I have a lifelong obsession with backpacks that I have only recently gotten under control, and often live out of them for weeks at a time. So people ask me about backpacks a lot.
Here are the ones I love/recommend/travel with often.
Timbuk2 Classic Messenger
My every day bag is a custom Timbuk2 Classic Messenger. I haul it around town when I’m running errands, co-working at coffee shops, or having dinner with friends. On a typical day, it’s 20% purse, 30% briefcase, and 40% gym bag.
I bought it eight years ago and it’s held up pretty well, despite the fact that I am extremely hard on bags. It’s the only one I take with me on short trips because it can pull double duty as my suitcase en-route and, once emptied to a less-full state, my day bag on the ground.
On longer trips, it’s my “personal item.” I’ll stick my laptop, toiletry bag, and other small items inside that I want handy en-route or will need to pull out during security checks. Larger items like clothes and shoes go in a bigger backpack or duffel.
I love the size of this thing. It fits so much stuff without ever looking huge. It’s also waterproof(!!), and the swing-around strap makes it easy to add or remove items without having to take it off.
Cabin Zero 44L Military Backpack
I have a somewhat irrational hate-on for rolling suitcases so I’ve always opted for large backpacks or duffle bags. I’ve had a few over the years, but the Cabin Zero 44L Military Backpack is my favorite. It’s light, sturdy, fits in any overhead bin, and has just two compartments – a slim, zippered ‘document’ pocket and a main compartment.
I wish the shoulder straps were less, well, strappy, and I think about adding a grab handle to the side all the time. Otherwise, it’s pretty much my perfect travel backpack. At a super reasonable price too!
Timbuk2 Femme Messenger Bag
On the flip side, we have the second most expensive item I’ve ever bought. I drooled over this bag for months before finally catching it on sale.
The Timbuk2 Femme Messenger is my version of a briefcase. I break it out on days when I have a meeting or event that my scruffy messenger might be a little out of place at. It can fit my laptop, notebook, charger, and a couple very small items like keys or chapstick.
It’s a great “personal item” on those medium-length trips where I need to travel with more than just my messenger. It’s compact enough where I can even empty it and throw it in the backpack when needed.
My only complaint is that I wish it was just a tiny bigger. When it’s too full, the leather flap bunches in a way that I don’t like. So I spend five minutes debating which item I can do without for the day every time I transfer stuff over to this bag.
The trick to living out of a backpack, in my opinion, is to skip all the zippered nooks and crannies that will only complicate your life, and instead stuff a bunch of packing cubes (or zippered pouches) in the simplest backpack you can find.
The idea behind packing cubes is that instead of neatly packing items into one big backpack that is inevitably going to get rolled, shaken, and tumbled in transit, you pack your items into smaller, categorized cubes. Your underwear stays with your socks, your shoes stay away from your dress shirts, and every thing doesn’t go through a spin cycle when you pull one item out from the bottom.
I resisted the idea of packing cubes for a long time, but they made my life a lot easier. Using packing cubes means I always know where my scarf is in my bag and that I don’t have to pull out half a dozen items in the middle of a cafe in order to get to my spare headphones – I can pull out one pouch. It also makes unpacking and re-packing something that can be done in minutes. No more rolling, yay!
I travel with the clothes bag and lingerie bag from Flight 001, a hanging toiletry bag from Target, and another random pouch that I use for miscellaneous items like an extra notebook, bottle of melatonin, etc. With the exception of a hoodie and/or scarf, every single thing in my backpack goes into one of these pouches. The organization makes my type-A heart sing.
And that’s it!
I gave away my other backpacks when I downsized last year, and haven’t missed any of them. These three suit have all my bases covered!