Defy Verbockel Backpack Review

I’ve been meaning to do this review for almost 9 months! I came across Defy Bags almost a year ago. They are a workshop out of Chicago specializing in rugged, stylish, handmade backpacks, duffels, briefcases, and accessories. They are handmade in the USA and everything they make has a unique rugged aesthetic. Their target audience seems to be pretty masculine, but I love me a good masculine bag sometimes too! I’m also a sucker for waxed canvas, and they do a lot of waxed canvas bags. When I saw their Verbockel Backpack, I was instantly smitten by its good looks and its versatility.

I was looking for backpacks that were convertible at the time; specifically, those that might be able to be turned into totes. This one has two long handles that come up, and when the rolltop is rolled down, it is actually enough of a handle drop to fit over the shoulder. The backpack straps don’t stow away, but I was willing to overlook it.

Design and Style

It is really a gorgeously designed backpack. From the beautiful waterproofed shiny zipper, to the shiny seat belt material for the handles and straps–everything is just beautifully made. It looks very unique also.

The one addition I made was to add a Mr. Gripper to the handles. This is a leather pad made of sumptuous Horween leather and comes in black and oxblood. I chose oxblood and I think it gives the perfect pop of color. When I ordered it with the bag, Defy actually contacted me and asked me if I wanted it sewn to the handles. Yes please! Talk about amazing service. The handle is so comfortable to grip and it really molds to your hand. I love this handle so much I’ve actually gotten more of them for my other backpacks.

Packed up full!
Mr Gripper in Horween Oxblood Leather

The backpack straps are quite padded. I would say that they are okay in comfort. They are not in any way contoured – meaning they are absolutely straight. Even though they are thicker and more padded than backpack straps on my North St weekender backpack, I actually find the contoured North St straps to be a tad bit more comfortable.

The back panel is made of the same waxed canvas, but padded with quilting.

Back view

Materials and Hardware

Defy really boasts about the hardware they use. On this backpack, that is the hefty AustriAlpin buckle that secures the rolltop down. Is it overkill? Probably. Is it extremely satisfying to clasp and unclasp, along with being absolutely gorgeous? Yes, that too. I love it.


The bag comes in waxed canvas and ballistic nylon. I went for the waxed canvas because that’s a material that I love. I would say that it is not the thickest or heaviest waxed canvas that I’ve come across, nor is it the most heavily waxed. When it came in its box though, it did feel almost sticky to touch on the surface? That has gotten better with time though. I’m pretty satisfied with my choice. I think waxed canvas gives it a more vintage-y appearance.

What Fits:

The rolltop design of this bag makes it really expand to fit a lot. They say it expands up to 40 L and I believe them. Here I packed everything I needed for a 3 day retreat last fall: my three Minaal packing cubes full of clothes, a giant purple toiletries/makeup bag, 15″ laptop with associated chargers and other electronics, all my pumping supplies my Sarah Wells Pumparoo Bag (the blue flowery one), a small portable scale (to weigh the milk!), extra milk bags, and even a little collapsible plastic tub I use for washing my pump parts. Oh, a scarf/nursing cover too. It all fits. It’s amazing.

And here’s what it looks like all packed up. It’s full, but it fits.

There’s one zipper exterior pocket in the front, which is quite shallow. I find it useful for keeping USB charging cords, maybe a snack or candybar, or ID card. The two pockets on the side are quite large and deep. They are good for water bottles, tripods, or umbrellas.

I don’t have a shot of the interior here but there is a full-width padded pocket for a laptop across the back, which easily fits my 15″ Surface Book. There are also some additional associated pockets to keep some peripherals.

What It’s Good For

Travel. Definitely for travel. I originally bought this thinking it might be okay for everyday use, especially with tote carry / backpack carry. The reality is that the rolltop is a bit too fussy to deal with in classrooms, meetings, etc. to easily pull out a laptop or anything else that might be stored at the bottom of the bag. One improvement would have been to have a quick access zipper across the back, right above the laptop pocket, so you can access the laptop without unrolling the entire opening. This bag is best for packing it up once, lugging all the stuff to the destination, then unpacking it. It just fits so much stuff. Because it’s a backpack, gate agents won’t think twice about making you check this bag. Even on my 5’2″ frame, when it’s packed to the gills it doesn’t look too enormous. It’s about medium weight, 3.75lbs empty, which is neither ultralight nor ultraheavy. Thus, I like it for car trips but it would easily work for flights as well. If it isn’t completely full, it’ll fit under the seat in front of you. Then you can expand it to fill with souvenirs from the trip!


I definitely recommend this bag for traveling, for weekend trips or even (if you pack lightly) a whole week trip. Its expandable nature makes it very versatile, and its gorgeously and ruggedly designed. It’s a tad overkill for everyday use and not optimized for constant in-and-out access due to the rolltop. I love the Defy company and brand — especially that all the work is done in Chicago. Every Friday they post sales of items that are samples or leftovers or have had their prices slashed for whatever reason, so that’s good to watch out for. They also have a promo code, DEFYFAMILY that gives a modest discount so try it out!