Long-Term Review: Outershell Rack Bag

Refined designs can benefit the end user well beyond what they might have expected. The Outershell Rack Bag has been refined by Kyle Ng for over three years through many commuting rides as well as overnighters. To say that the innovations baked into the bag have benefitted me greatly would be an understatement however. The thoughtfulness of the design has left me with a want for nothing when it comes to a rack or basket bag.

The Quest for a Bag That Adapts

In a quest to find a rack bag that could work for bikepacking trips as well as shorter rides in town or a few hours on dirt, I found that many bags would suit some of my needs, but would not be as versatile as I had hoped. Some were durable and heavy, others were large and cumbersome. Neither of which would end my quest. These would probably work for bikepacking trips, but would be less than ideal. I figured these more traditional, bicycle-touring-style bags, would be appreciated on my longer rides, but I would rarely attach them to my bike. That was what I feared most about purchasing new gear. I do not want gear I would rarely use, or gear I would leave attached to my bike and loathe when not utilizing it.

Backpacks tend to be easy to deploy. Shoulder straps allow the bag to quickly come with you, but they put undue weight upon your back. Not bad when hiking, but when cycling, they tend to put weight right on the part of your back that gets sore quickly. Bikepacking bags, like framebags, toptube bags, handlebar rolls, and seat bags are great. They get the weight off your body and put it onto the bike. The problem is, they are hard to attach or remove from the bike very quickly, especially if you have a variety of items inside and want to keep them in there instead of spewing them all over the house. I often keep things in my bags for organization and to keep everything together in one spot. Lots of times I find myself wanting bags and gear for one ride each week, but then I want to ride without much gear at all for every other ride during the week. Taking bikepacking bags on and off my bike multiple times a week got old real quick. Leaving them on there was a less than ideal option because I would either have bags flopping around, devoid of their contents, or have lightly loaded bags with stuff that I KNEW I wouldn’t be using during my ride (sleeping bag, puffy jacket, etc). If only I could find a bag that had lots of volume, could shrink down quickly when the contents didn’t warrant utilizing the full volume, and could just be removed with a couple of snaps whenever I wanted to ride my bike without any gear weighing it down. Oh yeah, and if the bag could allow me to ride and access my gear while riding, without stopping to get off the bike, that would be great. 

I have used lightweight bikepacking bags many times before, and while they are svelte and compact, they are a little high maintenance. You must load them with enough gear to keep them from being too floppy, while also not weighing them down too much. Bringing a laptop, or even groceries for instance is very difficult. Yet these are the type of items I would like to carry on occasion, whether riding to a coffee shop to get some work done, or getting a few needed items at the store while on my way home. Mixing the everyday and less common, overnight tasks together in a single bag would be ideal, if it was actually possible.

I make maps and do geographic analysis for my day job, so I am constantly pouring over maps. Looking at where I have been, or where I might explore next is something I am often doing even while riding. Seeing clear map windows on top of some classic touring bags has had me looking for a bag that could provide an opportunity for me to see the geography in front of me while I ride. This would be especially helpful for route finding and making ad hoc decisions on the trail.

Attractive Features from Outershell

The Outershell Rack Bag seemed to check all the boxes for me. It had the clear map case on top, can fit a 13″ laptop, is padded on the bottom, weatherproof, easy to open with one hand and access the contents while riding, has a daisy-chain, modular webbing system for adapting to many different racks and baskets, has many pockets, shoulder strap D-rings for carry off the bike, and is collapsible when you remove the semi-rigid plastic inserts on 2 or even all 4 sides. I liked all these features. It didn’t seem to be lacking anything I had seen on other bags and had wanted. It had capacity for all the bulky items I would want to bring for a ride home from the store, or a weekend out bikepacking in the woods.

The Rawland Demiporteur rack I ordered had come in and I mounted it to the front of the El Mariachi. It needed the longer struts Rawland offers, but once it was setup, it was just what I had hoped for. The Rawland rack works perfectly with the larger basket offered by Wald, the 1392. Consequentially, the Outershell Rack Bag works well with both the Wald 1392 basket and the Rawland Demiporteur rack.

Whether commuting, grocery getting, camping, making coffee outside, or just scavenging the forest for cool materials, this bag empowers the one who bears it to get all their gear related cycling adventures done quickly and efficiently. I initially thought that I would purchase a Rawland Demi Porteur rack for the El Monsterachi and just get a Wald basket to hold whatever I needed during my rides, which is a great solution for just carrying a jacket for a cold night you anticipate at the end of your ride, but I had greater plans.

When photographing and filming segments for my reviews and videos, I often found myself defaulting to my backpack and going out on very short cycling trips to get the shot and not have my back weighed down for too long. During those rides, I thought that it was a huge waste to not ride longer, to better locations, and even bring my computer with me to edit the photos and video while I am out where I love to be.
“Two buckled straps secure the bottom, while the lid keeps everything down tight, but still accessible with one hand.  The lid has an elastic cord running through it, with hooks like a bungee net! Shoulder strap attachment points make this bag excellent off-bike as well. With the side inserts removed, the bag can cinch down into an elegant triangle, so you’re not lugging around a bulky box.”

