Rofmia backpack thoughts, part 1
20 May 2024 | 4:00 pm

The 2019 discovery of Rofmia in many ways represented the culmination of all my prior backpack hunting. After years of traveling with the North Face Base Camp Duffel and the Outlier Rolltop rolled up inside, I’ve transitioned to a true one bag solution with the Rofmia Backpack. As I have both v1 and v2, this is a review of both models. The v1 I have is the 40L size, and although Rofmia has take down the images there are some good reviews on Reddit here and here. The v2 has been thoroughly reviewed here as well. My thoughts, then, are a supplement, rather than a replacement for those notes. As such, let me begin by saying it’s a pleasure to review a simply-named item. Rofmia barely brands their products and uses a simple naming scheme. After years of long and inelegant product names, I feel great delight at reviewing a backpack called simply backpack”.

We bought the 40L v1 in person at the shop in Minokamo in the fall of 2019. That sentence explains much of the reason I no longer read bag reviews. I’ve spent twenty years in manufacturing, learning how things were made, and for years that knowledge has led me to value things made in the US or in places I live or have lived, by people I know. For years I’ve valued the world we are building by buying things as much as the things we are buying. Money before words, as my GR1 review, now a decade old, states. The Rofmia backpack is sustainable in that the human endeavor required to produce it will support the producer. This may be the only thing that matters.

As for the v1, after that purchase we have carried it around Japan many, many times, to Vietnam, Ireland, Taiwan, and Thailand, as well as across the US a half dozen times, if not more. The v2 was purchased on release in 2020, and has been around used in Hong Kong extensively, as well as across the US, Japan, and on several shorter trips to China and Taiwan.

Any conversation about these bags has to start with dyneema and a philosophy of travel. Re-reading my review of the Outlier bag, I realize I perhaps haven’t discussed the first aspect enough. As documented across this site, I’ve been trying to travel with less for years. I’ve also been trying to live with less, when on the road and at home. In some situations that has lead to spending quite a bit of money on bags, and I recognize the inconsistencies. For those who’ve never had a dyneema bag, the value is hard to explain. Dyneema feels unlike any other material, and its properties are quite different than anything else I’ve used in bags. Unlike the TPU laminate of the North Face Base Camp Duffel, it isn’t abrasion resistant. Unlike more common cordura or nylon, it doesn’t stretch at all. And unlike all of these, it’s very loud, crinkling like a stiff paper bag when rolling and closing. The tradeoff is that it’s solid, strong, and light. Comparing the dyneema of the Outlier Ultrahigh or Rofmia bags to the cordura of the GR1, for example, is like comparing an F150 to a bicycle, or a house to a tent. They feel like entirely separate objects. The GR1 has a durability that can’t be disguised, and is wonderful. It’s also heavy, for a backpack. The dyneema bags feel like a thin tarp, or a thick paper bag, in some way both utilitarian and temporary. The Rofmia and Outlier have more in common with the blue Ikea bags than cordura ones, albeit with better hand feel.

My first dyneema bag, the Outlier Ultrahigh Rolltop, remains one of my favorite items of all time, and for years was the best bag I’d ever used. It still may be. The Ultrahigh was my first experience with a bag that I wanted to carry empty, just in case, because carrying it empty didn’t affect what I was comfortable doing in any way. That’s the difference between heavy things and light ones. Heavy things, eventually, affect what we’re willing to do while carrying them. As someone who always wants to walk, who is constantly looking to climb things, to run, and to go just a bit farther than I’d meant to, the lack of weight in my belongings sets me free. Having lightweight bags and fewer items also allows me to carry things for others, without feeling overburdened. The Rofmia backpack v1 is the ultimate embodiment of this philosophy, and in many ways feels untouchable. Consider, briefly, this table of bag weights and sizes that I’ve maintained in Notes for years. Please don’t consider the kind of person who maintains such a table.

Bags owned Volume Weight Note
Rofmia Tote (v1) 15L 235 g Dyneema tote
Ghostly x RPMG dyneema 12L 298 g Dyneema rolltop backpack
Outlier Ultrahigh rolltop 20/28L 526 g Dyneema rolltop backpack
Outlier Nexhigh rolltop 20/28L 600 g X-pac rolltop backpack
Rofmia Backpack (v1) 40L 600 g Dyneema rolltop backpack
Rofmia Backpack (v2) 35L 830 g Dyneema rolltop backpack
Peak Tote (v1) 18-20L 900 g Heavy tote
North Face Base Camp S 50L 1230 g Lightweight duffel
Goruck GR1 26L 1451 g Cordura backpack
Peak Travel Backpack 35-45L 2041 g Super heavy, can’t use, given away

Clearly the Rofmia backpacks (both, but especially v1) stand out for the combination of weight and capacity. It is twice as big (closed) as the Outlier and weighs less than half the North Face duffel I’d been carrying. Coupled with the collapsable design that enables the bag to be used in place of both (expanded for travel, cinched down for meetings and daily carry around town), and the Rofmia is unparalleled.

