liters, the Apex isn’t a small backpack by any means, so one would expect something a little beefier. However, all doubts are quickly dispelled once we put on these stylish straps. They’re comfortable to wear despite the thin padding, with just enough wideness and curvature to equally distribute the load across each shoulder.
The straps are also meshed for breathability, but Bellroy takes it a step further by highlighting the material’s pattern to make it a part of the aesthetic design. The back panel, too, is somewhat striking to look at. This part of the Apex looks more contemporary than the classic appearance of the rest of the bag. Even better, the back panel’s mesh padding feels just as comfortable as the shoulder straps.
Leather adorns the top of these shoulder straps. This is the area most generously applied with the material, and it’s arguably one of the most eye-catching aspects of the Apex. There are no additional loops, branding, or attachment points on the leather, just some stitching for reinforcement. In fact, the leather itself feeds straight into the aluminum adjust at the ends, where it connects to more typical nylon straps that are in charge of length adjustment.
We’re usually cautious whenever we encounter aluminum buckles and adjusters because of how slippery they tend to be. Thankfully, that’s not the case with the Apex’s adjusters; we adjusted them straight out of the box and never looked back. There’s none of that worrying feeling that the straps might unravel, leaving us with a saggy-feeling backpack. The cherry on top? There are plastic strap keepers.
Another aspect of the harness system that’s unique to the Apex is the sternum strap. It’s the type that attaches to a set of loops along each shoulder strap, four on each side for a total of eight. The sternum strap is looped on one side and hooks onto the other. The hook itself handles the length adjustment.
Unfortunately, the sternum strap is one area of the bag that leaves us unsatisfied. First of all, it’s noticeably thin, about half the width of what’s on Bellroy’s Transit and Transit Backpack Plus 38L. It doesn’t feel flimsy, and it does get the job done; on the other hand, we’ve had instances where the length re-adjusted by itself. Furthermore, the thin strap once caught on the conveyor belt as we went through airport security.
Lastly, there’s a lone leather handle up at the top of the bag. At first glance, the handle’s non-rounded edges seem uncomfortable to hold. There’s no padding, nor is the handle folded and stitched for added thickness. The good news is that the handle is satisfying to use in addition to being part of the aesthetics. Like the shoulder straps, it has a curved shape that fits the hand better, and we generally feel comfortable using it to carry the Apex for short periods.
One of the nice quality-of-life features we like to test with larger backpacks is its “stand-up-ability” or, in other words, its ability to stand up on its own. The Apex can sort of do it, but it does take some balancing since the bag’s structure isn’t that rigid. It’s also dependent on what’s inside. For example, having a flat-based camera cube packed at the bottom of the main compartment will help it stand up better. We opt to lean the Apex against a wall or a chair leg for most scenarios just to be safe.
Inside The Backpack
Admittedly, the outside of the Apex is more streamlined than bristling with features. That’s where the interior of the bag takes over, and there’s quite a lot to unpack. On each side of the Apex are quick-grab pockets for everyday carry items. Both have self-locking YKK zippers with zipper garages for added weather resistance. The only difference between these two pockets is that the right one has a built-in key clip.
The space inside each pocket isn’t that big. There’s only a limited amount of room for a few accessories, and that’s dependent on how packed out the main compartment is. On the plus side, the liner fabric is bright, so interior visibility is quite good.
One problem, though: the right pocket’s zipper jammed, and we had quite the time trying to fix it. The key clip’s strap managed to snag. A part of the problem may be how thin the strap is. It’s quite thin, comparable to the ones we’d use to wrap gifts with. Because of this, once the main compartment is packed out, it pushes everything inside the side pockets outward and towards the zippered opening where it can easily get snagged—and that’s exactly what happened with ours.
A jammed zipper is as frustrating as a twisted seatbelt or popcorn kernel stuck between your teeth. It’s especially annoying when it takes your house keys along for the ride. The good news is that we were able to unjam the zipper after some careful Pack Hacker tinkering. While the strap could use some beefing up to prevent jamming, the clip itself is solid aluminum. It’s relatively large for a key clip and can easily fit a crowded keychain.
Next up is the main compartment, and we have to say, this is one decked-out space. The opening is secured using a top flap that’s locked in place using a low-profile hook. There’s a set of five leather loops at the front where this hook can attach to. This gives the Apex a fair amount of adjustability in terms of volume. What’s more, even when hooked onto the topmost loop, a good amount of the opening’s fabric still folds over. What this means is that no matter which loop you choose, the main compartment remains fairly secure and protected from the elements.
