Review and Interview: Mission Workshop Radian travel pack
When I saw the press release pictures of the new Mission Workshop Radian travel pack I had to see it in-person. Mission designed the Radian with sleek and urban lines but claimed a ruggedness ready for treks outside of the city. And, in the images, the Radian looked gigantic.
Mission Workshop was nice enough to send a Radian for review, and its already being prepared for San Diego Comic-Con where it will serve as my main carry-on and as an accent to my Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cosplay aesthetic.
A big bag
Now that my review bag has arrived, I can report that The Radian is both well-made and huge. It measures 26.5″ high with roll extended to maximum, with a width of 14″ and a depth of 6″. The Radian really is a roller-bag without rollers, as the main zipper opens to a 42-liter cavern ready to absorb clothing, gadgets, marketing swag or anything else you may need to carry. Large mesh pockets with zippers line the sides and the top of the compartment to keep some basic items from getting lost in the spacious interior.
The Radian also includes a padded zippered compartment that fits up to a 15.5” laptop, along with a compartment that doubles as a tablet holder or the seat for a hydration bladder. A water bottle net folds neatly into the bag’s right side.
The Mission Workshop Radian travel pack is one of the best-made bags I have ever seen. The heavy fabric, called HT500 textile incorporates high-tenacity yarn which results in a refined lightweight fabric that is abrasion and tear-resistant. An aluminum frame keeps The Radian well-formed during packing and wear.
While The Radian does sport a roll-top design for easy access, and “top loading,” I would find top loading a hard use case under most circumstances, especially with clothing laid out flat across the bottom and other items stacked above. When the bag flips vertically from horizontal loading, any top loading would push the items already in the back toward the bottom rather than keeping them neatly pressed in place. The image of an optional insert (see the first image below) does show how The Radian would support a completely vertical application for transporting biological, nuclear or perhaps picnic materials. To me, the top loading (as a backpack) versus the horizontal loading (which is technically top loading when the main compartment is open) is a choice that needs to be made by on a well-planned, case-by-case basis. The configurability of the folding/not folding top creates space that could, for instance, be used to stash a jacket poncho for easy access (watch the proprietary videos on The Radian product page for packing inspiration).
The packing system
Those shopping for a nearly $600 backpack will likely do their homework and know that the bag they are about to buy brings more to the travel party than it might appear on the surface. Those, however, who buy the main bag without a lot of information may think their Radian is missing some parts…and it is missing parts, but they are optional. Mission designed Radian as a system, not just a single bag. They call their system Arkiv (accessories and examples here). As the illustration below shows, Mission makes various add-ons available from front and side pouches to belts. I have not tested how these items connect, or how they change the wearing profile of the bag. If Mission shares some accessories, I will come back and add comments to this review.
Let me reiterate, this is a gigantic bag, and I’m saying that as a 6-foot four-inch adult. I’m not sure how those of smaller stature would deal with its lengthy profile. I like that it includes a chest strap to help hold it in place and balance the weight under heavy load.
I also like that the designers even thought about covering the straps for bag check. It took me a few minutes to figure out where the cover was, but once I did, it makes sense (velcroed along the bottom of the bag when standing). Once unfurled the strap cover easily rolls back in, avoiding the fault of so many hidden extras that never get re-stowed properly by consumers. My one negative is the top handle, which I wish was wider and thicker for better, firmer grasping.
Several years ago I traveled around Europe with all carry-ons. I think the best compliment I can offer on The Radian is to say I wish I had it on that trip. I would have avoided the clumsy moments trying to open train doors with one hand, and the struggles to walk up multiple stories with both hands lugging luggage that didn’t roll up stairs. Keeping hands free has always been a great value proposition for a backpack, and the well-considered features an oversized design of The Radian means it will eliminate most needs for any other bag on a trip. The Radian does almost everything you will want when you travel except fit under a seat when you have a 34” inseam.
The Mission Workshop Radian travel pack is an outstanding bag for people looking to consolidate their luggage, keep their hands free and protect their gear. Mission delivers a quality backpack that includes many built-in features as well as available add-ons for an enhanced travel experience.
My primary suggestion from the unit I received would be some sort of documentation in the bag that points out features. The website does a great job of showing what the bag can do, but a more personal experience would be useful for those who just buy the bag and want to get going. I have reviewed several SCOTTeVEST products and I always find it useful that every pocket includes a suggested use and that the built-in microfiber cleaning cloth includes a map to the jacket’s features.
If you are looking for THE BACKPACK for your luggage collection, you may well decide The Mission Workshop Radian travel pack is that backpack.
