I need a cheap, waterproof, dependable, comfortable, stylish backpack for lots of walking in college.
June 7, 2010 8:31 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to find a cheap, waterproof, stylish, dependable college backpack?

I need this backpack to last me through rain and snow for at least the next two years. I will be walking a lot, possibly without an umbrella in the rain because I'm not a planner like that.

I will probably at least occasionally be carrying a laptop, probably a big notebook, and probably a few college textbooks, along with other doodads and what have you.

Chrome backpacks meet all requirements but cheap. LL Bean backpacks seem to be geared more towards kids and imo are ugly (but style is the least important quality I'm looking at, function over form).

I have had various fabric Jansport and whatever else I get at Target or whatever and none of those were waterproof.

I don't really want to look like a total dork, but I will if I have to.

Here is the order of the qualities I'm looking for:

1. Comfortable
2. Waterproof/Dependable
3. Cheap
4. Stylish

Am I just going to have to bite the bullet and spend like 150 dollars on a backpack? That's a lot of money to me, but I can actually afford it. A backpack just seems like not the type of thing I want to spend that type of money on. In an ideal world I would spend between 30-50 dollars on a backpack.

posted by tweedle to Shopping (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you want a bag that is bomb-proof... you could try a bike messenger bag. You can probably get one for somewhere in between the figures you've defined as cheap and expensive...
posted by kaudio at 8:39 PM on June 7, 2010

If I were you and wanted those four things for under $50 I would search craigslist for used chrome bags. They last forever.
posted by kthxbi at 8:41 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Previously. And military surplus (like this Swiss rubber/leather pack) might be a good place to start, depending on your take on what's stylish.
posted by holgate at 8:44 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is ok to look like a dork only on rainy days? I use my backpack with a small pack-cover on rainy days. I got mine from MEC (Canada). You can then use whatever stylish backpack. The downside is that you have to actually put it on (20 seconds?). But I hate getting my backpack dirty and the cover is super easy to wash compared to trying to wash the pack.
posted by bread-eater at 8:53 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had similar requirements for a backpack, but the waterproofness always threw a wrench into things. The only waterproof packs I could find were expensive camping ones, and watersport ones which were basically rubber sacks. I settled on a $50 North Face backpack that I liked and used this Nikwax waterproofing spray all over it. It's basically a liquid that dries into a rubbery membrane that should be embedded in the fabric to which it's applied. It worked well enough in Michigan snowstorms, but it has to be reapplied every so often (a few months or so).
posted by mnemonic at 9:09 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to spend some time searching different websites and waiting for an item from the right brand to pop up you can save a lot of money and still get great stuff. When I want good equipment at cheap stuff prices, I tend to just occasionally search a site like rei-outlet.com until I find what I want. The really great thing about REI is that if you have a store near you, you can have seriously marked down outlet stuff shipped to the store for free, pick it up, try it on, and turn around and return it immediately if you don't like it. But there are other discount stuff websites around, and even eBay, that all work well for this as long as you are somewhat flexible.

Anecdotally, I got a $40ish High Sierra bag from REI-Outlet that fits my 15" laptop and has kept everything dry during 40-minute walks in moderate rain. That's my only experience with the brand so I can't attest to it in general but that bag has served me well so far. I also have a small North Face pack that I got off of eBay years ago that's still going strong and keeps things pretty dry too.
posted by mandanza at 9:41 PM on June 7, 2010

Ortlieb Velocity. Incredibly waterproof. Minimalist design. Has padded shoulder straps and waist belt, so adaptable. Around $100 but these are built to last.
posted by mlo at 10:16 PM on June 7, 2010

Seconding the idea of a pack cover, as well as the separately-suggested idea of REI. I use their Duck's Back pack cover (20 L, I believe) for my backpack and it works fabulously. It's small enough that I can keep it in my backpack at all times, just in case. My friends think I'm a dork whenever I put it on, but they think I'm a dork anyway, and I'll be damned if my laptop and books aren't dry as a bone when I get back to shelter.

Don't believe the $20 price. If you don't have to have a pack anytime too soon, as mentioned above you can get some great deals by watching the outlet.

For what it's worth, I bought a cheapo backpack (this one in a different color scheme, I believe) from Wal-Mart one desperate weekend. It lasted about a year before one of the plastic pieces holding the left strap decided to snap. Not bad for the price, though, and it held all my stuff comfortably.
posted by dondiego87 at 10:17 PM on June 7, 2010

Get a Chrome Ivan backpack. Honestly, you get what you pay for. They last forever, they're beautiful, abd they're fully, fully waterproof, which is a great great presence of mind when it's raining and you have an expensive laptop/textbook inside your bag. You could stand in a shower for days and not worry about anything getting wet. The bag will last forever (really), and it's got a lifetime warranty.

OR, you could get three $30 backpacks over the next five years, that might rip or have a buckle snap, etc.
posted by suedehead at 11:12 PM on June 7, 2010

I think the Fjällräven Kånken (apparently a classic backpack for Swedish schoolchildren), is really stylish. It's not super-padded or anything, but it's well-designed and lightweight. I use one as a gym bag and haven't had any problems with it leaking water, though I haven't tested it for serious waterproofness.
posted by doift at 1:01 AM on June 8, 2010

Osprey Flapjack meets your criteria, for certain values of "cheap."
posted by zjacreman at 1:03 AM on June 8, 2010

You already know the answer to this. You cannot get a quality bag for cheap. It's not possible (trust me I went through tons of shitty bags before biting the bullet).

Buy the Chrome. I know when I bought mine a part of me inside was like "are you really spending this much money on a backpack" but you truly do get what you pay for in this instance. I ride every day everywhere and have used that pack every.single.day for six years and there is not a single stitch loose on it. I regularly ride in the rain - nothing has ever gotten wet. I have taken it camping. I have carried 80lbs in textbooks, my weekly grocery haul, a dog, a large quantity of 2x4's, and a bookshelf in it. I have spilled more beers than I can count on it, dropped it in the mud, left it outside, thrown it off buildings, and I usually toss it across the room when I get home. When there is a BBQ, I fill the water proof inside with ice and beer and bike to it.

Chrome bags are one of the few things that are actually made to last. Just get it and you will never have to buy another backpack again.
posted by bradbane at 1:42 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had the predecessor to MEC's Darwin 2 for about seven years now. It has a suspended pocket for a laptop, it's waterproof, it's basically indestructable, and only makes me look a bit like a dork. I don't have the new one, but I will if this one ever wears out.
posted by Kreiger at 3:21 AM on June 8, 2010

Patagonia Crosstown or Lightwire.

I have been using the same Patagonia backpack for about 8 years.
posted by westerly at 7:39 AM on June 8, 2010

I got this Ful backpack and it is the most comfortable one I've ever owned. I usually carry a laptop, 1-3 books and my purse in it. I paid $40 and it's still that price on target.com. It has the laptop sleeve and I thought it was available in blue/black at the store as well as grey/black.

It's listed as water-resistant. I once spilled half a bottle of soda inside of it and didn't know until I opened it because none leaked out. So, that's a testament to how resistant it is.
posted by soelo at 8:05 AM on June 8, 2010

Check out the Teton backpacks on amazon.com. $30 or less.
posted by KimikoPi at 11:18 PM on June 8, 2010

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