Help me grab a bag
February 1, 2009 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I would like to know a superior form of backpack. It should be primarily appropriate for day to day backpack and school usage but also useful for light travel use or light camping use. I am ~6'4", usually weigh about 185 pounds, and male.

A backpack is a item of function, so I do not care at all about the aesthetics.

Durability is the prime concern; I am tired of buying a normal backpack and within a year it's deteriorating and after a few years it's useless. This would ideally be the last backpack of this type I buy in my life; I don't like today's throwaway consumer goods.

Waterproofing is another important concern. I am not as afraid as most people are these days to get wet when it rains, but I've found normal waterproof backpacks to be barely so, and then the rubber layer on the inside flakes off ant they're not at all.

Comfort and adjustability also matter.

I think the durability and waterproofing I like for my day to day use covers most of my requirements for the level of travel and camping I'm thinking of. Basically in addition it should be big enough for several day's worth of clothes and sundries or a couple nights of camping. Despite my last question this pack is not intended for actual serious backpacking, so don't really worry about things like strapping on tents and sleeping bags or that it won't have a frame. I'm just thinking I'd like to be able to use it to hike a few easy miles and plop down for a night or two and for that I will strap my big luxurious sleeping bag to myself in an ad hoc fashion and carry my big luxurious tent in my arm.

I'd prefer zipper closures, but with powerful zippers that will not break or malfunction.

I also prefer an absence of goofy specialized pockets or features for MP3 players, water bottles, laptops, and cell phones.

No wheels.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would look at Burton packs. Burton is a big part of the snowboard industry and their packs hold up really well. I'm a fan of the Transistor and the Fader. But they might not be exactly what you're looking for.

Good luck!
posted by bach at 2:02 PM on February 1, 2009

If durability is the prime concern you might want to consider something like a military surplus NATO rucksack. I've had one of these for years and it has outlasted anything with zippers from hiking stores. It has worn holes in several coats over years of hiking without giving out. Unfortunately most of them use straps. Spray-on water repellents make them a bit more waterproof but I would use a SEAL line bag inside if you really want stuff to stay dry.
posted by benzenedream at 2:02 PM on February 1, 2009

I had a booq backpack for years and it was virtually indestructible. They even make some with steel.
posted by plexi at 2:05 PM on February 1, 2009

This is the time I usually come in to recommend Arc'teryx
posted by ddaavviidd at 2:13 PM on February 1, 2009

Chrome and Timbuk2 are usually associated with messenger style bags, but they also manufacture backpack style bags. I'm a Timbuk2 guy, but I've seen the Chrome bags up close and both are no-frills and indestructible. I've had my Timbuk2 bag going on four years now, it's seen snow and ice, high speed bicycle wipe outs, drunken fall downs, dirty, mud, and other... um... fluids. Still going strong...
posted by wfrgms at 2:23 PM on February 1, 2009

Oh, and one other piece of advice: buy a bag from a company that only makes bags. Bruton makes fine snowboards and Arc'teryx does clothes okay, but that doesn't mean they automatically make good bags.
posted by wfrgms at 2:25 PM on February 1, 2009

I'd second the Arc'teryx suggestion. I've found that the quality is amazingly high, although the price is as well. However, it should last a long time if not decades. Specifically, maybe the mid-sized Bora 35 Tall would fit your needs. Good luck!
posted by Staggering Jack at 2:57 PM on February 1, 2009

Take a few minutes and check out Tough Traveler. They make the packs in upstate NY. Great stuff, very durable and well made.
posted by starfish at 3:10 PM on February 1, 2009

SpireUSA has great stuff. The straps are less thick than i'd like but the pack is extremely comfortable. I roll a Meta; this might be too big for most people.
posted by arimathea at 3:35 PM on February 1, 2009

Whatever you do, don't buy an Osprey backpack. I spent a ridiculous amount on one that was comfortable but ended up wearing out after only a year. All I did in it was wear it to and from work and some light hiking.

If you care, I ended going back to my old standby. The basic pack from MEC, cost me around $40 and my previous one lasted 9 years. Happy hunting!
posted by LunaticFringe at 4:30 PM on February 1, 2009

You can't get one bag that is suitable for what you want and I think you should consider two.

You will want an internal frame pack for camping with a hipbelt which would be a pita for everyday use. Your idea of carrying your tent in your arms and tying your sleeping bag to your body is not at all realistic if you plan on going more than a 1/2 mile from your car. Used camping backpacks are super easy to find cheap on craigslist or eaby so find what you want in a store then shop around. I like Gregory but it's all down to fit really.

For everyday I also recommend Burton, although they might be too small for your everyday needs. Their stuff is awesomely durable, much better than any other brand I've tried.
posted by fshgrl at 4:42 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Deuter Futura backpacks. Light, comfortable and beautifully made.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:56 PM on February 1, 2009

Don't set on a brand or an expectation of a specific brand. Every backpack fits differently and depending on your physical frame, you may find a large difference in what you try on. Take a trip to your nearest outdoor outfitter like REI (really expensive items) or EMS (expensive mountain sh**) to find a variety of packs. Its best to flag someone down and have them fit you for the pack... load it up with what you expect is your realistic load, and walk around the store for 30 minutes (minimum) to know that you aren't about to drop $80-$140 on something you will regret the first time you go to use it. It is important to know when you walk in the store: how big a bag do you need, and what specialty tasks you intend to do with your bag.
1. Are you intending to ski with it? If so, forego as many side pockets as possible - they tend to fill with snow when you take a header; however, if skiing isn't in your plans, side packs rock. They are extremely handy for camping, backpacking, water bottles and such
2. Are you intending to spend a lot of time in damp weather? Do you really want your backpack to be waterproof, or would a waterproof duckpack (pack cover) be a better option?
3. Does everything need to fit in your backpack, and what constitutes "everything" or your desired shade of everything?
4. Can you actually carry everything you think you need for as long as you want to where you want it without trashing your shoulders, back, and lower back? (that's not a comment on your physical health - thats a comment on how well you test your pack).

