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Gear Guides

The Best Backpacks For EDC

By PS Staff

Updated Oct 05, 2020

56 min read

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When people talk about everyday carry, the conversations typically surround smaller pieces of pocketable gear — wallets (which we’ve touched on in our best EDC wallets guide), knives watches, etc. And while those all fit the contemporary idea of EDC, there’s actually another category of gear that predates the entire idea of everyday carry by a wider margin than the rest of its pocketable counterparts — the only exception being, perhaps, knives (as they’re also known as mankind’s oldest tool). That category is, of course, bags. Though there have been as many variations of these haulers over the generations as you can shake your fist at, there are a few that have stood the test of time.

Perhaps the most impactful bag style in the modern era, backpacks are as exceedingly simple in concept as they are remarkably versatile in their utility. Furthermore, they come in just about every shape, size, and style imaginable. There are even absurdly tiny and completely oversized versions, if only for novelty’s sake. The greater point, perhaps, is that backpacks are more widely available than just about any other type of bag around. Their abundance is also marked by a huge variety of appearances, materials, capacities, and more — meaning there’s an option out there for just about any needs and/or desires. As is the case with all gear and equipment, however, some are made better than others. It’s with this in mind that we procured and tested out what we believe to be the 10 best backpacks for EDC that you can get your hands on right now.

The 10 Best Backpacks

Our Picks

As is the case with just about every piece of everyday carry gear — or any category of gear, for that matter — choosing the perfect backpack is a deeply personal process. That being the case, we’re hoping these hands-on looks might help you get a bit closer to finding the right one for you. Whether you’re an urbanite with a taste for outdoor adventure or an office-going bicycle commuter, there’s an EDC backpack here for you.

Mystery Ranch In and Out

Best Packable Backpack

If you’re limited on space — either in your home, your car, or on your person — a packable backpack can be a huge boon. Not only do many of them have all the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from traditional bags, but they’re designed to collapse for easier, out-of-the-way storage and transport. There are definitely some compromises made in favor of packability, but that’s a tradeoff worth making in some cases — especially when it comes to the Mystery Ranch In and Out bag you see here.

Form: For those who are unaware, Mystery Ranch is headquartered out of Bozeman, Montana and has been making some of the absolute best outdoor-focused bags for hiking, hunting, the military, and more since their founding in 2000. As such, there’s an inherently “outdoor” edge to the appearance of their offerings, including the In and Out backpack you see here. In fact, it’s actually designed to be a hiking daypack. That being said, its collapsibility, wide variety of colorways, and 19L capacity make it pretty spectacular in daily carry scenarios, as well — so long as you can look past the outdoorsy elements of its design.

What might help tip the scales in this bag’s favor is the fact that it’s so remarkably lightweight — clocking in at a grand total of just one pound. This is due to two factors: it’s completely free of any kind of padding — including on its back panel and shoulder straps — and it’s built primarily from ultralight 100D Cordura Mini Rip nylon. That, paired with laddered modular webbing on the front and shoulder straps, does add to the outdoor-ready appearance, but the sheer usefulness, durability, and weight-saving properties — in our opinion — more than make up for that factor in an EDC context.

We’d be doing this bag a disservice if we didn’t talk about its packability, as well. When collapsed into its integrated stuff sack, this bag takes up less room than a softball. In fact, because of the malleability of its cloth, it can even fit into spaces tighter than one might think. It’s even small enough to stash in a larger jacket pocket or desk drawer, which earns it bonus points in an EDC context. No, it’s not the sleekest-designed backpack on our list, but it definitely doesn’t look bad expanded or collapsed.

Function: As we already mentioned, this bag expands to a full-sized 19L backpack but collapses down to a soft pad that’s smaller than a softball. However, that’s only the beginning of its versatility and usefulness. On the bag’s front, there is a zippered mesh pouch for small items you might want quick access to (it’s worth noting that the mesh is partially see-through, so prying eyes will be able to check out your haul), dual laddered webbing for small modular attachments (like a keychain carabiner, hand sanitizer, or a multi-tool), and a small zippered top-access pocket that’s still easy to access but isn’t quite as out-in-the-open. Plus, there’s an elastic water bottle pocket on the bag’s right-hand size, which is nice for those who have a hydration obsession, and compression straps for extra stability regardless of load size.

The main, top-accessed zippered compartment makes up the bulk of the 19L capacity and is largely unstructured. There’s not a ton in the way of internal organization, but it does have one very deep elastic pocket that — according to Mystery Ranch — was made to house a hydration pack for hiking. It could just as easily be used to keep your EDC haul organized, however. There’s also a small elastic tether toward the top that would suit your keys, allowing them to be easily accessed without being easy to snatch. Other than that, the main compartment is just a big storage area — which could be good or bad depending on your personal stance on organization.

Finally, we have to discuss this bag’s lack of padding in regards to carrying a full 19L worth of gear. Yes, this bag is free of padding to allow for better collapsibility and packability, but that does come with a downside. While the shoulder straps (and the integrated sternum strap) are wide and easily adjustable (and even have their own modular webbing), the lack of padding means that, under a greater amount of weight, the straps can dig into your shoulders quite a bit. That’s a compromise some are willing to make, but it’s worth noting that, if you have a hefty daily haul, you might want to opt for something that offers more comfort under pressure.

Verdict: For a backpack that collapses down smaller than a softball, you might expect it to be lacking regarding its other features. And while it is free of padding and, therefore, uncomfortable under heavy loads, it does make up for that with a generous 19L capacity, numerous externally-accessed pockets and pouches, lightweight-yet-durable materials, and more. If you’re tight on storage space or you’re just tired of bulky backpacks, this pack might be your best option right now.

Recap

Mystery Ranch In and Out

Durable and lightweight 19L daypack that collapses down smaller than a softball.

Pros
  • Ultra-Packable
  • Durable & Lightweight
Cons
  • No Padding
  • Limited Organization

Herschel Pop Quiz

Best Classic Backpack

When most people think of backpacks, at least a part of their brain probably goes back in time to the bag they carried to and from school day-in and day-out — namely those made by JanSport. However, if that backpack grew up a bit, got a bit of refinement to its design, and emerged as a fully-fledged grown-up bag, it might look something like the Herschel Pop Quiz that we had the good fortune to get our hands on for the following deep dive.

Form: As mentioned, the Pop Quiz looks an awful lot like the book bags that rocketed to the top of every kid’s must-have school supply list in the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond. However, while it does activate the nostalgia center of our brains, it’s also very clear — even with just a casual glance — that this take is a good deal more refined and grown-up. The lines are cleaner, the details are exceptional, and there are some much-needed upgrades to make this a more acceptable carry option for adults.

Unfortunately, Herschel is a bit tight-lipped about the primary exterior material. And while it feels sturdier than, say, a basic cotton canvas, we’re led to believe that it’s probably cheaper polyester. Still, it actually looks quite good and feels like it could stand up to a bit of punishment. Furthermore, it pairs beautifully with the bag’s synthetic leather accents — including its bottom, its top-mounted loop, and the small tab on the left shoulder strap. Pair that with the contrast of its stark white front zipper and the brand’s signature brand patch and there’s a lot of good-looking design cues to be enjoyed.

