Posts Tagged backpacks
When I travel, whether for a work-related press trip or a family vacation, I like to carry-on a backpack devoted solely to my laptop, camera, iPad, and various USB cords, power cords, and other trappings of a connected life on the road. I took the STM Impulse laptop backpack along for the ride on my latest flight to check out its travel-friendliness. STM is something of an authority when it comes to laptop backpacks: if you’re not familiar with the brand, their packs are designed specifically for your computer and smart phone needs. Instead of adapting a backpack to work for your electronics, these bags are devoted solely to their transportation.
The STM Impulse has a place for everything, which means that for once, I can be super organized while traveling. You get three main compartments. The first is designed for your laptop, but instead of featuring a laptop sleeve on the inside panel of the backpack (the one that rests against your back), STM’s sleeve is located on the interior of the outer panel, away from your back. As a result, when you sit down with the pack on, you’re not squished against your laptop, and your computer is better protected. It’s certainly a more comfortable way to carry your laptop or tablet. An iPod sleeve rests against the back panel. The second compartment fits a text book or two, or a light jacket or novel, plus features a thinner document sleeve perfect for papers, a folder or two, or other thin documents. It’s a nice place for a flight itinerary or boarding passes. The third compartment features a whole array of smaller zippered compartments for your phone, wallet, pens, and any other smaller items. A final bottom compartment is ideal for USB cords and power adaptors.
While the Impulse has a place for everything, when a laptop is stowed (remember, it’s against the front of the back compartment) it encroaches on the open space in the second compartment, making that space for travel items pretty tight. The zippers for each compartment go only 2/3 of the way down, which means you can’t open the pack wide to find things or retrieve items. When packed, everything is secure and comfortable to carry, but usability on the plane or in the car is hampered.
The zippers do have nice pull-handles and a back panel ‘pass-through’ sleeve allows the pack to be slipped over a carry-on rollie’s handle. You get a chest/sternum strap and it’s very comfortable on. You also get two water bottle pockets, one of which can be zippered closed (and used to store keys, etc). I used mine for smaller items I wanted zippered, but with access to, such as memory cards and zip storage drives. The backpack comes in sizes XS-L (size is determined by laptop size). An XS fits an 11″, for example, and a M, which is what I tried, fits a laptop of 15″.
Bottom line: the STM Impulse will store all your electronics safely and comfortably, but size up if you want plenty of space to shift things around easily. My only wish would be that the compartment zippers allow the pack to fully open. Pick up the Impulse on Amazon for $100 or through a retailer from the STM site. Comes in black or grey.
The Alpinizmo Lightning 50, made by High Peak, is a very solid backpack pick for general backpacking and camping needs for men or women. I’ve long appreciated the High Peak brand: they sell quality gear that’s not overblown with bells and whistles…quite a perk if you’re on a budget. Made of ripstop nylon and comprising of just two main compartments (separated by drawstring closure), the Lightning 50 is simple, but dependable.
It’s very easy to adjust, making it a good pick for an all-purpose pack to have on hand. We’ve pressed it into service when a friend wants to come backpacking with us, and it’s done double-duty as an oversized day pack. The shoulder straps easily adjust with cords that can be shifted while wearing the pack, and the torso offers five length settings. The waist belt can also be adjusted, and the chest belt adjusts both vertically and horizontally. You get a generously-sized pocket on the waist belt for a camera or snacks, a bigger top compartment for a headlamp, paperback, or other smaller items, and one vertical side pocket the right size for a flashlight, tools, etc. There’s an ice axe holder that can double as a loop for a compacted trekking pole, but otherwise, you won’t find a dizzying array of options on the outside.
We found the Lightning 50 to be the perfect starting pack for our 14-year-old who had outgrown youth packs. (Though you’ll want to size in a store; this pack is designed for an adult body.) The Lightning’s ability to adjust with his rapid growth really helps us squeeze some life out of the pack, and at 3.4 pounds, it’s lightweight enough to help him keep a load off his shoulders. Plus the Lightning is affordable; the kid can buy his own expensive gear when he gets a job, right?
The pack is hydration-pack compatible of course, with elastic straps on both shoulder straps to tuck a hose under, and the shoulder panel has decent air flow. (The ventilation is not quite what it is on highly technical and more costly packs, but it’s adequate.)
The Lightning 50 retails for $150, but you can find it on Amazon for just over $100. This pack will grow with your teen or last you a long time yourself as a go-to basic pack.
It’s hiking season, and whether you’re hitting the trail for a long trek or short jaunt, you’ll want one of the four day packs below accompanying you. Of course, day packs aren’t only for hiking: no matter what sort of traveling you have planned, chances are you need a backpack to store your stuff. Whether you need a backpack to put into service as a carry-on, touring pack, or cycling pack, one of the below will likely fit the bill.
