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Following up on my initial post on this topic last week, I’ve now had a bit more of a poke around to see what may be available and suitable for a grown-up man that wishes to have a backpack that is a little different from the almost uniform black nylon backpack that is so common. The criteria given were quite simple:
- it has to be large enough to contain a regular sized laptop (for my part at Dell with 15.6″ screen), it has to be at least somewhat waterproof (we’re not going underwater, but we should face a major personal crisis in case of a light shower)
- it has to have space for stuff in addition to the laptop (at this time of year I cycle off in the morning in -5C, and return, uphill, in the afternoon in +5C or more, so I need to store woolly hat, gloves, a sweater and scarf in my pack)
- it has to have comfortable straps (10+ kilos of laptop and kit does dig into your shoulders)
- it has to be affordable enough for it to actually be used
- it has have stylish good looks, just like the guy carrying it (this goes for you, dear reader, as much as me, right?)
So, what have I come up with? Well, there are many more options available than I had thought, so it’s not easy. The current trend of more heritage-styled packs has really opened up the selection, with nice-looking backpacks in a variety of designs and prices, from quite cheap and cheerful to mindbogglingly expensive. It’s quite interesting to see how many backpacks have design issues that either reduce their utility, or even make them quite unusable for my use. As a huge fan of Harris Tweed, I’d love to have a backpack in a really lustrous tweed pattern, but tweed does not make a good partner if it rains. This could be mitigated to a large extent by doing the lid in a material such as Ventile or Millerain, and maybe waxing the tweed. I’d be happy to contribute ideas to such a project!
So let’s start out with a few options that look promising, but have to be discarded due to failing one or more points of the stated criteria:
One reader suggested a pack by Arc’teryx, though to me it looked little different to the type of pack we’re trying to avoid. Looking at their website, I did find one pack that didn’t look too bad. I have to ask though, what’s with the colours, guys? The choice is black or grey? I’m sure a lot more people would be looking at this if it were available in some more interesting colours!
I did mention above the thing about Harris Tweed… And there are just so many nicely designed backpacks using tweed, but all must fail due to lack of any sort of weather protection. A shame, as any one of the following would have been a fine piece for a man with an interest in travelling in style:
Oh, and of course there’s this one. WellDressedGirlfriend likes her Mulberry bags, and I’ve had a bit of a hankering for one of their Brynmore messenger bags for a while now. Unfortunately, they’re too expensive, won’t withstand rain, and lately they’ve become a bit of a thing among the transient fashion crowd around here, i.e. those that were all into Canada Goose jackets and UGG boots last year. No doubt there will be plenty for sale secondhand in a year or to. Maybe then…
So, having discarded the expensive, the non-waterproof and the too small, where does that leave us? Well, one suggestion from a read was the Fjällräven Känken pack. It’s an old design that has been a staple pack in Scandinavia since the Iron Age or thereabouts. Recently though it’s had a major resurgence in popularity and has now become hipster backpack #1, with everyone from Mac-toting single-speed biking fashionistas to trendy kindergarden-sized kids carrying their kit in them. Initially I would have said no to a Känken due to it’s traditional straps being very uncomfortable, but they have changed these on the Big and Laptop models, so the ergonomics should be much improved. It’s fairly spacious, made of decently tight weave cotton canvas, and reaslistically priced. Not a terrible choice, but you may find yourself moving from the black nylon backpack tribe to the “I read hipster blogs and have a Känken backpack” tribe. Oh, and you can only have one if you can type Swedish characters on your keyboard, so there.
The next possibly choice, and another one submitted by a reader, is the Duluth Scoutpack. Not a brand I was familiar with, but again a backpack that looks like it would do the job. I like the design, it’s definitely in the heritage style, but also has a shape that makes it look a bit different. Price wise it’s what I’d consider reasonable, or even cheap. They also do other models that are larger, so definitely a brand worth a look.
WellDressedGirlfriend came up with the next one, as she has a smaller backpack from them herself. The Kelty brand has been around since 1952 and should be pretty experienced in how to make a good backpack. Personally I quite like the look of the Vintage line, show here in the form of the Captain model. Maybe not a total win on the design, but some fresh colours, sturdy construction and again, reasonable price.
Now for one I found just by noodling around on the web. I’ve never heard of Archival Clothing before, but they’ve come up with a pretty nice looking backpack here. From the description on the website: “18oz cotton duck rucksack with snap close roll top and Horween Chromexcel leather strap and solid brass roller buckle closure. Double-layer reinforced bottom with semi-rigid back panel and bar-tacked and riveted stress points. Unlined interior has several large slip pockets.Adjustable shoulder straps are made of military-grade webbing.” Definite plus points for design. I think this may age very nicely and just look better with some hard use. Yes please, from me. Mid-range price wise, but I think it’s worth it.
Another unknown brand for me, and one for those of you that might like a slimmer pack, yet one that holds a decent sized laptop. This is the Fleet Sonic model by Hex. A fresh looking design, good features and a price that won’t offend.
Another new name for me here, Ossington. Their brushed twill backpack offers a combination of sturdy leather and canvas. Definite plus points for design. I’m thinking I may give them a pass on the leather details, as this may age very nicely and just look better with some hard use. Yes please, from me. Price is about twice what I’d like to spend though.
Since I first posted this, I’ve found another couple of potential backpacks that qualify. First, while out shopping with WellDressedGirlfriend yesterday, she caught site of a backpack she demanded I include in this round-up. By Burton, known primarily among snowboarders, this is another quite smart looking backpack. Looks pretty nice, in bright colours, sturdily made and should be quite satisfactory to use.
Secondly is a collaboration between one of my favourite brands, Universal Works, and maker of quality British backpacks, Millican. This is the second year they are collaborating and this years backpack looks very nice indeed. Priced a little around mid-range it certainly puts a tick in all the right boxes. The more I look at this pack, the more I find myself liking it. While it certainly has the heritage-style look to it, it seems to take it a little further, and a little in it’s own direction as well. The materials used also look top notch, and there is space for a laptop and other necessary kit as well. Sadly, this was a limited production and all now appear to have sold out. Worth keeping an eye out for when they do another production run!
My final entry in this post is the backpack I actually bought recently, a Vans Fortnight. Not a brand I would normally look at, as for me it’s more of a teenage skateboarders brand, but I happened upon it in a local shop, at a 50% discount, and immediately saw the potential. Solid canvas construction in a colour that works with a lot of what I normally wear, a somewhat heritage look, plenty of practical features and great capacity. In fact, on a recent 3-day business trip abroad, this held enough to save me taking any carry-on luggage. Perhaps not for everyone, but for me the size is a definite bonus. The carrying straps are nicely padded and have cross-straps for added comfort. The front also folds back with extra pockets. Quite affordable, even at full price.
For honorable mention though, the Archival Clothing pack also looks superb.
So there we have it, a pretty large selection of possibilities, plenty of nice backpacks to chose from. So why go for the generic variant? OK, so maybe you got it free, but why sell yourself short on an item that can so effectively sabotage your “look”?
I’m curious to hear what others pick as their backpack of choice though, so feel free to comment either here or on Twitter. And I am challenging those that work in Harris Tweed to come up with a design that full fills my criteria for a usable backpack! Ask me for input, if you like.