The name Black Ember may not be familiar to some of you and I wouldn’t feel bad. The pack community is quickly becoming a saturated market now-a-days, leaving us to discover new companies every single day. This market saturation could crush brands that make an amazing product, but slack in their marketing efforts. As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed a few months back, I immediately stopped scrolling when I saw an add for Black Ember and their Citadel Minimal Pack. This doesn’t look like every other Cordura bag on the market. It’s refined, sleek and sexy, carrying with it an aesthetic sure to catch everyone’s eye.

I’m a self-prescribed pack-head due to my ever incessant need for “just one more bag.” My wife rolls her eyes every time a new bag arrives in the mail and I do nothing but smile and shrug like a child caught opening the cookie jar. First glance at the Citadel, I was immediately amazed at how technical the materials are. The 800-Denier 3-Layer Micro-Hex material feels durable and also carries an IPX-06 waterproof rating which means your gear will not get wet. The strength of the material is far greater than the standard 70-denier nylon typically used for dry bags and leaves me completely confident that no amount of dragging or hard use will ruin the integrity of the bag’s waterproofness.

The level of detail and precision that their team took on this bag is evident throughout. The laser-cut and bartacked Hypalon is tastefully added around the bag to add extra features and accessories allowing you more carry space. The handle is comfortable and contains two easily interchangeable aircraft grade aluminum hooks that stay secure yet detach easy. The Citadel uses a body contoured back panel that maintains the shape of the bag but doesn’t render it overly rigid. They have a series of airflow channels that sit up against your back and funnels hot air and moisture away, preventing that embarrassing wet spot on your shirt after a good trek around town.

The 3D shoulder straps are crafted from two layers of EVA foam and may be some of the most comfortable straps of any bag I own. They have a unique Velcro adjustment at the top of the strap so you can truly dial the bag in for a personal fit. My only gripe about the straps is that they use a polymer triangular gated clip at the bottom to connect to the bag. They appear quite flimsy and leave me feeling uneasy about their durability. On one occasion during a recent trip, the gate on the clip came out from underneath its normal housing and shifted around the other side, leaving the clip vulnerable to coming undone. The reason why I note this is I typically carry my Nikon D850 and two lenses in the bag. If the bag were to drop from my shoulder height, I run the risk of damaging my gear if the clip fails. My recommendation for the team would be to use some of their pre-existing aluminum clips in place. The reason I note this is I’ve had another bag fail me and fall to the ground breaking my Nikon and the lens in what turned out to be a very costly gear failure. So I think there is some PTSD from that tragic day.

One of the best features of this bag is the magnetic buckles that can easily be done and undone with one hand. The design is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and a small feature that is easy to fall in love with. The buckles are especially awesome when I’m attaching and detaching the DSLR bag that they also make. This system is incredibly useful and one of the main reasons I wanted this product. As a photographer, I frequently need to carry my gear with me on trips but often times I’d rather leave behind my dedicated camera bag due to its size. So now with the DSLR kit, I can pack my D850 with two lenses inside, attach it to the inside of the bag and still have room to pack other items like a jacket and a change of clothes. The DSLR bag is mounted high on the back panel, allowing you to open the lid of your Citadel and have immediate access to your camera.

Inside the Citadel is ample storage for all of your accessories. I carry an 18” MacBook Pro as well as a multitude of dongles (Damn you Apple), chargers and memory card readers. I have yet to come up helpless when searching for the right accessory pocket for any particular item I need to find a home for. Included with the bag is a compression panel that is perfect to separate your outfit from other items. Nothing worse than pulling your laptop out in the airport and a pair of underwear wants to come with it. Luckily Black Ember has also thought of this possible embarrassment and they have a dedicated top access zipper that allows you to access your laptop without having to actually open the bag and ruin your impeccable packing job.

I’ve amassed dozens and dozens of bags over the years and I think many are poorly made and thought out. There are others that I regularly use for certain trips that I enjoy. But the folks at Black Ember have really outdone themselves and created one of the finest bags I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. The attention to detail is remarkable and the aesthetic is eye catching to say the least. You can tell that they built an amazing team to design and create one of the best bags on the market. I will forever be a dedicated loyalist to Black Ember and all that they create. MSRP – $225.00

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