Alchemy Equipment is a New Zealand brand that has set out to achieve the seemingly straightforward task of creating performance-driven style. To me, this means form meeting function in a perfect symbiotic balance allowing a pack to be equally appropriate in the office or outdoors. While many brands attempt this feat, very few accomplish it while most fall woefully short despite some innovative efforts.
Well, did Alchemy Equipment create one of these EDC unicorns? Outside of some relatively subjective aesthetic issues and a few areas where their opportunity for functional improvements, I think they came pretty damn close. I spent many months lugging around my AEL and have thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. For your reference, I have primarily utilized the pack in an urban EDC role lugging it to work and on several business trips (both domestic and international). It has also earned some miles as a basic daypack, but in full transparency, I didn’t use it to summit Everest, safari in Africa, or Elk hunt in Wyoming. However, this is most certainly due to the limitations of both my wallet and bowling ball shaped build than a reflection of the pack’s quality.
Tale Of The Tape
Dimensions and Structure:
30L capacity with zip access.
- Dimensions are 19.5”Long, 11.5” Wide, 9” Deep
- Airflow molded EVA back panel
- Adjustable sternum strap
- Detachable waist belt
Waxed Kodra and 3x PU coating on 900 Denier Kodra
- Anodized Aluminum tension lock
- Premium ‘seat belt’ nylon webbing
- #8 YKK AquaGuard zipper (primary compartments)
- #8 YKK reverse coil zipper (external pockets)
Layout and Functionality
One of the more beneficial by-products of spending an on-holy amount of money trying different packs is that it allows you to truly understand your carry needs, preferences and non-negotiables. Now, while a dedicated laptop pocket isn’t a complete-won’t waiver-can’t purchase a pack without it –MUST have for me, it is certainly a preference. A 15” MBP is one of the primary tools for my job and something I almost always carry. The ability to remove it quickly and easily fire off that last e-mail prior to boarding a flight is important to me. Of equal importance is being able to just as expeditiously return it to a dedicated and protective sleeping bag where it can safely rest until it’s needed again and called into service. The laptop pocket on this pack is fantastic. It easily fits my laptop, is easy to extract and offers enough protection to make me confident that damage isn’t a viable concern. I also like the fact that this area includes an iPad/tablet pocket. I’ve always been a fan of having these two pockets together. Call it a manifestation of my admittedly OCD personality, but keeping my primary technology together just seems to work in a practical sense. My only small gripe is that this area doesn’t have additional space for a few manila folders and a pocket for your primary charging cables. This is completely a personal preference, but I prefer to have my “office” items together. Regardless, the laptop pocket is executed well here and I’m confident it will satisfy the majority of users.
Moving in from the laptop area against back is the main compartment. While it is devoid of additional compartmentalized areas, it provides ample area for EDC gear, a jacket/outer layer, a lunch or anything else you carry that doesn’t include a surfboard or duck billed platypus.
Another aspect I appreciate in packs is a quick access pocket where I can keep small items such as earbuds, hand sanitizer, a hankie, keys and possibly sunglasses. The AEL002 has a great lid pocket with ample room for all of these things. It also has another pocket below this running the remainder of the front length. This pocket is the perfect size for a notebook, some EDC essentials, a camera or even an outer shell for those of you with a more “svelte” body time. One of the cool design features of this pack and in my opinion the preverbal double-edged sword, is the extra fold of material that hides the zippers. While this ability to conceal different areas in one sleek profile was clearly a driving design choice here, it does make opening these compartments slightly difficult. Not maddeningly impossibly, but not super easy. Actually, I think this is more a result of the curvature of the zipper lines than the material itself.
On either side of the pack are what I can only refer to as slip pockets. I think they are actually water bottle pockets but they are far to tight to fit anything of significant when the bag is even partially filled. If you do manage to grease something up and cram it in, it takes up significant real estate inside the main compartment. I would say these two pockets are the biggest misses with the overall design. While I find them useful to hold boarding passes or a thin beanie, they most certainly aren’t effective bottle holders.
The last design feature I wanted to discuss are the materials themselves. The pack exudes quality. The zippers are robust, aesthetically please and function flawlessly. The waxed Kodra is really impressive. A pet peeve of mine is when a black pack (my color of chose for urban EDC) fades and begins to look weathered an old. To me, faded ballistic Nylon or Cordura doesn’t look rich in character, it just looks old and sloppy. The waxed Kodra used here, however, already looks broken in. But broken in like a good baseball glove or Indiana Jones jacket. It is the kind of material that improves over time, allowing the miles to enrich its appearance and not detract from it. The anodized aluminum buckles and thick seatbelt webbing only compliment this overall look with the finished product being a pack you want to carry. Not just carry, but use. The lower portion of the pack is where Alchemy Equipment took the biggest design risk. Some may say they swung and missed while others will say homerun. I am in the latter group and think it really underscores the “performance” part of “performance driven style”. Like full grain leather on 1000D Cordura, the PU coated base looks great paired with the waxed Kodra upper. All zippers on the pack look and function perfectly. Not much more to say here other than mentioning that they don’t come with any zipper pulls. At all. Quite frankly, a pack at this price point should have them. The only design feature I would unequivocally eliminate is the carry strap. To me it is just too fashion forward, isn’t comfortable and feels cheap. This is a stark contrast to every other aspect of the pack.
Performance & Carry
How a pack carries is really where the rubber meets the road in terms of whether or not it will have any longevity with me. I am pleased to say that this pack carries like a dream. I am a firm believer that any backpack designed to carry 15 pounds or more needs some kind of thing HDPE frame sheet. Here, the thin plastic along with the EVA molded backpanel work together to really help the pack carry comfortably. The feature that really sets this pack apart from a carry perspective, and something I truly wish more bag companies utilized, is the subtle curvature of the backpanel that allows the pack to truly hug your shoulders. More importantly, it allows the pack to ride relatively high on your back instead of sagging down to the lumbar area and making the user look like a middle school student carrying their Jansport from recess to art class. The shoulder straps are great also – another strength of this bag. They are adequate without being overbearing, super thick or so obtrusive that they take away form the overall sleek silhouette of the pack.
One negative is the “so-called” detachable waist strap. I refer to it as “so-called” because I literally found it impossible to detach and resorted to cutting them off. I believe the hardware are Duraflex Siamese clips but I’m not certain. Regardless, they are too large for the corresponding nylon webbing.
I recommend this the Alchemy Design AEL002 to anyone who is in the market for a pack with a technical build and sleek fashionable aesthetic. If you ever leave the office on a Friday and head directly to your nearest trailhead, this may be the backpack for you. This is a very well rounded choice that should be equally capable in the office and on the mountain. I also appreciate that the overall look is a stark departure from the masses – some might call it fashion forward, I call it cool looking. I expect some big things out of Alchemy Design and if this pack intrigues you but doesn’t quite check all your boxes, you may want to check out the rolltop version or some of their smaller offerings. Also, if you prefer the 22L-25L range for an EDC pack, don’t let the 30L moniker dissuade you from making an investment here. This pack does not look or carry like a 30L pack. A great size, a great carry and a great look.
Sleek “gray man” aesthetic
Comfortable carry and rides high on back
- Extremely ergonomic with well thought out compartment location
Almost useless side pockets.
Waist strap is very difficult to remove.
No zipper pulls.
New Zealand based company so warranty issues will require International shipping for US based customers.
This review was brought to you by Jason Adams an avid EDCer with an arsenal of packs. If you enjoyed this review be sure to comment below and look for more reviews from Jason coming to RMK.