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Drive By :: Topo Designs Daypack

by , October 5, 2011

Made in America. That term used to be taken for granted; after all, where else would things be made? However, now, more than ever, we are seeing a revival of goods sourced and produced locally, in small batches. As an American consumer, it’s also becoming less challenging to find domestic goods, especially with pundits like A Continuous Lean’s Michael Williams’ blog, Fuck Yeah Made in USA. But, I digress. This review isn’t about goods made in the US; it’s about a daypack that touches on most of what I am looking for in a bag, while getting very little wrong.

Topo Designs makes all their bags by hand in a LEED certified building near the Rocky Mountains, in Colorado. They source their Cordura from a converted mill in Connecticut and the YKK zippers are from America as well. Currently, there are five bags in the collection, each occupying a distinct category. I really appreciate this because it reduces the paralysis of choice for the consumer. I asked co-founder Mark Hansen to send me a sample of their Daypack [note Topo have now released an updated version] and he happily obliged.

Who It Suits

The Topo Designs Daypack will appeal to someone who wants a versatile, affordable and durable backpack that accommodates work and play.

Who It Doesn’t

If you need to carry bulky or awkwardly-shaped items, there are better options out there. The Daypack suits flat, rectangular objects like books and documents, but not boxy or irregular-shaped items.

The Good

Just one look at the bag and nostalgia is immediately invoked. We are used to seeing extremes here at Carryology – you either have highly technical bags with military styling and influence or you have very fashionable bags often made of leather and exuding clean lines. The Topo Designs Daypack walks somewhere in the middle, or maybe not on the line at all. You have a choice of six colorways and the main color dominates the bag. There is some contrast with the zipper pulls and leather patches, but for the most part, you have a pretty uniform canvas. Can you guess what bag it reminds me of? I bet you had one in school.

“Just one look at the bag and nostalgia is immediately invoked.”

Despite the initial déjà vu experience, that’s where the similarities end. The Daypack is a fun mix of functionality and a style that’s very approachable. I can’t help but feel a vibe of Japanese influence and when I asked Mark about it, he admitted that they are fans of the way the Japanese take American products and put a spin on them. The bag measures 16 inches tall, which is at the upper limit of what I prefer for my 19.5-inch torso. Wearing it feels slightly larger than a normal JanSport backpack, but not at all uncomfortable or too large. It has a volume of just under 17 liters which is just perfect for a daypack, as far as I am concerned. If you take a look at the pictures, you’ll notice that it has a narrow rectangular shape. This means it’s great for holding flat and tall items (like legal documents, contracts, etc.) but not that great for bulky items like a basketball or boxes shaped like cubes.

I would describe the Daypack as having a minimal form. It’s not a loose bag that collapses against its own weight but it’s also not a rigid bag with lots of form. There is no bottom support or padding or any really stiff panels. And, since it’s pretty tall, much taller than a standard document or book, there’s a tendency for the bag to sort of droop over a bit. I like leaning it against my desk at work.

“…it’s great for holding flat and tall items (like legal documents, contracts, etc.) but not that great for bulky items like a basketball or boxes shaped like cubes.”

What I really liked about the Daypack is the mix of available pockets. I love pockets because I like to be organized but brands tend to go with either too much or too little. The Daypack has a large outside panel pocket plus the one under the main zipper. Inside the primary compartment, along the back panel, you’ll find a series of little pockets and sleeves. I told Mark that I thought they must have read my mind when designing the bag because it has exactly the pockets I need for what I carry. Obviously, this will vary with each person, but for me, it was a dream come true. In those organization pockets, I carry: a pen, Moleskine notebook, business card holder, Doane Paper notepad, and flash drives.

Speaking of the inside panel, it’s made of a coated pack cloth liner. The outside is 1000D CORDURA nylon fabric which can stand up to fading, abrasion, rot, and mildew. It’s highly water repellent and dries quick if you happen to get it wet. This means I am comfortable throwing the bag down on the ground if I am playing a game of pick-up basketball, but it doesn’t mean I’ll walk around for hours in the rain with it. Heading from the cab to your door during a storm won’t have any effect on the bag or its contents. I love that there’s a grab handle on top. I know I mention it in every review but it still boggles my mind when I see a company omit it.

