Choosing a Day Pack
In the outdoor industry, almost every brand makes bags, and most of them are some form of day pack. To define our terms, a day pack simply has enough cargo space to hold the gear you need for a day, not overnight. Most backpacks up to about 35 liters/2100 cubic inches fall into this category. A day pack is a very handy thing because you can bring some extra water or snacks, binoculars or camera, and when the weather changes, you have your rainjacket handy. But with all those packs out there, how to pick the right one for you?
Durability - Look for a tag identifying the use of Cordura nylon, widely recognized as the most durable fabric available. At the least you want the bottom of the bag to survive being dragged across a parking lot or two.
Water resistance - The body fabric should be shiny on the inside. This indicates a polyurethane coating that will keep water from penetrating the whole cloth. Unless all the seams are sealed, however, the bag is not waterproof. Some brands will design the bottom to reduce stitching and this can greatly increase the protection offered when your bag is dropped in a puddle. You might see reinforced vinyl (usually as a fashion element), but it's shiny, heavy and will leak at the seams like a conventional bag.
Longevity - Compare the size and weight of the straps and hardware. Wide, well-padded shoulder straps, big zippers, and reinforced stitching indicate a bag built to last. Lighter day packs are frequently outfitted with less-substantial findings, and though the fabric might hold up, if the straps hurt your shoulders or the zipper brings out your 'adult' language, it's just not worth it.
Ease of Use - More technical packs will be top-loading, which reduces the amount of stitching and reduces the profile of the bag, but can be annoying to root around in. If you will be using the bag as a 'daily driver' and accessing it frequently, look for a panel opening so you can get just what you need easily.
Size - It's easy to put just 20 liters of stuff in a 30 liter bag, but will you stop there? How much will it weigh when full? Do you really need that much bag? 'I've got room for that' might lead to a grumpy day.
Features - Daypacks come in as many feature combinations as there are people shopping for them, and after some random poking around you might wonder exactly what it is you're looking at. It's all up to you, but as long as you are clear about defining your needs, you'll end up with the right bag for the job. Some things to keep in mind:
- Hip belts are intended to help with heavier loads, but can get in the way. If you're not going to use it, get a bag without one.
- More padding on the shoulder strap means the load will be more comfortable, but will still weigh the same. Your back will only benefit from less load or the use of a hip belt, not less painful shoulders.
- 'Book' bags will have a flat, rectangular bottom, well suited for school materials. Tech packs are rounder and won't last long on campus.
- Many bags will have an organizer panel that can really make life nice, if you use it. Maybe a simpler shallow pocket on top suits you better.
- Fashion can be a real determining factor, but remember that as basic as black may be, whatever you leave in a black bag in the sun just might cook. Books can take it, but laptops don't like that sort of treatment.
Whatever your decision, keep in mind that the value of quality will remain long after the satisfaction of savings fades.