Matthew PinkBASE’s brand head honcho is a denizen of the crag. He gorges on adventure culture, hankers for epic treks and grinds his gravel bike round the Bristol orbit.
Sleek, intricate and sophisticated but still tough as old boots, this backpack is ideal for the tech-savvy and creative adventurer.
Height 530mm X Depth 170mm X Width 300mm
Magnetic closures, durable construction, clamshell opening, modular and adjustable
Environmental friendliness: from materials to production to shipping, it’s pretty much faultless
Super smart functional design
Adjustability, dazzling array of modularity, straps and attachments
Slick, understated look that belies a staggering attention to detail
10 year guarantee
Weight: the trade off with environmentally friendly material choice is substantial weight
Heat: the weight and the recycled material make for sweaty work in hot climates
Dark interior: Without torchlight, it’s pretty murky in there in dark environments
No freestanding: it’s a toppler
Cost: the price for an ethically sourced bombproof backpack
What I’m Looking For
I can pinpoint some of the defining moments of my life. Choosing to study languages. Meeting my wife in a Notting Hill back garden. My first dawn summit. A brief conversation with a Sadhu on the edge of the Gosainkunda lake in Nepal. A near-death experience in an Ecuadorian favela. The birth of my children. But another, arguably yet more definitive, was the gift to me of a Gravis backpack from a fellow student in France. Whatever happened to that brand? It’s the one that got away. The Great White Whale of outdoors brands.
It was a revelation to me. Suddenly I had a backpack that felt like a natural extension of my body. It worked in every conceivable environment I needed it to – skating, riding, hiking, uni, travel. It felt like someone had designed it just for me. Its super helpful internal system consisted of several beautifully and differently shaped pockets and pouches plus sturdy inner walls with just enough give to squeeze in that extra book or mid-layer. When you opened up the zipper and folded back the opening, you couldn’t help but take a breath and admire the handiwork. And man, it looked cool too.
That backpack has inevitably shaped what I look for since. Something versatile, tough, thoughtfully designed which pays attention to the specific items the designer knows you need to carry, but also builds in the flexibility for the variety of activities they know you’ll be doing. It needs to neatly slip under seats on planes, or between your legs on trains and still provide easy, organised access. It needs to be tough enough to be chucked down on crags and survive scrapes in dense vegetation. To carry just enough, but not too much, and not be too saggy when carrying less. It needs shape and form and not to become a burden when in the midst of your activity.
In short: finding the perfect backpack is quite a big ask.
Everything about this RIKR 24L feels premium and the environmentally sustainable approach is literally woven through every facet. It’s impossible to escape it. I am struck by its weight though, as I lift it out of the (recycled, recyclable, compostable and biodegradable) packaging. The material mix feels super tactile and tough, even quite leathery in places (although it’s self-evidently not leather). I immediately look for the laptop hideaway and it feels snug and padded with an additional touch of a supporting hammock down below. Whether I touch the webbing, the buckles, the zippers (YKK NATULON) or the padding, it all feels, well, expensive.
It’s actually a bit bewildering to think that nearly all of it is made from recycled plastic, a material apparently called rPET. Each bag is the re-manifestation of 120 bottles worth of plastic. GROUNDTRUTH was founded by three sisters and filmmakers in 2017, who after witnessing firsthand the escalating plastic pollution crisis sought to develop a recycled PET textile that would stand up to the demands of an adventurous lifestyle, and a brand with ethics at its forefront.
Opening it up I’m met with an approach to modularity so extensive it takes a fair while for me to work out what each component is useful for and how I would adjust it for my own needs. In fact, three months down the line and I’m still not 100% sure, such is the myriad choice.
In those three months, I’ve taken it on hikes into Parnonas in Greece at about 2000m elevation in the height of sweltering summer, a kayaking trip on the Ionian sea, weekend breaks via train in the UK and Europe, to business meetings, on my daily bike rides around Bristol for work and pleasure, and as hand luggage on a couple of short-haul plane trips.
At first I was a little apprehensive about it; its weight made me think it would be cumbersome and the sheer amount of thought that had gone into its design made me angsty about it being nicked or damaged.
Actually, I needn’t have worried as it performed superbly in all those cases bar perhaps the hiking in the Parnonas in the Peloponnese where the hard heat accentuated its weight and material thickness. A couple of times I had to take it off to give myself and my back a breather.
My take is that backpack design nerds will love the RIKR, as will aesthetics-conscious filmmaker-adventurers from beginners to pros (yes, I do know a few of those). Because the Groundtruth founders come from this background themselves, it inherently lends itself to those who need to travel and adventure with various bits and pieces of tech kit and cameras.
I think it’s also great for those in the adventure or outdoors business when you need to jump from a marketing meeting in an urban environment into an edit suite or studio, then onto a plane or train and into the field. I’m not so convinced this is the right choice for a daypack adventure in less extreme environments, it’s too heavy and too solid for that.
What Stands Out?
Modularity and adjustability par excellence
I can’t remember seeing another modular backpack system that uses metal snaps. Super easy to snap on and off, this is a big win for me. I’ve mentioned the vast array of adjustment options. There are load lifters, there are hip strap/pads, there are strap keepers and there is a sternum strap. (Deep breath). There are twelve lash points, a detachable pouch, a detachable cylindrical soft insert, two side handles, a top handle, zipped side handles, a secret pocket and the now standard water bottle holder too. Oh and a trolley sleeve. Oof. I may not even have covered it all there.
Again I thought these were going to be flimsy and quickly lose their strength. Three months down the line with a fair bit of wear and these are still pretty vice-like and confidence-giving.
When I first looked at this I thought it was going to be awkward squeezing everything in but that view has not turned out to be accurate at all. My bad. In fact, I now love the way it’s consistent in shape and always manages to close neatly and tightly, whatever stuff I’m trying to cram in. (Within reason, obviously). The curve is more elegant, more ergonomic and definitely feels less bulky on my back when I’m riding or hiking. I’d wager it also makes it easier to clean.
Attention to detail
When you read interviews with the founders or any product descriptions that come from the brand, you can’t help but be struck by the denseness of the language and the range of their thoughtfulness. Truth be told, I had to reach for the online dictionary a few times when researching this product range. But that forensic, hyper-detailed approach, which the founders say comes from their documentary filmmaking mindset, translates into a backpack that delights on every turn upon close inspection.
Value for Money
Look, there’s no getting around this: £290 is a lot of money to spend on a day backpack which is roughly medium-sized. The market midpoint for a reasonable quality product of comparable size is probably between £50 and £80.
However, as this review hopefully expresses, the attention to detail and the sophistication of design means that this is a premium product. It’s also one that will endure. In fact, it’s ‘designed to last a lifetime.’ And with their 10 year guarantee, I actually don’t feel that’s too much of a stretch either.
But the borderline puritanical commitment to a sustainable approach comes with a cost and ultimately the customer is going to bear the brunt of that cost. It begs the question: what price is the ethically and environmentally conscious consumer willing to pay for a product that truly delivers on those points? I think the jury may still be out but the popularity of this product is going to be good test.
BASE Bottom Line
If you’re willing to commit to a bigger spend, think longer term and are equally committed to buying ethically and sustainably, GroundTruth and the RIKR is well worth looking at. This backpack is slick, stylish and substantial. I still miss Gravis (sob) but I’m even though I don’t quite think it’s the right product for adventuring in the field per se, it’s nigh on perfect for environmentally-conscious, creative adventurers switching between urban environments and travel.
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