Hands on review: Solo Elite Backpack from the Varsity Collection
I’m a sucker for a nice backpack and I felt no different when I saw the new Solo Elite Backpack go up online. This review is for the Solo Elite Backpack from the Varsity Collection which, to me, seems like a play on the Solo Everyday Max Backpack that first introduced me to their packs.
Since the packs are so similar, I’ll be referencing a lot of comparisons to that pack which has become my go-to travel backpack since I got my hands on it last year. I had very few gripes with the Solo Everyday Max Backpack besides some small design issues. Since then it’s been on my back through Atlanta, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and of course all over my home base of New York City which is also the home base of Solo (represent). I can say the bag is holding up really well and still looks pretty damn new. And those zippers are still zipping nice and strong!
So let’s see how the new Solo Elite Backpack held up against its predecessor. I’m going to keep it simple and break it down the same way I did in my last review: Design, Look, Comfort, and Quality.
Again, the design of a pack is the most important factor for me when it comes to making a decision on a travel pack. So I’m moving it to the first section this time around.
The design of the Everyday Max was where it shined for me. The main compartment is deceivingly huge for a backpack and has access points from the front as well as the top. However, the Elite while featuring much of the same design I loved about the Everyday Max falls short on a few design points for me. First thing I noticed was that it only has one access point to the main compartment, from the front. There is no longer an access point from the top like you’re used to on many backpacks. The access from the front is great when you don’t want to fumble through the entire back from the top to get to the bottom. But the top access is great for just grabbing the stuff you purposefully put up there when you’re sitting down with the pack at your feet or quickly want to grab something without putting the pack down flat and opening the entire front. The multiple access points to the main compartment was one of my favorite things about the Everyday Max but the Elite does not have this feature. This is what made it feel like a backpack and a duffel bag hybrid to me. The compartment itself is still super spacious, you’ll just only have one option to access its contents. And for a backpack it still holds a hell of a lot of clothes nice and neatly! I still have room for a book or two and maybe a spare rain jacket.
It does still have the plastic lined toiletry sections built into the walls and access point door of the main compartment. But the ones on the walls are about half the size of the Max Everyday which took up almost all the space available leaving you with a decent amount of separated storage. These are still nice, just smaller.
In addition there is also the useful separate shoe or what I like to deem the “dirty laundry” section at the base of the main compartment. For me this section ensures your dirty stuff will never touch your clean stuff. I still love having this option but in this version it is only accessible from the base at the front and looks like a different type of pocket which is sort of deceiving. You open it expecting additional storage for toiletries or accessories and find an empty bag leading into the main compartment at a right angle causing you to have to reach in and up to expand it. I preferred this pocket coming directly from the bottom so when not in use it just remained flat under all your other items. It feels more like bunched up fabric now taking up space. Though there is a velcro latch to keep it all nicely together. I wish this pocket had a netting in it and a separate bottom access point so I could put some things in it accessible from the front while having the bottom access point be where I put shoes and/or laundry in.
The laptop compartment is totally separate from the main compartment and has its own access point like you would expect. There isn’t anything special about this compartment, it’s just a slim section with a small sleeve pocket for a tablet or eReader as well as your laptop in the main one.
What I still wish was available here on both packs is a hanging pocket accessible from the top of the pack. I would love to stow my MacBook and phone charger and their respective cables at the top of the laptop sleeve so I can easily grab them. Here’s an example of a pocket like this on my Patagonia Fuego 32L:
Instead, they did add a flap cover pocket on the top of the pack to stow things like that but it is separate from the laptop compartment and covers the entire top front of the pack and then buckles into the sides. Since the main compartment lost its top access point probably for this feature, I don’t think it was a worthwhile trade-off. This flap cover pocket up top is what you can use to stow accessories but it’s a little snug for a bulky MacBook charger. I ended up using it mostly for my iPod and headphones and iPhone charging gear. At the end of the day, people use pockets differently and you’ll find your own ways to make these work for you.
The last design aspect I’ll discuss is simple. There is still no accessible water bottle holster! On both packs! This is almost a deal breaker for me when traveling or day-tripping in places where I need to have water intake while on the go like Nevada or Arizona or even New York during the summer months. It’s also just nice to have water accessible while walking around anywhere you’re exploring. The side pockets are fairly small (smaller than the Everyday Max) but can still fit a standard bottle which is great but it is not accessible since you have to zip these up so nothing falls out. You can’t really unzip the pocket and take a sip without taking the entire pack off your back. The rest of this pack definitely outweighs this con but it would be nice to be able to have direct access to water without stopping to remove the pack.
Overall, this bag holds about 5-7 days worth of clothes for me. It holds what a duffel bag usually does in my experience and it has lots of options for stowing accessories. Like the Everyday Max it also fits in all carry-on dimensions and even the seat in front of you as a personal item on flights. So say goodbye to checking bags, I know I did years ago and I’m never going back.
The look has improved drastically! For me at least the new black and burgundy color schemes are way more appealing. Less flashy and more subdued, I love both patterns. Black is predominantly black with very little burgundy, most being on the underside of the top pocket, straps, and the interior compartments. Burgundy is mostly burgundy with a larger ratio of black trim and detailing.
I think the look of this pack is more sleek and the smooth nylon fabric helps with that. This pack still holds its shape well like other Solo packs I’ve tried and doesn’t looks overly bulky like many backpacks do when fully packed.
I wore this pack so far on some weekend trips and around New York City. The straps seem a bit thinner compared to other packs I’ve used but the padding on the back portion is nice and cushioned. Other than that I didn’t notice any discomfort when using the pack.
I think my favorite upgrade on this pack is the smooth nylon fabric. I think it will last longer and it feels semi water resistant though I don’t think it claims to be. I wouldn’t go running around in a monsoon but I think it’ll do just fine if you get caught in the rain for a bit. And it definitely will absorb less water if caught in the rain than other materials.
The zippers are solid as usual and the materials feel great. I can say it’s been a year with my Solo Everyday Max and it still looks, feels, and functions the way it did on the first day. I don’t think the Elite Backpack will be any different. If anything, it may last longer.
In the end, I think this backpack is a great fit for urban exploring and trips where your laptop is going to be a part of your daily routine. The Elite Backpack is definitely a solid pack for day tripping, week-long stints, or even longer term travel if you’ll have access to laundry facilities and won’t need a survival style pack. For long-term camping or hiking I’d go with a brand like Patagonia.
If you’re going with Solo and don’t care about the color scheme as much or the smooth nylon fabric, I’d go with the Everyday Max. Those concerned with the fabric and a sleeker look, the Elite Backpack is similar in so many ways and has that minimalistic look I really love. If I could “frankenstein” both packs into one with the best elements of each, I’d be so stoked but hey, such is life. So grab the pack that works best for you and just get out there and explore! You can purchase the Solo Elite Backpack on Amazon.
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