Porter brand bags and water resistance
August 27, 2020 12:10 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking for a very specific type of “everyday” bag that can fulfill multiple roles. A friend of mine recommended the pricey and fashionable—but utilitarian—bags from the Japanese company “Porter”. I am looking at them and can’t seem to figure out if they are water resistant or waterproof at all, which is a must for me as I live in a very wet climate. I want to know if anyone has experience with these, and maybe alternatives.

Basically, I have three bags in my life right now:

1. A large hiking backpack which can fit a decent amount of stuff in it, but is a bit uncomfortable over long periods of time, is unwieldy, and is falling apart. It was a hand-me-down from many years ago, and isn’t exactly the best for running around town, BUT is good for going to protests where I need to stash a change of clothes, a gas mask, a helmet, and a first aid kit. It is made out of a good waterproof material! It has a drawstring for the bag, so the top fits right over it. Funny enough, it is almost exactly the bag that Abby has in The Last of Us 2. Imgur link to pic As you can see, it’s beaten up quite a bit.

2. A small-medium sized camelback backpack. I like this backpack because of the camelback, and I can fit a small amount of things in it for daytime usage (diary, some books) and it has another small compartment in the front that fits my first aid kit, saline solution, and can fit some gloves and such. While the main compartment can definitely fit a light jacket and a rolled up pair of pants alongside a canteen, it can’t fit much else after that, which leaves me susceptible to arrest, abduction/kidnapping, and attacks by paramilitary groups.

3. A small fanny pack that I use as a chest bag. Fits small number of things, like glasses case, gloves. Small objects. For typical everyday usage. Not really applicable here but it needs to be mentioned.

So a friend of mine recommended me Porter. Said they make good, military-inspired bags. I’m looking at them and, yeah, they’re pricey. Seems like they have good materials though, and some of them appear to be big enough for me to do what I want. But, are they waterproof? Ideally, I want a bag that can not only fit the needs of somebody who is going to protests, but can ALSO function as a regular, “everyday joe” type of bag. This is crucial in the wintertime because I am anal about being comfortable and warm and dry, and sometimes I will bring a separate pair of clothes with me anywhere I go, just to be safe. I also tend to carry a camera on me, and a diary, and books, and those can’t be getting wet.

So here are what I am looking at. Let’s just pretend for now that price is not an issue.

1. Porter Flying Ace Backpack

2. Porter Force Rucksack

3. Porter Crag 2Way Rucksack

Does anybody have experience with this company?

Alternatively, can anybody give me suggestions to similar bags that fit the parameters of what I am looking for? It sucks to be in this position, but I gotta adapt, and being prepared at protests is of utmost importance not only right now, in the present, but also for the future, while also being able to carry on a semi-normal existence outside of those situations.
posted by gucci mane to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is based upon no actual experience with the company, but at some point I stumbled upon the Rains brand. I know they make waterproof* backpacks, and they're minimalist in style. https://www.us.rains.com/collections/backpacks
(* = although they seem to use "waterproof" in some places and "water-resistant" in other places, which makes me worry)
posted by spelunkingplato at 12:37 PM on August 27

My first thought is a backpack made by a company that makes bicycle messenger bags, e.g. R.E.Load or Chrome. Some of them are in the same general area as the Porter bags, aesthetically speaking, and they'll almost always have full waterproof vinyl liners. Dsptch and Defy make some things that kinda have the look, but might not be as completely waterproof (all of these bags are not Porter-expensive, but they're not cheap, either).
posted by box at 12:58 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]

I have a leather soft-briefcase made by them that I quite like and has held up reasonably well over the last 5 years so I'd consider them to make good quality stuff. But none of the product descriptions mention water-resistance and if that was a requirement then I wouldn't buy a bag unless something on it specifically said it was.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:00 PM on August 27

wow, expensive. To make a coated nylon or synthetic bag as waterproof as possible, seal the seams, and re-waterproof with an approved product from time to time. Camera, diary, library books? I'd still put them in a ziplock bag inside a water-proofed bag. Zippers are a classic source of water incursion, so ask about the zipper.

