- Buyer's Guide
Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L Review :: Drive By
You’ve heard all the stats – nearly $5M raised and over 17,000 backers made the Everyday Messenger the most successful bag campaign on Kickstarter. The team from the foggy Bay delivered in spades last year. One year later, I emailed their PR team after hearing a rumor about a new Kickstarter project from Peak Design (PD). They couldn’t tell me much, but soon after we were treated to news of not one, but four new Everyday bags. Can lightning strike twice?
A little less than a month ago, a team from Carryology descended upon Salt Lake City, UT for Outdoor Retailer. After stuffing ourselves at dinner, we headed to a party at a downtown bar. There, I ran into Art Viger, head designer at Peak Design. I immediately asked him if he had any of the bags with him. He produced the Everyday Sling and told me I had a little bit of time to look it over and list all the flaws of the prototype. He was expecting a call with the factory to go over the tweaks that needed to be applied. I had twenty minutes.
I’ve seen many bags but here I was, trying to scrutinize a prototype and I could not find anything majorly wrong. Sure, there were personal preferences or if you really wanted to get pedantic, I could have pointed out an uneven stitch or a zipper that wasn’t buttery smooth, but honestly I had zilch. I handed it back to Art and asked him what was on his list. And he went off. And none of it was “common sense”. Everything he listed did make sense, though. Perfect sense. But you needed someone with a real eye for design and a real passion for usability to point it out. Then it just seems so obvious.
After that interaction plus another visit or two to their booth, I kept bugging the team for a sample of the 20L Everyday Backpack (EB) and soon FedEx dropped one off. I’ve been putting it through its paces and when it’s done, I am packing this handmade sample back up and sending it back to Peak Design. Like I just mentioned, this is a pre-production, handmade sample that I am reviewing and there are plenty of things that are definitely getting changed in the final version. Tweaks are still being made. I will try to be clear if a feature I am referring to has been or will be modified.
Who It Suits
Despite its name, the Everyday Backpack is first and foremost for someone who wants to carry their photography gear. Does it carry everyday items better than other camera bags? I’d say yes. Is it a regular daypack with a camera insert? No. It’s a focus built camera backpack that happens to also carry non-photography gear very well. It is also best suited for a photographer who is likely to be shooting mirrorless with one body, a few lenses, perhaps a compact tripod and a handful of accessories.
“It’s a focus built camera backpack that happens to also carry non-photography gear very well.”
Who It Doesn’t
If you are looking for a daypack and are only packing a point and shoot, this backpack is not for you. You would be better served with a traditional backpack which will offer more traditional storage compartments and lighter weight. I personally find the 20L size to be nice for my height (5’8″) but if you are really tall, say 6 foot, you might consider the 30L. However, I must warn everyone that I personally think the 20L size is the sweet spot. Unless I was a wedding photographer or someone packing a lot of gear, the larger size is overkill.
“If you are looking for a daypack and are only packing a point and shoot, this backpack is not for you.”
The Everyday Backpack (20L) is also not great for someone who doesn’t utilize the storage capabilities of the bag. Empty it weighs 2.9 lbs. For those familiar with the Arc’teryx Blade, the Everyday Backpack is slightly heavier. Finally, if carrying loads of documents (or thin books or pamphlets) is your thing, this bag does not excel at that.
I’ll keep repeating myself throughout this review but what strikes me most about the new Everyday bags by Peak Design is their attention to detail. Everything has a purpose and each feature is well thought out. Let’s start with the organization and storage. Peak believes in zero wasted space and this philosophy holds true with the Everyday Backpack. The main compartment sports dual openings, and you have access to the entire volume from either side. All the zippers on this bag, by the way, are water resistant and have zip hoods on both ends. The side zips are meant to be accessed with the bag swung to your side, a feat made possible by the Axial straps. The sides are also secured by dual zippers so you can open or close them in either direction and I like this flexibility.
“Everything has a purpose and each feature is well thought out.”
The main compartment is where most of the action happens. Inside you’ll find three newly redesigned FlexFold dividers. The ones in the new Everyday range differ from last year’s Messenger in that they are dual panels. This gives additional stiffness for better separation and walling, and also stronger shelving. Personally, I think three dividers is too much since the bottom one is most likely going to sit flush along the bottom of the bag. However, there aren’t actually many cons to this configuration and it actually gives a stronger bottom shelf. I feel like the dividers this time around are more rigid but strangely also easier to operate. I did find they were a bit large which is problematic if you combine it with a side pocket that is stuffed with bulky items. I was told that this was already being addressed and the final version would be less wide. The Velcro attachment is very secure but also not finicky – attaching when you want and releasing when you expect it to. This, no doubt, is a result of the material they lined the bag with, that mates with the Velcro on the FlexFold.
“The main compartment is where most of the action happens. Inside you’ll find three newly redesigned FlexFold dividers.”
