When my son needed a strong and rugged new backpack to replace his well-loved STM Drifter, he bought another of the same. Unfortunately, they aren’t the same backpack at all, as he explains in this review….
It seems like STM Goods has succumbed to the lure of lowering product quality to cut costs. I purchased a new STM Drifter 18L backpack to replace my old, red STM drifter backpack, as I had hoped it would be the backpack I never strayed from. I’ve been using the old backpack since 2014 and treated myself to a new one in the hope that it would deliver in the same way its predecessor did. Unfortunately, the new model backpack is the antithesis of everything I liked about the old model.
The old model had phenomenal back padding, a strong and reliable handle, see-through mesh on the inside, and additional pockets to organize cords, cards, and whatever else I needed to have with me. By comparison, the new model has a cheaper, less comfortable back padding as well as a flimsy excuse of a handle that is more of a cosmetic item than a functional part of the pack (see photo comparison against my older red Drifter backpack, below). I worry when I hold the backpack with the handle because I don’t want it to break and cause me to drop the bag and potentially damage my computer inside.
The mesh on the inside pocket is no longer wire-like and see-through, but a rather underwhelming new fabric that’s something you would expect to see on 70s mesh athletic shorts. It is now very difficult to see through, and if you were to keep USB drives or anything of comparable size in there, good luck remembering it’s there because you definitely won’t be seeing it when you peek in your bag to grab some gear.
Something great about the old mesh was that it helped hold the shape of the top of the backpack, which was so helpful because the flap was (and is!) large and covered the entire top. Keeping the shape helped minimize crushed items and helped utilize space in the top of the bag. It also helped create a functional pocket on the outside top flap. The new model’s material doesn’t offer this subtle benefit, which now means that if there is any weight in it, it crushes the inside of the backpack and the other pocket on the flap.
Lastly, the interior pockets really stink. There are no longer any inside pockets in the Drifter, which means no way to organize things other than to dump them in and hope for the best. The older model had an additional interior pocket that was great for storing cords (computer charger, cables, etc) that allowed them to be separate from the other interior items. It also had two other organizational slots in addition to the laptop and tablet slots. The new model is missing all these useful pockets on the inside.
Similarly, the outside pockets in the older model also had organizational slots that allowed for storage and organization of smaller items, like business cards or things of like size, which is noticeably missing in the current model.
The only reason that I purchased this backpack is that my old one is so worn and dirty that I wanted to treat myself to a newer, different color of the same great bag. Instead of being excited about using the new bag, however, I am now thinking about how I can clean up the old backpack so that I can go back to using a phenomenal bag. I have loved STM Goods since purchasing the older model and even recommended the brand to my family, two of whom ended up buying bags and loving them. My dad got a computer bag and my sister a backpack, both of which are still in use. They were purchased from STM before the revamp and cost-cutting. Worth noting is that the cost-cutting is on their end; All of these products have the same price tag they did years ago.
STM stands for “Smarter Than Most” and the brand prides itself on “intuitive” products. While this was once true, it no longer is. The company would benefit greatly by scrutinizing the ways they have cut quality in favor of cost, as I imagine many returning customers feel the same way I do. Perhaps the next revision of the Drifter will bring back all the great features they removed, but until then, cleaning up my 2014 backpack might just be my next step.