©2019 by Drew Murray Books.

Review: PKG Durham II


PKG Durham II in Blackout

Introduction:

A year ago, I came across a slim briefcase in Staples that I bought on impulse because it looked sharp and stylish. That bag has been a constant companion ever since. It’s been my go-to bag for light carry situations like when I step out to the coffee shop to write or keep an eye on the stock market while meeting a friend for lunch. That was my introduction to the PKG brand, a bag manufacturer located in Toronto, Canada.


On the strength of that first briefcase, I next bought the Trenton clamshell convertible shoulder/backpack bag for travel. It’s the maximum size for a personal item, which combined with a roller bag, provided the most amount of carry-on storage. As an EDC bag, the Trenton is far too large. So big in fact, that I took a super slim sleeve for carrying my iPad and a sweater at the conference.


The next conference I’m going to is Bouchercon which is in Dallas, Texas this year. The conference is a little bit shorter than ThrillerFest in New York, and a little bit more casual. For this trip, I planned to shift my personal item focus from a suitcase to an EDC. The super-slim brief I used in New York is so small it couldn’t hold any free books or swag. Once I unpack in Dallas, I plan on carrying this bag for the duration of the conference.


Like any bag addict, I’m very particular about the features I want in a bag. The ideal bag is an elusive target because no bag can be all things to all people. Everyone’s idea of the perfect bag is as unique as they are. Based on my list, and my previous experience with PKG, I ordered the Durham II backpack in Blackout. It’s available for $130 CDN/USD from PKG’s respective country websites (Canada and US).


Must-haves:

  • Lightweight

  • Laptop sleeve

  • Secondary sleeve space for a 12.9 iPad Pro

  • Organized storage with pen slot for the Apple Pencil

  • Pockets for cables and adapters to keep that weight from concentrating at the bottom

  • Waterproof base

  • Small compartment on the front for putting metal items for airport security

  • Easy access to pull out liquids

  • Water bottle pocketsLuggage handle pass-through

  • Larger main compartment for the most flexibility when packing


First Look:

The Durham II arrived today, and it looks great. One of the cool things about PKG is that they use textiles that have a unique look or finish. It gives the bags a little more sizzle than a boring Samsonite or a bulletproof but subtle Go Ruck. The bag is all black with contrasting PKG logos and PKG’s signature striped material inside. What you can’t see in the pictures is that the black materials have a variety of different textures: leather on the upper handle, nylon webbing for straps, slightly brushed texture for the body of the bag, more leather on the bottom, and mesh for the back padding. All in all, it’s not as subtle looking in person as it appears in pictures.





Surprises:

Surprises are what the Durham II is all about. It’s loaded with all sorts of little details that delight you when you find them. The Durham II almost meets my must-have list, but then it adds so much more from my nice-to-have list, and for a finale throws in things I didn’t know I needed until I saw them.


On the top of the bag is a nylon loop at the back, behind the handle making it easy to hang the bag on say, a bathroom stall door.





The adjustment straps for the shoulder straps have a little sliding elastic loop to keep the excess strap from flopping around.





On the back of the bag is a nylon webbing strap for the luggage handle pass-through, and behind it is a subtle high-security pocket.





The side-load laptop sleeve zipper has a weather flap over it.





There are three main pockets in the bag: laptop sleeve, front organization, and a back sleeve that’s basically a big open space. There’s a divider in the back section, but it can be pushed to the side if you don’t need it, making the space flexible.







There’s a padded, zippered pouch at the top of the organization pocket for glasses or anything else delicate you don’t want to be scratched.





The zippers on the main compartments are the kind that fit together and are lockable using a little padlock.


The bag stands upright even when empty, making it easy to load and use. And yet it doesn’t give the impression of being enormous like many other self-standing bags do.


Test run:

The test load went very well. I didn’t pack the back to the max, but put a substantial load out of all my tech, down puffer, headphones, glasses cases, book promotional material and a coffee mug. The bag took it all in and didn’t look stuffed or straining. There was additional space left over for several rolled-up shirts, or a pair of shoes.





With that pretty substantial weight in it, the Durham II was still comfortable to wear, and the load felt evenly distributed. The chest strap is finally in a convenient location for me, not being so high it feels like a dog collar. When the main compartments are full, the front zip pockets get tight and are really only suitable for slim objects like papers or passports, but that’s typical of most designs.


Summary:

Once again, PKG has produced a terrific, well-thought-out bag with reliable build quality. The Durham II isn’t a tactical level of build like a Go Ruck, but for travel and EDC, most people don’t need that. PKG hits a sweet middle ground balancing build quality, weight, and cost. At $130 CDN/USD I think the Durham II is excellent value. I look forward to taking it to Bouchercon and putting it through its paces. I’ll update the review if anything unexpected comes up.