First Impressions

When the Outershell Rack Bag arrived, I reviewed the stitching and materials. I could not find a single stitch out of place, nor any fold, wrinkle, or other imperfection. The bag is finished as perfectly as could be imagined. I haven’t seen this in other bags. Even big company production bags tend to have a loose thread, extra mis-stitched spots, small folds in the material, or fabric imperfections. Its obvious that Kyle and his team have honed their products to the highest level of quality you will find in a bag.

The pockets that face the rider seemed too tight at first. I thought they were too small for the items I would put in them. It seemed that the zipper closing them was too constrictive, but with the forethought and extensive testing Kyle had done while refining this design, I felt confident that this was probably a design feature that I’d likely appreciate later.

The first few rides with the Rack Bag were eye opening.  The Rack Bag from Outer Shell Adventure allowed me to pack my camera gear and my 13 inch laptop as well as a jacket, snacks, and a ziploc bag for any trash I found along the trail. I could even fit my monopod on the top, under the lid, secured with the elastic cord and plastic hooks. Many cold and rainy days this winter were welcomed with jackets, leg warmers, rain gear, and ear warmers. These items needed to be added or removed in an instant as I rode through the various micro climates we have in my area of Arizona. Shedding them in the past meant that I would need to park my bike, unzip or unroll a bikepacking bag, take off the garment, and find a spot to stuff them in my bags. With the Rack Bag however, I was able to continue to ride, unlatch the hooks on the elastic cord, throw the lid forward, pull off the garment and throw it in the main compartment of the Rack Bag for later. I found all kinds of gear besides clothing to try this technique with. Cameras, water bottles, food, sunglasses, and my helmet all made their way into the bag in this manner, sometimes for a few seconds, sometimes for the remainder of the ride. 

Real World, Long-term Testing

After 1.5 years of testing, a good deal of knowledge about durability and functionality has been acquired. I always try to test bags and gear I would use on overnight trips for longer than most people would. People depend on the gear they use for overnight trips. While I could use the gear for a couple overnights and call it good and write up a review, long-term testing is the only magnify strengths and weaknesses.

OUR VIDEO REVIEW OF THE RACK BAG

Although I mostly used the Outershell Rack Bag for day trips, I made sure to use all pockets and load it with a variety of items that I would also use on overnight bikepacking trips.

Each of the semi-rigid plastic inserts ride within a sleeve on each of the four vertical sides of the bag. These are probably my favorite feature of this bag. They allow the bag to be a rigid box that the bottom and top of the bag cannot compress, even when tightened or when items like the Nemo Switchback sleeping pad is secured beneath the top flap. The best part is being able to quickly compress the bag by removing the 2 side inserts and squeezing the front and back together at the top to form a triangle on the sides, having the front panel slope back toward the bike. When carrying less gear, this is perfect. I have carried light jackets, a spare tube, and a bike lock with the bag in this configuration. The bag in this compressed configuration is noticeably more aerodynamic, but that hasn’t been very important to me in most circumstances. Usually I would rather have my gear accessible right in front of my bars than get marginal gains from aerodynamics. Plus, I am not going over 20 mph very often loaded up with gear unless gravity is helping me out.

The plastic inserts are so light and slim that they can be laid flat upon the bottom of the bag and forgotten about until they are desired again. You could also take out the front and rear insert panels if desired, which could make this bag very flat, but I could only see this being beneficial if you were fighting a head wind on the way to the store with an empty bag that would be filled up for the ride home.

The front of the Outershell Rack Bag has a pocket with zipper across the whole length of the front panel. Although this is a flat pocket, it can hold a good amount of things. I usually reserve it for items that aren’t too bulky which I do not need while riding, but will need when off the bike. My wallet and a plastic grocery bag for picking up trash are usually riding in there.

The pockets that face the rider, which seemed too tight at first, proved to be a great design. They won’t sag or flop, even after overstuffing them. Other bags I have seen use floppy pockets that are big and bulky. You wouldn’t want to put anything heavy, like tools, in these floppy pockets from other bag manufacturers, but you would probably want something inside them so they maintained their position a little better. I like that I can use the Outershell Rag Bag pockets for whatever I want, coins, tools, or food and they won’t flop. Or I can leave them empty, and stuff food wrappers or other items I only need to stash later in my ride, like arm warmers.

