Whether it’s your first day of university or your third day on the Inca Trail, you might be thinking that your gym carryall isn’t made of the right materials (in more ways than one).
Inspired in no small part by the evolution of sports-luxe and the growing intersection between athleticwear, streetstyle, and utilitarian sensibility, backpacks have attracted the lenses of street style photographers and high-street designers as both a key collection piece and outfit accessory. Now you have options aplenty – whether its luxe, street, or sport – to see you through one misadventure to the next.
While buying a backpack might not be your life’s most crucial decision (you haven’t quite decided between a vintage or new Porsche yet), finding a rock-solid central location for your belongings deserves a slice of your time, and maybe even your money.
This guide will help you navigate this expanding portion of the accessories market, whether you just need a pack for early morning pre-season training, or a replacement for your old-fogey briefcase that makes you feel like the 50-something accountant you see on the bus every morning.
You might talk a big game about being a thrifty spender, but let’s face it – a Prada backpack seems like the sort of gratuitous purchase you wish you could knock off the list at some point. This Saffiano leather-trimmed quilted nylon backpack looks like something you could take up a mountain and then through the trendy parts in town on the same day.
Its composition is quilted nylon, a hardy material that will keep your possessions dry and free from the perils of scuffs and scrapes. The pack fastened with a buckle and drawstring combo, and topped off with additional internal compartments to help you maintain the pretense of being an organised man about town.
So, if you’re having a slow day and feel like dropping nearly two grand on a backpack, why the hell would you look anywhere else besides Prada?
Montblanc have their fingers on the pulse of every luxury market, whether that’s timepieces, pens, or accessories.
This Textured Leather Backpack is their venture into luxury bags that will enable you to finally ditch the briefcase you never really liked. Made from calf leather with neoprene lining, this features a narrow front compartment for documents and paperwork, alongside three internal pockets so you can neatly subdivide your other belongings.
It has internal measurements of 20L, despite its diminutive profile – stacks of room for an overnight stay or quick working holiday. While this looks the part for your corporate job, it’s likely more expensive than the suit you pair it with, but it’s robust qualities should see you through a few career changes, promotions, and missed trains without breaking a sweat (or strap).
Want Les Essentials
The recent celebrants of a ten- year anniversary, Want Les Essentials services any travel contingency, whether that’s a Monday morning commute or a 16-hour flight where you didn’t score a seat with extra leg room.
This ‘Kastrup’ backpack is composed of striped cord fabric, a woven material derived from cotton fibers. Internally, there are compartments for all your digital necessities: a laptop sheath, and pockets for a tablet, headphones, diaries, and other daily corporate provisions.
The WLE guy is a commuter, so they’ve designed this with padded back panels for extended periods on your feet. If you’re a security-conscious urban dweller, you can leave your locks in the shed. This bad boy features a custom padlock and keys, ensuring no one will flog your lunch.
There’s also a discreet internal pocket for isolating valuables and other belongings you don’t need to retrieve all the time. However, as this is primarily cotton-based, it’s not waterproof. Leave it at home is there’s showers threatening, or rotate it with another bag as your spring-summer option.
Paul Smith would be the first person to tell you that sartorial understatement and backpacks shouldn’t always shake hands.
This Multi-Coloured Woven Check Backpack is Spanish made, with a drawstring-and-clip closure. It’s designed for everyday use, with adjustable shoulder straps and a scuff-resistant polyurethane shell. Smith hasn’t skimped on the details, either, with leather trims, a protective base, and a sizeable logo that’ll helpfully remind everyone where your bread is buttered.
If you haven’t quite earned your bones in the office, save this bad boy for weekend trips. Speaking of saving, this will set you back over a grand – be budget conscious and remember that Paul Smith eccentricity comes with a price.
If simplicity isn’t quite your thing, if you’ve always wanted a bag that gives understatement the middle finger, then Gucci is your port in a storm.
