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“Why the hell didn’t they just make a messenger bag?” is what I asked Reviews Editor Hillary Grigonis. The WANDRD ROAM Sling 9L is a bit confusing to us. In some ways, it’s one of the most innovative sling bags I’ve ever seen. (And for the record, we’ve reviewed tons of camera bags.) But in other ways, it feels like WANDRD attempted to make a messenger bag and scaled it back into a sling. We tested a prototype of the bag. Overall, it’s got a lot going for it, but we’re not sure it’s a bag we’d want to carry all the time.
Editor’s Note: This is our first impressions of a prototype of the bag that WANDRD sent us. Before publishing, I reviewed my findings with Reviews Editor Hillary Grigonis. We’re very aligned in what we’re seeing.
My Notes So Far
- Pretty comfortable
- It can carry a fairly useful amount of gear depending on the system
- Lots of pockets
- Buckles are strong and well built
- Incredibly rain resistant. This is some of the best weather resistance I’ve seen in a camera bag.
- The support strap is a great idea. But it needs to be equalized on the other side. Ideally, this would be done with a waist strap.
- WANDRD dividers are just as great as they were for the past few iterations
- Desperately needs a waist strap
- None of us on staff could get the strap to sit right.
- I put it on other photographers, and even they thought it was a bit annoying.
- A bit of a pain to sling around to the front if you’re sitting down on the Subway
- Feels like a half-assed attempt at a messenger bag at times
- The Laptop sleeve works well, but it throws off your back quite a bit.
WANDRD wrote us to let us know the differences between what we’ve got and the final production versions. Here’s what they said:
“1) Top and lower adjustment for strap – currently velcro sleeve on top or no sleeve on bottom, final production will be a bit more secure on top and have a sleeve on the bottom of the strap. 2) Expandable water bottle/tripod sleeve will have a hook and loop system that will better secure items in place.”
What I Like About the WANDRD ROAM 9L Sling
The WANDRD ROAM 9L sling bag is doing some pretty innovative things for a sling bag. For the record, I hate slings. If a messenger bag throws your back off, a sling will do so much worse. With that said, the WANDRD ROAM does some things pretty well.
For starters, there is a lot of room in the compartment for cameras and lenses. WANDRD tends to make holding all that gear as comfortable as possible. I used the Panasonic GH5 II in there, along with a few lenses. Packing the bag felt really good. You put all the main camera accessories and needs in the main compartment. In the other main pocket, I put a bottle of lotion, eye drops, chapstick, and sometimes beard oil. Luckily, WANDRD made this bag very weather resistant. A few weekends ago, during Memorial Day, NYC got pounded with rain. But this bag shrugged it off. In my eyes, it’s incredible to see a sling bag do that. It kept the gear well protected.
The WANDRD ROAM can also hold a water bottle. As you probably know, I’m big on thermoses and even rounded up a bunch for photographers. The bag held my biggest bottle. But the problem is that the bottle holder area really needed a hook for extra security. My prototype didn’t have this. But WANDRD noted to us that this is missing in our version. That extra hug around the bottle will be critical. But even then, I hope the bottle stays put. Currently, without the hook, I felt like the bottle might fall out, but it would take some real roughing around to do so.
The WANDRD ROAM also lets itself be a bit more. There’s a laptop case which can be used with the bag. And if you balance the case correctly, it does a great job being a laptop stand. But if you put the laptop case inside the bag, it becomes a lot heavier. At this point, it sort of eliminates the need for being a sling. Instead, the bag really needs to become a messenger or a dedicated backpack. And that’s one of my biggest complaints.
Where I Think the WANDRD ROAM 9L Sling Misses the Mark
The WANDRD ROAM 9L doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It can accommodate a laptop, but at the cost of awful weight distribution. Perhaps this is the biggest problem with the WANDRD ROAM. If you sling it around your shoulder, it will be very lightweight if it’s empty. But the bag encourages you to pack it full. When that happens, the straps start to become heavy on your shoulder and chest. You can adjust the straps, but it’s an awkward process.
WANDRD let us know that these aren’t the final straps. But even so, they don’t let you balance the weight well. What the WANDRD ROAM actually needs is a waist strap. Currently, it has the main shoulder strap and the support strap under it.
To really make the bag feel secure, you need to pull those straps very tight to your body. Then if you want to access your gear, you have to undo those straps a bit to actually let the WANDRD ROAM be able to move around. Otherwise, you just have to undo the buckle and take the bag off.
If you want to give yourself a bit more room rather than security, then the WANDRD ROAM doesn’t feel like it balances the weight correctly. My shoulder and back hurt just writing this sentence. Every day that I went out, I did yoga and ample stretching. But the WANDRD ROAM just didn’t feel like it was done.
Again, I tested a prototype. But I’m not sure that I’d ever use this bag. Too many times, it felt like it was a compromise to get something to feel good on my back. To make sure that I wasn’t going crazy, I let other friends of mine try it. They’re journalists, photographers, and brand ambassadors, and none of them liked it.
Ultimately, I still think WANDRD just needs to make a proper messenger bag. Considering how fantastic the PRVKE line is, a messenger makes sense. Stay tuned for our full review of the WANDRD ROAM when the production version hits.