March 30, 2014 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I need to buy myself a bag for carry-on and every-day stuff. What do I want?

I've had the same Jansport for the last five years, and it's been okay, but I want to get something better for my semester abroad in a few months. During those three months, I will be taking many day-hikes, going to school, and riding a lot of trains, so versatility is important. It should be waterproof. It should be able to contain a godawful amount of crap. It's also important to me that the bag is at least semi-fashionable (I like stuff like Fjällräven and Herschel, but I'm leery of their construction and shit-packing capabilities). Above all, though, I need it to be COMFORTABLE to lug around with me everywhere. I want to spend about $200, less is better. What should I buy?
posted by goosechasing to Shopping (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
  • Waterproof
  • Holds "a godawful amount of crap"
  • Comfortable
  • Fashionable
  • Costs under $200.
Unfortunately, I think you can pick any two from this list - maybe three at a stretch. What are your priorities?
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:23 PM on March 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

What is "a godawful amount of crap" by your standards? Does your current Jansport hold the amount of stuff you want the new one to hold, roughly? In which case, maybe link us to one like it, so if nothing else people will know what might fall into the "too small" category.
posted by rtha at 3:31 PM on March 30, 2014

Brooklyn Industries has good build quality, and is more fashionable than your average backpack.

But when you say waterproof, do you mean, "could shed water for a 30 minute bike ride in the rain" or do you mean waterproof?

Most bags with nylon fabric and an over-the-top flap will shed rain well. But they're not waterproof. Eventually water will seep into the seams, in the straps, in any zippers, etc. Your solution for that is to add a rain cover. Take whatever bag you end up buying to a REI or similar and try on different brands of rain covers until you find one that fits. It's not the most fashionable, but it beats a soggy bag.

Past that, if you want waterproof-waterproof, you need to look at hiking-sport brands. I like my Osprey flap-jill backpack which is water-resistant and has waterproof seams, but is a commuter style bag with a laptop compartment. Again, made by a hiking brand so not the most fashionable but very comfortable.
posted by fontophilic at 3:32 PM on March 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

How about something like this Arcteryx pack?
posted by arcticseal at 3:33 PM on March 30, 2014

Might be too small, but I've been contemplating the Osprey Flapjack (in part because it's shorter, at 17", than my other backpacks, which tend to poke out from under the airplane seat).
posted by rtha at 3:44 PM on March 30, 2014

Even though you said you are a bit sceptic, i cannot recommend fjallraven enough. I currently have two of them, the normal kanken style and the 17" laptop kanken. The first i use for everyday use, carrying my books and lunch and for your use it could indeed not hold enough stuff. That's why i recommend the kanken big style, as it is much bigger. My laptop bag is a kanken big with a built-in laptop pouch. It can hold so much stuff, i often use it as a weekend bag. The bigger version also has extra support, for carrying heavy stuff. I can also vouch that both my bags are incredibly waterproof. Seriously, these bags were the best buys i made last year. Browse through the best fjallraven bag shop on the internet and make your choice!
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 3:52 PM on March 30, 2014


  • Waterproof
  • Comfortable
  • Fashionable
  • Costs under $200

  • I'd say you want a Citizen or Metropolis.


  • (Mostly) waterproof
  • Holds a godawful amount of crap
  • Comfortable

    I'd go for a Sky Train.

    It depends on whether you want primarily a day-to-day bag (the former) or something for weekend trips. (The latter.) 'Course, neither of these would be exactly great for hiking; you'd want a hiking pack of some description for that.

  • posted by fifthrider at 3:57 PM on March 30, 2014

    Oh, and my father uses this fjallraven bag for hiking and loves it. It may not be as suitable for carrying books, but it has very good back support.

    (Also, regarding construction: i know people that still use their fjallraven kanken they bought in the 70s, they're pretty indestructable)
    posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 3:58 PM on March 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

    If you happen to find the perfect bag but it isn't waterproof, I've had good luck with this stuff, Nikwax. I use a dishpan full of water for one backpack and just about a quarter of a cup, so there's plenty left over for when it wears off, and I've been completely pleased even when biking through rain with a laptop in my bag (the raining bit was not a part of the initial plan, but happily everything survived intact and perfectly dry).
    posted by sldownard at 4:00 PM on March 30, 2014

    I have an Incase backpack that I really like, which I picked after a long search for a backpack that wasn't too outdoorsy looking (excess zippers, mesh, etc.), but that was sturdy and ergonomic, unlike the fashion-y canvas numbers you see around. It's worn well and I really like it.
    posted by ITheCosmos at 4:08 PM on March 30, 2014

    You want a custom Timbuk2 bag. Handmade, and fits all your requirements. I carry a laptop, iPad, full waterbottle, two Moleskine notebooks, and tons of other stuff, and it never feels crowded.
    posted by guster4lovers at 4:23 PM on March 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

    "contain a godawful amount of crap" is pretty much incompatible with fashionable, and hauling all that crap around hurts the "comfortable" factor too. I'd suggest focusing on trimming down the amount of stuff you carry with you as much as possible, and then aiming more for your other criteria.

    I really like my Crumpler bag as an everyday/overnighter bag that fits all your requirements. They run on the small and expensive side, although there are quite a few under 200$ on their website.
    posted by randomnity at 4:29 PM on March 30, 2014

    Messenger bags usually strap over one shoulder. While they look stylish and they carry a lot, their weight on one shoulder get uncomfortable. The shoulder strap also twists easily, which makes them even more uncomfortable. Something to think about.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:32 PM on March 30, 2014

    since you are traveling, i'm going to recommend you bring a combination of bags. I would do a messenger bag (I would highly recommend a Tom Bihn bag - mine is super comfortable) that you can carry around with you during the day for easy access to your stuff - messenger bags are easier to put in front of you if you are in crowd and need to watch your valuables.

    then i would bring a self-stowing backpack for day hikes. I have an earlier version of the LL bean model and I like that it has a hip strap.

    this combo always works for me when I travel.
    posted by nanhey at 4:33 PM on March 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

    (i screwed up the second link to the backpack - here it is!)
    posted by nanhey at 4:39 PM on March 30, 2014

    I stand by my assessment over here and would suggest you go for an Ortlieb or a Baily Works bag depending on your definitions of comfort and ungodly amounts of stuff….and waterproofness.
    posted by furnace.heart at 9:58 PM on March 30, 2014

    Tom Bihn, while not especially cheap, is otherwise awesome, and there are a variety of TB bags within your budget. They are made in Seattle and are truly top-notch. I personally think they're much better than TUMI or Timbuk2 or anything out of China or Southeast Asia (90% of brands)

    If you want a backpack, check out the Synapse.
    posted by JMOZ at 4:17 AM on March 31, 2014

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