Backpacks, Part I

Let’s start streamlining how you commute by talking about how you carry what you need. Yes, backpacks.
I will focus solely on backpacks. I will not talk about messenger bags, folios or other things used to carry your daily stuff, simply because they are - in my opinion - ineffective.

If you have to carry things with you on your urban commute, and you can’t fit them on your person, a backpack is the best choice. It keeps both your hands free, the weight is distributed evenly between both shoulders and back, providing more comfort, and allows for natural and fluid movement. However, not all backpacks are good.

What to look for in a backpack for a better urban commute? Let’s see.

A backpack should have the following features:

  • Low key (as in muted colors and shape)

  • Low volume (as in liters/oz)

  • Smooth or slick exterior

  • No unnecessary external pockets or straps

  • Weather and dirt resistant fabrics

  • Comfortable straps

Low Key

I already mentioned in the Philosophy page that In an urban environment, you would want to go unnoticed. Part of this is the backpack you chose to carry your things. Having a bright orange backpack with a million little keychains hanging from them will make you stick out, or even if you bring some of the more muted color backpacks you can find in big stores, the way they are patterned or colored will make you stand out.

Try to find a backpack that is made of fabric with a single muted color, like black, urban gray, some greens, or khaki colors. You can use some patterns as well, like a black multicam, or a combination of black and grays. However, having bright accents, or patterns are are not meant for a city - like a bright green camo, a black backpack with bright red, yellow and orange accents - will make you get noticed.

Keep it toned down. When in doubt, go black.

image by Arc’teryx

image by Arc’teryx

Low Volume

The bigger the backpack is, the more it will protrude out of your person. This will get you noticed, but my main concern here is easy to movement. The bigger the backpack, the harder it is to move easily on a crowded urban environment.
If you wear a big backpack, it will be harder to fit on a crowded train or subway, it will be harder to find room to place the backpack on smaller office spaces, and it will be harder to move without hitting things or people on crowded cities and smaller spaces.

There is a reason special operation soldiers around the world keep their packs as small as possible when they are going to fight on urban environments. A slimmer profile backpack allows for much greater freedom of movement, and lower key footprint, providing two of the key elements of the Urban Commuter Philosophy: Be Light, and Blend In.

If you are worried about how to fit all the stuff you need to carry everything, we’ll talk about it on another post, very soon. But let me say this, you need less than what you think you need.

Smooth or Slick Exterior and No Unnecessary External Pockets or Straps

The more stuff you have protruding from the outside of your backpack, the bigger the chances they will get caught on things. The more stuff you carry on the outside of your backpack, the bigger the chances they will fall out. Simple as that.

When looking for a backpack, try to get one that has a very smooth exterior. Maybe a small zippered pocket outside, at the most, and that’s it. If you sometimes need to carry things outside, then maybe search for a backpack that allows for the temporary attachment of pouches, that can be removed when not needed anymore.

Another plus of a slick exterior is easy of cleaning. A backpack with a smooth face can be cleaned and maintained easier.

Weather and Dirt Resistant Fabrics

A key feature to good backpack. In the cities you have to have fabrics that are water resistant, dirt and oil resistant, and generally speaking, fabrics that can take an abuse from any weather. This in turn will help keep your stuff clean and dry inside your backpack.

Comfortable Straps

The last feature, but by no mean less important, is the straps. You want a backpack that can sit comfortably on your back for hours, even of sometimes you have to carry a lot of wright. Commuting to, walking and just moving on an urban environment means having to negotiate a lot of stuff, over long periods of time, so having a comfortable backpack is a must.


Ok, in this part I we set the features we need on a good urban commute backpack. The simpler the pack, the better it is.

On part II, I will give you examples of these backpacks, including my personal packs and some of my friends. I’ll discuss why these features are important, and the difference it makes when you find the right backpack.

So, stay tuned for the next one.

Tips, Gear, PacksUrbanCommuter