Monday, May 27, 2013

Red Oxx Metro Review

If you come here for tactics advice, you are coming to the wrong place.  If you come here for survival tips, I am afraid you will be disappointed.  But if you come here for insights (hopefully useful) into finding better versions of stuff we use everyday, you are in the right place.  We all have things in our lives that make us carry stuff, so why not make it good stuff?

Of all the things I use everyday, as a lawyer, a briefcase is at the top of the list.  I had a massive and massively expensive Tumi bag (reviewed here) for years, throughout law school and the first 8 years of being a lawyer, but research showed me that there were small companies, companies not necessarily stocked by nationwide chains, that provided superior design, quality, and materials at BETTER prices.  Tumi stuff is good, but this new generation of bags and packs are just straight up better.  Tom Bihn stuff is in that group and after a month married to a Red Oxx Metro, I can tell you Red Oxx is as well.  These companies make the economics of purchasing a Tumi bag ludicrous.  You get so much more for so much less, going elsewhere.  Let be known I am not a Tumi hater.  I have owned three different Tumi bags over the last 15 years, but the market has evolved and they have not.

One of my very favorite bag and pack sites is One Bag.  Not only does it offer good advice on HOW to travel, it also offers wisdom on WHAT to take with you.  Reading One Bag is where I was first introduced to Red Oxx.  Their Air Boss was designed in conjunction with One Bag's creator, Doug Dyment, and to say it is a success is like saying the speed of light is fast.  Everyone in the know, every world traveler, has, at some point in time bought or at least marveled at the Air Boss.  My aunt and uncle in law were true world travelers, going on exotic, "blend with the locals" vacations for years.  These elaborate affairs would take them to Morocco or India for a month.  They would pack very light and both were thrifty (which is how they afforded such awesome vacations), but both had an Air Boss.  Years before I wrote this site, years before I knew what EDC was I checked out their paired Air Bosses in silent reverence.  I knew I was in the presence of great design.

Red Oxx has military gear in its blood, the founder and his family have deep and abiding ties to the US Armed Forces and it shows in their design aesthetic.  If Bihn is cool and collected, Red Oxx is rugged.  The buckles and snaps look like they could be used to moor aircraft carriers and the zippers bear faint visual similarities to a chainsaw blade.  Since their founding they have done very well on the internet, with fans regularly posting pictures from exotic locales and folks raving about their stuff on travel pages.  There are, funny enough, quite a few Bihn v. Red Oxx articles too.   Seems I am not the only one to notice their shared market space. 

Here is the product page for the Metro.  It sells for $140.  Here is a written review.  There are no video reviews.

ASIDE

Why are there so few good pack reviews on YouTube?  We get 3,451 reviews of the Spyderco Delica, 2,996 of which consistent of someone reading the specs from the website and opening and closing the knife on camera, but not a single video review of the Red Oxx Metro.  Anyone looking to start a new niche on YouTube--do video reviews of packs and bags and cover stuff other than Maxpedition.    

END ASIDE

There are two ways to get a Red Oxx bag.  Buy one from them online or in person if you happen to be going to Billings, Montana.  Finally, here is the review sample Red Oxx sent me:

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Design: 2

The design is not a subtle one.  The black accents, the thick straps, the rugged zippers, and the buckles all tell you this is a bag built to take a beating.  This not a fancy leather number.  It will not be mistaken for a ritzy "attache" but it will be around long after all but the most expensive briefcases of those types have been sent to the junkyard.  Some folks commented that the bag was too rugged looking, but others loved it.  It does have a polarizing appearance, but I happened to like it a lot.  It does not quite have the MOLLE laden, tacticool Maxpedition look, but it is significantly more rugged looking than Bihn bags or Tumi stuff.  If you like that, and I do, you will appreciate the rugged look because this is a rugged bag.   

The Metro is stiff enough to stand uright on its own and remain open when placed that way on the ground (which is great for packing)  It is the smaller of the two briefcases from Red Oxx and it is still a larger than average briefcase.  It it not as deep as the Tumi was, but is a little wider.  It is about the same height as the Tumi and the Bihn Cadet.  Here is a size comparison to a standard 8 1/2" x 11" sketchpad:

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The extra width is, as far as I see it a plus.  More on this below.

