OXFORD AQUA EVO 12 LITRE BACKPACK

451g £64.99

The Oxford Aqua Evo 12L Backpack is a lightweight, yet surprisingly rugged and weatherproof design that is more comfortable than many I’ve used, for middle-distance commutes. I prefer the open plan internal design, though others favoured more internal pockets.

Pros: Well made, with cycling friendly detailing.

Cons: Lack of structured compartments may be a turn off for some.

Specification/Construction 3.5/5

The Aqua Evo is made from a lightweight, yet sturdy, rip-stop polyester. IPX6 isn’t waterproof in the submersible sense but then, unless your commuting/utility runs involve river crossings, It's more than adequate for most contexts.

Staying with the outside, you’ll notice there’s a small, shielded pocket with weatherproof zipper. Big enough to swallow a smartphone/wallet or similar valuable you want protected from the elements, but within easy reach.

Stealth grey can be a mixed blessing. This is tempered by some strategically positioned retro-reflective detailing. 

Lugs either side are designed for mounting LED lights, which is another welcome feature. Padded, adjustable straps are designed to sit flat and displace the load nicely, while the “Air Tech” system is basically a series of corrugated foam pads that lifts it away from the wearer’s back, theoretically allowing some airflow and reducing those unsightly sweat patches.

The broad straps promise to displace loads evenly and comfortably. These also employ a medium density foam padding. Very similar to other cycling biased rucksacks I’ve used previously.  I was pleased to note waist-straps to prevent annoying sway. The sort that can be very apparent when accelerating hard through town or riding the trails.

Popping the click fix closures and delving inside, there’s a roll-top closure to keep the weather out, while theoretically permitting it to be packed right down for convenient storage.  Measuring 43x32x11cm, its deeper and slightly wider than more traditional motor/cycling specific models, which should offer additional clearance, so helmets shouldn’t catch when you’re checking left to right, or over your shoulders. There’s a carry strap when you’re off the bike or needing to hang it somewhere.

Capacity 3.5/5

Internally, it’s fairly spartan. There’s a fluorescent yellow zippered pocket, which can capture keys, multi-tool, spare tube, Co2 cartridge and other bike/unrelated essentials you wouldn’t want to be rummaging for.  Efficient, office-bound packers should be able to stow trousers, shirt, underwear, shoes and a small U-lock.  The water repelling specification also lends itself to occasional off-road fun.

Aside from tools, tubes etc., there’s scope for a hydration pack, lightweight technical jacket such as this 7Mesh Cypress Hybrid . In this context, I’d be inclined to stash tools and other bike specific spares, snacks etc., in separate bags. 

Pencil cases are great for multi-tools, cable ties, Co2 cartridges, tyre levers, and other, machine specific stuff. These also minimise that annoying tool-kit percussion that can intrude upon a serene dirt road blast.

I’ve also found ours ideal for lugging cameras and other equipment, sensitive to vibration. Both on the bike, and when out walking/travelling to photoshoots etc.

Performance 3.5/5

Overall performance has been reassuringly good. Relentless rainfall and flooding have been this winter’s theme and I’m pleased to report ours has kept everything bone dry, even exposed two hour’s torrential rain. Not that we’d expect anything less, frankly. After all, IPX6 means it should resist water projected at high pressures. 

I’ve subjected ours to five minute of garden-hose torture test with no sign of water/ingress either.  There’s an old saying that bikes should do the carrying. It’s one I advocate. That said, rider mounted luggage has some definite advantages in congested traffic and doesn’t impair bike handling through more technical sections of trail. 

Even when laden to capacity, I’ve been impressed by the relative lack of sway/bounce, I’ve erred towards short to middle distance commutes (around the five to ten-mile mark) distances which rider mounted luggage is intended for. 

The airflow system, coupled with the relatively low weight does a decent job of allowing air to circulate, although at the longer distances, there’s been more than a faint mistiness when I’ve been hustling along at 20mph plus. Much the same story off road, although good technical fabrics also play their parts.

As I suspected, it sits at a sensible height, so doesn’t impair over the shoulder checks, or catch on helmets when making them. The bag’s cut and the stealth reflective detailing offers 180degree presence and friends reckoned they could pick me out at 30 metres on clear, dark roads.

Obviously fitting LED lighting to the designated tabs boosts this significantly, designs with solid clothing clips, such as this Moon Shield X  make the best companions but those using watch strap type mounts work well enough, so long as you can wrap them tight enough.

Durability 3.5/5

As I intimated earlier, although the fabric is relatively thin, it’s also sturdy and has shrugged at the usual, everyday carelessness. Brambles and other foliage failed to make any impression either, which bodes well for longevity. The external zippers also seem good quality and their long elasticated tags make for easy access, especially wearing full-finger, winter weight gloves.

Value. 3.5/5

On the one hand, the Oxford Aqua Evo is well made and closer to waterproof, rather than water-resistant, in the everyday sense. However, if you wanted more capacity and water-resistant was adequate, then Pro-Viz Reflect Touring has more compartments, a sternum strap and a waterproof cover, all for £49.99.

However, the closest comparator we’ve tested is the  Tucano Urbano Beak Pack which offers 20 litres capacity and features such as a laptop sleeve. However, it’s also a tenner more than the Oxford and lacks the same degree of water resistance.

Conclusion

The Oxford Aqua Evo 12 litre rucksack is a relatively small, yet Tardis-like model that suits those who prefer the option of loading their way. It has a 22 litre sibling, should you need to lug more. Waterproofing is excellent, it’s comfortable over moderate distances and rugged enough for occasional off-road riding, too. 

Verdict 3.75/5 Generally well-designed compact rucksack for commuting, walking and occasional trail duties.

Michael Stenning

www.oxfordproducts.com

PUBLISHED MAY2020

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