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Choosing the Right Backpack for Your Needs

Since grade school, backpacks have become a daily essential in helping organize and carry items. In this backpack buyer’s guide we selected a handful of backpacks that are versatile, functional, and stylish to add to your daily rotation.

The backpack may be the most important and influential piece to the carry community. Its history stems deep for as long as humans have carried loads on their back to the original Knapsack patented in 1878 by Merriam Knapsack, which used an external sheet metal frame and was invented for use by the US Army.

A couple of years later, Camille Poirier of Duluth built something different, a durable canvas bag secured by straps and buckles with a square shape to fit easily at the bottom of a canoe. This eventually led to the design by Ole F. Bergan, who introduced softer materials of a sack to the light tubular steel of his version.

Eventually, as patents expired and new designs were introduced, backpacks continued to be improved upon with innovations from the addition of zippers, lighter weight materials, internal frames, hip-belts, and suspension technology. Today, backpacks come in all shapes and sizes and are made from various materials.

While backpacks are technically any bag that you carry on your back with two shoulder straps, there are a multitude of styles on the market for various uses from travel packs to hiking backpacks and specialized packs such as camera packs that help carry equipment. Yet, the day pack is the most recognized and used today. As the name implies, day packs are used daily and are traditionally smaller, lightweight, and have just enough storage for a day’s worth of gear.

There are a few things to consider when choosing a backpack, including the type of activity that it will be used for, the overall capacity, the fit, and the features. Backpacks are tailormade for various activities whether it’s for work and fitting a laptop or built tough to survive days in the wild.

Capacity matters when deciding how much gear you’ll be able to pack. The fit is important as there are packs made for various activities, body types, and gender. The pack’s features need to be considered as this includes the number of pockets, the materials and construction, the organization, and the style.

Bellroy
Classic Backpack Plus

Bellroy Classic Backpack green front Bellroy Classic Backpack green back Bellroy Classic Backpack cellphone pocket Bellroy Classic inside

Highlights:
The Bellroy Classic Backpack Plus features dual compartment carry in one streamlined backpack. The classic-style backpack is packed with features including a padded section with waterproof zip access to the laptop compartment, multiple interior pockets, and a hidden stretch pocket to hide belongings such as keys or a wallet. A vertical front pocket stores small essentials. Constructed from water-resistant woven fabric and available in multiple colors.

Dimensions: 20.87 x 14.96 x 9.06 in.
Capacity: 22L
Weight: 2 lbs. 3.2 oz.

Our Opinion:
The design and overall style of this pack is classic and timeless. The details of this pack showcase highly considered design from the leather pulls and accents to the weatherproof zippers and organization compartments. Each piece has a deliberate function and creates one cohesive design. The combination of colors is fun and fashion-forward. The padded back and contoured shoulder straps are very comfortable even with a full pack. Combine this with the fact that the pack is made with recycled materials and also features a 3-year warranty and you have a contender for one the best packs on the market.

MSRP: $179
bellroy.com

DSPTCH
Daypack

DSPTCH Daypack black front DSPTCH Daypack black back DSPTCH Daypack strapped with laptop DSPTCH Daypack inside

Highlights:
The DSPTCH Daypack features a suspended laptop compartment, tablet sleeve, internal water bottle pockets, and a built-in cord management system. The exterior is constructed with a water-repelling 18-ounce waxed canvas with a 410D nylon packcloth lining and a DWR coating for weather resistance. The straps are made with seatbelt webbing and feature Duraflex plastic hardware. The pack is made entirely in the USA and is available in multiple colors and materials.

Dimensions: 13 x 17 x 7 in.
Capacity: 22L
Weight: 3 lbs. 5 oz.

Our Opinion:
The DSPTCH Daypack is made with quality materials and constructed to last a lifetime. The design is sleek and well-thought-out for functionality. The pack is lightweight and comfortable when carrying it fully loaded. The suspended laptop sleeve fits up to a 15-inch laptop and protects well enough that we felt comfortable using it without a laptop case. The pack is stylish for daily use in the city and this particular collaboration with 3sixteen adds a durable finish and soft tonal leather detail. The addition of the luggage strap makes it convenient to nest with luggage while traveling. This is one of the best packs we tested and worth the investment.

MSRP: $325.00 3sixteen special edition / $198.00 (ballistic nylon version)
dsptch.com

Mission Workshop
The Fraction

Mission Workshop The Fraction Backpack black front Mission Workshop The Fraction backpack black back Mission Workshop The Fraction Mission Workshop The Fraction velcro pocket

Highlights:
The Mission Workshop The Fraction backpack is a smaller version of their best-selling Sanction Rucksack. Built for everyday use with ample gear organization, stash pockets, and an internal laptop compartment that fits up to a 13-inch laptop or tablet. Constructed with 1000D nylon, urethane coated zippers, multiple weatherproof compartments, and waterproof materials. An internal frame sheet helps keep the pack’s structure and provide support. The pack is made in the USA, comes in multiple colorways, and features a guaranteed forever warranty.

