It seems like the daypack, in one form or another, has become ubiquitous in the United States as well as in other parts of the world. However, the daypack in its early form was an elementary affair. Mostly used by settlers and colonialists, Native Americans, trappers, and mountain men when the United States was young. John Hart, author of Walking Softly in the Wilderness: The Sierra Club Guide to Backpacking, writes,
The traditional daypack is simple. A tough fabric bag, a couple of wide shoulder straps, and you’ve about got it.
At its core, not much has changed; the basics of what constitutes a daypack remain the same. However, through the years – particularly the last 25 – it has morphed into designs which serve us in some very new ways.
Whatever your profession, trade, sport, or activity, there is a daypack made with you in mind. There is, in fact, a dazzling array of shapes, sizes, colors, constructions, and configurations to choose from and of course, quality and price point too. This article focuses only on the core elements, the basics of what constitutes a well-made daypack; form, fit, and function. Beyond that, only you know what the specific needs are for you and your family. Moving beyond the old canvas satchel and weaved basket with two leather straps that my grandfather used on his trapline as a boy, here are some important things to consider before purchasing a daypack, today:
Form — The Body of the Daypack
In this instance, when you think form, think materials and construction. Specifically fabrics, straps, buckles, webbing, padding, sewing, and general, over-all construction. These are key to the design and manufacture of a well-made daypack.
Materials: There are many fabrics to choose from depending on the type of daypack you are looking for. You want the body of the daypack to be made from synthetic materials, not cotton or blended fabrics. A quality rip-stop nylon , nylon oxford, or cordura are all great choices. Another important consideration is the thread count or denier of the fabric you choose. Make sure the fabric is sturdy enough to withstand the usage you have in mind. Lastly, for most daypacks, you will want the fabric to have a waterproof coating, either polyurethane or silicon based.
A daypack made of quality material doesn’t have to be expensive, as this example shows.
Straps: The shoulder straps are an all-important consideration. The majority of the load is transferred to your shoulders there. (Do you remember the feeling of your overloaded daypack or bookbag shoulder straps digging into your shoulders while you walked to and from school?) Straps should be made of a thick closed cell foam material covered in an abrasion resistant fabric like a dense nylon material that is tough but won’t easily chafe you. The padded shoulder straps should have strong flat nylon webbing tails attached to the bottom with box-x stitching, which is inserted into a strong buckle and tab attached to the bottom of the daypack. Make sure there is lots of adjustability for your body type. The top of the straps should be secured to the body of the daypack using bar-tack stitching as well as being integrated into the top seam.
Padding: The padding I’m referring to is more than just what is found in the shoulder straps. Depending on design and use, a daypack may have a padded bottom in the main compartment, a padded sleeve in the inner compartment to park a laptop, other electronics, or even a hydration bladder in some. The back may have extra padding and mesh to add support, cushion, and ventilation. If your’s is a slightly larger daypack, it may have a padded waist belt as well. Theses should all be made using dense closed cell foam material.
Here’s another example of an inexpensive, but high quality daypack with comfortable padded straps, made with high qualaity material.
Sewing: Throughout the daypack, heavy duty thread should be used. Seams should be double stitched and key stress points should be bar-tacked or box-x stitched. As much as possible, bias binding should be used on material edges. You should see raw edges heat sealed (hot-cut) and finished with a zigzag stitching. In cheaply made packs, the material is cut using a stat-cutter, not heat sealed and rarely zigzag stitched. Under heavy use, this leads to fabric fraying and seam separations. Not really what you want when toting your $500 laptop around. Take a few minutes to inspect the stitching.
General overall construction: Other considerations are closures, loops, D-rings, handles, and buckles. Most daypacks will have some kind of zippers, velcro, snaps, or shock cord. All should be made of tough durable materials (Are the zippers YKK on the pack you are considering?) and securely attached to the main body of the daypack using reinforced stitching. Buckles should be made of high-impact plastic with some give at closure points. D-rings and loops should be ergonomically placed and bar-tacked in place. The fabric for the main body and pockets of the pack should be coated to provide a measure of waterproofing.
This Swissgear daypack is an example of one that combines multiple features, making it an extremely versatile and budget-friendly choice.
Fit (size and ergonomics)
Whether you are buying a $9.99 back-to-school special from a big-box store for you kids to tote their books back and forth from school, an every day carry (EDC) or get-home bag to keep in your vehicle, or contemplating a rugged mountaineering daypack for your trek in Nepal, if it doesn’t fit right, the pack can be miserable to use and in some instances unsafe. Things to consider:
- Is the pack the right size for your intended use? Do you really need a $200 military-grade rucksack-style daypack for your college books? (Yes, I know it looks cool.)
- Are the buckles, webbing, D-rings, and zippers on your daypack designed for ease of use and security in mind?
- Does the daypack fit your frame well? No two bodies are the same, and no two daypacks are either. There is one that will fit you well and meet your needs. Be picky, it will pay off in the long run.
Function of the daypack
What are you getting this daypack for anyway? Begin with the end in mind and think about what you really need versus what you want. Are you looking for a general-duty daypack or one specifically designed for your get-home bag? One specifically tailored to a woman’s build or one for your preschooler? Are you a climber, hunter, hiker, or runner? Participants and practitioners of each activity have their special requirements to consider when finding the daypack that will work best.
The Daypack Test Drive – Don’t be Nice!
When you have finally found the daypack you are considering, don’t hesitate to take it for a test drive at the store and don’t be easy on it. Turn the daypack inside out and check the coating on the material, the stitching, seams, and bar-tacking. Bring things that you will carry in the pack and load it up and walk around! How do your shoulders feel carrying weight and your hips, if you have a waist belt to help distribute the load? Do all the buckles lock and unlock smoothly? How easily do the zippers work around corners and can you close them one-handed? Are the pockets and exterior strapping configured the way you need them? The hit list goes on… You get the idea.
A daypack may be a relatively small purchase, but it fills a big need for many activities you and your family do. Don’t settle for less than what fits you and your particular requirements.
There are many other things to consider when choosing a daypack. Most have to do with the specific requirements you have or activities you do. If you want to delve more deeply into the finer nuances of daypacks check out the articles and videos below.
Daypacks: How to Choose – REI
This giveaway is really something special. From our friends at Flying Circle, the Brazos Backpack could be a daypack, but it is also suitable for a whole lot more. Made of military grade materials, it’s the high quality pack you’ve been wanting, with multiple pockets everywhere, including a small pocket on the strap, a handy place to stash a small flashlight, cash, or keys. It also features padded compartments for a laptop or tablet, and even a hidden “pass through” compartment, perfect for carrying a concealed handgun.
You can read more about its many features here.
Flying Circle will send this extra special pack to one lucky winner! Enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter form below. This giveaway begins on December 29, and ends at midnight on January 7.