- Buyer's Guide
New Dads | How to Nail Your ‘Dad Bag’
Being a first-time dad, I needed to score myself a great dad bag (AKA baby bag or diaper bag) for the new-bub days ahead.
But the next question was, “What pack should I use?” A look at the parenthood bag market showed a lack of quality pieces for dads. Styles, marketing, fabrics, and colors were primarily geared to moms. Many of the options were cheaply made and being sold at premium prices. Some bags meant for dads leaned hard into military-inspired designs. Even then, once the child grows up, the bag would have features and compartments that wouldn’t be functional.
So I reached out to the carry community with a simple question: What’s a great diaper bag? Other new dads were also asking the same thing! Many great, high-quality options were suggested. But I boiled it down to a handful based on three criteria:
1) Must be able to serve multiple functions, not just be a diaper bag.
2) Look good on both my wife and me.
3) Be useful after my child gets older.
Read on and check out five packs that could fit your dad-life.
Each diaper bag was tested with the same set of gear:
Skip Hop Pronto Changing Pad – Containing eight diapers, a stack of wipes, A&D Prevent Ointment. This is the centerpiece of the loadout. With the clutch in hand, it’s easy to change a diaper just about anywhere. Its tri-fold design and pocketing make it a must-have.
Amazon Basics Medium Packing Cube – Containing two onesies, two socks, blanket, spit-up rag, two shirts for parents.
MOLLE Pouch – “Oh Crap!” bag containing two diapers, ten wipes, and a Matador Dry Bag 3L. Some suggested using a ziplock bag to store waste. In contrast, others trust the high-quality dry bag that’ll keep soiled garments from contaminating anything around them.
Topo Designs Accessory Pouch (Small) – Containing Matador Mini Pocket Blanket, Matador NanoDry Trek Towel, Munchkin Arm & Hammer Diaper Bag Dispenser, and Spare Gallon Zip-Lock Bag. Matador is renowned for their excellent and highly packable gear. The blanket and towel are last resort items or for use by my wife and me; still, they shouldn’t be used often, so a tiny footprint is appreciated.
Spare Spit-up Rag (usually in quick-access area)
Best Diaper Bags for Dads, Tested
Most Rugged and Durable
The Rucker 3.0 may seem like an odd choice for a dad bag, but hear me out. This pack checks every box but one – it’s not a pack you’d take to a nice restaurant. If that doesn’t matter to you, then the Rucker should be on your radar. Not only is it nearly indestructible (your kid could take this to college), but it has easy access with a full clamshell opening, handles on every side (it can be grabbed from anywhere), it’s ridiculously comfortable with the 3.0’s upgraded back panel, and you can fit a ruck plate inside and get a workout in!
Primary Material: 1000D Cordura – in other words, bombproof. You can toss it around and abuse it with reckless abandon, and it’ll be fine. Most people are okay with 500D, but GORUCK said “Nah” and added another 500D to the mix. It’s heavier, but it’s incredibly strong.
Back Panel and Shoulder Strap Underside: 210D High Tenacity Cordura – Less abrasive against clothes and bare skin, for those days when it’s “sun’s out, guns out.” As someone who wears a lot of merino wool, I appreciated that the pack wasn’t going to be so abrasive on my clothing.
Having come from using a convoluted baby-specific bag, using the Rucker was a refreshing joy. The zippers glide smoothly, and the clamshell opening makes grabbing any piece of our modularized setup a breeze. At 20L and no-frills on the inside, minus the ruck plate sleeve and two pockets, there’s plenty of room to store everything. My mother loved the bag and commented how easy it was to find what she needed, an issue she had with previous bags. Additionally, my wife was a fan of the looks, and even though she’s only 4’10 (147.32cm), it looked great on her. Slapping my Baby Yoda patch on the front gave it a bit of personal flair.
Everything but a bag of Skittles and a spare spit-up rag was stored in the main compartment. The external zipper can be tough to utilize while packed out, so these flat objects were stored there. Inside, everything was laid out Tetris-style, with the smaller pouches tucked away in the internal mesh pockets. The only downside is there was no ideal spot for a baby bottle or a water bottle.
