Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: Cilogear backpack: The Guide Service 30-liter Worksack

I needed a good backpack… I wanted a high-quality, long-lasting day pack that would work for EVERYTHING.  I wanted it to last forever so I could pass on to my kid (if I ever had one)… I needed a pack that would be DO IT ALL:
1)    A day pack/carry-on for traveling the world with everything I own lightly on my back.
2)    A day pack that holds all of my whitewater paddling gear, a break-down paddle, and a packraft for packrafting day trips.
3)    A day pack for backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snowmachining in Alaska.
4)    A day pack for ultra-light overnight hikes

After looking for the perfect “do-it-all” daypack, I decided on a Cilogear backpack.  Cilogear is a small mom-and-pop company based in Portland, Oregon that hand-sews custom backpacks right here in the USA.  These are not mass-produced packs… every single pack is a unique, high-functioning art piece that is customized when ordering directly from the company.  The catch? Plan on a 3 to 4 month wait time to receive your pack from the date you order it… but the wait is well worth it!

The Cilogear 30-liter Guide Service Worksack.  Just awesome!
Knowing how I destroy my gear at an all-too-fast pace… I opted to order the tougher material version worksack (the Guide Service).  The Cilogear Guide Service Worksack runs $199, just above the market price of most other high-quality, mass-produced day packs available.  Before this pack, I tried a few others (the Osprey Talon 33 day pack and Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Windrider 2400 day pack).  The Osprey 33 seemed small and had thin fabric and mesh that would rip.  I didn’t like how clumsy the Hyperlite pack felt… it felt like a huge loose bag (I have a 70-liter Hyperlite Porter pack and the 40-liter Hyperlite Windrider felt huge/was basically the same size as the 70-liter Porter)… I decided to get rid of the other packs and used that money to buy a Cilogear pack.

All this gear (with packraft on the outside) fits inside the Cilogear Worksack... cool.
Pack raft attached with the worksacks included removable straps.

For pack rafting day trips, a the 30-liter worksack is perfect. There’s no need to fit the pack raft inside, as it can easily be tied outside the pack under the bottom with the included removable straps.  The 30-liter Cilogear worksack with the slightly expandable top and lid has enough room for a drysuit, life jacket, helmet, boating shoes, sprayskirt, pogies, dry bag, layers, water bottle, a puffy coat, food, a 4-piece breakdown paddle to all fit inside perfectly.  All together, all the paddling gear and boat weighs about 25-30 lbs, and the Cilogear worksack comfortably carried it all day.

So what’s so good about Cilogear's worksack?

1)    The Simplicity

 I absolutely love simple packs.  The idea of a well-designed tough sack with shoulder straps, lots of removable straps/tie-down options, a removable pack lid/brain for easy access items... sold!  Cilogear puts tie-down d-rings all over the pack… then they give you 6 colorful straps with various buckles and cams, so you can pick where you want the straps mounted or easily remove them to keep your pack simple and snag-free when bushwhacking through the backcountry.  You can attach all kinds of gear to the outside of this pack everywhere... pretty cool.  The hip belt is minimalistic and thinly padded, but once again, seems perfect to me for a daypack and it's comfortable.  I love the fact that the hip belt is removable because I don’t use it half the time.

Removable hip belt.
                     The removable & extendable lid has separate external and internal pockets (large enough for a pair of crocs or a helmet!)
2)    The Fit

Unless you are a lady or a short guy, I would warn most folks to probably order their pack in a “long” instead of “regular”, as I’m 5’11-ish and the pack is a little too short for me… I ordered a “regular” and the waist belt sits too high above my hips.  However, it’s only a 30-liter daypack, and you can honestly get by without a hip belt because you won’t have much weight in the pack in the first place.

The simple inside of the Cilogear worksack.  It has an internal compression strap to keep gear against your back.
I loved how the worksack fits close to the body.  Most ultra-light packs do not have adjustable straps to pull the pack in closer to the shoulders… Cilogear figured this out and this pack rides nice and close.  I found that I could even jog/run down sections of the trail because the close fit of the pack, even with all the paddling gear and pack raft attached.

Loaded down with cold-weather whitewater paddling gear & packraft, still cozy for hiking all day (thanks for the photo Erin O'Leary!)
The shoulder straps are nicely shaped inward to not rub your arms while hiking.  They are very thinly padded, but seemed perfect to me (as you won’t be carrying much weight in a daypack in the first place).  The worksack with a 25-30lb load of paddling gear and pack raft was plenty comfortable to carry on my back all day.

The pack rides nice a close to your body, the fit is so good you can actually jog/run with the pack.
There is no “suspension system” in the worksack, just a simple foam pad to keep your gear comfortable against your back.  Since there is no suspension system, the pack rides right against your back, which means no air circulation… which means you’ll have a sweaty/wet back when hiking.  I figured your back pretty much gets sweaty even with fancy suspension packs with airflow (because you sweat when you hike)… so I opted to not care.  And quite frankly, I’d rather have a pack that keeps the weight completely against your back as it keeps your center-of-gravity more stable and is easier to carry all day.

3)    The Fabric/Construction

Burley burley burly.  The stitching on the worksack is awesome! Not worried about any of the stitching coming apart (especially because it's just a day pack).  The Guide Service pack has a rock solid fabric bottom, which also wraps up around the base of the pack.  The rest of the pack’s fabric is plenty strong, yet light.  I like the fabric on this pack more than any other pack I’ve owned.  I’m basically no longer scared to throw loose tent poles, sharp carbon fiber paddles, or other metal objects inside the pack.  I would love a Dyneema worksack, but I’ve had “waterproof” Dyneema packs before and your gear will still get wet if you actually paddle whitewater… so I opted for a the much cheaper Guide Service worksack fabric and just use a Seal Line 50 liter lightweight drybag ($30) to put the pack in when pack rafting.  You can also buy a super light Cuban-fiber waterproof pack cover from Zpacks to keep your Cilogear worksack dry when hiking through torrential downpours.

The interal zipper/stash pocket inside the lid, includes a key ring so you don't lose em'.
The steel D-rings are all over the side of the pack as well.
For those of you looking for a day pack that does it all, I would highly recommend a Cilogear pack.  It's a great feeling supporting a small USA company.  It’s a great feeling when you go to receive a package in the mail, open the box and pull out a custom, hand-sewn backpack that’s comfortable, light, super durable, and looks FUN… after all, you might as well have some color in your life… you only have one to live!


  1. Dee rings are steel not aluminum. Also you appear to be shortening the shoulder straps when you tighten them which serves to make the effective torso length shorter: which is great for technical climbing but might suck for hiking approaches when it feels too short! Thanks for the kind words!

    1. I tried loosening the shoulder straps all the way and the pack was still a bit too short (for the hip belt to work how I'd like)... but still like it. I'll probably wind up sewing a sleeve just a few inches lower to attach the hip belt to.

  2. PS: use that internal compression strap to make the whole thing ride even better. The stiffer fabric on the front panel is used to help that strap pull the load in and tighten down the whole shebang.

  3. Hey man! I’ve got some questions for you about your motorhome build. I’m looking into buying a 2wd 4cyl and converting it to v6 4x4. Hit me up if you get a chance!

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  5. Looks like a great day pack and love supporting local/ small businesses! I'll be checking out their website for sure! Thanks!

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