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IT & Systems Management

Chrome Bravo Night: This premium roll-top is the goth ninja of backpacks

I'm not brave enough to be a bike messenger in this city, but I do like to throw some snacks, a six pack, and a few picnic sundries into my over-the-shoulder messenger bag and bike down to the beach on the occasional sunny Sunday afternoon. On those days, I really feel the ways my current messenger bag is failing me as a painful twinge spreads in my right shoulder while the clumsy single-strap bag slips and slides across my back.

For the sake of my spine I needed something better, a bag with greater carrying capacity that's built to distribute weight comfortably across my entire back. Something like, say, Chrome's pricey Bravo Night backpack.

The $180 Bravo is constructed from weatherproof 1000 CORDURA brand denier and measures about 20.25 inches tall by 13.75 inches wide by 5.5 inches deep. The simply designed roll-top has a 20-liter main compartment and a smaller compartment designed to hold laptops up to 15"; the laptop compartment is criss-crossed by a pair of heavy-duty black compression straps. Chrome's website claims the Bravo weighs 0 pounds--however our scales clocked it in at a little over three pounds.

The main compartment is lined with Welded-Waterproof 1000 denier military grade truck tarpaulin, and the roll-top does an excellent job of keeping moisture out when you cinch it tight. The top flap seals with a pair of Velcro strips, which makes it easy to quickly open and adjust, though I wish that Chrome had built the Bravo with a spare set of buckles or some other, more trustworthy fastener--I've had trust issues with Velcro straps since grade school.

Unroll the top and the Bravo's 20-liter main compartment expands above the bag to nearly double its original size, allowing you to stack multiple layers of gear--shoes on the bottom, then clothes and books and maybe some groceries on top--and still seal the bag shut.

You'll need to unhook the compression straps to fit a big load in the bag, though you should keep them attached and tight whenever possible as they keep cargo close to your body and thus easier on your back and shoulders. Mountain bikers might also find these straps useful for hanging helmets or spare tires; as a city boy I mostly just used them as convenient clip points for my water bottle and bike lock.

Clipping big stuff to the back of the Bravo Night after dark is probably a bad idea, as you'll obscure the Chrome-branded 3M reflective panel on the back of the bag. The panel is barely noticeable until a bright light strikes it, and it's complemented by small white strips of reflective fabric that run down the front of the bag's shoulder straps.

These reflective panels set the Bravo Night apart from the rest of Chrome's Bravo backpacks, and it's a pretty decent way to improve your visibility at night without having to lug a neon reflective bag around all day. Apart from these reflective panels the Bravo Night is conspicuously black; even the typically cherry-red Chrome buckle is matte black, leading my girlfriend to ask me why I was lugging a "goth ninja" bag around the city.

The answer, of course, is that it looks pretty cool and carries everything I need without making my shoulders hurt. While testing the Bravo I never found a man-portable piece of kit--beyond say, furniture--that couldn't fit inside the bag while the top was fully extended...though it is a bit ungainly and awkward to wear once you start filling it up past the shoulder line. If you need extra stability you can buckle the sternum strap, which runs between the two shoulder straps and includes a sweet bottle opener built into the buckle.

I do wish the shoulder straps attached independently to the bag, rather than coming together as they do behind the neck in a single yoke--I prefer to wear my bag high while riding, and this extra bit of foam chafes my neck if I carry the Bravo Night for more than an hour or so. It's a minor problem that can be solved by adjusting the bag to sit lower on your back, an adjustment that's quick and easy to make with the Bravo's underarm compression buckles, which are intuitive to operate and hold the straps in place with a fierce tenacity.

With straps properly adjusted and buckled the Bravo Night is one of the most comfortable backpacks I've ever worn, though that's coming from a six-foot-plus man whose backpack experience is limited to Jansport back-to-school specials and the occasional borrowed hiking pack. After carrying it daily for more than a week my bag-related back pain is basically gone, and while I can't help blanching a bit at the Bravo Night's price tag, it's good to know that you get what you pay for. The Bravo Night is a comfortable and unobtrusive backpack that can handle just about anything you throw into it.

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