This Printed Coated-Canvas backpack roars to life with Gucci’s iconic tiger pattern, and is made from coated canvas – promising resistance to abrasions and the unexpected downpour. You have 17L to work with internally, and its lined with a soft and luxurious suede.
The bag features a slim compartment for a tablet or small laptop. This bag might draw a red card in the office, so leave it for the day you heard Scott Schuman is in town and hungry for some good shots. As to be expected with Gucci, you are paying for both luxury design and a brand, so pray that your tax return is generous this year.
A subsidiary of street style behemoth Adidas, Y-3 repackages classic styles courtesy of their chief designer, Yohji Yamamoto, and his sartorial genius.
The name itself refers to this perfect marriage; Y being the brand’s principal architect and visionary, the 3 nodding to Adidas’ distinctive logo, and the dash symbolises their union. This Black Qasa backpack is designed for the quietly confident guy who carries the essentials and not much else – there are no peacocky details, superfluous straps or flashy additions.
It has a primary top-loading compartment with a single zip and internal pouches for easy separation of belongings. The straps can be adjusted based on your height and load carriage requirements. This bag is polyethylene, a plastic well known for its durable, weather-resistant qualities.
It has a depth of 17cm, which is enough for a long day on the cobbles. The bag is detailed with an embossed black Y-3 logo, to remind everyone that you don’t need ostentatious design to finish a look.
Initially servicing a minimalist crowd in late 80’s France, A.P.C has grown to become one of menswear’s most diligent advocates for understated, utilitarian design that stands on its own from season to season.
This canvas-trimmed nylon backpack combines the best of workwear and military style in a bag that’ll never become a sartorial burden across the seasons. With hard use in mind, this bag features a drawstring and strap closure, alongside padded shoulder straps for adjustability and optimal weight distribution. It’s composition its 100% nylon with canvas lining and trims, promising the security of your belongings in all seasons.
This would look cool as part of a layered workwear ensemble – jeans, boots, a flight jacket and beanie – or as an end-of-week option in a creative office.
Milanese by heritage, Valextra have been offering luxury leather smallgoods and bags since 1937. The luxe-backpack has become popular in the corporate circuit as younger men rise in the workforce and migrate away from the briefcases and folios that characterised the corporate wardrobe of the 20th century.
Reflecting this transition, Valextra’s Black V-shaped backpack synthesises the utility of backpacks with streamlined luxury design. It’s about as understated as you can get: a single zip compartment, handle, and nylon straps, all in black grained leather.
The bag’s only ornamental display is a modest gold logo stamp in its interior, leaving no chance of attracting adverse attention as you walk to your desk in the morning. Its interior has the space to fit your wallet, headphones, and documents comfortably, but it’s not quite spacious enough to see you through a weekend away.
This number sits at the top of the monetary pyramid – you’ll need a good weekend at the tables if you want to bring this one home (but do gamble responsibly).
Cote & Ciel
Originating in Paris, luxury design house Cote & Ciel’s bags are ergonomic choices that can accompany you on either the street or the corporate battlespace.
In an understated black mélange, this Isar Eco Yarn rucksack is an excellent upgrade from your tired document folio that’s seen too many dull office presentations, and a supremely functional choice at that. It boasts solid weather proofing and a robust eco-yarn, derived from renewable resources that minimise the brand’s ecological footprint.
This bag has a subtle side zip in addition to the traditional top-loading format for the main compartment, enabling you to separate your working tools from more valuable essentials with peace of mind. It’s also a tool of convenience – no longer will you have to spend time ruffling through the darkest corners of your bag to locate your wallet or headphones.
The inconspicuous design should synchronise comfortably with your office kit, whether that’s a charcoal suit or just chinos and a shirt. This bag has a bit of a price tag, but the advantages of ethical production and sheer convenience should see this bag climb to the top of your shopping list.
Celebrated for their iconic white sneakers, New York favourites Common Projects have launched into the accessories market with a firm grasp of utilitarian design and luxury materials.
