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Thread: Review: Maxpedition Folding backpacks – ROLLYPOLY, ROLLYPOLY EXTREME and MERLIN

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    Flashaholic* subwoofer's Avatar
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    Default Review: Maxpedition Folding backpacks – ROLLYPOLY, ROLLYPOLY EXTREME and MERLIN

    Rarely a day goes by that I don't use a backpack, and on some of those days it is carried empty 'just in case'. There are many instances, including holidays and other trips, where my primary luggage is not a backpack, but I still want the facility. For this and many other situations, step-up the folding backpack.

    There are of course many 'travel accessories' available, especially at the airport, offering folding backpacks, but these are almost of 'disposable' quality and might just get you through one trip. So when I saw that Maxpedition, makers of 'Hard-Use gear' had not just one, but three folding backpacks in their line-up, I had to take a closer look.

    Already an owner of a black ROLLYPOLY EXTREME (bought for my wife), Maxpedition kindly sent me the full set backpacks featured in this review to take a closer look at them.





    Initial Impressions:

    Of course I was already familiar with the ROLLYPOLY Extreme, having purchased one independently of this review. When you compare the cost of such a bag with the 'travel shop' offerings, it seems very expensive, but what you get is a 'real' backpack that folds, and something that should give you a long reliable service life.

    As you would expect, they arrive in their folded state. One of my fears with any folding product is the ability to get it folded again after use. Somehow the manufacturer always manages to fold it much better than a user can. Both of the ROLLYPOLY bags were a hard, tight, roll, with the MERLIN feeling less solid, but only due to the fact that both the pockets can be used while it is folded.

    From the robust fabric used to construct the bags, to the fittings, the impression is of very good quality bags, and this is even before unfolding them.

    This range of bags provides for three quite different levels of use which makes it quite difficult to decide which is the best one to go for. Hopefully this review will help you decide by showing what each one offers.
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    Default Re: Review: Maxpedition Folding backpacks – ROLLYPOLY, ROLLYPOLY EXTREME and MERLIN

    Side by side:

    Each of these folding backpacks could easily be reviewed on its own, however by showing them all together in one review it should make it easier to compare and decide which size best fits your needs. Combining the reviews does means there is a LOT to show, so in order to make it easier to navigate the review I have split the review into multiple posts.

    This section is all about the side-by-side comparison, with the details of individual bags shown in later sections.

    Starting off with the set of three in their folded state. From left to right they are in descending size with the MERLIN folding backpack (0454K – Khaki), the ROLLYPOLY Extreme (0233K – Khaki) and the smallest ROLLYPOLY backpack (0230G – OD Green)




    Opening each of the backpacks and filling them, you can see the range of size and features available. They are shown in the same order as before.




    The side view really shows the difference in capacity, with the MERLIN folding backpack having by far the largest load capacity, with the ROLLYPOLY Extreme still having a good capacity, and the ROLLYPOLY Backpack still having a good size despite its very compact folded size.




    The previous comparison showed the filled size. As another comparison I took a standard A4 ring-binder (something a student might carry) to use as a point of reference.

    The folder is shown on the unfolded bag, halfway into the bag, and fully inside.

    Starting with the smallest bag, the ROLLYPOLY Backpack



    Next up, the ROLLYPOLY Extreme. Surprisingly, the opening of the main compartment on the Extreme is slightly tighter than on the ROLLYPOLY Backpack and this A4 folder only just fitted into the opening.



    Last up is the much larger MERLIN Folding Backpack, which swallows up the folder with ease.

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    Default Re: Review: Maxpedition Folding backpacks – ROLLYPOLY, ROLLYPOLY EXTREME and MERLIN

    The ROLLYPOLY Folding Backpack in detail:

    Part of Maxpedition's ROLLYPOLY range, the ROLLYPOLY Backpack follows suit with the rest of its counterparts, rolling up into a very compact package.

    In order to be so compact, there have been compromises in the backpack's design in order to allow it to be this size.

    The folding/unfolding action is shown in this animation.




    To give you a look at all sides of the folded package, the following composite image (which may not show correctly on low resolution screens) is the equivalent of a box that has been opened out and laid flat.







    Moving onto the details…

    To allow you to fix the ROLLYPOLY Backpack onto a PALS strap or belt loop, there is a UTX Flex flat clip. One side has been opened here to show the clip and locator tab which keep the clip securely closed. This clip is stiff in operation and seems to be very secure.



    One of the compromises mentioned earlier is that the shoulder strap are very basic. Consisting of a simple, narrow, flat webbing strap, with adjustment buckle.



    The base of the bag includes a drainage hole.



    The front view shows the lack of any external pockets, and is shown here with the main compartment's flap closure in place.



    The back view shows the Velcro loop panel used to keep the bag in its fully folded state, and a set of PALS webbing straps. I cannot see any real purpose for these webbing straps, as you cannot fit a pouch to them as it would be against you back, and if used to fit this bag to another PALS equipped bag would make it slow to remove and use (though this bag could be used as a very large dump pouch, but that defeats the purpose of it being a folding backpack).