Dimensions: 11 x 18 x 4 in.
Capacity: 14L
Weight: 2 lbs. 8 oz.

Our Opinion:
One of our favorite packs tested, the Mission Workshop The Fraction backpack is a solid choice for a daily pack. The ruck-style pack and weather-proof materials ensure your belongings are safe from the elements. The main compartment is deep to hold plenty of items and there are just enough zippered storage options for organization. This smaller size is great for laptop-free day trips or for smaller body types. We appreciate the tonal black colorway with a style that fits the city.

MSRP: $185
missionworkshop.com

Pelican
Dayventure Backpack Cooler

Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler gold front Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler gold front pocket Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler gold back Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler inside fits six cans

Highlights:
The Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler is a versatile, durable backpack that features dual insulated storage compartments. The bottom compartment is a dedicated cooler with a leak-resistant zipper that can keep items cold with ice for a day and fits up to six canned beverages. The roll-top opening can be used to keep food dry and cool or as a traditional backpack compartment for items such as clothes. The exterior outer shell is weather-resistant, durable, and leak-proof. Available in two colors.

Dimensions: 10 x 7.10 x 21.70 in.
Capacity: 18.36L
Weight: 9 lbs. 4.8 oz.

Our Opinion:
This is a unique backpack and works well for those who want the ability to keep their lunch and/or beverages cold throughout the day. The pack’s ability to stand upright is a nice touch. The dry compartment provides ample storage for items such as clothing and gadgets. The pack is heavier than others tested but given the construction and purpose, it’s expected. This isn’t meant to be used with a laptop as there is no internal sleeve or pocket.

MSRP: MSRP: $250
pelican.com

The Brown Buffalo
Hillside

Brown Buffalo Hillside backpack green front Brown Buffalo Hillside side pocket Brown Buffalo Hillside backpack green back Brown Buffalo Hillside laptop sleeve

Highlights:
The Brown Buffalo Hillside backpack features heavy-duty Stormproof Nylon, two exterior zippered pockets, two side pockets, and one large main compartment. The padded laptop sleeve fits a 15-inch laptop. The interior is highlighted by a lightly padded organizational sleeve with a pocket for magazines or a tablet, two smaller sleeves for other items, and a keyring.

Our Opinion:
A very well made pack from a veteran in the bagmaking industry, Douglas Davidson. The Brown Buffalo Hillside is one of his latest creations that is built tough. The Stormproof nylon is weatherproof and the rucksack design also helps to protect the valuables inside. We found the pack to have plenty of storage capacity and organization with multiple exterior pockets and interior sleeves. The side pockets are large enough to hold bigger sized water bottles. Having the ability to access the main compartment and the laptop compartment while the top is still snapped closed is a bonus. The pack is large in size and a little bit on the heavier side, yet it is very comfortable when in use due to the contoured and padded straps.

MSRP: (Because this is a brand-new design, exact dimensions and MSRP were unavailable at press time.)
thebrownbuffalo.com

Incase
Icon Backpack

Incase Icon backpack black front Incase Icon backpack black back Incase Icon inside pen pocket Incase Icon sunglasses pocket

Highlights:
The Incase Icon features multiple compartments and organization for large and smaller items and fits up to a 15-inch MacBook Pro. The backpack is made with durable 840D nylon construction with adjustable padded shoulder straps and a sternum strap for secure and comfortable carrying. A dedicated side-access iPad pocket ensures quick accessibility while on the go. Available in multiple colors, materials, as well as a slim version and mini version.

Dimensions: 19 x 13 x 9 in.
Capacity: 17L

Our Opinion:
It’s no wonder the Incase Icon backpack has won many awards. The progressive design manages to supply ample storage and organization in the otherwise sleek pack. The pack is lightweight, comfortable, and well padded for protection. The organization is abundant with pockets and sleeves throughout the backpack, including a handy power pocket with integrated cable port to allow for quick charging of your device. The signature, Incase, soft faux fur lining in both the laptop compartment and sunglasses pocket is a nice detail. Overall, we found this backpack to be as functional as it is stylish and great for daily use.