It’s also worth noting that, while this is a mass-produced bag available in a whopping 79 different colorways and patterns, the build quality is very sound. There aren’t any stray threads or missed stitches, there’s no extraneous detailing, and nothing seems unnecessary or out of place. That might not seem like a huge deal, but it can make all the difference in picking out your perfect EDC backpack. As an added little style bonus, all the internal compartments come lined with Herschel’s signature white-and-red striped fabric, which is something we’ve come to expect from the brand but is still very pleasant.

Function: As mentioned, the Pop Quiz is very much like the schoolbags so many of us had when we were growing up. However, while a good deal of the functionality is right on-par with those old-school bags, Herschel was careful to include some new additions that further serve to elevate it above its predecessors. For starters, there are four different externally-accessed zippered pockets: the main compartment, a small microfiber-lined top-accessed pouch, a standard top-accessed front pocket, and a small front-accessed pocket. The zippers for all four feel sturdy, if a bit stiff when trying to zip or unzip. But the real highlights can be found inside these pockets.

To start, the front compartment — the one with the white zipper — has a good amount of room for anything you want to keep close at hand but doesn’t offer much in the way of organization. That being said, it doesn’t really need any because the top-accessed front pocket behind it does — meaning they combine to offer quite a bit of versatility. Speaking of the second front pocket, a quick unzip will grant you access to an impressively comprehensive integrated organizer — marked by a key clip, a zippered mesh pocket, a trio of pencil/pen slots, and two more slots (one with a velcro closure) that are roughly the size and shape of 3×5 notecards.

Beyond those two pockets, you’ll find a small top-zippered quick-access pouch with a microfiber liner ideal for stashing your smartphone or a very small tablet (like an e-reader) — though, due to the nature of backpacks, we’d suggest against stashing anything too important here while in transit in crowded places. Then, behind that, there’s the spacious main compartment — responsible for the bulk of the bag’s 22L capacity. Like its school-going counterparts, this compartment is largely unstructured, but it does have a hidden gem within: a microfiber-lined laptop pouch that’s good for folding computers up to 15″ in diameter and has its own built-in padding to keep your tech safe.

Verdict: If you find yourself yearning for the bags you loved in your younger years, but your everyday carry and daily haul of tech require a bit more protection and organization, you’re probably going to love this bag. And while the construction feels good and the design is sound, we’re a bit concerned that Herschel isn’t forthcoming about the materials and — despite its updated and refined appearance — it does still look very much like a JanSport, which could stop those from considering it in more formal office settings.

Recap

Herschel Pop Quiz

A more refined, grown-up take on the schoolbags so many of us carried when we were growing up.

Pros
  • Refined, Updated Design
  • Good Organization & A Laptop Pouch
Cons
  • Unclear Material Construction
  • Not Quite "Office-Friendly"

Topo Designs Rover Pack

Best Daypack

There’s an argument to be made that, if something was designed to function and look like an old-school hiking backpack, it might not be great for city-going EDC enthusiasts. But that argument is a moot one in the eyes of the folks at Topo Designs, who have masterfully crafted their Rover Pack to be suitable for both trail and urban applications. If you need further proof, just check out our hands-on look below.

Form: Old-school hiking backpacks, also known as rucksacks, can be distinguished from other kinds of bags via a few design inclusions — usually in the form of a flip- or roll-top closure, which the Topo Rover Pack has adopted here. That heritage-inspired styling makes for an interesting appearance that stands out amongst the crowded gallery of other, more basic backpacks. However, the cosmetics are the only thing old-school about this pack — the rest is decidedly modernized and, therefore, more friendly to contemporary EDC users.

One of the biggest highlights of this bag regarding its form is the trio of fabrics used in its construction — 1000D nylon for the main bulk of the bag, 420D nylon packcloth, and a 210D nylon packcloth liner. Classic rucksacks were made from heavy-duty canvas, so it’s nice to see that Topo went for a more lightweight, durable upgrade that helps keep this 20L bag from being too hefty, making it better when hauling a full load of gear.

Finally, the overall construction is frankly beautiful. The stitching is clean, the silhouette and contrasting colors are pleasing to look at, and the signature red cord on the zippers is a nice useful touch. At first glance, the straps do make the bag seem a bit busy, but they all serve a specific, distinct purpose and, once you’re familiar with how they work, they’re hardly cumbersome or problematic. Plus, they serve as a reminder of this bag’s inspiration.

Function: Interestingly, just like its external design, the Topo Designs Rover Pack actually blends traditional elements with modern functionality. And that starts with its exterior pouches and flaps — including dual side-mounted, elastic pouches that are perfectly sized for a water bottle, but could also be used to stash, say, a compact umbrella or a cardboard media tube (for you designers and artists out there). It also boasts a suite of straps that includes two clip-on buckles to keep the flip-top closure securely fastened, a quartet of compression straps on the sides to ensure your gear isn’t just bouncing around inside all haphazardly, and (of course) a pair of padded adjustable shoulder straps.

There’s also a single front-accessed zippered pocket that’s good for a moderate amount of small gear — be that an everyday carry loadout, some smaller office supplies, or even a handful of snacks to get you through the day — and another top-accessed zippered pocket that turns the flip-top closure into another storage slot. It’s this second one that gets us the most excited as it helps increase the versatility and organization of this bag in a way that most flip-top rucksacks don’t offer. You might not want to stash anything too delicate in here, as flipping the top will cause anything inside to tumble a bit, but it’s a nice little quick-access pouch for those that need it.

Lastly — and perhaps most importantly — there’s the main compartment. While you might be worried about the security of a flip-top, even one with dual clip-in buckles, those worries are not well-founded with this particular bag. That’s because it comes with a second line of defense against lookie-loos and inclement weather: a drawstring cinch, which is a welcome boost to the bag overall. Once the cover and cinch are opened, you’ll find a deep, spacious main compartment with just one separator at the back, leading into the 15″ padded laptop pouch (another modern inclusion). This section makes up the vast bulk of the 20L capacity.

Verdict: While the trio of compartments doesn’t offer much in the way of comprehensive organization, there are enough storage options in this classic-turned-modern EDC backpack that most people probably won’t notice or care too much. Pair that with a unique combination of old-school styling and modern materials and we’re convinced that Topo Designs has a massive hit on their hands. Of course, they probably already know that, as this bag is one of their most popular and most well-reviewed offerings. Still, it’s nice to know that their customers certainly aren’t wrong to put their faith in the brand.

Recap

Topo Designs Rover Pack

Classically-designed rucksack with modern materials and EDC sensibilities built-in.

Pros
  • Heritage-Inspired Design
  • Modern Materials & Features
Cons
  • Looks Busier Than It Is
  • Not Much Organization

Aer Fit Pack 2

Best Gym Backpack

Many of us have very busy lives that keep us on-the-go, and that can make it a bit difficult to make stops to swap out our gear in-between activities. As such, having an EDC backpack that will take you from home to the office and then to the gym afterward can make a huge difference in your productivity and reduce hassle. Thankfully, the everyday carry mavens at Aer have the perfect backpack for the job in their Fit Pack 2, which we got up-close-and-personal with for the following hands-on look.

