Backpacks have become ubiquitous for everyday use. And it’s no wonder – if you carry laptops, tablets, phones, water bottles, and all the other things you need with you when traveling to the local office, coffee shop, or park, a backpack is the best way to go. .
However, choosing the best backpack for your needs can be a bit perplexing. There are so many different brands out there and so many different factors to consider such as looks, utility, comfort, and price. What and how much are you going to take? Do you need extra protection from rain or an accidental fall? Do you want a separate place for each of your devices, or do you hate digging through dozens of separate pockets for your EarPods?
Choosing the best backpack for your needs can be a bit disconcerting
Instead of telling you which is the best backpack to buy, we will show you the important things to look for and take note of when you are going to choose your next pack. All of these guidelines and suggestions apply, no matter what your capacity and budget needs or style preferences are.
The best way to buy a backpack is, of course, in person. Like a pair of shoes, you never really know if a backpack is right for you unless you try it on. However, if you don’t have time to shop or if you prefer to shop online, the three things to keep in mind are comfort, material, and design.
(In this article, we mainly describe the backpacks that are best suited for work, school, tourism, or urban wandering.)
Comfort should be number one on your list. Even if you don’t normally carry a heavy load, there may come a time when you really need to carry that pack and don’t want your back to yell at you at the end of the day. (Check out The Verge’s What’s in your bag? to see the variety of things that some people carry with them.)
Make sure the package distributes the weight of your things evenly. Most sites that offer backpack recommendations suggest that they should be worn on top of the backpack with the bottom of the backpack at or above the waist level. If you think you are going to carry a lot of weight on a regular basis, a chest, waist or hip belt can make a big difference in relieving stress on your back.
It is a good idea to find a package that is appropriate for your build. For example, in a good quality women’s pack, the straps will be designed for narrower shoulders and the hip belt will be designed to fit wider hips.
Your comfort with a backpack can also vary depending on the size of the backpack and its height. If you are shopping online and are not sure what the appropriate size will be, look for the photos of the package carrying a model. You can usually estimate how tall you are compared to the model, and that should give you an idea of how the pack will fit.
You can also go to a store and try on some backpacks to find out what size you are most comfortable with. Backpack capacity is traditionally measured in liters. Slim bags that you can only fit on your laptop and some books are between 10L and 16L, the most versatile are between 20L and 25L, and professional camera gear and weekend bags range up to 30L and above.
Your comfort with a backpack may vary depending on the size of the backpack and your height.
If you have a lot to carry and plan to do it in hot weather, a mesh cover that sits between you and the pack can decrease the amount of sweating you do.
Finally, if you have severe physical problems, or if you are carrying loads that could affect your strength, don’t be embarrassed to consider a pack on wheels. But keep in mind that if you plan to carry that pack too, the wheels will add considerable weight.
Once upon a time, backpacks were usually made from cotton fabric that was treated with wax to add waterproofing. It was reasonably effective, but also heavy, and if you kept one for a long period of time, the canvas would start to rot. (If you are tempted by some of the retro options out there.)
Today, most packages are made from nylon, polyester, or some variation thereof. For most people, these will work fine. If you are looking for real resistance and / or prefer a more textured feel, textiles like Cordura will give you more strength.
Of course, if you are looking for something classy, there is nothing like leather, which is strong, can be made waterproof, and looks great. However, leather is also going to be a lot heavier, and a reasonably sized computer backpack made of leather is going to eat a nice hole in your bank account. (You can compromise by getting one with leather highlights).
Don’t underestimate the importance of zippers – a misbehaved zipper can destroy the usefulness of any package. If you’re shopping at a store, be sure to test each of the zippers to see how well they work. Whether in person or online, look for zippers that include rain protection (which is more expensive, but worth it). Also, be aware of the 90 degree bends on the bags as it can be difficult or nearly impossible to get the zipper to turn that corner. And get a bag with metal zippers; Plastic zippers won’t last long with everyday use.
Some bags come with magnetic zippers and zippers. While these can be quick and convenient, they can also be annoying if they constantly lose their mark.
Some people will complain that their bag has so many pockets that they forget which pocket they have put each device in. Others do not believe that there can be too many pockets.
The number and types of pockets, loops, and other storage options in today’s packs can vary widely, and it’s a very personal choice as to how much you’re comfortable with. You could, if you wanted, go for simplicity: a main compartment, a padded sleeve for your computer, and maybe two or three small pockets for other things. Or you can get a bag with places for dozens of specific uses. Some bags even include removable folders, computer bags, dividers, and other modules. (Although modularity can be a polarizing issue for backpack enthusiasts, for smaller items you can purchase a camera bag where all compartments are user adjustable.)
Consider the following as a must-have: a padded pocket for your computer, preferably (but not necessarily) separate from your main compartment, and an internal zippered compartment for your wallet or other valuables. You probably want to add a pair of external pockets for an umbrella and / or water bottle and an easy-access pocket for your phone, keys, or sunglasses. After that, the sky is the limit.
There are other design features that can be helpful. For example, some packages have flat bottoms that allow them to stand on their own, which can be very helpful. (They can also appear blocky when actually used because they don’t drop in weight if you’re packing light.) There are even one or two out there that have built-in legs. Others have lids that can be strapped together for smaller loads and then fold out when more are carried. If you travel a lot, you’ll want a pack with a pass-through strap on the back so that you can slip it over the handle of your rolling suitcase.
Some backpacks come with side access to your laptop compartments. While this can be useful on a day-to-day basis, it is not ideal for flying. This means that you will have to pull your bag all the way under the seat in front of you rather than just pulling the laptop out.
Don’t choose a package that you don’t want to be seen in public with.
If you often pack extra clothing, shoes, or other gear, consider a gym backpack with segmented compartments at the bottom for your dirty clothes or shoes.
Worried about theft? Some packages offer added security such as zip closures, concealed and / or camouflaged pockets, bar-proof material, and built-in cables so you can secure the bag if you have to leave it somewhere. Bags like the Riutbag have all the pockets on the side of the bag that is against your body. (It’s a great way to avoid pickpockets, but really a pain to use.) Electronic theft can also be covered with RFID pocket bags for your credit cards and other digitally sensitive materials.
You may also want to know about any size or other restrictions from airlines, conventions, or other places you may visit.
Be careful with the fine print
When evaluating a backpack, it’s smart to consider the manufacturer’s warranty. Often times, you will receive a premium treatment when you buy from a premium brand. Companies like Briggs & Riley will repair any problems that arise free of charge for the life of the bag.
Finally, you are going to carry your new bag for a while, so don’t choose a package that you don’t want to be seen in public with. Don’t overcommit yourself to price – a good backpack that will last you 10 years is ultimately more profitable than a cheaper one that falls apart two years after you buy it. And if, while walking down the street, you see a backpack that really makes you notice, write down the brand and check it online. Even if that particular bag is not quite right, the company may have one that is right for you.
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