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  1. #1
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    Traveling with the Shadow Guide

    When the limited edition Shadow Guide backpack (SG) was announced, I quickly fell in love with the style and simplicity of it -- especially with the red straps and zipper pulls. After seeing one in person at the TB showroom, I took the plunge.

    For anyone who might be interested, this post documents my experience using the SG as the primary carry-on bag for a seven-day, six-night trip from Buffalo to Olympia, Washington. In a word: I’m thrilled with the pack. And though I paid close attention to other travelers and what they were schlepping, I envied no one.

    Background. My SG will replace another top-loading backpack – a Mission Workshop Rambler I’ve owned for six years and increasingly use as a carry-on when I travel. The Rambler’s a terrific pack in many ways – it’s well made, durable, and expands with a zipper from 22 liters to 30 or a bit more, but I’ve long been frustrated by the lack of a usable external pocket and the minimal arrangements for a laptop. (The Rambler has only a fabric sleeve, which keeps a laptop and case separate from the other contents, but allows it to slide to the bottom of the pack.)

    The trip. Seven days, six nights, Buffalo to Olympia, with the first night in Tacoma. I changed planes in Detroit both ways. Getting from Sea-Tac to Tacoma was a bit of a hike – a bus to the Tacoma Dome, light rail into downtown, then a 15-minute walk to my Airbnb. From there a friend picked me up and took me back to the airport for the trip home.

    The cargo. I carried more on the trip home, so I’ll give the full contents for that leg. Pants and shirts were rolled; socks and underwear were stuffed in a travel laundry stuff sack.

    * One pair of Levi’s jeans
    * Two button-down shirts
    * Two light synthetic long-sleeve Henley shirts (layered with other shirts for warmth)
    * A light synthetic t-shirt and yoga-style pants for sleeping
    * A light wool sweater
    * An Irish wool cap
    * Six sets of socks & underwear in a stuff sack
    * Two 3D organizers (one clear, one fabric) with toiletries and other small items
    * One six-volume Black Dog Opera Library Deluxe Box Set (with CDs)
    * Two hardcover books

    For the trip out, subtract the gifts – the sweater, books, and boxed opera set – and add a Macbook in a cache.

    Weight. About 20 pounds including the pack coming home. Going out, minus the gifts but with the laptop, between 14 and 15. That’s under the 7 kg limit for some foreign airlines.

    My personal item. A daylight briefcase with a Macbook in a cache; a Kindle; two paperback books; a small notebook; a few pens; and a 3D organizer (in mesh) with chargers, cords, etc.

    Stowability. The SG was easily stowed in the overhead bin of a CRJ900 commuter jet; and on the overhead rack of a bus. (A typical carry-on roll-aboard would fit neither.) I didn’t try it, but the SG probably would fit under the seat of most planes if necessary.

    Comfort. This was a surprise. The Rambler is a comfortable pack with thickly-padded straps. But despite the thinner straps, the SG was more comfortable to carry with a comparable load. I carried it the entire length of the Delta terminal in Detroit (rather than taking the tram), and on a half mile walk up a long, steep hill in downtown Tacoma. I suspect the comfort’s a function of the curved straps and the frame sheet, along with other details. Though I own both the waist strap and the padded hip belt, I left both at home for this trip, and didn’t need them.

    Things I loved. Almost everything. I loved the style, simplicity, and comfort, of course. The haul loops made it easy to grab and hoist, and the pockets in the flap were well-sized and useful. The rail straps for the laptop cache were quite useful on the trip out, and part of the reason the pack appealed to me.

    Marsupial surprise. The main pocket in the flap is bigger than I realized, with more volume than a Side Kick. It’s about the same height and width as a Side Kick, but deeper. In fact, a loaded Side Kick can be stuffed inside (I tried it when I got home), but it’s a tight fit. Anything smaller would fit nicely, including a Side Effect, and there are two o-rings for key straps.

    Things I’d change. Only one thing, really. I’d consider moving the zipper for the main pocket in the flap, so that things don’t fall out if the zipper is unzipped when the pack is upright. But I say that as a user, and not a bag designer. I don’t know how much it would complicate the construction, and it may be a better compromise to leave it as is.

    Anything else I might suggest would just push things in the direction of the regular Guide’s Pack. For instance, some people might wish for an easy way to carry a water bottle. That’s not an issue for me – I use a Nalgene hip flask when traveling, and if I wanted to carry a bottle, I’d put a holder on the strap. I don’t need the side pocket.