The side panels themselves sport a zippered internal panel, perfect for holding pens, notebooks and camera accessories. Interestingly, the panel covers are made of a waterproof span gusset (WPS) material that is two layers of jersey span that covers a waterproof membrane. The membrane isn’t that important in the location it’s used, but Peak wanted the puncture protection it provided. What they accomplished with WPS over padded pockets is the protection without the bulk, plus the protection between items stored in the main and side compartment. On the left and right sides, you’ll find different pockets and the colored “dash” stitching from the Everyday Messenger makes a return. This time, they did away with the Christmas red and green and went with red and black, a choice I cheered on.
“The side panels themselves sport a zippered internal panel, perfect for holding pens, notebooks and camera accessories.”
On the exterior, you’ll find side pockets that expand to accommodate water bottles and tripods (more on that later). When the pockets are not in use, they are held snug against the bag by an elastic band to the rear of the pocket. Tucked away in the side pockets are straps that extend and latch onto anchor points to securely hold a bulky item such as a tripod.
Opening the zipper that runs across the top of the bag reveals a laptop compartment that holds up to a 15″ laptop, a space for a tablet, and a hanging stash pocket with stretch material to hold random odds and ends. The laptop compartment design is an interesting one. Again, sticking to the philosophy of minimizing wasted space, PD wanted to fix the issue of having a laptop area that reserves a sizeable amount of space that sometimes isn’t used. Personally, I carry my computer with me about three times a month. I try to avoid carrying a laptop so why should I have to “pay” to keep that dedicated space around? PD gets around this by using the aforementioned WPS. This allows for good expansion (you can fit a 3″ thick textbook in there, for example) when needed, but lays flat when empty.
“The laptop compartment design is an interesting one. Again, sticking to the philosophy of minimizing wasted space, PD wanted to fix the issue of having a laptop area that reserves a sizeable amount of space that sometimes isn’t used.”
Finally the top of the bag is secured by their patented MagLatch closure and there’s even a secret stash compartment with magnetic closure on the inside front of the bag that’s perfect for a small notepad, passport, flight documents, or ID. Opening the top of the bag gives you access straight down into the main compartment. Most setups will have a FlexFold divider partitioning the top off from the camera gear so you are not reaching down very far to grab your stuff. The MagLatch system combined with the expanding sides gives the EB an additional 8L of storage if needed. This came in handy a few times last week when I had to bring home packages I had shipped to work.
Aside from the actual storage options, Peak Design included a number of thoughtful features that I really liked. Like I mentioned earlier, the side pockets have compression straps that come out and help secure a tripod or similar load. If you reach under the front of the bag and open the magnetic closure, you’ll find two more compression straps that hook onto anchor loops near the top. The example PD often shows is the EB carrying a DJI Phantom quadcopter but you really could use it to carry anything. The straps themselves are narrow (1.5 cm) and are terminated with, what else, but Peak Design custom hardware. They use J hooks which I am usually not a fan of, but they mate into simple loops that are twisted which gives you just the right angle to hook into. Release is also a breeze.
“Finally the top of the bag is secured by their patented MagLatch closure and there’s even a secret stash compartment with magnetic closure on the inside front of the bag that’s perfect for a small notepad, passport, flight documents, or ID.”
The rear of the bag has a brand new sternum strap that has way more attention to detail than any I’ve seen before. First, there is custom hardware on both ends but the hooks you’ll find are not the same. One side is designed to stay on more or less permanently once you settle on the height, while the other side is meant to attach and detach with each use. The hardware is stunning with a subtle bead-blasted finish and barely noticeable PD engraving. The easy-release side has a totally simple pull tab that works perfectly and is much more natural than the traditional buckle found on other sternum straps. The adjustment is super simple and excess slack is taken up by a loop. If you don’t want to use the strap, you can stow it away a few different ways.
“The easy-release side has a totally simple pull tab that works perfectly and is much more natural than the traditional buckle found on other sternum straps.”
The rear Axial straps allow for ergonomic carry which you can really feel. There’s a center panel that lifts the bag off your back slightly with corrugated foam and combined with the Axial straps makes for one of the most comfortable carrying backpacks I’ve ever felt. What’s cool is this center panel is attached to the bag with Velcro and if you separate it, and rotate it 90 degrees, you can slide it over the handles of your suitcase. I’m not a fan of carrying anything on my back or shoulders through long terminal treks.
“There’s a center panel that lifts the bag off your back slightly with corrugated foam and combined with the Axial straps makes for one of the most comfortable carrying backpacks I’ve ever felt.”
I am digging that there are carry handles not only on top, but on each side. If you’re like me, you love carry handles. How often are we picking up our bags off the floor of a local coffee shop? Or putting our bag into the trunk of a car or pulling it out of one? And in typical PD fashion these are not simple handles. They jammed a piece of tubing into a hollow piece of nylon and flexed the tube in a way to create a chamfered edge. Basically, the sides angle up and outward to fit the contours of your hand for a more comfortable carrying experience. They also chose a silky smooth material that is very soft to the touch.