Form: It’s rare to find a brand that can pare exceptional function into a product that also looks remarkably good. But the folks at Aer have practically made a science out of it throughout their entire catalog. And the minimalist-styled Aer Fit Pack 2 is certainly no exception. From head to toe, this bag’s design lines are clean and pleasing to the eye. Not a detail seems out of place or unnecessary, and the whole package looks somehow both refined and robust. For those with even a passing interest in good design, this EDC backpack will certainly stand out as exceptional.

What’s perhaps more impressive is that it looks this good while also having a pretty spectacularly durable construction. The entirety of its 18.8L capacity is wrapped in 1680D Cordura ballistic nylon — which is tough enough to withstand abrasions, scrapes, punctures, and more. It also happens to be naturally water-resistant, lending credence to this bag as a weatherproof urban hauler. And that fabric is mated to a collection of sturdy and reliable YKK zippers — including a water-resistant vertical one — and heavy-duty Duraflex plastic hardware. Best of all, it only weighs 1.9 lbs in total — even with all those exceptional material features, meaning it won’t weigh you down despite its robustness.

The only part of the bag that you won’t find Cordura ballistic nylon on is the back panel and the shoulder straps — which both feature soft padding with breathable mesh for all-day comfort whether you’re just going to and from the office or you’re on an all-day trek from one side of the city to the other. Pair that with an adjustable sternum strap and it’s clear to see just how valuable this everyday carry backpack could be for the modern man on-the-go.

Function: As exceptionally minimalist as this bag’s exterior is, the internal compartments are a bastion of organization. That starts with the vertically-accessed front pocket, which is fairly unstructured but does have an elastic divider within that serves to provide a small pouch ideal for more compact gear — either for work or the gym (like socks). It’s worth noting, however, that there is a separate, bottom-accessed vented compartment — intended to house gym shoes (up to a men’s size 13) or dirty workout clothes — that infringes on this space. So that’s worth keeping in mind when trying to utilize the pockets in tandem.

Beyond that, there is a small, zippered, top-access pocket that’s sized perfectly for a small suite of everyday carry gear or tech. It does not have a microfiber liner that’s soft on tablet and phone screens, but the liner is still plenty unabrasive and likely won’t cause any damage to modern technology. If you have a small complement of pocketable gear you want to keep at-the-ready, this is the pouch to manage that.

Finally, there’s the spacious clamshell-opening main compartment. In this area, you’ll find a large central area, a zippered mesh pocket that’s near in size and serves a similar purpose (albeit a more secure one) to the quick-access top pocket, dual elastic pouches that are roughly wallet- or passport-sized, and twin pen (or flashlight) slots. At the back, the bag also has two larger pouches — one big enough for a 15.6″ laptop with a padded back and a slightly smaller one ideal for larger tablets (like Apple’s iPad Pro). All told, lovers of organization are likely to rely on this main compartment heavily, as it boasts the most options for keeping things in order by far.

Verdict: There are actually a few different classes of people that will likely feel drawn to this particular everyday carry backpack. That includes the likes of the design-savvy crowd — especially those with a flavor for minimalism — alongside those that require a good amount of organizational options for their daily haul. However, the group that’s going to love this pack the most are those who need something that’s durable and sturdy, spacious enough for a full complement of EDC gear and work-friendly tech, and capable of hauling workout gear without stinking up everything else in the bag. For those who travel from home to the office and then to the gym before returning home yet again, this bag is a stand-out champion.

Recap

Aer Fit Pack 2

Durable, weatherproof bag built to go from home to the office and gym, then back again.

Pros
  • Tough Minimalist Exterior
  • Full Suite Of Internal Organization
Cons
  • A Bit Stiff
  • Front Compartments Encroach On One Another

Incase ICON

Best Tech Backpack

While most backpacks can haul your expensive technology, not all of them should — not, at least, if moving it from place to place includes getting on a bus, train, or even in a cab. Thankfully, there are some backpack-building brands that know a thing or two about turning a bag into something both capable and protective. Incase is, undoubtedly one of the best brands in that regard, which can be seen on full display in their bestselling ICON backpack you see before you today.

Form: Of all the bags we’ve had the fortune of looking at for this in-depth buyer’s guide, the Incase ICON undoubtedly has the most structured exterior, which is easily noted upon the very-first inspection. However, while the bag is a bit stiff, it doesn’t come across as unwieldy or cumbersome. In fact, you could say the opposite. Despite its rigidity, it’s relatively lightweight and feels good to the touch — likely a symptom of its 840D nylon construction, which is durable and weatherproof but not coarse or rough.

The structure is further complimented by the bag’s clean design lines, which manage to cleverly disguise just how many pockets this bag actually has (which we’ll get into later). Furthermore, the plastic hardware feels heavy-duty and able to withstand a bit of punishment, as do the seatbelt-style nylon straps and 6+ external zippers. All told, the overall structure and styling do help impress its subtlety and protective nature.

The rigidity is one indicator of tech-ready performance, while another is the thick, breathable padded mesh back panel and shoulder straps. It’s obvious that this bag wasn’t just designed for a few essentials, but rather that it can withstand a heavy load without uncomfortably digging into the wearer’s shoulders. All-told, we get the impression that we would have no issue trekking across a busy metropolitan city center with all our gear inside the 20L Incase ICON. In fact, we’re likelier to desire such an outcome to see just how comfortable and capable it is.

Function: There are a lot of positive things to be said about this bag’s exterior. But they’d be nothing without a good internal storage scheme. Thankfully, the ICON has a wealth of zippered pockets and internal organization that set the bar even higher. By our count, there are eight different externally-accessed zippered pockets on this bag, which is more than any we’ve gotten our hands on so far and lends credence to this EDC backpack as one of the best for those obsessed with organization.

The first, most obvious pouch is the one on the front with its horizontal zipper. We actually expected this pocket to be a good deal smaller and shallower, but — like much of this bag — its depth is deceptive. There is also a smaller pocket on each of the side “wings” (where the straps attach toward the bottom) ideal for especially small items like receipts, chapstick, etc. Finally, at least as far as smaller pouches are concerned, there’s a quick-access top zippered pocket with a microfiber liner for your tech or sunglasses — dealer’s choice.

Here’s where things get a little bit tricky. There are actually three larger pockets on this bag, which we’ll tackle from front to back. The first boasts a clamshell opening, a deep main storage area, a loose small front-mounted pouch with a detachable keychain lanyard, a pair of velcro flip-top pouches at the bottom back (each sized roughly for a wallet, passport, or pocket notebook), and a back-mounted organizational panel (with three larger pouches and twin pen/flashlight slots). The second — behind the first and probably the “true” main compartment — is equally deep and features another small unstructured front-mounted pouch, a padded laptop pocket with a smaller tablet pocket, and an additional back-mounted zippered pocket for small items you want to keep a bit more secure.