I have 4 packs which I used to use for different activities:

- a small 18L Black Diamond brand for a quick trailruns, biking and such (basically fits 2 water bottles, a wind breaker, a lightweight hat, and a collapseable water bowl for my dogs). Think a more functional camelpack. When combining this with my big pack, I can go somewhere and get really lost, leave my tent and stuff, and then use this to get around to any scrambles that might be fun. For a quarter pound of added weight - its very handy.

- a multipurpose 40L single stayed internal frame pack (might be 35L, definitely less than 50L) - RE Brand... Lets see, I've crammed tons of books in there. When I was a line cook, it was where my knife roll, two changes of clothes, and my rain gear lived. I've used it for climbing gear and longer day trips. I was also struck by a car while biking with this on and I swear to god that the internal frame is what saved my life.

- my backpacking 75L-85L L.L.Bean pack (I didn't think it would be any good until I tried it on - fits great for extremely long and underpadded guys). This is my mainstay backpacking pack, or mountaineering, or traveling pack. It fits great and I know how to pack it.

- Lastly, my kelty child carrier. (Fits 1 baby, all of his junk, as well as a mess of waterbottles, dog bowls, snacks, toys, a pair of earplugs, a first aid kit, and bottles of ibuprofen and tylenol when either the weight, the crying, or the barking get to me.

None of my gear have lots of side pockets because I tend to do stuff year round with them. I am focused on weight moreso than dryness, because I use duckpacks to keep stuff dry, also, I look for side zippers or well thought out rain protection for what zippers exist. I also have a duffel bag which I throw over my fully loaded backpacking bag if I'm flying with it so it isn't obvious what it is, and none of the straps catch on the conveyors. Plus that way there's also a place for extra gear that I really don't want in my bag, like ice axes and crampons.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:08 PM on February 1, 2009

Osprey Packs are excellent and have a huge range of fitting adjustments.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:07 PM on February 1, 2009

I have a smaller version of this which seems indestructible, comes with a frame and a hip belt but is still easily light enough for day to day use.

It's not waterproof at all, but I'd consider getting a separate dry sack for inside your bag anyway. Those things are properly waterproof and designed for rough handling in canoes and who knows what; and they need a lot less seams than a backpack does.
posted by emilyw at 5:41 AM on February 2, 2009

I'm a bit of a backpack geek. If you want a quality pack for school/day to day use, you don't want a bag that can do both school and camping, since that bag is going to be squarely mediocre at both, or much better at one than the other. If you're ok with that, fine. If you only do the occasional bit of camping, I'd get a great day-to-day pack if I were you, since it's something you'll use almost every day.

For a day-to-day bag, I'd get something from either Chrome or R.E.Load. Both companies got into business designing bags for bike messengers, which, kitsch aside, depend on their bags for their livelihoods. Their bags are tough, and absolutely waterproof. I've had a Chrome messenger bag for the past 4 years and commute by bike with it daily. It's big too; I have their metropolis and it packs a laptop, change of clothes, a couple of textbooks, and all of the other bits like an ipod and other bits without trouble. They're also free of all of the fiddley pockets you don't like. If you get one from Reload, you can customize it all you want too, and it'll last you forever.

Then, I'd spend some time poking around on craigslist for a decent hiking pack. You've got some more time to sit on your heels for that one, and you can probably find a nice internal-frame pack for well under $100.

For me, the biggest problem with most light hiking packs is that, with exceptions like Arc'teryx, their zippers and construction aren't meant for being tossed around all day, every day, and they're not waterproof. Water-resistant, maybe, but not water proof, and when I'm hauling my laptop around through traffic and sleet, I want waterproof.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:37 AM on February 2, 2009

The Jansport Odyssey. This backpack I own truly moves between backpacking and regular-school use--it can compact for school or bike riding, or expand for day- and weekend-hiking. The shoulder straps are very padded, good for both textbooks and canteens. There is a pocket which accommodates hydration packs, so it saves you the buying of a Camelbak as well. And I'd say it has a clean, minimalist design, (which is redesigned somewhat year-to-year.) A trusty standby, reasonably priced around $50-$75.
posted by Tufa at 10:04 AM on February 2, 2009

(Also rugged and waterproof, with big glow-in-the-dark zippers.)
posted by Tufa at 10:06 AM on February 2, 2009

Tom Bihn Brain Bag. Carries a large load but has cinch straps on the side to reduce the size of the pack when you're not carrying all that much. Holds two laptops or a bunch of clothes or one laptop and even more clothes. Extremely durable Cordura construction with YKK zippers. Comfortable straps. American made in Washington state. Excellent customer service. I own four Tom Bihn bags, and I can't say enough good things about them. Pricey, but worth it.
posted by Bezuhin at 5:11 PM on February 3, 2009

Resolved. It is made from a tarp. A serious business tarp. Good suggestion.

I would have liked to have checked out bags at a Store but where I live there are few Stores worth going to for anything and the one store with decent backpacks didn't have too much of a selection or any bags with the properties I desired.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:14 PM on February 26, 2009

Good pick.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:23 AM on February 28, 2009

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