It’s Likely the Filson Journeyman is My Favorite Backpack

Round two, because I regret selling my first one, so we are going to talk about that.

Shortly after I published my original review of the Filson Journeyman Backpack, I sold/traded off the backpack. While it’s an item I loved — at the time, I was convinced that it wasn’t something I would keep using, and I had found something better. It didn’t take a few weeks after I parted ways with that bag to start regretting the decision — I wanted to own it, but would I use it?

I had no idea. After all, the Heritage line of the GORUCK GR1 is a much better backpack similar to the Journeyman — and I love that Heritage GR1, so why go backward in carrying comfort? I was pretty torn, but I found a great deal on a well-cared-for Journeyman and snagged it. And then I started to use it a lot. As in, more than my Heritage GR1 was getting used. And then, perhaps, I bought a second Journeyman for color variation or something.

As I’ve thought and used it more, I felt it was time to talk about why I love this backpack, despite its apparent flaws and high price.

I’ll assume you read my initial review of it here. If so, let’s get going.

Journeyman versus ASAP SB

I love the Mystery Ranch ASAP SB — it is easily my most comfortable backpack to carry any and everything I need to carry when I head to the office. It’s amazing. That said, it’s not very, erm, stylish looking. It’s laden with PALS webbing all over. It slouches where the three zippers meet, creating a ‘beer belly’ look — which perpetually bothers me whenever I remember it is happening.

Even with all that, it’s hard to be frustrated with the ASAP SB. The laptop compartment is solid. The harness is the best in the industry. The size is ideal. The top pocket is handy. For me, though, it looks like I am taking something made for the outdoors and using it indoors. This is tricky for me to reconcile because of how good the bag is, while the visual design choices betray it. Perhaps more colors, with more fun — I could see this bag easily made into a hit and drop some webbing attachments. (Think of this, though, Black 500D as the primary body material; all webbing is purple, like vibrant purple. Then you take a couple of the side panels and make them teal. I mean, that would be stellar. I digress.)

It’s nearly impossible to compare the ASAP SB to the Journeyman, as they sit at almost opposing ends of the spectrum. The Journeyman is less comfortable, versatile, and all-around saggy when carrying it. And yet, it carries about the same amount of gear and has about the same amount of organizational abilities. Unlike the ASAP SB, though, it’s essentially the best-looking backpack you can buy.

And then there are two things to keep in mind:

  1. Essentially, no one gives a shit what your backpack looks like. As someone constantly carrying weird shit into the office, I can assure you that no one cares.
  2. I rarely carry a backpack to the office for a long enough walk, where overall comfort is something I need to consider.

So, the tl;dr: ASAP is the most comfortable bag on the market, and not great looking — the Journeyman is the best looking bag on the market, but not that comfortable to carry. Both can get a bit of a beer belly look, but the Journeyman pulls it off with style. It’s a wash.

Enter GORUCK’s Heritage GR1

And then I thought the Heritage GR1 would be the perfect middle ground between the ASAP SB and the Journeyman. It would look good while carrying well. However, it’s an imperfect middle ground. The Heritage GR1 is essentially one of the best backpacks on the market money can buy, and that’s across pretty much any category. It is one hell of a bag, and yes, it’s worth every penny.

But it’s not a cut-and-dry perfect score. It’s exceedingly comfortable to carry. It looks pretty sharp. It has a great laptop compartment and storage options. It doesn’t look tactical, while still having some tactical traits that benefit users. However, it’s not as comfortable to carry as the ASAP SB and not as good-looking as the Journeyman. It sits between the two, not quite nailing either end — a compromise.

And perhaps more than anything else, it’s large. I don’t mean capacity-wise; you can get 21L or 26L — I’ve had both to use. But it feels large on your back compared to the other two, and it certainly looks a bit larger than both. There’s this weird thing about the GR1s without MOLLE on them: they look more prominent than the versions with MOLLE. These heritage models lack design elements that would visually break up the broad swath of waxed canvas you see across the front face of the bag, which means the bag visually ‘faces up’ quite large to the eye. In other words, toss the 21L GR1 next to the 20L ASAP, or the 23L Journeyman and almost every person is going to say the GR1 is a good bit larger than the other two.

And, unlike the other two bags, there are many more rigid things on the GR1 across the board. At the same time, the Journeyman is a master of flop and sag. The ASAP SB has a proper frame sheet to give it a good posture, while all the nylon slouches quite nicely or not so nicely as the case may be. The GR1 Heritage, because of the design of the bag itself, always looks pretty full and pretty stiff — it never really looks relaxed.

That’s probably the best way to look at the GR1: it has no chill. It doesn’t ever look relaxed or casual. It’s like someone dressing down a Sharkskin business suit; you can try, but it’s still a shiny suit. You want a linen suit, but that’s not what you have here. You have something that almost feels like it is trying to be something else. Some bags work in many materials; others don’t. The GR1 looks stellar in waxed canvas, but it doesn’t look relaxed in waxed canvas — that’s visually odd at times and angles for this bag — and thus, it makes waxed canvas feel a bit unnatural.

