Black Ember SHADOW 26 Review
The Black Ember SHADOW 26 utilizes sleek, durable, and recycled materials, but its design hinders the storage of more than the daily essentials.
- Exterior materials are durable, recycled, and sleek
- Shoulder straps stow away quickly at the airport or for storage
- Zippers are water resistant for accidental spills or rainy days
- Secondary pocket zipper hinders access
- Hard to organize gear in main compartment design
- Exterior materials pick up hair and dust easily
19 in x 12 in x 6.5 in (48.3 x 30.5 x 16.5 cm)
CORDURA® Nylon, Ripstop, YKK Zippers, Woojin Hardware
Laptop Compartment Size
The Black Ember SHADOW 26 has a lot of bells and whistles and a sleek design, to boot. We’ve also got recycled materials to work with, which we love to see. However, we’re curious how useful some features will be while traveling. Let’s dive in and find out!
The exterior of the pack is crafted from CORDURA® re/cor™ RN66. That’s a drawn-out way of saying that the primary pack material is recycled nylon with extraordinary durability. According to Black Ember’s site, this material “produces 83% fewer GHG emissions, consumes 82% less energy and uses 57% less water,” which is an excellent sustainability shout.
The material feels and looks like waxed canvas. It picks up dust and hair relatively easily but cleans up just as quickly. We dig the matte look, but if you have a pet with white fur, this might not be the pack for you.
We’ve got YKK zippers throughout this daypack. Those on the exterior are AquaGuard models, which give you some added protection from the rain. The main compartment opening runs close to 85% of the way around the pack, and it can make finding the zipper heads hard. Because of this, it’s a good idea to put them in the same place all the time, so you know where they are. The pulls are long, easy to grasp, and feel like Hypalon.
The sternum strap hardware is a MagLock magnetic buckle. It’s easy to attach and detach and doesn’t get in your way. The rest of the plastic hardware is from Woojin and operates as well as expected.
On the bottom of the pack are two straps that secure with G-hooks. You can attach extra gear here, like a tripod, yoga mat, or a really neat stick you found while hiking. A wet rain jacket works here too, but it’s best to tie the sleeves together to ensure it doesn’t fall out. Long skinny items do well here as long as they aren’t heavier on one side than the other. If your tripod has a heavy ball head attachment, it can make the carry uncomfortable because too much weight is on one side. In this situation, you could take the head off and stow it in the pack. If one end of your stick is heavier than the other, you might be out of luck.
There aren’t any external water bottle pockets, which is a bummer. They might be a deterrent to the styling of the pack, but they’re nice to see. You can try to stow your bottle using the attachment loops on the bottom we just went over, or use the internal pocket, which we’ll get to in a minute.
There are handles on the top, left, and right sides of the pack. These make using the bag easier in transit or at the airport.
Speaking of trips to board a plane, we’ve got a luggage pass-through on the back panel. It runs vertically, so the pack sits horizontally on your luggage. Because there are two zippers, you can adjust the pulls to sit on the top of the pack no matter how you’ve got it attached. Or, if you want more security, leave them on the bottom, hidden by the convergence of the two packs.
The back panel has flaps on either side that secure with a hook and loop fastener. After you open them, you can stow the shoulder straps behind them and reattach the flaps, which is handy at the airport when you’ve got your pack attached to your rolling luggage or for storage in your closet.
The back panel has firm padding. It feels comfortable, especially during long trips. However, if you’re a fan of thick cushions, this pack doesn’t have that. It does have holes and mesh to promote airflow, which helps keep things chilled.
The shoulder straps have a curvature to help them conform to your body better. They look a bit like a giant boomerang—but you won’t have to slay a Lizalfos in the Hebra Mountains to snag these. They have firm padding and mesh for airflow, which combines well with the back panel. While they feel a little too stiff, they’re comfortable enough.
At the top are load lifters and a strap adjuster that tightens with a hook and loop fastener. Tightening and loosening them is intimidating, however intuitive it may be.
The sternum strap is removable, so you can ditch it if those aren’t your thing on a comfort level or stylistically. There are a few slots where you can put it, so the fit is flexible, but there’s no rail, so you can’t make micro-adjustments.
