The Ridge Commuter Backpack (Weatherproof) Review
The Ridge Commuter Backpack is a weatherproof pack with enough organization for everything a commuter needs, but the USB connector system can be finicky.
- Optimal organization in the main compartment
- Nylon shell keeps water and mud at bay
- Laptop compartment is extra padded and secure
- USB cable can tangle into internal organization
- Water bottle pocket limited in size capability
- Lack of structure impacts aesthetics and zipping efficiency
18 in x 12 in x 6 in (45.7 x 30.5 x 15.2 cm)
Nylon, YKK Zippers
Laptop Compartment Size
The Ridge is a company known for their instantly recognizable minimalist wallets that have ventured into backpacks, duffles, and other apparel items. We reviewed their Classic Backpack with favor, but there were a few features that we didn’t love. At first glance, we really like the look of The Commuter, but how will those same features fare compared to the Classic Backpack? Let’s find out!
Materials & Aesthetic
The Ridge’s website states that the pack’s exterior shell is 600D waterproof nylon. The materials tag of the pack lists the material as 900D waterproof nylon. We’re not sure if the tag is a misprint, the bag has been updated, or The Ridge’s online store has a typo, but either way, this pack is crafted with durable nylon.
The shell’s texture is soft yet firm, and when you rub your fingernail across the fabric, it sounds like one of those old-school 1990s picture motion cards. It isn’t a pleasant sound, but it definitely took us on a trip down memory lane the first time we heard it. Unless something rigid is rubbing against the fabric, the noise is pretty minimal.
We take waterproofing claims pretty seriously here at Pack Hacker, and while the bag isn’t submergible, the shell is weatherproofed nicely and keeps moisture out. On trips through constant rain, snow, and other inclement weather, our gear inside is still dry.
After a jaunt out in the rain, the shell is left muddy with residue from the water that did not penetrate the pack material. This isn’t a great look, but we prefer having a dirty pack to having wet gear. Cleaning the pack to be presentable is quick and easy, but a deeper clean will take a little more time.
For a quick clean, a wet towel does the trick. It looks great while it’s still wet, but after it dries, you’ll have residue from the mud still stuck in the texture of the fabric. We combat this by adding a little soap to the mix and scrubbing harder, or by using a scrub brush with or without soap. The soap will latch onto the mud stuck in the texture of the pack and loosen it up, but the soap can be a little tricky to get out of the grooves as well, so be sparing with your soap usage.
At the time of writing, the pack only comes in black, which we think is sleek and minimalistic. A lack of colorways may leave some a little disappointed, but for general commuting, the black enables the pack to blend in just about anywhere.
The white logo is molded out of plastic, which adds a bit of contrast to the pack as a whole, but takes away from the minimalist aesthetic. It’s the only non-black feature of the pack’s exterior, which might be a dealbreaker for those who like branding to be more subdued.
The zippers on the main compartment and laptop sleeve are YKK #8 AquaGuard. YKK is the gold standard of zipper brands, and we love that they’re included on this pack. The AquaGuard feature makes it so that water can’t easily penetrate the zipper, and when closed it looks similar to the weather sealer that goes around the outside of a window or door.
The zippers are smooth, but the material bunches when the pack isn’t full, making the main compartment zippers challenging to pull. We’ve learned to call this kind of zipper pulling “off-roading” because the zipper track goes up and down through peaks and valleys on its route. Just like off-roading in a car, it isn’t always an enjoyable ride, but you’ll get there in the end one way or another.
The rest of the external zippers are a standard YKK #5. All of the zippers include a thin nylon zipper pull with a hard plastic tab on the end that has The Ridge’s logo surrounded by small raised bumps that add a little texture. Even in inclement weather, the pulls are easy to grab onto, but they can be hard to find in poor lighting as they’re black.
There isn’t anything grabbable on the pack’s exterior to assist with opening and closing the zippers, which makes the process a little slow and tedious. This is especially true if the pack isn’t full and you hit some bumpy areas. We love the addition of the AquaGuard zippers, but it does slow things down a bit.