MountainSmith Mayhem: Mountainsmith’s Mayhem has the look and feel of a larger backpacking pack with the size capacity of a large day pack. You get all the bells and whistles, including multiple loops for trekking poles or tools and compression straps for attaching extra gear. Like a backpacking pack, the Mayhem comes equipped with a hip belt and chest strap, and lumbar support to the back panel. You get a hydration bladder sleeve, side water bottle pockets, and a removable safety whistle. The fabric is ripstop nylon made with 420d Nigh Tenacity Nylon Duramax, and a zippered top pocket stores car keys and other valuables. Pick up the Mayhem in black and yellow at Mountainsmith for $129, or Amazon or Backcountry for as little as $90.Best for serious day hikes and short-term backpacking.
Patagonia Lightweight Travel Pack:
The Patagonia Travel Pack boosts a 35L capacity like the Mayhem, but has a nifty party trick: it packs down into its own internal pocket to become he size of a large fist. Store the Travel Pack in a larger bag or suitcase, and have it on-hand for situations in which you find you need an extra carry-on or additional day pack. In this day and age of luggage fees, it’s great to pack this Patagonia away for travel en route. And it’s no flimsy thing, either: the Travel Pack is made of nylon double ripstop, and while thin and lightweight, it includes a waist belt and padded shoulder straps, a chest strap, and wide top-loading opening drawstring closure and snap-down compression strap. Pick up the Patagonia in Tupelo yellow, Larimar blue, or black at the Patagonia for $79 or at Backcountry or Moosejaw for the same price. Best for travel days and multi-sport outdoor adventure.
The KEEN Aliso pack has a 22 L capacity, and while it performs adequately on the trail for short hikes, it’s a far better commuter pack and travel pack. You get a laptop sleeve compartment inside which can convert to a hydration sleeve, and thickly padded shoulder straps so that heavy laptop doesn’t give you a neck ache. There’s no waist belt, but the construction is rugged, with a wide exterior zippered pocket and several organization slots internally. The Aliso is a nicely sized pack for when you need or want a streamlined look. Pick one up in bright chartreuse or forest night at KEEN for $80 or Amazon on sale for under $50. Best for air travel and work commutes or shorter day hikes.
Kelty Shrike: The women’s Kelty Shrike carries 26-30L in a very roomy main compartment, with a nicely sized zippered top pocket for valuables. With external loops for attaching extra gear and a wide top-loading mouth, the Shrike acts more like a 35L pack. With a shoulder strap system designed especially for women’s frames, the Shrike is the most comfortable day pack I’ve tried. (There is a men’s version too for the guys.) The waist belt is lightly padded and you get a chest strap as well. Inside, a roomy laptop sleeve doubles as a hydration storage compartment. Pick up a Shrike for $99 in light green or black at Kelty or at Altrec for the same price. Best for longer day hikes and serious road trips with outdoor adventure stops.
This Mountainlight Wraith 25-liter hiking backpack from Mountainsmith is meant to take on the outdoors in comfort, with a panel that keeps everything off your back.
We review a lot of travel daypacks on this gear blog because most of the time we’re hitting city streets and doing short hikes more than serious outdoor pursuits. I once made the mistake of taking one of these along on the 4-day Inca Trail hike though and found my back to have an 8-hour patch of sweat each day. That got old.
The best hiking backpacks have some specific features meant for the backcountry—more on that in a minute—but two key advantages are that they’re lightweight and they have some kind of suspension system allowing air to pass between the pack and your back. This one weighs a shade over a kilo, or 2 pounds six ounces. That’s light enough to pick up with your weak hand’s pinky finger. The “BreezeWay” panel system is excellent: a mix of DWR-treated cushioned nylon and mesh that will keep your back dry and comfortable.
The shoulder pads are cushioned well too and I’ve worn this pack for hours without having to take a break or readjust it. There’s also a removable waist strap if you’re loaded down and an adjustable sternum strap for distributing the weight around.
As for those hiking (or biking) features, the pack supports a hydration bladder and has an anti-sag harness, plus there’s a pass-through for the hose and a bite valve catch. There are loops on the bottom for carrying items with handles, like an ice pick or trekking poles.
Other than that it’s not too complicated: there’s one main compartment for stuffing in what you need and a smaller compartment for small items, with a key hook. Stretchy mesh water bottle pockets are on each side. A tough nylon loop on the top is good for picking it up to move it or handing it from a tree. Good YKK zippers with pull tabs don’t snag and reflective accents will keep you from getting hit by a car at night when you return to civilization.