Inside The Pack
We have just one secondary compartment to work with, and it’s on the front of the pack. The zipper runs horizontally across the pack, which looks sleek stylistically, but makes it hard to access the compartment. This section takes up the whole front face of the bag, and such a small hole is hard to manipulate enough to access your gear.
Inside, there’s a magnetic key clip. It’s pretty short but pops off easily so that you can quickly remove and replace your keys. It has an orange accent color, which makes it easy to find in a bind.
We’ve got some organization to work with on the back wall. There are six pockets: two larger ones in the back, two smaller options in front of those, and two small pen pockets. This organization is helpful but hard to access because of the zipper location.
There’s loads of extra space to work with here for a lot of gear, from your travel jacket to a water bottle. Don’t worry; we’ll get to the internal water bottle pocket soon.
Before moving into the main compartment, it’s worth mentioning that the interior lining is a 200D ripstop. It holds up well and hasn’t caused any issues—so far.
If you aren’t familiar with a clamshell opening on a backpack, you’re about to be initiated. This pack has a unique design—so we’re going to start by describing what we’re used to.
A clamshell opening runs along three sides—opening like a book or, as the name describes, a clam. On packs that utilize this style of opening, you can typically break this clam up into two halves or shells. The bottom shell, which has the back panel on the opposite side, can be thought of as the bucket. It typically has more depth on the sides, so you can stow more gear, like packing cubes and organizers.
The other shell, or lid, will typically have organization for smaller items and will be lighter weight because this is the part of the bag that you’re constantly lifting open and closed.
However, the roles have been reversed on the Black Ember SHADOW 26. To open the bag, lay it face down with the shoulder straps facing up, unzip the main compartment, and pull back on the harness system. This opens the bag from the back rather than the front and prevents your gear from falling out, as the bucket is located on the front of the bag and not the back. We’ve seen this design before in the Minaal Carry-On 3.0 Bag and think it’s executed better there as there’s more of a bucket to work with. That said, the Carry-On 3.0 has nearly 10 extra liters of space to work with, so it’s not a 1:1 comparison. Now—back to the SHADOW 26.
Along the back panel is a laptop sleeve. It’s amply padded and has another smaller sleeve for stowing a tablet, notebook, or book. Because this area isn’t a bucket, it’s hard to pack gear inside the pack on this side.
On the other side, we’ve got the organization we’re used to seeing, but there’s also some depth. You can fit a few packing cubes here, but not much more than that. On the top, there’s a built-in tech organizer that secures with a magnetic fastener. It’s a little fiddly, but we like the thoughtful accordion-style organization inside that fans open to offer access to all your gear. The well-thought-out organizational details include a pass-through to the secondary compartment to charge devices you’ve stowed there.
Below that, we’ve got two more pockets. There’s a zippered compartment that does well to stow a notebook, book, or other flat items. It’s crafted from mesh, so you can see what’s inside. On top of that, a stretchy pocket works to stow a short water bottle. If the bottle is tall, it will cover half the zippered compartment we just mentioned, which is something to note. If you don’t want to stow a water bottle in the same place as your electronics, it works well to pack a tech or toiletry pouch here. An Aer Split Kit fits perfectly here—seriously, it’s perfect.
There’s some leftover space to pack out this bag, but if we’re honest, it doesn’t feel like we can fit enough inside to make it feel like a 26-liter pack.
Overall, there are a ton of unique features in this pack. However, it sometimes feels over-engineered. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s hard to say if you’ll use even half of the little elements Black Ember opted for. Regardless, the SHADOW 26 is a comfortable carry that gets your gear from point a to point b. That’s the goal, right?
- Exterior almost feels like canvas, which is durable and sleek
- Internal organization feels backward—we’re excited to try it out
- Hardware is well-selected and appears durable
- The materials have held up well but are prone to accumulating hair and dust
- The main compartment zipper pulls are easy to lose track of but open the pack extremely wide
- Handles, luggage pass-through, and stowable shoulder straps are helpful at the airport