You helped me find the best messenger bag. Now help me find a backpack!
July 6, 2018 9:47 PM   Subscribe

Previously you all pitched in and helped me find this awesome messenger bag in black leather and nylon, which has served me well for 3 years and still looks new. Now I'm recovering from a broken ankle and need to retire the heavy messenger bag for a while in favor of a backpack. Know of any awesome bags I should consider? Parameters inside!

I've reviewed at least a half-dozen recent backpack threads (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), and I have found a few prospects. I also reviewed this often-linked Wirecutter thread, as well as scrolled back through everything I could in this category on Carryology.

I'm hoping you might be able to help me narrow this down and/or recommend laptop-friendly backpacks with similar qualities.
What I Like
Brands: Logos that can be removed with a seam ripper, Cayce Pollard Units (i.e., unlabeled or only subtly branded items)
Aesthetics: All black, monochromatic textures or patterns, neon or gray accents
Hardware: Silver (stainless steel and aluminum) and bronze hardware, snaps, Cobra buckles (huge bonus), metal side-release buckles and clip closures, YKK zippers, a zipper under any top flap to ensure things don't fall out, plastic strap resizer bars OK
Materials: Black leather (ideally high-quality and formaldehyde-free), thick ballistic nylon, seatbelt material, recycled materials, fabric and padding as light as possible while still waterproof and able to cradle and protect a laptop
Structure: Many pockets and dividers for tech stuff (I work with computers and travel for business), pockets that hold a lot without easily bulging, an interior water-bottle pocket or divider rather than exterior mesh, capacity to work well as a carry-on or one-bag travel option, quilting, subtle exterior tactical webbing, geometric structure, waterproofing, padding and venting on the back and straps, diagonal front zippers
Financials: Lasts forever, great warranty, ideally under $300, bonus if under $100

What I Dislike
Brands: Timbuk2, Jansport
Aesthetics: Bulging and puckering materials, high-school locker room aesthetics (or lack thereof), super visible or unremovable logos
Hardware: Magnetic closures, gold buckles or zippers, cheap plastic buckles, Velcro, plastic side-release buckles, belt-style metal buckles
Materials: Waxed canvas, brown or navy leather or fabric, unnecessarily thick leather
Structure: Open bags without pockets or dividers, bags that easily spill things if turned upside-down, bags that fall apart, pockets that tear out when you actually use them, exterior mesh for water bottles, stylish tiny leather backpacks that hold nothing, the lack of divisions and incomplete seal of many rolltop or foldover bags, drawstring-top bags, mini backpacks, bags with material so thick they won't actually close properly
Financials: More than $300, ridiculously expensive for what you get, poor or no warranty, doesn't last
Here are a few products that stood out to me in my search, along with any accompanying notes.
Mixed Works Falcon M: I like the handles, the diagonal slash of the pockets, the Cobra buckle option, but the rolltop and flap closures both seem insecure, and it's too much of a big open bucket. Would consider purchasing if knew the pockets were sufficient.
OGIO Soho women's laptop backpack: I actually like this quite a bit and it's on sale, but I wish I could see more photos of the interior. I don't love the big logo, but it's fairly subtle. Would consider purchasing if could better assess interior.
END. Master-Piece Slick Series Ballistic backpack: I love the materials, the attention to detail, the diagonal zipper, etc. I wish I could see the inside to assess its capacity and pocket situation. It's a little too expensive not to show that. Probably too expensive to seriously consider.
WaterField Staad (Stout) laptop backpack: I love the aesthetic, the unique ammunition buckle, the materials. My current bag is from WaterField. But I don't feel like this has nearly enough space or pockets. Probably too expensive to seriously consider with this little capacity.
L.L. Bean Super Deluxe book pack: It's the quintessential basic backpack, and if the warranty and return policy is the same as it used to be, I could use and replace this for a long time, as I did with my L.L. Bean backpacks in school. It really looks like a school backpack, though. Would seriously consider it for the convenience factor if nothing more stylish works out.
Chrome Barrage Cargo backpack: I like most of the materials and overall look, but I wish it had less plastic hardware and a less prominent logo. The rolltop also doesn't seem super convenient, and I'm concerned about pocket space. Would seriously consider purchasing it if I knew it had enough capacity and internal divisions.
Chrome Urban Ex daypack: I love the clean lines and the style, but it's way too small. Wouldn't seriously consider it.
Chrome Hondo backpack: I like the style but not the size or the straps. Seems too small and doesn't appear to have many pockets. Wouldn't seriously consider it.
GORUCK GR2: This is about as stylish as tactical packs get. That said, it's incredibly expensive and doesn't have a lot of pockets or dividers. Doesn't seem worth it. Wouldn't seriously consider it.
Briggs & Riley Sympatico backpack: I like the look, but it's wayyyy too small. Wouldn't seriously consider it.
Tom Bihn Daylight backpack: I like the diagonal zipper, but I hate the plastic, the logo, the size. Not my jam. Wouldn't seriously consider most Tom Bihn bags; they're not my style.
XD Design Bobby Bizz anti-theft backpack and briefcase: This is cute and I like the anti-theft features and warranty (though I'm not sure it really stacks up well against serious backpack manufacturers), but it's tiny. Not large enough to seriously consider.
Minaal Carry-on 2.0 bag: I like the geometry of it, but it's super expensive for what you get, and it feels a little overdesigned. It's unclear whether this is a durable bag for the long haul. Wouldn't consider this a great choice.
So those are some examples of what I like and directions I could take this. What am I missing that you love that fits this range of aesthetics? Thank you for your help!
posted by limeonaire to Shopping (16 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I 100% get that this is a left-field suggestion but I have this $10 backpack from IKEA. It meets all your criteria except, maybe, size - it's about 14 litres, plenty for lunch, a laptop, a water bottle and a jumper/umbrella. I have used it as my daily bag, often with my laptop, and it has held up beautifully.
posted by mdonley at 10:13 PM on July 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: No new recommendations, but the sale Ogio has free ground shipping, free returns, and there's more intel on the interior in the site's embedded video, and here, and here. Its size and sturdy straps look manageable with an ankle injury. Seems like a solid, low-risk pick.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:40 PM on July 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can I just say that I really dig the amount of detail and precision you provide in this question. Suggestions:

