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Koala Gear LIO Backpack Review: Sleek and Simple, It’s Back(pack) to Basics

Koala Gear Lio Backpack

US119 (Kickstarter)
8.7

Design

9.4/10

Build

9.2/10

Features

8.6/10

Ergonomics

8.0/10

Value

8.5/10

Pros

  • Stylish
  • Lightweight
  • Easy access via MoonLock
  • Water repellant

Cons

  • Small capacity
  • Straps could be more comfortable
  • No compartments

 

Finding the perfect backpack is nigh on impossible.

There’s the size, the volume, the design, the choice of materials. And then there’s the choice of compartments, the colour choices, the fit and finish. Just as you think it’s all over, there’s a bunch of other considerations: waterproofing, durability, and most importantly, price.

Koala Gear’s Lio backpack cuts through the humdrum of backpack variants and features, offering exactly what you need, and nothing more. No more flashy (read: useless) accoutrements found on most mainstream backpacks.

If you’re a self-respecting member of Homo technologicus, the Lio backpack would fit into your world of laptops, cables and gadgetry, all while being cool enough for your geek buddies to fawn over. And fawn they will – trust me. 

More Wolverine than Koala Gear, but it still looks neat. Image: Koala Gear Kickstarter

Appearance

This bag is obviously built to impress. It’s unique, it’s sleek, and its edges at the top are as futuristic as Spock’s ears. We were a big fan of the clean all-black design and contrasting metal buckles with a matte-finish, which adds to the Lio’s overall sexy appearance. In a world bombarded by loud, obnoxious branding, this was a breath of fresh air.

The black outer fabric does sometimes attract bits and pieces of dust, but you can easily brush it off with your hand or wipe it down with a damp cloth. The Koala Gear logo on the front is very subtle, but the company’s branding inexplicably appears again another three times on the metal buckles on the straps and metal tag on the MoonLock.

They might have had amnesiac customers in mind, but it was a little too much branding as compared to other urban bags (eg. AER or Code 10) where the logo/name appears only once. However, it’s rather tastefully done and not a big deal if you develop a romantic relationship with your Lio backpack.

We got it the first time. Image: Koala Gear Kickstarter.

 

Minimal Feel

No zippers, no outer pockets, no inside compartments, and no padding. Minimalistic or spartan, you decide. The Lio will not appeal to everyone. Comfort-wise, there is no padding for your back, but the edges are slightly curved inwards to hug your back, providing some support while helping spread the load.

So slick, they border on being aerodynamic. Image: Koala Gear Kickstarter

The shoulder straps are made from seatbelt material and are very securely sewn from top to bottom of the bag. We wouldn’t mind some padding to the straps if they are releasing a second version of the Lio, but we had the smaller 13-inch model, which didn’t get very heavy anyway. The seatbelt-styled straps were also adequately wide and soft, so comfort was no issue.

In place of a traditional zip or clip flap up top, it sports a pretty cool MoonLock feature instead. It is a series of two overlapping magnetic flaps at the top that allows for quick access, not unlike the boxes for apple pies at McDonald’s. Since this is the only access point into the bag, the MoonLock also doubles as an anti-theft feature in crowded places.

The two flaps have a stiff feel to it and snap shut very quickly, so it’ll take you just a little practice to do so with elegance, grace, and as quietly as possible so as not to alert the entire office that you’re all packed up and ready to go. 

Small Internal Capacity

The MoonLock feature works – It snaps shut! We packed in an old 13-inch MacBook Pro 2011 (2.04kg), power adapter (0.3kg), Logitech K380 keyboard (0.4kg), Logitech M720 Triathlon mouse (0.13kg), and a Western Digital 4TB My Passport External Hard Drive (0.24kg); flipped it upside down and gave it a good shake like how you would do it with a bag of McDonald’s Shaker Fries (pardon the McReferences) – The seal was perfect and nothing dropped out!

However, because there are no internal pockets, we could hear the contents of the bag helplessly swishing around inside the box-like structure.

Koala Gear claims that the feature is able to withstand the load of your belongings when the bag is flipped on its head and shaken, but advises not to do it too often since the enclosure isn’t designed to constantly deal with that kind of load.

The Lio does come with a detachable folder-like organiser, but it took up valuable real estate when we used it, and only the MacBook Pro and K380 Keyboard could now fit comfortably. We were barely able to squeeze in the power adapter, and needless to say, the M720 mouse and WD hard drive were not able to fit in.

The bundled organiser which takes up some valuable real estate. Image: Koala Gear Lio Backpack

If you are looking to purchase an EDC backpack for just your daily essentials like some paper documents, power bank, wallet, phone and keys, you can fit them all into the detachable organiser that comes with the Lio.

However, if you are planning to use the Lio as the EDC for all your tech gadgets, you’ll have better luck (and a better fit, hopefully) elsewhere.

If you obsess over neatness and orderliness, it is highly recommended that you use some form of internal organiser because everything sinks to the bottom since there is only one main compartment from the top.

Also, the rigid hull of the Lio functions a little like an echo chamber and you can hear your keys and personal belongings swishing around when you are on the move. The highly rigid structure of the Lio which gives it that oh-so-sexy feel, does not allow you much flexibility to add in multiple of your own regularly-shaped packing cubes/organisational tech pouches because of its shape.

The Lio’s general shape is technically referred to as a circular segment, with a single straight and curved side. This means there will be plenty of empty pockets if you try to go polygonal with your choice of bag organisers.

On the brighter side of things, if you are totally cool with throwing all your belongings into a bucket bag and rushing out of the house, then yes – the Lio is perfect for you!

Impromptu Table/Drum Kit

Imagine carrying a stylish and well-built cardboard box on your back. You can flip it over, place it on your lap, and use the back as a flat surface to rest your laptop on or eat your lunch, alone, in the park. The most common scenario where we found ourselves using the flat surface of the Lio was during the train ride home, where we used it as an elbow rest while we play our mobile games (because the bag is too precious to put on the floor).

Here’s not every backpack can do: fill in for a table when there is none. Image: Koala Gear Kickstarter

Here’s something very unexpected – because the Lio functions like an echo chamber, we also found ourselves finger tapping on the Lio, very often. Different parts of the Lio produces different sounds – High-hat at the edges, kick drum on the back, toms on the bottom. It is a ton of fun, and possibly one of those habits you unconsciously develop that will annoy your friend.

Price

Pre-orders for the Lio currently has a price tag of USD 119, and is estimated to retail for USD 149. It is relatively pricey compared to the AER day pack where you can fit in more items, but the Lio is really beautiful.

We have been using this bag for a week, and the number of compliments on its appearance exceeds that of the other kickstarter bags we have used. If you have the budget and are looking for a minimalistic urban EDC, snag the Lio.

Where to buy the Koala Gear Lio Backpack in Singapore:

  • We The People – Millenia Walk Level 1 and Level 2 – 9 Raffles Blvd, Singapore 039596
  • We The People- 112 Katong Mall – 112 E Coast Rd, Singapore 428802
  • We The People – Westgate 3 Gateway Dr, Singapore 608532
  • Koala Gear Kickstarter

If you are on the fence and need that extra push to justify purchasing the Lio:

  1. When you’re having a bad day and feel like you need some compliments, choose Lio.
  2. When you want to stay in bed for that extra 5 minutes and have no time to get organised, choose Lio.
  3. When you want a portable table or portable drum-kit, choose Lio. 

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