    One big question. The Aeronaut 30 has roughly the same volume. Would I trade the SG for an A30? I don’t think so, unless I really wanted a suitcase that can be carried with a handle or shoulder strap, or if I thought I needed locking zippers in lieu of the SG’s draw cord. And while the extra handles on the A30 are nice, the SG was neither so large nor so heavy that I couldn’t manage well with the haul loops and backpack straps.

    Many people don’t like a top-loading backpack for travel. I don’t mind it at all – especially with TB’s system of o-rings. By packing carefully, and keeping small things in the lid, in organizers attached to key straps, or in my DLBC, I wasn’t at all concerned about being able to retrieve anything I might need while en route.

    None of that is intended to knock the A30 -- it's a great bag, and most people will prefer it.

    In short, the SG won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it's brilliant for what it is. I’m glad I own one.
    Last edited by Buffalonian; 12-31-2018 at 01:48 PM.

  2. #2
    Forum Member BigBadD's Avatar
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    Great review, thanks. I am waiting for mine to be delivered, having treated myself as a late Christmas gift. I had never fancied The Guide’s Pack due to the styling, straps and coyote trim. But, for me, the Shadow Guide looks amazing and simplistically practical.

  3. #3
    Forum Member terayon's Avatar
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    I had a top loader pack for years and the Shadow Guide addresses the beefs I had with it - the main one being the black hole of the main compartment (the o-rings and Cache loops, like you said, would fix that for me). And it sure is a good looking pack! I agree with you about the red pops of colour.

    I too am confused about the zippers on the lid pockets; whether the lid is clipped in place or flipped back, the zippers are going to be on the bottom of the pocket, so opening them will cause the contents to spill out unless I lift the pocket up, which most of the time I don’t really want to have to do. I’m sure this is the kind of thing the designers took into consideration, but I don’t quite get it myself. I suppose it’s oriented to better keep rain out, but that wasn’t an issue on my old pack with the zipper at the top of the lid.

  4. #4
    Forum Member panda2mama's Avatar
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    Anyone has a motorcycle helmet to test if it would fit in the SG? A full face helmet. Hubby likes the SA cos it can fit his helmet. But I want the SA for myself....

    (Full face helmet in halcyon smart alec)

    Sent from my SM-N950F using Tapatalk

  5. #5
    Forum Member panda2mama's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by terayon View Post
    I too am confused about the zippers on the lid pockets; whether the lid is clipped in place or flipped back, the zippers are going to be on the bottom of the pocket, so opening them will cause the contents to spill out unless I lift the pocket up, which most of the time I donít really want to have to do. Iím sure this is the kind of thing the designers took into consideration, but I donít quite get it myself. I suppose itís oriented to better keep rain out, but that wasnít an issue on my old pack with the zipper at the top of the lid.
    I saw a review by Chase Reeves on the Guide's Pack (not, and realised the pocket zip is on the bottom cos when you lay the backpack down horizontally, you can easily access the zipped pocket. But if the bag is standing up, then yeah, it would seem counter intuitive.

    Another thing to consider would be rain. Zip on the top means risk of water entering the zipped pocket.

    Review on Guide's pack, not Shadow Guide:
    https://youtu.be/X3hdaA3Titg

    Sent from my SM-N950F using Tapatalk

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by panda2mama View Post
    Anyone has a motorcycle helmet to test if it would fit in the SG? A full face helmet. Hubby likes the SA cos it can fit his helmet. But I want the SA for myself....
    I don't have access to a helmet and can't try it, but I do note that the listed specs are for the SG are bigger than than SA in all three dimensions. Given that and the design of the SG, I have to believe it would comfortably swallow anything you could put in an SA.

  7. #7
    Forum Member panda2mama's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buffalonian View Post
    I don't have access to a helmet and can't try it, but I do note that the listed specs are for the SG are bigger than than SA in all three dimensions. Given that and the design of the SG, I have to believe it would comfortably swallow anything you could put in an SA.
    I should have thought of that. However, cos bags are not square boxes, so they probably are not direct comparisons. A good gauge though... likely to be a safe bet then. Hubby's much taller, so he can carry the SG. SG will be very big on me, so SA will be a better fit for me.

    Sent from my SM-N950F using Tapatalk

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