Backpacks for work and pleasure

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It’s been a while now since I did one of my backpack guides, so maybe it’s time for a new one? This time I’m not going to go strictly for blackpack alternatives. Blackpack? You know, the black nylon backpack you typically get handed to you with your new laptop. The most generic, ugly and soulless piece of luggage you can imagine. Sure, it can hold your laptop, your brolly and whatever other bits and pieces you want to bring along, it will last a year or regular use, and it will allow you to blend in with all the other blackpacked drones on the daily commute. For someone with a little interest in how they look, possibly an extrovert tendency, or just an interest in the different, wearing a blackpack is like having your mother buy your outfits, given that she knows what is sensible and proper.

What are the criteria this time around? Mainly that it’s not a blackpack. And that it can hold a decent sized laptop, a packed lunch, a hardback book and sundry stuff. And it has to make me smile, raise my pulse a little, make me think “yeah, that would be quite splendid to wear”. So here goes!

Kara Keddie Roberto large backpack

Inspired by my recent trip to the Hebrides, I had to include a backpack in Harris Tweed and this one is ideal, as it’s made entirely in Scotland as well. The body of the pack is a charcoal black tweed, while the flap and back part are in heavy duty cotton for adequate wear. There is an interior has a polyester lining and features a zipped hanging bag to aid in keeping things tidy. The adjustable shoulder straps look sturdy and comfortable as well. If you’re after something that exudes class, it’s hard to beat Harris Tweed.

  • Volume: Around 30 litres
  • Dimensions – H46cm (18.1 inches) x W36cm (14.1 inches) x D19cm (7.4 inches)
  • Price 199 pounds
  • Made in Scotland
  • More info at Kara Keddie

Millican Smith The Roll Pack (Ember)

A little less capacity, but I was sold on the gorgeous colour and minimalist design. Made from weatherproof canvas with supposedly “bionic” properties, it’s both partly recycled and stronger than usual canvas. Solid aluminium hardware and fewer seams for greater durability. Adjustable and ergonomic shoulder straps, removable cross straps and a padded laptop sleeve for up to 15″ laptops hidden in the back panel. Add in internal pockets for various gear and an external zip pocket with an internal key ring and you’ve got a comprehensive backpack indeed.

  • Volume: 18 litres
  • Dimensions: H 50cm x W 28cm x D 15cm
  • Price 105 pounds
  • Made in the UK
  • More info from Home of Millican

 Patagonia Arbor Pack 26L

I wanted to include a mix of backpacks in this feature, so here’s something a little more old-school looking. Patagonia is the poster child for the new sustainable and caring outdoors community, so this pack should have it’s environmental chops in order. Made from 100% recycled polyester with a polyurethane coating for a water repellent finish. The main compartment has a drawstring fastening and flap with buckles to close it up. There’s a zip front pocket and a zipped pocket under the flap and a padded laptop sleeve for up to 15″ laptops. The shoulder straps are well padded and there is an adjustable waist belt. Not the most different of designs, but a solid pack.

  • Volume: 26 litres
  • Dimensions: 49 x 28 x 16 cm
  • Price: 48 pounds (on sale)
  • Made in the USA
  • More info from Oi Polloi

Epperson Mountaineering Climb Pack – Coyote / Forest Green

I’m not sure what the thing I have for patchwork is, but take almost any item, be it a jacket or similar and make it in a number of different colours or fabrics and it suddenly transcends the starting point and becomes much more desirable. Like this mountaineering pack from Epperson Mountaineering, sister company of Monitaly. Make it all in one colour and I’d hardly notice it, but in a plethora of cordura nylon patches, and it’s great. It’s not huge, but there are two external pockets and one on the lid. There’s military grade tubular nylon webbing, multiple loops for hanging stuff on and climbing spec draw cords and zipper pulls. And an American-made, climbing spec carabiner closer. The shoulder straps look adequately padded as well.
  • Volume: 16 L
  • Dimensions: 19″ x 11″ x 6
  • Price: 175 dollars
  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • More info from Epperson Mountaineering

