Bellroy was birthed as a company in Australia in the early 2000’s. The original team came together to develop a slim wallet that was better suited to the slimmer fashions that were growing in popularity at the time. Since that time, their product line as moved out from the things in the pockets to pouches and packs.
Today we look at the company’s Apex Backpack. This bag is so named because they intend it to be their concept car, that is, the pinnacle of their design and manufacturing abilities. According to their site, the Apex, “unites 10 years of design insights with progressive patterning and material craftsmanship – for those who push boundaries, and want to carry a bag that does the same.” That is a bold claim, and the bags price tag reflects it; he Apex is about 2 times the cost of their other backpacks. Let’s dive deep into the Apex and see if it lives up to these claims.
In addition to including my own thoughts and reactions to the bag, this review will feature some commentary from James Jeffery. Jeffery is Bellroy’s Lead Designer. I was privileged to gain access to him and to ask him several questions about Bellroy and the Apex. I will intersperse his responses going through the write-up.
|Volume||1587 cu. in.||26l|
Quality and Comfort
The Apex is a high quality bag, there is no denying that. From a manufacturing standpoint, the pack is fairly complex with various corners tucked and only a single hem visible in the packs completed state. Bellroy went out of their way to make this design super-clean.
Beyond this, the company selected materials that I was somewhat unfamiliar with. The pack features Baida Nylon, a 100% recycled material. Jeffery supplied this descrition from his materials guy, Davin:
I’m unsure what to compare this to, but it feels somewhat similar to the material on the Arc’teryx Leaf Courier 15. It is smoother and stiffer than 500d Cordura. It has a very nice hand to it, and feels like it will shrug off abrasions and snags with ease.
The Apex also features some very nice leather accents. Bellroy does not divulge where they source it, but having worked in a leather shop that used Horween leather exclusively, I concluded this is very high quality leather and that should also stand the test of time and abuse rather well. The rest of the pack features various meshes, stretch fabrics and synthetics that all seem well suited to their placement. The custom hardwear and webbing are well built and the leather accents look really dapper. While I am a Cordura man in most cases, I have full confidence in the material-suite Bellroy selected for the Apex (don’t tell my tactical and outdoor packs, but I rather like these new-fangled textiles).
There is a single potential hardware issue I experienced on the Apex. If you read my review of the ÜLA Dragonfly, you’ll know I really do not approve of #5 zippers on the main compartment of my packs. I was disappointed to find them on the Apex, as #5 zippers are a little more finicky in use, less smooth in their operation and generally not as robust as a larger option. I asked James about this, and why they did not select the larger #8 zipper. He replied, ” Size 8 zips and size 5 have very similar performance on a straight line. There is an advantage to using a size 8 zip when opening around a curve.” He also suggested that they chose to use auto-lock zipper pulls, which restricted them to a #5 zipper.
Comfort on the Apex is superb. Really, the suspension they provided is excellent and many companies should take note of the design. They used lighter padding in the straps and went with a wider profile. If you’ve ever used a pack with over-padded, round shoulder straps, you’ll know they are less than optimum. The Apex is a joy to carry and handles all loads that a 26 liter day pack normally would with ease. Jeffery described some of the design criteria and construction of the suspension for me:
I had but one gripe regarding the suspension. I really do not like the sternum strap design. It’s a thin piece of webbing and a hook that connects to loops on the opposite shoulder. James indicated that they wanted the strap to be super low profile and unobtrusive. He also pointed out that sternum straps are generally way overbuilt given the low amount of force that is applied to them. Really, they only keep the should straps from wandering outward during usage, so I can see what he means. My issue with their design was that the hook required 2 hands to affix (one to hold the cord loop open and the other to guide the hook itself) and I have to look down to do it, because it is a strange system for me. Beyond that, the strap will loosen if there is not enough tension on it. I found that if I wanted to keep more minimal tension on it, that it’d be dangling a bit loose before long.
There are a plethora of ways to get into in your backpack and retrieve your stuff. Top loaders. Panel loaders. Side access. Roll tops. Draw strings. Velcro. Buckles. Zippers. Hooks. Despite this, Bellroy has figured out a somewhat unique way to access their bag in the Apex. Let me see if I can adequately describe what they have created. They have taken the top loading design and gone with a fold over style and an adjustable big hook closure. They even added a couple of two-way zippers and made it a panel loading pack with two sets of magnets at the top that bring the panel up for easy zipping and access to some of the internal pockets.
