If you haven’t heard of HEX, you’re probably exactly like I was until the day their Signal backpack showed up on my doorstep. HEX is brand with their roots in the Southern California fashion scene. Originally founded by musicians and designers Dan Maravilla and Trent Valladares, the HEX brand is much more urban-chic than most of the products we review on TPP—their website includes iPhone cases, as well as travel duffels, waist packs, and a new “Coca-cola” branded line of bags. The HEX Supply Signal backpack I was sent is geared towards the fashion-conscious urbanite who wants to carry some tech and a few EDC essentials in a good value, yet sturdy package. Since this backpack is obviously meant for the urban arena, most of its carry time was spent between work, school, and adventures in my home city of New Orleans. That being said, I still managed to give the HEX some bike commute and hike time because MY version of the Perfect Pack might excel in one domain, but must be good in any setting.
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Quality and Comfort
Out of the box, it’s easy to see we’re not talking about a Mystery Ranch-level harness, but remember this is a relatively affordable bag and not meant to haul loads in the backcountry. HEX keeps it simple with fabric straps and a bit of medium-density foam. Unfortunately, they left off a chest strap, and the harness is spaced just SLIGHTLY wide for my skinny frame, meaning it’s not super comfortable when there’s any kind of weight in it, and it always feels like it’s just about to fall off—especially the few times I tried to wear this on the bike. Obviously that’s not it’s designed use, but it’s not even that comfortable when empty and walking on foot.
The stitching and build quality is actually very good. I’ve been pulling at load-points and trying to find loose stitches for nearly a month now and everything has stayed strong. I can’t speak for the consistency of quality, but my bag was pretty much flawless in the manufacturing department.
A major downside is the lack of ventilation. We’re in the full-swing of summer here in the South and the poorly-ventilated back means that my shirt is soaked on the short walk between the bus stop and my office. This might not be a problem in cooler weather, but is worth noting if that’s a deal breaker for you.
The HEX is mostly just a canvas dump-all for anything you can throw in it. The main compartment’s black hole comprises the bulk of the bag, but there is a small built-in organization system on the posterior wall as well as a separate 15” laptop compartment lined with “Faux-fur”, although you’ll probably want some extra protection if you value your incredibly expensive electronic device. Remember: Don’t be a Perfect Pack fool, wrap your laptop tool.
The internal organization is basic, and I found that it rarely actually fit the things that I wanted it to. Additionally, since it’s on the BACK side of the bag, it quickly becomes impossible to access things like your wallet and headphones, and laptop if you stuff a jacket in the top of the crowded back.
There is a small zippered pouch on the front top that’s SLIGHTLY too small to comfortably squeeze an iPhone…and if you do get it in there, good luck getting it out. It’s less of a quick access pocket and more of pocket for holding your wallet hostage. Finally, the designer seemed to think we all carry around tablets that warrant a separate “tablet pocket”. This one pokes out from the bottom third of the pack and is again lined with that red-carpet style fancy-ness. It seems like a perfect place to put a tablet or Kindle, and have it in easiest possible access for someone to steal while you’re on public transit. Since I don’t routinely carry an electronic device of that size, I’ve been using it for an accessory pouch holder, which actually works quite nicely since the segregated volume of this pocket is much more than it appears.
Finally, the HEX team almost knocks it out of the park by including two (very stylish) bottle pockets. Although they’re not big enough for a Nalgene, they fit my smaller water bottle and coffee thermos perfectly. Unfortunately, they stumble rounding third base, because when you DO have a bottle in either pocket, it gets in the way of opening the zippers and makes everything quite clumsy. A great attempt here (and I do love bottle pockets) but it just slightly falls short on actual usability.
- Good Looks: If “Urban-tech” is your style, this thing really does look nice. It’s perfect for a commute or office environment, although not really suited for a hike.
- Good Posture: I love it when a bag can stand up by itself next to my desk or when I need to grab something. The squared off bottom makes this thing stand at attention when empty or fully loaded
- Good Price: The build-quality to money ratio is pretty good here. I wouldn’t say this is the deal of the century, but for under $100, it definitely surprised me how well it’s made.
- Comfort: I was actually surprised how well-padded the shoulder straps were on this thing. The problem for me was the width and also lack of chest strap. Fix these and the pack becomes surprisingly comfy!
- Front Zip: I know it’s supposed to be a sunglasses compartment, but I really want to throw my phone in there! Please make the pocket like 2-inches wider!
- Bottle Pockets: Every time I try to open or close the pack with a bottle in with one of the pockets, the zipper gets stuck. This seems like a pretty basic design flaw that could have been avoided.
- Luggage Loop: The back of the pack allows you to slide it over the handle of your carry-on luggage. This is a common feature on many bags, but this one requires your bag to be put on sideways. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
Overall, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the HEX Supply Signal Backpack. The solid built, good looks, and a bit of water-resistance makes it a decent choice if you’re on a budget and are tired of always going with Jansport. For $84 you get a bag that seems like it will last a while and look good doing it. That being said, if you can afford to splurge a bit more, there are many bags that just tip the $100 mark that I might recommend more highly, and this one probably won’t stay in my lineup for very long as it just doesn’t fit my needs.
The HEX Supply Signal was provided by HEX as a sample for review purposes, the content of this review was not shared with HEX before publishing. Our reviews are unbiased and never modified to keep a brand happy.