Paddle to Pedal: Do-All Portage Pack Doubles as Messenger Bag

Loads of room, durable construction, and a surprisingly comfortable fit—it’s no wonder this canoe pack became my favorite messenger bag for urban cycling.

kondos outdoors trailblazer portage messenger backpack

When I first hefted Kondos Outdoors’ new Trailblazer portage pack, I wondered if it was worth a review. It had cool graphics and a unique, molded back pad—for a canoe pack. But how interesting could it be?

Surprise hit when I donned the pack and hopped on the bike. This portage pack was great for cycling!

At almost 45 liters, it’s smaller than a traditional portage pack but larger than most around-town backpacks. It’s by no means a true hiking pack—no hydration port, expandable mesh pockets, or other long-trek goodies. But it’s a sweet size for large messenger-type bags and a comfortable carryall for portage hikes.

kondos outdoors trailblazer canoe pack bike bag

I tested this bag through spring, summer, and into fall. It’s been on my back through redwood hikes and day treks around the lake. It even journeyed across states in luggage bays.

In short: The Kondos Outdoors Trailblazer is a simple, comfortable pack. Its rugged construction stood up to outdoors wear and some nasty weather. Meanwhile, two front and two side pockets complement the large main storage compartment to aid organization. Though it’s not built for cyclists, its comfort and size make it remarkably adept around town.

Kondos Outdoors Trailblazer ($159)

Kondos Outdoors has been making packs and outfitting Boundary Waters travelers in Ely, Minn., since 1980. According to the brand, it still makes everything at its northern Minnesota facility.

kondos outdoors trailblazer backpack straps lash point

There are some key differences that separate the Trailblazer pack from other canoe packs. For starters, it’s made using DWR-treated, 1,000-denier Cordura instead of traditional waxed canvas. Thread for thread, Cordura is lighter than canvas.

The Trailblazer has nylon straps and plastic buckles instead of leather straps and metal buckles. According to the brand, it made this choice to keep the weight down, especially when wet.

Trailblazer Pack Review

As a portage pack and backcountry gear hauler, the Trailblazer excels in a few areas. For starters, it’s a great compromise between a large duffle and a small daypack.

kondos outdoors trailblazer backpack

Typical portage packs range from 60–150L. And that’s great for long canoe trips where you won’t see a resupply station for a week or more. If that’s your need, this isn’t your pack, but Kondos Outdoors has options in that range.

The Trailblazer works great for multi-day treks that require more hiking and less canoeing. At 44L (2,700 cubic inches), it’ll carry food, some gear, and a few changes of clothes.

kondos outdoors trailblazer pack back pad

And that brings us to its second attribute: comfort. Unlike other spartan portage packs, the Trailblazer has a molded back panel. This proved very comfortable in my tests. I carried tent poles and some tools in the pack and never felt anything. The one drawback is that it can get sweaty back there.

kondos outdoors trailblazer backpack suspension straps

The suspension system is simple and effective. A large, padded hip belt carries most of the load. Then, two suspension pulls above the shoulder straps lift the load up high on my back. Together, this made loads exceeding 35 pounds as comfortable and tight against the body as I could hope with this type of pack.

Lastly, the build is tough. Through sticks, branches, drops, and drags along pavement, the pack shows virtually no signs of wear. Its 1,000-denier Cordura construction represents an industry standard for high-grade consumer packs.

Kondos Outdoors Trailblazer: Surprise Utility

For me, this pack really stood out when I wasn’t using it as a portage pack. In fact, it was when I ditched the paddles and hopped on the pedals that this pack shined.

kondos outdoors trailblazer pack zip pocket u-lock

As a large bike bag—in the same vein as Minneapolis-based Trash Bags—the Trailblazer worked great. Two external zip pockets suited around-town treks and bike gear well. The topmost pocket carried my wallet, notebook, pens, and occasionally my phone. And, to my surprise, the bottom pocket was a perfect fit for a range of U-locks. Meanwhile, two vertical zip pockets flank the main compartment and proved ideal for my 40-ounce water bottle.

kondos outdoors trailblazer pack side pocket water bottle

To be clear, the Trailblazer does not have specific electronics storage. So my phone was not accessible, and I kept sensitive devices like my laptop in a padded case inside the bag.

But for carrying a change of clothes, shoes, books, and gear from home to work, it handled it all. Plus, the blaze-orange accents kept me visible while riding. And the DWR treatment kept out rain, dirt, and even some wintry mix.

Final thoughts: Kondos Outdoors Trailblazer

Larger packs made with heavier materials easily cost twice as much as the $159 Trailblazer. But I was pleasantly surprised by the Trailblazer’s versatility and value compared to both portage and messenger packs.

Looking for a plus-size backpack that can handle big loads, wears comfortably, and is built to tackle the outdoors? I would definitely recommend checking out the $159 Kondos Outdoors Trailblazer.

Adam Ruggiero

Adam Ruggiero is the Editor In Chief of GearJunkie.

Adam has been covering daily news and writing about cycling, camping, hiking, and gear of all kinds for 15+ years. Prior to that, Adam lived in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, at which time he realized he’d never have a “normal job.” His pastimes — farming, bike racing, and fitness — provided a gateway to all manner of physical challenges and recreation outdoors.

Based in Kansas City, MO, Adam tests as much gear as he can get his hands, feet (and dog) into each and every day. As editor in chief, he works to maintain GearJunkie’s voice, style, and commitment to accurate and expert reporting across every category.