So, if all that made sense, you will have deduced that this is a panel-loading top-loader. With side access. The result is a flexible volume and easy loading. The hook is beefy and the leather loops are well reinforced. The pack even lays open in a somewhat flat fashion went fully undone, allowing access to the various organizational pockets. If you are familiar with the Trizip from Mystery Ranch, you will get the concept- the Apex just does it better. This is what the Trizip wishes it could be.
There is a laptop sleeve on the back wall that takes a 15″ MacBook Pro handily. On the face of that is a document sleeve that can handle a 13″ MacBook Pro. Both are suspended up off the bottom of the bag. On each side there is a bottle sized stretch pocket. On the front panel lies a zippered pocket atop an elastic top pocket with a divider in it. These front pockets can be accessed by unfolding the top of the pack and tugging outward to release the magnets. Bellroy designed all these pockets to sit high, “We position our pockets in a ‘toolbelt’ around the sides of the bag, to leave plenty of space in the center for everything else to fall where it falls.”
Flanking the Apex on each side are a pair of smaller zipper pockets. These are not large enough to take a water bottle, but rather are better suited for a cell phone or wallet. One does include a key hook. I think it was obvious that adding external mesh pockets or something would have destroyed the clean lines of the bag, but I asked Jeffery about these, as they seem like a missed opportunity to include externally accessible internal bottle pockets. He suggested:
I understand his point, and I certainly have had to wrestle a bottle into a lower hydration pocket on a loaded backpack. Some of us, though, cringe at the thought of putting a liquid filled container into a bag with thousands of dollars of camera or computer gear, so I don’t think I’ll be using the internal bottle pockets as intended (at least not with electronics!). Beyond this, one cannot get to the bottle pockets without fully removing the pack and opening the top, whcih is not exactly fast or convenient.
- This bag is a dream to carry. Really, Bellroy should be very proud of the carry comfort they have designed and produced in the Apex.
- Bellroy has given the user a fun and functional way to access most parts of the bag quickly. It is pretty great how the thing lays out, ready to be loaded like a faithful panel loading bag.
- The materials and construction are very cool and look good and should withstand the rigors us bag-beaters dish out. Seriously, if you can touch one of these, do it. It feels good.
- The Apex is a super flexible bag. It does have some volume flexibility, but what I mean is the bag is not overly specifically built for any given situation. The pockets are generically useful and can be pressed into service in a variety of ways. What I mean, is that this bag is not full of pen and tool slots that only hold certain things. It will handle pretty much any role with aplomb.
- I really dislike the #5 zippers. They catch and snag in use and I’m afraid I will rip them off when trying to secure bulkier loads. Maybe I’m just a gorilla, but #8 zippers are just so smooth!
- The sternum strap on this is a dud for me. I like them to be familiar and easy to use without looking down. I know many people don’t use them, and so you may like the design, but I’m chubby and need the help to keep things in place. The tendency to slip is further frustrating.
- I miss a bottle pocket that can keep my water from accidental spills into my electronic gear. I miss a bottle pocket that is easily accessible. Hydration is important, so let’s make water carry a better integrated feature on all packs.
- It costs $450. I can buy a Glock for that.
I had a fairly difficult time writing this pack up. I’m just a hillbilly from Wyoming with little expendable cash. I deal mostly with lightweight backpacking fabrics and Cordura. I buy everything used, and only then if I can find a deal. $450 was a number that really stuck in my mind and colored everything I thought of the Apex, let alone the fact it has been described as, “A usable luxury that is not precious.” And really, if you look at the pack as a whole, it is not the most exciting bag on the market. Sure, there are some unique features, but I am not seeing anything that is super ground-breaking for the end-user. All that to say, I finally realized that I am simply not the end user this pack was designed for. Jeffery told me this pack was designed for Bellroy’s CEO, Andy, who, “has a very flexible set of requirements that constantly pivot and change, fitting in with that flexibility and rapid variation has become a cornerstone of the Apex.” The bag is not designed to be the best at any one thing. Again, James let me in on the secret of the Apex- it was designed as, “95% good 95% of the time. It should be able to traverse so many of life’s environments; airports, work, urban, hiking and the beach. It is not tailored to one environment. It is not specific to one moment or action. This guiding principle influenced so many of the features.”
And I think that is the best place to leave the review of Bellroy’s pinnacle of packs. The bag is extremely versatile and will fare fantastically in the vast majority of use-cases. I listed my concerns above, but really, the pack works. The build quality and carry comfort are certainly highlights, so as always, if the features suit you and the price tag doesn’t scare you off, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Apex.
Editor’s Note: The Bellroy Apex used was provided by Bellroy for this review. The contents of this review was not shared with Bellroy before publishing. Our reviews are unbiased and never modified to keep a brand happy.