San Francisco-based Mission Workshop have been in the carry game for awhile. They specialize in hard-wearing bags built to withstand the elements. From their widely popular messenger bag series to their innovative Arkiv modular backpacks, they have established a serious reputation in the world of carry. For example, Outdoor Gear Lab called their Rummy Messenger Bag “the Bentley of messenger bags”.
Started in 2009 by the founders of Chrome Industries (1994), they have proven that they have the know-how and design sensibilities to make bags that will appeal to a variety of bag fanatics. They have slowly expanded their reach from their initial fan-base of bike messengers.
Today, they have a huge following among creatives, travelers, entrepreneurs, hackers, tech workers, photographers, anyone who requires high quality, weather resistant bags designed for fast-paced urban environments.
Named after the Mission District in San Francisco where the company is headquartered, they design and make all their bags in the USA, and guarantee every bag with a lifetime guarantee from manufacture and material defects.
- 1 The Transit series
- 2 Features
- 3 Materials and build quality
- 4 Multiple carry options
- 5 Dimensions and specs
- 6 What I like
- 7 What could be better
- 8 The Helmsman Rolltop Duffle
- 9 Who is the Transit Duffle for
The Transit series
The Transit series is currently made up of 2 bags – a 19 liter laptop briefcase and a 31 liter duffle bag. The larger 31 Liter is the one we’re going to be reviewing here.
The 2 bags are basically the same, the main difference is that the duffle has a dedicated laptop compartment and the main compartment is bigger. The duffle can also be carried like a backpack, with the purchase of an optional harness.
But aside from that, the overall design is the same. For example, both bags have the same external pocketing and straps. Both bags can be attached to a front porteur style bicycle rack via external snaps.
The 31 liter Transit Duffel Bag is a convertible and rugged laptop briefcase slash carry-on travel bag slash work bag slash commuter bag. Can you tell it’s a versatile bag?
Because it’s a soft sided bag with a large capacity, it can easily compress and expand. If all you’ve got inside the 31 Liter Duffle is a laptop and a few items, you can compress it a bit and it doesn’t look or feel that much larger than a fully packed 19 liter Transit.
It is also adaptable to a wide range of use because of its multiple carry options. It’s basically a 4-way carry bag, but as we’ll discuss below, it’s best limited to certain carry styles.
I primarily use mine as a travel work bag. Meaning, I use it as a carry-on bag when traveling for business, and it doubles as my work bag at my destination.
One of the best things about the Transit Duffle is the pair of fantastic easy-access pockets on the outside of the bag
There are two long cargo pockets running the length of the bag. If you’ve seen my review of the Filson zippered tote bag, you’ll know how much I absolutely love these kinds of pockets.
Below the two outside pockets, you can find a slim zippered pocket that’s perfect for your phone (can fit a plus sized iPhone), or some pens, maybe your wallet, if it isn’t too bulky. These pockets aren’t great for sunglasses though, since there’s no padding at all.
There are two other cargo pockets on each side of the bag. Each side pocket is large enough for a large water bottle or a compact umbrella, even a small camera.
The bag has two compartments lined, both with a ripstop inner lining.
The main compartment includes 4 large cargo pockets for organization. This compartment is large enough to carry clothing for up to a 2-3 day trip, or for an overnight trip with smaller sized shoes.
The other compartment is a laptop compartment and can carry up to a 15-inch laptop.
The bag is padded on the bottom and on the front and back (the longer sides). This gives the bag some structure, and it will stay upright when you set it down. However, there is no padding between the laptop compartment and the main compartment.
Both compartments are protected with high quality waterproof zippers. The zippers of the two smaller external pockets are also weatherproof.
Materials and build quality
The bag is currently available in three different fabrics – Mission Workshop’s exclusive HT500 nylon (multiple colors); 500D cordura (black camo color) and a limited edition waxed canvas (2 colors).
Each fabric has its unique features, as you’ll discover below.
Mine is the waxed canvas version in olive green. Typically, I prefer black bags, but after seeing their waxed canvas version, I just fell in love with the fabric. If they had a black one in waxed canvas, I would have jumped on it immediately. Currently, black is only available in their HT500 fabric.
Choose wisely: The fabric options
HT500 is one of Mission Workshop’s signature fabrics. Made exclusively for the brand, it uses 500d high tenacity woven nylon that’s designed to be lightweight yet long lasting. I believe this is the lightest version of this bag.