Lastly and most interestingly, there’s a pair of somewhat-hidden side-accessed zippered pockets that back up against the thick padded back panel. For technophiles, these might be the ideal spot to stash your most important tech — like a laptop or tablet — but they could also be used to stash sensitive documents or portfolio pieces, as one has a microfiber liner whereas the other is lined with nylon. Perhaps the larger point is that this bag has a daunting number of pockets that serve a wide variety of purposes. Lovers of organization are sure to be pleased, but those who like bags with a bit less structure might be scared off.

Verdict: While we appreciate the structure, protection, and comfort this bag’s design and construction provide, these features come at the cost of its packability. We’d be hard-pressed to load it to its full 20L capacity confidently, but that’s much less of a worry when using it as an everyday carry backpack. Still, the tightness of its many pockets its offset by the wide variety and availability of organizational options, the cleanliness of its design, and the comfort afforded by the back and shoulder strap padding. So long as you don’t need a hugely capacious bag, this one should suit daily carry just fine.

Recap

Incase ICON

Minimalist in its appearance and rugged by design, this bag hides an almost daunting number of organizational options.

Pros
  • Structured & Durable Yet Lightweight
  • Unrivaled Organization
Cons
  • Almost Too Many Pockets
  • Difficult To Pack To Capacity

Triple Aught Design FAST Pack Litespeed

Best Tactical Backpack

In the search for the perfect EDC backpack, most people probably aren’t going to consider something quite as overtly tactical as the USA-made Triple Aught Design FAST Pack Litespeed. Thankfully, this backpack was not made for most people. It takes a special kind of person to understand the value in such a comprehensively hardcore pack — someone with the kind of knowledge that might grant them a label such as “survivalist” or “soldier.” But the small target audience doesn’t mean this isn’t still one of the absolute best bags around.

Form: There’s no mistaking it — at a first glance or deep dive — this is a tactical bag through-and-through. That’s aided, in part, by T.A.D’s colorway options, all five of which fall under the “militaristic” umbrella (including three different types of camouflage). That being said, this bag isn’t overly bulky or cumbersome in its silhouette. In fact, it’s fairly well pared-down to a manageable size that suits everyday carry purposes perfectly. It is a bit heavy unloaded, but that could be chalked up a bit to its dauntingly durable construction and its expansive amount of attached hardware.

The exterior is crafted from ultra-tough 1000D Cordura nylon — which is naturally abrasion-resistant and weatherproof — alongside Hypalon reinforcements, YKK zippers, heavy-duty hardware, an HDPE frame sheet, and so much more. The whole package, viewed from any angle, is intimidating and impressive to the nth degree. Obviously, that means it isn’t going to be for everyone. But those that appreciate tactical styling will be pleased, to put it lightly. That fact only increased in veracity when you consider the customization and personalization offered by its modular construction.

Function: Let’s just get this out of the way: this is not an easy bag to grasp. You can probably gather that just by looking at it, but it still needs to be said. However, its complexity exists to serve a great number of purposes. And while we can’t possibly nail down all of them, we’re going to at least try to express how it might be useful in an everyday carry context. That starts, of course, with its main compartment.

Thankfully, this bag does not have pockets on pockets on pockets, which would likely bog down its already extensive list of features. It’s expansive, zippered main compartment, however, does have a bevy of bonus features besides its spacious interior. That includes dual, zippered mesh pockets at the front that are each large and deep enough for a full complement of everyday carry gear or a small amount of tech (like a smartphone, cables, battery pack, etc.). On the opposite side — against the back padding — there’s another really handy addition: seven attachment points so users can attach a MOLLE modular sheet to the inside of the bag for a huge boost to its versatility and the potential for organization.

Those internal features are, of course, backed up by external modularity, as well. That includes exterior anchor points for an optional additional MOLLE sheet (expanding the modularity even further), PALS webbing on the front and sides, a large velcro patch section for additional customization, and a small quick-access zippered pocket for small pieces of gear. The baseline bag might not seem like it has too much in the way of organizational options, but the tremendous amount of PALS webbing — both already-equipped and attachable — puts the versatility through the roof.

Verdict: TAD’s FAST Pack Litespeed is, in a word, complicated. The learning curve for mastering its many features is probably enough to scare off all but the most dedicated of tacticians. That being said, if you are willing and ready to learn and you don’t mind its heft, this bag could prove to be the most useful tool in your everyday carry arsenal. More than that, it might become your go-to hauler and could even theoretically function as a kind of home-away-from-home for all the gear you might carry on any given day. It’s daunting, to be sure, but it’s also equally impressive.

Recap

Triple Aught Design FAST Pack Litespeed

Fully-featured hardcore tactical bag pared down for speedy urban operations.

Pros
  • Unmatched Modularity
  • Absurdly Durable
Cons
  • High Learning Curve
  • Heavy Dry Weight

Arc’teryx Granville 16 Zip

Best Minimalist Backpack

Headquartered in Canada, Arc’teryx has built an impressive reputation on its exceptional suite of outdoor-focused technical gear and apparel. And while their specialty might seem tied to the great outdoors, they also have plenty of urban-friendly EDC options (including the Veilance Casing Card Wallet from their high-end sub-brand) — a fact aided by the brand’s typical minimalist design cues. In fact, the bag we got our hands on, the Granville 16 Zip, might actually be the best minimalist backpack for everyday carry you can get right now.

Form: At a distance, the Arc’teryx Granville looks exceptionally pared-down — which is nice for a city-going minimalist backpack, as it isn’t boastful nor does it look inviting to prying eyes or pickpockets. However, when you get up close, you can start to parse this bag’s outdoor DNA. That’s because its exterior is crafted from a ripstop laminated waterproof fabric — utilizing the brand’s AC² (Advanced Composite Construction) technology to ensure it can fight off even the soggiest downpour, as well as ice and snow.

It’s weatherproofing and exterior minimalism is furthered by the inclusion of a complement of WaterTight zippers, freedom from external pouches (and extraneous external details), and a simplified back panel and shoulder straps (though there is a sternum strap for stabilization purposes on longer treks). It’s pretty hard to find faults with the external appearance of this bag, both because of its sheer minimalism (there’s just not that much to critique) but also because of just how well-considered the existing design elements are. Of course, that’s also something we’ve come to expect from Arc’teryx as a brand.

To prove this bag’s cleverness, we do want to make sure we highlight one external design element that might otherwise go unnoticed — one that actually provides a bit of usefulness and proves just how careful the brand is in crafting gear designs. That is, of course, the modular webbing on the shoulder straps. At first glance, you might not see it, but both straps have six nylon webbing loops — five that are usable if you consider that the sternum strap takes up two total — that function as quick-access grab and storage points, perfect for things like a keychain carabiner, keychain flashlight, or whatever else. It’s a subtle addition, but one that we’re very fond of.

Function: As we mentioned, some of the best parts of this bag are found in its external construction — including its taped seams, laminated waterproof exterior, water-resistant zippers, and just a touch of modularity. However, the exterior only matters if the guts of the bag are also functional enough to suit everyday carry usage. Thankfully, Arc’teryx didn’t skimp on the internals, either.