MSRP: $200
incase.com

Mystery Ranch
Prizefighter

Mystery Ranch Prizefighter backpack gray front Mystery Ranch Prizefighter gray sideview Mystery Ranch Prizefighter backpack gray back Mystery Ranch Prizefighter gray inside pockets

Highlights:
The Mystery Ranch Prizefighter is a new panel loader-style backpack with one large compartment with a floating, padded laptop sleeve that fits up to a 15-inch laptop and additional organizational sleeves. Two smaller exterior pockets provide extra organization. Constructed from durable 500D CORDURA fabric and coated YKK zippers. A haul loop handle provides easy grab and go capability. Available in three colors.

Dimensions: 19 x 11.5 x 10 in.
Capacity: 21L
Weight: 2 lbs. 1.6 oz.

Our Opinion
The same quality and performance expected from the highly-respected outdoor pack brand, but in a lightweight and minimalist style designed for urban environments. The Mystery Ranch Prizefighter is straight-forward in its design. Built to last with basic organization for daily use. The pack is very lightweight and the padded back and shoulder pads add comfort. Despite not having a ton of features, this pack has the quality that Mystery Ranch has become known for. It’s a value at its price point.

MSRP: $125
mysteryranch.com

Wandrd
VEER Packable Backpack

Wandrd VEER packable backpack black front Wandrd VEER Packable Backpack black Wandrd VEER packable unzipped cellphone pocket Wandrd VEER Packable Backpack black back

Highlights:
The Wandrd VEER packable backpack features an inflatable back panel and inflatable camera cube (sold separately). Features include a theft-deterrent buckle, quick draw side access, weather-resistant zippers, an expandable water bottle pocket, and organization pockets. The pack is constructed from weather-resistant materials N100D Robic Dynatec and N210D Robic HD Oxford. Available in three colorways

Dimensions: 18 x 11 x 9 in.
Packed Dimensions: 6 x 9 x 2 in.
Capacity: 18L
Weight: 12.8 oz.

Our Opinion:
A unique and portable solution for travel. Weighing just under 13 ounces with the ability to fold down to be packed definitely can come in handy. The quick-inflatable back panel is easy to use. We found the back panel to provide ample support, and it can double as a pillow or protection for the pack’s contents. The inflatable camera cube comes in clutch to protect your expensive gear including DSLRs.

MSRP: $99
wandrd.com

Thule
Subterra Backpack 30L

Thule Subterra Backpack front Thule Subterra Backpack back Thule Subterra side pocket Thule Subterra inside pockets

Highlights:
The Thule Subterra Backpack is large and durable with electronics protection and a PowerPocket to manage cords between your device and mobile charger. The pack features a padded laptop sleeve with SafeEdge construction to fit up to a 15-inch laptop, a dedicated tablet storage pocket, and multiple compartments and storage pockets. A zippered side pocket and expandable side pocket help keep items safely stored and accessible. The backpack is constructed from heavy-duty, durable 800D nylon. Available in 5 colors.

Dimensions: 15.2 x 9.1 x 19.7 in.
Capacity: 30L
Weight: 2 lbs. 9 oz.

Our Opinion:

This is a very versatile and sleek backpack. It is a tech-friendly option from the laptop compartment with multiple access points to the Power Pocket. The padded and breathable back and contoured shoulder straps are comfortable without leaving your back sweaty after a day’s use. We found the pack to provide ample storage and can be used daily as well for travel. The luggage pass-through strap is convenient while on the road. This is the best bang for the buck.

MSRP: $140
thule.com

Xactly
Oxygen 25

Xactly Oxygen 25 Backpack front Xactly Oxygen 25 Backpack back Xactly Oxygen 25 charging station Xactly Oxygen 25 inside cell phone pocket

Highlights:
The Xactly Oxygen 25 is constructed with 900D GRS certified post-consumer recycled polyester. The pack’s central compartment is the main access point and hub for the system, which includes a built-in USB AC connector to allow internal and external charging. A water-resistant exterior charging port can be accessed via the logo plate. The inside of the traditional front-zip, top access compartment features wireless charging pockets and zipped organizational compartments. The exterior features two expandable pockets. Available in two colors.

Dimensions: 17.6” x 11” x 7”
Capacity: 25L
Weight: 2 lbs. 4.8 oz.

Our Opinion:
The most tech-integrated pack with a well-thought-out design that allows for charging while on the go. The pack is organized with several zippered compartments starting with the main front compartment with a built-in charging cable and portable battery pocket to the faux-fur lined and padded laptop sleeve. The padded back panel we found breathable and comfortable. Nice details include the built-in charging cable port that opens cleverly from underneath the badged logo to the magnetic closure cable hideaways built into the bag straps designed to hide earbud cables.

MSRP: $160
URL: xactlylife.com

 

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2019 print issue of EDC Magazine

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