Reviews You Can Rely On

Outdoor Research Rangefinder Review

This is a fresh look at the messenger bag, light and easy to use
Outdoor Research Rangefinder
Outdoor Research Rangefinder
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Price:  $129 List
Pros:  Comfortable, versatile, lightweight, durable
Cons:  Shoulder strap is long, organization is minimal
Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research
By Lyra Pierotti ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 26, 2017
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  • Comfort - 25% 9.0
  • Packing & Organization - 25% 6.0
  • Electronics - 15% 6.0
  • Ease of Use - 15% 8.0
  • Wear & Tear - 10% 8.0
  • Volume Weight Ratio - 10% 10.0

Our Verdict

The Outdoor Research Rangefinder was Discontinued in the Fall of 2017
Outdoor Research has a knack for designing quality products and developing a strong and loyal consumer base. With the Rangefinder they've done it again, creating a product that continued to provide pleasant surprises and integrate seamlessly into our daily routines. The Rangefinder won our Top Pick Award for Multifunctional Messenger. It is the avid outdoors person's answer to the messenger bag: it combines features from a top loading backpack and a duffel into the messenger format. It is soft and supple, making it easy to pack awkward items such as helmets, while still accommodating binders, books, and electronics.

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Rangefinder is an excellent, durable, and easy-to-use messenger bag that became one of our reviewers' favorite bags to spend the day with.

Outdoor Research Rangefinder messenger bag - rangefinder messenger bag
Rangefinder messenger bag
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Performance Comparison

The Rangefinder scored third overall in our review, with many useful features and an excellent, lightweight, and durable design. We appreciated the novelty and simplicity of the bag.


The Rangefinder was the most comfortable bag in this review, largely due to the fully padded shoulder strap and the soft and supple materials used. The cross strap is very easy to adjust (or get out of the way) for left or right shoulder carries (though the quick-adjust clamping buckle is easier to adjust when slung over left shoulder). The padded strap did limit adjustability, making it just barely snug enough for our smaller testers.

The material is very similar in feel to the Patagonia Black Hole, and the suppleness helps the bag position itself surprisingly well on your back, whether you're toting soft and bulky loads like clothing and gear, or sharp and dense ones like books and electronics. We even crammed a ski helmet into this bag without compromising comfort!

Outdoor Research Rangefinder messenger bag - the rangefinder messenger bag has a super comfortable shoulder...
The Rangefinder messenger bag has a super comfortable shoulder strap, though the padding throughout limits its adjustability.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

The Rangefinder was comfortable to carry in the steeply inclined, classic "messenger" style, as a shoulder bag thrown over one shoulder, or carried by the handle like a briefcase. And it remained impressively comfortable even when overstuffed for our overly ambitious daily adventures.


The Rangefinder messenger bag held an impressive amount of gear for our daily adventures. The bag is somewhat different from the classic messenger bag, and seems inspired by the features we love about a simple duffel bag: Toss everything in this bag, cinch it and zip it closed, and it's secure for your commute home. The buckles are effectively compression straps, which we found let us squeeze in two more liters in the OGL Volume Test than the closest competition (which was the Chrome Buran). However, if you need to keep folders and documents neat, flat, and tidy, this may not be your bag. Our folders got a few new dog ears in this bag.

The small item organization pouch on the outside of the bag is a little chaotic and has no specific sleeves for pens and pencils, but if you're a throw-and-go type, you'll love it. As such, this is not the best office or school bag. For a better office bag, check out the Timbuk2 Command or the Mobile Edge ECO. And for pleasing organizational schemes, we really appreciated the Timbuk2 Classic, as well as the Chrome Mini Metro.

the outdoor research rangefinder messenger bag gobbled up our gear...
The Outdoor Research Rangefinder messenger bag gobbled up our gear in our Test Load.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Getting back to organizational features, the outer pocket zipper ends a little close to the pockets just under and inside, making it hard to get into those pockets, especially with an odd shaped or large load.

the rangefinder messenger bag has a simple organizational system.
The Rangefinder messenger bag has a simple organizational system.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

There is no Velcro on the outer flap to help position or hold the bag closed, which is nice for a quiet and unceremonious entry into the library or your Monday morning meetings (no awkward Velcro ripping noises), but this causes the flap to bunch up sometimes. With Velcro, you can just slap the flap closed, throw it over a shoulder, and bust out the door for a quick coffee trip, or when hustling to make it to a last-minute rendezvous. That said, the bag's geometry is well balanced so when you grab the handle the flap doesn't open if it isn't buckled, and the load is still relatively secure due to the drawstring inner closure.

The Rangefinder gobbled up gear, not unlike the Patagonia Black Hole, boasting our highest measured volume (22L, though Outdoor Research only reports 18L capacity) in the OGL Volume Test, and accommodating everything but the helmet in our OGL Load Test. Only the largest bags in this review packed everything but the helmet, including the Chrome Buran II, the Patagonia Black Hole, and the Osprey Flapjack.


