At first, I didn’t know where the Yalta fit in.
With a 30L capacity, the Yalta 2.0 (Chrome Industries, $96) is not a small bag but it’s not massive either. It’s a little bulkier on the bottom than the top, an inversion of most bike-friendly bags that usually crunch most of your carry weight high up on your shoulders. As a classic Chrome bag, I’ve always admired the Yalta from a distance for its unique profile, full side zipper and its decision to opt for a tension hook clasp instead of Velcro or a Chrome buckle (cool but heavy). The Yalta’s adjustable closure hook feels good to use and means that you don’t have to deal with the noise Velcro makes, which if you’re me is definitely not your primary ASMR trigger.
I tested the Yalta in two contexts: during the week for my normal routine and on a low-key weekend camping trip. During the course of my normal day-to-day testing, the Yalta turned out to be a surprisingly adept gym plus laptop bag thanks to its strangest design quirk: a large opening that lets you access the space that the waterproof main rolltop compartment sits in. Once you unzip the full-length side zipper you feel a little weird, like you’re somewhere you’re not supposed to be, but ride it out. That pocket, kind of an internal bladder around the true inner roll-top compartment, is handy if you figure out what to use it for.
For one, you can put your weird filthy stuff in there so it doesn’t ever touch your clean normal stuff, and that’s pretty cool. In my case that meant a full-sized Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gi — a huge robe-like training uniform — and the rest of my workout clothes, plus assorted nerd stuff, like my inhalers and 10 micron pens ranging from fine tip to extremely very fine tip. You can also get to anything in the cavernous side-zip area (again, this is the entire interior of the bag minus whatever is in the rolltop section) super easily, so it’s nice to have two big sections with varied levels of accessibility instead of just one huge main compartment and a side pocket or whatever. The laptop sleeve sits at the very back of the bag, accessible within this full side zip. While side-zip laptop slots are amazing, the Yalta’s did feel on the large side and my 13″ MacBook was safe but not very snugly positioned.
For my second trial, I loaded the Yalta up for a day hike to a local rock climbing spot with friends (note: this thing cannot carry a rope). It’s not what the Yalta is designed for, but it’s what I was up to so I figured I’d give it a shot. The bag performed well on the hike in, fully loaded with lunch, snacks, many layers, a raincoat, a small first aid kit, a Sony RX100 II, a really heavy guidebook for the area and a two-liter water bladder, which I stuffed into the strange side-zip area, snaking the hose out through the top of the zipper. I managed to forget my helmet, which I wished I’d had later when a nearby climber dropped a metal carabiner from 60 feet off the ground, but had I remembered it would have clipped on to the closure loops on front of the pack nicely.
Surprisingly, the Yalta — much more of a bike bag than a crag bag — did well throughout the day, distributing my weight comfortably enough that I didn’t notice it at all. The front pocket made essentials easy to access and the rolltop waterproof area gave me peace of mind that my stuff would stay dry if it started raining, which it usually does. One gripe: the sternum strap was surprisingly hard to hook and came undone sometimes, but it wasn’t a huge deal. It’s also worth remembering that any rolltop without full side access is going to be tough to organize, and that was definitely the case here.
Compared to some of Chrome’s more heavy-duty bags and other less-technical packs, the Yalta is a likable middle ground. The pack isn’t as rain resistant as a bag made out of fully waterproof material and the laptop sleeve could use some structure, but it carries a fair amount and it’s got a nice slender profile that looks and feels good. The Yalta doesn’t really have any quirks or tricks beyond the strange side-zip compartment, and that makes it a good fit for anyone who needs a good-looking, weather resistant mid-sized rolltop backpack for work and what comes before and after.
What it is: A great multi-purpose rolltop backpack that isn’t too technical.
What it isn’t: The ultimate gear pack. Full of pockets.
Read more reviews from TechCrunch Bag Week 2018.