I haven’t personally handled the 500d Cordura version of the bag, but based on previous experience with other 500d Cordura, I’m fairly confident in saying that the HT500 is the lightest fabric option for this bag.
It is definitely noticeably lighter than the waxed canvas version.
The HT500 fabric is water resistant and stain resistant. One interesting feature of this fabric is that, unlike most nylon fabrics, it will actually fade and patina over time. Some people like this, some don’t. If you prefer your bags looking new all the time, this isn’t the fabric for you – your only option at this time is the black camo 500d Cordura version. (see below)
Perhaps more importantly, this fabric has the best color selection available. e.g. If you want the bag in certain colors, the HT500 fabric might be the only option.
Waxed cotton canvas
This is the one I have. Made with 10 oz. American-made waxed cotton canvas, this is the heaviest fabric available for the Transit line. In my opinion, it has the best hand-feel of all the fabrics available.
This will also require the most upkeep. The canvas is treated with a paraffin wax that makes the bag highly water-resistant, but this wax will fade over time. At some point, it will need to be re-waxed to maintain its water-repellency. Just like oiling the chain on your bike, this needs to be done regularly.
At the same time, the waxed coating means this fabric will scratch and scuff relatively easily. That means your bag will patina and crease with age. It’s a fabric that’s not meant to be washed. Every stain, every crease, is meant to add a unique character to the bag and is meant to be displayed proudly.
Multicam black 500d Cordura
Currently only available in a black camo print, this 500 denier Cordura brand nylon is water resistant, tear resistant and scuff resistant. It is imprinted with a killer black and grey camouflage pattern that looks stunning. Due to the way the black camo pattern is printed, and the way the bag is manufactured, the patterns are going to be different every time and no two bags black camo bags will look the same.
In contrast to the two options above, this fabric is the only one available for the Transit duffle that will not show wear over time. If you want a fabric that will not show creases and fades, this is currently your only option.
Multiple carry options
Yep, this bag is actually a 4-way carry bag. With the included hide-away grab handles, you can carry it like a briefcase, these handles are also long enough that most people can carry it like a tote bag
The bag comes with a well designed shoulder strap for side or messenger-style carry, and you can also buy an optional backpack harness.
But as I said at the top, not all carry options are ideal.
I mostly stick with the shoulder strap and to carrying the bag like a briefcase with the hide-away grab handles.
The included shoulder strap is excellent. It’s a 2-inch wide seat belt style strap, allowing it to easily glide over clothing for adjustment and for moving the bag from your back to the front and vice versa.
My favorite feature of this strap is that it includes a large handle that will allow you to quickly and very easily adjust the length of the strap. Honestly, it’s so effortless that I wonder why most bag manufacturers don’t have a strap designed like this.
Here’s how it works: You carry the bag cross shoulder, you grab the handle and pull up to tighten the bag against your back. If you need to access the bag, you just pull down and the bag loosens from your back, allowing you to quickly swing it to your side or to your front. Very easy!
The only thing I don’t like about the strap is that it attaches via a hook and loop (velcro) attachment that is unique to Mission Workshop bags, so I can’t use the strap on other non-Mission Workshop bags!
The grab handles are made of nylon, and have no padding. They do have a generous drop of ~9.5 inches, so most people will have no problems carrying it on the shoulder like a tote. The grab handles can also be clipped together via metal snap clips.
Another interesting feature is that these handles can also be hidden away neatly, so they don’t get in the way. All you do is let the handles drop into the large external pocket and they’ll stay hidden away. I use this feature a lot when I’m carrying the bag messenger-style with the shoulder strap. It’s great as it keeps the grab handles from flopping around too much.
The last carry option are the optional backpack straps. This doesn’t come with the bag, and must be purchased separately. I got these when I first purchased the bag, although I ended up returning them.
The backpack straps attach via the same velcro attachments as the shoulder straps, so you can’t have both the backpack straps and shoulder straps on the bag at the same time. The problem with the backpack harness is that because of the way it attaches, the ‘top’ of the bag (the zippered portion) is the part that will be against your back when in backpack mode.
This means that the height of the back (in duffle mode) becomes the depth of the bag in backpack mode. So you end up with a very deep and very narrow backpack (see pic below). To me, this just doesn’t work very well in most situations. I much prefer carrying the bag messenger-style and pulling the strap tight to get the bag to sit high on my back instead.
