Backpack Criteria

I spent all of 2011 traveling through interesting cities in the U.S. and Canada with a small backpack. I put a lot of thought into what I needed, so I wanted to share that in case anyone else finds it useful.

  • Simple dark color scheme, no logos to attract attention. When you are carrying everything you own, you do not want thieves to notice you.
  • Right size: 28L is mine, I could see a few L up or down
  • Waterproof material (preferred) or builtin waterproof cover. Waterproof means I could wear in a nor’easter and everything inside will be bone dry, not “water-resistant”, which means “made of tissue paper”.
  • Chest strap that connects the shoulder straps to better carry weight.
  • External frame, maybe mesh back, to lift the pack off my sweaty back
  • One main compartment, one quick-access compartment on the front. Maybe a mesh side pocket for a water bottle, maybe an internal pocket for small goods (use mesh so I can see inside), but a big flexible space and packing crates are the best way I’ve found to organize. It’s painful to have to search for things and carry extra locks.
  • Front-loading is superior to top-loading. That is, rather than a zip along the top of the backpack, it should be possible to unzip the entire front face.
  • Looks like a commuter backpack rather than a nomadic backpacker carrying all their worldly possessions
  • Cloth/rubber/plastic tabs on the zipper pulls so that I do not jingle like Santa’s reindeer
  • Some kind of compression straps. Compression/adjustment straps should not dangle like anime tentacles.
  • Laptop pocket in the main compartment is a nice-to-have; my bag has a Camelbak space that works.
  • Pockets with a single zipper should have some kind of small loop on the side the zipper closes on so that every zipper can be locked (I didn’t get this and regret it).
  • Solid materials and workmanship, don’t want to have to replace on the road. Cost should be $100 – $200 USD; any less and you skimped.
  • Equipment straps so I can tie/rubberband down gear when I’m traveling heavy or drying laundry (I have no shame).
  • No zip-off day bag – if a pack includes a day bag, it’s too big to carry every day.
  • Rides comfortably – I am taller and skinnier than average, this was a hard find.
  • Fits in the (roughly) 14 in x 9 in x 22 box standing at the airport gate so I can prove it’s a carry-on and avoid checking luggage.
  • Seriously, no goddamn logos. It’s a backpack, not a billboard.

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