Review: SAG x MASH Backpack Nov 9, 2009

picture by Andrew Temkin

Back in July Mike Martin dropped off one of the SAG MASHSF backpacks to me. Since then, I’ve been toting it around daily through the NYC seasons on my commute and on weekend rides. It’s been tested thoroughly and the timing is perfect for a product review.

pictures by Andrew Temkin

I’ve ridden with a lot of backpacks and the biggest concern of mine is the way they sit on your back when you ride. I’m on my road bike or my track bike a lot during the week and a majority of backpacks I’ve used either slide forward when you’re in the drops or they sway from side to side when you pedal, throwing your weight off. The way the SAG MASH bag fits is ideal. It’s wide enough to stuff with everything you need and tall enough to rest on your back without blocking your vision when looking over your shoulder in traffic.

Sometimes you have to wear your bag into a store or a bar and when it gets cramped in those spaces, a big bulky bag can be a nuisance. With the proportions of the SAG MASH bag, it makes it easy to flatten it out and is barely noticeable. The sizing is perfect for day trips, flying and even grocery runs. I’ve fit a ton of things in it over these past few months. Sometimes It’s been so loaded down that I was sure it was going to rip, but it’s resilient to say the least.

More often than I’d like to admit, I forget my lights at home. The large super-graphic on the bottom is reflective as are the side panels. You can even add a blinking light to the clear pocket if you’re worried about people stealing your light off your bike. The panels on the side enable cars to see you from the side and the large graphic’s reflective material is visible from blocks away.

pictures by Andrew Temkin

The thick padding on the back is textured well enough to grab your shirt and keep from sliding around. These pads are attached by velcro, making them removable for cleaning. Accessibility is another concern. You want to be able to open the entire bag to see the contents when you’re looking for something specific. If one of the many zippered mesh pockets don’t do the job, there’s a separate padded pocket for important documents and even a laptop.

pictures by Andrew Temkin

Multiple pockets and hidden zippered pouches give everything you carry a specific niche. I’ll keep my ipod and headphones in the side pocket and pull one of the earbuds out while I’m riding. It’s also padded to keep it safe. If you carry a skateboard with you, the MASH guys devised a great flap that enables you to strap it to the bag. Along with the SAG-signature clear pocket to display stickers; which folds down to hold the deck’s tail, there are two straps to secure the board to your back. I’ve carried bike frames, wheels and architectural drawings home using the system, so it’s not specifically for skateboards.

pictures by Andrew Temkin

The deep body of the bag would make it difficult to pull it around and access while you’re at a stop light. That’s why they added two side-access zippers. Sometimes you have to grab your tool pouch and pump on the fly and rather than taking the bag off, you can just reach around and open the entire thing up, much like a messenger bag.

pictures by Andrew Temkin

My favorite feature of the bag is the cooler for two tall-boys. Whether it’s a Budweiser or an Arizona iced tea, this pocket will hold them and keep them cool for you while you ride to the next spot. In the first model, this pocket was lined with a thermal cooler material (pictured at top), which ripped after a few weeks (hey it was the summer and I drink a lot). I told Mike about the lining ripping and through some correspondence with SAG, they were able to fix the problem between production runs. The image on the bottom shows the newer material. Much more durable and it’s still insulated.

pictures by Andrew Temkin

It’s hard to find a cool bag that’s simply colored and ideal for urban riding. SAG and MASH really filled that demand in the market. The bag’s legit. It’s my favorite backpack to date. There are some concerns however, such as it not being 100% waterproof. With all the pickets, zippers and pouches, it’d be hard to create a 100% waterproof seal. Somehow it works damn well though!

The bag material itself is not waterproof. Most messenger bags are cordura with a water-proof and welded lining. Unfortunately, the SAG bags aren’t constructed as such. The material they chose for the bag is really durable though. It’s been hucked off my back 100’s of time and has yet to rip or tear. My dog even got ahold of it one night and chewed the shit out of it. To my surprise it had no damage.

That being said, it’s fine on my 20 minute commute, even in the pouring rain. I’ve never had anything ruined either. While it may not be ideal for a messenger bag, there are many other options for people interested in the large cubic inch and waterproof market.

Another issue is availability, which is why I’m writing the review now. MASH has a few in their online shop, so head over and pick one up if you’re interested. Not sure when they will be restocked again.

