I’ve been carrying the Ethnotek Raja (MSRP $159-$209) for a few months. There’s no doubt that it’s a beautiful pack. It looks the business. Everywhere I go, complete strangers say, “That’s a pretty pack. Is it Timbuk2?”
As a Tribe member, I’m happy to set them straight with the Cliff’s Notes version of Ethnotek’s story: Ethnotek, and Ethnotek bags, exist to preserve the art of indigenous textile craft by creating a sustainable, Fair Trade business relationship. The artisan sets the price and tells Ethnotek how much textile he/she can comfortably produce. Ethnotek agrees and writes him or her a check (or something like that). No haggling, no production demands, no twenty-five cents per day sweatshop.
This unique business model allows villagers and hill tribes of Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Ghana and Guatemala to tell their stories through the colorful textiles that make up the panels (aka the THREADs) of every Ethnotek bag.
But I still wanted to test the Raja pack’s mettle. To see if it’s really more than just a pretty bag.
The Raja, with its massive roll-up top loading compartment, padded laptop compartment, pockets and storage a-plenty, is Ethnotek’s flagship pack.
It’s designed for the streets of uptown Minneapolis and downtown Kathmandu. It’s also designed for a three-day trip to the Outdoor Retailer show. Needing to travel light for once (and never again), I made a minimalistic packing list:
- 1 pair of shorts*
- 1 pair of socks*
- 1 pair of Dansko sandals (and not the small, light-weight ones)
- 1 pair of earrings
- 2 Horny Toad dresses*
- 2 pens
- 2 necklaces
- 3 shirts*
- 3 pairs of “delicates”*
- Toiletries (too many to list)
- Laptop power cord
- Phone power cord
- iPod charging power cord
- Mouse pad
- Sigg water bottle (empty while traveling)
- Kindle Fire
- Lip balm
Would you believe that everything on the list above fit into the Raja? They did. All *items were condensed into one Eagle Creek Pack-It™ Specter Cube –no lie. They're reasonably priced and can condense a week's worth of clothes to the size of a Rubik's Cube. In the case of the Raja pack, it allowed me to pack all the clothes I needed into the Raja's main pack, which holds 46 liters of cargo, and seal it closed with the roll-up top and sturdy buckle.
A right-side pocket, which is quilted and lined with fuzzy tricot, keeps smartphones or other delicate electronics safe from scratches. There was also room for my laptop power cord, phone power cord and mouse. An exterior slip pocket holds a wallet or iPod or whatever.
On the left side is a water bottle holder and easy side access into the main compartment. This came in handy at the TSA line when it came time to remove my liquids and gels.
Other useful features include the interchangeable THREAD front panel, compression snap buckles, separate padded laptop compartment, interior stretch-mesh zip-pocket (I stored my mouse pad in here), padded shoulder straps and back panel with air mesh, and fully-adjustable sternum straps.
With that being said, there is truly only one boo-hiss about the Raja: I needed to lie in traction for two hours because there was no hip belt to help offset the weight from my back to my hips.
Would I, personally, carry this pack as a fourteener assault pack? No. Even though Ethnotek builds their packs with sturdy 840-denier water resistant ballistic nylon, and makes raincovers to protect the THREADs, I would feel awful exposing the artisan’s beautiful embroidered handiwork to the elements of wind, rain, snow, sleet or rocks.
But, that’s just me. Ethnotek Tribe members have taken their Raja packs to Machu Pichu, Easter Island, Koh Phi Phi Don and Mt. Ranier. Ethnotek proudly displays Tribe members’ vacation pics on their Facebook page.
Proving that the Ethnotek Raja pack is more than just a pretty pack. It’s a durable, utilitarian, versatile unique piece of art. With a story and a Tribe.