Alex SmithBASE’s investment and growth guy Alex loves pushing his limits with Ironman and Ultra events. When he’s not testing his endurance, he’ll be seeking out the best ski-touring spots in the Alps.
Offering three different carry modes and the ability to expand to carry an additional 12L, the Black Ember Forge is a highly durable, practical, premium bag for commuting in the city as well as travel further afield.
Fantastic weight distribution on shoulder straps and back panel
Boxy, cumbersome feel when extended to 30L and packed full
Expansion panel is either open or closed, compression straps to provide flexibility are an optional extra
Large number of structured pockets reduce packing flexibility and doesn’t include a specific bottle pocket
The unladen weight of the bag is fairly heavy
What I’m Looking For
Despite a desire to be living in a remote part of the British countryside, my day-to-day life is based in London. I cycle everywhere, and so my ideal commuting bag is a functional, waterproof rucksack, around the 20-30L mark, that is simple and easy to use. Between cycling to work, meetings, the gym and seeing friends, there can be a lot of packing and unpacking, so easy access to different items, and a frictionless experience, is really helpful.
I currently use a 25L DHB drybag which has just one big main compartment, a separate front pocket and fastens with a roll-top that clips together at the top. It lacks some structural organisation, but is incredibly versatile when you find yourself having to pop to the supermarket on your way back from work.
Black Ember is a San Francisco based company that design products for urban life. They frequently launch their products on Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, having run 9 campaigns since 2016.
As soon as you open the box and pull the Forge out of its plastic bag, you’re hit with how exceptionally well made it is. The material is thick, well textured and looks amazing. There are premium metal clasps, magnetic clips and intricately placed Black Ember logos. The dark, stealthy aesthetic looks sexy and there is an exciting array of zips to start exploring. Upon picking it up however, the first thing that struck me was the surprising weight compared to most packs of this size.
As soon as it arrived, I switched to the Forge for my daily commuting bag. This involved at least an hour of cycling each day, plus numerous accounts of packing and repacking. In February and March, the weather is consistently unpredictable in the UK, so there were plenty of occasions where I had to face the wind and rain. It’s also still the time of year when you have to pack an extra layer or two, so I require good capacity when including this alongside gym kit, laptop, charger and a few Tupperwares. I also used the bag for weekend trips away down to Devon, Salisbury and up to Northumberland, and for a few gentle hikes in the New Forest and around Hampstead Heath.
Who is this bag for?
The Forge is designed for commuting and urban living. If you like a well organised design, with a pocket for every item, this could be your bag. There is a robust laptop sleeve, document pockets, gadget pockets, and a detachable key ring. It also allows three different carry functions including rucksack, briefcase or should strap, making it suitable for business use and very flexible on public transport.
Unzipping the expansion panel unlocks great additional space that makes the bag big enough for a weekend trip, easily swallowing up a change of clothes, shoes and toiletries. The Forge is however not recommend a replacement for a hiking rucksack. It’s heavy, slightly cumbersome, and it can be difficult to retrieve items when you have to lay it down on its back and unzip it like a suitcase, to find what you’re looking for.
If you like a well organised bag, with a pocket for every item, this is your bag
What Stands out
The internal modular design of the bag is both a positive and a negative. On the one hand, allowing you to organise every item into a specific place, being able to keep things stowed neatly and securely when you’re on the move is great. However, it also feels somewhat over-engineered, with four separate compartments, and reduces flexibility if you’re trying to pack to capacity.
The bag is made with the CORDURA® re/cor™ RN66 fabric which is marketed as ‘durable, responsible and innovated to last’ using 100 percent pre-consumer nylon 6,6 fibre material that is GRS (Global Recycled Standard) certified. This boasts some impressive sustainability credentials, creating 83% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, using 82% less energy and 57% less water than an alternative Virgin Nylon 6,6.
The quality of the bag is a huge standout feature. It really does feel like one of the most premium and durable products I’ve ever used, and the attention to detail is fantastic.
SHAPE AND SIZE
The shape of the bag is the main negative in my opinion. I’m 6ft (183cm), typically a size large for clothing, and the bag is short on my back. It’s not uncomfortable at all, but it means that when extended to 30L, the bag is very boxy and sticks out a long way from your body. This makes it feel quite cumbersome and I’m very conscious of it visually, and when moving about in crowded places.
Value For money
At £287 The Forge by Black Ember is certainly at the upper end of the price scale and so requires some serious consideration before purchasing. Using an item daily is certainly justification for splashing out on something nice, but there are plenty of other options on the market for a much lower price.
On the flip side however, I would say the quality, attention to detail and the overall premium feel of the bag, is reflective of the price point. So really it comes down to how you might balance functionality, build quality and aesthetics with cost in your purchasing decisions.
BASE Bottom Line
The Black Ember Forge is a brilliant commuting and travel bag of supreme quality. Its unique design sets it apart from many of the more mainstream backpack brands, and the attention to detail is second to none. The designers have left no stone unturned in working out the ergonomics of how it will be used.
Unfortunately though, for me though there are a few drawbacks of the pack that reduced the enjoyment I got from using it. The short length means that it protrudes a long way from my back when fully laden. And the many integrated pockets, which in total give four separate layers of the bag, removes some flexibility on how you can pack it.
The Forge would be perfect for someone who enjoys having lots of pockets to utilise and a premium, stealthy looking bag that’s going to last a lifetime. And that’s backed up by the incredible Black Ember lifetime warranty.