The Best Backpacks for Work and Play

OUTDOORS

   06.10.21


The Best Backpacks for Work and Play

Backpacks have become ubiquitous. In the 70’s, it was briefcases. In the 90’s it was attaché bags. These days, everyone from college students on walkabout to doctors and lawyers at the top of their game are using backpacks to carry their everyday items to and from work, on weekend excursions, and maybe even as diaper bags. The backpack is everywhere. While designs used to be pretty straight forward, more and more options exist every year. Configurations get more purpose-designed, and features get more innovative. While the designs have gotten more innovative, backpacks being used more places than ever mean things that were designed for one thing are being used for another. Long live the backpack! These days they are used for both work and play, so you need the best backpack to carry your life with you.

Feature image: Shutterstock/Soft_Light

1. Marmot Colma – Editor’s Pick

Perhaps the most versatile pack on the list, the Colma from Marmot will be just as at home on a 10-mile hike as it will getting your laptop to work on the train. Marmot is one of the premier names in pack design, so you don’t have to worry about the little things not being right, they’ve already worked that out.

The laptop pocket fits devices up to 15” and has a side access, so you reach your computer easier in crowded or limited-access situations. The front of the pack features dual zippered pockets for keeping smaller or less-used items organized. The electronics pocket is fleece lined to keep screens and finishes in perfect condition. It’s just an all-around pack that is going to perform in the urban or literal jungle.

Pros/ Tech features that make it perfect for everyday use

Cons/Not hydration compatible for long hikes

Bottom Line/A great backpack option for the trails or the trains

2. Jansport West Break – Budget Pick

Jansport has been making affordable, quality packs for a long time, and the West Break is just another example of that. It’s a straightforward pack design, but the 600 denier TPU bottom will hold up to the abuses of everyday use. An internal sleeve accepts laptops up to 15” and helps keep things organized. Two main compartments give you flexibility to load it up with just about anything, and organize it the way that makes sense for you. The top stash pocket is perfect for those things you need to be able to reach quickly. It’s a simple design, but it’s a design that has served us for a long time, and there’s no reason the West Break won’t do the same.

Pros/Reliable product from a reliable company

Cons/None of the high-end flash of some of the other options

Bottom Line/Most of us aren’t maxing out what our gear can do, no need to get more pack than you need

3. Vertx Gamut 2.0 – Double-Duty Pick

A backpack might be part of your EDC (every day carry) but a lot of other things might be as well. Things like a computer, first aid kit, maybe even a defensive handgun. Carrying concealed can be a tricky situation with some forms of work attire, and the last thing you want to do is draw attention to yourself. Luckily, the same innovative design features that can be used to protect electronics, can also offer a great carrying solution for your EDC handgun.

The Vertx Gamut employs a print-proof scabbard that is perfect for protecting electronics, and for giving you a location to carry a handgun that is all but undetectable. That’s just as usual in the backcountry as it is on main street. The Gamut 2.0 is a great choice for those who carry, but even if you don’t the rigid scabbard offers a level of protection for your other items that no soft pack can offer.

Pros/Ultra-secure backpack option

Cons/Protection comes at a cost – It’s pricey

Bottom Line/ If you want a pack that lets you carry (anything) without looking like a commando, this is the way to go

4. Osprey Skarab 30 – Off-Road Pick

A rucksack design gets a modern spin from Osprey. The voluminous 30L capacity is handy for long days at the office or in the backcountry. Also handy is the AirScape suspension that offers more comfort and ventilation than other suspension systems. The rucksack design means you don’t have a bunch of small pockets to remember and organize, you just load up and go. Maybe you need some smaller packs inside for things like first aid or snacks, just to make them easier to find, but when you need a change of clothes, rain gear, or multiple devices for what the day brings, you’ll appreciate the wide-mouth open design of the pack.

Pros/Hydration compatible for long days in the bush

Cons/If you’re a neat freak, the rucksack design might not be for you

Bottom Line/Super-capable pack design that will get you there and back no matter where you’re going

Determining backpack size needs

As you may have noticed, there are a lot of different sizes of backpacks on the market. If you buy one that’s too big, it’ll may affect the fit and be uncomfortable. If you buy one that’s too small, that creates a whole series of issues, too.

How do you determine what size backpack you need? Only you can answer that, but for daily usage anything between 1000-2000 cubic inches should serve you fine. A lot of it comes down to personal preference. Some people want a pack where everything has a home and is very organized. A waste not want not mentality. Others would rather have the extra space for a just-in-case situation. Do your homework, lay out what you plan to need to carry, and find the pack that will let you do it how you want.


Traveler
Whether you’re hitting the trail or the streets, a good backpack will make life easier. Photo: Shutterstock/Happy_Contributors.

What to carry everyday

Obviously, you need to be able to carry the things you need every day. This might mean your computer or other devices, backup power supply, a change of clothes, snacks, water, or first aid kit. No two days look the same from person to person, so it’s really up to you, but for me, I like having a little peace of mind knowing I can handle a power outage or small accident so backup power supplies and first aid spring to the top of the list. A knife is a good call, too, just remember it’s there in case you go somewhere they aren’t allowed. And whatever you do, make sure you take it out before you go to the airport. 

What should I look for in a backpack?

The biggest considerations when picking out a backpack are:

  • Use – Know what you want it for and how you need it to work
  • Cost – Don’t overpay for features you don’t intend to ever use
  • Materials – Make sure you’re buying quality and not something that will not work with your lifestyle
  • Comfort – Be sure it has ample padding for you in the shoulders and back
  • Protection – If you’re carrying your laptop, it needs to offer good protection

Are backpacks considered unprofessional?

It used to be that if an executive walked in with a backpack, it was, shall we say, frowned upon. That is definitely not the case anymore. You’ll find many CEO these days using a backpack simply because it is the easiest and best way to carry a bunch of stuff and still have use of your hands.

How will I know if my laptop fits in a backpack?

Most backpacks that have a sleeve dedicated to carry a laptop will have the dimensions listed somewhere as to how big of a laptop it will carry safely.You can always carry a smaller laptop than your backpack will carry, but if you run out of room, you may have issues. Most modern backpacks will carry a 15-inch laptop, and many will fit a 17-inch. If you’re laptop is bigger than that, you should be very careful about what you buy.

About the Author


Avatar Author ID 691 - 1025687366

Trent Marsh has worked on both side of the outdoor industry for more than a decade. An avid, life-long outdoorsman, Trent has worked as a marketing professional, as well as a writer, covering a wide variety of products and topics. He has written for Concealed Carry Magazine, Deer & Deer Hunting, Whitetails Unlimited magazine, Grand View Media, and others. He’s joined podcasts, been on the Pursuit and Sportsman Channel, and has even appeared on the Dana Loesch radio program. Trent is a renaissance man, covering topics from personal defense, optics, hunting and fishing tactics, UTVs, and loves to dive in on gear to help other outdoor enthusiasts prepare for their own adventures. Beyond his outdoor pursuits, he’s a pretty good home cook, and enjoys gardening, homesteading, and travel. He and his family reside in Indiana.

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