What do you get when you combine a poncho, blanket, and backpack? You get the RōM Outdoors Backpack.
With the unpredictability of weather, it can often be difficult to plan for outdoor trips. I have been on many campouts, many single-day, and multi-day hikes and have been caught in a storm without shelter. Packs become heavy/loaded down when you pack everything that you could possibly need. It pays to be frugal, to be minimalistic and to know that every extra ounce counts. It is recommended to pack as light as possible. Some sources recommend a weight of roughly 25% (1/4) of your body weight and some say no more than 20% of your body weight. Truthfully, this is limited by your strength, stamina, and overall health. There are things that you must have with you. Dave Canterbury calls these the 10 C’s of Survival: “Cutting Tool, Combustion, Cover, Container, Cordage, Candlelight, Cotton Bandana, Compass, Cargo Tape, Canvas Needle.” Additionally, you will want to carry water with you. The amount may change depending on where you are traveling and the conditions of the trip. For example, if you are going to an area with a great source of water, you may want to carry 4 Liters with you, and then a method to clean water (LifeStraw, iodine, Ultra Violet). Interestingly most of us will find a bag and then add a bunch of stuff to it, not thinking about the benefits of the bag/container itself. Luckily the RōM Outdoor Backpack serves multiple roles and does this at a weight of 4.6 pounds.
The RōM outdoor pack was Invented in 2008 by a father of twins, fed up with having to carry so much gear on outings. As a father of 3 young children, I completely understand the frustration. The RōM bag serves as a multi-purpose 3-in-1 backpack system. In backpack form, you can enjoy 3000 cubic inches of storage space, within a single large pocket and two detachable saddlebags. You can also unfold the backpack into a fully wearable water-resistant poncho or a water resistant, ground pad/blanket that is soft fleece lined on one side. Each pack has MOLLE webbing on the outside, perfect for a few extra pouches, like Maxpedition or 511 to name a few, carabiners or even paracord. The ROM bag, at 4.6 pounds, is a little heavier than my previous bag the Maxpedition Falcon II (3.2 pounds). However, I do not have to carry a ground pad, which can weigh about a pound. Also, I do not need a heavy poncho, which can weigh about a pound. Regardless of the gear that I carry, I still typically have one or two of the small, thin plastic disposable ponchos.
When you are using the backpack in poncho mode or in blanket mode, you cannot also use it for storage. Having a lot of experience with Maxpedition gear, I was really saddened when they retired their Merlin bag. I wish that one of the saddlebags would fold out into a larger bag, similar to the role of the Merlin. Alas, you may need to rely on your base camp/tent for storage, or you can put what you absolutely need to keep into an accessory drawstring bag (purchased separately). The water resistant RōM Drawstring Bag measures 20 inches tall by 15 3/4 inches wide and weighs practically nothing. This bag is quite convenient and will allow you to keep some of your things dry. This can be tucked into the base of the backpack or into one of the saddlebags. The upper saddlebag measures 14 inches wide by 7 1/2 inches tall by 2 1/2 inches thick and will keep its contents dry as well. Along the front of the saddlebag, you will find 2 rows of Molle webbing. Neither the top nor bottom rows seem to be consistent with the webbing measurements. The top row webbing has 5 sections, which measure 1 inch tall and 2 1/2 inches, 2 1/4 inches, 2 1/4 inches, 2 5/16 inches and 2 11/16 inches wide. The bottom row webbing was 1 1/2 inches tall and measured the same widths as the top row. Along the very top of the bag, you will find a 12-inch zipper with a very sturdy metallic zipper pull. After 250 zip/unzip cycles, the zipper, and surrounding bag remained undamaged/unaffected.
The upper saddlebag measures 14 inches wide by 7 1/2 inches tall by 2 1/2 inches thick and will keep its contents dry as well. Along the front of the saddlebag, you will find 2 rows of MOLLE webbing. Neither the top nor the bottom rows, seem to be consistent with the webbing measurements. The top row webbing has 5 sections, which measure 1 inch tall and 2 1/2 inches, 2 1/4 inches, 2 1/4 inches, 2 5/16 inches and 2 11/16 inches wide. The bottom row webbing was 1 1/2 inches tall and measured the same widths as the top row. Along the very top of the bag, you will find a 12-inch zipper with a very sturdy metallic zipper pull. After 250 zip/unzip cycles, the zipper, and surrounding bag remained undamaged/unaffected. I would have liked a removable zipper pull as a possibility, to add a key ring flashlight, like the StreamLight Nano, or an emergency whistle.
