Curious about the Black Ember Citadel Minimal Backpack but unsure? Take a gander at this in-depth review by Alex Kwa, a product designer living in Japan. Thanks to him for this very informative analysis and we look forward to more content from his neck of the urban jungle.
Looking for a black minimalist backpack? As someone who’ve tried many backpacks, this is one of the, if not, the most beautiful black minimalist backpack I’ve come across.
- Dimensions 12.5″ (w) x 19.5″ (h) x 6.5″ (d) / 320 (w) x 495 (h) x 165 (d) mm
- Volume 25 liters
It’s ironic that I claim to be a minimalist, and every day I am faced with a small mountain of backpacks all over my tiny Tokyo apartment. But it’s bags like the ones from Black Ember that make this addiction hard to fight. The bags from Black Ember are the perfect blend of technical materials and minimalistic style for a concoction of utmost badassery.
I’ve been eyeing the beautiful Black Ember Citadel Minimal Pack for a while now and lucky for me, the guys at UrbanCred, who share the same love for badass, black backpacks as I do, gave me the chance to review this baby.
"Black. Bold. Beautiful."
While many backpack brands like Tortuga, Aer or Goruck have achieved stellar aesthetics and killer materials, Black Ember takes it further by making most of their bags modular for you to customize according to your exact needs.
While this isn’t one of their fully-modular models, it’s the perfect one for me who prefers fewer options within a bag. Fewer choices reduce the amount of decision fatigue, which is the reason I only wear black in the first place.
Damn, if calling a bag sexy wouldn’t make me seem like some backpack otaku (fanatic), I would do it more often. And I would certainly say that the Black Ember Citadel Minimal Pack sexy as hell.
First of all, when they said minimal, they really mean it. The bag is a completely black, minimalist backpack lest for some branding on the hardware.
The logo has just the right amount of edginess.
And as someone who wears only black, I’m pretty sensitive to the tones of black. And many of the times, bags that are supposedly all black has different tones and mismatched materials, making it lose a little of the minimalistic style. But the Citadel Minimal Pack was able to keep the tones of the black consistent, from the fabric to the straps to the hardware.
Comes with an extra handle for wall hooks.
It might sound like I’m describing Victoria’s Secret angel, but the bag has some beautiful lines. The bag sacrificed any form of external 3D pockets for a completely flat profile, similar to the Aer Travel Pack 2. But with the rigidness of the material, it has a more structured and sleek look.
There are the Black Ember logo marks on the aluminum hardware, but apart from that, there isn’t any loud branding across the bag. I love that the zipper pulls have an ultra-subtle, black-on-black BLACK EMBER logo.
Black-on-black branding on the zipper pulls takes it to the next level.
While other brands usually go for Cordura, which gives a canvas-like look, the material of the bag is what really stands out for me. Just by the material, you can tell that the bag is a premium black minimalist backpack which really looks more expensive than it actually is. I’ve received compliments on it time and time again, as it gives a fantastic first impression, even to people who aren’t crazy about backpacks like we are.
This is where this bag really shines. While I feel very comfortable with the usual materials like Cordura, Ballistic Nylon or X-PAC, I’m up for trying new materials, although there are many brands who tried and failed when using a material that isn’t commonly used.
This was my first time experiencing the fabric used in this backpack. It’s an 800-denier 3-layer micro-hex performance textile. Fabrics with a sheen tend to look cheaper and backpacker-ish which causes it to look less premium. The fabric used was designed specifically to reduce reflection (it actually absorbs light) for the beautiful matte look, making you look stealthy for the badass techwear look. At a glance, it looks a little like matte leather.
Black Ember did a phenomenal job with the choice of fabric. For one, it, without a doubt, looks much better than most, if not all of the other backpacks I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a lot). Whether it will outperform materials like Cordura, time will tell, but for the few weeks I’ve been testing out this bag, I don’t see how it wouldn’t.
Complementing the look of the fabric, is the creme la de creme bonded YKK PU-coated zippers for maximum water resistance. You can tell that Black Ember takes the waterproofness of the bag seriously. In fact, with the proprietary laser-cut and bonded construction, the bag is an IPX-06 waterproof rating, which means that it’ll stay dry with a 1,000 PSI water jet spraying at you. While other bags are generally water-resistant, this bag really goes a step beyond and calling it waterproof wouldn’t be an overstatement.
What’s a beautiful bag if it ain’t comfortable on your back. The backpack’s back panel is contoured to hug your back. It funnels hot air off the back to keep it dry from sweat. The 3D shoulder straps are crafted from two layers of EVA foam, which is material is commonly used to manufacture flip-flops as it is soft without being sponge-like. One layer of the EVA foam maintains structure, while the other is soft to adapt to your body’s shape. Both make a comfortable daily carry, even with a full load.
From what I can tell, a lot of thought has been put into the material and construction, and for the price, the materials used certainly exceeds my expectations.
While there are backpacks out there that are jampacked with features but are often poorly thought out and fails in actual use. The Citadel Minimal Pack has so many little design details that simply works.