Fjallraven Travel Pack - small, large
Knomo Beaufort (I honestly can't tell if the zippers are silver or gold on my laptop screen)
Token Grand Army - seems to fit most of your requirements but might be a bit big? Their Bay Ridge seems more compact (but is more expensive???)
Manhattan Portage Industry City - I assume you'd want to seam rip the logo patch
posted by btfreek at 10:45 PM on July 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've had a lot of bags (Manhattan Portage, Arc'teryx, Fjällräven, Crumpler) and my all time favourite is Mission Workshop - weatherproof, very durable, comfortable and great design (this from a fellow Cayce Pollard fan). Have a look at their backpacks and see if it ticks your other boxes. I have two of their bags (a Rambler and a messenger Monty), they are on the expensive side, but both have been great.
posted by Petersondub at 2:19 AM on July 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Defy Bags might have something that's up your alley.
posted by box at 7:26 AM on July 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Or Topo Designs (they like bright colors, but also have some less obtrusive choices).
posted by box at 7:53 AM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

My Mission Workshop Rambler with the Aluminum Arkiv closure is used for bike commuting every day all year. Even with all the dirt, salt, and sun to which it’s been exposed, it’s still in perfect shape after three years. An almost-perfect piece of gear.
posted by Casimir at 8:01 AM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sorry, it’s not the Rambler I have, it’s the Sanction VX.
posted by Casimir at 8:07 AM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of Truce Designs bags - depending on what you go with, they can climb up in price but have basically all of the likes you call for.

They are a cottage company and use recycled materials that are effectively indestructible for much of their bags.
posted by iamabot at 8:53 AM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Keep scrolling down the Briggs and ariley page. I have a six-year-old version of what they now call the “Activate Verb” backpack. I have carried it on ferries, planes , busses, and cabs and it still looks brand new. There are loads of useful organizing pockets, and I can shove a thermos of coffee in the main compartment when I need to. I truly love that it’s the last bag like this I will ever need to buy, it’s that well-made.
posted by dbmcd at 9:52 AM on July 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

They're on the pricey side, but I'd definitely include ILE backpacks in the running - great hardware, mostly in the $100-200 range, and the branding is very easily removable with a seam ripper. You see a lot of them on commuters in SF, for good reason.
posted by tmcw at 12:56 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

These eBags look great, and get a good review here
posted by Mariemma at 2:21 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd nix the Ogio Soho. I ordered that from Amazon a few years ago and returned it because the straps were really uncomfortable.

I don't have that Waterfield backpack, but I've had several Waterfield products and they're great.
posted by radioamy at 5:36 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love my Staad, but I'm of the belief than anything with more capacity would become too heavy to carry.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 6:24 AM on July 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend has had a Trakke waxed canvas backpack for the past few months which she really loves. It's well made and the waxed canvas is really good looking.
posted by leo_r at 8:32 AM on July 8, 2018

Response by poster: I ultimately went with the OGIO Soho for now, because it was available on such a steep discount, and it served my needs well during my recent travel. That said, it is almost a little small for how much I like to stuff into a bag (though for all that, I was impressed by how accommodating the zippers were). I may still investigate some of the other options here as I get stronger! Thanks for all of the suggestions, everyone.
posted by limeonaire at 11:52 AM on August 19, 2018

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