- Buyer's Guide
Filson Dryden Backpack Review
Filson are known for their rich heritage. They’ve been in the bag making game since 1897, and everything they put out is hard-wearing, gorgeous and comes with a suitable price tag. But this year, Filson has started to release some modern and more affordable interpretations of famous designs from years past. A fine example: the Filson Dryden Backpack.
Who It Suits
If you like great materials, classic Americana styling, with some simple everyday organization, this bag is a strong choice.
Looking to blend in? This carry will fit many situations with ease, perform well and not stand out.
This is a great travel companion and with the luggage pass-through it complements a roller carry-on.
Who It Doesn’t
If you like modern or tactical aesthetics, this isn’t the one for you. It’s a simple bag, and not one that has a “slot” for everything.
Many product names and collections in the Filson line refer to places in the Pacific Northwest. Dryden is a small town in eastern Washington on the Wenatchee River. At the base of the Cascade Mountains, it was originally a logging area that was later developed into apple orchards, with access to extensive outdoor recreation. This bag would feel perfectly at home in the town it was named after and the materials used to create the Dryden reflect the outdoor tradition. In line with Filson’s heirloom pieces, the use of supple bridle leather on the zipper pulls, grab handle, and a few attachment points on the straps hints to its more expensive siblings. These touches, paired with a beefy 1000D Cordura and coil zippers, means that the bag will withstand years of travel and adventures, whether domestic or foreign. The Dryden is a tactile dream; it feels luxurious whenever you are in contact with it, either on your body or in your hand. You can feel it becoming more and more molded to you each time you call on it for duty.
In my experience, Filson produces the type of products that draw admiring glances and inquisitive comments from people, wherever you go. They’ve achieved that again with this daily carry piece. It has the heritage style you would expect from Filson, particularly the bridle leather pulls, but it is still unassuming enough that it fits with most individual styles. The color choices only cement this chameleon-esque characteristic; take your pick from Otter Green, Dark Navy, Whiskey or Dark Shrub Camo. While you may not be tackling a wild bison in rural Alaska with this bag, it is adept in all other adventures. I have found myself turning to it as a daily driver because it easily adapts to multiple situations.
A useful photography companion, this comfortably held a mirrorless, 400mm zoom, a prime lens and all the accoutrements that come with taking photography gear out and about. I do happen to be neurotic with my tech, admittedly those extra lenses were in cases, but the semi-rigid structure of the bag allowed me to create my own system for using it. Most camera bags I use are very specific about where you put gear, so I found this was actually rather refreshing, particularly as my valuable contents were somewhat disguised. I didn’t have any inclement weather to test the capabilities fully, but it handled some water spray with ease. I’d trust it in a rain or snow shower, but perhaps not a hearty downpour.
Even with a relatively heavy load, I haven’t noticed any discomfort. The straps are well padded, and at 6ft tall, 220lbs, with a relatively broad frame, the bag sits nicely on my back. Filson designed this backpack for the traveling professional, whether that is for the daily commute, overnight flight, or running from the office to the mountains on the weekends. Some bags with tougher materials appear to be so stiff that they become almost instantly uncomfortable, or worse for a traveler, heavy. While the materials are robust, don’t let that fool you into thinking that you have to be the next Rambo to carry it. You don’t. The Dryden is wonderfully lightweight, which allows you to navigate your surroundings with ease. However, you don’t need to worry about durability. As always with Filson, I feel as though this bag could be found intact after a nuclear meltdown.
Filson have attempted to turn the traditional commuter briefcase into a more versatile backpack with this piece, and in many ways they have achieved it. When comparing with some of their vintage tin cloth lines, you see the design cues that have been adapted to appeal in a world that is always on the move and going further than before. The key lash is immediately accessible, a simple four-item organization pocket in the front is useful, but stops you cramming too much in there. The same can be said for the straightforward mesh internal pocket – it has enough capacity to hold essentials, but it isn’t so comically large that you try and compete with yourself to see what it holds. There is a handy pocket between the main compartment and the front quick access, which is perfectly sized for a book or small notebook.
These design features are great, however one of my favorite parts of this bag is the separate laptop compartment. I say “my favorite” because it adds a really simple piece of fabric that guides the way you add your device into the bag, which keeps it safer and easier to get to. On the back of the main compartment is a standard pouch for a tablet (which fits my 12.9″ iPad Pro with ease), while on the opposing side, attached to the backpack straps, is a well padded compartment with a Velcro closure for your laptop. It seems quite straightforward at the moment, doesn’t it? What makes it great to use? Two simple pleated triangles of 1000D Cordura. These pleats allow the laptop compartment to open to a thirty-degree angle and you can pack your device without the awkward shove you have to give when some bags are full. Simple, thoughtful, and elegant design. You can pack your laptop safely and know that it will be protected. It also stops your device from falling out as easily. I know that you’ve seen similar before, but with Filson’s quality fabrics, it just feels a little more special.
The water bottle holders are excellent, and surprisingly roomy. They held a 36oz-er with ease and proved useful for tripods, umbrellas, and even a rolled up jacket. When stuffed full, they encroach on the internal space a little but not enough to make it an issue. The biggest plus though? It stands up by itself whatever the weather; I love that in a backpack.
Not So Good
In three words? It. Is. Boxy. When you aren’t packed to the gills, there is no clever way to reduce its footprint. It retains the silhouette, which is beautiful, but at 26L it feels quite bizarre when you aren’t carrying a full load. Particularly due to the lightweight nature of the materials, it can almost bounce around on your back in transit.
The zippers snag quite regularly when the bag isn’t full. With 1000D Cordura being the dominant DNA of this bag, it doesn’t prove to be that flexible. Particularly with the main compartment, the lip that goes over the zip doesn’t move much and I found myself needing to set the bag down with two free hands to de-snag it rather regularly.
On the front organization pouch, there should be two zippers. The single zipper makes it frustrating to get into that “quick access”. It renders it more of a “mild access” pocket. Of course, you would adjust to that the more the bag is used, but another zip would make a big difference here.
If you close your bag to the very center at the top, rather than the side, the bridle leather toggles for the main compartment ALWAYS flip over to the back and tickle your neck. I love bags like the rest of you, but there is a limit to the attention I need from them.
Is it blue or is it black? It was hard to tell at times. While listed as “Dark Navy”, they took the dark part to heart.
Others to Consider
This is a strong middle-of-the-pack backpack for Filson. It clearly has more of the high-end materials than some of the sub-$200 offerings from the PNW company, but also the design itself seems more thorough and in line with their DNA. I enjoyed the comfort, style, and capabilities of this bag, however I can’t deny that the ease of use wasn’t what I’m used to from their bags.
This article was written by new contributor, Laurence Fry, a Creative Media Director who loves rugby, photography, and micro adventures. He’s also been known to drink gin and a few IPA’s from time to time. You can find him on Instagram here and here.