I'd recommend REI. You can visit, try on a bunch of backpacks and get advice from very qualified staff. Your large hiking backpack is cool, but leather and whatever fabric is heavy and doesn't do well when wet. Compression straps and good hip belt make loads easier to carry. Some of them have a rain flap, and you can get backpack ponchos

To get the cool factor of a military-looking bag, get an army backpack from ebay or a local thrift store. The Army obsessively researches such equipment and designs and produces high-quality gear.
posted by theora55 at 1:04 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]

I had a Rains bag and hated it. The clips were sticky and hard to unclip, the material was waterproof but the shape of the bag let rain in anyway, and the material tended to scuff and got permanently stained after I wore it when I had sunscreen on.

I don't know anything about Porter, unfortunately. If you're specifically looking for that canvas military style bag, I don't know of anything to recommend. But if you're flexible on aesthetics I'd HIGHLY recommend anything by Ortlieb. Their Velocity backpack is my favourite of all time, very light and comfortable but maybe not big enough for you. I've also owned a bunch of other things from them and everything has been top-notch quality, waterproof & long-lasting. REI carries Ortlieb products.
posted by 100kb at 1:11 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]

If I was not that worried about price I'd probably go Patagonia. They're a bit shouty about their brand name, but have some good designs and are very clear about how waterproof any given bag is.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 1:16 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]

I've always wanted to get a BOBLBEE backpack ever since I saw some random person wearing one years ago. I don't know if you'd go for their look but I think they'd be fairly water resistant.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:17 PM on August 27

Yeah, just to say I investigated rains bags when I wanted a waterproof bag and they had a lot of bad reviews saying they were cheaply made and the zips are prone to failure.

I think if you want something truly waterproof you want something like a hiking bag with an actual waterproof rating. Most stuff is really only water resistant.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:19 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]

I have seen bags from Porter before, but not those models. They are more of a fashion brand than a durability brand. They appear well made, but the ones that I saw were not waterproof in any way. The ones you've linked do not appear to be either, but I agree its hard to tell.

As a heads up, lots of outdoor companies don't want to state that a bag is waterproof unless it can be submerged like a drybag. Even what I would consider "city waterproof" to the elements, is what bag manufacturers often just label water resistant.

Mystery Ranch makes some damn fine bags that aren't much cheaper than the ones you linked, but are made domestically. Their military bags are actual military spec, and are tough as fucking bricks. They have ties with lots of military and police organizations though. But also firefighters, so their politics might not line up with what you're looking for. I have a civillian bag thats no longer made but is similar to this one, and its just as tough as some of their others that I've seen. I use a cover with mine if the weather gets out of hand.

Bailey Works makes not as militarily inspired bags, but they very overbuilt and are waterproof to rain (they're not dry bags though), and honestly tougher than some mil-spec stuff I've owned. I've had a messenger bag of their for over 15 years now, half of that time was as a daily bike commuter in the PNW. These are good folks doing good work. Their production model is focused around single moms doing production work at their houses instead of a central location (except for final bag assembly). They're a good company and make good bags.

Goruck also makes really nice bags, as in some of the finest construction I've ever seen. They're not cheap, but they're incredibly well made and domestically produced. They appear very militaristic in their marketing and sponsorship choices (and I belive cops, military personnel and first responders get a discount with them, but I may be wrong). I personally have not purchased one because of the company's politics, but YMMV.

This offering isn't as militarily inspired, but I use an ortleib messenger backpack in rotation too. German made, not domestic, but not militaristic at all. Same deal, decades of use on mine and it only shows some skuffs. It's pretty damn tough, but in a different direction. They're also just caverns inside. Mine fits a motorcycle helmet, a change of clothes, laptop and a couple small little bags of sundries and tools. This offering is actually fully fall-off-a-dock waterproof for a bit. It seals like a drybag.

One thing to search for, but you're going to run into lots of fascist supporting companies while looking, is to look for bags that work within the MOLLE system. You can add on pouches and packs to your backpack to fit your needs exactly if you have one.

