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Kelty Shrike Large Daypack or Light Packer Backpack

Shrike 30Need a good all-around daypack or hiking pack that won’t break the bank? This new Shrike backpack from Kelty includes a lot of features in its sub-$100 list price.

If you go on any message board frequented by people getting ready to take off on an extended bout of travel, you’ll find plenty of arguments about what size backpack is the right one to take. If you’re the type who can stuff everything you need into one that holds just 30 liters, go order this Shrike pack from Kelty right now. If  you’re just looking for a great hiking pack or daypack to keep in the closet for when you need it, however, this is also the pack for you.

For those in the former category, this top-loading pack doesn’t have a lot of wasted space and you can still manage to fit in a laptop or tablet. You won’t get a lot of padding–it’s a two-pound backpack after all—but the way it’s stitched there is some space between the bottom of the laptop pocket and the bottom of the pack. Not enough to be fine if you drop it from shoulder height without a sleeve, but enough protection if you always set it down gently.

Even with the electronics stuffed in the various gadget pockets, you’d have plenty of room for days of clothing. It’s tough to manage getting everything into just 30 liters of space, but there are lots of loops on the side to hook on some extras.

For your average person using this as a daypack, however, it’ll be more than ample. It’s got all the things that are standard these days: water bottle pockets, a key clasp, lots of gadget pockets inside, adjustable shoulder straps, and compression straps to pull everything in tight.

Kelty daypackThere are a few nice touches with this Kelty Shrike pack though, including a zippered pocket section on the top for getting to things you’re going to need to find without digging. Like your camera, or a flashlight. There’s another handy zipper pocket on the front. I especially appreciated the “Dynamic AirFlow back panel” when I took this out for a hike. It’s not quite as cool as the netting-style systems that keep the pack completely off your back, but there’s plenty of separation and the extra cushioning makes this Kelty pack quite comfortable.

This Shrike 30 can be a serious backpack, complete with a strap to go around your waist, or it can be a casual daypack you can take on hikes in the nearby mountains. It’s hydration bladder compatible if you want. It’s rugged, well-made, and punches above its weight class when it comes to the reasonable $90 list price.

Get it direct from Kelty or shop online at Amazon, eBags, or Altrec.

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STM Impulse Laptop Backpack

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.

STM laptop backpack

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.

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Alpinizmo Lightning 50 Pack

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.

Alpinizmo lightning 50

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.

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Hiking Day Pack Round-Up

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

35L packs:

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 travel packPatagonia 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.

keen aliso


Keen Aliso:
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 women's backpackKelty 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.

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Mountainsmith Wraith 25 Lightweight Hiking Pack

Mountainsmith Mountainlight hiking backpackThis 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. wraith 25 pack review

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.

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