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August 14, 2011 9:39 AM   Subscribe

ISO a simple, inconspicuous backpack.

When I was an undergrad, I bought the perfect book bag at the Gap: a navy-colored, medium-sized sling backpack with a belt buckle release. I've had the bag for 7-8 years now. I use it to carry all sorts of sundries, such as books, gym clothes, a laptop, minor groceries, and so on. But it's starting to wear out, and I want to buy a new one in order to avoid looking like a starving graduate student wherever I go.

There are lots of sling backpacks on (e.g.) Amazon, but I'm very particular and need your personal recommendations. I want the new bag to have the following properties:
  • not a messenger bag
  • dark, plain, inconspicuous color
  • folds flat or expands based on what you stuff inside
  • not a million pockets and compartments; 2-3 is best
  • no slogans, giant logos, crazy "accents," or other affectations
  • fits at least a 14-inch laptop
  • under $100, ideally
Basically, I need a convenient, grown-up looking bag. Thanks for your suggestions.
posted by Nomyte to Shopping (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a big fan of L.L. Bean's backpacks. They have a lot of variety from kid's school backpacks to all-leather classic-looking rucksacks. My local hiking shop doesn't carry small packs and I liked that I could order Bean stuff at no risk (and now with no overt shipping fees); their return / satisfaction policy is foolishly generous. You pay a few bucks extra, but I find it worth it; I've ordered shirts, didn't like the collar cut, exchanged them, didn't like the replacement's color, exchanged that one, and ended up with a perfect shirt all while paying nothing extra, no shipping, etc.. I know the exchange cost is baked into the item cost, but damn is it convenient.

I recommend looking at their school backpacks section and check out the day packs, Quad, and Turbo Transit 2. (Mine is old enough that it isn't listed any more; it looks something like the Turbo Transit 2 just a bit more... dated.) One of my hiking friends has one of their day packs and I know he takes it as his one piece of luggage when he gets called up for fireline duty; that's relatively high praise, I suppose.
posted by introp at 10:03 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jansport makes just about every kind of backpack you could want.

Maybe something like the Superbreak? Or the Right Pack.
posted by royalsong at 10:06 AM on August 14, 2011

I forgot to emphasize my main requirement: I'm looking for a sling backpack.
posted by Nomyte at 10:08 AM on August 14, 2011

Tom Bihn makes a sling bag slightly out of your price range. Currently only comes in inconspicuous colors.
posted by that girl at 10:29 AM on August 14, 2011

Baggu makes some simple well-made canvas bags - This one might be worth a look, even though it isn't technically a sling backpack it might be worth a look since it seems to fit the other requirements.
posted by belau at 10:29 AM on August 14, 2011

That link didn't work - http://baggubag.com then click on the word "backpack" at the top. Or here.
posted by belau at 10:31 AM on August 14, 2011

How about a 5.11 Tactical Sling Bag? It's technically made to carry small assault rifles (think MP-5's) and handguns for security personnel, but I find it's great for an everyday bag for me. It doesn't have a billion pockets and it's inconspicuous. It is not huge, however.

I highly, highly recommend it. Plus, it's badass.
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:32 AM on August 14, 2011

Oh, and those logo patches like on the Tom Bihn bag? You can often remove them easily with a seam ripper.
posted by belau at 10:34 AM on August 14, 2011

I just wanted to second Tom Bihn as a brand that's worth the money. I bought a Checkpoint Flyer based on advice from my own AskMe, and I am incredibly pleased with its quality, both in worksmanship and in sheer utility.
posted by Andrhia at 11:04 AM on August 14, 2011

The Incase Nylon sling is eighty bucks. I don't have the specific one they're currently selling, but have owned a few versions of it over time. There are sub-pockets in the two main storage areas, for cables and power bricks, but it's reasonable and mostly zipper-free, so no scratching up your stuff if you're putting other things in there.
posted by Su at 1:44 PM on August 14, 2011

Timbuk2 has a lot of different styles of backpack - some simpler than others. And while they certainly specialize in flashy and snazzy, they also have a custom color designer for some models of backpacks, so you can design one as inconspicuous as you want. That may be more than $100, but you also get exactly what you want in terms of color.

They even have a laptop selector for bag sizes; you choose what make and model laptop you want to carry with it, and it shows you the backpack that'll for that laptop. I just got a Timbuk2 bag last month, and it's seriously been one of the best backpacks I've ever owned.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:24 PM on August 14, 2011

I ended up with a black Incase sling. Things I like about it:
  • not very big
  • doesn't look like a prototypical backpack
  • few compartments
  • sits comfortably
Things that will take some getting used to:
  • the adjustable part of the shoulder strap is made of slick seat belt fabric that doesn't stay in one place
  • the pack is narrow and the shoulder strap is over the left shoulder; bending down and reaching with the right hand makes the pack roll over my right shoulder and slip in front
  • putting anything into the small fleece-lined pocket on the top of the bag makes the main compartment troublesome to zip up with one hand, because the weight of the stuff in the pocket makes the unzipped "lip" of the bag collapse inward
I appreciate everyone's recommendations.
posted by Nomyte at 1:04 PM on August 26, 2011

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