That starts with a pair of externally-accessed front pockets — one at the top and one with a vertical side zipper. The former (accessed via a horizontal top zipper) is wide but shallow and has its own integrated tether — perfect for attaching your keychain — and is well-suited to storing quick-access everyday carry gear. The second is much larger and is both completely unstructured and lacking any kind of organizational scheme. While we’d probably prefer this pocket be a bit smaller considering its loose, large storage area, it’s still functional enough that you could feasibly stash a book, binder, or even a small portfolio inside. Of course, for those looking for more organizational options, there’s the large main compartment.

Accessed via a large clamshell-style opening, the main compartment is undoubtedly the internal star of the show. For starters, it has an internal zipper that grants access to the large front pocket — which is handy if you need something inside that slot and you’re already inside the main pouch. There’s also a large central storage area and, backed up against the back pad, a built-in organizer. That organizer includes a medium-sized zippered mesh pocket, a padded laptop sleeve (large enough for 15″ folding computers) and — behind it all — zippered access to the bag’s internal frame sheet — which can be relatively easily removed and/or replaced if the need arises.

Verdict: Streamlined in its external construction, internal organizational scheme, and overall appearance, the Granville 16 Zip does quite a bit with very little — something Arc’teryx is known for. And while it’s quite minimalist overall, it still boasts plenty of features even for those that prefer to keep their EDC organized and compartmentalized. Pair that with extreme toughness and weatherproofing and this everyday carry backpack offers up a tremendous amount of value without looking like an expensive eyesore.

Recap

Arc'teryx Granville 16 Zip

Pared-down city-focused EDC bag built with technical knowhow and weatherproof materials.

Pros
  • Waterproof Exterior
  • Clean Minimalist Design
Cons
  • Stiff Zippers
  • Looks Very Technical

Bellroy Transit

Best Travel Backpack

Regular travel isn’t for the faint of heart. However, there are those of us that find ourselves jet-setting around the world on a regular enough basis that we need to cater our everyday carry to the possibility that a jaunt on an airplane is well within the realm of possibility. Of course, regular travel also calls for streamlined gear — you can’t simply check your bag every single time you fly (not at least if efficiency is of importance to you). If this sounds like you, you’ll be interested to see what we thought of Bellroy’s Transit travel backpack.

Form: It’s extremely important to note that the Bellroy Transit doesn’t look like a piece of luggage. That might not seem that important or like that big of a deal, but it can actually make a huge difference in a person’s desire to use it as an everyday carry backpack, as well as a travel bag. Rather, the Transit looks sleek and well-considered — as do all of Bellroy’s offerings, including the Bellroy Hide and Seek Wallet. That means, on the days when you’re not traveling, you can still haul this bag to and from the office without looking like your head is in the proverbial clouds.

It is certainly worth noting that, especially for EDC purposes, the Transit is a bit on the larger side of the spectrum. Of course, because it is intended as a travel bag, making the most of available space is kind of a necessity and, technically, this bag does meet international carry-on size guidelines. That being said, it might seem bulky and unwieldy for the days when you’re not traveling. Still, the minimalist appearance helps curb its size and weight somewhat — lending credence to its use in a day-to-day context.

If you can get past its relatively large size, however, you’re in good hands with this bag. Its exterior is crafted from durable water-resistant fabrics — which are derived from recycled materials — and its smaller leather details (found on its zipper pulls, brand logo patch, and shoulder straps) are environmentally-certified. Furthermore, its complement of straps is made from soft-yet-tough nylon that’s not unlike car seatbelts. All told, it’s clear that Bellroy put great care into the design and construction of this bag.

Function: As is typically the case with Bellroy’s offerings, the modest exterior of this travel-friendly everyday carry backpack is bolstered by its overall functionality. It boasts four externally-accessed zippered pockets and compartments — starting with a vertically-zippered front pocket boasting an integrated keychain tether and a small discreet side-accessed pouch. Interestingly, the second pocket beyond might qualify to some as the main compartment with its spacious interior and full clamshell opening. It’s clear to us that this is the section intended to store your clothes, as it also has its own integrated compression system akin to those you’d find in a more traditional checked bag or suitcase.

Beyond the large clothing compartment, there’s a top-zippered quick-access pocket that is, in our opinion, a bit too shallow to be really useful. Bellroy claims that this is a sunglasses pocket and, while it does fit a single pair of shades (with barely enough room, perhaps, for an EDC pen), we’re somewhat concerned with the orientation of it, as a careless bump here or there could result in a broken pair of sunglasses — which is troublesome for those who will want to put this bag in the overhead compartment.

Lastly, there’s one more top-accessed zippered pocket backed up against the bag’s back pad. This slot actually serves two purposes. First and foremost, it has a deep padded section with a soft liner ideal for stashing your folding computer — up to 15″ in diameter. But it has a second internal slot accessed by a zipper that could be used to stash everyday carry gear, but likelier functions to hold your computer’s power cord and any accessories. It’s nice that the brand went to the trouble of granting separate, compartmental access to the laptop area, as we’ve found other bags frustrating when we have to open the main compartment in order to grab our computer.

Verdict: While the bag was clearly built with travel in mind first and it does have a fairly large silhouette, there are enough organizational options that we could feasibly see using this backpack for everyday carry purposes. That’s benefitted by a separately-accessed computer pouch, a clean and minimalist exterior design, and a sound construction that’s durable and weatherproof — making it perfect for trekking through a city even in inclement weather. If you can afford to swing multiple bags, you may be better off getting a dedicated EDC bag. But, especially if you frequently travel for work, this bag could suit daily usage just fine.

Recap

Bellroy Transit

Travel-friendly, carry-on-sized backpack that does double-duty as an exceptional EDC hauler.

Pros
  • Doesn't Look Like Luggage
  • Meets Carry-On Size Guidelines
Cons
  • A Bit Large For EDC Usage
  • No Luggage Pass-Through

GORUCK GR1

Best EDC Backpack

To call the GORUCK GR1 a legendary backpack might not actually do it justice. Since it was first introduced, this bag has impressed outdoor adventurers, tacticians, EDC enthusiasts, athletes, and more — amateurs and professionals alike. To prove that it’s not all just hype, however, we got this EDC-friendly backpack in hand and had a detailed hands-on look at just what makes the GR1 so very lauded and special.

Form: GORUCK’s signature GR1 looks like… a backpack. At least at first glance. Pay closer attention, however, and you’ll start to recognize exactly what sets this hauler apart. Yes, at a distance it looks a lot like many of its competitors but there are numerous design cues that help differentiate it from the rest of the pack. That starts with its tactical-inspired velcro square — which allows users to customize the exterior of the backpack with a patch or two of their choice. You’ll also notice that the front pocket is angled slightly — which is just a nice design choice — and (most importantly) it boasts MOLLE modularity via three strips of PALS webbing attached to the front-bottom and both sides.

