Aquapac Upano Lightweight Duffel Bag Review
I use duffle bags (or, as Aquapac call them, ‘duffel’ bags) a lot. They are the load haulers that get gear from our office to an activity venue or from one airport to another. They carry kit in the back of our vehicles and are used for storage of equipment on our shelves. There isn’t much that a simple and yet sturdy tubular bag can’t cope with.
For most situations I simply need the bag to be durable and reliable, but sometimes it really helps if that bag is waterproof. This suits times, like my recent ice climbing trip to Norway, where I’ll be hauling wet kit around. A waterproof duffle might be useful to keep out water from outside and yet, at others, it is a place to put wet gear to protect it from the inside of a car or the dry interior of an accommodation.
For my Norway trip I took along an interesting waterproof duffle bag from Aquapac called the Upano. This is one of Aquapacs lightweight duffels built for travel and expedition use. Will such a bag suit your requirements? Have a read of my review and make your choice……
The name Aquapac is synonymous with high quality and well featured waterproof device cases, bags and stuffsacks. I am certain most outdoor users will have heard of them. The Upano follows this pattern of being well designed, well constructed and highly featured.
The bags are a classic barrel shape duffel with welded seams and a velcro closed roll top opening. There is an air release/purge valve and compression straps to adjust the volume and clip down retainer straps to ensure the velcro closure can’t be pulled apart. A clever internally accessed ID pocket is great both for airport travel and/or for labelling different bags if you are taking more than one. There are multiple exterior lash points and removable shoulder or hand carry straps for easy portage. It has everything you need and yet still maintains simple lines and a streamlined profile.
I recently packed up the Upano for my ice climbing trip to Norway. I was a little unsure how the duffel would cope when it contained a full load of climbing equipment and spiky ice climbing hardware while travelling on a Ryan Air flight - it seemed a big ask for a velcro secured bag and I wondered if I should risk it. Then, once in country, I knew the bag would need to be able to safely carry a stack of climbing equipment and clothing from venue to venue. Should I give it a go? In the end I decided it would provide a great test and so I loaded it up and headed to the airport.
The Upano has a large top opening and is a doddle to pack. It is different to a normal duffel where, typically, the top unzips on three sides and so creates an opening that lies open - on the Upano it requires you to either prop open the top or accept that you will need to open it each time you pack or unpack something. This isn’t a problem and is something you soon get used to - I see it as a necessary feature given the velcro closure.
Once the bag is loaded up you fold the edges of the opening over several times and fasten the velcro strip. This roll top closure is a well proven system as used in many dry bags and is the main seal that provides the waterproofing. After this closure is made there are 2 compression straps that clip across the top and offer extra security for the velcro closure plus additional end strap clips finish the job. Once sealed up it feels very secure but can’t be padlocked closed so, although I did fly with it on this trip, this type of duffle wouldn’t normally be the type I’d choose for air travel.
Once the bag is all sealed up there are a couple of detachable padded straps supplied that can be clipped on in various configurations to work as a handle, shoulder strap or create 2 rucksack straps allowing it to be carried like a pack. It is a versatile arrangement. However, it is worth noting that for the bag to have any handle or strap configuration these need to be clipped in place and so again I wouldn’t typically used this type of duffel for air travel where the straps may get detached in transit. This arrangement certainly isn’t a problem for general use though and being able to quickly remove the straps is a boon if you are strapping the bag onto a roof or storing it in a canoe or lashing it onto a paddle board. In that case, the attachment points on the bag (which are accessible once the carrying straps are removed) make great clip in points. There is an additional fabric attachment tab on one side that can either be used as a further clip in point or which could, if required, allow you to strap additional equipment on the outside.
On the side of the duffel there is an air release valve that works superbly. This allows users, once the bag is loaded up and sealed, to expel any trapped air from the inside of the bag. Once the air is pushed out the valve is simply screwed up to provide a waterproof seal. I love this feature and it makes a big difference to the bags capacity and convenience.
The colour scheme of the Upano is distinctive. The sides are a dark grey colour and the two ends are a bright orange. Aquapac have done this on purpose so that the the bag is easy to locate when lashed into a craft or vehicle and that seems like it will work well. For my needs that probably won’t be too much of a consideration but I don’t mind at all as I actually really like the colour scheme and think it looks great regardless of function. It is also very easy to spot on an airport luggage carousel!
Inside one of the end panels Aquapac have added an internally accessed ID storage pocket. This is a great design and allows users to add ID details or, in other circumstances, could be used for an identifying number or content list if you were travelling with several bags.
The fabric Aquapac have used for the Upano is 420D PU nylon. This feels quite lightweight but also seems tough and feels like it will last well. It seems a good balance of durability and weight. I had no hesitation using it to haul 19kgs of climbing kit and clothing on the Norway trip and it didn’t give me any concerns that it wasn’t up to the job.
Because of the nature of the closure, the waterproof fabric and the welded seams, the Upano is rated to IPX6 which means it is classified as stormproof (this rating is tested by using powerful water jets to project water at all angles through a 12.5mm nozzle). I can’t claim I have tested it to this rating level at the moment but it was happy holding a stack of iced up climbing gear (which melted back at the accommodation so a small swimming pool was created in the base). I also deliberately carried it, full of climbing kit, to a near the road ice crag and it sat in the snow at the crag base for a day. None of this caused any issue for the bag.
These duffels are great. Stylish in appearance, cleverly designed, carefully constructed and with the backing of the Aquatic reputation - The Upano makes a great load hauler if you participate in wet adventures. They come in 70 and 90 litre sizes (there was a 40 litre size which has been discontinued but you can still find stock available in various stores) and offer good value at around £100 and £130 respectively. The Aquapac video below is worth a watch if you are keen to see how they work.
Posted by Paul
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