With handles on the bottom, top, and both sides, it’s easily grabbable. It doesn’t matter if this pack is in the bottom of the stroller, crammed between the car seat and driver’s seat, or hanging from a Heroclip.
As great as the Rucker is, both my wife and I felt a little strange taking it to nicer establishments. Yeah, it’s a high-end bag, but its military-inspired stylings don’t quite fit in everywhere you go. That’s if you care for this sort of thing; my wife and I do. We’re hoity-toity that way. Given its aesthetics and the colorway we chose, really, you’d only be running up against this perceived issue in formal settings.
A significant benefit is that you can get a workout just by walking your kid to the grocery store or taking a stroll through the park. I live a few blocks away from a Target and actively looked forward to taking the Rucker with its 20lb ruck plate. Even just pushing my daughter along on a stroller, the extra weight gave me a sense of well-being and fitness. Going to the park, aside from being a fun hike, afforded me opportunities to pump out a few sets of work and get a nice sweat going.
Because the Rucker is ideal for lugging around heavy plates over long distances and through obstacle courses, it’s made to be comfortable. In its third iteration, this pack has better lumbar support and less abrasive materials on the shoulder strap’s underside and back panel. The result is a bag that can haul heavy loads, and if all you’re taking is your kid’s EDC, you can expect a comfortable ride, although it will seem like a bit of overkill. Still, overkill while spending a day lugging stuff around a theme park, hike, or any other recreation is a welcome addition.
I never felt I had to treat this bag delicately; it’s a workhorse. The construction and materials exude quality and durability. Even when purposely mistreating the pack, it laughed at my efforts and shrugged it off. It’s incredibly refreshing to not treat a high-end bag with delicate finesse. It did its job without fuss, and the mental freedom was remarkable.
The Rucker does feature a toned-down military aesthetic, so it won’t mesh well in fancier outings or locations. Aside from that, this dad bag can be a stalwart companion for hundreds of grocery runs, trips to Disney, camping adventures, walks in the park, and all in-between. Its mix of simple design with rugged materials produces a pack that is easy to grab, use, and access that will last for many years to come, even under duress. Not only does it make a killer dad bag, but it’s also an excellent ruck bag for use to stay fit while taking care of your kid.
This pack is a one-and-done purchase because it’ll last you a long time. At $185, it’s an investment, but one you won’t regret for years and years to come.
The Rover Pack from Topo Designs is a classic. Even without the branding on the front, all you need is to look at the design, and you know it’s a Topo. When first loading it up, I thought to myself: “There’s no way I can fit everything in this.” I was wrong – the Rover’s 20L is deceptively ample. Add in clever pocketing, and not only did it fit everything, but there was also room to spare. How’s it look, though? Straight up nice. The boxy nature of the bag is perfect for a modular loadout like mine. On-body, it looks compact, high and tight, and with no sag. The look hits the sweet spot where I wouldn’t mind taking this anywhere, even to nicer places and restaurants.
Primary Material: 12oz Cotton Canvas with a DWR coating. Soft to the touch, a bit more luxe feel over the Rover Classic. I wouldn’t necessarily take this with me under a torrential downpour. Still, I am confident it will hold up under light rain. An excellent material that can straddle being out on the trail or out on the town.
Inside Material: 210D Nylon Pack Cloth. It provides an extra layer of protection from the elements while giving the top of the pack its malleability with a cinch-top enclosure. I appreciate that at no point does this feel cheap; all around, there’s a sense of quality to this pack.
After loading up all our daughter’s gear, cinching things down, and strapping it in, the pack was compact and ready to go. When lifting it from its top handle, it was so light I swore I forgot to pack something. Putting it on my back was a revelation; you see, this is my first Topo Designs bag. I was surprised by how comfortable the canvas back panel was and how immediately comfortable the padded straps were. It felt like it was barely there. I now understand the Topo Designs hype.
My wife loves this bag a lot. And given her small size, it still looked great on her. She also enjoyed the aesthetics, noting that it fit her just as well as it fits me. Its versatile looks also scored big points since she never had to worry about the bag not being appropriate to our environment. My mom went out of her way to tell me that she really liked this bag.
