One of the (very hidden) blessings of quarantine is being able to catch up on years of pop culture that I missed. For the past few months, I’ve been obsessed with The Expanse book series and television show.
If you, like me, have been living under a rock, The Expanse (binge it here) is the revolutionary television phenomenon that has been making WIRED writers lose our collective shit for the past five years. The crew of the spaceship Rocinante travel around space, dealing with interplanetary strife in a lived-in universe that hews to actual scientific principles.
In a recent Gadget Lab podcast episode, my colleague Alan Henry told me that the distinctive duffels in The Expanse are not props. They’re real. You can buy them! They're called Tarmac EPO duffel bags, and they're made by OnSight, a technical bag manufacturer based in British Columbia. They were on sale, so I bought a 100-liter version as my new gear duffel (and also to cosplay as Naomi Nagata).
I brought it on a camping trip last weekend, and, reader: It was so good that I came home and immediately bought another one. Thank you, The Expanse. You’ve helped me even more than you know.
When I asked OnSight’s manager of business development and marketing, Jens Ourom, how the duffels had shown up in The Expanse, he said he had no idea. “Sometimes these orders go in and we don’t even know they’re intended for production. It’s at the point where sometimes we’re just as surprised as anyone to see them appear on a show,” Ourom said.
If you participate in any gear-intensive sports, you’re probably familiar with expedition duffels. They’re large, burly, usually waterproof bags that have big openings and no compartments so you can stuff them full of weird-sized gear.
My husband and I have shared an ancient Mountain Hardwear expedition duffel for years (similar to this one) to keep our snowboarding, surfing, and camping gear together in the car. With the arrival of our two children, we needed another one to haul their tiny camping chairs, tiny sleeping bags, and three thousand stuffed animals.
Enter OnSight’s Tarmac duffel. It comes in different sizes, with capacities ranging from 50 liters to 140 liters. The 100-liter version can fit everything my four-person family needs for shelter, like a stand-up tent, vestibule, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags.
It’s light—under 3 pounds for the 50-liter version—and has reinforced seams, a yawning D-shaped opening, comfortable padded grab handles, and fitted, padded backpack straps. I’m 5'2" and I can cinch the backpack straps tight enough for me to wear it comfortably while hiking.
Most importantly, the bag is also environmentally friendly. It’s made from Cotec EPO, a tarpaulin material that’s free of polyvinyl chloride. When PVC is inhaled as a gas—mostly during the manufacturing process—it can have dangerous side effects, including liver, lung, and kidney damage.
“PVC is not something we’re comfortable having in our product or in our supply chain,” said Ourum. “When Cotec EPO is combusted, it’s entirely inert and nontoxic. Even if you were to put a flame to it, it wouldn’t create any toxic materials.”
Because it’s water-resistant and the zippers are covered, I’ve been using it as a paddle-packing dry bag. I’ve loaded it up in canoes and on paddleboards, and all our things—including our full-size pillows—have stayed dry. It can also withstand pretty extreme temperature environments; the tarpaulin is designed to stay flexible even around -40 degrees Celsius, so I’m looking forward to loading it up with snowboarding gear once the weather turns.
It's pretty durable too. I’ve only taken ours out on two camping trips so far, but so far it’s withstood pretty harsh treatment. “That’s the most sustainable thing you can do, is to build a bag that will really last,” said Ourom.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from The Expanse, it’s that people can’t seem to leave their problems behind, even in space. We learn early on that every member of the Roci's crew has a shady past that they attempted to flee, and failed. The first time I see the OnSight duffels in the show, they're packing them full of guns to recover a scientist’s kidnapped young daughter. To help right a wrong, they have to go back to their violent ways. Even in space, people are still capable of being fearful, short-sighted, selfish—and selfless.
I understand that many people who are currently social-distancing don’t have the means, or able bodies, to get away as my family does. We also make every attempt to stay as safe as possible—staying within an hour or two of our home, not camping with any other families, going to immense effort to paddle and haul our gear as far away from other people as possible.
Any escape the OnSight duffel provides is temporary, at best. At the end of every weekend, I bring the duffel back into my garage with me, where I lurk during the week, attempting to type and take phone calls while my kids’ daycare remains closed, the kids run amok, and I wonder if my 3-year-old will ever be potty-trained.
Still, for now, those few days of pretending this is a normal summer weekend, in a normal year, make it possible to continue on. That, and watching The Expanse every night. At least I haven't had a reason to buy mech armor … yet.
Editor's note: If you start watching The Expanse, commit to getting through all of season 1, or commit to coming back a second time and trying again. It's dense for a few episodes, but soon gets amazing.