All these companies would have bags that sorta fit your requirements, and would last a lifetime of abuse, if not regular use.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:26 PM on August 27 [9 favorites]

Honorable mentions: Blaqpacks, North St bags, Black Star Bags all of whom have waterpoofish bags and are owned by nice people with left leaning politics, and are produced locally to you.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:34 PM on August 27

Ditto North St. Bags, which I now see was mentioned in the comment immediately before this one. So, uhhh, seconding North St. Bags.
posted by box at 1:49 PM on August 27

I agree about a bag company catering to cyclists, like Mission Workshop or Chrome, if you're looking for something both waterproof and with sort of an urban style.
posted by the_blizz at 3:07 PM on August 27

So, I have used both Black Star messenger bags and Chrome backpacks, back when I was an everyday cyclist (which I need to get back into). With both of those bags I carried what I basically described above, but with the Black Star bag (which was a large, at the time) it hurt my shoulder a lot, especially since I was biking. The bag was durable and did great in the rain, but the constant shoulder aches was a hindrance. Thus, I went over to a Chrome backpack. However, I used the Chrome backpack so heavily that I had issues with durability. They had a free repair policy at the time, so I would just take it to the Chrome store downtown and have them repair it, but it was a hassle. The other issue with it was that it had a very skinny compartment, which would not work for putting a helmet in alongside other stuff. The straps were really nice on my shoulders though, and when it was loaded up I had no pain on my body. I remember one time carrying a small bicycle frame, two wheels, and a bunch of stuff inside and it worked out great for the short distance that I needed to go with all of that. I actually have a camera backpack that Chrome makes, but it’s specifically for camera gear and I only use it when I’m only using my cameras. It works great, and I like the modularity it provides me with since my gear is always different.

I was definitely under the impression that Porter was more of a fashionable brand than anything, but the recommendation I got is from somebody I trust (although they do have a different model than any of the three I linked to). I guess this is sort of a neurotic search, since I’m looking for something that will carry a decent, yet tricky loadout of strange-shaped objects. When I had my Black Star bag I’d just attach my bicycle helmet to the outside. Unfortunately, I have to conceal a helmet now, thus necessitating room inside the bag for an awkwardly-shaped object, alongside other things I’m carrying. This is partially what drove me toward the Porter designs: the inside of them looks spacious enough to put something like a helmet and a gas mask alongside a change of pants, shirt, jacket.

Thank you all for the suggestions, I will continue doing research!
posted by gucci mane at 3:38 PM on August 27

I also live in a very wet climate and I use Ortlieb paniers for grocery runs on my bike. If I've got less stuff to haul, though, I use a 35 L roll-top dry bag backpack from Wilderness Technology. The particular model I have seems to be discontinued, but you can peruse their current offerings at Next Adventure.

The one I have is really a PVC dry bag with a couple of backpack straps thrown on. It's got one external (non-waterproof) zippered pocket. The main compartment is Pacific Northwest stormproof, though: nothing inside has ever gotten wet. As with all roll tops, organization/access can be an issue - it's just one giant compartment.
posted by invokeuse at 4:20 PM on August 27

posted by oceanjesse at 4:54 PM on August 27

I guess this is sort of a neurotic search, since I’m looking for something that will carry a decent, yet tricky loadout of strange-shaped objects.

At REI you can try before you buy. Plus you can put a beanbag in and test the weight.

Check the hipbelt, a good hipbelt makes all the difference.

REI has backpack covers, including small ones:
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:30 PM on August 27

I am going to suggest MEI because the bags have been bulletproof, for me, for 30+ years. I got the Voyageur Deluxe last year and that did fine traveling through Asia, North America, and Australia. They are craptastic at marketing but amazingly responsive on the phone and whatsapp...like the owner will help you kind of help. Anyway, they will customize and the price point to quality is SOLID. You may like the way some of the bags convert to backpack from duffle.

