Mission Workshop Rhake: Bag For All Reasons

Mission Workshop Rhake Backpack long term review Yosemite

Technical backpacks are pretty darn good these days, but camera backpacks are a different story. You have slick urban-ready everyday camera backpacks, to ones made for cycling, long distance hikes, and the ones you get for free with buying a camera kit… But it’s difficult to find a good one.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review

My favorite, or my staple shall I say, was the original ThinkTank Shapeshifter that I purchased in 2011. Yes, 2011. ThinkTank created a nearly perfect backpack for working news photographers. It’s so freaking good that it singlehandedly dominated major news events. Aesthetics? Let’s just say form follows function… 

When Apple launch events were a thing. Seven wire service photographers, Five ShapeShifters.

Which brings me to this review. The Mission Workshop Rhake backpack. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review daily carry edc
What’s in my Rhake on most days

Fans of this site might have noticed our affinity for Mission’s no expense spared apparel. I wasn’t familiar with their backpacks nor did I desire one other than thinking they looked pretty darn cool whenever I saw them around town. That changed when I found out there was a camera cube accessory. I wanted to try one out to see whether it was more than just the hipster tech bro hype.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review

I intended to start the test drive on a two-week photo assignment overseas in March 2019. Unfortunately, UPS had a different idea so I ended up using a Thule Subterra34L on the trip. The Subterra ended up working surprisingly well for the trip, but I’ve been on the Rhake ever since my return.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review

Domestically made out of dual-layer weatherproof MultiCam Cordura, water-resistant zippers, and two beefy AustriAlpin COBRA buckles horizontally across its body, the Rhake is one good looking, backpack with 22 liters of ample internal cargo space within its main roll-top compartment. By design, the Rhake is noticeably slim and is shaped to grow vertically without much ballooning along its sides where the horizontal straps keep its girth in check. Small detail yes, but great to have so I don’t have to go through subway gates sideways like a crab. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review laptop compartment
A roomy, padded laptop compartment

There are also five compartments of various sizes, a hidden water bottle pocket, and a padded laptop compartment strategically placed making organization a breeze. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review mesh padding
Padded mesh back panel with airflow channel

The 80mm-wide shoulder strap was pretty good after a brief break-in period. The amount of padding on the straps is comparable to most high-end packs – it’s a smidge wider but the minor difference in width, plus its lengthy padded section and the perforated back panel, make the Rhake incredibly comfortable and stable for extended wear, especially when using the included chest strap. However, it would be nice to have a detachable sternum strap for more stabilization. But again, that’s a matter of personal taste.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review Arkiv modular system
Rails for the MW’s own Arkiv modular system

I am not convinced on the Arkiv modular system on the shoulder straps. Its rail-like design is a wonderful, stable platform but requires you to be committed to its ecosystem of pouches and bags. Attaching non-Arkiv backed items prove to be challenging because of the rail’s thickness. I’d be happy with a single row of low-profile MOLLE.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review Cobra Buckle AustriAlpin
Cobra Buckles are just so damn cool

On another hand, I absolutely love the upgraded COBRA buckles. I knew nothing about these Austria-made buckles and thought it was utterly overkill to drop an extra $60 for these mil-spec metal buckles over the excellent Duraflex plastic buckles on an already steeply priced backpack, but as one who can attest to the annoyance of a broken buckle on a backpack out on a job, the COBRA buckle is worth the miniscule grams knowing that I am more likely to break before it will. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review camera capsule

The camera capsule, in line with the Rhake’s construction, is exceptionally made as well. It has a noticeably thicker, 1000D ballistic nylon shell with a soft interior plus removable dividers to individualize your loadout. I think Thule’s origami pads from its Covert backpack are the best padded inserts at the moment, but luckily MW didn’t cut corners in this often skimmed over aspect that spellsdoom for many.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review camera capsule
Roomy enough to fit a robust large camera kit. Here the capsule is packed with a Canon 1Dx Mark III, 90mm TS-E, 24-70mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.2, and a 70-200 f/2.8

The capsule adds an extra 890 grams to the 1,400 gram pack and it’s a snug fit into the Rhake where it will occupy most of the main compartment space. The capsule can be accessed by either a clamshell zipper to its entire content when out of the backpack, or through a top zipper to its upper portion where it is inserted into the backpack. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review camera capsule
It’s a snug fit with the capsule installed

To take advantage of the top zipper, I usually set my dividers to stow a 5D with a 24-70 attached on top, with the rest of the gear beneath. Bigger camera bodies such as the 1Dx, D5, or a gripped Sony A9II can also slide in flat. This is not a backpack for rapid camera deployment. Instead, it favors modularity and security with an extra layer of protection from the rough.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review camera capsule

I also find the Rhake to be more inconspicuous than other camera backpacks. Simply put, the Rhake looks like an ordinary backpack without giving away its contents. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review organizer pocket
By design the right pocket only opens on both sides with the bottom sealed. It took some time to get used to but it also kept contents, in this case, three card readers, from falling out.