Price $220

Thanks again Mike and big thanks to Andrew Temkin for the pictures. If you want to see higher-resolution images, I’ve uploaded all of these to my Flickr account.

Thanks Mike!

  • Cam

    What about a comparison to your old backpack the Manhattan Portage Ballistic? That was your backpack of choice because you didn’t want to spend $200 on a backpack.

  • the MP bag is $100. So the question is, does this bag merit the extra $100? I think it does. The padding, detailing, quality and overall fit is a lot better. It’s a chunk of change to spring on, but for $220, it’s a lot better than SAG’s AF1 bag and has more features than the Delta Force bag.

    I’m sure there are other options for the $200 pricepoint, including Ortlieb and Chrome. In my experience with the Ortlieb’s, they sit high and the flap makes a bad blindspot. Chromes Ivans and Backbones are nice, but they’re certainly more of a messenger bag. One large pocket that’s kind of a bottomless pit for things to get lost in.

    I really like how you can open the entire SAG MASH bag up. Makes it easy to find things.

    I have two more bags to review, one is a commuter bag and one is a messenger bag. I try to keep these as unbiased as possible, but I will point out my own personal preferences…

  • Dan

    Prolly, is that messenger bag you’re going to review the incase one? I really want to hear about that one…

  • Yes. I usually can’t wear messenger bags, but theirs is on point.

    (again, for me, maybe not for everyone)

  • Arsento

    So the bag was a comp, free for you, but it’s worth $220 to everyone else? How does that work? There are a lot of kids that follow this blog that would be willing to spend $ based on your recommendation alone. A suggestion – pay for it, or take it, review it, then give it back.

  • That makes 0 sense. I’m not getting paid to review the product. I’m simply noting my experiences with it. If I were getting paid, it would be a Aditorial, which it’s not. I DO point out it’s flaws too man.

    People who run blogs do this all the time. Look at Urban Velo. Another example – any magazine out there, etc. Trust me man, I’ve spent TONS of money on products that blow. I wouldn’t say “This thing is nice” if I didn’t think that.

    For the record, I have no problem supporting brands. I’ve bought 2 SAG bags in the past and I wasn’t happy with them. They fit weird and weren’t detailed the way I like my bags to be details. I’ve also spent tons of cash on products that have failed under my riding. That money I’ve spent allows me to say “This works, this doesn’t” and everytime I get an email saying “What tires do you like” or “what bars do you recommend” I can answer that in confidence.

    If this bag were a piece of shit, I’d call it like it was and I wouldn’t have spent 4 hours on the review. I get sent a lot of “free product” and I don’t even bother to review it. If I were pushing all kinds of bullshit on people, I couldn’t sleep at night.

    Also, Did you even read that report that you posted?

    “To be clear, a blog post (or Tweet) in exchange for cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement.”

    I read the report last month when it came out and Tweeted it.

    All I’m trying to do is document my experiences with the bag, which may help people gain a better understanding of it.

    The FTC also responded to that article.

    “All bloggers aren’t the same and we are not saying that all bloggers are marketers. Most of them are ordinary folks musing or sounding off. The question as we put it in the notice we published today is whether, viewed objectively, the blogger is being sponsored by the advertiser. (We list a number of factors to consider.) Independent product reviewers, whether offline or online, would not be viewed as sponsored by the company whose products they are reviewing.”

    It helps if you understand the basis of your argument man!


  • boohoo

    are you really going to try to argue that point? I mean really, he’s a blogger who talks about cycling things and you’re telling him he can’t review something because he didn’t pay for it? If he says its worth the extra $100 then why don’t you take his word for it? What does it matter that he gets to keep it? To be honest he’s not followed by THAT many people outside the small niche that this blog is probably directed towards (no offense prolly) and it most likely isn’t going to affect the messenger bag buying population.
    If someone is inclined to spend $220 on a bag because they read someone’s blog whom they do or don’t know then that is their decision. It’s not like these people don’t have the freewill to decide what to do with their money and see if they really value a backpack at $220 to begin with.

  • I could be wrong, but it seems as though that article was specifically referring to people that are endorsed and get paid – money – to test and review goods, not just people who receive goods because they are tapped into a vast network and, sometime down the road, decide to review them.

    The quote that stood out to me states, “To be clear, a blog post (or Tweet) in exchange for cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement.” And, it is to these people that the FTC guidelines apply specifically.

