REI NOVARA BACKPACK
USE: Daily by bike, car, train, bus or some combo thereof.
BIKE DISTANCE: 11-13 r/t miles for the commute
WEAR&TEAR: No signs of any wear/tear this first month. I don’t baby this pack. It gets slung around train stations, etc.
FEATURES: I love all the features of this pack. It’s got pockets where you need them. For example, a small zip pocket right across the top which is perfect for car keys and cell phone. Next I love the small pocket attached to the hip belt. That’s where I stow my train pass for easy access without removing the pack.
The zips all have pulls on them. Anyone who rides in the cold or who has ever backpacked appreciates zipper pulls! The main compartment is quite roomy. I can stuff a lunch sack in there and spare clothes. The outer pocket is slimmer but holds books etc. Then there’s still another pocket with a key clip and organizers. Oh, and the main compartment has an internal, zippered mesh pocket. That’s where my wallet goes. Nice and safe in there. Other features I have not used are a U-lock compartment that is accessed from the side and is basically a sleeve inside one of the other compartments (nice I would think to keep a dirty u-lock away from other items); and the ability to insert a hydration pack bladder and thread it through the shoulder straps (either side). Instant Camelback! Great features I might someday use. Stretchy pockets low on either side of the pack will hold a waterbottle, FYI.
COMFORT: Very slightly long-waisted for me at 5’ 8”and a short torso, but not at all uncomfortable, and the hip belt still rides at the appropriate level to distribute weight. The shoulder straps are nicely but not overly padded. The hip belt is minimal but comfortable—no digging into the hip. The chest strap is wonderfully quick to adjust in height—it slides up and down so you can put it where you need it across your chest—and it stays in place. Very nice feature. The pack rides well on the back when riding. It does not sway or dip, and does not obscure my view when looking back. Like a good backpack should, it seems to “sit” on the hip to take the weight most comfortably and not feel like a frightened lemur plastered to your back.
OTHER: Reflective elements and the overall gag-me yellow of the pack are nice for visibility. There is also a built-in rain cover, neatly zipped into its own compartment at the bottom of the pack. It unfurls easily and covers the whole pack. I have not had a chance to test it in the rain.
WOULD I RECOMMEND? Without hesitation. There is no laptop sleeve, so be mindful of that, but for any other purpose, this pack has all the features, a good price, and so far good workmanship. Oh, there’s also a built-in safety whistle on the chest strap. Hoping I never have to use that!