Oveja Negra Portero Backpack: Simple and Stylish
Designed as an alternative to the ultra-technical backpacks of today, the Oveja Negra Portero is a stripped-down pack that looks good and doesn’t cram in loads of unnecessary features. After several months of daily use, on everything from morning commutes to multi-country bikepacking trips, Lucas offers some thoughts on how the Portero has performed…
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always worn a backpack, just about everywhere I go. Whether carrying my laptop around the city on my daily commute, hitting the farmer’s market, or hauling gear on extended bikepacking trips, I’ve grown accustomed to constantly wearing a backpack. At this point, I’m not sure I could ever make do without one again. As such, I’m quite particular about the bags I use. Not just any old pack will cut it.
My go-to bag (that is, the only one I owned) for the past several years was a Mission Workshop / Acre Hauser (14L, $205), and while mine served me well on countless big rides and commutes, I’d been putting off its retirement for a while. Its poor zippers were blown out from heavy use, I’d burned a handful of holes in it during various campfire mishaps, and I found its size somewhat limiting on occasion.
In my search for a replacement pack, I was immediately excited when I came across the Portero online. I’ve long been a fan of Oveja Negra’s various bikepacking bags, like their versatile Superwedige and handy Chuckbucket. To my eye, owners Lane and Monty Willson design and sew some of the best looking bags in the business from their small shop in Salida, Colorado. This one is certainly no exception. As such, I knew straight away that the Portero was the pack I wanted to replace my aging Hauser. It just so happened that I was visiting Colorado at the time, and I had the chance to meet up with Lane to pick up mine in person.
Features and Construction
In crafting their first production backpack, the makers at Oveja Negra came up with an attractive, meticulously constructed, no-frills bag. In their own words, they’ve “stripped away the fluff that comes standard on most packs these days and built a clean, durable, and intuitive pack for the long haul.” And I think their design approach hits on one of the main gripes I have with other packs I’ve tried over the years: their overabundance of bulky, unnecessary sleeves and pockets. I’m forgetful enough as it is, without having to dig through eight different pockets to figure out where I stashed my bike keys or tent stakes. I appreciate the Portero’s sensible amount of nooks and crannies; its simple design does make for a more intuitive packing experience.
Dual side pockets offer easy access to items without having to unroll the main compartment. I’ve found them convenient for carrying everything from tent poles, to baguettes, to locks and bottles. However, they’re made of a rigid Cordura material instead of a stretchier fabric, so some care needs to be give to how items on the inside are packed. Jam too much in toward the bottom of the pack and it can be difficult to fit items into the side pockets. I’d hope to see a fabric with a bit more give in future iterations of the Portero, making it easier to accommodate larger water bottles and the like.
The zippered outer pocket is spacious but quite shallow, allowing for quick access to less bulky items. As of writing this, mine is packed with my passport, front and rear bike lights, chargers for my phone and laptop, and my super-packable Topo Designs Ultralight Jacket. The zipper’s oversized cord loop and tab make opening and closing the outer pocket a breeze. A length of Cordura loops runs down the outside of the pocket for attaching accessories like your rear light, and a reflective Oveja Negra logo adds a bit of extra visibility for those unlucky moments when you forget it.
Inside, a single 16L compartment seems to swallow whatever I place in it. Being the cheapskate that I am, I’ve pushed the amount of stuff it can hold when using it as my carry-on item for a handful of flights (and likely the airline’s maximum allowable weight, too). A lime green interior lining aids in finding small items that slip into the bottom.
In cutting away the fluff, they also opted to leave out a laptop sleeve. Since I almost always carry my MacBook, that’s one feature I’d like to have back. A simple sleeve would make me feel a lot better about carrying groceries and my laptop at the same time, for example, while still keeping with the pack’s minimal design essence.
The adjustable shoulder straps are generously padded and quite wide, making the pack comfortable regardless of how much weight you’re hauling, within reason. Side compression straps keep contents from shifting around inside, and an optional sternum strap and waist belt ($10 each) provide extra stability for wearing the Portero on rowdier rides. I’ve been using the sternum strap on most rides, and its added security is noticeable. I’d consider it a worthwhile add-on. As for the hip belt, I’m personally not a fan of using them on anything less than a full-on hiking backpack.
Using the roll top, the pack’s capacity can expand to 22 liters, making it incredibly versatile. I think 16-22 liters hits the sweet spot between being able to carry mostly everything you might need and not encouraging overloading. Give me a 40-liter backpack and I’ll probably fill it to capacity (and regret it later). Two strips of velcro inside the roll top help ensure the pack closes securely. This is a small touch that offers some peace of mind when riding through the elements or hauling precious cargo. On top of that, a buckle and flap snug everything down even further.