You could tell that they wanted to be true to the “minimalist” aspect of the bag. The entire backpack has only one non-3D external quick-access pocket on the front of the bag, taking up half the front of the bag. Space-wise, this is sufficient for me, but when the bag is full, it can be hard accessing things in this pocket.
Apart from the quick-access pocket, there are three grooves on each side of the bag, two towards the bottom and one on top. You can loop in their optional straps ($17 for a set of two) into the top groove and either one of groove at the bottom depending on the height of the item you want to strap to your bag.
While it would have been ideal if the straps were able to hold up a water bottle, most water bottle sizes are too short to be held on securely. Instead, I strap my wet foldable umbrella or Sirui Tripod here.
Apart from the compression straps, you can purchase an optional handle to attach to the side so you can carry the backpack like a briefcase.
You can purchase an optional handle to attach to the side so you can carry the backpack like a briefcase.
Otherwise, the bag comes included with the same modular handle on top. Apart from the modular handle, there is also another strap for hanging your backpack on wall hooks.
At the bottom of the bag, just below the quick-access pockets, there are also places where you can attach more of those compression straps. In hiking backpacks, this kind of organization is traditional for your sleeping bag, but as an urban city backpack, I’m not quite sure what to put here. I guess a North x North Wool Kerchief might be something appropriate to have here.
Within the main compartment, there is a slot towards the back for the laptop which is a pretty typical location for most backpacks. The laptop slot is lined with felt on one side for extra protection.
What makes this laptop slot different though, is that it’s suspended off the ground. I don’t know about you but I’m pretty rough with my stuff and often just dump my backpack onto the ground without thinking. This feature would prevent accidental damage to my overpriced Macbook Pro.
On the face of that slot, there are three medium-sized slots, each look like the fit a large mobile phone. Only the middle of those three slots come with a velcro fastener, in case you like to do somersaults with your backpack on. Below the three slots is a zippered mesh pocket, which is perfect for electronic accessories.
On this side, there is also a detachable magnetic key holder.
Outdoor Element’s Firebiner not included.
On the opposite side of the laptop slot, is another deep slot without the felt lining.
On the face of that slot is two medium-sized slots and two pen slots.
The medium-sized inner slots are suitable for accessories like a passport, however, they are too small for other pouches if you like to use those to transfer things when you switch bags. What I usually do is dump all my electronic accessories into a TOM BIHN Snake Charmer and putting it in the lower mesh zippered pocket.
The backpack also comes with a removable compression divider. It lets you compress loose items to the back of the backpack, close to your back for optimum stability.
It also lets you divide your things between the front and back of the bag. But because it clips to the back, you have to undo it almost every time you want to access those items, so I tend to put stuff that I don’t need access to so often towards the back, such as my Tilak Vega SD Rain Jacket in my Bellroy Classic Pouch.
The divider also comes with a slot, designed to fit your tablet.
With the divider in, you might find it harder to pack non-flat items, so I would personally take it out if I need to use packing cubes. With the divider in place, everything in the main compartment is pretty compressed so it’s hard to take things in and out without opening your bag all the way. I’ve tried reaching for things in a dark theatre, and it wasn’t fun, to say the least.
While there are two zips on the top of the bag, this bag is essentially one giant compartment. The zip, closer to the back of the backpack which doesn’t open fully, serves exclusively as easy access to your laptop.
Using the non-laptop zip, you can open the backpack all the way, suitcase-style. But because of the rigid material, trying to close the zip at the bottommost corners can be tough. You kinda have to make sure the fabrics are the right way for the zips to slip past the corners.
Zippers get stuck at the bottom corners when the rigid fabric gets bent.
Another thing about the design of the zippers is that it’s actually pretty close to impossible to access your laptop through this zip due to the rigid material. Your laptop can only be accessed exclusively via the laptop zip.
The backpack straps allow you to adjust the position of the straps via a buckle at the top of both straps, secured via a velcro. While I like that they kept the loose straps neat, I felt that they could reinforce the minimalist look by not using a velcro system to do so.
Velcro on the strap.
Along the straps are also some MOLLE webbing, five holes on each strap to be exact. One hole on each side is being used for a removable sternum strap.
Where you could adjust the length of most backpacks’ straps by tugging on the loose strap at the bottom, the Citadel Minimal Pack is strapped in a way that it can’t be as easily adjusted, but in return, has no loose straps to maintain the clean look.
The straps can also be detached via gated triangle hooks at the bottom.
This is one of the most beautiful black minimalist backpack I’ve had the chance to lay my hands on. If you are passionate about having each and every of your gear looking the best it can, then this is a no-brainer.
Left: TOM BIHN Snake Charmer, Tilak Jacket in a Bellroy Pouch, Sirui Tripod and XACTLY Hydrogen 20.
Right: XACTLY Lithium, DJI Osmo Mobile 3
Alex Kwa is a Singaporean product designer living in Tokyo. He enjoys good food, has an unhealthy obsession with the clothing brand Supreme and ironically am interested in a minimalist and simple life.
Follow him @alexkwa on Instagram. Check out ALEXKWA.com for more of his in-depth analysis on minimalism, carry and more.