How much is it worth to have a bag that’s truly 100 percent waterproof? How many features can be sacrificed on a modern bag? Reviewing the Hydro 20 makes me ask these questions.
In terms of pure design, it’s a remarkable backpack, made possible by the new TruZip toothless plastic zipper. During my testing, I found that the Booē Hybrid 20 makes good on all the promises made in its Kickstarter campaign. It’s completely waterproof, submersible, and offers floating protection for whatever you put inside it. If that’s your primary concern, buy with confidence.
By focusing on the waterproof materials, though, Booē has left out some creature comforts you’d expect in a modern backpack. Its protection (beyond water and dust) is minimal, and internal organization is clunky at best. It’s unlike anything on the market at the moment, but those looking to invest in a waterproof bag might do better to wait for a second design revision.
…Off a Duck’s Back
I’ve been using “water-resistant” messenger bags from the likes of Timbuk2 and Peak Design for 15 years, and find them reliable. These designs use a heavy-duty fabric with sealing treatments to keep rain and splashes out of the interior pockets. But the Hybrid 20 puts this approach to shame in terms of water and dust protection. The TruZip zippers and heavy-duty plastic coating mean you can completely dunk this backpack in water, and not a drop will get in. Yes, really.
The promotional materials say you can completely submerge the Hydro 20 in up to one meter of water for 30 minutes, and none will get past the zipper seals. I placed a ream of printer paper in the main pocket and some folded paper in the smaller front pocket (I confess, I wasn’t willing to risk my laptop during testing). They were bone-dry after half an hour in my tub. Success!
The bag is equally resistant to dust and mud, as tested in the creek at my local park. The Hydro 20 would be fantastic for campers, kayakers, or anyone who spends a lot of time around or in wet locales. As a bonus, the sealed nature means it (generally) floats—as long as you leave a little air inside and didn’t stick a brick in the main pocket.
Seal It Up
One of our concerns with the TruZip waterproof zipper seal, when we saw it at CES, was how much force it took to close it completely. Booē solved that with a little quality-of-life tweak. The zippers have big, generous finger rings that give you plenty of torque, so it’s easy to get them into that crucial, completely sealed position. You can safely close the bag with only a bit more force than a conventional toothed zipper requires.
I’m no designer, but I’ll venture that a small tweak would improve usability here. The zipper seal needs to be completely closed to be reliably waterproof, but it’s hard to tell when it is. A dot or line on the fabric that’s completely covered to indicate the zipper is fully sealed would be helpful.
Protection Is Lacking
As much as the Hydro 20 does to protect its contents from water and dirt, it doesn’t offer much protection in the more conventional sense. Aside from a comfort pad on the back and an internal sleeve for laptops and tablets, the TPU-covered fabric is the only thing between the inside and outside of the bag for the rest of the contents. And that fabric is only a single, quite thin, layer at most points.
I doubt the bag would survive much of an impact (say, if you fell off a bike or it bounced out of a truck bed). I didn’t trust it enough to put my mechanical keyboard or camera inside without a second protective pouch. My cheap Chromebook felt safe enough in the laptop pouch, but if it were my only computer or a $2,000 work-issued MacBook Pro, I’d probably want a second layer of protection for it.
If you plan to use the Hydro 20 for tougher cargo, like camping supplies or food, this isn’t really a problem. But for anything even somewhat delicate, it leaves a lot to be desired.
The Organization Is on the Simple Side
For your water protection needs, the Hydro 20 offers only two pockets: the main compartment and the front pocket, which is just big enough for a large, hardcover book. Any further delineations of your cargo are up to you.
Inside the main pocket, there’s a removable sleeve with three slip pockets for laptops and tablets and a few organizers for smaller stuff. Loose pockets and single-stitch points don’t inspire much confidence for this insert’s durability. Also, removing and replacing the sleeve is so cumbersome, it’s better to just keep its Velcro in place for a little extra back padding. The only other internal pocket is a small bit of mesh with a zip-closure, big enough for a phone or a pair of sunglasses.
Externally, the bag has some very generous water bottle pockets on both sides. But again, this mesh material is so thin it’s difficult to trust it, especially for my go-to, oversized metal bottle. A couple of straps on top of these pockets (suitable for clipping carabiners) rounds out the meager organization features.
The bag has a small chest strap you can adjust up and down about seven inches. However, it’s so thin and rides so high, if you use it for more than an hour or so, it creates some serious discomfort. I’d say most people would probably remove it.
Maybe Wait for Round Two?
If it seems like there are a lot of nitpicks in this review, that’s because there are. The Hydro 20’s layout and features are simple and not up to the standard set by other bags in its $200 retail price range.
The waterproof material and zippers are phenomenal. If water and dust resistance is what you’re after above all else, I’d say the sacrifices in other aspects of the design might be worth it. Outdoorsy types who need a bag that reliably shrugs off constant and extended dunkings will be thrilled.
If you’re looking for a water-resistant bag that also offers comfort, impact protection, and organization—something a regular commuter or bike rider might want—this isn’t it. If you like the material design of the Hydro 20 but are underwhelmed by the rest of it, you might want to wait for an updated model. You can also check out other vendors using the TruZip zipper system.
I’ll be excited to see what Booē does with future models in this line. The Kickstarter campaign for the Hydro 20 hasn’t completed yet, so some of these quibbles might be addressed in its retail release.
Early birds can get the bag for a $40-$50 discount, in vibrant orange, white, gray, or black.
Booē Hybrid 20 Backpack Is Amazingly Waterproof, But Light on Design was orginially posted by Michael Crider