Orbit Gear are a brand based in Jakarta, Indonesia, making goods which draw from military and outdoors technical design but adapted for urban use. Their work fits closely with the ‘techwear’ style that has broken away from mainstream streetwear in recent years, blending into a distinctive, science-fiction-inspired look. As well as a staple line of bags and pouches, Orbit have also released apparel and accessories in collaboration with other Indonesian labels such as Dominate or Livingbone.
The R221 was part of Orbit’s debut collection on their launch in 2017, having evolved into several permutations. The model I tested was fully designated ‘R221 VB-WXBK,’ (affectionately nicknamed ‘Black Phoenix’) denoting the WX20 fabric and Fidlock V-buckle options of my choice, as opposed for example to ‘Sunbeam Hunter’ (which has Cobra buckles and an iridescent fabric). The R221 pattern is intended as a ‘highly mobile’ messenger bag, for commuters, bike messengers, and other folks moving through the urban space.
|Capacity*||1220 Cubic inch.||20L|
|Primary Materials||Dimension Polyant WX20, Military Truck Tarp Liner|
*Specs provided by Orbit Gear – however, my experiences with the bag prompted me to verify these details. The external dimensions are accurate, though readers will note that I calculate the volume to be closer to 12 Litres (732 Cu In) than the stated 20.
Quality and Comfort
The essential drive behind Orbit Gear’s lineup is to take the performance found in mountaineering gear or military equipment, and make it accessible to folks outside of that sphere, with less exceptional needs. This principle is popular with many of the brands we feature here at The Perfect Pack; Evergoods’ ‘crossover gear’ comes from a similar inspiration, but leads to a rather different result. As such Orbit’s bags aren’t made with such versatility at their heart, but a very solid build and bomber materials. My selection lead to a sharp looking messenger with a distinct appearance, clearly intended for performance in the city. A major strength of the WX fabric is its water resistance and the design complemented that, folding tightly when closed to keep the rain out.
The features on the exterior are plentiful, and hold some very nice touches. For example, the grab handle which meant I could quickly lift the R221 like a briefcase, but which slides away flat when not needed. The prominent fidlock buckles are a delight to use (several folks actually gasped when I first showed them the magnetic closure). Adding PALS-compatible webbing and a loop field for patches ramps up the R221’s personality, whereas water-resistant, self-locking YKK zips show an extra dedication to quality.
Not every addition is quite as functional – a velcro lip concealed by the main flap allows the bag to convert from a folding closure to a rolltop. However the design neither enables variable capacity nor overtly boosts the (already excellent) water-resistance of the bag, meaning the transformation contributes to the complexity of the bag on a superficial level only.
Another thing I had anticipated looking better than it worked was the Orbitgear’s ‘AXIS-Sling’ design. The harness is embellished with more webbing and loop, which affect the look more than the functionality. Stripping those away would leave a simple strap with no padding, a quick release buckle for adjustment, and some airmesh against the backside, which rests on the body when worn.
In practice, however, the R221 was pretty comfortable to wear, if kept in the right place. Personally, I found the strap was broad enough to bear the weight on my chest and shoulder, and having multiple points of adjustment helped the bag rest on my lower back. I also felt the benefit of a stabiliser running under my right arm, keeping the load steady against the motion of cycling or running short distances. That said, Orbit Gear do sell an optional shoulder pad to bulk up the sling if needed, and it wouldn’t be as nice worn on the hip, or off one shoulder, which I know some folks prefer.
Of course, the other thing that contributes to the bag’s comfort is its shallow profile, and small size overall. Orbit Gear list the R221 as 20L but, comparing it to others I own with similar specs, I couldn’t carry nearly as much. Many times I felt as though every single item in the main compartment was fighting for space, or that I was forced to choose between my water bottle, laptop charger and Bose headphones, as though I couldn’t carry all three at once without exceeding the bag’s dimensions. Carrying anything actually bulky is a real challenge; it’s possible to strap a jacket beneath the messenger by extending the compression straps, but it isn’t exactly an elegant solution.
My experience was similar with the bag’s smaller pockets. The R221 has two zippered front pockets, both of which are very slim, with little volume of their own. To make matters worse, they stack on top of each other, meaning that my notepad in the middle pocket pressed against the outermost, and I couldn’t fit much more than an access card or a USB drive. The middle pocket has an additional zippered space inside but I simply didn’t use it in testing – it might be good if I wanted to keep something hidden or private, but even better than that may be the pocket built into the back panel, against the wearer’s body. Interestingly, these last two break from the bag’s run of water-proof zips, and come with pulls made of a bright pink cord. The colour makes a nice accent, but neither space came in very handy, for me.
More useful were a pair of small pockets at either end of the bag, accessible without lifting the main flap. I was baffled at their small capacity at first glance, expecting them to intrude into the R221’s main space, but in practice they were the perfect spot for a wallet or keys, since they could be accessed quickly with the bag slung around my front, without spilling anything unwanted onto the ground. Tabs at the edges of these pockets make them available as mounting points for modular add-ons Orbit Gear sells, which use split tabs in the ‘tec-sys’ style, and could also be fitted to the PALS webbing on the bag’s face.
The core of the R221’s intended use is obviously the laptop, as evidenced by the well-padded, fully suspended laptop sleeve. My chromebook isn’t the heftiest model on the market but I found it fit securely with plenty of space, and always felt safe. An added bonus is the elastic loop which fastens over the top of the space, and a final, full-width waterproof zip behind the grab-handle, which enables quick access to the laptop (and the whole of the main compartment) without unbuckling the full flap.
- Materials lead to a great-looking, very well made messenger bag.
- Comfortable to wear and move around with, despite the simplicity of the sling.
- The properly suspended, well padded laptop sleeve, as befits the intended use.
- Slim dimensions limit real-life usefulness and versatility of contents.
- Design makes it hard to utilise all features at once, especially pocketing.
The uncompromising style of Orbit’s designs probably means that their core audience have found plenty to love already (they are, after all, an absolute bargain compared with the likes of ACRNM or Bagjack), but my experience with the Black Phoenix wasn’t without its frustrations. I’m left wanting to watch Orbit Gear into the future, because I can’t wait to see what they are truly capable of.
There’s a rare sense, using this bag and reading about its design inspirations. It’s very cool, and actually fun. Unfortunately, as with much of the so-called techwear sphere, the appearance of experimentation seems to interfere with functionality in some places. Despite that, the build on the R221 demonstrates a real understanding of quality, and a desire to bring out the elements that often put a piece of gear at the top of its class.
Disclaimer: This bag was provided by Orbit Gear for use in this review. The content of the review was not discussed with Orbit Gear prior to publication. Our reviews are unbiased and never modified to keep a brand happy.