In the interest of staving off questions, yes, I have a list of other bags I’ve looked at but not purchased, for one reason or another, for comparison. Those are below.

Bags of interest Volume Weight Note
Able Carry XPac Daily Backpack 20L 900 g X-pac backpack
Arctery’x Veilance Nomin approx 20L? 930 g Lightweight material?
Bellroy Shift 22L 1250 g Unknown material
Freitag F303 Hazard 19L approx 1500 g? Feels larger, unique colors, heavy
Arctery’x Blade 28 28L 1460 g Normal backpack materials
Arctery’x Granville 16 16L 750 g Lightweight material, flap opening

The obvious next question is why do we also have a v2?”

An answer is that there are two of us.

Another answer is the changes. The Rofmia backpack v2 adds the following features I appreciate: fidlock closures (instead of clips), a zip-opening for the laptop slot, two external water bottle holders, and a sunglasses/cellphone zip pocket on top. There are also a half-dozen other improvements, like the internal compression and a nicer arrangement of the internal front pocket areas, that are interesting but not why we own both. The trade, of 5L of storage for 230 g, makes for a much nicer daily bag around town. Having water bottle slots, a place to quickly store a phone, and most critically a way to access the laptop slot without unrolling, are all great changes. Fidlocks make for a faster, nicer experience. The bag is still wonderfully expandable, and can hold a ton of groceries or whatever surprising gear needs arise.

However, for long international travel with one bag and little gear, the v1 still reigns supreme. In 2022 I went on solo trip of the kind that used to dominate my pre-covid life: a whirlwind ten days in Ireland, New York, and San Francisco. This trip required work clothes, casual clothes, cold weather gear, hot weather gear, a laptop and a variety of other nonsense. Because I was flying solo, I had the pick of v1 or v2, and v1 provided the extra capacity that was critical by the return flight. In terms of the method, for readers who have not tried true one bag travel, it is unparalleled, assuming physical mobility.

The ability to carry on in all situations is absolutely worth the volume constraints, as I leave airports up to 45 minutes prior to fellow passengers, and am never concerned about transfers, delays, re-bookings, or similar issues. I also never wonder what bag anything is in. The tradeoffs, of having to carry everything at all times, are acceptable, and incentivize a lighter lifestyle. On the above occasion I spent my nine free hours in Dublin (after taking the bus into the city immediately on landing) walking, covering some 20 km while carrying everything I had brought. While definitely a burden, the ability to carry all my gear allowed me to enjoy my free time in a new city in a way that would not have been possible with a suitcase or even multiple bags. With my old duffel set up it would have been possible, but less comfortable. For nine hours of walking, every gram matters.

The v1’s compromises, mostly of no laptop slot and no water bottle holders, are well worth the weight trade off. The internal compression, while cleaner, is less flexible, and I’d stick to the v1 external style. The phone/sunglasses zip pocket is wonderful, but not necessary. And the fidlocks, while nice, aren’t enough nicer to be worth the weight. The only change I’d truly fight for is the laptop slot, but after five years, I can say it’s ok without. I can also say I’m very curious about the v1.5 Rofmia built for a custom release for Lister, which seems to match my feedback, and is probably the type of thing I’d request custom if I ever need another.

The most honest statement I can make about the Rofmia Backpack v1 is what I said at the beginning: I stopped reading about backpacks after getting it. Five years later it remains one of my favorite objects of all time, and I no longer look for alternatives.

Given the length and positive nature of this review I should acknowledge some remaining points briefly.

First, price. Dyneema is an expensive material. In addition, bags hand made by people in developed countries that I personally have met are expensive products. For these reasons, and due to the odd and temperamental nature of Dyneema, I don’t point friends in the direction of these when I am asked for my backpack suggestions. Instead I suggest some of the bags of interest, hence that portion of the list above. I fully understand that our use case, of wanting to fly internationally with only a carry on, and have that carry on then usable as a day bag, is both esoteric and unnecessary. Still, it remains part of both of our personal and professional lives, and is a great experience. Beyond desire, I understand budget constraints and the inherently lower value sometimes placed on hand-made items. I have always placed a large value on knowing who made things. It’s a huge part of why I’ve spent the last twenty years in factories, and as part of global supply chains. In many ways I am willing to pay more for that knowledge, and visiting Rofmia in Minokamo, recounted in this post, was wonderful, and is exactly why we travel.

