I do a lot of outdoorsy-type stuff (or at least I used to, before I had kids). I’ve got closets full of hunting, fishing and camping gear (or at least I used to, before I sold it off to pay a mortgage). I’ve got some equipment that’s aimed at a narrow, specific purpose that it does very well, but that’s all it does. I’ve got other gear that does a lot of things well, but there’s a smaller range of things it doesn’t do well.
I’d put the new Filson Alcan Tin Cloth Tool backpack in that second category. It’s very versatile, but I don’t think it’s a complete do-it-all that will suit every rider’s needs, either. That’s fine, as long as you’re aware of the pack’s strengths.
The tag on the bag says “C.C FILSON CO./SEATTLE, WASH./SINCE 1897/ALASKA OUTFITTER.”
Those last four words are Filson’s basic claim to fame. Before baristas, Instagram influencers and pro skateboarders discovered the company as part of their 21st century homage to their blue-collar forbears, Filson was one of those archetypal American brands. Built by honest American workers, for honest American workers. If you were a miner, fisherman, geologist, hunter, bush pilot or lumberjack working in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest, Filson was a name you trusted. Filson gear was tough and functional.
That’s the basic design behind this backpack. There are no cute lightweight fabrics here, to keep weight down. The main body of the bag is made from Tin Cloth, a tightly-woven canvas that’s been saturated in paraffin wax to repel water. Filson has imported this material from the UK for years, and it’s well-known for toughness. It’s similar to the waxed cotton you’ll find in British riding gear, but not quite as sticky on the exterior, so it picks up less messy-looking dirt and dust.
The bottom of the pack and the large exterior pocket are made of mid-weight Cordura. Why use the synthetic fabric? I believe it’s to stop dirt from sticking to the pack when you set it on the ground. Cordura is not waterproof, but Filson says “our ballistic nylon is given a double-PU treatment to ensure your gear stays dry no matter where you set the pack down.” If you’re planning to ride in steady rain for very long, you might want to invest in a bacpack rain cover, which are available very affordable on eBay and similar sites. However, in my experience, the Tin Cloth and Cordura are weatherproof enough to handle a ride in on-again, off-again rain, with no sogginess inside at the end of the day’s ride, not even at the zippered top.
Overall, the stitching seems tough; the mesh pockets, the straps, the buckles, they’re all made to last. There was only one potential weak point: The zippers are plastic, and certainly don’t appear to be waterproof. I worked with divers for years, and know the troubles that suitmakers have, trying to source quality zippers for neoprene dive suits. One local suitmaker went so far as to begin development of a zipper-free dive suit prototype, he was so unhappy with the quality available from Chinese suppliers. Good zippers are hard to find.
I don’t know if Filson chose to go with these zippers to save money, or because nothing else was available, or any other reason. I do know I’d prefer a roll-top design. They’re harder to break, and they’re more waterproof. If Filson ever re-designs this bag, I’d advise them to figure out a roll-type closure.
One other note: I had a loose thread along the zipper at the bag’s top (I quickly zipped it off with my pocket knife). If your bag showed up in the mail like this, Filson should make it right. The company’s website says “We guarantee every item made by Filson. No more, no less. We believe in our products and stand by the quality of workmanship, craftsmanship and materials in each one. We guarantee the lifetime of each item against failure or damage in its intended usage.” The fine print specifically mentions production defects. I consider this a non-issue, and only mention it because I think it’s fair and right for readers.
Onboard tool kit
Filson designed this backpack with two rows of built-in tool storage slots, in the large secondary pocket. This lets it function as a sort of mega-sized tool roll, not just a general gear-and-clothes hauler.
No doubt this feature will interest some riders, especially as the secondary pocket handily turns into a mini-work bench when completely opened, allowing you to keep your tools and parts in one tidy pile off the ground.
I will say that for me, it wasn’t a very useful feature, as I tend to keep all my wrenching kit in a Wolfman tool roll, which I just swap between whatever bike I’m riding that day. For lots of other people, especially those who haven’t been carrying toolkits before and probably should start, this could be useful. For weekend trips, keep your clothes and other gear in the backpack’s main compartment, and a few useful tools in the secondary pocket.
You can also easily secure extra pouches (tire tubes, med kit, etc.) with the bag’s many MOLLE straps. These also work well for strapping the pack down to a bike rack,
I’m a big fan of the Filson pack’s no-nonsense build quality. I thought the straps were pretty comfortable—although they’re a basic design, they’re well positioned to carry weight without digging in too badly. To me, the Kriega R-series backpacks are the gold standard here, and Filson’s aren’t quite as good, but they’re better than many other packs I’ve used, certainly better than a 1950s-issue army rucksack, which was what I used years ago. I spent several days using the backpack on secondary roads and a bit of offroading, and I found it very good at staying in place where I wanted it, while moving around on the bike.
I think the pack looks good as well, and for many buyers, this will be the most important feature. It’s perfect for scrambler riders.
As mentioned above, I was not a fan of the zipper closure, and the tough build quality comes with a weight disadvantage. It’s much heavier than a bag that’s made with more synthetic material. If you’re packing a load of tools and fill the bag up to its 37-litre capacity, that’s a lot of weight to carry on your back. Ride around for a couple of days with the Filson on your back, and the weight wears you down a lot, even if you don’t notice it first. This is just the reality of wearing almost 40 litres of storage on your back, and honestly, I think moto backpacks should be 25 litres or less for that reason.
That tough construction also means the bag is always bulky, even if you’re not carrying anything inside—its rigid enough that it doesn’t fold up on itself when it’s empty. If you’re wearing your backpack inside a gas station, etc., you’ve got to be careful you don’t knock a display off a shelf when you turn around.
You have to work around the design parameters of any piece of gear, though, and this backpack’s rugged reliability means it should last you for many, many years, working well for more than just moto-adventures, too. At $245, it’s less than a similar-sized Velomacchi Speedway, but considerably more expensive than a Nelson-Rigg Hurricane with the same capacity. Mid-range pricing is probably where this belongs, and if the bag’s unique look and robust materials are what you’re looking for, it’s worth a look.