In its simplest form, a pack comes with two straps and a pocket with enough space to carry whatever you need throughout the day. But if you overload your pack and carry it for the long haul, the downside of simplicity becomes apparent. Besides, the gear world would never leave things simple. These packs speak to both needs, both OCD-driven travelers and those who don’t need any more bells or whistles than a good-looking pack.
1. Nixon JJF, $150; 2. Fjallraven Raven, $60; 3. Osprey Manta AG 28, $165; 4. Herschel Lawson, $150; 5. The North Face Access, $135; 6. REI National Park Service Traverse 28, $119; 7. Oliberte Tatona, $180.
Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).
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Part of Nixon's capsule project with pro surfer John John Florence, this pack is a godsend for people who travel with a cache of expensive camera gear, but don't want anyone to know it. The lower zip unveils a removable, padded camera block with room for a SLR body and at least two lenses. Up top you get loads of storage sleeves for cards, pens, and notebooks, while a zippered side-entry laptop sleeve makes it easy to breeze through TSA. Lower straps at the bottom let you attach a tripod or towel, and the burly zippers will stand up to years of abuse. It's made of distressed, weather-resistant PU canvas that'll only look better as it gets used—which it will. A lot.
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Some backpacks are so complicated, you almost need a degree in engineering to appreciate every feature. The Raven is not that pack. Made of durable G-1000 recycled polyester and organic cotton (which you can weatherproof even more by melting Fjallraven wax into the fabric), this pack's simple design is ideal for urban-centric travelers. It comes in three sizes and boasts a padded laptop sleeve, a fleece-lined zipper pocket, two side pockets for water bottles, a zippered main and front pocket, leather accents, and the timeless aesthetic for which Fjallraven is justifiably famous.
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This spring Osprey's award-winning "anti-gravity" (or AG) backpack harnessing system graduates from expedition-sized packs to the daypack, and nothing is lost in the transition. The lightweight frame, mesh back panel, stretchy shoulder harness and mesh hipbelt distributes the weight of pack evenly, providing unmatched dexterity while hiking. Dual compression straps help stabilize—and at 28 liters, you'll use that feature unless you like to carry a lot of stuff. It also boasts a removable rain fly, zippered pockets at the hip, a direct-access hydration compartment, internal mesh organizational pockets, and a large zippered front panel. The three-dimensional construct of the harness makes it tricky to stash and forget it while on a plane, train or bus, but it's ideal for intrepid hikers looking to haul some comforts into the backcountry.
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Hipster affection for Vancouver-based Herschel Supply Co shouldn't imply that the packs aren't innovative. Witness the Lawson, which is made from Sealtech, an ultra-light, water-resistant fabric that can recover from minor injuries; the material consists of a grid of nylon threads that separates slightly when punctured, with a coating that reseals over time. It also features a 13-inch laptop sleeve, die-cut leather shoulder straps, nominal branding, and a svelte, urban-centric aesthetic.
Herschel Supply Co
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If you like a place for everything, with everything in its place—and you've got a lot of things, the Access is your pack. Its modern exterior only hints at its many features. The innovative design lets you spring open the main compartment—literally, thanks to a quick-release latch. Inside, dedicated fleece-lined media pockets with more built-in ejector tabs let you quickly access your devices, and the padded laptop pocket comes with a pull handle to lift your computer up and out for quick removal. This thing should come with sound effects.
The North Face
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Like the Osprey Manta AG, the 28 liters of storage is likely more than most people need for a single day in the backcountry, but if you haul lots of gear, this pack performs admirably. Released in consort with the 100th anniversary of the National Park System, the pack includes an internal hydration pocket, a roomy main compartment, a top zippered pocket for quick-grab items, water bottle sleeves on each side, and zippered pockets at the hip belt. Compression straps help tighten uneven (or half empty) loads, and special tuck-away fasteners let you easily attach your trekking poles to the pack. Some may yearn for more internal organization, but if you're the kind to shove it all in and hit the trail, the bag is downright cavernous.
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The Tatona eschews tech innovations and focuses instead on hand-crafted details, which stands at the cornerstone of Ethiopia-based Oliberte. This all-leather pack comes with adjustable shoulder straps, a side laptop sleeve, a raised exterior zippered pocket on the front, and a main zippered compartment. There are sleeker bags on the market, ones with micro-zippers and loads of features, but few that feel as simple and genuine as the Tatona.