REVIEW – What’s halfway between a shoulder bag and a backpack? A cross-body sling bag, that’s what. Long-time bag maker Chrome Industries recently released their 15L Kadet Max and included a new feature: a swappable buckle. Let’s take a look.
What is it?
The Chrome Industries Kadet Max is a cross-body sling bag with a 15L capacity and internal organizational features that can carry up to a mid-sized laptop and several other items. It also includes Chrome Industries’ new swappable buckle feature.
What’s in the box?
The package from Chrome Industries arrived with the Kadet Max and an LG (2″) swappable Seatbelt Buckle in Gold color. Here’s where things got a bit confusing. I’m fairly certain that what I received was actually a Kadet Max Slide LTD, which is not currently shown on the Chrome Industries site. The Kadet Max Sling LTD is essentially a larger version of the Kadet Sling LTD, which is in turn a larger version of the Mini Kadet Sling LTD. “Sling” means the bag includes a swappable Slide Buckle, while “LTD” seems to refer to a bag made from what Chrome Industries calls “Black X” fabric (AKA X-Pac) on the front as well as the left, right, and top of the bag. As mentioned above, the Kadet Max Slide LTD is not currently shown on the Chrome Industries site. However, what is currently shown on the Chrome Industries site are the Kadet Max Slide and the Kadet Max. Both are nearly identical, but the Kadet Max Slide includes a Slide Buckle (which can be swapped with a sold-separately Seatbelt Buckle), while the Kadet Max includes a Seatbelt Buckle. It seems that perhaps Chrome Industries had originally been offering the fully X-Pac Kadet Max Slide LTD, then discontinued it and removed it from the available Kadet Max options. To see the currently available Kadet Max products you can check this page.
- Capacity = 15 Liters
- Kadet Max/Kadet Max Slide color options and fabrics:
- Black XRF = 210d recycled nylon X grid laminated sailcloth (AKA X-Pac) – Note that the Kadet Max Slide LTD reviewed here has Black XRF (AKA X-Pac) fabric on the full front of the bag, but the Black XRF version of the Kadet Max/Kadet Max Slide currently shown on the Chrome Industries site has a black reflective panel on the front of the bag
- Black = fabric not stated on Chrome Industries site
- Castlerock Twill = recycled polyester twill fabric
- Amber Tritone = fabric not stated on Chrome Industries site
- Red X = 210d recycled nylon X grid laminated sailcloth (AKA X-Pac) – Note that this appears to only be available for Kadet Max
- LG 2″ swappable Seatbelt Buckle color options:
- Gold (reviewed here)
- LG 2″ swappable Slider Buckle color options:
- Black (included on the Kadet Max Slide LTD reviewed here)
- Laptop sleeve = 9″ x 16″
- Height = 11.25″
- Width: 16.5″ top – 15.5″ base
- Depth = 5.5″ top – 4.5” base
- Weight = 1.59 lbs (0.7 kg)
Design and features
Here’s a bit of background on my never-ending quest to find my perfect gear bag. When I graduated from college many years ago and started actually earning some money, I wanted to ditch my old Jansport backpack for something more my style. This was the mid-1990s and messenger bags had just started to gain a wider following. The two brands that caught my eye at the time were Timbuk2 and Chrome Industries. Ultimately I decided on a Timbuk2, but I always had those great-looking Chrome Industries bags in the back of my mind. Now, several decades later, I’ve tried out dozens of bags and packs across many different styles and brands. After having been mostly a backpack user for the past decade, I recently stumbled upon Chrome Industries and after all these years, my interest was rekindled. I bought a Chrome Industries Buran III (see review by my fellow Gadgeteer Bob Patterson from back in 2021), and I’ve quite enjoyed using it. So when Julie offered the Chrome Industries Kadet Max to review, I was immediately interested. I tend to like bags that are mid- to large-sized (so I can haul a lot of gear), and the new Kadet Max seemed to be a good size upgrade to Chrome Industries’ very popular Kadet Sling.
My first impression of the Chrome Industries Kadet Max was that it looks and feels like a bag of high quality. The Black XRF material feels durable and tough yet is very lightweight. Chrome Industries originally made its name in messenger bags and has since added backpacks to its product offering. The Kadet line of products are cross-body sling bags, but are generally smaller than Chrome Industries’ messenger bags, which tend to be larger and with the characteristic messenger bag-style top flap. Instead, the Kadet sling bags have a top zipper to access their main internal compartment.