With no expense spared, this Mr. Porter exclusive is made from premium calf leather in an unconventional suede finish. The leather will mature with the passage of time and adopt a finish that’s unique to your lifestyle. It has two zip-able compartments and like any versatile bag, features adjustable straps.
This bag has a volume of 22L, but you wouldn’t know it at first glance – all the space one needs for a day at work or a quick weekend flight interstate. As far as bags go, this is a luxury choice. It’s priced to match its manufacturing origin and choice of materials, but arguably the sort of item you could carry for years and pass on down the line once your adventuring days are a thing of the past.
Taikan Everything emerged from Vancouver with the mission to fuse functionality and unassuming, classic design, or as they aptly describe it: ‘inspired, purpose driven product’.
This Spartan backpack is aptly named, in both design sensibility and sheer ruggedness. It features a main zipped compartment and two front-facing pouches for storage versatility. This bag left the factory with serious manufacturing credentials.
It’s made from nigh-unbreakable Ballistic Nylon – the material armies put into flak jackets – and finished with leather-coated tassels. Taikan appreciate their customers move on and off the street, so it has a laptop pouch and water resistant bottom compartment for environmental emergencies.
This is the kind of backpack you can carry through the years without fretting over abrasions, leaks, and broken straps. A true investment piece, well below its competitors in price, sitting at just under than two hundred bones.
Topo Designs hail from Colorado, USA, and conceive sturdy outdoor packs that derive inspiration from the team’s adventurous upbringing as hikers, skiers, and travellers.
This grey-black daypack is made from CORDURA nylon, the advantages with which you will be readily familiar – it resists the rain, tough stains, and tolerates punishments that would eviscerate lesser fabrics. The bag features both an exterior and internal pocket to keep valuables safe during arduous outdoor events.
It also offers 22.4L of room to work with, which is plenty for most outdoor exploits. Although it’s designed for the urban escape, the bag generously features a laptop sleeve for days closer to civilisation.
Topo Designs are proudly American, so their bags are domestically produced. There’s a price tag attached to the manufacturing process, but the results speak for themselves.
Something of a staple for undergraduates and street style aficionados alike, Herschel has enjoyed explosive popularity since 2009.
Herschel started between friends, who wanted to pay homage to the Canadian outdoorsman and the sort of equipment such a strenuous lifestyle demanded. This camouflage heritage backpack will take you everywhere from your final week of exams, to a weekend road trip.
It’s got a 15” laptop compartment and Herschel’s characteristic internal ‘media pocket’, allowing you to store your music device in an internal sleeve and feed the headphone cord through the side of the bag.
Promising added utility, it also features a leather base and handle for both storage and daily use. Herschel are very much the people’s brand – these bags are super affordable and won’t chew into your lean student budget.
C6 x Folk
Forward-thinking backpack retailers C6 have teamed up with famously minimalist casual wear brand Folk for a venture that’ll capture the hearts (and wallets) of students and creatives alike.
This two-tone backpack is a daily commuter’s dream, with hardwearing nylon construction and adjustable straps. With plentiful internal space, it has a primary zipped compartment and face section that’s finished with a double-zip and button: plenty of space no matter the contingency.
C6 are all about supporting an increasingly digital future, so they’ve included a robust laptop sleeve to protect your hardware for work meetings or last-minute revision in the library. At 120 clams, it’ll fit a student’s budget comfortably and see you through your first or final year without needing replacement.
Japanese design powerhouse Visvim are celebrated worldwide for eccentric manufacturing processes and premium fabric choices.
It should come as no surprise that Visvim have durability at the forefront of their bag design ethos. This Red Ballistic 22L backpack is Made in Japan from notoriously indestructible CODRUA nylon, so it’ll probably outlive you if World War III ever becomes a thing.
It features a two-way zip main compartment and a face compartment for your wallet, passport, and other small essentials. In addition to its primary compartments, there’s also a side zip for ease of access and security. 22L of space gives you plenty of room for a change of clothes and classroom essentials.
