The Frenchie Co. SL Speed Backpack 23L Review
The Frenchie Co. SL Speed Backpack 23L is a sleek-looking bag with many unique features, though we wish they were more intuitive.
- Side access to main compartment easy to pack
- Premium materials still look like new
- Comfortable self-adjusting straps
- Excess capacity clunky to use
- No top access, so could be difficult to get to gear on a plane
- Hard to reattach water bottle holder
3.9 lb (1.8 kg)
18 in x 11 in x 5 in (45.7 x 27.9 x 12.7 cm)
Ballistic Nylon, Leather
Laptop Compartment Size
The Frenchie Co. SL Speed Backpack 23L’s premium materials give it a sleek and polished look that wouldn’t be out of place in the board room or a Berlin museum. A lot is going on with this laptop bag, and the company aims to solve many pack problems with innovative features.
Did they build a better daypack, and how does it perform? Let’s jump right in so you can find out.
Right out of the box, we have to talk about the materials The Frenchie Co. uses for the SL Speed Backpack. The main external fabric is ballistic nylon, and there are Italian leather accents throughout: on the edge of the front flap, along the bottom edge of the bag’s front, and for the three carry handles. They still smell wonderful after a few weeks’ use—if the smell of leather is something you like. If you’re ethically opposed, you may not appreciate the odoriferous reminder. In that case, pass in favor of a leather-free bag. (Go ahead and look odoriferous up, we’ll wait.) However, we think it gives the bag a sophisticated, polished look with its knapsack design.
The only branding on the SL Speed Backpack is The Frenchie Co. stamped in the middle of the front flap leather and again on the metal O-shaped grommet where the self-adjusting straps come through—more on those later: stay tuned!
As to the carry handles, a narrow one at the top is good for hanging the backpack on a hook, and 5-inch handles on each side are for carrying it briefcase style or for pulling it out of an overhead bin or trunk if you’re packing for a road trip.
The ballistic nylon is water resistant, and so are the external zippers, although that rubbery coating can make them more challenging to undo. However, we appreciate the zipper garages to keep out any moisture at the ends and the cords on the pulls that make them easier to grab.
The zippers and hardware on the backpack have no visible branding. The silvery slide adjustments are plastic with the cute French Bulldog Frenchie logo stamped on the bottom. The adjustment works well in this iteration of the backpack, which adds a thin webbing strap running horizontally across the webbing adjustment to lock it into place. The straps slid out of alignment in a previous version, so we appreciate the improvement! It shows The Frenchie Co.’s dedication to creating quality gear.
There’s more than meets the eye on the straps, though it’s not quite to Transformers’ level. They’re well padded, and the padding stops about an inch from the top of the pack for greater flexibility and a better fit. Each strap also includes two card sleeves and two attachment loops, and these come in handy for keys, metro cards, and other small gear you need within easy reach. A large key fob also slips nicely into the card pockets.
At the bottom, a thin webbing strap allows for adjustment on each side. It also connects the straps to be self-adjusting, so you can theoretically always have them the same length. The straps are easy to adjust initially and stay put even as you pull between the two straps thanks to the added horizontal webbing strip locking the adjustment in place.
The self-adjusting feature takes some time to get used to, though all you need to do is pick up the bottom of the backpack once it’s on your back and shift it left or right to even them out.
The back panel is cushiony and comfortable and includes a vertical strip of webbing about the width of a seatbelt (and with the shiny webbing, it looks exactly like one, too) for a luggage pass-through in the top two-thirds of the bag. It works well and sits nearly center on the handle of a piece of rolling luggage.
The remaining third includes an interesting feature of the SL Speed Backpack. A tapering 8-inch flap flips up to cover the bottom of the bag like an upside-down envelope. Pull that flap down, and you’ll reveal a rigid rectangular pocket. This 6-inch deep pocket spans the width of the back and conceals the self-adjusting straps. It also includes a large magnet, which is how the flap sticks.