The Mountainsmith Wraith 25 pack has a list price of $99. Get more info on the Mountainsmith site and buy it online at Moosejaw, Altrec, or Paragon Sports, where one or more might be carrying it for a bit less.
It used to be that I’d only see die-hard cyclists and backpackers using hydration packs. Then I started seeing them more often on casual hikers and skiers. In the past year however, they’re suddenly everywhere. If you’re wondering which one is right for you, or just what all the hype is about, you’re not alone. I was wondering the same thing, so I tried out four packs from three brands for a little compare and contrast. All the hydration packs below include the pack itself, plus a water reservoir and tube with drinking nozzle. They vary in terms of size and storage, and all sell their water reservoir systems separately if you want to adapt it to a pack you already own.
Platypus Tokul XC:
The Platypus Tokul comes in three sizes for both men and women: 3L, 5L, and 8L. The smaller two sizes include a 2L reservoir, and the 8L includes a 3L reservoir. The pack itself has the most storage capacity of any of the systems we tried. You get a roomy internal gear pocket, plus a mesh stuff pocket on the outside. We easily fit an extra layer of clothing in the pack, plus snacks and necessities like car keys. The pack is comfortable, includes a chest strap, and feels streamlined while on. The hydration system includes a bite-valve with tube, and for us is the most easily adaptable with our current gear: we already use the Platypus GravityWorks filtration system while backpacking, and we can easily switch out reservoirs and tubing. The reservoir is designed with a zip-top (much like a zip lock baggie) which is then secured with an additional slide lock clip, but to fill the bag requires using one hand to hold open the mouth. Not ideal, but not a deal-breaker, either. The tubing is secured to either shoulder strap of the pack with loops and a clip, which works reasonably well. We used the 8L Tokul on both day hikes and downhill ski days, and found it a solid fit, especially while hiking. The reservoir fits in it’s own compartment, and while it’s not terribly difficult to load it while full, it’s not a walk in the park, either. It does take some sliding and shifting. Once in the pack, however, it does not slosh around. I appreciate that the Tokul 8L is just big enough not to need an additional pack for storage.
If you need a much bigger hydration pack, we also tried out the Platypus Sprinter XT with 35L of space and hydration. The reservoir is identical to that of the Tokul, but the storage capabilities are extensive. The pack opens wide at the top, but includes compression straps on the side to tighten things down when you have less gear. Find it at Cascade Designs or Moosejaw for $159 in Raven or Lava. For $20 less there’s a 25L version.
The Osprey Verve for women comes in 5L, 9L, and 13L. There’s also the men’s equivalent to this pack, the Viper. I tested the 5L, but you can also check out a past review of a larger Verve. The Verve and Viper have less storage room than the Tokul, but more compartments to separate your stuff and a flatter, more streamlined look. I found the pack design to be superior: you get Osprey’s AirScape back panel to wick away moisture and provide some air flow, plus the hydration hose is secured with not only a sleeve down the shoulder strap, but a handy magnet that holds it in place. I found I appreciated this feature more than I anticipated. There’s a chest strap as well as a hip belt, and a front pocket and shoulder pocket as well. The reservoir has a vastly different design than that of the Platypus, and it really just comes down to preference. To fill the Osprey, you open a large valve and hold the reservoir flat under the water stream. There’s a sturdy handle by which to hold it and load it back into the pack (in its own compartment, of course). I found it easier to load than the Platypus, but less adaptable with the rest of my gear. If you already have an Osprey backpack however, it’s a breeze to transfer the Verve hydration system to a large pack.
The Camelbak Kicker is a great option for kids. Camelbak advertises it for kids five years and up, but I’d say 6-10. It has a 1.5L hydration system, which, when filled, is heavier than you’d think. The pack fit our eight-year-old perfectly; he zipped around several ski resorts with it on his back without a problem, and carried on it on quite a challenging hike. At five years old, it may have been too heavy, and the pack itself was too small for our 12-year-old. You get quite a nice storage compartment with this pack, big enough to carry an extra pair of gloves, a light jacket or outer layer, or a hat and snacks. The hose is insulated, and the bite valve is easy for kids to manipulate. The reservoir is designed similarly to the Osprey: you fill after unlocking a large valve in the center. It’s less easy to slide back into the reservoir sleeve than the Osprey, but not impossible for a child to do him or herself. There’s a chest strap and the shoulder straps are adjustable. All in all, this is a kids’ pack that boasts all the features of an adult pack, which is what we look for. For $50 at Camelbak or Zappos, or as low as $35 on Amazon, you can pick from blue or pink.