I came away appreciating the dual organization pockets that allowed me to quickly locate items and the deep right pocket saved me from losing my memory cards and readers on a few occasions when I forgot to zip up the pocket while in a hurry.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review
The left pocket can be opened like a hinged door, revealing its three mesh organizers and pockets

From international travel, bike rides around town, to an unplanned “it’s only a three mile round trip” hike turned five miles of vertical death march with a group of unprepared journalists to see the Yosemite Falls, the Rhake along with the camera capsule took whatever came in stride in style and truly lives up to the company’s mantra of built to endure. With almost two years of daily abuse, my Rhake still looks great with no noticeable fading and most importantly, no delaminated fabrics.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review
Packing day in Hong Kong, October 2019.

At $455 with MultiCam Camo and upgraded Cobra Buckles plus another $130 for the camera capsule, it is an expensive proposition. For anyone in the market for a stylish multipurpose camera-carry capable backpack that appreciates long term durability, then I would argue the Rhake, with or without the camera capsule, is worth every dollar.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review
The blinker attachment loop at the bottom also works as a pull tab to remove the snug camera capsule

If the camouflaged version with cobra buckles is a bit too flashy, Mission Workshop offers the Rhake in both black and gray HT500 nylon ($370), a slightly lighter weight version with VX fabric ($465) in three colors, as well as a waxed canvas version ($455) in five colors. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review


Chrome Industries Introduces Waterproof Barrage Freight Backpack

Chrome Industries Waterproof Barrage Freight Backpack

With a maximum capacity of 38 liters, Chrome Industries’ Barrage Freight backpack is the midsized cousin of its massive 85-Liter Barrage Pro made popular with professional messengers.

Chrome Industries Waterproof Barrage Freight Backpack

It has a 100% welded waterproof liner with a durable coated nylon shell, gusseted roll top opening, an adjustable cargo net, a padded laptop sleeve for a 15″ MacBook Pro.

Chrome Industries Waterproof Barrage Freight Backpack

Since this thing is generous enough to fit roughly one and a half bags of groceries, or whatever you’d like to throw in, there is of course a molded back panel and ergonomically-shaped straps to haul around town with. 

Chrome Industries Waterproof Barrage Freight Backpack

Available today in Black Tarp & Olive Tarp.


This Is Not Your Ordinary Tote

While Chrome Industries calls this the “BLCKCHRM Lako 3-Way Tote,” it’s not your ordinary, farmers market specific tote in that it’s convertible. 

It can be worn like a badass top-loading messenger backpack, and either as a handheld or over-the-shoulder tote bag. Convenient right? It also has separate wet/dry compartments, a padded 13-inch laptop sleeve, plus a quick access phone pocket built right into this versatile design with their patented weatherproof 22x nylon laminate tarp liner.

And as always, the Lako 3-way is backed with Chrome’s lifetime warranty.

In stock now at Chrome Industries.

Chrome Industries’ Barrage – one seriously bombproof backpack

Photo: Colin O’Brien/ element.ly

Remember when everything was made to last? No, me neither. Built-in obsolescence is such an integral part of modern life that we’re surprised by anything designed to go the distance. What was once standard practise now almost seems … perverse.

Which is why Chrome Industries have always stood out. Even at a cursory glance, their bags make most of the competition look, well, kinda shitty. OK, military-grade materials might be a little elaborate for most urban commuters, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the welded seams, truck-tarpaulin liners, and heavy-duty nylon outer shells. And who can argue with a lifetime warranty?

My old Chrome messenger bag must be more than a decade old now and it still looks brand new. So even before I laid my paws on the Barrage Backpack, I was pretty sure I was going to like it.

There’s an isolated laptop compartment, which feels really secure, and the roll-top closure was great while traveling because I was able to get everything as compact as possible before sliding it under a train seat or into a packed plane’s overhead locker. It also renders it totally waterproof; unless you take this thing swimming, everything inside will remain totally dry.

The 3M Scotchlite reflective strips are a nice touch for anyone who rides at night, and the cargo net on the front has made itself useful, carrying everything from a bike helmet and shoes, to a stack of magazines, to a laundry bag on a weekend trip. There are also two side pockets, and a zippered front pouch for smaller things like wallets and keys.

What more is there to say about the Barrage? At $200, it’s not cheap, but you can feel good about that warranty – and about the fact that it’s made in the good ol’ US of A, rather than some grim and grubby sweatshop in the developing world. It’s versatile, good-looking, and you won’t need to buy another one for a very long time. And how often can you say that about a new purchase nowadays?

Photo: Colin O’Brien/ element.ly