The Brown Buffalo is an independently owned California-based design company founded by Douglas Davidson in 2005. Douglas, for those who arent aware, might be one of the industrys most prolific pack designers, having worked with the likes of The North Face, Burton, Head Porter and Adidas to name a few.
In the beginning, The Brown Buffalo was Douglass consulting wing, used for trend forecasting, product design, and product development. But that changed in 2017, when he decided to pursue his dream of building his own brand, hence The Brown Buffalo label was born. And were sure glad he made the switch!
His stated mission is to produce unique pieces using premium materials that are both unique and purpose built. You could argue that there are many other pack companies striving to accomplish the same feat. What I think begins to delineate The Brown Buffalo from some of their industry peers is close attention paid to the entire process paired with decades of experience in the highest tiers of the industry that simply results in superbly built gear.
For this review, I will be looking at the 26L version of The Brown Buffalo Conceal Backpack V3. This latest version of an already celebrated bag was designed to be the perfect urban everyday carry backpack and the fact that it took first place in the Best Everyday Bag category in the 2019 Carry Awards indicates they may have done just that.
Who It Suits
The Conceal Backpack V3 26L (which for the purposes of brevity I refer to as the CB going forward) is a fantastic urban EDC backpack that is a great choice for anyone who requires quality material, prefers a timeless utilitarian aesthetic and carries a ton of stuff. At 26L, it will hold just about everything but the kitchen sink. There was almost nothing I couldnt fit in this bad boy. So if you have tried other high-end EDC offerings only to move on due to a need for more volume, look no further. I would also only recommend the 26L pack for someone who is 510 or taller (and its probably more appropriate for someone taller than 6 feet).
If you want something more lean, then definitely move to their 19L version.
The CB also has, in my opinion, just the right amount of organization and is laid out in a thoughtful and pragmatic manner. If you require organization, but dont need a specific pocket for every single item, this pack is for you.
Who It Doesnt
If you are a person who prefers a true crossover pack that you can take to work and then go wear during a rucking event, you may want to explore some of the more outdoor-slanted offerings out there. While I have no doubt the build quality and materials would hold up to the rigors of outdoor exploration, the pack is devoid of a frame sheet and might not excel under considerable load.
There is a ton to love about this backpack. The 26L CBs dimensions are 20 H x 6.5 D x 12.5 W (510H mm x 165D mm x 320W mm) and it weighs in at a moderate to heavy 3.6 lbs. In my opinion the CB really makes its bones as a travel pack where capacity is at a premium and that is exactly how I utilized it. Ive now taken the CB on two separate trips, eight flights in total. Admittedly, I generally prefer to utilize a roller carry-on for my clothes and then a smaller EDC pack for my electronics and daily necessities. The roller carry-on goes in the top storage compartment and the EDC pack goes under the seat in front of me. If you pack appropriately and thoughtfully, the CB would absolutely allow for one-bag travel. It served me very well in that role. No issues and no complaints.
Lets start with the outside of the CB. The exterior is made of DWR-coated 1000D CORDURA and the version I carried and tested was Black MultiCam. Which simply put, is beautiful. Not a single stitch broken or a thread out of place and all the critical points have been reinforced to protect against wear and tear. The Brown Buffalo seamsters straight up have game. From The Brown Buffalo website, Ballistic fabric is constructed with qualifying INVISTA yarns which are woven in the classic 22 basket weave construction in accordance with INVISTAs approved fabric standards for the CORDURA brand. Original ballistic weave developed for military body armor. Designed for maximum durability and long-lasting performance. Yep, sign me up. The entire pack is outfitted with YKK AquaGuard zippers, which as I have said in previous reviews, are top tier. The zippers here worked well, moved extremely smoothly and as I verified during a particularly bad downpour, were highly effective in keeping water out. They use very minimalist corded zipper pulls which is my preference. They work well, arent loud and if you decide to customize, you dont feel bad removing them.
One feature that really shines in this pack are the shoulder straps. They are insanely comfortable. Perhaps some of the most comfortable shoulder straps I have ever had the pleasure of testing. And that is saying a lot. They feel good, look good, are ergonomic and include just the right amount of padding without being bulky or overwhelming. The straps also include quick-release buckles which I really like on backpack straps. While I dont utilize the release buckles to put the pack on or take it off, I do think its an added benefit from a safety perspective.
