More then just funny capitalization (yes, that’s really how they spell it) Kamiliun uses a modular system to create a flexible backpack/bag system from mix-and-match components. I received the Chicken or the Egg package consisting of a ‘letterbox’ back on the left, above, designed to carry a laptop or other large slab-like objects, and a ‘shell’ front on the right, above. where you stuff the rest of the things you want to carry. It sounds good on paper, but is it more or less then the sum of its parts? I replaced my normal roomy multi-compartment Targus clamshell case with the Kamiliun backpack to see how it worked for a ‘business user’. I also took it on a few family outings in place of the normal backpack we’d grab, and as the ultimate test of coolness, I allowed my tween to use it for hauling her life around for a bit. The results were interesting!
Some Assembly Encouraged
The bags attach and detach easily. Two clips on the sides, two on the bottom, and away (or together) they go.
When assembled, it wears like a normal backpack
The front compartment (the SHeLL) is a roomy 19.3 x 11.5 x 3-4 inchs (with a belly bump at the bottom adding another couple of inches of depth) bag that zips completely open, with three interior zipper mesh pockets.
On the top, set wide enough for an NFL linebacker, are the two lightly padded shoulder straps, that extend from the front of the bag, over the zipper opening, and then attach via clips to a pair of rings at the bottom corners of the SHeLL.
The shoulder straps have breathable material on their undersides, but the back of the SHeLL is the same nylon as the front, and is not padded at all.
The back compartment (the LEttERbOX) is a tombstone-shaped slab measuring 19.3 x 11.5 x 2.33 inches.
When using solo, a diagonal strap arrangement works very well.
It has a padded back, and a single large pocket with a Velcro strap – this pocket is intended to hold your notebook.
With a bit of wiggling my largish (14 x 10 x 1.1 inch) laptop just fit, as did the kid’s somewhat longer and thicker (15 x 10.12 x 1.5 inch) low-end notebook.
I expect if you’re more inclined to go for those “air” style notebooks, it will slide right in. Other then the one pocket, the rest of the interior space is open. In addition to the thick back padding, the entire LEttERbOX is somewhat padded, although there is no additional padding or protection on the bottom – take care when slinging this thing to the ground with your notebook inside. The interior and exterior material look quite durable, and the zipper (which opens the top half of the back) is very heavy duty The LEttERbOX has a handle (nylon, unpadded!) on top, four attachment points (plastic rings attached via nylon loops) at the corners, a couple of quick-release clips at the bottom, and a pair of nylon loops on the top for mating with the SHeLL or for stand-alone use with the included (and padded) shoulder strap. The back of the LEttERbOX is made of a breathable weave that might keep your shirt from getting soaked with sweat.
All for one, and one for all?
So how does this thing work? If you use it like a notebook backpack (The Working Tech Guy use case), it’s got several shortcomings, at least for me. The two that jump right out at me are the total lack of exterior pockets, and the design/placement of the shoulder straps.
First, there’s a bunch of loose stuff that goes with me – various cables, small electronic components, H1N1 defense kit (hand sanitizer, tissues!) keys, phones, devices, bricks, hard drives, etc. – that have no easy place to live in this bag. I can pick between the front or the back compartment. If they’re not gonna work themselves out of the mesh, I could put them into one of the mesh pockets.
The strap placement is really awkward. If I want to GET to anything, I have to remove the pack from my back (even if I use a helper) since the straps attach over the zippers – with any weight on the bag its nearly impossible to unzip a compartment and root around either section. So, remove pack from back, loosen up the two halves to free up enough slack to unzip, unzip (spilling out contents of the SHeLL) and then root around for whatever it was I wanted. After a week of this, I was very happy to go back to my clamshell case!
Hoping it was just me and my junk that didn’t work well with it, I moved on to use case two: The Active Family Guy. On the weekend Active Family Guy and his family (wife & tween) are often found dashing off for a day trip to the beach, or to the mall, or to Ikea. Grabbing great gobs of stuff and shoving it in backpacks, they head off. Gobs of stuff might include additional clothing, electronics (mostly cameras and/or entertainment systems), and food. Here the combined system faired much better for a couple of reasons, but still suffered from the lack of external easy access pockets and awkward strap layout. Also, a new issue appeared. But first, the good news…
The dual bag system works really well if you are the pack mule on an expedition, like I am. Once you’ve hauled the small mountain of stuff you can hand off the relevant half to one of the family members (for example, the tween and her pile of clothing and snacks) while retaining your cameras and whatnot, as you each go off to do something. We often bring a smaller pack or bag with us when traveling or even just on outings so we don’t have to haul the big backpack everywhere, and in that case the combined Kamiliun bag was very nice as well – using the SHeLL as the ‘day pack’ worked just fine. We longed for external beverage pockets and easy access external zipper pockets, but overall the pair proved effective and useful.
The new bad news was somewhat apparent in the first use case, but became more obvious with the typically much longer wearing time of The Active Family Guy. This thing is just plain uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time when loaded with gear. The shoulder straps don’t have nearly enough padding, and they are set so wide that you feel like the thing is going to slip off your back at the slightest turn. The wide set straps put the weight of whatever you carry onto your collar bone, vs just outside of your neck as a typical backpack does. The breathable material worked well, at least, so while it was uncomfortable to carry, the bag did breath well.
The last use case is Active Tween, and here the bag scores big points for coolness. I’ve watched my kid go from roller backpack to massive near frame pack bag to minimalistic three compartment backpack over the years. Nearing the end of middle school, fashion rules over function, and the more funky the better. My daughter took to this thing like a duck to water. She shoved her laptop in the back, heaped in brick & cables, crammed the front with a change of clothing and who knows what else, and was off to DJ a school dance. Ditto for normal school use – heavy books in back, personal stuff in front. Apparently the division of stuff into two lumps was sufficient for her. I asked about comfort – she said she noticed it felt different, but it was OK. I asked about the lack of external pockets – she was unconcerned. She liked the flexibility of being able to haul a lot of stuff in and out of school, but stashing the back half in her locker and using just the SHeLL during the day. This clearly is the sweet spot for this combo bag.
Putting it all together
The Kamiliun system of interlocking bags use high quality materials and look to be very durable. They’re designed to give you maximum flexibility in your ability to carry stuff. There are some costs associated with that flexibility – essentially each individual bag is not quite as perfect as a single purpose bag designed just for that function, and even the combined bag isn’t as ideal as a single purpose bag with similar configuration. You are spared the hassle of juggling multiple bags, and (if you’re of a certain age) you’ll score big points for coolness.