The lower saddlebag attaches to the backpack by three Velcro sections: 9 1/2 inches by 1 inch, 1 5/8 inches wide by 7 inches tall (bottom left and right). The bag measures 11 inches by 9 1/2 inches tall by 3/4 inch thick. The front of the pouch has an embroidered “RōM OUTDOORS” logo across the top. This is really well done and adds to the overall aesthetics of the bag. The front of this pack has 3 rows of MOLLE: 1 inch tall, 3/4 inch tall 1 1/2 inches tall and each has five strips of varying widths. Again, there appears to be a lack of precision in the widths of the MOLLE straps. Across the top of this pouch, you will find a “U” shaped zipper, which measures 19 inches long. Similar to the test for the smaller saddle bag, I repeated the zipper pull test on the lower bag and found it to be unscathed. Hanging from the front of the bag is a carabiner with compass, bottle opener, and a keyring. This is a nice added feature, which holds nicely to the MOLLE webbing.
The bag has many accessory features, which will require time to learn. The main bag has two oblique pockets, hidden under the top lateral edges of the upper saddlebag. These are perfect for keys, coins, cards, hidden money, etc. Each 3 1/2 inch deep by 4-inch wide pocket has a 4-inch zipper, with a strong metallic zipper pull. Along each of the bottom edges of the bag, you will find an elastic mesh pocket, perfect for a Nalgene bottle. The two S-shaped shoulder straps are very secure and comfortable, measuring 4 inches at the shoulder, 3 1/2 inches at the chest and 2 3/4 inches at the waist. There is a 3/4 inch strap with secure buckle along the chest and along the abdomen, which serve to hold the weight off of your shoulders. The abdomen strap is adjustable, upward and downward, for comfort, relying upon a sliding buckle on each of the lashing points on the shoulder straps. Each of the shoulder straps has 3 lashing sections (4 inches long by 1 inches wide) and has two D rings (top and between lashing one and two). These sections seem to be ideal for the Maxpedition Janus, Cocoon, or the TC-1, TC-2 or TC-3 phone pouches. Remember, everything adds weight.
To unfold the backpack, you can either read the incredibly helpful manual or utilize YouTube. I found unfolding the bag was much easier than refolding the bag. Unfasten the clips at the top of the ROM pack and remove the saddle bags. The top bag is attached by two small buckles and the closure straps of the bag. Easily remove the lashings from the MOLLE webbing, unbuckle the clips and remove the top bag. You can then remove the lower bag by gently lifting upward and separating the velcro. Under each of the shoulder straps, you will find a large velcro section, which holds the backpack closed. Lift the velcro straps and then unfold the pack, fleece side up. You can then utilize the 53 1/2 inches wide by 65 1/4 inches tall water resistant ground blanket. To transform this into a poncho, unzip the central zipper and pull the poncho hood through to the other side. Tighten each of the shoulder straps and then connect the small snaps along the outer edge. This will allow you to have a fully functional poncho and the benefit of a dry torso. As an added convenience, there is a cinch cord for the hood, which will allow you to decrease water intake.
When conditions improve and you wish to use the backpack again, you can use the instructions or YouTube. With the pack in blanket mode, fleece side up, fold the two sides with snaps along the smaller crease. You will then fold the device until it meets the center. Fold the bottom up, followed by the top down. Fold the Velcro wings inward, to complete the pack. Turning the pack over to the front, tuck the top flap into the bag and then reattach the clips along the top. Reattach the saddle bags and then repack your bag. You can then enjoy the quality of the RōM bag again. The manual provides a few other useful pieces of information: diagrams of poison ivy/oak/sumac, demonstrates how to create a campfire and details how to wash the pack. It is recommended to spot clean with a damp cloth and then store the pack as needed. You will want to add a water sealant (DWR) product after every two seasons, on an as-needed basis.
The bag may seem heavy at first, but this weight is worth the extra heft. The lined poncho/blanket feels very warm and the snaps are very secure. If you had a section of lashing, you could use this as a rain fly. The only complaint I have is that the corners do not have lashing points, to make use of this as a shelter. The water resistant nature of the bag makes the bag a reasonable option for a ground pad and the fleece lining is very comfortable. You can fold the top over and close off the bag if needed (it weighs enough). This bag is comfortable enough, rugged enough and secure enough, to carry a full-size MacBook Pro, laptop or iPad. There is only a single compartment, which does decrease some of the compartmentalization that I have come to expect in my bags. When using the bag in blanket mode, do not leave the saddlebags attached, else this system is much less comfortable. Also, the shoulder straps and zippers can poke into your back.
Each of the pouches adds to the overall beauty of this product. The combination system reminded me of the “Constructicons,” from Transformers, combining into a single “Devastator” backpack. I would highly recommend this as a shooting bag/pack, for day hikes or picnics. This bag feels incredibly secure and is comfortable. The wide straps offload a lot of the weight and you can further improve the weight ratio by using the chest and abdomen straps. The pack is rather ingenious and my only complaint is that I did not invent this myself. Having used this pack for the past 2 weeks for business and personal use, I would highly encourage this backpack. It was convenient to take my daughter to the park. I was able to carry everything I needed for an outing and the bag doubled as a blanket. If I had a single wish, it would be that the buckles were a little more robust. The inner liner drawstring bag is worth the extra $5 purchase, and I will consider buying an extra few of these bags for my gear.
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