Here’s my tl;dr of the Journey versus Heritage GR1: the Heritage GR1 is by far the better bag, in almost every scenario — but it looks oddly stiff and proper, and that irks me to some degree and mentally feels less easy to carry the GR1 when compared to the Journeyman.

Know What the Journeyman Is and Isn’t

What I underestimated the first time around with the Journeyman is how useful of a bag it is, but only if you are willing to know exactly what this bag is and what the bag isn’t — and then are willing to tweak how you use your bags to fit that model.

Here’s what I mean:

  • The straps and harness are not made to be luxurious when the bag is heavy, so stop thinking about them. If you do that, you don’t care that the buckles to adjust the strap length are fiddly and impossible while wearing the bag. Instead, you can appreciate that you don’t need to manage a bunch of webbing, adjust load lifters, or get it ‘high and tight’ — you wear the thing.
  • That sizeable front pocket, it’s massive. But it’s not made to be the pocket you store small things in or the pocket you do long-term storage of large/heavy items. No, it’s made for quick and easy access. To stash things away and get at them quickly. You store something in the main compartment for when you need it but stash it in the front pocket while needing it. In other words, run the front pocket almost empty by default, and the bag starts to work better.
  • There’s a zipper pocket inside the bag, which seems almost useless. Until you realize this is where you should store small things you don’t often need. Then it’s handy.
  • Don’t pick boxy pouches; this is not a boxy bag, so pick amorphous and slouchy pouches, and they will work with the bag much better. Keeping the bag from looking off-puttingly structured.
  • Don’t baby it. It’s not a cheap bag, but it’s well made, and with every mark the bag gets, somehow, it looks better. Except for the first mark, man, that mark is the worst — at least until there are a few more. In that sense, the first scratch hurts the most, like a watch, but you don’t notice the rest.

I spent so much time wanting to make the Journeyman work how my other bags worked that I forgot to use the bag as if it were a tool. Once I did that — that brings us to the last section of this love letter.

My Love

The Journeyman is one of the few items in Filson’s lineup which utilizes almost every iconic bit of material they sell/make/ship. There’s the Wickett & Craig bridle leather for the strap adjustment, the top ‘handle,’ the fancy secure clasp, and the zipper pulls. The primary material is the classic Millerian Oil-Waxed Tin Cloth — a cotton duck canvas with an oil-wax finish that makes the entire thing more floppy and not stiff — flying in the face of most waxed goods. The lining is cotton ‘cover cloth,’ which is somehow reassuringly soft; I’ve yet to see a hole in it or odor stick to it — it is utterly inoffensive as a bag liner. There’s moleskin applied to the inside of the shoulder straps in a dark manner, which feels great to the hand. The back and bottom panels are the iconic Filson Rugged Twill for durability. There’s brass hardware all over, stamped with Filson’s name — the most outwardly visible of the branding.

And you might wonder why the fuck I am espousing the materials because there are undoubtedly shorter ways to talk about that. But you might miss the point. Where at first it looks like these are all slapped on to check some boxes, they are remarkably well considered and put together on this bag. I’ll walk you through it:

  • The oil-finished Tin Cloth is placed in all the areas most likely to get rain on them so that there are reasonable levels of rainproofing on the bag — without the need for crazy annoying Aquagaurd zippers. Yet, at the same time, this material is not used in a spot that will have prolonged contact with you, or your clothing, reducing any oil-wax transfer.
  • Instead, the Rugged Twill is against your back and the base of the bag. This is very durable and placed in high-wear areas, yet it also has been placed precisely where you will likely let this bag contact other materials, which you might not want the oil wax rubbing onto.
  • Oh, and that moleskin strap liner? Yeah, that’s been placed in such a way to not only buffer your clothing from anything remotely abrasive but to give a bit of grip so that your straps don’t need a sternum strap to keep them in place.

There are more details you might not catch either. Like the two snap buttons: one for the front pocket flap and the other to keep the rain flap pulled over the zippers at the top. On those the male end of those snaps isn’t secured to the body of the bag, but instead to a little loop of material, conveniently sized for your finger to slip in — thus allowing you to snap them with one hand, even when those areas are full or empty — all with ease. I don’t know who thought of that, but it is one of those tiny details you immediately appreciate the first time you use it and wonder why more bags don’t do this.

And that’s the thing about why I love this bag. It looks dead simple. It looks like there wasn’t much thought given. But there’s been an impressive level of thought given to this bag, and if you use it as a backpack and don’t write 2,100 words about it, for a second time, it turns out that this is a pretty great backpack and one you fall in love with quite readily.

So buy it.

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