“I am digging that there are carry handles not only on top, but on each side.”
Last but not least, I want to talk about the size. Peak Design is offering the Everyday Backpack in a 20L and 30L size. This really comes down to what sort of setup you might be carrying. Are you shooting mirrorless with a few lenses? Or are you pulling wedding duty with dual or triple full frame DSLR’s? For me, the 20L size is perfect. I cannot imagine carrying 30L from both a size and weight perspective. What’s interesting about this particular size is also how it carries. While very comfortable, the weight, when on your back, feels very dense. It feels like it’s very concentrated on a “small” area and the load kind of feels “tight”. It’s hard to explain and I don’t know if it’s a pro or con, either. I am not sure how this would differ on the 30L size.
“Peak Design is offering the Everyday Backpack in a 20L and 30L size. This really comes down to what sort of setup you might be carrying.”
The Not So Good
There were just a few things I wasn’t too keen on in my short time with the Everyday Backpack. First, I found that it was very hard to carry any sort of documents. Yes, there are ways to do this, such as sliding them next to your laptop or even putting them sideways in the main compartment. You can also ease your efforts by putting the documents in some sort of stiff folder and inserting that into the laptop compartment. Granted, PD is marketing this towards photographers and it’s unlikely you’ll have loads of documents. I often have to carry a few sheets home and it was a challenge figuring out where they should go.
“I found that it was very hard to carry any sort of documents.”
I often carry a narrow vacuum bottle to work with my morning coffee. While the side pockets expand to hold the bottle no problem, they expand in a unique way which makes getting the bottle in, especially one-handed, a challenge. It’s hard to see initially, but the strap that holds the pocket snug is in the rear of the bag. This means that the expansion is not uniform across the pocket. It’s basically dynamic only in the rear and this makes for an unusual interaction that I am not used to. It’s not an issue if you are putting something like a tripod in since you are going to need to use two hands anyway. I wouldn’t want to store a bottle there that I had to reach for often.
“While the side pockets expand to hold the bottle no problem, they expand in a unique way which makes getting the bottle in, especially one-handed, a challenge.”
The pocketing for the side panels isn’t that great to me. I can’t describe it but they seem kind of frumpy, even though there is plenty of use of the WPS material. When empty they kind of puff out, and when full I am nervous that the top band might not have enough tension to hold the items in. To be fair, nothing has ever fallen out but items do slide out with a bit too much ease. I also find the pen slots really unuseful. The slots are too narrow, the jersey material snags on the rubber grips of pens, and the top portion is not stiff enough to allow the clips to go over them. I shared these concerns and was told it was being looked at. This might not be an issue if you carry your pens in a case or don’t care about carrying pens at all.
“I also find the pen slots really unuseful. The slots are too narrow, the jersey material snags on the rubber grips of pens, and the top portion is not stiff enough to allow the clips to go over them.”
The exterior side zipper access is great but depending on how full you have the bag, the first quarter of the zipper travel can get slightly snagged as it goes around the bend. I was told that they are aware of zipper track issues in general on the samples, so this will probably get fixed in production.
Lastly, as much as I love the sternum strap, I often found myself not being able to find a clever way to stow it when not in use. I have been trying to clip the soft lock side to the more static side but I end up with a twisted strap that comes off pretty easily.
“Lastly, as much as I love the sternum strap, I often found myself not being able to find a clever way to stow it when not in use.”
Others To Consider
Luckily, the photography carry world is vast and varied and you have endless choices. The Lowepro Fastpack has a nice silhouette and quick side access. Another one you might want to check out is the MindShift Gear BackLight 26L. Also, give f-stop a look if you’re in the market.
When I think about the design conversation I had with Art at that bar, and the subsequent ones through email correspondence, the thing that sticks with me is how thoughtful he and the Peak Design team are as designers. What I mean is, they really think about the pain points for customers and they go out and address them. I sent dozens of questions and concerns about things I was worried about or simply thought was flat out broken. Art had an answer for all of them and a majority of the answers were along the lines of “We know that’s an issue and we already fixed it. This is how we did it…”
“…they really think about the pain points for customers and they go out and address them.”
The Everyday Backpack is truly the sum of its parts. It’s a bunch of small challenges, that were solved, then combined into a Voltron of a bag. Peak Design is one of the few companies in the carry world, at this time, doing real innovation and that is readily evident in this bag. If you’re the type of photographer who needs to carry a fairly compact kit, but also wants the versatility and freedom to bring along everyday items or extra pieces of gear, then this bag is for you. The Kickstarter campaign ends Friday September 9th at 5PM PDT.