Having come from the GORUCK Rucker, I was concerned that moving from a full clamshell opening to a sack would be a problem in terms of access. Of course, it’s not as convenient, but functional pockets made the difference. The large main compartment kept the first aid kit, the just-in-case kit, clothes cube, diaper change clutch, and baby wipes, while the exterior middle pocket kept my Skittles and a spare spit-up rag. The top flap pocket held the “Oh crap!” bag, pacifier pouch, and Clorox wipes. Everything had its place. The cinch-top still had room for more stuff as needed, and the two side bottle pockets gave us options. As a quick note, with a fully packed main compartment, the middle exterior pocket can become tough to utilize; it’s why I only stored flat items inside.
Yes, it requires some purposeful packing and forethought, but in the end, the most used items were quickly available. In my time with the Rover Pack, I never felt out of place – the pack looks good everywhere. Whenever I needed to get something from inside, even one-handed, it was quick. When life added something to the mix, we still had the adaptability to add it to the pack. Its small footprint allowed it to easily be stored. Even after hours at the mall or walking around town, the pack never felt burdensome; I can easily see myself taking it on a hike or trip to a theme park.
Aside from the access mentioned above and the exterior middle pocket becoming tough to get into at times, I am hard-pressed to find things I don’t like about this dad bag. Even the chunky zippers are a great touch. There’s a reason why the Rover is a classic.
If you’re planning on going someplace under a torrential downpour, which you should probably reconsider if you’re rolling with a baby, this pack may not be for you. Otherwise, the Rover Pack Canvas design and looks easily meld anywhere you go. The canvas gives it a sophisticated look while being functionally rugged – affording you a great dad bag that can smoothly go on hikes or out to dinner. You’ll need to plan how you pack ahead of time to make sure your frequently used items are on top in the main compartment or in the top flap pocket. With that, access is easy and adaptable, even with one hand.
At $109, it’s the best value: excellent materials, a classic design, comfortable, easy to use. The Rover will easily last you several years of child-rearing.
Mystery Ranch is legendary, so it wasn’t a surprise when their name came up during the dad bag discussion. The tri-zip design is a staple of their brand and for a good reason. Only need to get items from the top of the pack? No problem, open the top lid. Need to get something lower down but don’t want to pull things out? Slide the middle zip, and now there’s full access. Two long internal pockets and a top-loading external quick-access pocket provide organizational options. A narrow profile keeps the aesthetics sleek and clean enough to get wifely approval. Great materials offer excellent protection against the elements. An expertly thought-out harness system makes wearing the Urban Assault a pleasure. The pack in Grass green definitely feels more at home out at a park, on a trail, or really anywhere outside.
Outside Material: 500D Cordura – Not as rugged as the Rucker, but at 500D, you can still abuse the Urban Assault quite a bit, and it’s lighter. The material is malleable while remaining strong; it’s a good balance whether hitting a trail, spending the day at a water park, or just out on the town – providing the gear inside protection from regular bumps and abrasions and the elements.
Hardware: Polyurethane Coated YKK Zippers – All exterior zippers are water-resistant YKK zips, giving this pack additional weatherproofing. Initially, the zips may stick a little, but after a breaking-in period, they become much smoother.
Harness: Aerospace Foam Mesh and Frame Sheet – The back panel and straps are outfitted with foam mesh that’s breathable and downright comfortable. It’s not a full Futura harness, but at 21L, this is more than enough.
The Urban Assault is a streamlined pack – it’s efficient and minimal. Still, this is deceptive because between the external quick-access pocket and the two internal pockets, there’s a bit of organization going on that made loading this pack surprisingly easy and fast. Instead of packing things by frequency, items in the main compartment were laid up vertically. Small items such as my Skittles, pacifier pouch, and spit-up rag were stored in the internal pockets with room to spare. The “Oh Crap!” bag, Clorox wipes, and a toy were in the quick-access. This pack is a bit more narrow than most, so I was concerned there wouldn’t be space for additional items. Yet, as I zipped up the middle and stared down the bag with the top open, there was a good five inches of space left.
This was the most comfortable dad bag I tested. Not to say the others weren’t comfortable; each bag could easily be worn for hours. Yet, the Urban Assault takes it to another level. It’s narrow but tall, adding load lifters to keep the bag high and close to the body, which I like. The full-body frame sheet does a good job of keeping things steady and distributing weight. Simultaneously, the foam mesh back panel and shoulder straps provide a well-balanced padding level without being gushy or overhard. Donning the pack is made slightly more manageable since the straps come with a pre-formed arch to them and don’t get twisted.
