To start: I should say that I am cautious towards brands that claim to “do good”, primarily because the culture of “new season, new gear” is prevalent everywhere: it also carries over into the outdoor gear industry. I have always found this to be ironic, because gear shouldn’t be the exception to your environmental ethics. With that in mind, I am always looking for brands and gear that advocate for sustainably produced material, paying their workers fair wages, and producing gear that does, actually, do good. Lucky for me and you, the Ethnotek Raja bag, which retails for $220, does all that, and more.
the Raja showing off its large maw. You can see how easily I fit a climbing helmet in there
The Raja bag is advertised as being perfect for “the daily commute, a weekend camping trip, and the occasional cross-continental journey of self discovery” (from the Ethnotek website). While I didn’t have the opportunity for a cross-continental journey of self discovery (I don’t think visiting my parents in upstate NY counts), I did have a chance to use it as an everyday use bag, for week-long travel, and a couple other surprise uses.
The Raja bag is exceptional in many ways, but one of its best features is the large open top, which allows you to dump anything you might need for the day into it and carry it with you. The Raja holds 46 L, and for someone who often leaves the house in the morning and doesn’t come back until the evening, this feature was key- I could run errands, stop by the grocery store on the way home, all the while keeping my computer and any important paperwork separated from the rest of the bag by stowing it in the insulated computer pouch in the back. Actually, the insulated computer pouch is my second favorite feature- I recently purchased an expensive computer, and after many years of throwing my PCs around with my backpack, I’m having a hard time adjusting to an expensive machine that doesn’t take well to being slammed on floors and car doors. The insulated pouch is not only great protection, but also keeps the computer suspended from the ground- a crucial feature.
a sizing comparison, with the top fully extended
Over-packing is my kryptonite, and this bag is an enabler. For a week long trip, I was easily able to fit everything I needed into the bag (thanks to the large top), keep my computer within easy access (thanks to the pouch in the back) for a quick work session in the airport, and have easy access to my wallet/ cell phone/ boarding ticket in the two side pockets. I will say, the bag does not have the best shoulder strap support system, so beware of overpacking with heavy items- if you tend to bring heavy items in your carry on bag, your shoulders will ache.
If you’re an OCD prone and anxious traveler like me, you’ll find that the Raja is the perfect bag for traveling: it’s sized to fit under the seat in front of you, perfect for keeping an eye on all your things while having easy access to anything (sweater, book, computer, charger, other book, snacks, breath mints, water, that other book, headphones, notebook) you might need during your flight. Also, if you’re terrible at packing like me, you’ll find the side access pocket super useful when you remember that your sweater is on the bottom of your bag and the grumpy middle aged man in the seat next to you is sick of your elbows in his space.
a view looking down: the Raja vs. a climbing backpack vs. a regular pack
surprise use: climbing+durable fabric
While the Raja is not designed as a climbing bag, its other features (large roll-top opening, durable water-resistant nylon material, small side pocket, insulated laptop sleeve in back) translate surprisingly well into climbing. The main draw is that the large open mouth allows you to dump pretty much any climbing gear you might need into the bag and still have access to all of it. The fabric is rigid enough to stay open so you’re trying to shove gear into a flimsy cloth bag, and the opening is wide enough to fit a climbing helmet easily. The other advantage is that the top expands in height, so you can pile gear higher than the normal height of the bag and still be able to snap the top close. The inside of the bag is made with a water-resistant 840 denier nylon which is durable, isn’t easily torn by sharp edges on climbing gear, is easy to clean after dumping dirty/ wet ropes into it, and withstands being slung across rocks on your way to the climbing wall. The computer pouch in the back doubles as a water bladder holder, keeping your water easy to access and also separated from the metal poky bits on your climbing gear, and the double zipper means that you can adjust where you want the water hose to come out. It doesn’t have a small hook to hang the bladder on since it was not designed for that, but that is not a deal breaker in the grand scheme of things.
the Raja in its natural element
fair trade fabric+sustainability
The fabric that Ethnotek uses for its colorful bag fronts come from communities all over the world, produced in traditional ways by skilled textile weavers and artists. Ethnotek prides itself on fair trade practices, and the skill of the people creating the fabric is reflected in the quality. The bag I own, the Vietnam 6, comes with a fabric front that took an artisan one month to embroider, and the beauty is obvious. There are slight differences between each bag, since each one is created by hand, but that is the beauty of slow commerce- you can tell when things are made by hand. The fabric on these bags is velcro-removable, as with many of Ethnotek’s bags, with the idea that when you choose to change the look of your item you can simply purchase a different fabric front, rather than replacing the entire item. Sustainability, frugality, and fair trade all in one easy solution. Well done, Ethnotek!
The only complaint I have for the Raja is that the bag doesn’t handle weight very well. Especially since the bag is so large and easy to over-pack, and the straps are also very tight, even on my very slight frame, so it might be impossibly tight on someone larger than me. But, if you’re a small person, and don’t overload your bag, this is not a problem!
Overall, this bag is a joy to use for so many different occasions. It’s versatile, durable, and useful for a lot of different hobbies. And with a cause like Ethnotek’s and the quality of the fabric? It’s quickly become my favorite go-to bag.
You can also click here to see a video of me talking through some of the Raja’s features, as well as a short clip of it compared to a couple of climbing packs.
Huge thanks to Ethnotek for the awesome bag, and hope this helps you out!