Second, durability. Dyneema is not a forever material. It will wear out, or shred, slowly becoming ever more ephemeral until there are holes. Many bags at similar price points promise purchase once use forever” or similar slogans. Durable enough to be handed down to the next generation, for me, is of value in watches but not in backpacks. I also am well aware that selling one item to a customer per lifetime makes for a difficult business, and will be ok with whatever happens in five years or ten, when my time with this bag is up. This does however stop me from recommending dyneema bags to any and all.

Lastly, as my partner recently exclaimed, these bags are expensive, fine, but they’re always sold out!”. It’s true. Outlier no longer makes a dyneema bag. Rofmia usually sells out new stock within a couple of days. And the Ghostly x RPMG bag listed here was made twice and probably never again, in small runs both times. This is the nature of expensive boutique items with odd markets, and I am not surprised. I do understand that it makes for a difficult recommendation.

Ah well. Perhaps given the difficulty of acquisition this review will be of use. To those, then, for whom backpacks are an open category of research and purchase; to those people still in search of a perfect bag: the Rofmia v1 backpack is that.

At least for me.


Where we go
10 May 2024 | 4:00 pm

The seasons shift. I sit at tables half exposed to the weather, one whole side of the bar opened up to the street. It will remain like this for much of the rest of the year. Outside, just past the small awning, it pours, the kind of Asian cloudburst common to this time of year. Further out though the street is dry, sheltered beneath an overpass. It is the kind of environment worthless in my home country, prime real estate here for this exact cover.

I am listening to an album via a youtube stream. It’s the only way to hear, unless somehow one purchased their two unlabeled releases in person in Los Angeles more than a decade ago. I think about this, about the value of uniqueness in the age of ubiquity. My beer was produced on an island not far from this one, and the value is in that local rarity rather than any amazing individuality. The idea is part of my rofmia backpack review, but the clarity of unique experiences has gained so much weight in our lives, the past few decades. In some sense of course this has always been true, hence our love of the travelogue, and human’s long-standing attempts to explore the unknown.

And yet, as with all things, it is our ability to communicate that takes this from a truth to a global reality, from the province of the rich, desperate, or lucky to the awareness at every moment as to what aspects of our reality are not global, are not shared. Despite being uploaded more than two years ago this album has ninety six thousand views. In comparison the Fred again.. Tiny Desk has 9.1 million. In an era when anything can be anywhere, the things that truly aren’t can gain value from that fact. Looking out the window into the rain, into the delivery driver sitting on his scooter in shorts, playing games on his phone while waiting for the dinner rush to begin, I can see all of us. The company he works for may not exist in the nation you’re reading this, and yet the idea is familiar. The shorts are a product of the tropical heat. The game may be local, the device manufactured by a regional powerhouse rather than a global one, the mobile service provider most assuredly so, and yet the idea is clear. My description conveys just enough for the sketch to be real, evoke memories.

I spend a lot of time listening to music to create memories, to create soundtracks to places and feelings. The background sounds of our lives, for the first time in history, are entirely under our own control. We are no longer victim to the top 40 of our high school radio or the covers of western hits played in the Thai beach bar. We can bring our own sounds from anywhere into being wherever we need them, wherever we would like. In some ways audio is the first true spatial technology. It’s the only digital thing I can bring to life in the real world.

And so I do, here in the rain, in the cool of AC on one side and the humid backsplash on the other. It’s beautiful, to discover things like this beer, like this album, that I will struggle to share, will struggle to re-create later. That’s the point of being alive, out in the world and listening, even if to an environment of our own creation.


North Face Base Camp Duffel thoughts, part 1
19 April 2024 | 4:00 pm

This review is more than half a decade old. Perhaps it has been waiting for some unknown inspiration, or perhaps I simply forgot. The oldest of the three bags mentioned below was given away to a friend heading to Berlin years and years ago, in San Francisco. Otherwise every word holds true, and I publish it now for future reference. 


I’m on my third. This is a statement of luxury and trust, because they haven’t died. The first one sits down in the garage, filled with cleats and hats, water bottles and discs. It goes with us to tournaments and is so often covered in dust that the black surface is permanently lightly textured.

