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Black Ember’s tough new Citadel pack offers an array of detachable straps, handles, and gear compartments.

There are excellent multi-compartment backpacks for serious photographers, compact bags for urban explorers, and capacious carryalls for the weekend-in-the-country crowd. But rare is the backpack that can play all three roles with more or less equal aplomb. The new Citadel pack from Black Ember may be just such a bag, thanks to a clever system of add-on packlets—called Mods—that affix to hardpoints on the shell. 

Although we’ll withhold a final word on durability until we get our hands on a production example this summer, the Citadel bag felt fairly indestructible in our brief time with it. It’s made of a waterproof, three-layer, 900-denier polyester fabric coated on both sides with polyurethane. The pieces are laser cut for precision and heat bonded (not stitched) for strength, with stout YKK Aqua Guard zippers on a quick-access top slot and a three-side clamshell opening. Handles are made of a military-developed aramid material called Hypalon, which also serves as a stiff foundation for the Mod attachments. 

Snaps for the Citadel’s Mods are mounted on sturdy Hypalon, a material used to make military-spec inflatable rafts.
It’s the Mods, of course, that elevate the Citadel from backpack status to Batman status. There are four attachment points on the back of the Citadel and two more on the sides (which can be used to install a second side-facing handle), and an array of optional straps and specialized cases—for phones, cameras, snacks, glasses, sketchbooks, you name it. There’s even a soft Sport Pack pouch with compartments for clothes and shoes that turns the Citadel into a legit overnighter or a gym bag. And Mod pouches are detachable for use as stand-alone bags, the idea being that you’d leave the mothership in your hotel room and head out with, say, just the DSLR pack slung over your shoulder. It’s the custom bag you customize (and recustomize) yourself. 
The $55 Sport Pack Mod makes the Citadel the coolest bag in the Equinox locker room.
The Mods attach to the pack with magnet-guided mechanical fasteners that stiffly snap into place and are backed up by fail-safe clasps. Such a connection system would be the make-or-break of a modular backpack, and the Citadel’s is serious. Mods are easy to get on and off intentionally, but falling off accidentally seems downright impossible, and it would take a very Artful Dodger indeed to unsnap one behind your back without being noticed.

Black Ember’s Citadel system is available for preorder now, with shipping set to commence later this month. The base modular pack runs $255 (or $225 for a minimalist version without external attachment points). Mods are available in packages with the backpack, or à la carte, priced from $45 to $70.

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