Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Review

The versatile Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack features a tough-as-nails construction, though that includes tough-to-open main compartment zippers, too.

Our Verdict

7.2 /10
Good info

Form

83/100

Design

70/100

Value

63/100
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Pros

  • Loop-lined interior welcomes customization
  • Versatile carrying modes
  • Clamshell compartments make for easy packing

Cons

  • Shoulder strap length a bit overkill
  • Not much free space for bulky items
  • Main compartment’s zippers are hard to open
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Technical Details

97 %

Carry-on Compliance

View 140/144 Airlines

39 %

Like the Look

Polled on Instagram

  • Capacity

    12l

  • Weight (lb)

    2 lb (0.9 kg)

  • Denier

    400D

    Shadow Gray | 500D - CORDURA Multi-Cam Black

  • Dimensions

    15 in x 10 in x 5.5 in (38.1 x 25.4 x 14 cm)

  • Notable Materials

    Nylon, Polyester, Polyurethane, CORDURA® Nylon, DWR Coating, ITW Hardware, Duraflex Hardware, YKK Zippers, Ripstop Nylon, Leather

  • Manufacturing Country

    Vietnam

  • Laptop Compartment Size

    13"

  • Warranty Information

    Vanquest Returns & Warranty

Full Review

Vanquest centers its designs around its mantra of being “Tough-Built.” We first got a taste of this with their ADDAX-18 backpack, and the philosophy definitely shows there. Our biggest impression of that bag is the quality of the materials and how well put together it is. In this review, we’ll be taking a look at how that translates to the CARBIDE-12. Is it a backpack? Is it a sling? Is it a brief? Yep, you guessed it—it’s one of those convertible bags.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack In Use
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | You’ll have to read the review to see how “Tough-Built” this is.

Spoiler alert: it’s made just as well as the ADDAX-18. However, one aspect of the CARBIDE-12 is too tough: the zippers. This is in stark contrast to the wide accessibility of its clamshell design and bright liner fabric. This bag is more than just about toughness, though, so let’s take a look at what else the CARBIDE-12 has to offer.

Materials & Aesthetic

The CARBIDE-12 (or most of Vanquest’s gear, really) has a very industrial, almost techy design. The bag strikes a nice balance between practicality and modern appeal. That is to say, we’d be more than okay with taking this bag for a stroll around the big city. It also helps that we opted for the Midnight Blue colorway, which has this unique denim look, nicely topped off by a tan leather logo patch. That’s genuine leather, by the way, and all colorways (at the time of writing) have it.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Brand
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | Tan leather goes really well with denim-like blue.

These other colorways are Shadow Gray and Multi-Cam Black. If you’ve read a lot of our reviews, you’ll know that we’re huge fans of the all-black aesthetic. Black (and other shades of gray, for that matter) is so much easier to match with other colors, making it a safe, no-brainer choice for many. We’ll leave it up to you to decide which colorway matches your style the best. Looks are subjective, but fabric quality isn’t, so let’s talk about that next.

Both the Shadow Gray and Midnight Blue variants are made out of 400 denier UrbanBlend Nylon-Poly fabric. As the name implies, it’s a blend of nylon and polyester. While it’s not the heaviest denier we’ve seen on a bag, its somewhat abrasive texture makes it seem like it. This is especially noticeable when we handle the bag while wearing winter gloves; its loose fibers stick to the fabric ever so slightly.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Zipper 1
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | These tough zippers have an equally tough time getting around.

Meanwhile, the Multi-Cam Black colorway is nylon by CORDURA and Crye Precision. We can’t speak to that variant’s quality since we haven’t tested it. However, we’ve had nothing but good things to say about CORDURA’s fabrics, and they’re a generally well-regarded brand, so take from that what you will.