The GR1 also boasts a super-durable 1000D Cordura ballistic nylon exterior, thick and tough padded shoulder straps and a matching back pad, and some of the best reinforcement stitching that we’ve seen on any bag. As mentioned, the GR1 looks like a backpack at-a-glance, but a deeper look at all it has to offer paints a much more interesting story — one of a tremendous amount of care and attention put into its seemingly-minimalist exterior. There’s an old saying that goes, “if you’ve done your job right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” We’re not sure that applies entirely to the GORUCK GR1, but there’s definitely something to be said for its unique juxtaposition of exceptionally subtle design alongside absolutely exceptional materials and craftsmanship.

There is one thing that some might find an issue with: even empty, the GR1 is quite heavy. Granted, that’s a symptom of its literally bombproof construction, but it’s definitely a factor to consider, especially in an everyday carry (and/or travel) context. If you’re the type that needs to carry a good amount of hefty equipment on a daily basis, the weight of this empty bag could very well be a deterrent to you.

Function: If you thought the exterior of this bag was exceptional, it’s the inside and its overall functionality that will really drop your jaw. Rather than mincing words, we’d rather get right to the primary highlight — the element that really put this bag on the map: its bombproof laptop compartment. As mentioned, the bag is a bit heavy. This can largely be credited to the fact that it boasts an internal compartment — accessed via a 3/4 zipper found around the edge of the back panel — that was literally designed to withstand explosive ordinance. And while we didn’t try to blow it up ourselves, GORUCK has — including putting this bag in the hands of actual SpecOps soldiers to see just how much punishment it can take. This element alone, for some, might be enough to put it at the top of the list of possible contenders for an EDC backpack.

Of course, while the bombproof laptop pouch is definitely a huge boon, it’s only one of the spectacular features this bag has to offer — including the fact that it’s available in either 21L or 26L capacities. As mentioned, it has PALS webbing on the front-bottom and sides for modular attachments. It also features a front-accessed zippered pouch that’s deep and spacious enough for a collection of smaller gear or even a ruggedized tablet. And there’s an exceptionally spacious main compartment with a full clamshell opening. Along with its unstructured center slot and the aforementioned laptop compartment, this section also has another deep pouch at the back and a fourth set of PALS webbing (for modular attachments inside the bag). Lastly, there’s a zippered mesh pouch (about the same size as a Chromebook) and a small zippered pocket for smaller items. All in all, there’s more organization than we first expected, which really only further confirms just how magnificent this EDC backpack really is.

Verdict: If you can look past the one admittedly large issue, the bag’s dry weight, this might just be the most exceptional, durable, useful everyday carry backpack around. And while it offers enough organization for even the most discerning technophile, it also has a remarkably durable and well thought out construction that will please hardcore outdoorsmen, hunters, and soldiers alike. Honestly, it’s hard to find anything negative to say about the GR1 — probably because there are no legitimate flaws (although the high price might qualify).

Recap

GORUCK GR1

Classically-styled EDC bag with tactical sensibilities and some of the most durable construction materials ever.

Pros
  • Beautiful Blend Of EDC & Tactical Features
  • Literally Bombproof
Cons
  • A Bit Heavy
  • High Entry Price

Mission Workshop The Rhake VX

Best Commuter Backpack

Bicycle commuting can be a pretty rigorous activity. Not only does it leave the rider and his or her gear exposed to the elements, but it means riders are subject to the whims and sometimes poor and/or careless decisions of drivers. That means having a backpack that can stand up to loads of punishment — be that from downpours or fender benders — can be of the utmost importance. However, it’s also important that the bag is functional from an organizational standpoint. That’s where Mission Workshop’s absolutely exceptional Rhake VX backpack comes in handy.

Form: Even with just a cursory glance at this bag, those in the know should be able to discern some hallmark bicycle commuter bag details — like the Rhake’s roll-top closure, its suite of compression straps, and its courier-style silhouette. And while it, admittedly, looks quite busy, every detail on this comprehensive hauler serves a distinct purpose. This particular edition (the one we got our hands on) is also crafted from VX-21 diamond ripstop fabric — one of the most advanced, abrasion-resistant textiles available right now. That construction material also means that, despite this bag’s large silhouette, it’s deceptively lightweight (when empty).

Furthermore, while the fabric its rather pliable (despite its supreme durability and weatherproofing), the bag’s overall shape is fairly rigid — a product of its thick-yet-breathable foam back pad, which ensures all-day comfort even under a full load. This has additional, positive implications, as well — like the fact that the contents of the bag won’t sink to the bottom or get bunched up and form an uncomfortable lump in the small of your back. This is also aided by the aforementioned compressions straps, so users can ensure everything inside stays under pressure while you ride no matter how full or empty the bag is.

It’s also important to note that, while the bag appears quite busy, Mission Workshop has gone to great lengths to ensure that it is still user-friendly and not overly complicated. That means, despite its many features, it has a very shallow learning curve — which is something we discovered and were quite pleased with. Even if you don’t have a working knowledge of commuter backpacks, it’s still very intuitive and easy to just pick up and use within moments of first getting your hands upon it.

Function: As previously mentioned, this EDC backpack looks very complicated. However, appearances do have a tendency to be deceiving. And — while this EDC commuter pack certainly has a full suite of compartments, straps, and hardware — its true talent lies in combining those factors into a user-friendly, easy-to-approach, intuitive format. For instance, the dual buckles on the front — the ones that connect the compression straps — are Fidlock magnetic buckles, which are insanely secure but open easily with just a tug on the attached lanyard. Furthermore, the roll-top has a velcro closure, but can also be further secured with a simple hook strap.

To go along with the theme of deceptive appearances, the 22L main compartment — accessed by the roll-top closure — is remarkably deep and actually qualifies as expandable, depending on how tight you roll closed the top. That means you could easily fit an entire complement of gear inside of it — including your laptop in the secondary back-mounted zippered compartment — but you can also access a bit more storage space by unrolling the top a bit and re-securing it. Of course, if that main compartment isn’t quite enough for you — either because you simply need more room or you just prefer compartmental storage — there are still other compartments accessed externally.

For starters, the dual “wings” where the compression straps attach are actually zippered pockets big enough for, say, a tablet or a small collection of EDC gear or office supplies. In fact, one of them opens 3/4 of the way and functions beautifully as a document sleeve, whereas the other unzips fully and has its own internal organizational system — including several internal mesh pouches for organizational purposes. Below the wings, there is a horizontally-oriented zippered pocket wide and deep enough for all your power cables and cords. And at the top of the bag — just in front of the main compartment — there’s a 10″ laptop sleeve that’s as deep as the entire front of the bag.

Verdict: Let it be known that the USA-made Rhake — like many gear-hauling offerings from Mission Workshop — brilliantly exhibits the manufacturer’s greatest talent: the ability to take seemingly complex designs and boil them down to a remarkably user-friendly experience. Yes, the bag looks convoluted at a glance, but any deeper a dive and it becomes clear just how easy this everyday carry backpack is to use. Mate that to a suite of exceptionally durable weatherproof materials, reliable hardware, and an unrivaled organizational system, and it’s plain to see that The Rhake is in a league of its own.

Recap

Mission Workshop The Rhake VX

Hardcore, cycling-ready, durable, weatherproof roll-top bag made for EDC, work, and even overnight trips.

