By: Matt Setlack
I have worn the Ronhill Commuter Xero 10L + 5L Vest Pack during my daily run commute to and from work every weekday for the past month (03 Feb 2017 to 06 Feb 2017). I have run approximately 300km total with this bag. When I run to work, the contents of the pack weigh approximately 5-7 lbs (2.3-3.2 kg), which includes my lunch and spare clothing. When I run home, the pack is a lot lighter with just has a spare change of clothing inside. The purpose of this review will be to provide you with my personal observations on this particular running pack.
The photos online do not do this pack justice; it is much nicer than the pictures make it look. All photos in this review, with the exception of the photos from the Ronhill website were taken after using the pack for approximately one month. If you would like to find out specifics about the pack, please visit the Ronhill website here of the Running Room website here. The Ronhill website has the following to say about this pack:
This pack is sold in two different colour schemes: Granite/Lime and Royal Purple/Fuschia. The name of this bag is the Ronhill Commuter Xero 10L + 5L, which means that when the pack is in the smaller configuration with the perimeter zipper zipped shut (see far left column), the internal volume is 10L. When the perimeter zipper is unzipped, then the internal volume expands to give you an additional 5L for a total of 15L (see far right column).
What I Love about the Ronhill Commuter Xero 10L + 5L Vest Pack
This running pack makes a lot of sense. It is very obvious to me that Ronhill has done extensive research and development on this pack and there were clearly many runners involved in the process. I feel as though Ronhill's main purpose in life is first and foremost to produce the greatest pack (or jacket or top or whatever they are making) for the end user.
The fit of this pack is excellent and it hugs my body perfectly. There are numerous ways in which this pack can be adjusted to fit you just right. There are two elastic straps that go across your torso and they can slide up and down. The lower end of each shoulder strap can be adjusted to effectively shorten or lengthen each shoulder strap. You do this by pulling the lower end of the shoulder strap (located near where the glove fingertips are in the photo below) out from under the hip pockets.
The elastic torso straps are a very nice touch and stretch when you inhale/exhale, which is really nice. The last running backpack I had did not have this and it was annoying to have to constantly readjust the nylon straps based on if you had a lot of gear in the pack or if you just ate a big meal.
Distribution of Weight - To me, the centre of gravity is quite close to the back and rides higher up than a more traditional pack. This was my first "vest" style of backpack so it felt odd at first but I got used to it and I find it much more comfortable than a traditional pack now.
The Ronhill Commuter Xero 10L + 5L Vest pack rides higher than a non-vest style backpack, which is a good thing as it doesn’t affect your arm swing at all while running. The pack wraps around your upper chest rather than your stomach like a more traditional backpack. It is very easy to breath while wearing it. It feels more like wearing a vest than wearing a backpack.
The relatively wide shoulder straps really help to distribute the weight over a greater surface area, which is much more comfortable. The wide shoulder straps don’t cut into your shoulders with more weight in pack.
Front Pockets - Fantastic idea. They are made of a stretchy mesh material. I usually store an extra tuque (Canadian word for beanie or hat), an extra pair of gloves and a buff here. They work well and are an ample size. In the front right strap, there is also a black whistle and a smaller mesh pouch to store things such as I wallet, I believe.
Size of bag – Perfect for my lunch and a spare change of clothes (underwear, socks, shirts). The 10L +5L concept is a fantastic idea and very useful/practical. I generally like to keep it as small as possible in order to keep the centre of gravity as close to my body as possible. However, when I have a larger lunch or if I am bringing my work clothes home at the end of the week, then I unzip the perimeter zipper and use the full 15L size of the bag. The perimeter zipper goes in a "U" pattern along the left side, then along the bottom, then along the right side of the pack.
The additional 5L is also nice to accommodate racing flats for Tuesday tempo sessions or Friday interval sessions. There's an elastic draw cord on the back side of the pack, which cinches tight to make the pack as small as you need it and prevent items inside from bouncing about - great idea. When I'm run commuting, I find it annoying when I can hear the jingle-jangle of loose items inside the bag and having that cinch cord and perimeter zipper eliminate that, which is awesome.