There are two webbing latch points on the side of the backpack that can be used to attach any number of accessories. During one trip I used this area to attach a small titanium carabiner which I then utilized to attach a small shopping bag I picked up while I was out one day. There is a removable sternum strap, which should be the expectation for a pack of this price point. With that said, it functions perfectly. No issues. The grab handle is durable and feels good in hand. Nothing fancy but also not an oversight. I also really liked the label. It is laser engraved and made of Hypalon which is a nice, high-end touch. If you are going to have an external label at all, it should add to the overall aesthetic and not detract from it. The Brown Buffalo accomplished that here. On the back of the pack there is a luggage sleeve for travel and as someone who travels regularly, this is a fantastic feature.
There are three main storage areas of the CB. The main compartment is made of charcoal 1000D CORDURA and includes just the right amount of organization. There is a mesh zippered pocket and two large dump pockets. I really love the dump pockets. You can utilize them for any number of things but for reference, they are both capable of fitting 32oz Nalgene bottles. In fact, I carried a 32oz Yeti in each (one for water and the other for coffee).
There is a black ballistic removable laptop sleeve that easily fits a 15 laptop and swallowed my 13 MBP. The sleeve includes a tweave stretch pocket for smaller items which I found pretty useful for charging cables that I use regularly and dont want banished to my larger cable pouch. There is a pen slot which works well, but I wish there was a second one (I generally carry a couple pens and stylus). As an added bonus, this removable sleeve includes a removable shoulder strap so the user can utilize it as a standalone shoulder bag. I found no need to do this, but your mileage may vary. At the very least, it is good to have that option.
If you remove the laptop compartment, the Velcro loop field on the back panel allows for an almost infinite number of options. Virtually any pouch set up for hook and loop will work well here. Quite simply, the main compartment is absolutely cavernous.
The front compartment includes two zippered tweave stretch pockets. This is the area I used as a stash pocket and I found it to be the perfect location to throw my wallet, keys and phone when going through security at the airport. The two zippered pockets were a great way to separate these items so they didnt bounce around and scratch each other up.
The rear conceal compartment is lined by Velcro loop and is large enough to fit a 15 laptop (the dimensions of this compartment are 14.5 H x 11.25 W). This is a great option for users who carry two laptops as one can go in the main compartment and one in this rear area. For daily use, I utilized the inside removable laptop sleeve as it made the pack feel less rigid against my back. For my one bag air travel, I utilized this rear conceal compartment as it allowed me to then dedicate the entire main compartment to clothes storage using packing cubes.
Not So Good
Since there are no compression straps, there is no way to cinch down the pack if it is under-loaded. I personally dont mind this, but it also means this is not a pack you want to carry if you plan on not utilizing the majority of its carry capacity. While the structure of the pack is adequate and it doesnt collapse on itself, it will still look like a relatively empty pack. A huge positive is that I did get the pack to stand up by itself. Always a win.
I am a big fan of Douglas and The Brown Buffalo. Not only do they put out an amazing product, but they are striving to educate the next generation of seamsters and creators. Douglas and team hold workshops where they teach students all manner of pack-making skills. As an added bonus, the students leave with a pack and tote that they created. Now, that is just plain cool. Furthermore, in this age of mass produced goods created overseas and in large quantities, finding a more boutique-like operation that makes amazing kit of exceptional quality in small batches is rare. That kind of craftsmanship and contribution to the carry community adds a solid point or two and for me, moves a packs ranking from fair to good and good to great.
The Brown Buffalo Conceal Backpack (CB) V3 is a fantastic backpack. Taking home first place honors in the highly competitive Best Everyday Bag category is no easy feat. At 26L, Id suggest it for taller folk or for travel. And for daily carry, the 19L will be all youll need.
It looks great and carries like a dream. The CB is sewn in The Brown Buffalos Costa Mesa workshop and has been field-tested from Tokyo to California. If you decide to spend your hard-earned dollars on it you are truly getting an American-made piece of quality kit that was created with love and in tiny quality-controlled batches. Thats hard to beat.