When shopping for a technology backpack, have you ever thought, “This bag would be perfect if only it had a couple extra slots for those things I need”? The folks at Mission Workshop clearly have, because the R6 Arkiv Field Backpack is an intriguing response to that very conundrum.
Sitting in the middle of the company’s Arkiv Field Pack line, the R6 Arkiv Field Backpack ($209 and up, depending on configuration) is an all-purpose, weatherproof, premium-construction backpack featuring the Arkiv System for creating what I’ll call “modular rucksacks”: Picture a full-featured backpack with two or three main compartments that can fit laptops and books; another compartment for smaller items and tools; a couple pockets on the sides for extras; and an even smaller pocket on the front for pens, your Moleskine notebook, and car keys. Now, tear each compartment off the bag as if you’re watching an animated blueprint on an episode of How It Works. Finally, add a series of rails—yes, like a train—for attaching all those compartments together in just about any configuration you can imagine. Yes, it’s as interesting as it sounds.
The R6 is named as such because it features six of these Arkiv System rails: two on the front for attaching a Laptop Case and Folio (I’ll get to that in a moment), and two on each side for attaching Vertical Zippered Pockets (also explained below). There are also R2 and R8 Arkiv Field Packs with exactly the number of rails, respectively, that you’d guess. Each rail is made of thick, tightly woven nylon to maximize durability, structure, and weight, with small, strong velcro straps at the top to secure whichever component you attach.
Because of this modular approach, Mission Workshop doesn’t sell pre-configured complete backpacks. Rather, the company offers components you use to create the perfect bag, or bag system, for your needs.
You start with the core backpack, which features one exterior pocket for small items, one large main compartment with 1,250 cubic inches of space, and an internal zippered pocket for some separation. Mission Workshop says the zippered pocket is good for a laptop, but I’m not sold on that claim: The pocket offers no structure or padding, so it’s better suited for documents and the like. For carrying and protecting your laptop, you’ll want the Laptop Case component ($86 to $92), which is a vertical, padded sleeve that stores up to a 15-inch MacBook Pro and optionally attaches to the backpack’s rail system. The Laptop Case also sports two rails on its front for attaching more components.
On each side of the R6 Arkiv Field Backpack you can attach Vertical Zippered Pockets ($52 to $58 eaach), which do exactly what it says on the tin: Each is a tall (14-inch) pocket for stuffing tall, quick-access items. I also received the Folio ($68 to $74), a 12-by–10-inch sleeve with two pen slots and plenty of room to fit an iPad and a couple magazines or thin books. The Folio can fit on top of the Laptop Case or Arkiv Pack itself and features two of its own rails.
Another major component—one that I did not receive for review—is the Tool Pocket ($58 to $64), an 8-by–10-inch pouch that fits on top of the Folio, Laptop Case, or Backpack itself for stuffing smaller items and tools. The Tool Pocket also features a strap on the back for storing your bike’s U-lock.
Mission Workshop also offers a $24 shoulder strap for the Arkiv System. Instead of mounting the Laptop Case or Folio on the pack itself, you can slip one or both onto this shoulder strap, giving you a vertical messenger bag and letting you leave the main pack at home.
The bag and add-ons are available in black or gray cordura, or—for a surcharge—waxed canvas. The bag also features premium construction: Every component is weatherproof and features urethane-coated YKK zippers.
Overall, the Arkiv System’s modularity is impressive. It took me some time to get decent at sliding components onto the rails, but since I frequently change which gadgets I carry—and, usually, thus the bag I use—I appreciated the convenience of keeping all my stuff in the same bag but being able to choose which part(s) of that bag I take each day.
My main complaint with the R6 is that, as an “everything in its place” gadget bag lover, I found the bag to be a little lacking in places to organize pens, cables, adapters, and the other trinkets I inevitably need. Granted, the Arkiv Field Packs are rucksacks (meaning: all-purpose bags) at heart, but the Laptop Case and Folio components could still feature more organization options.
Of course, you also don’t get such a flexible bag system without some compromises. For one, Mission Workshop is a premium brand with great construction—arguably necessary to provide a durable system like this and still offer a lifetime warranty—which means the small R6 pack I reviewed starts at $209 before you add any components. (A larger version with 2,200 cubic inches of space starts at $229.) Add those extras, and the configured bag I tested came in at $491. Second, while I didn’t mind the bag’s weight, you’ll want to keep it in mind if you like to travel light: The smaller R6 I received weighs three pounds by itself, and with the Laptop Case (1.5 pounds) and Folio (1.1 pounds), it tipped the scale at 5.6 pounds—a whole 1.1 pounds heavier empty than my Retina MacBook Pro.
The construction of the Mission Workshop R6 Arkiv Field Backpack is top notch, and the modular system is flexible and innovative. If you’re willing to pay the price (in money and weight), and you don’t mind being a little light on organization pockets, this bag is well worth it.