The swappable seatbelt buckle looks super sharp–the polished gold color is very eye-catching. The buckle also feels like it could withstand a lot of abuse and continue to function without issue.
This version of the Chrome Industries Kadet Max is made from three types of fabric. The front, top, and sides of this version of the Kadet Max are made from Black XRF (AKA X-Pac) fabric. As you can see in the image above, this fabric has a diamond crosshatched appearance with a more subtle grid of ripstop woven into it. You can also see the Chrome Industries logo patch that is sewn into the front of the Kadet Max. I’ve always been partial to this logo—I dig the griffin.
The fabric on the bottom of the Kadet Max is different from the XRF fabric. The Chrome Industries site does not identify this fabric, but it is a smooth nylon textile that I have seen used on other high-quality bags.
The back of the Kadet Max has a third type of fabric. The Chrome Industries site does not identify this fabric, but I suspect it may be the same fabric that is used on the “Black” version of the Kadet Max.
The Kadet Max’s main compartment sports what appears to be a YKK Aquaguard water-resistant zipper to help prevent moisture from penetrating inside. The Kadet Max’s zipper pulls have an added length of cord to help grip and pull them.
The Kadet Max’s front compartment has a YKK zipper, but it is not the Aquaguard type. Note that there is a small zipper “garage” that houses the zipper pull in the zipper’s closed position. I don’t know why Chrome Industries chose to use the YKK Aquaguard water-resistant type zipper for the Kadet Max’s main compartment, but not for its front compartment zipper. Both zippers are exposed to the elements, so using the Aquaguard zipper to protect the contents of both compartments seems warranted. Like the main compartment, the front compartment’s zipper pull also has an added length of cord that helps when grabbing and pulling.
The Kadet Max’s shoulder strap is designed for cross-body use, with its strap pad in a fixed location along the strap. The Chrome Industries Kadet Max’s also includes a swappable buckle feature which I’ll describe in more detail below.
The Kadet Max’s strap pad has some generously thick padding for load distribution as well as a mesh backing for sweat wicking, both of which help make the Kadet Max’s strap one of the more comfortable that I’ve used on a cross-body sling bag.
The Kadet Max’s shoulder strap can be customized for either right-handled (as pictured in this review) or left-handed carry by removing the ends of the strap from the buckles that attach them to the body of the bag and reversing them. I’ve attempted to illustrate this process in the series of three photos above. I’m not going to sugar-coat it: this was a bit of challenging and frustrating process for me and I eventually gave up, happy that the Kadet Max was already in the right-handed configuration that worked for me as a right-hander.
The top rear of the Kadet Max also has a grab handle made from a length of seatbelt-type webbing material that has been folded over and sewn into a tube shape. The design of this handle is deceptively simple but its construction is top-notch. It is surprisingly comfortable and I would expect it to be highly durable. While many companies would omit a grab handle on a cross-body sling bag like this one, out of an effort to save cost or simplify the design, I appreciate that Chrome Industries included this grab handle as a feature of the Kadet Max because I use it fairly often.
The Kadet Max also includes a stabilizer strap that attaches to the shoulder strap.
Originally designed to help stabilize messenger bags for bike messengers, this stabilizer strap helps keep the Kadet Max snugly in place should you need a bit more stability than what the shoulder strap provides.
Let’s take a look inside the Kadet Max’s front compartment. Inside are a part of pockets sewn into the back of the compartment. These can be used to hold a wallet, phone, portable battery, or other smallish/flattish bits of gear. I found this to be a good spot to stow some of my more frequently-accessed EDC items.
The Kadet Max’s front compartment also includes a key leash consisting of a length of webbing with a plastic hook sewn to the end. This is not only a great place to secure keys, but anything you access frequently yet want to keep secure, like an Airpods case or just about anything with a carabiner or attachment loop.
Next, let’s look into the Kadet Max’s main compartment. Inside is a generously-sized, integrated laptop sleeve. This sleeve also includes a short length of webbing with a Velcro tab to help secure your laptop in place.
The laptop sleeve is lightly padded with a soft, quilted fleece lining that helps protect your laptop from minor bumps as well as providing great scratch or abrasion protection.