I will also second REI brands being also a good price point to quality.
posted by jadepearl at 6:10 PM on August 27

If inconspicuous is your goal in these situations, I too think something blandly outdoorsy from REI would be preferable to military-inspired. I also have a RELoad flight pack and can recommend it as well - roomy, waterproof, very well made, and from a small Black-owned business.
posted by btfreek at 6:29 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]

Have said this before, but my NorthFace 'surge' backpack can hold enough for a 5 day trip if you pack light (including laptop), has padding for a laptop, and can fit a bike helmet fully inside (obviously without all the other stuff). Smaller version appears to be called Jester. The surge has a waist strap which is helpful, especially for cycling.

They come in a fairly innocuous black version, and don't scream 'hiking' or 'laptop' or 'paramilitary' and I can confirm that they are pretty waterproof. I have walked around for hours in snow and rain with mine, and the contents stayed dry. I used for work, travel, day-to-day and hiking, and my version still looks great. I'm not into North Face clothing, but the backpack has been solid.
posted by sedimentary_deer at 3:18 AM on August 28

I have a 4 or 5 year old Mission Workshop bag (this one, with slight different options). I used it as a commuter bag almost every day - laptop, notebook, sometimes a change of gym clothes, often a sweatshirt, occasionally a bike helmet. It absolutely kept the rain out and after that time, the only damage is cosmetic. I don't love the bag, mostly because it seemed designed for someone a lot taller than me (5'10" or 6') and the closure clips are kind of fiddly, but they do look cool. It seems like it (or the larger 40L version) might work for you.
posted by A Blue Moon at 6:21 AM on August 28

I have been using aCote & Ciel Isar L for a couple of years now, very water resistant, dedicated pocket for 17" laptop behind the straps with voluminous subpockets, huge expandable main compartment with a large-ish internal zip pocket, small exterior secret pocket (which is well enough hidden that for about 20 minutes when the bag arrived I was sure it didn't exist) for wallet, valuables, etc, very sturdily built. I carry a lot of oddly shaped devices around, audio gear and computer peripherals.... This bag has kept things perfectly dry while I was walking through terrible Canadian and Swedish rain and snowstorms without issues.
posted by remembrancer at 7:53 AM on August 28

I have a secondhand Porter nylon bag and the zipper isn't ideal for rain IMO. The material (heavy nylon) is fine but mine has a big chunky zipper.

You know what's really, really waterproof and expensive and trendy? Ally Capellino nylon travel and cycle bags. I've got the large Hoy (again check eBay for gently used - unlike Porter, they're not famous enough to be counterfeited) and that thing is so waterproof. It is the best bag - the two straps on the top are simply fantastic for carrying it in tight quarters (as much as anyone is going to be in tight quarters for now). The reflective strip is really good and the exterior clip on the back is great for attaching a bike light. I also have the duffel bag in this line (again, eBay) and it's my main travel bag - it's very light and it holds a lot. In black, these are super anonymous except to people who really care about bags.

If you can find an Ally Capellino "Frank" rucksack in nylon that's even better - but they haven't got any nylon ones in this year's collection. (The Frank is a bit bigger and has two exterior pockets.) The waxed cotton ones are very handsome bags, but I am here to tell you that the waxed cotton spots when wet - spots like an absolute fury. It's an amazingly bad design choice for a backpack for a wet country. (Again, I went on this huge Ally Capellino kick via eBay three years ago and so I have the Hoy, a nylon Frank, the duffel and a waxed canvas Frank that I never use because it's a beautiful color and the instant rain hits it develops unremovable spots.)

If you get one, make sure you get the current model Hoy - there's an old canvas model that isn't as good. Also, if you poke around you can often find really good sales from various trendy online retailers.

Man I wish I was biking around doing stuff using my backpack and having a normal summer.

ETA: The other thing I like about the Hoy is that it's pretty secure - the top zipper means it's harder for someone to get into when you're wearing it and you can safety pin either zipper closed, making them harder to open without you noticing. Once something is packed in, it's not going to spill out.
posted by Frowner at 1:10 PM on August 28

I love my Arkel messenger bag/pannier. It is completely waterproof, but made in Canada so don't know what shipping would be like.

I cycle with a change of clothes and a laptop and it can fit my helmet but then it's tight. But it's a great brand and maybe one of their backpacks would work.
posted by biggreenplant at 10:34 AM on September 1

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