In terms of looks, the Urban Assault definitely has a more rugged appeal to it. But this can either be amplified or suppressed by what color you choose. My pack’s colorway was Grass, which looked quite outdoorsy. Thankfully, there’s a slew of colors to choose from, including the Wood Waxed, which looks gorgeous. Straight-up black gives off a more tactical yet professional look, while Shadow does look a bit more versatile. Other colors are available, like Garnet, Grape, Hunter, and Techno, to new a few.
My daily routine with my daughter includes grocery runs, dropping her off at her grandparent’s, going around town doing errands, and often going to a park. With this use case, the Urban Assault’s tri-zip layout was the best of both worlds – a mix of GORUCK’s clamshell opening, with a bit of Topo’s top-loading. A diaper change was easily handled by pulling open the top flap and grabbing the diaper clutch. If I needed something less used, I could open the main zipper and grab what I needed without having to aimlessly dig around. The two internal pockets are up high, so they aren’t affected much by what’s below, making it easy to open with one hand and retrieve what I need.
There were times where I would have liked an external water bottle pocket. Still, the Urban Assault is so sleek and minimal on the outside that I am willing to forego the exterior pocket for the sake of keeping things straightforward. Plus, I could fit a small water bottle inside – it was a little tight but manageable.
With robust materials and weatherproofing, the Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 21 can be taken anywhere. Its sleek, minimalist exterior belies a lot going on underneath the surface. A laptop compartment, two long internal pockets, and an external quick-access pocket provide options for storing all of the child’s essentials and more. The tri-zip design lends itself to this use case and others, allowing quick top-flap access or full-body access to grab items without rummaging around. No exterior bottle pocket is a bummer, but the pack makes up for it with loads of clever space use. Where you’ll feel comfortable taking this pack depends on which color you choose.
At $125, it’s not the cheapest option, but the materials, longevity, and peace of mind will surely make up for it.
It was a delight getting the Everyday Backpack v2 20L from Peak Design. To me, this pack is iconic. For a long time, it represented the world of Carry and the extraordinary innovations happening in this space. The EDB was made with photography in mind; padded, spectacular access, highly weather-resistant, tons of organizational options, and made with high-end materials. A top opening is held in place by a magnetic latch system (MagLatch). Also, two long weatherproof zippers on either side provide easy access to everything in the bag. Swiveling shoulder straps make swinging the bag around a cinch, while the vented back panel is outfitted with quick-drying mesh. With a leather grab handle and accents, the pack’s aesthetics are given a classy boost. All these features and more (magnets!) come together to produce a sophisticated solution for a dad bag.
Outside Materials: 400D Kodra with double poly-coated DWR and 900D waterproof bottom liner. Although not the most rugged or durable, the mix of exterior materials allows the EDB to be highly weather-resistant while maintaining a classier aesthetic. Additionally, the top handle and multiple accents around the bag are leather. Not to mention, the bag uses 100% recycled post-consumer materials. Nice.
Hardware: #8 UltraZips with what appears to be polyurethane-coated covers. These zips are smooth and provide a measure of weatherproofing. Also, anodized aluminum is prominently displayed in the bag’s center with the MagLatch and latch points.
Internal Materials: Mesh pockets and soft felt-like panels provide organization and protect items inside.
Initially, I was excited to use the Everyday Backpack’s unique shelving system. But as I placed my baby’s modularized items inside, it became apparent quickly that it wouldn’t be possible – not everything fit. Possibly a non-modularized setup would be more ideal for this pack. Still, once I removed the shelving, I strategically began packing with the top and side access in mind. The first-aid kit and just-in-case kit sat on the bag floor while the clothing cube and diaper clutch stood upright, one for each side access panel. Skittles, pacifier pouch, and Clorox wipes found their places in the side panel’s magnetic mesh drop pockets. Baby wipes, bottle, and formula were then laid up at the top of the pack. Lastly, the “Oh Crap!” bag and spare spit-up rag were tucked away atop the laptop compartment.