The clear map case is great, but I don’t use it much for anything besides paper these days. Initially, I used it for a Garmin eTrex 30 and my phone. I wanted to see the display of both these items, but I found that they could rotate within the map case if the Rack Bag wasn’t completely full and putting tension behind the map case. Then these items would slide around and knock into each other. It is perfect for maps of course, but I also found it really helpful for cue sheets of a route I planned to explore. Another idea I had was to write a few notes about items I was testing/reviewing. I kept a pen and a notepad in the map case and would write down ideas I had. I also used it to hold a checklist of places I wanted to shoot specific photos/video clips as I rode along my route. This was awesome. I kept riding and knew exactly where I was going to ride, what I wanted to try out about a specific product, and what kind of shot I would get at specific locations. Although you might not be making checklists for places to shoot photos/videos, you may want to store a list of things you want to try out on your bike. You might want to try out tips that you learned from watching our 60 Second Bike Tips playlist or you may want to adjust something on your bike after riding it for a bit like seat position, handlebar rotation, tire pressure, etc. I know that I tend to just deal with things and keep riding, even when taking a minute or two could improve my next rides significantly. Keeping a list in front of you while you ride is amazing. I wouldn’t have mentioned it, but this made me feel like I had a secret superpower for mindfulness while riding.

The clear map case is attached to the top flap of the Rack Bag, which has an adjustable elastic cord that runs through it. The cord has 2 hooks on it like a bungee net that allows one handed operation to either hook it to the small pieces of webbing on the corners, or directly to your rack.

Regularly, I take this bag with me to Coffee Outside. Coffee Outside is a gathering of folks who enjoy making coffee outside and spending time together outdoors for an hour in the morning. I bring water, coffee (obviously), a fuel canister, stove, aero press, titanium mug, lighter, coffee filters, and an extra camp mug.

I often bring a Nemo Switchback foam mattress to use for a seat and in the winter, I bring a down quilt, beanie, gloves, and some other layers of clothing to keep warm while off the bike.

All this gear really adds up and while I could use panniers or bikepacking bags to carry these items, the Rack Bag is my preferred system for carry.

Going to pick up some groceries or dinner from stores and restaurants within a few miles of home became a desirable activity thanks to this rack bag. Now I can throw my cable and U-lock into the bag, quickly detach the bag from the rack or basket, lock up the bike, and head into the store. No need to grab a basket, just throw the items into the bag and check out up front, putting the items back into the bag, saving plastic and paper bags in the process. The shoulder strap D-rings are extremely useful here as I just keep the shoulder strap attached while I go around town picking up items. When it was icy on the roads one night in January, I needed to head to The Raven Cafe to register for the Whiskey Off-Road 50 mile MTB race.

I decided to take the El Monsterachi with the Outer Shell Rack Bag with a few items like extra layers of clothing, my lock/cable, and a few extras. A few spots were sketchy to ride on throughout town, but I got to and from the Cafe with no crashes. On the way home, I picked up a large Mexican food order for our family of four and placed it in the Rack Bag. This was a perfect use for the bag and the food stayed warm until I returned home. I have over stuffed this bag with various items, sweated profusely upon it, cinched the straps over and over again, splattered it with mud, laid the bike down with gear inside, and plowed through overgrown singletrack, bag first.

All of this hard use has proven one tremendously important result: this bag is built to last. Have I experienced any wear or failure in the one and a half years of hard testing? Nope. It is still looking almost just as fresh as it did when I received it, just a little dirtier. I would trust this bag on multiple days out bikepacking or bicycle touring without any second thoughts.

While the price of $220 seemed a bit much to me initially, I would gladly pay that much for such a well thought out, top notch, impeccably constructed bag that I use so much for such a wide variety of applications. On top of that, I am sure this bag will last through decades of hard use. I cannot recommend this bag highly enough.
Although this product has been sent to me free of charge for testing and review purposes, I have no affiliation with, nor have been compensated financially in any way for this review. The opinions expressed in this review are solely my own and have not been manipulated nor were any requests made to promote this product in any manner.

SPECS

  • Compatible with many large platforms and select configurations for:
    • Origin8 Classique Cargo Rack
    • Pass and Stow Five Rail Rack
    • Rawland Demiporteur V2
    • Soma Porteur Rack
    • Specialized Pizza Rack
    • Surly 24-Pack Rack
    • Velo Orange Porteur Rack
    • Wald 1392 Basket
  • 14.5″ x 10″ x 8″ (6″ expandable drawcord section, shown with 46cm Ritchey VentureMax handlebars)
  • Fits 13″ laptop (shown with Incase Icon sleeve)
  • Elastic cord with plastic hooks on lid (works like a bungee net)
  • Plastic hooks fit on rack, basket, or webbing loops on the side of the bag
  • Clear map case on lid with zippered closure
  • Semi-rigid plastic inserts all around (removable)
  • Thick padded bottom to prevent rattling
  • Large exterior zip pockets on front and rear
  • Smaller exterior sleeve pockets on sides
  • D-Ring attachments for shoulder strap
  • Side compression straps (compresses bag into a triangle with side inserts removed)
  • Daisy chain attachment loops on rear and bottom of bag
  • Two movable webbing straps with side-release buckles for attaching to basket or rack
  • PU coated Cordura main fabric
  • White X-Pac liner in main compartment (weatherproof in main compartment)
  • HANDMADE IN CALIFORNIA

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