    At any rate, this is a prime example of the discontents of big business making it harder for smaller markets to establish their niche. Since it’s not McDonald’s paying Prolly, who we all love to read, to test their Coca-Cola McBackpack, I am sure Monsieur Probablement is in the clear.

    But I could also be wrong.

  • kurt

    fail on arsentos comment. you numbskull. why to derail the post.

  • dontcoast

    I like the review, and it does point out the flaws.
    I really want to get a backpack for versatility – messenger bags are only really good when on a bike (that’s not too upright of a ride)

    I was almost sold on it when the flaw- not totally waterproof- was brought up, which is a total dealbreaker for me in the pacific northwest.

    I would recommend a little “pro’s and cons” box at the beginning of the review, so you don’t have to wait till the very end of the review to know the basic drawbacks.

  • dontcoast,

    Thanks! I’ll add that in the next one. Good recommendation.

  • igor

    my thoughts are that this bag is overpriced and you are paying for the name. Plenty of bags are made that are 1. cheaper and 2. are 100% (or close to it) waterproof.

    And velcro-attached straps? Really? I guess that’s an interesting concept, and I want to think that the bag will fail before the velcro does (honestly, how often are you going to wash them, so the velcro won’t fray…)..but still..

  • This is my absolute favorite backpack I’ve ever owned. Well worth the extra cash. It is on my back almost daily, hours at a time and thankfully I have had 0 problems with it in the wet and dry, heat and whatever cool weather we’ve gotten so far here in TX. I’d buy a second one if I had that kind of cash.

  • Paul

    Just to clarify, are the straps removable or just the padding? It’s hard to tell from the picture.

    I have the SAGxDQM AF1 and while it could use an extra small pocket or two like this MASH one, it’s pretty damn waterproof and fully reflective. At $220 I’m gonna make sure I get my money’s worth, and at the rate of abuse I give it and how it takes it, it looks like I’m gonna be buried with it.

    I wouldn’t mind the mini cooler, but any bag fits two beers. I just need a bag that fits 2 thirty-racks and I have one.

  • Fly

    I’m so glad you called out the tearing cooler compartment, mine ripped to shreds months ago. Now that they fixed it I’ll have to pick up another. The velcro attached straps are also great, and a lot more secure than they sound. This has become my favorite bag, and I use it all the time even when not riding.

  • Dan

    When you review that incase messenger, you should compare it to other messenger bags you’ve owned. It’d be interesting to see how it stacked up against a chrome or a SAG or a Reload (or whatever you’ve owned), especially because there are other options that are much cheaper than the incase.

  • oneangrytoast

    the reasoning behind spending this kind of money for a backpack were mostly touched on in the review, but ill repeat enthusiastically that the bag does have a much lower profile than other backpacks marketed as the messenger alternatives. also, the construction and materials do seem very durable. im super careful with everything i own, so i dont plan on seeing its durability in action, but i can see that its constructed well and with quality materials.

    i agree with all youre posi reviews and the not so posi ones too, but i thought id share my beefs with the bag, as well:

    the flappy part on the outside thats supposed to be the skateboard carrying mechanism or whatever. if you look in the pics, it overlaps the clear pocket by an inch or so. in his perfectionism, prolly does a good job of hiding it, or at least making it look nice for the pics, but IRL that whole area is just a clusterfuck shitshow of overlapping materials and velcro that doesnt meet velcro.

    the main compartment’s main zippers (read: not the side access zippers) dont move well along the bending angle parts towards the top of the bag, making zipping and unzipping it a fucking chore.

    he makes no mention of that massive area of velcro on the folding away part of the main compartment, but you can see it a bit in the pictures where the bag is fully opened. i really have no clue what they had in mind for that…prolly?

    lastly, i kinda wish it had something that kept my phone a little more accessible. that ipod pocket is nice, but there is no way youre going to access that with the bag on, especially while on a bike.

    all in all, im a pretty negative dickhead, but this bag is growing on me slowly.

  • oneangrytoast, good points.

    Honestly, I never had an issue with the large flap and the 1″ overlap. It sits fine for me. Nor the zippers for that matter.

    I ended up buying a phone holster. Made life easier.

  • chris

    Solid bag. I’ve been riding with my for months, no complaints except that I cannot tell people where to get one if/when MASH is out.

    I too would like to know what the “sea” of velcro surface is for on the inside of the bag? I looked it over when I got it thinking there might be some extra strapping that you could secure stuff to that area (which is what I ended up doing-picked up some velcro strapping from the fabric store).