In my opinion, the only time the backpack harness is useful is when carrying extremely heavy loads on a bike. Otherwise, it just makes the bag too unwieldy. If the straps had separate attachment points, and you could carry it with one of the long sides (the largest external pockets) against your back, it would be more useful, since the bag won’t be too deep.
Dimensions and specs
- External Dimensions : 18″ long x 12.5″ high x 9.25″ deep
- Capacity: 31 Liters
- Weight (when empty): HT500 fabric: 2.8 lbs or 1.3 kg ; Waxed Canvas fabric: 3.57 lbs or 1.62 kg
- Body Fabric options: HT500 Fabric, 500D Multicam Cordura, Waxed Canvas (see above for more information about these fabrics)
- Handle drop: 9.5 inches
- All metal snaps
- Milspec webbing
- Custom hardware shoulder strap
- Shoulder strap width: 2 inches
- 4 carry options: briefcase style, tote style, shoulder/sling strap, optional backpack straps
- 4 external quick access cargo pockets
- 2 external zippered pockets
- 4 internal quick access cargo pockets
What I like
- Excellent external pockets – I love, love, love these pockets. They are just incredibly useful in a wide-range of scenarios. They’re perfect for quick access, yet deep enough to be secure even in crowded places.
- Shoulder strap design – the shoulder strap is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The non-grippy material works great with almost any fabric. It won’t damage merino wool clothing, or expensive synthetic outer layers and the strap adjustment is just genius.
- Soft-sided design with minimal padding – I love the way these two design choices come together. Aside from protection, the padding also gives the bag some structure, so it stands up on its own, and isn’t a floppy mess. But because it’s a soft-sided bag, it can still compress and expand as needed. It’s not one of those bags that’s always the same size, regardless of whether you have anything in there or not. This bag can compress really small if all you have in there is a laptop and everyday carry (EDC) stuff.
What could be better
- The backpack carry option – I really wish this was implemented differently. Although it’s a tertiary carry option, and one could argue that if you wanted to carry a backpack, you should just get a proper backpack, but having this option really adds versatility to the bag. If the backpack carry option were implemented such that you can carry the bag vertically, it would be so much more useful.
- All-black color only available in HT500 fabric – this is really a nitpick, but for those of us who love all black bags, and who may prefer a different fabric, I wish Mission Workshop will add murdered out all-black options for Cordura and waxed canvas.
The Helmsman Rolltop Duffle
Mission Workshop also makes a rolltop version of this duffle, called the Helmsman. It’s almost exactly the same as the 31 Liter Transit duffel, but instead of the 2-compartment design with zipper access, you get one big compartment with a laptop sleeve that is accessed via a large rolltop.
This is a great option if you want extreme weatherproofness (no zippers!), and if you want the variable capacity that a rolltop design will allow. Personally, I think it will be too much of a pain to roll and unroll the rolltop every time I want to get into the bag.
But if you’re the type who only needs to get into your bag at the start of the day, then packs everything up at the end of the day, the Helmsman might be worth a look.
Aside from the rolltop, the other difference is that the side pockets (the ones meant for water bottles) on the Helmsman are zippered, instead of the open cargo-style pockets on the Transit. The Helmsman also comes with additional straps on the bottom of the bag, for extra external carry – e.g. a yoga mat, or a skateboard.
Who is the Transit Duffle for
The Transit Duffle (31 Liters) is perfect for those who want a versatile travel slash everyday carry (EDC) bag.
It’s big enough to work as a weekender or overnighter, yet compressible and versatile enough to work as a work bag or EDC bag.
You can carry just your laptop, some headphones and some paperwork and it will look like a briefcase or shoulder bag. It won’t look too big or be unwieldy if not packed full.
Once you need the capacity for travel, it will easily swallow your clothing and other gear. If packed full, it is best left to the overhead bin, instead of under the seat in front of you. That’s how big it can expand, if needed.
The shoulder strap also needs another mention here – if you’re the type who prefers carrying shoulder bags across your chest, I think you’ll really love the implementation here. When the bag is full, you can distribute the weight of the bag across your shoulder and chest, and you can easily shorten the straps and have the bag tight against your bag if you need to quickly move through an airport.
Once you arrive at your destination, you can dump out all your clothes and carry it like a briefcase or a normal shoulder bag, or even as a tote bag.
It’s great for those who want the versatility of the multiple carry options. It is NOT great for those who want a convertible backpack.
You can get the Mission Workshop Transit Duffle in HT500 here, the black multicam Corudra version here, and the waxed canvas version here.
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