Fit and finish: 2

The fit and finish is superlative.  The materials aren't as satiny as the nylon that Tumi uses, but there is no question that the construction on this bag is superior to anything in its $140 price range.  None of the horde of Targus, Brenthaven, etc. junk bags at Staples even comes close.  The chromed buckles are a giveaway here, an eye wink to those that love details like we do, that this is something special.  The Monkey Fist zipper pulls are another eye wink.  Sure they could have done something simpler, but it wouldn't be as effective or as cool.  

Carry: 2

For a bag this big, it carried very well.  It is hard to describe just how busy my work schedule has been recently.  In 9 years I have never been as busy as I have been in the past month.  That is a lot of in and out, thrown down and picked up.  But the Metro handled it with ease.  An arm full of folders and a fist of pens didn't even make the Metro's perch on my shoulder precarious.  The Claw Shoulder strap is largely why.  This may be the best strap on the market.  It is certainly in the top two or three.  It totally changes how this bag carries and makes it almost magnetized to your shoulder.

Materials: 2

Every piece of fabric seems built for the dirtiest trench warfare and the straps seem like mountain climbing cordage.  Even the paracord Monkey Fist zipper pulls are top shelf stuff.  Rugged and very nice.  Again, I like the coarse look, but for more refined places it might be a drawback.  I felt like I was closer to the line of "too causal" for court compared to the Cadet, but it wasn't like carrying a messenger bag.  Bear that in mind when considering this bag.  Setting matters. 

Accessibility: 1

Effusive praise abruptly ended.  Sorry.  Very, very few things are perfect.  And here the flaw is singular, but important.  I love the big pockets up front and the bottle pockets on the side.  I love the two quick access panels as well.  But I really don't like the fact that the pen pocket is accessible ONLY from inside the main compartment.

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There are a lot of times that I am carrying a briefcase where I need to get a pen or other small item and having to open the main compartment and rummage around files makes this difficult.  I would imagine that folks that don't need to use pens a lot wouldn't even notice this issue, but for me, it was a hassle.  I would note that the size of the main compartment's opening is quite large, meaning that never felt like I was stuffing things into the bag.  The extra width also meant it was easy to retrieve things.  The hand straps with snaps are unnecessary and can block access, but this is not a big deal at all.  In the end, everything is accessible, except for the pen and small object compartment, something I use everyday, hence the 1.

Ease of Packing: 2

The compartments are large, the openings massive, and the layout, other than the pen organizer, is top notch.  I really like the location of the water bottle holders as well, easy to get to and easy to lash a bottle to the shoulder strap.  Even the interior pen organizer, as bad as it is to have it inside the bag, is easy to load.  Some of the pockets are little long for pens, but they are easy to force out the other end if they start slipping.

Pockets/Organization: 2

The Metro has all of the standard pockets--pen pockets, quick access ("magazine pouches") on the outside of the bag, and two handy water bottle pockets on the ends of the bag.  Everything is well laid out and just the right size.  I even like the front pockets, despite the fact that they are as discrete as a traffic cone.  One thing missing, which I am not quite ready to penalize briefcases for, is the lack of a dedicated cellphone pocket.  The Cadet has one and I absolutely love it.  The Metro would do well to have one (or to make one of the existing pockets padded and smaller).  It is a point to bear in mind, but not a deal breaker.  If the other pockets weren't so good, I'd dock the bag a point for it, but the rest of what you get are very good indeed. 

Snaps/buckles/zippers: 2

This is where the Metro starts to pull away from the field.  Everything here is insanely solid, overbuilt, and easy to use.  I feel like I could saw 1/4 inch sheets of veneer using the zippers, they are so beefy.  The buckles, as I mentioned before, look like they could moor an aircraft carrier to a dock.  Everything is just so stout.  I love it.

