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Our favourite versatile backpacks

by , January 18, 2010

Our favourite versatile backpacks

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There’s some great backpacks around, but there’s also a lot that suck really badly. We thought we’d pull together a spread of packs that we rate – they work well, they look appropriate for their intended use, and they should help you get out and enjoy new experiences.

We wanted to narrow this list down a little, so we’ve chosen our favourite versatile packs. A great all-rounder is not easy to do, so there will still be some compromises. We’ve arranged them from more of a work focus, to more of an activity focus. Just pick where you best fit.

Quality = Fitness for purpose

These backpacks should all:

  • Work well enough from the office to the outdoors: They’ll carry a mix of items, and look appropriate across a variety of environments (unless you are in full suit city).
  • Carry your tech: They have pockets for all those modern devices, generally including a laptop (we let you know if they need an additional sleeve).
  • Deal well with travel: Travel requires a pack that can expand for a jacket or contract for an overhead bin. You need to stash food without squashing it and digital toys without scratching them. The best travel packs can open wide on their backs for packing on a hotel bed.

More discussion on the backpacks after the jump…

So, starting from the most work suitable, and building towards the most active suitable:

Incase Nylon backpack

Positives: Loads of great tech pockets, a geometric silhouette that looks great in urban environments (and yet still OK in the outdoors), efficient spaces for square work items, and a nice compromise on price vs quality.
Negatives: The harness and straight body shape are only OK for more rigorous activities, there’s not much expansion ability, and there’s better packs if you want to free your spirit (take it climbing, surfing, boarding, etc).

Our favourite versatile backpacks

Gravis Metro

Positives: A really affordable pack that sits quite flat, yet seems to keep growing while you need it to. There’s convenient pockets, sensible sections, and loads of colourway options from crazy all-over prints to stealth black.

Negatives: The laptop pocket is a side opening, which means if you ever forget to do the section zip up, your laptop might meet the floor in a hurry. There’s not much structure or padding, so fragile items (like sunglasses) can feel a little exposed – but that’s not too big an issue for most.

Our favourite versatile backpacks

Chrome Ivan Roll-top

Positives: A really different looking pack that gets loads of curious looks. Weather protection is great, with a relatively water-tight hanging pocket that we use for our 17″ MacBooks. While the Ivan is our favourite size roll-top (mid), there’s also the Pawn (small) or the Sultan (large).

Negatives: This is classic courier style, with big pockets and sections that take everything. You need to be creative to find good nests for all your tech, otherwise it just swirls around with everything else. The velcro can be loud when opening the main section, and it’s a pretty wide pack (not great for power walkers).

Our favourite versatile backpacks

Rip Curl Escape

Positives: This pack was built for travel, and it shows. A huge main compartment can take a weekend’s clothes, there’s a wide waste harness, and we love all the features like wet sack, insulated pocket (that fits big Bose), and more.

Negatives: It could do with a couple more internal pockets, and it doesn’t compress well, meaning you need to keep it on the full side or your stuff can get jiggy in it.

Our favourite versatile backpacks

Dakine Heli Pro

Positives: A snow industry foundation piece, it looks epic, works for skis or snowboards, has a load of colourway options, and fits the body well for freedom of movement. Various sizes available, with our preference for the 20L.
Negatives: This is the least well suited to a workplace, needing a laptop sleeve and some creativity to make it work well. We also wish it was more water-tight.

Our favourite versatile backpacks


So that’s our take. We’d love to hear if there’s some amazing bags we’ve missed (just ping us a comment).


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