Surely backpack technology has progressed alongside the laptop?
June 16, 2014 4:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a men's backpack or messenger bag that exists at some magic intersection of lightweight and strong/durable. This is for daily commuting, often by foot, in New York City. My flashy new devices are impossibly light, and I'm looking for a bag that won't add unnecessary bulk when I carry some or all of them with me.

I'm a writer and heavy reader, and for years I carried an insane burden on everywhere I went: two to four books at a time, notepads, journals, pens, and a clunky 15" laptop with wall charger (since the battery was shot). All this stuff was bulky and heavy, and I bought a heavy-duty backpack suited to the load. But it started to KILL me on my daily walking commute.

Recently, I've been lucky enough to acquire some technological miracles, which have slimmed down my load considerably. Now I carry between one and all of the following items when I leave the house:

Ipad mini
Macbook Air 11"
Paperback book

This is great! My wallet is much lighter, too! My back is so happy. However, my old backpack seems like a tank, and weighs almost as much by itself as all these devices combined. It's overkill, and I'd like a new bag that will make my back even happier.

I'm used to backpacks, but I wouldn't mind trying a messenger bag if it suits my purposes. I'm interested in two things: 1) I'd like it to be as lightweight as humanly possible while 2) still adequately supporting the weight of all my future tech. My computer and iPad have neoprene sleeves, so I don't need a ton of padding on the bag itself. I just wouldn't want something that's likely to rip.

Style is definitely not a consideration here; I don't care about looking cool or anything. I just want something practical and dependable.

Thank you so much!
posted by scarylarry to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (11 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Rickshaw Bags are super lightweight (~1.5 lbs) and last a long time. They come in messenger + backpack. I bike/carry my messenger bag pretty much everywhere, often stuffed to the brim, and nearly 2 years later it looks great.

You can even customize it for tougher fabric. (I have mine in tweed.)
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 4:51 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recently bought a convertible backpack/messenger bag like this one, and while I haven't used it a ton yet, it holds a lot and is incredibly well-made and lightweight.
posted by littlegreen at 4:54 PM on June 16, 2014

Best answer: as lightweight as humanly possible

You could go nuts and buy a Cuben fiber Metro Pack backpack from Hyperlite Mountain Gear, at 6.7 oz. It's rated to carry 5-20lbs, which should be plenty for the devices you've listed, and is supposed to be waterproof.
posted by enn at 5:43 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are several manufacturers (Outlier, Tom Bihn, And Wander, etc.) using Dyneema/Cuben, which is currently the ne plus ultra of technical material for bags.
posted by evoque at 5:45 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a huge evangelist of chrome brand stuff, honestly. I've had several bags they don't even make anymore for years, one of which is the aircraft carrier sized version of this small-medium guy which i also have that size of.

Their solution to this sort of pack is this. I can basically guarantee you you'll be able to stack the ipad mini and the air in the "ipad" sleeve, they're always roomy.

I've had one thing fail on any bag i've had from them(i've owned five or six all passed on to friends besides two, my partner has one, my friends have owned??, but lets say >20 out of everyone i know) and it was a little strap tensioning buckle. They shipped it back to their office, repaired it, and had it back to me within maybe three days. They even cleaned it!

The issue with cuben type bags as mentioned above is the weight limitation A lightweight bag is nice, but what if you randomly decide you want to shove a bunch of bottles in it or something that wouldn't "cube out" the bag size wise, but would exceed the weight limit? you're boned, it'll just rip/fail. You can fill a chrome pack pretty much with cement and just roll.

Basically, carrying all that stuff in a small light bag is nice. But having the ability to, as long as it isn't physically too large, shove something cool you found in a free pile/thrift store/bought at the market is invaluable. Don't artificially limit yourself.

I'll also note i'm biased against messenger bags since even with a light load that shoulder starts to hurt for me, and i think stylistically that ship has sailed. But really, these packs rule.
posted by emptythought at 6:31 PM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've had a Manhattan Portage bag for, god, 16 years now? It's held up well, and the size was perfect for a laptop. I recently got a Timbuk2 bag (thanks to mandyman's much appreciated thrifting) and it's pretty solid too, and waterproof (something the ManPort isn't), along with an internal laptop sleeve. Both are acceptably light — I bike with both of them pretty happily.
posted by klangklangston at 6:54 PM on June 16, 2014

I've used a Crumpler Skivvy shoulder bag for a few years now, and my daily loadout is similar to yours. It's lightweight, minimalist and comes with a 'lifetime' warranty. It's held up really well here in tropical Singapore, and in travels around SE Asia.

If you're looking for something with more frills, Crumpler's 'Embarrassment' series of bags are quite good too!
posted by beijingbrown at 7:36 PM on June 16, 2014

Best answer: I have the gear you have, and I love the Pilot, by Tom Binh. It's strong, light, and not at all stylish (in dyneema -- essential for extra-lightness).
posted by rdn at 7:50 PM on June 16, 2014

I have an Eddie Bauer backpack that's wonderfully light and hasn't died yet despite being used all the time. The exact model I have isn't on their website, but I suspect I have an earlier model of this one. In addition to the lightness, I like that it doesn't have a ton of pockets and compartments. Plus it's $30.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:53 PM on June 16, 2014

Best answer: The problem with modern materials in my experience is that after some use, they start to look shabby rather than lived in, and they look garish and clownlike in any color that isn't black. A canvas bag looks better the more you beat on it, and settles into a subtle colors effortlessly.

A Moop No. 4 messenger bag may be a few ounces heavier than an ultra-light synthetic bag, but it's very compact, the right size for a Macbook Air + iPad Mini + Kindle + Phone + chargers, built like a brick bunker and is reasonably weatherproof. It also won't make that "zip-zop" noise rubbing against your clothes as you walk.

Definitely a step in the right direction, away from oversized mass-market messenger bags and backpacks, which all seem sized for expeditions into the Andes or something, while still being substantial enough to protect your stuff, and look good doing it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:22 AM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, Cuben fiber is the light-light-lightest, but I hear its durability isn't all that.

I have a nice CamelBak backpack with a 100-oz. bladder pocket, which I love, and I bought it two years ago so I would suggest that you go through their range to see what's current.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:07 AM on June 17, 2014

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