Home > Bags > PacSafe CitySafe 200 Review and Mod

PacSafe CitySafe 200 Review and Mod

Years ago, when I was living in Cuernavaca, I modified my backpack by putting metal screening across the bottom and sides to make it slash proof. When I was robbed, the thieves were only able to open my decoy pocket. What did they get? A banana and three tortillas, wrapped in a brightly colored handkerchief. (I’d have loved to have seen their faces when they opened the loot!)

So one of my avocations is the never-ending search for perfect travel bags, and I’ve been interested in ‘secure’ travel bags for a long time. I buy them, I make them, I search them out wherever I go, always eager to discover the next cool or useful feature.

This CitySafe bag has been on my acquisition list for over a year, but I wasn’t able to find the version I wanted in black. For my last trip, I made my Diva bag, and used it, but eventually decided that I really wanted the CitySafe, too, and I ordered it from REI.

Well, not precisely the bag you see above; that’s what I theoretically ordered. I bought mine in nondescript black, but it also comes in an attractive dark brown, tan, and the red above, which is actually more wine colored than bright red. But REI didn’t send me this exact bag — they sent the newer type, which doesn’t have that zipper you see on the left. The difference matters, as you’ll see below.

This CitySafe 200 comes with a slash-proof “exomesh” lining, and slash-proof straps. There are also clever ways to secure your main zipper, and to secure your bag around a bench, train seat (if you have bars underneath), chair, etc. Not so much an issue in this country, maybe, but pretty handy in quite a few other areas of the world, as noted above.

It’s almost perfect. But there are some issues, not relating to security, but to practicality. First of all, as mentioned, the new version doesn’t have that zipper you see above on the side of the water bottle pocket. The zipper pocket was barely adequate when it came to carrying a slim water bottle, but at least you could stuff one in if you had to.

It’s been replaced in the new version of the bag with a gusset — hidden elastic and netting (on the left in the photo above). The new pocket is completely useless — NONE of my vast collection of water bottles or super-slim, compact thermos units fit easily (or at all) into this travesty of a pocket.

So I modified it. I reached inside of the outer fabric flap (next to the front of the bag) and carefully cut the elastic and mesh along the seam line. (I put a safety pin at the end of the elastic first; if it had been in a casing, I didn’t want to have to re-thread it.) Here’s how it looked once I cut it open (the light color is the lining, folded over):

Then I whip-stitched the edges of the mesh and the elastic, and encased them in grosgrain ribbon, making sure to stitch the mesh in place at least three times. Hiding my stitches as carefully as possible, I stitched the grosgrain edge into the flap, hiding the edge inside. The result? A pocket large enough for a standard slim Nalgene:

Unfortunately, it’s not as deep as it should be (that’s a child’s Nalgene above). The last inch and a half of the pocket is useless because, instead of taking the gusset all the way to the bottom, PacSafe just pleated it closed. None the less, with my modification, at least the pocket’s now usable.

When I carry a tall Nalgene, I also clip a carabiner through the cap, just to make sure that I don’t lose the bottle if it pops out of the too-shallow pocket:

I also added a flat button and elastic loop to keep the gusset neatly closed when not carrying a water bottle:

(Great button, isn’t it? It’s exactly the size and shape of an M & M candy. I used it for the feet on my Diva bag, too, and I wish I could find more of them.)

Next up were the two flat pockets on the back side of the bag, closed with zippers. Very flat pockets — in fact, very flat, small, useless pockets. (I was alerted to these by reviewers on REI.com, as well as to the solution to the problem.)

Carefully removing the stitching that divides these pockets reveals one long, large pocket — perfect for maps, tickets, smaller guidebooks, etc.. Keeping any of those in your new pocket won’t require opening the main section of the bag, which is exactly what you’d have to do if you left these pockets small.

Happily the ‘two’ zippers aren’t two at all — once the midline stitching is gone, you’ve got two zipper heads on one long zipper — perfect! And you can even use a small padlock or cable to ‘lock’ them closed, if you wish.

Inside, this bag has lots of (mostly) well-designed interior pockets. A small pocket on one end is perfect for my chopsticks, and two sleeves on the other end hold pens. Along the side, though, is a whole section for credit cards. Really? Credit cards? Out in the open like that? Who even thinks of doing that anymore? I wanted (and needed) another pocket for my gear, so I sewed one up, and hand-tacked it in place:

That’s it on the left. On the outside, I put a smaller pocket for lip balm and my mini-flashlight. Can’t live without either. Looking at it now, I wish I’d made a box pocket, just like the ones PacSafe provided. (Maybe I’ll get ambitious and replace it one of these days.) That’s another really nice thing about this bag — it’s really beautifully made, inside and out. So many things are sewn sloppily these days — but not this bag!

There’s a smaller zipped interior pocket (inside out, above) that’s perfect for a wallet (that thing you actually use for your cards and small ID), a passport, and even a small notebook. A large, almost hidden, pocket lies behind the interior pockets, also with a zipper closure.

What else might I want to change? This bag doesn’t make into a backpack. However, the strap is highly adjustable, and the bag is flat and easy to wear — and worry-free, even in a large crowd, or mashed up against hundreds of humans in a subway. The strap adjusts small enough that I can carry it on my shoulder like a purse; it’s long enough so that the bag can be slung, quite low, across my body, too.

So I’m sold, but hey, PacSafe, people have been complaining about these things I had to mod for quite a while — how about addressing them? You’ve got a great bag here — I made mine fabulous! How about you doing the same?? I might even buy another one, next time in dark taupe (or what I’d call brown).

Note: REI shows the zipper bag on their website, but will send you the gusset version, which is also what’s now stocked in their stores. At least in their stores in the three states that I personally checked. Harrumph.

By the way, this bag also comes in a smaller, purse-sized, version — the CitySafe100. If you travel lighter than I do, it’s pretty neat. Of course, you’ll lose about 1/3 of the space of the 200, and as for the water bottle? No way!

Categories: Bags Tags:
  1. jillian
    April 29th, 2010 at 07:01 | #1

    Hey Noile, I just brought this bag and they’ve made the changes you suggested – the back pocket is now just one big pocket, and i’ve had no problems fitting a 600ml drink bottle in the pocket. After reading your review i thought i would make the same changes until my bag arrived 😀

    So maybe, just maybe pacsafe really does listen to customers 🙂

    • April 29th, 2010 at 10:49 | #2

      Wow, thanks for the note, Jillian. When I wrote the review, I sent my list of issues along to PacSafe and got a really nice email back, telling me that they’d sent my suggestions on to the design team. I know the water bottle issue had been a sore point with a lot of other reviewers, too. I’m impressed — I think they really do care about feedback! Pretty cool — how often do you see that??

  2. October 3rd, 2008 at 19:41 | #3

    I’ve been using my bag daily now since I modified it, and it really is a fantastic bag. Being able to carry a water bottle makes all the difference.

    PacSafe sent me a great email, explaining the pocket issue, but family issues have prevented posting lately. There’s a new bag due out this fall, so you might watch for that.

  3. Heather
    September 12th, 2008 at 21:15 | #4

    I totally agree with the side pocket that you have mentioned and I am excited to see what you have done to the pockets as I have ruined one bag and would try these new ideas on it before I would buy another bag even though I really liked this bag.

  1. No trackbacks yet.