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Upgrade your backpack: Pick a pack that’s right for you

Everyone has a backpack laying around somewhere, but the handy item goes underappreciated as an everyday carry-along. They can be just as stylish and practical as a messenger bag or briefcase, and let’s face it, they’re better for your back. They are also way more comfortable if you’re going to be doing any kind of walking, perhaps to and from a college campus or the office, during your daily commute. Depending on your uses, your backpack needs will be different, but we’ve rounded up some of our favorite picks in a few categories that should please just about everyone. Take a look to see which bag suits you and your daily lifestyle. 

Everyday packs 

If you’re carrying a backpack (without the need for a laptop) on an everyday basis to class, work, or just around town, you’ll likely want something simple, stripped down, and without too much bulk. Unless you’re carrying something heavy duty, pick a pack that is lightweight itself so that you aren’t adding unnecessary weight to your back.

For something classic and as simple as possible, we like the Herschel Supply Co. Pop Quiz (left, $70), which has good looks, a large inner compartment and two smaller outer pockets, a cell phone/gadget pocket, a fleece-lined sunglasses sleeve, and a sturdy synthetic leather bottom.

For a classic outdoorsman look, the L.L. Bean Maine Guide Rucksack (middle, $189), made from durable 22 oz. waxed canvas with leather detailing, is a great choice. This pack has a drawstring closure for the main compartment and two handy outside pockets.

Now, we know for a fact that some people would prefer to carry around a sport backpack whether they are doing anything active or not. However, there’s no reason to tote around a huge REI-style backpack with millions of pockets and different colors for your trip to the office. We’ve picked The North Face’s Borealis pack (right, $79) in black as the best all-around sporty pick. The Borealis has two large compartments with plenty of organizational pockets, external mesh holsters for your water bottles, a useful bungee cord, and it’s even endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association. 

Laptop-friendly

If you expect to carry your laptop with you on your daily commute, it’s best to get a backpack that was specifically designed for that purpose. Your laptop will be better protected and the pack will be designed to comfortably distribute the extra weight. 

For the ultimate in customizability, we love the Timbuk2 Swig pack (left, $89+), which was designed as a messenger-backpack hybrid, complete with the company’s swing-around design for easy access to your goods, a U-lock bike lock pocket that doubles as a water bottle holder, and custom-fit straps. The pack also has two large compartments, plenty of gadget pockets, a built-in bottle opener, and a padded ‘laptop hammock’ the keeps your laptop off the ground even when you set the bag down. We like the sleek look of the all-black design, but the bag is available in a wide range of colors and designs or can be custom-designed by you on the company’s website. 

Our favorite for the Apple lover and minimalist is the Incase Nylon Backpack (middle, $100), which has a plush faux-fur-lined pocket for any size MacBook (even the giant 17-incher) as well as a plush zippered iPhone/iPod pocket and a slip pocket for your iPad. Two large compartments hold all your gear and padded back pads and straps will keep you comfortable, even if you’re carrying around your 17-inch MacBook. We also like the minimal look of this pack; it’s sporty in design but sleek enough to wear to the office. It’s available in several different colors and zipper accents, so feel free to go a little more crazy if the solid grey is too tame for your tastes.

For a lightweight and simplistic laptop pack, we’ve chosen the iconic Fjällräven Kanken (right, $110), which was originally designed in 1978 for Swedish school children. Since then, the famous arctic fox logo has made an impact in the US, and the company has added a padded 15-inch laptop compartment to its otherwise minimal design. The pack is made from synthetic Vinylon F, which is both extremely lightweight and very durable, making this the lightest backpack of the bunch. We also like the double top handles for versatility in either carrying the Kanken on your back or as a tote bag.

Technical

Whether you want to carry a backpack on a daily basis or not, we all know that they can come in handy for more adventurous pursuits that require both hands to be available at all times. There are hundreds of different technical packs that we could suggest, but we’ve narrowed it down to just a few that might suit your needs.

For a great hiking day pack, we like the Topo Klettersack (left, $139) for its classic design, mid-range size (18L), and quality craftsmanship. The Klettersack has enough room for everything you’d need on a long day hike, including leather lash tabs for securing extra gear, a fully-lined coated pack cloth inside, and heavy duty hardware. A drawstring closure keeps all your gear secure inside the pack, and a zippered top pocket keeps your essentials easily at-hand.

For urban cyclists or anyone who has the need to carry cargo in rain or inclement weather, the Mission Workshop Rambler (middle, $239) would be a premium everyday pack. The Rambler features a fully weatherproof main compartment that can be used as a roll-top for extra protection, or in traditional flap-down mode. Multiple other weatherproof compartments, urethane-coated zippers, and a carbon fiber reinforced internal frame suspension system make this the ultimate backpack for difficult weather and urban adventures. Did we mention that it can easily double in size from 1,350 to 2,700 cubic inches of storage?

Last, but certainly not least, we’ve chosen the Lowepro DryZone 200 (right, $365) for photographers who might find themselves in wet conditions. There is nothing worse for your expensive camera than large amounts of water. Lowepro has realized this and subsequently design the DryZone 200, which is the first completely waterproof soft-sided camera pack. A waterproof TIZIP zipper will keep your camera gear protected, even in complete water immersion. Impressive, huh? A tuck-away tripod holder keeps your tripod upright, padded internal dividers allow for storage of a camera and lenses, and the pack even comes with a full technical backpack harness. This pick comes with a hefty price tag, but hey, it’s probably cheaper than replacing your DSLR.