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‘The world’s most versatile waterproof backpack’ review

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Putting the Tillak Siletz Modular Carry System to the test

Braving the elements with a lightly loaded Siletz.
Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

The Siletz Modular Carry System from Tillak is pitched on Kickstarter as “the world’s most versatile waterproof backpack.” It’s a bag designed for anyone who needs to take their computing or camera gear into parts unknown, be it a backcountry Alpine slope, a flat water lagoon, or an unexpected L train detour on the daily office commute.

The Siletz system starts with a waterproof 35-liter rolltop backpack. From there, you can add the Laptop Sleeve, the Travel/Photo Insert, and a Night Bag to create the Work & Travel system. The Outdoor System is compromised of a Gear Pouch, Shoulder Pouch, Cooler Insert, and 25-liter Wet/Dry Insert. The complete system with all the accessories is priced at an eye-watering $395 for Kickstarter backers, while the core kit containing just the backpack and laptop sleeve is $165 with early-adopter pricing.

Modular backpacks like the Siletz come with a do-it-all promise that’s rarely ever kept. That’s because a bag that looks and performs great on a kite-surfing holiday won’t usually suffice for an office commute or trips to the gym. But with a suggested list price of $543 for the complete system, the Siletz can’t afford to compromise.

I’ve been testing the Siletz backpack from Portland, Oregon-based Tillak for several weeks. It looks great, in my opinion, especially for a so-called dry bag. Not everyone will be enamored by the slick, rubbery aesthetic of the chosen materials. Nevertheless, I’ve received compliments from both office-bound creatives and outdoor adventurers while carrying it. It’s a look that definitely makes a sporty yet sophisticated statement about its wearer.

The backpack is waterproof and airtight, which gives the bag a rigid shape even when using just a fraction of the bag’s massive 35-liter capacity. It’s a trick that gives the all-purpose bag a cosmopolitan look that’s suitable for urban commutes into the office, be it on a bus, bicycle, or Stand Up Paddleboard, come rain or shine.

The entire $395 system — select wisely.
Photo: Tillak

The bag is designed to expand upward, not outward, meaning it can be quite tall (30 inches / 75 cm) when completely unfurled — a warning for those of shorter stature. I mostly used it with the top rolled completely down, taking advantage of the full 35-liter capacity only when shopping at the supermarket or taking a weekend trip abroad. The bag sat comfortably on my shoulders when fully loaded, mostly empty, or any capacity in between.

The Siletz only has one unlined outer pocket that’s weatherproof (not waterproof) with a taped zipper that’s vertically oriented. If you forget to close it, as I did occasionally, you run the risk of gravity pushing things out. The backpack also has two deep water bottle pockets with retention straps to keep your umbrella or travel mug secure. Inside, you’ll find a single pair of Mod-U-Lox attachment points for slide-in and slide-out attachments of either the Laptop Sleeve or Night Bag/Gear Pouch accessories.

The cavernous main pocket can be accessed through the roll top, or via a TIZIP zipper, which is the same ultra-waterproof zipper you’ll find on diving suits. Neither means of access is very convenient: the roll top requires two hands to manipulate the latch and then unroll all the material, while access via the TIZIP requires one hand to grasp the bag firmly while the other yanks the TIZIP open. The TIZIP also requires regular lubrication (that ships with the bag).

Since Tillak sent me the complete system to review, I think it’s best to break down my experience into three usage scenarios: as an outdoor bag for water sports enthusiasts, an everyday bag for urban commuters, and a weekend travel bag.

Wet/Dry sack insert.
GIF: Tillak

Outdoor Adventurers

The Siletz Modular Carry System excels for use by outdoor adventurers. It’s the backpack you wear while dragging your board bag to the airport, and again when bombing down the surf and slopes.

As an avid kiteboarder, I was able to easily stuff a wetsuit, water shoes, board shorts, poncho, rash shirt, impact vest, and other gear into the main compartment. I even tried it on while wearing my harness and think I should be able to wear it on the water for my next downwinder (though I fear it might be too bulky). Either way, the Wet/Dry sack accessory will prove useful for keeping the wet and dry stuff separated after a day on the water or snow.

I’d definitely wear the Siletz on the slopes with the removable waist belt attached. I can also see it replacing my dry bag when Stand Up Paddleboarding or tucked away inside a sea kayak. Unfortunately, there’s no sleeve to hold my hydration bladder.

