Black Ember used laser-cutting and bonding to make a rugged, waterproof backpack

We tried out their Citadel Minimal pack.

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Urban commuters who like to bike, or ride a motorcycle, through all kinds of weather and want a backpack with a special-ops, seemingly-bombproof type feel to it could consider a rigid new pack made by a company called Black Ember.

The black material on their new Citadel Minimal backpack is a heavy-duty polyester fabric coated on both sides with polyurethane. The exterior has what company co-founder Chris Gadway calls a “dead face matte finish,” giving the bag’s exterior a stealthy, non-reflective appearance.

To help keep the water out, Black Ember used a bonding technique to connect the materials where the zippers meet the main body of the pack. That process involves sandwiching the layers together, along with a type of film, and feeding it into a rolling heat press. “And then it’s a matter of time, pressure, and temperature,” Gadway says. That bonding melds the pieces, which are laser-cut for accuracy, firmly together.

Also bonded to the bag are patches of a darker, synthetic material with a rubbery feel. Three of those patches—one on top, and one on each side—provide anchor points for a removable handle (the pack comes with just one, but you can order a second one), which you can take off the top of the bag and throw onto one side or the other to carry the whole thing like a briefcase. That move-the-handle-around feature is a fun way to customize the pack for various methods of schlepping. Another patch at the very bottom is designed to hold compression straps or other accessories, like utility straps.

The removable chest strap, intended to help keep the bag in place and take a little load off your shoulders, connects to itself in a very satisfying way: using a magnetic buckle so that it is easy to snap together, or apart, with one hand. The same type of buckle also comes into play inside the pack, on the keychain strap. That detail makes for a small pleasure when using this bag—detach your keys from the little hanging strap using the buckle, open a door, then clip them back on magnetically. Because the clip is a combination of both magnets and a mechanical connection, the keys stay on firmly enough.

The inside of pack is lined with ripstop nylon that’s coated with a silver, somewhat reflective finish. That catches some light to make the interior brighter, so it’s easier to find your stuff. Two mesh pockets and several compartments of various sizes will cradle your gadgets and accessories, and a large sleeve gives a nice home for a large laptop. A large, flat compartment sits directly against your back and is designed for holding flat documents. The zipper for that pocket disappears into a pouch at the top known as a zipper garage—a nice touch to keep the water off it.

Citadel backpack
The key holder uses a magnetic buckle to make it easy to attach, and detach, your keyring. Black Ember

The downside to so much toughness—which I discovered while I tried this pack out— is that the bag is rigid. It’s so heavy-duty that opening the main compartment just a little bit and then wiggling your hand in to fish something out isn’t very comfortable. A better bet is to lay it flat on a bed or desk and unzip the zipper entirely, and fold the backpack completely open, for easy access to everything. That’s easy when you’re at your desk, but tougher when you’re on the move. The smaller zipper on top also provides easier access to your laptop and the organizational pockets. In short: This isn’t a lightweight, flexible, smooshy backpack made to be casually thrown over one shoulder, worn on a crowded subway, and cracked open just a bit to quickly grab something at the bottom.

The Citadel Minimal Pack is priced at $225 and they expect to ship it in August. Another bag in the same collection, called the Modular Pack, is $255. Should you buy it? If you don’t mind dropping a lot of money on a backpack, and want something rugged, rigid, and waterproof because you bike to work in all kinds of weather, you’ll likely enjoy the build quality and attention to detail. If you’re just looking for a casual backpack for everyday use, skip it.