Black Ember WPRT

This Modular Backpack Does Everything, but Is That a Good Thing?


March 29, 2019 Reviews By Photo by Chase Pellerin

What makes a good everyday backpack? It depends on the day. It also depends on the person. The items that we carry are wholly dependent on our varying definitions of what’s essential. So Black Ember made the highest-grade clean slate it could: the WPRT. Made with 800-denier micro-hex fabric, the roll-top backpack is sufficiently waterproof and durable for anyone’s daily A to B.

The backpack comes in two formats: Minimal and Modular. The distinction is slightly misleading — both versions allow for plenty of customization with a line of accessory straps and pouches that attach to panels made of Hypalon designed initially for military rafts. The Modular goes to a greater extent here with magnetic hardware that locks add-ons in place. In either case, the bag is a premium-level base upon which wearers are free to build whatever carry system they need.

The Good: In both its modular and minimal form, the WPRT has the capacity for as much as you’ll need to carry on any given day. It’s slightly boxy but a damn good-looking backpack nonetheless, thanks in no small part to Black Ember’s meticulous choice of high-end materials and (nearly) seamless construction. In everyday bags, looks are important.

Those high-end materials lead to function too — the WPRT is weather-proof — and the construction enables a modular system through which wearers can alter how the bag works and adapt it to personal habits. Carrying a lot (or a little) is made comfortable by a free-floating, cushioned back panel.

Furthermore, the primary problem with the roll-top format, quick access, is sidestepped by a convenient side zipper that provides another point of entry to the main compartment. There’s a separate laptop sleeve too, a feature that should be present on any bag that files itself into the everyday category.

Who It’s For: Town and city dwellers who approach their everyday routine like doomsday preppers: be ready for anything.

Watch Out For: At 30 liters, the WPRT is definitely on the larger side for an everyday backpack. Its rigid-ish shape keeps its shape clean, but also keeps it from scrunching down much, even when it isn’t full. Kit it out with some of the modular add-on pouches, and this thing becomes a bit of a behemoth — that’s suitable for those who travel heavy, overkill for those who just need a laptop, extra layer and a few small essentials.

Alternatives: Black Ember’s WPRT is undoubtedly unique; your best bet at an alternative won’t hit all its notes (weatherproof, roll-top construction, modularity) but can come close. Arc’teryx’s Granville ($229) is an any-conditions city bag, and Millican’s 25-liter Smith ($195) is one of our favorite roll-tops. For another modular pack, check out Mission Workshop’s Arkiv System bags ($220+).

Review: I can’t begin to talk about the WPRT without addressing the obvious: the backpack, with its bonded micro-hex and aircraft aluminum hardware, is sleek enough for product placement in an 007 film. Its lack of seams and minimal stitching renders an all-black form that’s distinctly geometric but lacks hard edges, a Rorschach inkblot that’s both anomalous and familiar.

Appearances can’t serve alone though. Many will repeatedly disagree with me on this, clutching their trendy rucksacks all the while, but a backpack’s looks should be matched at least equally by its shoulder straps, back panel, buckles, zippers and an ability to do what packs are supposed to do; namely, carry stuff.

Black Ember knows this. That’s why its line is so limited, and why there isn’t a cheap bag in the mix. That’s also why the team that created the WPRT, which includes former experience at The North Face and Nike, attended to details large – they formed the most substantial part of the bag with one laser-cut piece of fabric – and small, almost to the point of overlooking.

For instance, the primary buckle isn’t a toothy plastic clip but an aluminum and magnetic lever that’s almost satisfyingly addictive in its engagement and release. The webbing that adjusts the tightness of the shoulder straps doesn’t dangle in the breeze but is clipped neatly to itself. The roll-top doesn’t so much as roll as fold perfectly into place.

The WPRT also carries a lot, even when it isn’t decked out with extra pouches. And this is my one criticism for Black Ember: I never filled it up, and as a consequence, I was never compelled to really think about how I might take advantage of the add-on mods. Empty, the WPRT’s technical fabric doesn’t collapse in on itself, so it remains boxy and bulky (and a space-eater in crowded subway cars).

That said, when I did fill it as much as I need to, it handled the weight expertly. Everything about the backpack’s size and shape should make it uncomfortable, but it isn’t. It’s precisely the opposite, due to a plush back panel and an ingenious system of rigging it to the bag so that it floats freely of the main load and conforms to the back, protecting it from all the misshapen objects that it might swallow.

As it turns out, the WPRT’s good looks and brawn are matched in its depth and comfort. But maybe you shouldn’t take my word for it – the backpack, like a daub of ink sandwiched between a sheet of folded paper, will varyingly reveal its many potential uses in unique ways to all who decide to carry it.

Verdict: With waterproof fabric and high-grade aluminum hardware put together in a complicated yet handsome construction, Black Ember’s WPRT is as thoughtfully functional as an everyday backpack gets. Its potential uses are multiplied through a system of modular add-on pouches, but wearers might find them excessive as the bag is already large, perhaps too much so. But, the WPRT does succeed in offering to urbanites an everyday accessory capable of adapting to the many demands of a contemporary life that calls for preparedness in any possible circumstance.

Key Specs

Volume: 30 liters
Waterproof: yes, but not submersible
Material: 800-denier 3-layer micro-hex fabric
Hardware: anodized aluminum
Number of Pockets: 3

Black Ember provided this product for review.

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