Bikepacking Bags Made in Arizona at Rogue Panda
Photos and words by Locke Hassett
A small, unassuming garage accessed from a residential alley in Flagstaff houses one of the world’s best bikepacking bag makers: Rogue Panda Designs. The folks here pride themselves on thoughtful design, innovation, and blending function and form seamlessly. I visited RP on my way back from Utah to get a prototype bolt-on frame bag, chat with the makers, and snap some photos of the shop.
I first met Nick a few years ago at the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival. It was there that I was blown away by the prototype Ripsey seatpost bag, an ultralight, dropper post ready bikepacking bag/harness system. I bought that prototype for the cost of materials in exchange for riding with it as much as I could and giving as much feedback as possible. That’s one thing that has struck me about Rogue Panda: their constant desire to improve products through real-world testing. I’ve since had the pleasure to test out quite a few of the Rogue Panda team’s concept pieces, and I believe that the feedback they receive is what makes their bags so damn good. While I was there, my friend Ellen stopped by to give Nick a bottle carrier back (and get a cookie). It came up that she works for the Grand Canyon Trust and spends a lot of time backpacking in the Canyon. Within minutes, she and Nick were discussing backpack designs and fitting her for a custom prototype, with her job being to give plenty of feedback to make the backpack as good as possible before hitting the market. Ellen and I will actually he sharing that pack, me using it to ski and climb with, her to backpack. I doubt it will need many changes, but I’m sure they will find a way to improve it.
This whole thing started over 5 years ago when it was just Nick. He had made a few bags and backpacks for himself, and some folks expressed interest. After he made a few custom frame bags, the flood started. Everyone wanted those gorgeous state flag frame bags custom fit to their bikes. It’s not uncommon to see RP bags on commuters all over Flagstaff. Now, Nick runs RP full time, has 5 employees, and makes everything from framebags to innovative top tube storage systems. Have a full suspension with a big ol’ shock? No problem, Nick has his Guerrilla Gravity Trail Pistol outfitted with a double frame bag. Sequins? State Flag? Purple plaid? Sure. You dream it, they sew it. With these folks, it’s not just about pure gritty functionality, there’s a style and humor to their designs that is as quirky as it is pleasing to the eye. Even the name is tongue in cheek. Apparently, someone changed a digital road sign to say “Rogue Panda On Rampage”, and Nick liked the sound of that enough to name his company after it.
During my shop visit, I was fortunate enough to witness my bag being made. First, they had me send a photo of the bike in question. They used to ask the bike to be shot with a ruler in the frame, but now they simply ask for a dollar bill to be taped to the downtube, for scale. Then, the image is projected onto the stencil cutting table. A stencil is made and the bag is custom sewn. All in all, this process took about 2 hours and considering that they were testing a new technique on this bag, that’s even more impressive. And, they were the first ones out there to come up with the image projection method to boot!
The seam masters, Lee, Bob, and Tommy all laughed and joked with each other. Nick bounced ideas off of them, and everyone gave feedback and input. They made themselves lunch in the workshop, and it felt more like a group of friends playing with sheets of nylon and needles than a shop that produces some of the best stuff out there. I was even fortunate enough to see the giant panda head come out a few times!
Rogue Panda demonstrates that top quality goods require much more than precision and expensive materials. The humor, collaboration, and constant desire to improve are what makes these bags so good. Again, proof that maybe the cycling industry, specifically bikepackers need to remember that to achieve greatness, you’ve got to remember to keep it a little weird.