    Inside the main compartment, there is a zip closure pocket.



    Here the pocket has been brought outside the main compartment to show its size.



    For the smallest and simplest of these folding backpacks, that is all there is to show.
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    Default Re: Review: Maxpedition Folding backpacks – ROLLYPOLY, ROLLYPOLY EXTREME and MERLIN

    The ROLLYPOLY Extreme in detail:

    The ROLLYPOLY Extreme, takes the idea of the ROLLYPOLY Backpack, and then turns it into a serious backpack. This is at the cost of a larger folded package, but you get many more features for this increase in folded size.

    Unfolding/folding the ROLLYPOLY Extreme is much like the ROLLYPOLY Backpack, only on a larger scale.




    To give you a look at all sides of the folded package, the following composite image (which may not show correctly on low resolution screens) is the equivalent of a box that has been opened out and laid flat.







    Now we are looking at something with a much higher specification. Starting with the front view, you can see that there are two outer pockets each with a Velcro loop panel onto which you can fit your choice of moral patch or other velcro fix accessory.



    The back view gives you a first look at the feature packed shoulder straps. The straps are a good width for comfort, include PALS type webbing and loops for attaching other pouches/accessories, and like a full size backpack, it has a sternum strap for additional stability in use.

    Like the ROLLYPOLY Backpack, the Extreme has a panel of PALS webbing which seems to have little real use (see previous comment).



    Looking closer at the front pockets, here the smaller top pocket and the front section of the lower large pocket are shown open. The top pocket is simple and has no other features.



    The lower large pocket's main compartment is now show opened out. There are two sections and a key-keeper.



    Looking down into the opening of the main compartment.



    Then, opening the compartment at the rear of the bag. This extends the entire height of the main compartment and has a loop at the top. Intended as a hydration pouch pocket, this can of course be used for whatever you like.



    Moving to the front of the main compartment, there is a zip closure pouch.



    Here the pouch has been pulled out to show its size.



    At the base of the bag there are two drainage holes, especially important in case your hydration pouch were to spring a leak.



    The main compartment is kept closed by two features. The Velcro flap (used to keep the folded bag together) doubles as the main compartment closure, and both shoulder straps feed through buckles that pull the sides of the opening together as they start to bear weight.

    The use of the shoulder straps to close the main compartment makes it slightly awkward to access the compartment without putting the bag down, but does mean that while on your back there is additional security which would make it very difficult for anyone else to access the main compartment, or the contents to fall out.

    Also visible is the grab handle which is exposed even when folded allowing easy carrying whether folded or open.



    Like a fully featured backpack, the Extreme has a sternum strap. To the left of the buckle there is a strain relief elasticated section for comfort. Both sides are adjustable. Incorporated into the buckle itself is a whistle.



    Looking closer at the open buckle and whistle.



    The shoulder strap is stitched to one side of the main compartment opening, and then is fed through a buckle on the other side of the main compartment opening. It is this arrangement that means that once the shoulder strap is loaded, it pulls the sides of the opening together to close the main compartment.

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    Default Re: Review: Maxpedition Folding backpacks – ROLLYPOLY, ROLLYPOLY EXTREME and MERLIN

    The MERLIN Folding Backpack in detail:

    Building up to the largest of the three folding backpack, this is the MERLIN. First appearances are a bit deceptive, as the MERLIN almost appears to be an organiser pouch. Even when folded, the two front pockets are usable. Their capacity is reduced due to the folded bag in the centre section taking some space, but they are still very usable.

    The MERLIN does not unroll like the ROLLYPOLY bags, instead you unzip the centre section and unfold the bag from this compartment.




    To give you a look at all sides of the folded package, the following composite image (which may not show correctly on low resolution screens) is the equivalent of a box that has been opened out and laid flat.







    Inside the top pocket (when opened as the full backpack) is a set of three elasticated loops to help organise this pocket.



    The second pocket is a bit unusual. The design is, I suspect, intended to make this section work either way up. Halfway round the zip there is a strap with press stud that acts as a zip-stop. You need to open this strap to allow the zips to pass by.



    Once you have fully unzipped this pouch you can see a divider which is attached at the top of one side and the bottom of the other. This limits the section you can access depending on which part you unzip.



    Each side of this divider has a pocket open towards the zip it is next to.



    Looking at the front of the backpack you can see the two pouches sit near the top of the panel.

    The top pouch has an elasticated cord for holding odd shaped objects, and under this is a loop (under the moral patch Velcro). This loop may be used as a belt loop when folded or to pass a strap to fix other loads to the backpack.

    Of all the Maxpedition folding backpacks, the MERLIN is the only one to present a PALS webbing panel on the front of the bag where it can actually be used.



    The back of the MERLIN is plain, but has the widest shoulder straps of all three.



    The main body of the MERLIN is quite soft, so looks very unstructured. This main compartment has no other pockets and has a full zip closure.



    Outside the main compartment, under the shoulder straps is a velcro-closed pocket/hydration pocket which is the full height of the bag. In this pocket is a D-ring to suspend a hydration pouch from.