The Frenchie Co. has three purposes for this flap. First, for security: if you ensure the main compartment zippers meet at the bottom, no one will be able to access your bag, as the flap covers them.
The second purpose is as a quick-access pocket for your phone. Depending on the coordination of the user, this can be so slow that you don’t bother. When the bag is on your back, the idea is to pull the flap down and unzip the pocket behind your back, then either insert or remove your phone and pop the flap back up. It catches shirt edges; it’s difficult to wedge in a phone; overall, we find it easier to avoid this pocket. The magnet at the bottom makes it so tight that we can barely wedge in an iPhone 13 Mini. While the dimensions should fit larger phones, shoving them in will take practice and strength.
And now we come to the third purpose of the flap: “invisible weight distribution.” The Frenchie Co. says in their promo video that a hip belt “saves your back but kills your dignity.” That’s their opinion, of course, and their solution is to instruct you to take this 8-inch wide flap and shove it in the top of your pants. Does it work as advertised? Yes. Doing so will lift the load off your back. However, we don’t think stretching out the top of your pants and chancing wardrobe malfunctions later is the solution. Talk about killing your dignity!
The Frenchie Co. SL Speed Backpack 23L looks very professional in the Black colorway we have here. As of this writing, it also comes in Ultra Navy and Grey. The zippers, shoulder straps, back panel, and front flap are all black, no matter the colorway. There is some sagging to mention in the front flap, and adding the optional water bottle holder leads to an odd look and less comfort for reasons we’ll discuss below.
Without the bottle holder, the pack is pretty comfortable, even when packed out. It rests against the lower back of more petite users, though it’s not uncomfortable. You may feel the stiff rear flap and the magnets pressing into your back, although it’s more of a reminder that it’s there than actual discomfort. There are no built-in strap keepers. If you find excess strap hanging, tuck it into the attachment loops on the strap for a cleaner look.
Inside The Pack
Looking around the outside of the pack, we spy two 10-inch zippers on the front running from near the outer edges of the backpack diagonally toward the center, meeting at either side of The Frenchie Co. logo on the front flap. These are long, shallow pockets: the one on the left is only 3.5 inches deep, and the one on the right is almost 4 inches deep and includes two slip pockets. One slip pocket is 3 inches wide, and the other spans the remaining 7 inches.
Because of their shallow nature and the fact that they open vertically, we struggle to find the right gear to toss in here, from phones, to passports, to sleep masks. No matter what we try, there’s wasted space at the top of the pocket. Maybe you’ll have better luck, though gravity will wreak its havoc on any item placed in here.
Toward the bottom of both sides of the backpack are twin 7-inch zippers that open to reveal a 3-inch wide pocket. These work best for pens, a minimalist wallet, or keys, although you can squeeze a slender phone in there—no Pro Maxes need apply. You will have to choose between your tiny travel accessories: sticking a phone in one and a wallet in the other, or your keys in one and pens in the other. There’s not really enough room to squeeze more than one item in there.
Even though there are four pockets, we mainly use the ones on the right side of the bag since that is the side of the main compartment we nearly always unzip. Bear with us on this, as we’ll explain why soon. First, though, we need to talk about the bottle holder.
To begin with, as of the time of writing, the bottle holder is a $39 add-on. So if you don’t want to pay more, skip the next few paragraphs. We don’t mind. If you want a way to hold your hydration, however, we want to explain this to you so you can make an informed decision.
At the bottom of the pack is a 3.75-inch wide piece of plastic with two magnetic prongs poking out of it. The bottle holder attaches via a Fidlock and is a 4-inch long curved piece of black plastic with holes corresponding to the bag’s prongs. In the center is a BOA mechanism that cinches a plastic wire around your bottle. Pull the BOA button out to loosen the wire and slide in your bottle, then push in the button and turn it clockwise to tighten it, affixing the holder very securely to the bottle.
