Backpacks, Part II
On part I I mentioned that a good urban and traveling backpack should have the following features: be low key, with muted colors and a simple shape; have low volume, slim and out of the way; have a smooth or slick exterior with no unnecessary external pockets or straps; be weather and dirt resistant; and have comfortable straps.
Over the years I have levitated towards smaller backpacks. I usually commute with a 15 liters (about 915 cubic inches) backpack. This is the sweet spot in terms of capacity for me, allowing me to carry my laptop, charger, the very small standard “kit” that I carry, and the extra layer or rain jacket, if I see the weather can be turning. I will talk about that “kit” on the next post, but it’s comprised of things that would help me in the event of an emergency, and things that I need on the daily commute.
I can move between backpacks, depending on the day and what I need to carry. For example, on days I need to carry extra gear for my job, or maybe gym clothing, I would grab a 20 or 21 liters backpack. And if I’m on meetings all day long, or I need to move a lot, I would go with a 10 or 6 liters backpack.
All these packs have the features I mentioned above. They are all very comfortable and help me maintain a level of organization. They are also low key and slim. None of these backpacks protrude too much, they have a narrow profile, and can be placed under seats and on overhead compartments.
Caveat though, these work for me. These packs are my choice and the ones I found the best for what I need. If you find the right backpack, you’ll know. It should feel like an old pair of jean, something that is natural, you work with it easily and it’s comfortable.
The backpacks I use for my daily commute range from the bigger 24 liters, to the smaller 6 liters pack. The reason for this range is adaptability. I want to be able to switch between them as I see fit, downsizing to remain nimble and agile, and going bigger only when needed, yet remaining fluid and able to move fast. All the packs featured below have one thing is common: slim profile.
In a crowded urban environment, where commuting on trains, subways, buses or trams is most likely to happen, maintaining a slim profile is key. A small and out of the way pack will allow you to move easier as you negotiate the obstacles the city throws at you. Stairs with people coming in and out of subways, crowded entrances to buildings, tight elevators and busy cafes. A slim backpack will give you the edge here. A bigger, bulkier backpack will quickly become an annoyance to you and the people around you, something you want to avoid if you’d like to remain unnoticed (as you should).
My current backpacks are, In order of sizes (bigger first):
The one that gets the most use is the GORUCK Bullet 15. It’s one of the most comfortable and versatile packs I’ve tried. It doesn’t have a laptop sleeve or compartment, like the GORUCK GR1, so I had to improvise one - one I made myself (more on that on another post). The 15 liter size is to me the best size for an urban pack. And the Bullet 15, in particular, has the liters distributed right, with a big main compartment, 2 internal pockets for organization, and an external pocket to access the essentials. This pack disappears on the back, and its low profile helps you remain nimble. You often forget that you are wearing a backpack.
The Arc’teryx Blade 6, the smallest of the packs, is perfect for when you just need a laptop, a few other things and the ability of be extremely light. The backpack’s look and feel was tailored for the city, and its sleek exterior helps you blend in everywhere. The materials are not as weather proof as the GORUCK and EVERGOODS packs are, but short of a torrential rain, it’s ok. I usually choose this pack when I know I will be moving a lot, from meetings to a business lunch, to a presentation, to a commute back, I don’t need to carry much beyond my laptop, standard kit and maybe a small wind breaker.
The one thing to really understand when choosing the right size of backpack is that, what you carry dictates the size and the features in you backpack. Figure out what you will need to carry first, then how you’ll like to carry it, then decide on the size of the backpack.
Recommended Backpacks for the Urban Commuter
One of the questions I often get, is “what backpack should I get”. Well, you saw the ones I use, but here are the ones I think are currently the best for the urban commute (and for traveling as well). I chose a mix of sizes and each one with different features, but they all maintain the main features that I mentioned on Part I and throughout this post.
The GORUCK GR1 is one of the most versatile rucks (it’s a ruck, not a backpack!) out there today. Its simplicity, low profile, and internal organization, coupled with tough materials that can handle weather and harsh environments, make this ruck great for the commute. Available in 2 sizes: 21 and 26 liters.
The GORUCK Echo is the little brother of the GR1. Designed to carry only the essentials, its slim profile make it a perfect backpack for the urban environment. Same features as the GR1 on a very small profile pack. Highly recommended. Caveat though: if you are big or tall, this pack might be a little too small.
The Triple Aught Design Axion 18 backpack was purposely designed for the modern urban commuter. The collection of features and organizational design is perfect for carrying everyday commuting stuff. Made out of weather resistant materials, the Axiom 18 will keep your staff dry and secure. And at 18 Liters, it’s around the sweet spot for sizing.
The Arc’teryx Blade 20 features are tailored for the urban environment. With a combination of a minimalist and low key exterior, and an interior that focuses on organization and easy access. This 20 liters pack has a separate pocket for packing some change of clothing or gym stuff. Easy to use and great for blending in, the material used on the exterior, while weather proof, it will not be able to keep the interior dry on sustained rain or snow.
The EVERGOODS Civic Panel Loader 24 (CPL24) is a crossover between an urban pack and one you can use to hit the trails. Simple exterior meets a highly organized interior. The big main compartment of the CLP24 allows you to carry a lot of stuff when needed. The pack features one of the most comfortable straps systems out there today, and its low key looks makes this pack easy to use on almost any environment.
As you saw in this post, there are many things to consider when choosing a pack for your commute. Personally, I chose to remain light and able to move fast, searching organizational features and a low profile on all the packs I have. Your choice might vary, but as part of the philosophy, safety is important, and one of the key elements of safety is remaining out of the way.
Be safe and commute on.