“What I really liked about the Daypack is the mix of available pockets.”

I appreciated the little details of the bag like the natural leather lash tabs and the contrasting (red) pull straps. The metal hardware on the shoulder straps also really stands out among the sea of plastic you mostly see in this industry. The labeling is very minimal which I liked; just a small patch for the logo plus a tiny tab with the American flag. They use large YKK zippers which are a dream to open and close – so smooth and no snagging! The best part about them is if your hands are full, you can zip them open or closed with just one hand. There’s no need to hold the fabric with another hand to give it enough tautness to glide. I am digging the large zippers, organization compartments, leather tabs and metal hardware. These small features really add character to the bag.

I really enjoy the simple lines of the bag. The designers clearly thought about what users want in a bag – something that is functional yet looks good. I think they were able to deliver with a daypack that is largely unobtrusive yet has tricks up its sleeve.

“I am digging the large zippers, organization compartments, leather tabs and metal hardware. These small features really add character to the bag.”

At under $100 USD [updated version from $139] for a bag that I have used for over a month as my go-to everyday bag, this represents great value. There’s another player in this category right now, offering very affordable bags that look great. The problem is the quality is not up there. In contrast, the Topo Designs Daypack represents a huge value.

The Not So Good

Topo Designs intelligently designed the shoulder straps to be extra wide and slightly padded to aid in weight dispersion and comfort. However, without a chest strap, I sometimes feel like the straps don’t really sit “right” on my body. I feel like they sit at the edge of my shoulders, where my armpits are. So far, this hasn’t proven to be an issue with the loads I’ve been carrying. I just wish the straps sat closer to the middle. I also had issues with the buckles keeping my preferred adjustment length intact. Each day, I would notice the straps slipped in the buckles so I ended up with maximum extension. This is easily fixed by pulling down on the ends. Still, it’s an annoyance. I think there’s a problem with the buckles because my straps reset pretty much every day.

“I sometimes feel like the straps don’t really sit “right” on my body. I feel like they sit at the edge of my shoulders, where my armpits are.”

While I love that they are using leather on the bag, the sample I received experienced immediate wear on the leather. It looks and feels dried out. They went with a type of stiff, semi-shiny leather which really shows creases and wrinkles. I wish they would have chosen either a suede leather or one which wears in a more beautiful way.

If it wasn’t evident enough that these guys were on top of their game, I emailed Mark a few weeks ago and pointed these flaws out to him. He replied that they had in fact caught these two issues and had already fixed them in the new batch. To address the straps, they changed the way the straps were sewn, which in turn made the hardware tighter and less prone to slippage. They have also upgraded to a higher quality hide for the leather patches.


Topo Designs represents what’s right with the carry world today. What we have here are handmade goods, made domestically, that look great, and are (actually) affordable. The founders clearly have an ethos of being environmentally (and socially) conscious and have somehow managed to walk that line between tree-hugger and big corporation, with all the positives of each and none of the annoying cons. The Daypack holds everything you’d need to go to work or school, is comfortable to wear, can stand up to a beating, and is versatile enough to work in almost any situation, with almost any wardrobe. What more could you ask for?

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
Brand experience
X Factor

Reader's Review


All Reviews

Just Okay

29 August, 2017 Jared

Construction quality is impressive. Looks nice, but its hampered by three pretty significant omissions.

1. Side pouches aren’t large enough for anything larger than a cell phone. No water bottles (unless you find the narrowest-diameter bottle known to man), no travel mugs. Even a sunglasses case is pushing it.
2. No padding at the bottom of the laptop sleeve. If you’re going to have a sleeve at all, probably would be nice to have padding at the spot it’s going to get set down on most often.
3. No sternum/chest strap makes loads less comfortable than they could be.

The Good: Handsome, Well Made

The Not So Good: Cheaper packs have all the features it lacks.