Doughnut Colorado Army X Khaki

A new brand to me, Doughnut originates from Hong Kong and makes a quite astonishing range of backpacks. This one reminds me of the vintage mountaineering packs, with mixed colours, various fastenings, rope and leather details. It’s made using sturdy water repellent nylon with organically dyed leather details. A compartment with access from the outside has space for a standard 15″ laptop and there are multiple internal pockets. Solid comfortable straps as well as cross-straps. Vintage mountaineering style at a reasonable price.

  • Volume:21 Litre capacity
  • Dimensions: 28cm (W) x 15cm (D) x 38cm (H)
  • Price 90 pounds
  • Made in China
  • More info from Doughnut UK


I couldn’t not include a camo pack. If you’re really going to get in your face about not carrying a blackpack, then camo is probably the most provocative. And if you’re going that way, you have to do it full on. Naturally, full on is done best by the Japanese and Master-Piece are, well, masters at just that. Again, super tough cordura nylon and cowhide leather straps and trims. A large main compartment and pockets both inside and out. The carrying straps are leather with felt padding. The buckles are brass and the zip pulls are suede. Not a cheap pack, but it does come with a quality guarantee plaque.

  • Volume: Not specified
  • Dimensions: 21.5″ x 4″
  • Price 285 pounds
  • Made in Japan
  • More info from End Clothing

Fjällräven Rucksack No. 21 Medium

I’m likely one of the few people of the planet that find the Fjällräven Kånken to be a deplorably poor backpack design. Hipsters everywhere can’t get enough of the boxy look, disregarding the poor straps and inadequate stability. It’s nice to see though that backpack evolution in Sweden has moved on though and this No 21 actually looks both cool and useful, and comes in a splendid array of colours. Clean lines, functional details, but the top-loading main compartment actually has a snow lock and an inner pocket with padded bottom to hold a laptop. That’s more like it. There’s even a pocket to hold a thermos, a first for me.

  • Volume: 20 litres
  • Dimensions: 44 x 28 x 13 cm
  • Price: 195 euros
  • Made: Not specified
  • More in from Fjällräven

North Face Rucksack

Ok, I had to include a retro backpack as well, even though the fashion for them has likely ebbed a little by now. This one though is more modern-retro, if that is even a term. It’s like a vintage backpack evolved, instead of the usual devolution. Hence it actually looks cool again. The main fabric is “waxed nylon canvas” and water repellent. Suede trims, cinch top closing with a flap. Internal laptop sleeve, a front pocket with “organization” and two side pockets sized to fit water bottles.

  • Volume: 20 litres
  • Dimensions:55 cm x 30.5 cm x 14 cm
  • Price: 109 dollars
  • Made: Not specified
  • More info from The North Face

Scotch & Soda Teddy Mountaineer’s Backpack

Now this was really the backpack that put me in mind of gathering together a collection of nice packs again. I think it’s sold out everywhere, which some will argue is odd. It’s inspired by vintage mountaineering packs, with details like sturdy zips, carabiner hooks and loops for hanging stuff off. It’s also covered in the sort of fabric they make teddy bears of. Totally bonkers. So I had to buy it when our local shop that carries Scotch & Soda had it for sale. Especially when it went so deep into the sale that they had to hand-write a sales note on it. And to be honest, it cheers me up no end whenever I pack stuff into it and head off. Which surely is almost as important as actual carrying capacity.

More info at Scotch & Soda



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1 Comment

  • Andy 02/07/2017 at 16:48

    I have a bag, Lowe Alpine, it has been my companion since the last century. I keep threatening to buy a replacement but why should I, it currently holds laptop, hardback book on deep excavations, camera, lunchbox and other rubbish. I don’t think think a bag as good as this exists.


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