The straps are adjustable and padded, emphasising comfort for long commutes or sprints to the bus. Word of warning – this is priced along the lines you’d expect from Visvim, so look at it as a long-term investment, after which you’ll probably never need to purchase a backpack again.
The Burton concept was envisioned by a snow enthusiast in a Vermont barn during the late 70’s, and they’ve been arming snowboarders with the alpine essentials ever since.
This ABS Vario pack is made from sturdy CORDURA fabric, favoured in military and outdoor sport circles alike. It weighs in at a lean 2.8kg, but with a decent 17L of room, so a solid option for a weekend escape from the city.
It’s designed for the slope enthusiasts, featuring snowshoe and board carriage options, goggle pockets, and storage for the rest of your alpine gear. There’s also the option to supplement the bag with an airbag system (sold separately) should the worst happen during snow season.
It has a lifetime warranty, too, but we’re not betting on you sending it back to the manufacturer any time soon.
Launched in mid-70’s SoCal, Patagonia cater to the sustainability-focused outdoorsmen who are both conscious of the environment and active in all seasons.
This Arbor 26L pack is a budget-conscious option for a streamlined transition from the classroom to mountain trail. This bag scores a victory in the ethics column – it’s constructed from recycled polyester, so there’s no material outlay or product waste (not to mention that polyester is weather-resistant and tougher than you’d think).
Its water-repellent finish gives it year-round value, whether you make a city commute in winter or are itching for a tropical holiday at the end of the year. It could also work as a city bag for the uni commuter, as it features a laptop sleeve and buckle-secured flap to protect your belongings.
At a generous 26L, it can carry everything from the outdoor essentials to textbooks you don’t plan on reading. It’s less than a hundred dollars, so a no-brainer investment for the urban resident and mountaineer alike.
Strict utility and purposeful design occupies the center of Macpac’s design blueprint. This nylon packable backpack should be your primary choice if you’ve booked in for a city-free digital detox with lots of climbing, walking, and time spent in under the sun.
With the traveler in mind, Macpac have opted for a featherweight nylon shell. It’s barely noticeable when worn, resists punishment from the weather like a champ, and can bounce back from the rough and tumble of outdoor activity.
This backpack has 15L of room; enough for the essentials, but lean enough to avoid the inevitable frustration of overpacking. If you plan to spend a weekend outdoors and need a bag for any season or weather, Macpac is where you should start.
West Coast brand Aether’s design philosophy is simple: rugged products that can accompany the city-dweller in any environment, whether that’s an urban center or the open air.
This Charcoal Welded Backpack captures a minimalist aesthetic for your downtime on the slopes. Its credentials for rugged outdoor activities are well established – the backpack features weatherproof zips, a supporting back-frame and padded straps for comfort during prolonged use.
Although designed for sport, this bag has enough streetstyle in it for the bit city lights. There’s also an internal laptop pocket if your briefcase has seen better days and you need to bring this to the office. Aether are also supremely confident in their manufacturing steez: they offer a lifetime guarantee for their products, so buying once sounds like the ticket here.
Stressing over that finishing touch for your highly-anticipated week in the snow? Dakine can help you forge that aspiration into reality. Founded in Hawaii, Dakine specialize in the great outdoors and accessories for snow, slope, and mountain sports.
This Heli Pro Deluxe Backpack is crafted with strenuous snow time in mind. It has pockets and loops for goggles, skis, snow tools, and the rest of your mountain trekking accessories. This bag can also fit a snowboard, even if you haven’t quite mastered taking on the slopes without eating snow and copping bruises everywhere.
There’s even a rescue whistle (but let’s both hope you won’t need it). Outside the hobby-specific features, there’s 24 litres of internal space for the rest of your travel gear, so you can cut down on superfluous luggage and get everything in one sock.
Dakine know that time on the slopes isn’t cheap, but their bags are. You’ll walk away with this one for less than two hundred bucks.