Courier bags like this Pacific Outdoor Equipment Vancouver have a couple of advantages over backpacks for short journeys. One is - theoretically - ease of access: you can swing the bag around on your shoulder to delve into it. Another is that the bag sits lower on your back, so you don't get as sweaty. (For me there's a third advantage: I can carry heavier loads as there's no strap running over the raised metal plate holding my broken collarbone together.)
Every courier bag needs a stabilising strap running from the shoulder strap to one corner of the bag to prevent it swinging around as you ride. The Vancouver has this, and like most bags you can clip the stabilising strap to either corner so that you can carry the bag on your preferred (in my case, non-bolted) shoulder. It won't swing around in front of you even when pedalling blurry-fast on a fixed-wheel bike.
The main strap is wide and padded, and there are ribs of foam on the back of the bag to keep it comfortable there - especially if you're carrying something angular inside. Combined with the internal stiffener along the base of the bag, the Vancouver keeps its shape well, enough to stand up when it's empty. The disadvantage is that the shape won't contour to your back as you tighten the stabilising strap, so it doesn't hug your body as well as unstiffened bags.
It's made from welded-seam waterproof fabric – mostly a hardwearing, 420-denier nylon. Rain might get in via the zips in a downpour; they are covered but they're water resistant rather than waterproof. I only got caught in showers with the Vancouver and everything in the bag stayed completely dry. But I do have an issue with the main compartment zip: namely, that there is a zip.
To open the Vancouver, you have to undo the main buckle, lift the flap, and then undo the full-length zip. That sounds trivial. And yet whenever I used the bag I found myself missing the ease of access granted by a flap and a bit of Velcro, whereby you can add or remove items, throw the flap over, and carry on riding – maybe doing up a supplementary buckle or two if the bag has them.
It's only a few seconds difference but it's a few seconds every single time, and as often as not I'd head out with my old cotton duck Carradice courier bag instead because I found the Vancouver frustrating. Like the Chrome, Bugaboo, Soma and Banjo Bros messenger bags I've used in the past, the £49 Carradice bag gives you pretty much instant access.
Whether the access issue will bother you depends how you plan to use the bag. If you're just travelling from home to work and back, it's not a big deal. If you're running errands around town, stopping off at the library, bike shop and bakery, it starts to grate.
Commuting is where the Vancouver would be most at home in any case. It is pretty much waterproof, so it'd be handy for carrying a laptop; you'll want to add a laptop sleeve, as the only significant padding is on the back of the bag. There's a wide reflective strip across the flap for night-time visibility, and the carrying handle is comfortable.
Inside the main compartment are four organiser pockets, one of which is zipped. There are also three good-sized outer pockets: one in each side of the main flap, and one in the front of the bag underneath the flap. The latter has dividers inside it too. The outer pockets are great for items you need easy access to, such as lights, tools or a lock, and for anything soggy you need to carry, like gloves or waterproofs.
If you're after a short-distance shoulder bag with plenty of pockets for commuting, especially if you're carrying something like a laptop, this could be just what you're looking for. I'd probably get an Ortlieb Sling It instead: it's roughly the same price, is even more waterproof, and offers the fast access that makes a courier bag so convenient.
The Vancouver is available in green, brown, yellow, red, and dark blue as well as this light blue. Capacity is 23 litres.
A well-made, weatherproof courier bag that lacks ease of access compared to flap-only bags.
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Make and model: Pacific Outdoor Equipment Vancouver Messenger Bag
Size tested: Raft Blue
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
It's aimed at urban cyclists. Pacific Outdoor say:
Highly water resistant bags that shed water like a ducks back.
Waterproof material with highly water resistant zippers.
Durable, abrasion resistant 420 Denier Thermal Welded Nylon, Bomber YKK zippers, and easy to fasten Duraflex Buckles.
Reflective strips for easy identification and saftey while traveling.
Medium satchel, zipper closure with messanger flap adding higly water resistant security to your valuables.
Shoulder sling strap with stabilizing chest strap to keep the bag on your back while riding.
Professional pocket for organizing and protecting valuables.
Irritatingly slow access to main compartment. Didn't hug my back as well as some bags.
It's nearly twice the price of my bombproof Carradice courier bag.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It was okay, but it felt more like using a backpack than a courier bag.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Durable. Good weather resistance.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Frustratingly slow access.
Did you enjoy using the product? Not really.
Would you consider buying the product? No.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Maybe, for point to point journeys only, such as commuting.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
It didn't suit my needs. It might suit yours. How you use a courier bag is critical to whether you'll like this one or not.
Age: 42 Height: 1.78m Weight: 65kg
I usually ride: Ridgeback Solo World fixed wheel My best bike is: Planet X Pro Carbon Track (with front brake)
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,