The ultimate daypack

11 June, 2017 Vandrer.com

I love the daypack from Topo Designs. It got a slim profile, but it got space for way more than you think before you start using it. And when you think you have reached the limit the strong zippers never gives in and you find space for even more. Have a look at http://vandrer.com/daypack/ where you can find an in depth review of the Daypack from my four years plus of daily use both locally and on travels around the globe.

The Good: Durable, Slim

  • http://inthesmalltowns.tumblr.com Rick

    Awesome post. I have their sling bag and carry it everyday to work. It’s essentially the daypack but with one strap and it’s 2 inches narrower. It fits my Ipad, Steno notebook, journal, and documents perfectly. I prefer the messenger/sling style for work, but I’m seriously considering picking up one of their packs for hiking.

  • Boris A

    Nice job on the post. I love backpacks and have several, due to special needs. This seems to be a good all around choice. Did you try fitting a laptop on it? With the light padded straps how much can you carry? No water bottle pocket? You mentioned water resistance, how about the zippers they seem to be the weak spot for leaks. I hope they expand their retailer list so I can see one of their bags.

    • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David

      Hi Boris,

      You’re right, this bag would not be good for a downpour but I don’t see any issues walking from your car in the lot to your office with a rain. I really mean it’s more water-resistant rather than waterproof. I think the Cordura is rugged enough to stand up to an accidental splash from stepping in a puddle or if you tipped over coffee on your desk. There is no bottle holder. The guys at Topo really designed it as a minimalist, no frills daypack. I agree with you on the retailers request. I hope they start picking up more shops.

  • Kevin

    I bought one of the sling bags a while back and was impressed with the design and the quality. The bag had one annoyance for me though and that was the zippers. The YKK zippers used were *noisy* when I walked. I emailed the company and described the noise level as “elf-like”. It was so bad that I returned the bag.

    • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David

      Hi Kevin,

      I am curious what you mean by the zippers were noisy. Were the tabs bouncing and hitting the rails?

      • Eric

        I don’t own this particular bag but I have one with the same noisy YKK zippers. The noise comes from the large metal zipper pull tabs bouncing around on the metal zipper slider. They just seem to resonate even when just walking. I like my bag so I ordered some zippermend pulls with silicone covers to quiet things down, but I think this problem could be mended with some fabric or paracord lanyards looped into the pull tabs to give them some weight and prevent the excessive movement.

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  • Joseph

    Here’s my impressions after taking my new Topo daypack on two 3-mile walks around NYC.


    * Great construction, great style, great materials.

    * Zippers are ultra smooth and quiet.

    * Inside is very roomy and the proportions — somewhat tall, narrow, shallow, rectangular — are exactly what I like in an urban backpack.

    * No problem carrying water bottle, sweater, books, flashlight, multitool, laptop and a few other bits. It holds a 13″ Macbook Air perfectly in the laptop slot.

    * The little American flag sewn into the label is a really nice touch.

    * The inside is bright yellow, making it easy to find things in the bottom of the somewhat cavernous main compartment.

    * The straps now use quality plastic buckles instead of metal, and the strap length stays fixed. Metal is cool but I see this as a net positive.


    * The main compartment is roomy enough that it could really use a few more internal pockets for organization. Although it would be at odds with the design style, some MOLLE webbing or a mesh pouch would be an nice addition, and would fit perfectly up against the back panel above the built-in internal pockets. (Example: the internal MOLLE on the GORUCK GR1, which you can see here: http://bit.ly/yNkGM2 )

    * As David noted, the straps ride quite far towards the edges of my shoulders, right over my armpits. I don’t know if this is a factor of the width of the bag or the angle of the strap or what. I feel like they should be a lot closer towards the middle of my chest. The downside to the way they fit is that the edges of the strap pad touch my biceps… which isn’t uncomfortable, but it could hamper arm agility. (Like, I wouldn’t want to climb trees or operate a rifle while wearing it.) Anyway, this isn’t a dealbreaker and probably not uncommon for urban-use bags.