The buckle on the sternum strap is unbranded, but quality. It’s made from hard plastic, is black like the rest of the pack, and clips easily. It feels strong and has not come unclipped at any point during use and adds some comfort to the pack when it’s stuffed full.
Both sides of the pack have a small pocket. The first is for your cell phone, which can be charged using the plug just above it. You can place a portable charger inside the pack and use the included USB cable to link it to the exterior plug. You can then plug your phone charging cable into it, stow your phone in the pocket, and allow it to charge while on the go.
If you only have a longer cord this can look silly as there isn’t anywhere to stow the extra cord properly, but a short cable works well and looks nice. The top flap of the pocket is secured by a magnet that isn’t very strong and tends to flop open, especially when a cord is going through the gap. This makes charging on the go in inclement weather an issue, as without the top flap, water will pool inside the pocket where you’re supposed to stow your phone.
Another issue we have with the included USB cable is that it’s removable. This is nice to stow away the cable when not in use, but the port is left open to the elements. There is a little flap on the interior to cover where the cord would normally be when not in use, but the flap is not water-tight, so theoretically, water could get inside your pack. This has not happened in our testing, but it’s a feature that leaves us a little disappointed while using a bag that is marketed as waterproof.
On the opposite side of the phone pocket is the stretch water bottle pocket. It stows away, which is a nice feature on paper but seems a little overkill to us considering when expanded the pocket doesn’t hold a water bottle much larger than a standard 18 oz (0.53 L) reusable water bottle like the Hydro Flask 18 oz Standard Mouth Water Bottle. We like the ability to stow other things away in the pocket, like grocery bags for poop patrol while walking a dog or trips to the grocery store on the way home from work.
Moving to the rear of the pack, the back panel is oddly firm. What’s even more odd is that it’s actually quite comfortable. It feels foamy, but it’s very rigid and doesn’t have much give. It doesn’t form to the body in use, but it does prevent gear from poking out. It’s comfortable for moderate amounts of time, but it feels a little stiff after about an hour or so. Not uncomfortable, but just a little more rigid than we would typically like from the back panel on a commuter pack.
Although we like the comfort, it’s not very breathable. Even during a snowstorm, we’re left a little sweaty after a half-hour of cycle-commuting home. It isn’t the worst pack we’ve tested in terms of breathability, but it’s worth noting that what this pack has in firmness it lacks in airflow.
In the center of the back panel is a nylon strap to secure the pack to a rolling suitcase. This is great for going straight from the office to the airport and for when your pack is a little heavy and you need a break from carrying it on your back.
Just below the nylon suitcase strap is a secret RFID pocket complete with a YKK #5 AquaGuard zipper. We didn’t notice this pocket until we used this pack for an entire day, which is a testament to how well it’s hidden on the back panel. The interior of the pocket is coated with RFID blocking materials to keep your information safe while traveling or if you commute in a congested area where safety is a concern.
The shoulder straps are wide and feature padding with added mesh for breathability. They’re just a hair under 3 inches (7.62 cm) wide where they meet with the back panel, which may feel a little wide to some, but the padded nature of the straps makes them conform to just about any body type.
The sternum strap is a thin nylon material with a clip in the center. When tightened the strap dangles a little more than we’d like, but it adjusts nicely and doesn’t loosen in use.
The top handle of the pack receives the same padded mesh treatment as the shoulder straps and is quite comfortable to hold onto, even for extended periods of time. It’s an inch and a half wide (3.81 cm), which may be a little large for some hands, but it’s very firm.
If you have a larger water bottle with an attached top like a Nalgene bottle that won’t fit into the side pocket, you can loop the top of the bottle through the top handle and secure it that way. It isn’t a perfect system, and it isn’t ideal if you want access to your water bottle frequently, but it works just fine for getting a bottle to and from work without taking up interior space.
Inside The Pack
The pack is a mere 15L, which surprised us because of how much gear we were able to fit inside. Let’s dive into what makes up the interior of the pack!
