What is it?
This is the 4th generation of Vanquest’s Envoy-13 messenger bag. A tactical messenger with 14L of internal space and 12 pockets, it can carry up to 13″ laptops in the dedicated internal sleeve. The bag also comes in a larger version (the Envoy-17) for up to 17″ laptops, and is available in black or “Wolf Gray”.
Design & Organisation
The number of pockets on the Envoy-13 are one of the first things you notice when you pick it up: 12 in total excluding the dual collapsible bottle holders and 3 pen pockets on the front. These are generally of a good depth and well-thought out. In particular, the bag-length zip than runs between the two handles is a well-thought out touch to save you from unbuckling and opening the flap to quickly access a smaller item in the main compartment. The luggage handle pass-through with a small zippered pocket on the back is also a feature that should be standard on more bags.
One notable issue, however, is the amount of velcro used throughout the bag. Now I understand that this is a “tactical” bag and ostensibly designed to be used outdoors. But I would hazard a guess that most users are going to want to use it as an EDC or even as a work bag given its organisational capabilities, and the constant ripping sound of flaps opening and pockets parting makes you a little self-conscious after a while. It’s not wholly practical, either. The two internal pockets opposite the laptop sleeve in the main compartment would have been more functional without the velcro, as you need to pry them open each time when there was no risk of anything falling out in the first place. The main flap, as well, is more than secure with the high tensile plastic buckles, and the velcro alone is not strong enough to hold the messenger flap in place (especially when the two zippered external pockets on the flap have something in them). So, again, what’s the point?
Build Quality & Comfort
Like all Vanquest products, build quality itself is never an issue. The bag is weighty (1.2kg) and both the immediate look and feel are of resilience and durability with CORDURA 1000-D on the base and 500-D fabric elsewhere used for the external construction. Inside you have the company’s signature high visibility bright orange looped lining, most of which is quilted so that more velcro add-ons (like their sticky panels) can be attached.
One count against the build quality is the handles themselves. Vanquest have improved the padding in the 4th generation, but the elasticated neoprene-like material with the padding beneath feels soft and “squidgy” in the hand and detracts considerably from the overall ruggedness of the bag. And because the handles each have volume, you end up squeezing them together, rather than have one slip on top of the other for a more comfortable grip. The shoulder strap, on the other hand, is extremely comfortable and well-padded and it’s nice to see the inclusion of a cross stabilising strap.
The organisational focus of the bag is also its biggest drawback. The substantial padding between the compartments and throughout the bag more generally is reassuring from a durability point of view, but becomes a hinderance when the bag is packed and the pockets reasonably used to their capacity. Then, rather than a (relatively speaking) sleek messenger bag you could take to the office, you end up carrying a rotund holdall that feels extremely awkward in the hand. The seemingly convenient flap pockets only exacerbate this issue.
Extremely well-constructed bag with lots of compartments and pockets, but it doesn’t quite get the balance right between design and practical, every day use. The current retail price of US$190 seems a little steep given the bag’s drawbacks, especially when compared with similar offerings from the likes of 5.11 Tactical. After a few months of use, I found myself reaching for other options.
- Extremely well-built, solid bag that is capable of taking years of abuse.
- Many organisation options and well-thought out quick access zippers.
- “Ambidextrous” (can be worn equally either way)
What’s not so good?
- Level of padding through the messenger bag works against the design once it is loaded.
- Velcro used to an unnecessary degree throughout (maybe not an issue for those intending to use it outdoors).
- Squishy handles detract from the overall build quality.