When not wearing the backpack, it’s pretty easy to align the magnets and click the holder onto the bottom of the bag. However, this is designed for speedy access to your hydration, and it’s trickier when wearing the backpack to twist and pull the holder off until you learn the correct way. It’s more complicated to put it back on when wearing the pack. First, you need to remember which way your bottle is positioned in the holder when you take it off so you know which way to face it when you replace it; otherwise, the magnets repel each other rather than attract. Even when we get the direction right, however, it takes more coordination than some of us seem to have to attach it on the first—or fourth—try, even after a few weeks’ use. You have to take the bottle off before setting the bag down; otherwise, the bottle can easily pop off. Also, if you’re shorter, the water bottle bounces on your rear as you walk and sometimes catches on back pants pockets. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Heading into the main compartment, it opens clamshell-style, though not the way you assume. Instead of around the top, it opens toward the bottom. The front flap isn’t concealing the opening as with many other backpacks; instead, the bottom flap is. Even though we can open it from either side, we prefer to open it on the right because The Frenchie Co. SL Speed Backpack is designed as a side loader. Thus, several pockets in the main compartment open toward the right as you look at the front of the bag. If you were to open it from the left side, you would potentially dump everything out of every pocket, including your laptop.
The backpack is designed for easy access to the main compartment while on your right shoulder, which works really well. Of course, this is why we primarily use the outside pockets on the right side instead of the left—this is the direction already facing up. Because of the self-adjusting shoulder straps, the strap is easy to lengthen if you need the bag to drop a bit to see inside, which is nice.
The Frenchie Co. said it’s easier to access items in a backpack from the side, and they do a good job integrating this into the Speed Backpack. We’ve had no issue loading and unloading this pack daily, and reaching gear at the bottom of the bag is a non-issue.
Alongside the back panel is a lightly padded laptop sleeve that accommodates up to a 16-inch device. A webbing strap attaches with a magnetic snap in the center of the sleeve to hold it in place, though that’s it—which is why we recommend remembering which side is up! In front of the laptop sleeve are two rows of staggered pockets with varying widths. The first row is 8 inches deep and includes a 5-inch wide pocket and an 11-inch wide pocket, which can fit a tablet or a wireless keyboard, although the latter is a tight squeeze. The final row has two pockets, each 8 inches wide and 6 inches deep.
Facing these pockets, on the front side of the pack, are two large 8-inch square pockets. They’re a good size for tech pouches or small packing cubes. None of the pockets have any elastic or other means of holding onto your gear—they’re made with the same gray nylon material that lines the inside of the pack. If you carry the bag vertically or with the right side up, things stay in place. When you hold the left side up, you can feel gear slide out, though it mostly slides back into the pockets if you remember to flip it back over to the right before unzipping.
We use the remaining space in the middle for a lunch cooler, packing cubes, or travel jacket. There’s one more feature to talk about here, as well. Have you wondered why we skipped discussing the front flap before? We’ll get to it now. It doesn’t hold a hidden pocket; it contains the extra 4L of space, allowing this backpack to go from 23 to 27L of capacity. Open the flap—which snaps to the front of the bag with a magnet—and reach inside from any part of the zipper. You’ll pop up an additional 6 inches of height on the top of the bag, which we can pack with extra gear.
Of course, this means the backpack now sticks 6 inches above your shoulders, which impacts the aesthetics of this bag. Still, we suppose that you may be OK sacrificing aesthetics for space if you get swag bags at your business conference or find five more titles you must bring home from a south London book shop. We prefer bringing a packable backpack for such eventualities instead of heading home with the backpack bumping the back of your head, which it’s prone to do when fully packed.
So there you have it, The Frenchie Co. SL Speed Backpack 23L. While designed to make your day easier, we think some features missed the mark on “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sometimes traditional functionality is seen in every backpack for a reason. We also have to point out that The Frenchie Co.’s promo video is a must-watch when discovering this bag’s features, as they’re not all super intuitive. Of course, your mileage may vary, and you may decide the slick design is worth the learning curve. You do you.
- Detachable bottle holder is intriguing
- Interested to put speed features into practice
- Leather accents look sleek
- Unique features take finesse to use properly
- Front pockets are shallow
- Leather still smells nice