    The shoulder strap is wide and has a standard adjustment buckle.



    The MERLIN's grab handle



    The main compartment's double zips and the rain flap to help keep water out.

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    Default Re: Review: Maxpedition Folding backpacks – ROLLYPOLY, ROLLYPOLY EXTREME and MERLIN

    What are they really like to use…

    There are some assumptions you will be able to make for yourself after looking at all of the detail. However, I will run through these differences and describe the impression each of these has given me.

    This line-up of the bags being worn should make some of these differences even more obvious.



    The Extreme is the only backpack with a sternum strap.




    So starting with the most compact backpack the ROLLYPOLY, it is clear how the compromises introduced to keep the size as small as possible start to impact on its performance. The very basic straps quickly become uncomfortable unless the load is kept very light. But as this bag is a backpack you might otherwise have not had, it still serves a great function in allowing you to carry some things with you hands-free.

    It also doubles as a very large capacity drop pouch which could also be dismounted and carried as a backpack. Versatile as long as you are aware of its limitations.


    Taking a big step up in function the ROLLYPOLY Extreme manages to fit in most of the features you would only find on much larger backpacks. Proper shoulder straps with multiple attachment points and a sternum strap with whistle, a hydration pouch pocket, multiple pockets and compartments, grab handle and clip. Not only this, but it folds and rolls up into a compact package much smaller than anything equivalent.

    For me the downside of the Extreme is the limited access into the main compartment and the slightly awkward way the shoulder straps close the compartment. Considering this bag may be used in tourist areas, this downside, in general use, could actually prove a benefit in added security, making unauthorised access very difficult. I'd still prefer a wider opening to the main compartment, but by not using a zip closure means the opening will not be as wide.

    The Extreme is very comfortable to wear. With the load it can carry I, never found myself becoming aware of it, the sign of a good backpack.


    In the MERLIN we effectively have a full size daypack. This is quite surprising considering it is a similar overall packed size to the Extreme. This is achieved by keeping the main structure simple, so it lacks the attachment points on the shoulder strap that the Extreme has and any internal pockets in the main compartment which is also a slightly lighter grade fabric.

    The wide shoulder straps (widest of all three) are very comfortable, so unless you pack this solid with books, making it super heavy, it should remain all-day-comfortable. As with the others, though more obvious with the MERLIN, the lack of any back panel structure makes packing it well important for comfort, but so far I've had no issues.

    The MERLIN seems to provided me the same carrying capacity as most other daypacks I have (though its specification rates it at 17.7l compared to 24l for many daypacks). It also has easy and excellent access due to the wide double-zip opening to the main compartment. The two pockets provide very handy storage which you can leave partially filled even when folded.

    Of the three the MERLIN does provide the greatest challenge in getting it neatly folded up again, with the last few inches of zip closure sometimes being a bit stubborn. This is when I appreciate Maxpedition's choice of a very heavy duty zip for the compartment that contains the folded backpack.

    To sum these bags up very briefly, the ROLLYPOLY folding backpack provides a super compact bag which can be worn as a backpack, the ROLLYPOLY Extreme gives you a fully featured comfortable small backpack which rolls up to an easily portable package, and the MERLIN gives you a good size daypack and great comfort for extended periods.


    Taking a very personal perspective, I find the ROLLYPOLY Extreme has an incredibly functional design, with the attachment points on the shoulder straps being a place to clip a camera and other accessories and the choice of several pockets for storing smaller items. The biggest issues I have with the Extreme is having to rip open a strong Velcro flap and fiddle with the straps to access the limited-width opening to the main compartment. The basic ROLLYPOLY folding backpack I find the least useful due to having the smallest capacity and thin shoulder straps, so prefer to carry the extra size of the MERLIN which I have found to be an excellent all round backpack (especially as I prefer the zip closure over the Extreme's strap-and-flap closure).

    With each of these folding backpacks fulfilling a slightly different role, I cannot recommend any one of them in particular as your requirements will likely be different to mine, instead my recommendation would be to take a good look at how they compare and decide for yourself which would work for you.






    Test samples provided by Maxpedition for review.
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    Default Re: Review: Maxpedition Folding backpacks – ROLLYPOLY, ROLLYPOLY EXTREME and MERLIN

    reserved for updates...
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  8. #8

    Default Re: Review: Maxpedition Folding backpacks – ROLLYPOLY, ROLLYPOLY EXTREME and MERLIN

    Holy crap! Nice review and excellent pics/gifs!

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Review: Maxpedition Folding backpacks – ROLLYPOLY, ROLLYPOLY EXTREME and MERLIN

    Quote Originally Posted by cland72 View Post
    Holy crap! Nice review and excellent pics/gifs!
    Thanks it was good fun to do this and the subject matter something I use all the time.
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    Default Re: Review: Maxpedition Folding backpacks – ROLLYPOLY, ROLLYPOLY EXTREME and MERLIN

    Excellent review! Thanks for the detailed comparisons and extensive photos and especially the gifs. I've been trying to decide which of these to get and seeing the size comparisons have made my decision much easier.

    Awesome work!

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