The front of the pack features two flat pockets with YKK #5 zippers. The zippers are not AquaGuard, but are covered by a fabric welt. These compartments don’t have much depth but are great for documents, small items like the JOBY GripTight ONE Micro Stand, or an iPhone or Kindle.
The main compartment is accessible in two ways. The front zipper opens clamshell, offering access to the whole compartment at once. The secondary zipper extends about halfway down the pack, offering access to the top portion of the main compartment where the built-in organization is. This access point is great when you’ve stuffed the bag completely full and don’t want to risk your impeccable pack job collapsing or if you need to grab your laptop charger out of the main compartment quickly.
The interior compartment is lined with 210D nylon, which feels durable and is easy to wipe down if you spill anything on it. It’s a little slippery, so items move around easily if they aren’t constrained in a pocket.
The front pockets are a white mesh with YKK #5 zippers. The mesh doesn’t stretch, so what you see is what you get, but these pockets are great for a wide array of items. We often place Bluetooth earbuds, a point-and-shoot camera, and other smaller items that don’t have a home elsewhere in the pack here. The white mesh is great for visibility, considering everything else on the pack is black. Being able to see into the pocket is great for small items, so you can see what you’re looking for before diving in.
When you open the pack and set the front panel down, the main compartment is raised a little, which causes the front panel to sag down. If you forget to close the zipper on one of the compartments, the angle at which it lies will cause the items in that pocket to fall out. This isn’t a design issue, just something to remember so that you don’t lose any of your items.
On the bottom of the main compartment is a large mesh pocket with elastic on the top. The mesh here isn’t stretchable either, but the elastic topper is great at keeping larger items stowed away. Bluetooth over-ear headphones, an Instax Mini camera, or other large items fit nicely and don’t bounce around too much. Smaller items like a point-and-shoot camera aren’t as constrained by the mesh and move around more than we would like.
Above the elastic pocket are two slide pockets that are great for a wallet, iPhone, or other small devices. These pockets don’t open very wide, which is excellent for keeping your gear in place, but larger items fit awkwardly, if they fit at all.
Moving higher still, the top pocket has a YKK #5 zipper and extends 7 inches (17.78 cm) down from the top of the pocket. This is a great place to stow a passport, Kindle, iPad Mini, or a small journal. It lays flat against the laptop compartment, so non-flat items aren’t a great fit here.
In the corner of the main compartment is a small pocket to place a battery bank to connect to the included USB port. The pocket is out of the way and also works as a place to stow the USB connector when you aren’t using it, which is nice. It has a depth of roughly 6 inches (15.24 cm) and a width of about 3.25 inches (8.255 cm), which fits a wide range of battery banks. We like using the Clutch Charger V2 here, and the pocket is large enough to fit both the charger and our phone simultaneously.
While in use, the included USB connector cable tends to get in the way. It’s a durable cord and pretty thick, so it doesn’t stow very well inside the pocket beside a power bank. This means that there is frequently a bit of loose cable hanging around the pack for items to catch on and pull the cable out. We found ourselves often just removing the cable and stowing it away instead of using it, which is a bit of a bummer.
Leaving the main compartment behind, the laptop sleeve is one of our favorite parts of this pack. It’s shock-resistant and is quite soft. When we say it’s soft, we mean like…really, really soft! It feels like what you’d imagine a cloud might feel like if you could sleep on it. The rigid back panel offers added protection to the compartment and as advertised, it hasn’t zapped us once. A 15 inch MacBook Pro fits with room to spare, and whenever we load it into our pack, we feel comfortable that it will make it to the other side of our commute safely.
Overall, we’re delighted with how The Ridge Commuter treats us during our commutes by bicycle, on foot, and in the car. A few small details leave us a little disappointed, but overall the pack performs well.
- Has a built-in external USB port
- Good amount of organization inside courtesy of mesh and liner pockets
- There’s a rear security pocket
- Easy to remove mud and dirt with a wet towel
- Sternum strap stays tight even when in motion
- Main zipper can be hard to guide, especially when the pack isn’t stuffed full