Overall, the CARBIDE-12 is very solidly built. The fit and finish deliver a feeling that the bag’s industrial design isn’t just pure looks; it can also take some punishment. Other aspects of the bag, like the zippers and hardware, feel high-quality too. The zippers are from YKK, and the hardware (buckles, clips, etc.) are from ITW and Duraflex. The liner fabric inside the bag is even 210-denier ripstop nylon with a DWR (durable water repellant) coating in case some rainwater manages to get past the reverse-coil zippers.

External Components

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Side By Side
Left: Lauren Maternowski, Height: 5’6” (168 cm), Torso: 16.5” (42 cm) | Right: Eric Hergenreder, Height: 6’0″ (183 cm), Torso: 18.5” (47 cm)

One of the key features of the CARBIDE-12 is its convertible harness system. You can choose whether you want to carry it backpack, sling, or brief-style. The way Vanquests implements this is by having the shoulder straps fully removable. But before we get to how that works, let’s check out the straps themselves.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Buckle
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | Simply lift it up to unlock.

We’ve used the description “seatbelt-like material” for a lot of straps and handles in many of our reviews. However, there’s a fairly solid argument to be made that those on the CARBIDE-12 are the most seatbelt-like so far. What does it mean when we say “seatbelt-like,” anyway? No, it doesn’t mean Vanquest literally sourced these from a car factory. Instead, it means that the straps have a slick, soft texture and are quite thin. This is in contrast to the more commonly seen fabric shoulder straps that are typically covered in mesh and padding.

Sounds interesting, right? But how does it actually feel to shoulder these? The answer is that they’re quite comfortable given how thin and simple-looking they are compared to the padded alternative. The main downside to these straps is that they’re still quite lengthy, even at their shortest adjustment. Whether it’s the small or big torsoed among us, the bag hangs relatively low, and that impacts carrying comfort to an extent.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Side
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | The bag still hangs low at the shortest adjustment.

Adjustment is made through lockable adjusters located near the top end of the straps. We’ve had instances where these locks come loose, causing some shift in length. Fortunately, that’s nothing too catastrophic in the grand scheme of things; we’d say the length of the strap is still our biggest gripe. To offset that, the CARBIDE-12’s back panel is well-cushioned and covered in breathable mesh. At the very least, even if the bag hangs low, it’s soft padding that’s resting against you.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Studio
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | The back panel is at least meshed to keep things comfy.

As mentioned earlier, both shoulder straps are removable. Gatekeeper clips attach each end to narrow nylon loops. These clips have fairly beefy locks, which can be tricky to thread through the loops. It’s something that may take some getting used to, as some of the crew here can do it in a breeze; some need a moment.

Take one strap off and re-attach the other one’s end to a diagonally opposite loop, and you’ve got a crossbody sling. The strap wears a bit better in crossbody mode because it makes better use of the long length, but we still favor backpack mode for general use. Removing both straps is also an option for carrying the bag in brief mode. Keep in mind the side handles are thin and therefore not the best for long-term carrying—leaving the shoulder straps at home may not be the best idea.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Sling
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | We still favor backpack mode, but this is good too.

All in all, the CARBIDE-12’s versatility in carrying modes is well-mated to its 12-liter size. None of the three modes feel too compromised versus the others. Not even the thin side handles feel too uncomfortable to use because of the bag’s relatively small capacity. Your mileage may vary depending on what gear you’re carrying. On that note, let’s check out the interior features and how we loaded them.

Inside The Pack

The CARBIDE-12’s three compartments all open up clamshell-style, and this works well combined with the bag’s tall profile. This style of opening makes it possible to have a spacious front compartment that’s not too cumbersome to access. All of the pockets and available room are readily visible. It’s important to note that the bright yellow interior liner plays a huge role in all of this.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Interior Pocket
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | We dig the spacious mesh pocket.

Everything is easy to find, and the pocket layout is quite sensible. Two liner pockets flank two pen silos. The liner pockets are just wide enough to fit our iPhone XR, so that should give you some context of what can fit. However, our favorite part has to be the mesh pocket sitting above those. It’s gusseted, which allows it to expand and have independent volume. We put a lot of our everyday carry accessories here like our keys, wireless earphones, and lip balm.