Pros
  • Commuter-Friendly Design
  • Comprehensive Organization
Cons
  • A Daunting Investment
  • Overly Complex At First Glance

The Purpose and Evolution of Backpacks

Nomadic Haulers Through History

If you want to understand how backpacks came to be, you’re going to have to reach much further back into humanity’s history than you might think. In fact, you’ll have to trace our evolution as far as pre-civilization. You see, before we ever built cities and settled down, humans were a nomadic species by necessity. Without an understanding of agriculture and engineering, we had to rely on high-energy food sources — namely animal protein — to keep our abnormally large brains properly fueled. And since animals moved from place to place in search of food, we followed suit — packing up our families, shelters, tools, and any other belongings to give chase. It’s during this nomadic period that we first developed gear-hauling tools (i.e. bags) to transport “stuff” from one place to another.

Over time, humanity began to settle down into villages, which evolved into towns, which in turn became cities. However, our desire to travel from place to place in search of adventure, wealth, or whatever else never really went away. We began exploring parts of the world that we, as a species, hadn’t yet conquered. Some people settled down and then others continued to journey — either temporarily (with the intention of returning to where we began) or on a more permanent basis (to establish new outposts, villages, towns, etc.). Whatever the reason, the necessity for bags to transport tools, apparel, sentimental trinkets, oddities, and whatever else remained.

Even as we tamed wild beasts into domesticated pack animals and, eventually, developed gear-hauling technologies (carts, wagons, and — eventually — cars), bags never went away. After all, not everyone had access to a mule, truck, or otherwise — either because they couldn’t afford one or because they simply didn’t need them. Furthermore, there are some journeys that can only be completed on foot due to restrictions caused by limited space, resources, or otherwise — e.g. mountains to climb, jungles to navigate, etc.

Some of the first bags were little more than animal skin blankets or tarps that were filled with items and wrapped up. Later, they evolved into things with straps and handles — like traditional messenger and/or duffel bags — and eventually, the backpack — marked by dual shoulder straps and the ability to carry it on your back — was born. This advent, unlike its predecessors, allowed people to carry and stabilize a complement of gear while keeping both hands entirely free. In 1938, a company called Gerry Outdoors became the first brand to equip a backpack with a zipper, adding a ton of security and convenience to the design, and the world never looked back.

Now, backpacks can be found anywhere and everywhere — from the tallest mountain peaks to the deepest valleys, from the most desolate battlefields to the most densely-populated cities, and everywhere in-between. They aren’t simply a staple of the outdoor, military, and everyday carry worlds — they’re a staple of humanity and have even led to further gear evolution (which you can see in our best sling bags guide). Backpacks serve to prove both humanity’s remarkable ingenuity and the fact that sometimes the simplest concepts are also the most useful and long-lasting.

Which Backpack Is Right For You?

The 8 Major Styles

As a direct result of their overall utility, backpacks come in a gargantuan number of shapes, sizes, and styles. However, there are some overarching categories that serve to help break them down based primarily on purpose. They’re not all-encompassing — due largely to the fact that there are thousands of thousands of different backpacks available on the market — but knowing some of the most popular, impactful styles can help you narrow down which backpack is right for you. We’ve outlined eight of the most significant types of backpacks below.

Rucksack

Historically speaking, the rucksack is the oldest type of backpack — the very first, actually. Traditionally used by explorers and adventurers, rucksacks are defined quite simply: bags with shoulder straps that allow them to be carried on a person’s back. Most of the time, these bags have a single large interior compartment with a simple closure — typically a flip-top — and are often made from tougher, more durable materials (a direct result of their usage in the outdoor world). Technically, any backpack matches the definition of a rucksack, but they do tend to be more traditionally-styled (you’ll often see packs made with a “vintage” appearance called rucksacks) and minimalist in their features.

Book Bag

Anyone that went to school in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere around the world) is likely familiar with this style of backpack. Dominated by JanSport — but with a few other contenders in the space — this style of backpack isn’t tremendously different from rucksacks except in two major areas: they typically have zippered closures and they usually offer a bit more in the way of organization. For reference, JanSport’s most popular backpack of all time, the Right Pack, has a large vertically-oriented main compartment, a smaller exterior top-accessed pocket, and a third even smaller front-accessed pouch — all zippered. The primary purpose of these student-focused bags is to serve as a hauler of school books, supplies, and the like.

Commuter

It’s worth noting that a commuter-focused backpack can actually fit into several other categories — meaning it might look like a traditional rucksack, a book bag, or otherwise. However, there’s an important distinction between commuter bags and the other sub-types. You see, commuter bags are made with day-to-day travel in mind. There are a few things this might mean, but — usually — it suggests that the bag was made specifically with urban applications in mind — e.g. taking the subway, riding a bicycle, or walking through city blocks. This also means they’re typically a bit more secure in their design — both in regards to their stabilization and interior access — and they’re usually made from more weatherproof materials, as many commuters find themselves frequently subject to the elements.

Gym

A gym-focused backpack, like a commuter bag, might also fall under another category but has alternative features that are well-suited to gym-going. That means there’s a lot of versatility regarding their size, shape, capacity, and more — but they do necessitate the ability to carry and store gym-ready gear. The most common and appropriate application therein is a separate vented pocket in which users can store their gym shoes and/or dirty clothing, so they don’t intermingle with the rest of your day-to-day gear haul. These bags are best suited to people that travel from home to the office, then to the gym before heading back home again.

Office

An “office” backpack, like many of the other types on this list, is not its own standalone style but rather a variation of any other sub-category. The biggest requirement for an office-friendly backpack is that this type of bag is a bit more elevated in its styling and materials. A JanSport school bag, for instance, might not be something you’d want your boss to see slung over your shoulder. An office backpack, however, is more refined, likely made from more premium materials, and doesn’t look out of place in a cubicle, conference room, or a corner office.

Outdoor

One of the most common and well-known applications for backpacks, outdoor usage is tied directly to the history of these bags. And it’s still a major part of the industry. It’s not what you might call a simple affair to differentiate outdoor backpacks from their brethren, but there are a few things to watch out for that signify this intended usage. That often includes a larger overall capacity, weatherproof fabrics, stabilization features (like sternum straps, hip belts, compression straps, etc.), and styling akin to that which you might find used in designing and crafting hiking apparel. It’s worth noting that, sometimes, outdoor-focused features have made their way into more urban-focused bags.

Tactical

Closely related to outdoor bags, tactical backpacks are also deeply connected to the history of the genre, as they’ve become a standard issue piece of gear for many soldiers in worldwide armed forces. While many of the features of tactical bags are shared with their outdoor brethren, tactical backpacks tend to be a bit more focused on battlefield versatility — meaning they’re typically equipped with MOLLE modular capabilities; they’re usually designed with speediness in mind; they’re frequently a bit more robust (some are even bomb-proof); and they often come in muted military colorways and camouflage.

Travel

As mentioned, many of these bags can fit into other sub-categories. This one is no different. What sets Travel backpacks apart, however, usually comes in their capacity and overall size. You see, travel backpacks are typically made to meet international carry-on guidelines — meaning they can fit beneath airplane seats or in the overhead compartment, even when fully-loaded. The intention is to give users the ability to bring a useful hauler on travel without having to check it. This also can help jet-setters avoid waiting at baggage claim when on shorter trips.