    Don’t know if the money is worth it compared to other bags as I replaced my Chrome with this and it is way more comfortable (def. in the heat). Solid review Prolly!

  • rayumnd

    I thought this review was helpful on adding to the lack of reviews on bags for urban cyclist. Keep up the dope blogging!

  • Fly

    The “sea of velcro” seems to be a common feature for SAG backpacks. I assumed it was there in case you wanted to throw on some modular velcro addons. If anything it also adds another layer of thick fabric to the inside to prevent wear and tear.

    The main compartment zippers (near the top of the bag) are pretty hard to open up quickly and the curve isn’t the easiest to zip around. On the other hand it means that once zipped up, it’s it less likely that a tug/fall/snag will partially unzip the main compartment.

    The front flap/sticker window does not line up sometimes, especially when the bag is full. Usually it just takes a bit of adjusting to look perfect and sit flush. This is just purely aesthetic though.

    Again, great review and comments. The more people enthusiastic about quality products the more will they will be released and refined. I hope Mike reads this.

  • jerereremy

    i was thinking of getting one of these for the winter season, but the waterprooflessness of it really turns me off. but the other features (especially the way the bag sits and the flap that can hold a frame/wheels/my horn) really make me want to ignore that it’s waterproof.

    do you know if the material is waterproofable? i certainly wouldn’t mind doing it myself, and since the inside is mostly black, staining the material shouldn’t be anything to fret about.

  • As I said in the review, it’s never gotten anything wet for me. I did spend a few full days of rainy weather out and about here in NYC and it still kept the contents dry. The only pocket that got “wet” was the one at the top.

    Hard to really rate it on waterproofing because it all depends on the amount of rain. Drizzles, vs. Downpout.

    I’d say it’s water-resistant and yes, I sprayed mine with a EMS water-proofing spray.

  • Is the overall size of the Sag x Mash larger or smaller than the Manhattan Portage Ballistic? I own a Ballistic and think the size is just perfect…not too large, not too small. And not really any blindspots when looking behind either.

  • ntlsteven

    just out of curiosity what kind of helmet are you wearing?

  • Giro Ionos


    It’s about the same size.

  • Dan

    Simply out of curiosity, did you get the skate or the regular messenger? And when’ll that review be up? You’re a great reviewer and I’m dying to read it.

  • Ryan

    I wish I had the same favorable impression of my SAG. I purchased an Air Force 1, the limited edition Questa to be specific, several months ago and my experience with it has been troubling. Within the first two weeks of use the right shoulder strap exploded and rendered my bag useless for several weeks until I could get it sewn. Mind you, I wasn’t abusing this bag excessively, nor would I a brand new $250 + bag. The incident occurred as I was shuffling down my front steps with my rig for my morning commute. I was grateful that it didn’t occur in traffic, as I would probably be dead, but needless to say it was disheartening. When I received my bag back from the seamstress, I took a gander at the quality of the seams. It was at this time I noticed that the entire back plate, a plastic insert within the fabric, was shifted to the left (improperly constructed) and placing pressure on the upper left corner. This pressure is quickly wearing down the material and I fear it will rip soon. I’ve had other bags in the past that didn’t look as nice, but when it comes down to it, I’m not a rich person and it seems less of a tool and more of an extravagance. I wish I didn’t have to be a test pilot for an expensive and poorly made bag, but maybe it’s just my luck with this one. I know they have the best intentions, but when it compromises my livelihood, it sucks.

  • Ryan

    Also on a side note to those concerned about seepage…I live in the Pac Northwest, Portland to be specific, and on my 20 minute commute I’ve never seen any signs of water infiltrating the lining. The gaps among the zippers are minimal and could allow water in, but I ride 360 days a year whether rain, snow, or shine and have seen no evidence of this.

  • Mike

    Can you go into any specifics on how this bag is better than the Delta Force Revival One? I’m torn besides the two, and the guy needs my order for the Delta Force by tomorrow…

  • Andy

    I’m just curious, you spoke of it being well padded. Would you say it’s padded enough to safely protect an DSLR, laptop etc. if you took a tumble?

  • Padded on the back. I’d recommend using a DSLR case in addition to the bag…

  • Jimmy Chen

    would a 17 inch mac book pro fit in the laptop compartment?
    or only a 15 inch?