    • http://foothillsunion.tumblr.com Rick

      That’s actually one reason I really like the Topo Design bags. I have wide shoulders and some bags seem to cut into my armpits because of how they are pulled across my shoulders. I have the sling, bought (tried on) a daypack for a friend, and plan on purchasing their roll top soon.

      Also I totally agree on the metal hardware comment. I hate to see it go, but the functionality is much better with plastic.

    • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David


      Thanks for taking the time to write that detailed the review. That’s what this site is all about – contributions to and from the community! I am just curious, did you get some sort of new model of the Daypack, because mine does not have a dedicated laptop slot!

      I agree with you that it could use some more pockets, mostly because I am an organizational fiend. However, if you compare it to something like and old school Jansport, which is just one big compartment, the Topo Designs is a good middle ground. There are nice slots in the rear of the main compartment which I use to keep a Moleskine, business card case, pen, and usb flash drives inside the zipper.

      • Joseph

        Here’s a photo of the laptop slot in question: http://cl.ly/1M0q032o1i1U37243b27 – taken from Topo’s press materials section.

        • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David

          Awww bummer, my bag doesn’t have it. I guess the new bags lose the metal hardware but gain a laptop compartment!

  • Joseph

    The “laptop compartment” is roughly Macbook-sized space between the built-in pockets and the back panel. It doesn’t have any dedicated padding other than the padding that makes up the back panel so actually I’m not sure if it’s really a laptop slot or just happens to be the perfect size. In either case it works great.

    Good point about the pockets. I’ve certainly managed to find a good spot for all my essentials. (Moleskine, sunglasses, pen, flashlight, multitool, titanium prybar, hand sanitizer, few other bits).

    My previous backpack was a Nomadic CB-01 Wise-Walker ( http://bit.ly/zlScc6 ) which is a small backpack basically made out of pockets and compartments… I mean look at this crazy diagram: http://bit.ly/yT4Rzq

    So yeah, the Topo Daypack has enough internal compartmentalization, but I do feel a few more, or at least a loop or hook attachment for a keychain/lanyard would make it an even better bag.

    • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David

      I see what you mean about how, for you, it’s pretty close to a perfect bag. I guess we are all chasing that elusive bag, aren’t we?

      Looks like we have similar tastes and carry items. Are you a penaholic as well?

      • Joseph

        Nope, I’m not into the pen scene (heh!), I just carry a single Dr Grip in my bag.

        I do however spend a lot of time researching and trying pocketknives, flashlights, keychain tools and similar things.

        • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David

          Very cool. That reminds me, I’ll have to do a EDC post for Carryology.

  • Joseph

    Whoops! I meant to add that as a reply to your comment, David. (feel free to delete this)

  • Dave

    Has anyone tried their new Light Daypack? I’m intrigued. Also was concerned about the lack of a sternum strap, are there any aftermarket straps that might work? It might be wise of Topo to offer it as an option or aftermarket accessory…

    • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David

      Hi Dave,

      I haven’t personally tried their Light Daypack. I feel that a sternum pack doesn’t really come into play in their packs because they are positioned (IMO) to act as casual, light carry packs. Just looking at their designs, they are meant to carry some books, a few pens, iPad, etc for school or around the city exploring. In these situations, I don’t feel like a sternum strap is needed.

      However, it probably wouldn’t take much effort for them to sell it as an accessory.

      • Dave

        Thanks David. I’m on the lookout for a just-above-minimalist backpack for bike commuting, that’s not overly technical-looking, but meets comfort needs. As much as like what these guys are doing, I think they may just be a little too “casual” for my needs.

        • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David


          Take a look at the Osprey commuter offerings.

  • http://www.topodesigns.com Mark

    Just wanted to chime in on this thread – thanks to everyone for the comments. Awesome for us to have people really checking out the bags and talking about the details!