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The snap shackle on the shoulder strap is excellent, never coming undone or dislodged.  It rotates smoothly and snaps into place with an authoritative click.   

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There are two drawback to all of this beefiness and the first is probably something you have already guessed--the looks.  The second is a bit more subtle and something that comes to your attention only after prolonged use--all of this metal hardware can be loud and clangy as you walk around.  As I said, I don't mind the rugged look, but I could do without the "walking around in chainmail" sound that accompanies your hurried arrival.  I don't consider this a dealbreaker at all and given that is it caused by ultrarugged components it is a tradeoff I am willing to make.

Straps and belts: 2

The shoulder strap is called The Claw.  It could also be called the Tongan Death Grip, but I think Vince McMahon owns the trademark on that phrase.  Both are appropriate because once on your shoulder the strap will not move.  Would be muggers will leave their arm behind as they try to grab and dash your bag.  Removing the bag quickly may also remove your suit jacket or shirt.  But all of this tackiness serves a wonderful purpose--the Metro is the most secure briefcase I have ever carried on my shoulder.  I put it in place and it stayed put.  

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The rest of the straps are nice (though the snap cover on the handle straps is unnecessary and annoying), but really they just don't do the literal heavy lifting.  They are fine.  The Claw is amazing. 

Modularity/expansion: 2

At first I could not figure out why Red Oxx sent me a Nomad shaving kit with the Metro.  Then I did some research on their site and saw that the shaving kit also worked like a packing cube. It fit inside the Metro perfectly and would make a great place for cables and wires and the like, should you use this as a computer bag (it would serve fine in this capacity for even the largest laptops).  There are a few accessories available through Red Oxx, like the cellphone holster, but the packing cube idea is a good one and gives this bag some flexibility.  I still like Bihn's expansion capacities a bit better, but the Red Oxx outpaces the Tumi and the most of the rest of the field by a mile. 

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

The Metro will probably outlast a dozen suits, but it may not look perfect being paired with one.  I am more concerned with how it works rather than how it looks (and I like the looks), but again, keep this in mind.  If you need a bag to haul stuff, or carry a briefcase on a jobsite, absolutely ignore my concerns with its rugged appearance, but if you are going into a boardroom or a courtroom be prepared for the statement this bag makes.  The smart people in the room that are travelers will undoubtedly recognize the Red Oxx look from their Air Boss and give you a few mental bonus points, but some folks might wonder why you are bringing your Army rucksack with you.

Frankly I don't care that much.  I'd rather people think I am a person concerned with substance over style, so I am not worried about what the Red Oxx Metro says style wise.  This is one hell of a briefcase.  Bigger than my Cadet but smaller than my old Tumi, this is probably the best size for most people, based purely on Goldilocks logic.  It takes a beating and still looks fine.  It has tons of well placed and well designed pockets.  The shoulder strap is the industry standard.  There are still some things to work on, like an external pen organizer and a dedicated, padded smartphone pouch, but other than that, the Metro rocks.  And it will last as long as one too.     

11 comments:

  1. Aesthetically this bag seems to fall down between two bar-stools; it's too refined to appeal to the military/outdoorsman, but too "tactical" to match classic attache's and briefcases. Still, for serious travellers who put their bags through a lot of abuse, this looks like it'll take a beating.

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  2. Downtime is synonymous with lost revenue. We know very well if equipment doesn’t work then it is become very annoying for us, and lost productivity affects our entire organization. Ruggedized equipment is manufactured and tested for use specifically in industrial fields like that give a new meaning to “wear and tear”. Employees can be careless with their devices and withstanding drops, dings, and accidents while being able to deal with inclement weather is crucial. I am also using ruggedized laptops this is really awesome. With these you no need to worry about the safety of your loving gadgets.

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  6. It's not an external pen organizer per se, but the pockets situated behind each of the snap-closing bellows pockets are a great place for storing pens. They're deeper than the typical pen, and the interior surface of those pockets has enough bite to keep pens from slipping out even when the bag is upside down.

    I've carried my Metro bag for over five years, and cannot say enough good things about it.

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