An Interview with Jeff Roberts, Creative Director and co-owner of Mission Workshop
The initial press release on this bag intrigued me, so I asked Mission’s PR partner to arrange an interview. I sent Jeff Roberts, Creative Director and co-owner of Mission Workshop some questions and he was kind enough to respond. Please read this interview. It provides useful insights into business approaches and risk-taking as well as design.
I asked a couple of questions about partnerships and outsourcing that have been edited out as they were simply one-word answers: in-house. Unlike many firms, Mission designs in-house, prototypes in-house and manufacturers in the United States.
Minor edits have been made for grammar and clarity.
What research went into the features? How do you decide what features people need?
In general, when we decide to develop a new product, it’s because we feel that there is a need that’s not currently being met in the marketplace. For this particular pack, we travel a lot — both to cities and more remote locations — and we felt that there wasn’t a good carry solution available for the type of travel that we do. Roller luggage isn’t ideal for gravel roads and subway stations, heavy duffels are awkward to carry and have issues with laptop/tech organization, etc. So, we basically built a pack for ourselves knowing that there are a lot of other people like us that have multi-dimensional schedules that combine business, creative, tech, and outdoor/adventure travel.
How do you use feedback from previous designs to improve designs?
A large percentage of our customers are power users that have a lot to say about what they like and what they don’t like about our gear. We love our vocal user base because it helps us to continually improve our products over time. We get feedback on the phone and through email, and also through social channels and Reddit. Since we’re still a relatively small team, critical feedback goes directly to the owners of the company so that we can make ongoing iterative improvements. Making our gear in small batches at small factories also allows us to incorporate minor changes on a rolling basis quickly and seamlessly.
How do you evaluate and select materials? Fabrics, zippers?
Our core brand promise is that our gear is guaranteed forever. The #1 factor we screen for in any potential new textile or trim is durability. Second to durability is weatherproofness, and after that is visual and tactile aesthetic. We use both lab testing and real-world field-testing in our evaluations. To discover new materials, we continually meet with textile and trim suppliers at our workshop, and also travel to trade shows and supplier offices in the U.S., Japan, and Europe to stay on top of the materials science landscape.
There are apparently some innovations here against general backpacks in the market, how do you decide if a feature is too risky (or how do you get permission to take a risk — or do you just take it)?
We just take it. We don’t have a big board of directors or a group of shareholders that we have to answer to, so it makes it easier for us to take risks. Our philosophy is that we build the absolute best gear possible, and then we let users decide if we did a good job or not. So far, that formula has worked out really well for us.
What tools (software) do you use for the design work?
We do a little bit of drawing, but, historically most of our bag designs have been created by our co-owner Mark Falvai who I believe is one of the great bag designers of our time. Mark co-founded Chrome Industries, as well as Mission Workshop, both of which have been really influential brands in the bag space over the last 25 years. Mark’s process involves more scissors/fabric/sewing machine than hardware and software which is why I believe that Mission Workshop gear looks different than many other brands who use Illustrator or CAD during early-stage development.
Do you run any focus groups against a design ahead of actual manufacture?
We don’t run focus groups. We feel that the pieces we create aren’t just serving a functional purpose, but an aesthetic purpose as well which can sometimes be at odds with focus group testing. We do, however, run quite a bit of field- and stress-testing with professionals and power users to make sure that the functional aspects of our products perform at the highest level.
On this design, what would you consider the key innovation?
There are a lot of unique things about this pack, but I’d probably say the key innovation would be the combination of a front-load panel so it can be packed flat like a suitcase, roll-top so essential gear can be accessed quickly, and the clean low-profile aesthetic that blends in well in both professional and rough/rustic environments.
What is the key driver for a new backpack design (do we not have enough backpack designs already?) – new materials, new use cases, new technology to store stuff???
Ha! I could spend hours on this subject, but the short story is that I would say it’s a new (or underserved) use case. In the past, bags have generally been developed for three primary and distinct user environments: professional (luxury/tailored), casual (streetwear), and adventure travel/backcountry (outdoor). In today’s world, many of us want the ability to transition seamlessly between these environments without the need to buy/own/use multiple bags.
How do you decide on the relationship to other bags…for instance, The Radian doesn’t appear to have a strap for connecting with a roller bag. Why not? Was that a design trade-off conversation between that and being able to hide the backpack straps?
Yes, in this instance it was a trade-off. There’s a lot of make happening in that section of the pack with the (serious amount of) lumbar padding, multiple removable waist belt options, strap cover, etc. and we felt that the roller pass-through wasn’t worth compromising the other features in this particular instance since the pack can be comfortably worn even if you have a roller bag with you, or can be attached via the Radian’s top handle and a roller-bag hook which is becoming more popular due to the improved leverage.
We will post video from San Diego Comic-Con after July 19th.