On the opposite side of the main compartment are several organization pockets. There are two larger, deeper pockets, as well as a flat mesh pocket, a non-mesh pockets, and a couple of pen slots. There is also an elastic mesh pocket at one end of the main compartment—you can just barely see it at the left side of the image above. Conspicuously absent was any type of zipper pocket, which I think is a miss because I always seem to be carrying a few smallish items my EDC bag that I’d like to keep from flying around inside and either falling out out or just plain getting lost.
The Kadet Max also includes some compression straps. There are two side compression straps, one on either end of the bag, an example of which is shown in the image above. The side compression straps have a strip of dark gray paint running down their centers, which is actually a reflective material to help increase visibility and safety for the wearer in lower-light or nighttime conditions.
There are also two cargo straps along the bottom of the Kadet Max. Although these cargo straps are intended to serve as attachment points for gear that you may want to lash to the outside of the Kadet Max, they can also somewhat act as additional compression straps for the bottom portion of the bag. Like the side compression straps, these cargo straps have dark gray reflective paint running down their centers to provide some added low-light/nighttime visibility.
If you aren’t carrying a full load in the Kadet Max, these compression straps can be tightened to slim down the bag and give it a narrower profile. Alternatively, if you are carrying more gear in the Kadet Max, the compression straps can be loosened to expand its cargo capacity. One caveat with the use of these compression straps is that you won’t be able to just them a quick tug to tighten or loosen them. Due to the thickness of these straps, they must be deliberately and carefully tightened and loosened, which is a bit of a manual, time consuming process. On the flip side, once you have the compression straps in a position you like, they aren’t likely to spontaneously loosen.
Strap yourself in for this one (pun fully and painfully intended). In 2023, Chrome Industries began offering its LTD Swappable Buckle Collection. “LTD” bags include as standard a basic black stock Slider Buckle as pictured above. A buyer also has the option of purchasing a separately-sold Slider Buckle in a different color, or a Seatbelt Buckle in various colors to swap out for the basic black stock Slider Buckle. There are two sizes of Slide Buckles and Seatbelt Buckles—MD 1.5″ and LG 2″—and the version depends on the bag. There are LTD Swappable Buckle versions of many of Chrome Industries bags, including the 5L Mini Kadet LTD (which uses a MD 1.5″ buckle), 7L Tensile Sling LTD (MD 1.5″ buckle), 9L Kadet Sling LTD (LG 2″ buckle), 24L Citizen LTD (LG 2″ buckle), and the 24L Buran III LTD (LG 2″ buckle). Oddly, as mentioned above, the version of the Kadet Max that I received appears to be a Kadet Max LTD which included the LG 2″ Slide Buckle pictured above; however, the “Kadet Max LTD” no longer appears on the Chrome Industries site.
One of the iconic features of Chrome Industries bags is the Seatbelt Buckle. The story goes that, when the founders of Chrome Industries were prototyping their original messenger bags, they found some old seatbelts in a junkyard and used them for the shoulder straps of their prototypes. The seatbelt straps and buckles were not just functional—they also became an easily-recognizable feature of Chrome Industries’ messenger bags and many of their sling bags over the years. As explained above, as part of the LTD Swappable Buckle Collection the buckle on several of Chrome Industries’ bags can now be swapped for either a Slide Buckle or Seatbelt Buckle, both of which are available in a variety of colors. I requested the Seatbelt Buckle in polished Gold color as seen in the image above—I’m an alumnus of Purdue University and our colors are gold and black, so I thought the Seatbelt Buckle in polished Gold would look great against the all Black XRF bag.
The polished gold color of this Seatbelt Buckle appears to be a coating based on what I see in the image above, where a tiny portion of the buckle may not have been fully coated. Time will tell if this highly polished gold chrome coating will withstand wear and tear, but so far, it’s held up well enough against minor dings and scratches.
Swapping the buckle
Let’s walk through the process for swapping out the Slider Buckle for the Seatbelt Buckle. Before we do, one quick note: Chrome Industries has designed their buckles to act as bottle opener by using the trapezoidal lower portion of the buckle to pop off a bottle cap. I tried this on one bottle and wasn’t fully successful, but I think with a bit of practice it would become easy.