It was a snug fit without room for much else. This was puzzling because the 20L capacity was similar to the other bags I’d tested. Here’s the thing, the EDB is not a malleable bag. With its focus on photography, the pack is a padded shell, so there is not much give. Additionally, the pack has a unique shape with its sloping top. So with my particular modular packing list, we didn’t have much space for anything extra. An upside to the materials, shape, and padding is that the EDB can stand on its own, which is hugely helpful with a baby, and the pack always looks the same.
Although the form isn’t ideal, oh boy, the access and shoulder straps that pivot at axial points make up for it. Not only did this allow for a comfortable ride when being worn by either of us, but it made swinging the pack around to access one of the side access panels a breeze. I can’t overstate enough how much we both liked this feature. We were able to have the baby in one arm, swing the bag around, and smoothly unzip the side without a hitch. One-handed opening of the top flap was also killer. So no matter what I needed to get, even with the baby in my arms, it was all accessible with one hand. That one positive is enough for me to be okay with the capacity shortage.
In use, I found the outer material marked easily. A knowledgeable friend who is also a carry-aficionado told me that it’s a result of the DWR treatment used on the Kodra. Fair enough – marks are easily wiped off with a bit of water. Unfortunately, the aluminum MagLatch had some paint scrape off when it fell onto a tiled floor. Bummer.
One feature that caught my attention is the use of magnets, not only in the MagLatch itself, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but in the drop pockets, laptop pocket, and most notably in the back panel. What a revelation this was. Magnets in the shoulder straps snag onto the back panel, so when the bag is not in use, the straps virtually tuck themselves in and out of the way. With a baby that grabs everything she can, I greatly appreciated this feature. I am also a huge fan of clean lines and silhouettes.
Lastly, even with a full loadout, this pack is comfortable. The back panel uses a ribbed ventilated mesh that feels good on my back. And the shoulder straps have a substantial amount of padding to them without being overdone. Easily carriable for long stretches.
The Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L is a feature-rich offering that ticks a lot of boxes. Its biggest draw is the fantastic one-handed access from the top and from either side. This is huge when dealing with a child. It comes with sophisticated and elegant looks, so you can take it anywhere. Although it is heavily padded to protect inside contents, I don’t feel like it’s the most rugged pack in this group. Still, significant weatherproofing and comfort can see you taking this pack outside and on some trails. Just know that it’ll mark up easily. Load it with purpose, understanding the capacity restraints, and you’ll be alright. If the capacity is what’s holding you back, there’s also a 30L version.
At $259.95, it’s the most expensive dad bag in this lineup. Still, this should be tempered with the fact that it’s the most feature-rich pack of the lot and the only one that can be maneuverable with the baby in your arms. It’s an investment, but aside from a killer dad bag, it can easily transition to a photography, EDC, or travel bag.
I did a long-form review of the Knack Pack Series 1 for Carryology, and one-bag traveled for two weeks in Austria with it. So when the Series 2 was released, addressing many critiques of the Series 1, I immediately thought this could be a great dad bag. The Series 2 comes with a much more clean and professional look. The addition of full-grain napa leather on all grab handles and the front trim with the admin pocket’s retooling goes a long way to boosting its professional appeal. For this use case, the main attraction is how the bag expands from 24L to 35L. The expandability allows me to pack all my baby’s stuff and all my work gear in one pack, quickly shifting from dad to consultant back to dad. The Knack features an isolated laptop compartment and a dedicated bottle pocket that zips closed, two aspects I love.
Outside Materials: 420D high-density nylon, PU-coated. Also, full-grain napa leather. The looks of the Series 2 are owed primarily to the new materials being used. Whereas the Series 1 had a seemingly more rugged suit-inspired polyester, the Series 2 is smooth with very little texture. The materials provide a cleaner, more professional look. My particular unit came in Midnight Black; the other colorway, Storm Gray, is a different fabric.
Internal Materials: 150D polyester with custom Knack print. Knack toned down the interior a bit on the Series 2. There’s still the luxe-looking custom print, but instead of orange, it’s light gray.
Hardware: Reverse coil YKK zippers with custom-designed zinc zip-pulls. Duraflex buckles and sliders. Zippers are smooth and rarely get snagged. Even when shrinking or expanding the pack, they were operable with one hand. The zip-pulls are easy to hold, aren’t dangly, and don’t make noise. Lastly, the D-clip, hook, and sliders in the harness system feel good in the hand and don’t feel cheap.