Know Your Construction Fabrics

Materials Make A Difference

Having an understanding of the different styles of backpacks is only one facet of the gear category. While having a knowledge of the various types might help you narrow down your search, there are still other factors you must consider to find your perfect bag. One of the most important, of course, is the materials used in a given backpack’s construction. In fact, if a bag has everything you need but the fabric is either sub-par or far too expensive, it could stop you entirely from even considering using it. Below, we’ve outlined some of the more significant fabrics and materials used in the creation of backpacks.

Canvas

This fabric is one of the more historically-significant around and is typically made from cotton, hemp, flax, or other yarns. It tends to be fairly durable, although it isn’t very weather-resistant unless it has another coating applied to it after the manufacturing process — like wax or DWR. It’s also quite heavy compared to synthetics and has the potential to rot over time, especially when not well cared for. Of course, the lack of waterproof properties and its market abundance makes canvas one of the more inexpensive options out there for backpack materials.

Nylon

By and large the most lauded backpack material, nylon first came to prominence during WWII when it was used to craft parachutes used by airborne infantry. Previously, it was widely used to craft women’s stockings. Then, in 1967, it was first applied to crafting backpacks by Gerry Outdoors — the same company that revolutionized backpack zippers. Nylon is a synthetic polymer that’s renowned for its low weight, natural durability and weatherproofing, and its tremendous amount of versatility. It can be made into any color or pattern you can imagine, accepts just about any coatings ever produced, and still managed to be fairly cheap. Used in the worlds of high fashion, the military, and everywhere in-between, nylon might be the most sought-after, accessible backpack material around.

Polyester

The best way to think about polyester is probably to look at it like a slightly lesser version of nylon. It, too, is a synthetic fabric that can be made up in just about any color or pattern imaginable. It’s not quite as tough and durable as nylon, but it’s also cheaper. Of course, also like nylon, its natural properties can be enhanced by secondary coatings — including DWR, PVC, and more — for greater weather resistance and higher levels of durability. Polyester is not quite as abundant as it used to be, but you can still find it used largely in more budget-friendly pieces of gear and apparel.

Etc.

The above three fabrics are probably the most impactful in the world right now, but they’re hardly the only options around. For starters, there are other natural materials fairly widely used — like leather, suede, and more — as well as alternative synthetics — like X-Pac sailcloth, Dyneema, tarpaulin (like that used to cover military transports). Some brands even have their own proprietary materials that you can’t find anywhere else. Of course, if you want to learn the story with these rarer materials, you’ll have to go to the source.

Material Terminology

Know Your Lingo

Even if you have an in-depth understanding of the fabrics used in backpack construction, there is still a slew of other data points you’ll want to check out. Of course, the terminology can also be viewed as a barrier to entry. To help clear things up, we’ve selected a few of the more important bits of lingo used in the descriptions of backpacks. Hopefully, this information will help you further narrow down your search and, perhaps, make your life easier when seeking out other types of gear, as well.

Denier

Pronounced den-yee, this term actually describes the fiber thickness of individual threads or filaments used in the creation of fabrics and/or textiles — usually nylon and/or polyester. The higher the denier number, the sturdier the fabric — at least in theory. Typically, this factor is styled as a number — usually in the hundreds or low-thousands — followed by the letter D (1000D). Higher denier fabrics tend to feel stiffer and more coarse, whereas low-denier fabrics are almost soft and silken by comparison. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that denier is only one factor to consider when measuring a fabric’s toughness, as coatings can be a game-changer regardless of the denier count.

Coatings

There are a number of different coatings that might be applied to a given fabric to increase their durability and/or weatherproofing. Some of the most impactful include wax (often used on canvas fabrics), DWR (short for “durable water repellent”), PU (polyurethane), PVC (polyvinyl chloride), polyethylene, and more. Some fabrics might also be “rubberized” (coated in a rubber-like substance) to increase waterproofing. Some coatings, especially when applied en masse and in thick layers, can even make bags entirely waterproof to the point that you can submerge them without water seeping inside.

Ripstop

This is another term widely applied to nylon and polyester (but could theoretically be used for other fabrics) that refers to the weave pattern of the threads. Ripstop nylon is woven in a gridded pattern that helps reduce its susceptibility to punctures and, more importantly, tearing. Even if ripstop nylon is punctured or ripped, the weave pattern will reduce the likelihood of that tear opening further — giving you the ability to rely on the ripstop fabric even in the case of damage.

Waterproof vs. Weatherproof

This is more a broad-strokes clarification for the sake of easing your understanding of the difference between gear that’s weatherproof as opposed to waterproof. You see, something that is “waterproof” should be completely protected from exposure to moisture of any kind — to the point where you should be able to dunk it underwater without the gear inside suffering from exposure to moisture. Weatherproof gear, by contrast, is not entirely waterproof — but it should be able to withstand exposure to inclement weather, especially rain. A weatherproof bag might protect your gear from a downpour, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to dunk it underwater.

Consider Your Compartments

The Hierarchy of Organization

When it comes to picking out the perfect backpack for you, this factor is both one of the most important and probably the hardest to pin down — not because the options are limited, but because it’s so closely tied to your personal preferences, needs, and budget. In fact, unless you’ve got a lot of experience with backpacks, there’s a pretty good chance you might not even know exactly what you need until you find it. Whatever the case, you should still be able to narrow things down based on a few distinguishing factors.

First, you’ll want to determine just how much you plan to carry with you on any given day. If your everyday carry includes things like a laptop, water bottle, office supplies, some tools, gym gear, and even a brown bag lunch, you’re naturally going to want something with a lot of different compartments to ensure you can keep things separate and organized. However, if you lean more toward the minimalist side of the spectrum and you only need space for a small handful of items, you can probably get away with a more basic 1- or 2-compartment bag. Obviously, there’s some wiggle room between the two, so you’ll want to give it some serious thought before you settle.

Secondly, you’ll want to consider security. If you’re a commuter that travels primarily by train or bicycle, you may want something with more internal storage options and not so many externally-accessible pockets (as they might be prime real estate for pickpockets). However, if you need quick access to a variety of EDC gear, something with exterior modularity and external pouches might be better suited to your needs. As with anything, there is plenty of wiggle room between these two options, as well.

Finally, it’s important to note that most backpacks have a static capacity. Yes, there are many expandable bags on the market, but even those are usually limited in how much they can expand or collapse. As such, you should absolutely be thinking about how much stuff you need to carry in the day-to-day — but you also want to think about what your maximum amount of gear might be. If you want to use a backpack for your everyday carry, but there’s a chance you’re going to take it on travel, you’re probably better off getting something a bit bigger than you’d normally need. Similarly, you don’t want to end up with a bag that has more space than you’ll ever use. Not only will that bog you down unnecessarily, but it could make the entire experience less streamlined and more frustrating. Remember: this is entirely dependent upon your own preferences and needs, so take this advice with a grain of salt.

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