Chrome Industries was quite clever in how they incorporated their new buckle-swapping capability into their LTD line of bags—they hid it so well, you’d almost not even know the new feature was there. The process of swapping buckles on the LTD bags begins by first lifting a small Velcro flap on the shoulder strap’s pad.
Next, pull back a long strip of Velcro from the strap pad.
Carefully slide this long strip of Velcro under the loop of webbing with the “CHROME” logo as shown above.
And finally, remove the Slider Buckle from the strip of Velcro.
Next, reverse the steps by first sliding the strip of Velcro through the “top” loop of the Seatbelt Buckle.
Then feed the Velcro strap back up and under the webbing with the “CHROME” logo, and return it to its original position, and secure it in place by closing the small Velcro flap at the top. With the top half of the Seatbelt Buckle in place, you are now halfway through the swapping process.
Next, you will swap out the Slider Buckle for the other half of the Seatbelt Buckle.
First, feed the seatbelt strap through the Slider Buckle. This part of the process is thankfully simpler than I’ve made it look in the images above.
Then, reverse the process and feed the seatbelt strap through the other half of the Seatbelt Buckle in the same way that the Slider Buckle had been attached.
Finally, lock the two halves of the Seatbelt Buckle together to complete the swapping process.
To the eyes of this proud Purdue Boilermaker alumnus, the buckle swap–and its resulting polished Gold buckle against the all Black XRF Kadet Max bag—looks fantastic. Boiler up!
The Kadet Max’s stabilizer strap is initially configured for compatibility with right-hand carry of the bag. However, if you switch the shoulder strap to left-hand carry, you can easily swap the attachment location of the stabilizer strap to be compatible with left-hand carry also.
The stabilizer strap is attached to the body of the Kadet Max at either of two small loops of webbing, as seen in the image above left. The plastic piece that attaches the stabilizer strap to either of these two webbing loops has a split on one side that allows the webbing to be carefully worked freed of the attachment webbing, as seen in the image above right. Then, just reverse the process and attach the stabilizer strap to the webbing loop on the opposite side.
The Kadet Max has two cargo straps that can be used to lash items to the underside of the bag. But what if, like me, you don’t tend to lash items to the underside of your bag, and you also don’t care to have these relatively long straps constantly dangling beneath your Kadet Max?
Fear not, for Chrome Industries has built some customization into these compression straps as well. Similar to the stabilizer trap, the side-release buckles that attached the cargo straps to the body of the Kadet Max have a split that allows the webbing to be carefully worked free of the buckle, as see in the image above right.
You can then flip the buckle over and attach it to the webbing loops on the top of the Kadet Max.
This places the cargo straps on the front of the Kadet Max as seen in the photo above. This is generally my preferred configuration of the Kadet Max’s cargo straps.
Loading it up
Next, let’s take a look at how much the Chrome Industries Kadet Max can carry. While I could have taken this evaluation in many different directions, loading all sorts of bits of gear into the various pockets of the Kadet Max, I chose to pull the items directly out of my personal EDC bag and see how well they would fit into the Kadet Max. The items I used are shown in the image above and listed below, starting from the top left:
- Eddie Bauer midweight zip-up hoodie
- EVERGOODS Civic Access Pouch 2L (AKA CAP2) loaded with various EDC items
- EVERGOODS Civic Access Pouch 1L (AKA CAP1) loaded with various EDC items
- Apple MacBook Pro 16″
- Apple iPad Air
- AC power adapter with cable for Apple MacBook Pro 16′
- Moleskine Classic Hardcover Notebook (5″ x 8.25″)
I mentioned toward the start of this review that I consider the Kadet Max’s integrated laptop sleeve to be generously sized, and here’s why. Although Chrome Industries states that the Kadet Max can hold a laptop up to 15″ in size, I was able to fit a 16″ MacBook Pro into the laptop sleeve. My iPad air and Moleskine notebook also fit perfectly into the largest two pockets in the Kadet Max’s main compartment.
Additionally, I placed the MacBook’s AC power adapter into the elasticized mesh pocket at one end of the Kadet Max’s main compartment.
Once I’d stowed the MacBook Pro, iPad Air, Moleskine notebook, and MacBook AC power adapter I placed the CAP1 and CAP2 into the Kadet Max’s main compartment.
And finally, rolled up the Eddie Bauer hoodie and placed it inside the remaining space in the Kadet Max.