The opposite side (that’s the lid) is covered with loop-side material. This allows you to attach hook-sided accessories like name patches and pouches. Vanquest has a ton of these accessories if you wish to maximize the feature, or you can DIY some of your own. For us, the CARBIDE-12 has more than enough pockets for basic organization, so we don’t feel the need to use additional accessories.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack PH Patch
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | All compartments have this material.

There is also a short strap near the edge where you can attach keys. However, we found its snap fastener too tough to undo each time, so we just put our keys in the mesh pocket instead.

The biggest gripe we have is with the main compartment. More specifically, the way it opens. The zippers have a lot of resistance to them, and there may be a couple of reasons behind this. One is the thick reinforcement around the corners that slightly grinds against the zippers. Another reason could be that when the bag is loaded, the top edge compresses noticeably, causing the zippers’ path to compress as well. The result is we’ve grown to prefer using the front compartment over the main one.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | The main compartment’s zippers aren’t the smoothest to open

The good news is that all of the zippers have rubberized ring pulls that aid zipping and unzipping. There are also Hypalon tabs along the bottom that you can pull on to make things easier.

The interior of the main compartment is lined with the same bright yellow fabric. There are two mesh pockets on the front side. Interestingly, these twin pockets have shared zippered openings on both sides. You can shift each set of zippers to one or each pocket. We opt to leave both sets in the middle to keep things neat and less confusing. Both pockets are gusseted, so they can fit even a chunky accessory like a MacBook charger and a bunch of tech accessories.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Interior
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | These pockets are also gusseted for expandability.

The opposite side (towards the back) is a tablet sleeve. Now, we say tablet sleeve, but it can also fit our 13-inch MacBook without a problem. This means the sleeve can fit even the large 12.9-inch iPad Pros with an Apple Pen attached to the side. Vanquest even threw in some of that loop-side material in case you also wanted to attach hook-sided accessories here as well.

In terms of depth, both the main and front compartments have a similar amount of free space inside them. With all of the pockets occupied, the CARBIDE-12 doesn’t have that much room for additional bulk. The remaining space is more suited for slim items like notebooks, a tech pouch, a travel-sized keyboard, etc.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Interior 2
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | The depth isn’t that much, but it’s enough for slim pouches like this one.

Last but not least is the laptop compartment. Having an independent laptop compartment on a 12-liter bag is not something to scoff at, mind you. There are bigger backpacks that don’t even have laptop sleeves, let alone well-padded ones like the CARBIDE-12’s. It also means not having to go through the main compartment (which has sticky zippers, remember) each time we need our laptop. Additionally, Vanquest also lined this compartment with—yep, you’ve guessed it—loop-side material. There’s not a ton of depth to this compartment, so it’s best suited for slim hook-sided accessories, if any.

Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack Laptop
Vanquest CARBIDE-12 Sling Backpack | Yep, it’s also lined with loop-sided material.

The accessibility aspect of the CARBIDE-12 is marred only by the main compartment’s sticky zippers. That’s really our only major complaint, followed far behind by the lengthy shoulder straps. That said, the bag’s overall versatility is still quite good, with more than enough pockets for organizing everyday carry items and a solid build quality that lives up to the brand’s “Tough-Built” mantra.

Usage Timeline

Initial Usage

Condition: Excellent

  • The interior liner is a very bright yellow-orange
  • Shoulder straps are made out of seat belt-like material
  • The clamshell-style openings make for great accessibility
2 Weeks of Use

Condition: Excellent

  • Materials feel super durable and are in great shape
  • YKK zipper on the main compartment is super sticky and hard to zip around corners
  • Zippered pockets on the inside expand to fit more gear as needed, which reduces the need for additional pouches
  • Quickly run out of adjustability on the shoulder straps, so it hangs pretty low when in backpack mode
  • Ability to wear 3 different ways adds a lot of versatility
mm
By Lauren Maternowski
Created March 2, 2022 • Updated March 2, 2022
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