Harness: EVA memory foam back panel. Mesh shoulder straps. A pack that can expand up to 35L needs a bit of support. There’s no contouring here, it’s a flat back panel, but the memory foam feels comfortable against the body. Multiple air channels keep things cool. The straps are great when the pack isn’t expanded and loaded out. When the pack is stuffed, though, I wish the straps could be more substantial or a little wider. Not a huge deal; the sternum strap does a lot to assist in this.
It’s business in the front, luggage/party/baby in the back. The front admin panel is flat but goes down pretty deep; it has a place for pens, business cards, and smaller, flatter items. A second, more expansive compartment is more of a bucket with some additional mesh pocketing. There is an isolated laptop compartment and an isolated zip-away bottle pocket. Then there’s the expandable luggage compartment, fitted with a large mesh pocket and straps to keep things in place. So how did this all work out?
It doesn’t, but at the same time, it does. Let me explain. The Knack looks best while in its most compact form, all zipped up. I couldn’t fit my daughter’s stuff into the bag while it was in this state. The front admin pocket is too thin, and the main compartment not large enough for the diaper clutch and packing cube. Even trying to cram the loadout into an unexpanded luggage compartment was not great. It’s a symptom of my particular packing style. It’s not all bad news, though.
Once I expanded the luggage section, a whole new world of options opened up. All of my daughter’s main loadout easily fitted in the luggage section with room to spare. This left the two front compartments virtually empty, minus emergency stuff like the “Oh Crap!” bag and a spit-up rag. Now, with all this extra space up front, I packed in my Peak Design Tech Pouch, Aer Slim Pouch, and Topo Pouch, a.k.a. “my work stuff.” Now we’re talking.
That’s where the versatility of the Knack Pack shines; it allowed me to use one bag simultaneously for two things. Whenever I visit clients, I have to drop my daughter off at my mom’s or my inlaw’s house. Once I arrived, bag fully loaded, I’d unpack the baby-specific things, zip up the pack, and I’d be ready for work – looking sleek and professional. Once I came back, I’d expand the bag, entering dad-mode. The versatility stretches beyond work; with the front compartments empty, I was ready to take on other things like small groceries, a visit to the pool, a quick jaunt to the pizza place. With the Knack, I felt like I was ready for anything.
A couple of notes on looks, though. While expanded, the pack is large; there’s no escaping that. It’s like mom-bag large. On the plus side, it does provide plenty of space for other items or items not even associated with the child. I wasn’t a huge fan of the look while expanded, but that’s definitely subjective.
On the other hand, while expanded, the Knack Pack maintains a professional appeal. While shrunken down, I found myself enjoying the pack’s look quite a bit and loved the addition of a side handle. Having a hidden bottle pocket is a feature I applaud. It’s an elegant solution and one that saves me from showing off a pink baby bottle wherever I go. Also, the isolated laptop compartment is so comfortable to use – no matter what loadout I was taking with me, my laptop was easily reachable.
The Knack Pack Series 2 is a great pack that can straddle various activities. You can easily transition from one thing to another, expanding or shrinking the bag as your needs require. My loadout may be a bit overkill, so yours could possibly fit just in the front two compartments. It’s a professional bag first and everything else second – so keep that in mind when it comes to its looks. Still, its versatility is its main feature. Clean lines and soft leather accents give it an air of sophistication. Its materials and form allow it to be used in a slew of scenarios.
At $225, it comes with a hefty price tag. Nevertheless, what you’re getting is a high-end pack that can easily take the place of several bags: dad bag, travel bag, gym bag, and work bag, just to name a few.
There you have it, five awesome packs that would make an excellent dad bag. Of course, this article isn’t an exhaustive list. Yet it serves as a quick way to survey five excellent packs that deserve attention.
At the very least, this guide can help you hone in on what you’d personally want in a dad bag to carry around your kid’s stuff, as well as for other activities. Plus, once they’ve grown up, you’ve got a broken-in pack that can be used for all sorts of stuff.
This article was written by Jovanni Bello. Renaissance man, adventurer and cell phone photographer.