Portero in Action
After more than four months of daily use, I’ve put the Portero through its paces in a wide variety of conditions and scenarios. Within days of receiving it, mine came with me on a three-day ride through the Rocky Mountains, where it served as my camera carrier and pillow. Shortly after that, I wore it on a weeklong bikepacking trip from London to Berlin. Since then, it’s been my constant commuting companion in Berlin, even toting a precious stack of our first edition of The Bikepacking Journal around the city. And I’m just back from my first ride after landing in Australia, where it held up well against the occasional rain and my first crash on the continent.
While the Portero isn’t fully waterproof, its mostly X-Pac construction does offer a reasonable amount of weather resistance. I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it for an extended period of time during a torrential downpour, but I’ve worn it for my fair share of rainy rides out in the real world and nothing inside has ended up even the least bit damp.
Like everything I’ve used from Oveja Negra, the Portero is built to exceedingly high standards. Their products don’t just look good; they’ve withstood everything I’ve thrown at them. Despite wearing it hundreds of times already, my pack looks and functions exactly the same as it did the day I bought it.
Limitations of a Minimalist Backpack
The reality of an ultra-refined backpack like this is that it’s not going to work for everyone’s needs, at least not off the shelf. If hydration bladder compatibility is a deal breaker for you, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Is a seam-sealed, fully waterproof pack a must? The Portero won’t fit the bill.
And though it’s perfectly comfortable, the back panel’s Cordura-only construction lacks substantial ventilation and means you’ll inevitably end up with a warmer back than you might using a pack that uses suspension, significant perforation, or other such systems to keep your back cool. That said, I’ve never met a pack that didn’t make my back run hot, so I’m not sure anyone has come up with a perfect solution just yet.
Lastly, while for the most part I consider the Portero’s lack of pockets, zippers, and flaps to be a feature, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to feel otherwise. Although, given the fact that they’re a small and innovative team, I’m sure the folks at Oveja Negra could sew up something like a laptop sleeve as a custom order if you were to get in touch.
Colors, Options, and Pricing
It’s clear that I’m not the only one who thinks the Portero is a damn good looking pack, as I’ve had about a dozen people comment on it since I started using it this summer. It’s a head turner, to be sure. The Portero is available in a range of colors, from classics like Coyote (the easy choice for me) and Black, to wilder combinations like Purple/MultiCam Tropic and Blue/MultiCam.
They’re also offering a separate version of the Portero called the Wack Pack. It has all the same features as the original, but is made from random, mismatched scraps. No two Wack Packs are exactly alike, and you never know what you’re going to get, though they promise that the scraps are tastefully mixed.
At $165 for the pack only, relative to similar offerings on the market, the Portero is priced somewhere in the middle of the… pack. It’s slightly less expensive than other handmade backpacks I’ve tried, but more costly than a pack from many of the larger brands. Overall, I think it’s fairly priced given the quality of materials and attention to detail that go into its construction. Further, I like that I can call or email to talk directly to the person who made my pack, and I’m willing to pay a premium for that. As an added bonus, they’ll warranty your gear in the unlikely event that problems arise.
- Roll-top, variable-volume design
- X-Pac® VX21 and Cordura® 500d construction
- Front zip zippered pocket
- Side stash pockets
- Side compression straps
- Bright interior lining to help see contents
- Reflective logo for added visibility
- Mil-Spec Cordura® webbing and Nexus® hardware
- Really good looking by any measure
- Reasonably priced for a high-quality, handmade bag
- Perfectly sized to suit most carrying needs
- Comfy shoulder straps make long days of wearing easier
- No laptop sleeve, you’ll need to provide your own
- Side pockets can be tricky to use when pack is full
- Back ventilation isn’t great
- Finish X-Pac® VX21 and Cordura® 500d
- Volume 16-22 liters
- Weight 19 oz
- Place of Manufacture Salida, Colorado, USA
- Price $165
- Manufacturer’s Details OvejaNegraBikepacking.com
Folks looking for a fully featured, Swiss Army knife kind of backpack that ticks every imaginable box might find the Portero somewhat lacking. Rightfully so, as that’s not what it aims to be. But if you’re looking for an eye-catching, no-nonsense backpack that was built to last, the Portero could be the ticket. In my experience, it’s exactly the right size to comfortably fit all of the essentials for daily life, and thanks to its roll-top closure, it can expand to fit bulkier items when needed. As for me, I’ve happily suspended my search for a new pack, and look forward to using the Portero for many years to come.
Special thanks to Tom Rooney (@roonsnake) for taking me out on my first overnighter in Australia, and for providing the photos of me with my Portero in the wild.