It was a bit of a tight squeeze, but it did all fit inside the Kadet Max’s main compartment. I’d also note that with this amount of cargo, I really wasn’t able to utilize the Kadet Max’s exterior pocket. Additionally, it was at this point that I noticed that there seems to be ample space for some type of bottle pocket on either end of the Kadet Max, which would give it even more functionality considering how many folks carry beverage containers these days. Perhaps some type of pop-out bottle pocket that could be semi-stowed away when not in use would be in order here.
As a side note, the photo above illustrates an alternate method of utilizing the Kadet Max’s cargo straps when they are oriented on the front of the bag rather than dangling beneath it. While this does limit my ability to access the Kadet Max’s side compartment, it provides a bit of external storage and prevents the dreaded dangling straps effect, (which admittedly may irritate me more than is reasonable).
A pic of the front of the Kadet Max in my preferred setup.
The back of the Kadet Max.
Wear and fit
Let’s check out the fit of the Chrome Industries Kadet Max. As noted above, the stock configuration of the Kadet Max includes the Slide Buckle, but I had upgraded to a classic Chrome Industries Seatbelt Buckle. Seatbelt Buckle can be popped open and re-latched quickly and easily. This allows the wearer of a Kadet Max with a Seatbelt Buckle to pick it up, unlatch it, place the shoulder strap around his or her body, then re-latch it, as I’m demonstrating in the photo above. The Slide Buckle is a bit more limited in that it must be placed over the wearer’s head and slung into position on the shoulder. [Writer’s note: In case you’re curious, in these photos I’m also wearing a few additional items we’ve reviewed here at The Gadgeteer in the past: the Nomad Goods Rugged Case for Apple Watch, the Groove Life Belt, and the Bluffworks Departure Travel Jeans.)
With the Seatbelt Buckle latched and shoulder strap in place, the Kadet Max sat comfortably over my left shoulder, which is my preferred position as a right-hander. The shoulder strap can be tightened or loosened without much difficulty, which is good because you don’t want it to loosen itself while you are wearing it.
In the photo above, I’ve attached the optional stabilizer strap to the Kadet Max’s main shoulder strap. It comes up under my left arm and attaches to the main shoulder strap just above the Belt Buckle. While my typical usage of a cross-body sling bag like the Kadet Max doesn’t call for employment of the stabilizer strap, I’m glad it’s there should I happen to need it.
Chrome Industries specs the Kadet Max at a 15L capacity. Kadet Max’s overall size, dimensions, and aspect ratio give it the look of a mid-sized back, but with a single shoulder strap. I find it interesting that on the Chrome Industries site as on lots of other site, people appear to be wearing cross-body sling bags like this much more vertically. But for me, bags like this always seem to find their way into a more horizontal orientation, like in the pics above. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but I keep wondering if I’m wearing it wrong somehow. In any case, it doesn’t bother me much because the Kadet Max feels perfectly comfortable to me at this angle.
One of my favorite features of cross-body sling bags like the Kadet Max is that if you need to quickly access its contents, you can just swing it around under your arm to the front of your body and boom—it’s right there. One could argue that you can accomplish a similar result with a backpack if you take off one of the shoulder straps, and then swing the backpack forward, I find this maneuver with a sling bag to be just a bit less awkward.
What I like
- Highly customizable
- Versatile size
- Built from high-quality, durable materials
What I’d change
- Investigate the option of adding a pop-out bottle holder on either end
The Chrome Industries Kadet Max is a very well-designed and solidly built cross-body sling bag. It provides lots of customization: the shoulder and stabilizer strap handedness, compression straps, and cargo straps can all be configured in various ways to fit your needs. And its swappable buckle capability lets you customize its look to fit your style. It’s also a very versatile size: it can easily be used as a day pack for light off-road hiking or unban sightseeing, to transport your mobile office set up, or simply to carry your EDC essentials. In addition to thoughtful and useful design, the Kadet Max is solidly constructed from high-quality materials that should provide excellent durability.
- Kadet Max Slide = $115.00 to $120.00 depending on fabric/color
- Kadet Max = $130.00 to $135.00 depending on fabric/color
- LG 2″ Swappable Seatbelt Buckle = $35.00 to $38.00 depending on color
- LG 2″ Swappable Slide Buckle = $18.00 to $20.00 depending on color