Tropicfeel shell first impression: Can the £1.6million Kickstarter backpack live up to the hype?

First I have to apologise for not posting last week. Northern Ireland has rarely got some sun and the general nice weather called for a break in work haha. Anyway, speaking of a break, I have been planning for a few trips this coming month. So this backpack that I ordered on Kickstarter back in November 2020 arrived quite on time. 

Shell, was a backpack kickstart project by the company, Tropicfeel. Tropicfeel have had a few successful Kickstarter projects and this time they took on the challenge to design a travel backpack that can do it all. Claiming “A backpack for a lifetime, designed to meet modern-day travellers’ needs, from your daily journey to work to long-distance hikes across the country.” While the backpack itself seems to be versatile enough with it able to be expanded into different sizes, it’s their new “wardrobe system” that drew me in. I have always been on the lookout for a perfect backpack, can this be one?

Kickstarter experience

Before I even start on the backpack itself, I have something to say about the whole experience. The product aside, what Tropicfeel should have learned from this project is to handle expectations. The decision to change backpack materials and design after the project was fully funded without allowing backers input and delays for more than 3 months with suboptimal communication are the two main points for criticism.

It is not uncommon for a project to evolve with feedback from backers, however, Tropicfeel decision to change metal buckles to plastic and laptop compartment closure system to Velcro is very debatable. They claim the metal buckle is prone to scratches therefore chose the plastic, and laptop compartment closure system change due to early failure from misuse. I mean metal to plastic sounds like a downgrade, and Velcro has a limited lifespan with or without “misuse” which counts as “normal wear and tear” therefore not included in their lifetime warranty. Even if they have a good reason, the way they have done it only makes backer feels they are trying to squeeze every penny out by sacrificing quality.

Delays are also very common and happen to most Kickstart projects. But Tropicfeel could have put in for effort to keep progress transparent. UK delivery was severely delayed due to customs paperwork error (ah well shit happens) and “last-minute” decision of opening UK warehouse because of Brexit… Last-minute – I mean Brexit isn’t exactly news.

Tropicfeel has done a lot right, they just need to fine-tune their customer service by keeping communication more transparent, and they will have an even brighter future.

First look 

As a backpack of a “lifetime”, I decided to stick with the boring, inoffensive all-black colourway. The last thing you want is to choose a “fashionable” colour that ends up going out of fashion in a few years and become an eyesore. 

The materials feel nice to touch and premium as you would expect for a backpack in this price range. Weatherproof material means no need for a rain cover for rainy days.

Accessories 

In my opinion, the accessories stole the spotlight from the backpack a little bit. 

Wardrobe system

The wardrobe system is essentially the IKEA RASSLA storage unit with some clever twist. It has some flexible dividers to compartmentalise the “wardrobe”. The compression strap on the side help saves you up to 20% more space in the bag. And the adjustable loop at the top allows you to hang it anywhere you like. I like this idea better than the compression packing cubes on the market because you can just hang it up to have access to all your clothes with one glace without having to permanently sacrifice surface space to achieve the same easy access with multiple packing cubes. Easy to set up, easy to pack away as well.

Camera cube

I don’t have a lot of camera gear but they still need protection from my other belongings. The camera cube comes with adjustable dividers for easy customisation and a shoulder strap that can quickly convert the camera cube insert into a small, stand-alone camera bag. Very handy for when arriving at the destination and just want to grab your camera and go without having to bring the whole bag with you.

Fidlock toiletry and tech pouch

Since I already have my trusty Bellroy tech pouch, I didn’t bother getting an extra tech pouch but opted for the toiletry pouch. The magnetic Fidlock mechanism attaches it to the front of the bag very easily. Also, who doesn’t love a good magnet snap?

My thought so far

I haven’t been able to use the backpack extensive enough to give a review yet with work and lockdown. But here are a few first impressions from some quick test drive short trip:

Love:

  1. Hidden pockets. Apart from the top pocket for quick access to small gadgets. There are additional 2 extra hidden pockets that can use to store more important and personal things like your wallet and passport.
  2. Weatherproofing from the get-go. Rain covers always annoy me because it is so fiddly and make getting things from the bag just that much more faff.
  3. The bottom expandable kangaroo pouch is also a very nice feature, giving you about 6L extra volume. Finally, a separate shoe compartment that doesn’t eat into your precious bag space.
  4. Hidden hip belt. There are no dangling straps everywhere when you are not using them.
  5. Good padding on the carrying strap. The strap foam is thick and dense provide a good weight distribution across your shoulder.

Not so sure:

  1. The laptop compartment is not raised. Nowadays, backpacks around this premium price point with laptop compartment usually have it lift off from the bottom a tiny bit. The idea is to protect the laptop from accidentally hitting the floor when putting the bag down.
  2. Kangaroo pouch elastic strap is not adjustable. There are two elastic loops on the outside of the Kangaroo pouch for extra carrying capacity. On their website, they advertise to put in sleeping bags, tripods and yoga mats etc. But in reality, the strap is not adjustable and it is quite loose. I can’t secure my carbon fibre travel tripod there without it sliding side to side. So realistically, you can put an extra windbreaker there and that’s about it.
  3. The hidden pocket on top of the Fidlock point is quite difficult to get to if the bag is fully packed. It gets tight that you can only use it for something flat and I do not recommend putting your sunglasses there…
  4. The wardrobe is quite heavy itself. 650g without any cloth on my electronic scale. Also, it takes a certain technique to compress it or else with a small pressure imbalance, you will get clothes herniating out from one side.
  5. With my 13” MacBook Pro in the laptop compartment and my e-reader tablet in the zip pocket in front of it, the bag feels just a bit too “shallow” to fit the wardrobe comfortably and you need a bit of a push to close the zip.
  6. No side compression strap. To keep the design minimal, they decided to leave out the compression strap on the outside of the bag. I feel to make this bag from a 40L full-size travel bag down to a day to day backpack, a side compression strap can help make the profile a bit slimmer. Also, it can help hold a tripod more securely in the side pocket.

Verdict

Tropicfeel has taken on the challenge to design a travel backpack that can do everything. Despite a few hiccups in production and delivery, it is finally here. There are a few things that I am very impressed with and a few things that have my reserve. I will get to test drive it properly in the coming month and form some proper thought.  

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