Details - Keepers for the front torso elastic straps are very nice to prevent the end of the straps from dangling and swinging around while you run. I also like the way in which the zipper pulls are tied to the zippers. First the zipper pull material is stiff and second the zipper pull length is just right - these two attributes allow the zipper pulls to remain relatively rigid while you are running. Again, I find it annoying when straps/zipper pulls/loose fabric/etc is flailing about while I'm running. I like my pack to be sleek, aerodynamic, and efficient - high speed low drag ;). The zipper pulls also allow you to use the zippers even with mitts on - a nice touch as many of my winter runs in Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada are done when the temperature is below -20C!
Top Flap - Really good idea. I believe what this flap does is prevent water from entering the bag via the tiny opening where the two zippers come together and it also ensures that the waterproof pouch in the backside remains completely dry. A third (and possibly unintentional positive byproduct) of this flap is that it helps relieve the stress concentration on the zippers. In every bag I have ever seen, the number one thing to fail first is the zippers! The greatest stress is put on the zipper at the very top of the bag when the pack is heavily loaded. Having this flap with velcro takes part of the load, which means there is not as much stress directly on the zippers. Great durability in this bag.
Lightweight - I measured this pack to be 431 grams - less than a pound empty! Even considering how lightweight it is, it is still super comfortable.
Damp pocket - This makes a lot of sense and is really practical. I use it all the time when I'm bringing my sweaty running clothes and head sweatband home. The head sweatband may look funny but it prevents sweat from getting in your ears and damaging your earphones. The damp pocket helps to segregate the damp clothes from your dry clothes (and maybe work papers inside the main compartment that you might be bringing home to work on). It is located at the bottom of the bag as shown in the photo immediately below.
Internal Miscellaneous Items Pouch - I put two iPod Shuffles in here (I always carry one spare Shuffle of course), my identification and some money. I like that it is sewn into the bag at the top edge only (it free hangs) because if you happen to have pointy objects inside the pouch, they don't dig into your back when you're running. I have used other running packs, with small pouches that are sewn all the way around the perimeter and sometimes this causes sharp objects to dig into your back but that's not the case with this Ronhill pack.
Water Resistance - Although I have not tried this pack in the rain, I am confident based on the material of construction that it would be very resistant to moisture.
What Could be Improved with the Ronhill Commuter Xero 10L + 5L Vest Pack
Hip Pockets - I suggest that Ronhill consider moving zippered pockets forward as it can be quite challenging to reach into these pockets while running and while wearing mitts. A workaround that I have found is when I'm trying to access the right hip pocket, I push the entire pack to the right with my left hand, and that makes it a bit easier to access. Maybe my arms/shoulders are really inflexible? Another potential solution could be to change the zipper so that instead of just being a straight forward-back horizontal zipper, it was instead a forward-back horizontal zipper plus a little extra zipper that went vertical in the forward edge of the pocket (kind of like an L shape). Perhaps this might make it easier to access the contents of the hip pockets.
However, I understand the design that Ronhill was going for with these hip pockets. If they were to move the hip pouches too far forward, then they would interfere with the arm swing. The location where the pouches are currently located is tucked back out of the way, which is nice.
Reflective Stripes - I suggest that reflective stripes be put on the front side of the straps (not just on back side of backpack as it is currently) and possibly on the lateral (left and right) sides of the pack. This is easily mitigated by adding a simple yellow reflective belt around the pack though so it's not a major issue.
Carry Loop - I'm not sure if this even warrants consideration but I found that when I am carrying the pack to the front door from the kitchen in the morning using the cord carry loop, sometimes the relatively fine cord that the carry loop is made of is uncomfortable on the fingers. Considering that this happens about 1% of the time and doesn't affect the running performance of this pack, it's not a significant concern but I thought it should be mentioned. Maybe in the future, consider making the carry loop out of a flat lace type of material to distribute the load over a bit larger area. This really is a minor issue and can easily be rectified by carrying the bag by the shoulder straps.
The Ronhill Commuter Xero 10L + 5L Vest pack is an outstanding running pack and I highly recommend it. If you are looking for a pack for the run commute (or even just a pack that you could use as a gym bag), this is definitely the one I would choose. If you are interested in this pack, you can find it at Running Room.