The lightest backpack we've ever used, the Outlier Minimal is surprisingly effective as a barebones commuting gear carrier, but for a pack with almost no features, it's a bit pricy.
At a feathery 162g – a third to a quarter the weight of a similar-sized full-featured rucksack – Outlier's Minimal backpack truly lives up to its name. This is a backpack stripped to essentials: a seam-sealed roll-top compartment, a pair of adjustable straps, and, er, that's it. Bells, frills, whistles, extras, doohickeys and gee-gaws have all been ruthlessly binned in pursuit of what Outlier calls 'the simplest and lightest pack we can make that is still suitable for daily use.'
The secret to both the low weight and high price is an ultra high molecular weight polyethylene laminated fabric that Outlier calls Dyneema, though it seems to be more commonly known as Cuben. (Dyneema is a thread made from a similar material that also happens to have cycling applications: the Dutch team at the Olympics will be using shorts from BioRacer with Dyneema panels for crash-protection. Not that we'd ever wish a crash on anyone, but it'll be interesting to see how it holds up.)
To make the Minimal, Outlier teamed up with Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) http://www.hyperlitemountaingear.com/, who had already figured out how to work with this apparently rather awkward fabric, and a 26-litre bag was born.
Outlier and HMG have done a great job, nailing the shape of both the bag and the stiff, broad shoulder straps so it's comfortable with a commuting load: clothes, books, keys, wallet phone, towel etc. I didn't miss a chest strap, but you could add one to the loops on the shoulder straps if you can't live without it.
I was pleasantly surprised how little I missed having lots of extra pockets and compartments, but maybe that's because I'm stupidly absent-minded. With the Minimal I can't forget which side pocket my wallet's in. It's in the big compartment with everything else. Simple.
The Outlier is also the first rucksack I've ever owned that's got me into a conversation at a set of lights. A young musician (unless the violin case on her back actually contained a sniper rifle or smuggled diamonds) looked at it and asked, 'Is that Cuben fabric? I've got a groundsheet made from that stuff. Best groundsheet I've ever used.'
You want a commuting rucksack and a groundsheet to be extremely waterproof, and the Minimal fits the bill. Our sample arrived just as the weather turned glorious, so we simulated a downpour with ten minutes in the shower. No sign of water inside the bag.
The Outlier brilliantly fulfils its brief of a super-light, rock-bottom-minimal pack, then. It's comfortable for general use and commuting, it's tough and waterproof.
However, it's not cheap. Its $152 price tag translates to around a hundred quid and getting it here from the USA adds another $40 or so. At first sight that's a bit jaw-dropping. Shop around a bit and you could get two Osprey Talon 22s for the same money. But compare with other waterproof packs and they're similarly expensive. They also have full harnesses and padding, but the price you pay for that is weights in the 1-1.5kg range.
The value for money question isn't as clear-cut as it first seems, and the Outlier Minimal is unarguably excellent at fulfilling its design brief. If you like to go light and minimal, you'll probably judge it worth the money.
Brilliantly minimal, waterproof and practical for commuting but a little on the pricy side.
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Make and model: Outlier Minimal backpack
Size tested: White
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?
Outlier says it's "a pared down city pack. Waterproof, featherweight and backcountry tough. Made with nonwoven Dyneema, it's light enough to float on water, but tough enough to haul bricks. Roll top closure, taped seams and packs down to fit in a jacket pocket."
Can't argue with any of that.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
The fabric application is the interesting aspect here, an unusual, expensive and hard-to-work material pressed into service in a novel way.
Seams fully taped, stitching tidy.
Comfortable for round-town, shopping, my 10km commute and felt like it'd still be comfortable in another 10km. No padding, so you do have to load it intelligently so you don't get spiky things in your back.
No signs of wear after several weeks. Cuben/Dyneema fabrics have general good rep for durability, but at this weight obvously it's not Cotton Duck.
Almost ludicrously light.
Shoulder straps spread the load well, but the back is unpadded.
Great though the Minimal is, it's hard to justify spending this much on a commuting backpack, when something half the price would do the same job as well, albeit at higher weight.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Exceptionally well - it's comfortable, light and effective.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Clever materials, very light weight, minimalist design.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Only the price.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes, but the price is a deterrent.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? If they were a serious weight-weenie, yes. Otherwise, no.
Age: 38 Height: 190cm Weight: 98kg
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Genesis Equilibrium with SRAM Apex
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.