Suitcases are entirely functional, a means to an end. You want them to arrive in one piece, protect your contents, wheel with a degree of ease, and when the handle snaps or the wheels jam or the airline sends it on a one-way ticket to Togo, well shucks, you’ll just have to get a new, snazzier one. A suitcase is an acquaintance.
Backpacks are a different beast, especially when you use them for long journeys or epic hikes. You get to know your backpack. Appreciate its complexities, the inner pouches and deceptively large side pockets. You practice and perfect the technique for lifting them up and balancing them on your shoulders. They are adorned with stains and badges and sticky goop picked up on the floor of rural Indian train stations. You pray for your backpack’s arrival on the baggage carousel, and would be devastated if it never showed up. A backpack is a friend.
A Daypack follows you around everywhere and holds everything that is important in your travelling world – laptop, camera, books, journal, tablet, headphones, notebooks, adaptors, back-up credit card, medication, lucky charms. It never leaves your side, a trusted companion who always has your back. When you eat, you sling it around your legs so nobody can race off with it. It’s been your suitcase, your bullet proof vest, your tortoise shell. Your Daypack hangs around even when you stop travelling.
I first went travelling with an old Karrimor backpack that somehow survived about 30 countries. It lived through trains in Zambia and rat raids in Laos. It was hurled onto chicken buses in Guatemala and hurled on in Albania. I only retired the poor bastard because the zipper kept breaking and even repair shops couldn’t keep it going. I shed a tear when I let the old boy go. I’ve never used a suitcase, although I do use a small one for overnight trips that Tourism Victoria gifted me at a media event. Their logo is covered in obnoxious stickers, like Lionel Ritchie saying Hello, a Deadpool face, and a picture of our planet with the word Fragile all over it. Hope they don't mind.
My Daypack has been through various incarnations, because I’m always looking for a better mousetrap, the Bag of all Bags, the Holy of Holies. It must hold everything, in its easily accessible place. A fine Daypack must be comfortable, durable, and ready to double as both pillow and shield. When laptop pouches were first introduced, I had to have one for the sheer sake of efficiency. I’ve used an Eddie Bauer dayback for years, which has always grated me, because my name isn’t Eddie Bauer, so I don’t see why I should have his name on my Daypack.
My latest contender is called The Every Day Backpack 30 from a company called Peak Design. It was created by engineers and designers to “meet the needs of creative, adventurous people.” They got their start on Kickstarter, and now have 14 employees producing over 20 products that win all sorts of awards. Like myself, these are people who take bags very, very seriously. So they sent me the Every Day and I’ve been using it, well, every day. Things to know about this bag:
- It has something called a MagLatch system (patent pending), which works better than clips or zips and has made more than one airport security person say “cool!”
- It has 2 expandable, external weather-proof side pockets with dual side loading that is a little confusing at first, but then you get used to it.
- It has Flex Fold dividers so I can choose to use it for my camera, stinky sneakers or toiletries.
- There are no dangling straps to catch things, the design is minimalistic, and there are all sorts of zip pouches to keep all sorts of things.
- The laptop pouch is big and snug and weeks later I still keep finding places to put stuff, like that Boy Wonder lucky charm that travels with me always.
After working with Crumpler for a while, I decided their bags were simply too heavy to be of any practical use. When it comes to bags, designers should take a page out of Scandinavian design: Function over Form. It feels good to have this very practical DayPack, but it will take a few countries to break it in.
Unless I’m hiking or taking chicken buses, a wheeled duffel is now my choice of backpack. So many things died in 2016, including my wheeled duffel that had seen off a dozen countries, and the manufacturer that made it go bankrupt. Note: any product with a lifetime guarantee only works if the company remains alive. My bag resembled the actor Rip Torn. Everything came apart, except the wheels, which rolled strong and free. So I went to MEC and bought a new Wheeled Duffel, which is squat and ugly but who cares so long as it keeps showing up at the end of the long-haul.
Bags. We need them. They need us. As for what we pack in them, it's easy: The most important thing to pack, whenever you travel, is the right state of mind.