The second one, also black, isn’t mine. It’s Tara’s, bought for a trip I can no longer remember. They’re not the same, these two black duffles with large silver logos on the ends. The newer one is the 2015 model, with no carry straps across the opening and smaller webbing handles and loops around the edges. It has an outside zip pocket at one end, which is transformative as the old version has only clip-on features on the exterior. Being able to stash keys, a transit card, headphones, a power cord, and an inhaler without opening the duffel makes it a much better backpack, and a much better single carry on. This goes hand in hand with the better backpack straps and the removal of the top carry handles which either dangled one on each side or rubbed in the middle of the back when the old one was used as a backpack. Filled loosely, as the one now used for cleats is mostly, that’s fine, but when traveling sometimes the bag is packed tight, and the carry handles made the shoulder straps harder to use. After a decade of promoting the bag for all purpose use the North Face designers decided to focus and optimize for the backpack carry rather than the single arm carry, and the bag is much stronger for their decision.

The third one, which sits above me in the economy class overhead on this flight to Shanghai, is gray with pink straps. In many ways it’s the accent piece to my travel gear, which is otherwise mostly gray, black, or dark blue. I have a bright orange Patagonia jacket that I mostly wear for ultimate that serves the same purpose, being by far the brightest thing I own. It’s immediately visible in a sea of players at a tournament, which is the point. Recognizable. The new bag is the same, bright and flashy while still essentially being a gray bag. It was a present from Tara in early 2016, before the spring travel season. I’ve checked it once, but mostly use it as a single carry bag, with pack-it cubes. Right now it’s filled with Amazon purchases for a friend in Shanghai, my wool hoodie, a spare pair of pants, and two cubes of t-shirts and underwear. On the way back it’ll be lighter, meaning I’ll conform to the rule of saving 10% for the journey, at least in one direction.

In a lot of ways this review then is about packing style rather than the bag. The details, the rough sketch of the bag, are important though: it’s very water resistant, and very dirt resistant. Most scuffs can be wiped or rubbed off with a dirt cloth. This is important when traveling in a lot of different circumstances with a bag on one’s back. If it looks beat to heck then so do I, because it’s as big as my torso. All 3 of our bags are the small size, 50 liters, which is really plenty for a couple of weeks on the road. If they were bigger I’d take more crap which would make them heavier which would make me want to travel less. The absolute number one rule I’ve learned these last few years is carry less stuff when on the road. It makes life a lot better, makes me more likely to explore, and makes me happier once I have done so. Backpack style travel enables faster transitions and better motion than wheeled luggage, with the trade off of one’s spine supporting whatever’s in the bag rather than the wheel. This is a good trade off in general, as it’s easier to change plans, to handle obstacles, and to blend in, but it’s a trade off that rewards packing light, as back pain makes me reluctant to climb stairs or explore alleys that I otherwise would want to.

The mesh pocket on the opening flap of the bag is great for pens, change, transit cards, and other quick access stuff. In the older version I used to leave my inhaler in there, which isn’t a good idea as the outside of this pocket is pressed against the center of the back when using the bag as a backpack. If the bag is full this meant the inhaler would jam into my lower spine. In the newer version the inhaler goes into the top zip pocket, which solves that problem.

The shoulder straps on the new version are wider, thicker, and spaced more naturally apart. They can also be used as a carry handle, grabbing both of them as a poor replacement for the old dedicated carry handle. Whether this is useful is a matter of opinion, but it’s not horrible. The side and end handles on the 2015 version are far superior. They’re slender, and there are handles on all four sides now, instead of just two. This makes a huge difference trying to get the bag fully loaded in and out of taxis, tuk tuks, and truck beds.

The big downside to this bag of course is the huge North Face logo. I’ve tried removing it, on my oldest bag, with very limited success. If anyone has a secret recipe that works and doesn’t damage the bag’s surface or waterproof nature, I’d love to hear it.

For those interested in the subtler color ways, there’s a genius black version that I’ve only seen in person in Bangkok but must be available elsewhere. It’s black, with a matte grey logo that blends in much better than the standard US version’s silver. Even better, the whole bag is lightly sparkled, looking like a star field at night. It’s just a tiny bit of flair on an otherwise very black bag, and a really wonderful effect.

I’ve gone with the pink and gray instead, because I mostly use this bag on work trips or on vacation, and it’s great to have an easily-visible piece of luggage after years of near-identical black gear.

All in all this bag is a steal at $120 US recommended retail, and I highly recommend it if this style of travel suits you. I’d get the newer 2015 version even if there’s a price difference, because the backpack straps and zip pocket are that big an improvement. And then I’d take it somewhere that it needed cleaning after.

Which is entirely the point.



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