The weatherproof nature of this bag that hails from the rainy Pacific Northwest is the strongest reason to purchase this bag for your electronics. The organization theme and features are not the best for the business or tech user, but the padding and protection are certainly adequate, especially if you frequently brave a rainy commute on foot or bike. The waterproof material and inner drawstring closure ensure a good seal against the elements.

the rangefinder messenger bag isn't the best bag for electronics...
The Rangefinder messenger bag isn't the best bag for electronics, but it has adequate compartments, padding, and excellent waterproofing that it performed perfectly fine.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Ease of Use

One of our favorite features of this bag was the supple and light, weatherproof fabric. This made it nice to handle, but it also affected performance. In our OGL Volume Test, the supple fabric let us cram two more liters into the front zippered pocket without bulging inward and taking away from any internal capacity. This bag was one of few in the review which had usable front pockets when we overstuffed the bags, along with the Osprey Flapjack and the Chrome Buran.

While we loved the fully padded shoulder strap, it did have one pitfall: it limited the amount you could shorten the strap. For our smaller users, it was just barely small enough to be secure on our OGL Ride Test. We appreciated the padding, but it could have a little less without sacrificing comfort for adjustability.

the types of adjustable buckles featured in this review.
The types of adjustable buckles featured in this review.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

At times, the lid felt small, and would just barely cover the contents, especially when stuffing bulky clothing inside--but the drawstring closure and compression closure straps help to minimize this issue, it just took a moment more of wrangling, stuffing, and compressing, and we felt confident venturing out into the rain again.

Velcro on the inside of the flap would help the lid closure feel more secure and be more weatherproof — many of the other bags in this review have that — but the drawstring closure for the main compartment helped to secure the contents for a quick move when we didn't take a moment to snap the buckles closed. In this way, it felt like we could grab the bag and stuff things in it like our favorite backpacking or climbing backpack--a nice nostalgic moment that conjured images of our favorite weekend backcountry trips.

Wear and Tear

Outdoor Research has its roots in Seattle, commercial hub of the rainy Pacific Northwest. It was no surprise to us, therefore, that the Rangefinder was impeccably designed to keep the contents dry. The welded seams and weather-ready zippers in the Rangefinder make it an excellent choice for bike commutes in rainy weather.

In our OGL Weather Test, the matte fabric wetted out but the glossy didn't, and nothing inside got wet. Another less obvious feature that improved this bag's performance in wet weather was the fact that it was easy and fast to close the bag. The drawstring closure let us yard on the string and tuck the contents under the lid in a flash when a downpour caught us mid-gear-shuffle.

the rangefinder messenger bag is stylish even when wet--and keeps...
The Rangefinder messenger bag is stylish even when wet--and keeps everything dry inside.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Volume/Weight Ratio

The Rangefinder weighed in at an impressive 1.64 lbs, the lightest in this review. With an impressive 22-liter measured volume and an impeccable ability to gobble up gear, it also scored highest in our volume to weight calculation. If fast and light commutes are your way of life, this is likely a bag for you.

the rangefinder messenger bag has an impressively high capacity...
The Rangefinder messenger bag has an impressively high capacity, especially for its light weight.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Best Applications

The Rangefinder is ideal for travel, bike commutes, and some business use. It is super durable, making it a great choice for international travel or rugged daily use, while not looking too flashy or outdoorsy. The retro faux leather details are stylish, but more weatherproof and lighter weight than real leather would be.

This bag will accommodate a laptop in the nicely padded sleeve, though the rounder frame of the bag makes it less of a business- or school-specific bag.

the cat-in-the-sun test really told us a lot about the bags in this...
The Cat-in-the-Sun test really told us a lot about the bags in this review. We're not sure what it told us, but we're sure there's something to be learned.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti


Outdoor Research has an excellent warranty policy they call their Infinite Guarantee: if one of their products fails to meet your needs at any time, they'll replace it. And they mean it. The Rangefinder is mid-priced for the category, the same price, in fact, as the Patagonia Black Hole. Also similarly, you can feel good about the purchase knowing you have a high-quality product backed by a reputation for excellence.


the rangefinder messenger bag was even comfortable when carrying a...
The Rangefinder messenger bag was even comfortable when carrying a ski helmet inside.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

The Rangefinder is great for the grab and go user who can't be bothered by organization, but just wants to throw stuff in a bag, zip it up, cinch it down, and know it'll all be there when they get to point B. It is a great bag for the duffel bag lover! Just throw and go.

Outdoor Research is based in the Pacific Northwest, like several of our reviewers, who have remarked that it is a big company with the feel of your local neighborhood gear shop. They write soulful blogs about the outdoors. They're socially conscious and are willing to engage in difficult conversations that crop up in the outdoor industry (and beyond). And they make some seriously rugged and functional technical clothing for all genders.

We did not expect the Rangefinder to edge out competition from the iconic messenger bag companies Timbuk2 and Chrome, but we put a lot of thought into our metrics, and in every test and category, this bag just barely edged ahead. It's not a classic messenger bag — far from it, in fact — but we enjoyed it more and more, the more we used it. If it's a fit for you, we hope you enjoy it, too.

Lyra Pierotti
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