The top flap isn’t the sole means of access to the main compartment, however. The front can either be zipped from the bottom up for quick access to the inside or zipped top-down to fully unravel it. Up at the top of this front panel is a rigid lip that’s embedded with magnets. This helps prevent the entire front from fully unraveling when you only need top-down access to the main compartment. The magnets don’t seem to work well for us in practice, especially when we have the Apex fully packed out. They don’t stick as eagerly as they do in Bellroy’s demo, requiring a more deliberate effort to lock them in.
All of that may sound a bit complicated, but it’s intuitive and clever during actual use. It also grants an impressive amount of access to the available space and organization inside. It’s a sort of hybrid between a clamshell, roll-top, and horseshoe opening. The result is a pain-free packing experience, one that is even better than the Melbourne Backpack that shares a similar design. The best part? No popping magnets issues here, unlike with the Melbourne.
Despite the trapezoidal shape, the Apex’s space doesn’t feel too constrained. It can definitely get crowded once we begin to stuff more and more items near the bottom. But for the most part, the top area of the main compartment more than picks up the slack. We have no problem maximizing all the available space, and Bellroy did a great job making the most out of the Apex’s 26 liters. There’s enough space for a few packing cubes and pouches, but nothing too crazy that rivals full-fledged 40-liter travel backpacks.
Folding down the front panel also grants access to two pockets on its inner side. There’s a top drop pocket where we stuff our light but bulky items, such as our gloves. We can also put some accessories here, but the pocket has fully open top. This means that when you fold the front panel down, the items inside can spill out. Lighter items like gloves, on the other hand, hold themselves inside quite well.
Below the drop pocket is a zippered mesh pocket. Its opening has a slanted orientation that makes it a bit wider. This is a subtle but handy design choice since the mesh’s gusseted bottom means the pocket can expand and hold a lot of items inside. Thus, any additional aid in terms of accessibility is most welcome.
At the sides of the main compartment are two water bottle pockets. They fit our 18-ounce YETI Rambler without issue, though with only a little headroom to spare. The pockets are positioned relatively high up, which means taller bottles may hit the ceiling depending on how the flap is adjusted. Each pocket also has a leather loop for accessories or for securing a bottle using a carabiner. Internal water bottle pockets like these come with the usual benefit of preserving the bag’s streamlined profile, with the corresponding caveat of taking up precious internal space—that’s a tradeoff we’re leaving in your hands to decide.
Lastly, the laptop compartment is also located inside the main compartment. Towards the rear is a laptop sleeve that’s well-padded both at the front and at the back. The padding has a really soft, microfiber-like texture that should prevent scratches on even bare metal 16-inch laptops like our MacBook Pro. There are also around two inches worth of false bottom below the sleeve, so moderate impacts from that direction are absorbed well. In front of the sleeve is a tablet pocket with an elasticated rim and leather tab. The pocket feels tight in a good way, holding our notebook in place even with some jostling around. The leather tab is a nice touch, too, highlighting the really premium feel of even the internal organization of the Apex.
A non-separate laptop sleeve like this does mean that you’ll have to unhook the flap each time you need access to your laptop. For those who have their main compartments stuffed to the gills with pouches and cubes, it can get tricky to access. It’s not an issue for us, but for those coming from a backpack with a dedicated laptop compartment, it’s a worthwhile consideration.
We can’t stress enough how much we approve of the build quality and materials of the Apex. The jammed key clip’s strap notwithstanding, the experience is overall positive, and we can see the direction Bellroy wants to take with it. It’s a clever design in a stylish package that we dig and it feels right at home in a place like the Big Apple—just be prepared to shell out for the hefty price tag.
- The shoulder straps are comfortable despite the low-profile look
- It’s a top-loader that fully unravels like a clamshell design
- There’s bright fabric inside, though internal visibility is already good due to the open design
- We love the way this bag looks
- The harness system is quite comfortable
- The small sternum strap can loosen itself; it got caught on TSA’s conveyor belt
- The bag is deceptively large, and we feel comfortable filling it up to the uppermost setting on the bag
- The side pockets are hard to utilize, and we even got the keychain ribbon stuck in the lockable YKK zipper