I can see how the Shoulder Pouch accessory would be convenient, but I found its attachment point on the shoulder strap too insecure to entrust it with my phone, wallet, keys, or other valuables. It’s fine for power bars, fly fishing gear, or other small items you need quick access to without removing the backpack.

I don’t know what to say about the air-tight Cooler Insert with TIZIP that’s designed to hold “six tasty beverages plus ice.” It’s bulky and built to fill the lower half of the bag completely. The tight tolerances coupled with the bag’s rubbery interior makes it difficult to slide the insert into place (and then remove it). Nevertheless, it does keep things cold; I tested with a bag of ice which was still 80 to 90 percent solid after three hours in the cooler.

Overall, I’d rate the backpack a 9/10 as an outdoor bag for water and snow enthusiasts.

Everyday Commuter Bag

Normally, I would never choose a 35-liter backpack as an everyday bag. That’s simply too much capacity for the daily commute to work, trip to the gym, or for stops at the market on the way home. But the Siletz’s rolltop design lets you tuck most of the capacity away, while maintaining a thin, body-hugging profile that doesn’t sag when closed. (Remember: it traps air.) Its waterproof design has the added benefit of keeping everything dry if you regularly commute by bike, like I do.

The Neoprene Laptop Sleeve accessory is dominated by a large main pocket that’s zippered at the top, which can easily hold a 15-inch laptop. The sleeve also includes a medium-sized zippered pocket to hold all your cables, dongles, and accessories. The sleeve clips into the bag using two Mod-U-Lox “nipple” connectors that are simple enough to slide in and out of the bag.

Accessing the laptop isn’t too much trouble after you take the time to unlatch and unroll the top. Unfortunately, the TIZIP opening is a bit too narrow to comfortably reach into the laptop sleeve to extract my tiny 12-inch MacBook. (It barely slides through.) There’s also the matter of rubbing against the zipper lube after brute-forcing it open. As such, it’s not a zipper I want to use every time I need to open the bag.

True, there’s the outer pocket, but I found myself occasionally forgetting to secure the vertical zipper, allowing things like my wallet and AirPods to fall out. The zipper also lacks any security features, allowing a would-be thief to covertly access it on a busy subway car, train, or bus.

The bag really excelled at the supermarket. I could easily load all manner of groceries through the large top opening, which I could then roll into place at whatever capacity I needed.

I’d rate the bag a 5/10 for use as an everyday commuter bag.

Weekend Travel Bag

The Siletz performed better during a recent weekend I spent in Antwerp. I packed all my clothes in the waterproof Wet/Dry insert, my toiletries in the Night Bag, and my laptop, dongles, and accessories in the Laptop Sleeve.

I left the so-called Travel/Photo Insert at home. Its thick padding, lined interior, and abundance of dividers are great for anyone who needs 12 liters of storage to protect their DSLR gear. But it’s bulky overkill for clothing, and it takes up valuable space.

The Wet/Dry Insert allowed me to easily stuff two days’ worth of clothes into the backpack in one tidy bundle. Upon arrival, I removed the insert and Night Bag, leaving the backpack instantly configured for use in the city.

I was even grateful for the bag’s extreme waterproofness on one particularly rainy day. And the extra large, expandable capacity meant I still had room to bring home the holiday purchases I made.

Regular travelers might miss any kind of sleeve that allows the backpack to attach to the handle of a rolling bag. The Siletz also lacks a security pocket for your passport or other small valuables.

I’d rate the bag an 8/10 for use as a weekend travel bag that easily converts from carrying all your gear to just some of it.

The Siletz lives up to its 100 percent waterproof claim.
GIF by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

So, is the Siletz Modular Carry System really “one bag that can do it all?” Well, kind of, if you don’t mind compromises. It’s definitely a backpack I’d take on a multiday water or snow sports adventure when I also want to have my laptop or DSLR in tow. I can also see grabbing it on a particularly rainy or snowy day for the office commute. Otherwise, it’s a tough sell. In my experience, no single bag can serve every purpose all of the time, no matter how many accessories you throw at it. Simply put: sometimes you want a purpose-built bag for the office, gym, shops, or slopes.

If you’re still tempted and you accept the risk associated with crowdfunding campaigns, then pledging $165 (with an expected delivery in May 2019) for the backpack and Laptop Sleeve kit is a decent deal. I’d also recommend picking up the $25 Wet/Dry liner which adds to the versatility. This combination stacks up nicely when compared to similarly priced, but less versatile, waterproof backpacks that are available from popular brands like REI and Dakine, for example.