    @ David – I think it’s time we send you a new pack, shoot me an email
    @ Dave – we will be offering a sternum strap in just a few short weeks, while we are “casual” as David mentions, we know how helpful a sternum strap can be in certain situations – for me I like it on the bike. Keep an eye out.
    @ Rick – glad you understand the change to plastic, look is great w/ metal but these things gotta work – and the plastic is awesome for that. And, I think you’ll find the look ain’t all bad either.
    @ Kevin – I always thought elves were the quiet ones? /grin – We actually have addressed this by changing the way we loop the paracord through the zippers – now the cord prevents the pulls from clacking against each other and the zipper chain. I think you should re-order!

    • Dave

      Thanks for the replies, Mark – I’ll keep my eyes out for that sternum strap.

    • http://foothillunion.tumblr.com Rick

      Just wanted to say thanks for all of the responses. I can’t wait for all of the new gear to role out. I’m think Roll Top, Waist pack, and possibly a belt or two.

  • Mike W

    Thanks for all reviews guys! Really close to getting one of these…

    I had one question though. Does the back have any frame work to it? I ask because I would like to be able to fit the bag into a larger bag for traveling and such to be brought out for daily use. Thanks!

    • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David


      Thanks for the kind words. The bag does not have any sort of frame. You could fold or crush it down for travel but it’s not really designed for this. It’s not designed with packing down in mind. It could be done though but it won’t get as small as some other bags. Hope this helps.

    • http://foothillsunion.tumblr.com Rick

      You might want to try the light daypack. It’s made from the pack cloth normally lines the Topo bags. Just a thought.

  • David Rincon

    Hey, I am interested in a bag but I am not sure which.
    Can you recommend one of topos designs?
    And, where/how can I get it ?


    • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David

      Hi David,

      Well clearly I am a big fan of the Daypack. You can buy any of the bags direct from Topo themselves at http://www.topodesigns.com

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  • Moritz

    Hi all,

    I’m a bit confused about the material description on their website.
    They write: 1000D CORDURA fabric. I’m pretty sure Cordura is also offering some polyester fabrics.
    I assumed they don’t use nylon for their stuff because of the obvious higher costs caused by doing everything in the US, in comparison to the retailprice. The price would be absolute fantastic for a nylon bag with 1000D Nylon Cordura made in the US.

    Where did you get the more detailed information about the facts of the bags?
    Do you have any informations about the hardware/lining/backing the use?

    I really like the topo stuff anyway, even if they are made of polyester!

    Best regards from Germany!


    • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David

      Hi Moritz,

      You’re right, it’s a great price point. The Day Pack really is made in the US. I am pretty sure the description on their site is accurate. It’s 1000D Cordura. It feels like nylon, not polyester.

      • Moritz

        I didn’t meant it isn’t correct but the description isn’t complete. There are other brands who have the same kind of description and a guy in china, how works as an agent for different companies, assures me that Cordura also produces polyester fabrics.
        And if the brand doesn’t call it Nylon it’s often not.

        That’s what confused me in your review and that you called it Nylon. On the webside the say it’s 1000D Cordura but not wether Nylon or Polyester.

        And to be honest, no normal user can see the difference between them without having the exact same kind of fabric in both materials side by side.

        greatings Moritz

        • Moritz

          Hi again,

          I asked them directly and they confirmed what you wrote here.
          It is 1000D Cordura nylon.

          greetings Moritz

          • http://www.sygyzy.com/ David

            Hi Moritz,

            Thank you for doing the legwork and finding answers for our readers. We sure do appreciate it.

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  • IanK

    I’m interested in this bag, and have been reading some reviews on this site. This was a great review, and the comments have been very helpful as well!!

    I just noticed that David’s original review, for the 1st version of this bag, was 16-inches tall and ~17 litres volume. The current bag seems to be 19-inches and 22 litres.

    I wonder why they made it bigger!? I think 17L was the perfect size for an EDC backpack. Did Topo decide to make it bigger to appeal more to students??

    Right now, I think the Sling bag is the perfect size, but even as a daily cyclist (~1 hr/day!!), I don’t see the need for a sling backpack, since you can’t open the bag while you’re wearing it.


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