One Finite Planet

One Finite Planet

The ‘perfect’ everyday bag: messenger bag, shoulder bag or backpack?

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Not everyday bags

I am on the hunt for the perfect bag to carry things with me, but is this a backpack, a messenger bag, or some hybrid of the two. The strongest candidates right now, are the peak design backpack, or the ‘urban disguise’ series from Thinktank. Peak design make a messenger bag the can work as a backpack, or a messenger bag like backpack, but there is not a single review I have found evaluates use of the backpack as a messenger.  Given how frequently I see people with backpacks slung over one shoulder, surely someone else cares about how a backpack performs in messenger mode? The perfect bag? John Steed and the Avengers? All will be revealed!


My interpretation of the perfect ‘everyday’ bag.

To me, it is ideal that there is a core list of items you want with you anytime you have a bag, but then that list grows depending on the occasion.  So clearly one approach is to have a bag of all possible occasions, but my ideal bag can adapt so that every single change to the list of what you want with you does not demand a change of bag.  Being able to adapt to every possible change is too much, the goal is to adapt to the most common scenarios.  The ideal bag (not necessarily in order):

  • can be carried hands free
  • accessible both on the move and at a destination
  • can carry a heavier/larger load when required
  • can be compact and inconspicuous when lightly loaded
  • is comfortable on longer trips
  • is easy to wear and remove for shorter trips
  • has ‘appropriate appearance’
  • can carry technology such as laptop, camera etc together with other things

Many bag reviews concentrate on the bag loaded to the limit, how much it can hold and how it performs when loaded to that limit.  This is when the bag is needed most so of course this is important, but in reality, most days that bag spend most time almost in ‘minimum’ mode.  Of course any bag is easy to carry when almost empty, but this is when the bag must also be convenient, so this is also important. As the ‘almost empty bag’ task is easy, then yes it is not as critical how often it will happen may suggest, but still that bag must perform everyday, not just when full.

The Conventional Backpack Vs Perfect Everyday Bag.

I am one of very large group who spends significant time with one strap of conventional backpack over one shoulder, as the pack is being used as an everyday backpack. The backpack caters my largest anticipated load and enable the maximum distance I may need to walk.  Frankly, most days a messenger bag is a better ‘everyday backpack’ than any conventional backpack, and the backpack is being carried instead ‘just in case’.  What if needs change during the day? The backpack may be less convenient as a messenger but the messenger just can’t carry the load the backpack can if the need arises.  The ideal solution is a bag that can act as a messenger when possible, and be used as backpack for the most demanding loads and travels.  Continually switching bags on demand to adapt to needs frustrating even if the need does not change during the day.

The perfect bag can be that backpack, but can shrink when not all the space is needed, or preferably, start small and can expand when more space is needed.  Such a bag can offer access to useful pockets without removing the bag, and can offer convenient one shoulder carry or messenger carry when the load is light.


So what bags can approach this ideal?  These bags are all very impressive. For each, (particularly the ‘Peak Design’ bags), you will find many rave reviews that mention the many great features, so I will concentrate on only the negatives. How, from my perspective, they fall short of perfection. These are not full reviews of each pack, which are readily available elsewhere, but more in depth considerations of key design points.

Think Tank Urban Disguise.

I have been using a Think Tank ‘Change Up’ for some time.  I works as a great small messenger bag and can adapt to an equivalent mode to a backpack, but ultimately, although many days it is all I need, even on those days it is just that little big small.  On other days, the small size means bringing a second bag is the only solution. A key problem is I cannot conveniently insert my laptop in the ‘change up’, partly because the bag is just a fraction too small, and partly because the ideal pocket is accessed by a zipper that does not fully open. But it is a great reliable bag.

urban-disguise-classic-50-1The ‘urban disguise’ series offers more room than the ‘change up’, comes in a variety of sizes and are messenger bags that have an accessory backpack harness. These bags are currently ‘Series III’, and while the previous ‘Series II’ bags offered attachment straps that allowed expanding carrying capacity, this feature was dropped for the series III, which tends to make the whole ‘backpack harness’ idea less useful.  They come in a variety of sizes, and do offer some expansion,  but the optional backpack harness would have to be carried inside the bag when not in use cannibalising significant space.

The Peak Design Everyday Messenger.

hero-both_6Available in two sizes, the Everyday Messenger bags are again, primarily messenger bags.  But these bags feature a ‘stabilizer strap’ which allows use effectively as a backpack. This bag has significant expansion, (approx. 2.25x expansion), and also has some attachment facilities to expand outside the main bag.  The limitations are:

  • always only one shoulder strap
    • that in ‘backpack mode’, there is still only one shoulder strap, and several customers have found that in any mode, if there is a load, one shoulder strap does not seem sufficient
  • limited water bottle storage
    • the side pouches are quite small although people have attempted to find solutions, it seems hard work for a key function
  • relatively limited external pack storage
    • compared to the newer peak design everyday backpack, the external expansion options are very limited, and the carry system limits how much can be carried beyond anyway.

The Peak Design Everyday BackPack.

cep-backpack-8-mainAgain available in two sizes, the every day backpack is available in two sizes. However, the larger size does not fit with what I would wish to be carrying every day, in fact even the smaller size is pushing the envelope for my idea of ‘every day’.  One of the (several) key innovations of this bags is in opening as messenger bag (see picture). This is opening the side of the pack. In fact the pack can even be opened as a messenger bag while it is being worn.

Although the bag can be opened as messenger bag, the design does not seem to incorporate an features to support wearing the bag in messenger mode. Further, while the design provides for messenger mode access to the main compartment, there is no easy messenger mode access to any pocket where you would likely keep travel documents or even a wallet or phone.  Access to those pockets requires removing the pack.  Hmmm….

stacked_30063077266_o-2_1Further, I would not be the first to point out the perhaps the flaps should open away from the wearer in messenger mode.  Opening away from the wearer would provide privacy plus decreased risk of contents falling out of the bag. Another limitation is that bag expansion is really limited to expansion in the area of the backpack style to opening, but this is a sensible limitation as when the bag is expanded, forgoing messenger mode is sensible.

Limitations (those that matter):

  • no access to tickets, documents or electronics pockets from messenger mode
    • these pockets are at the top of the bag which is very difficult to access without removing the bag
  • straps do not support carry in messenger mode
    • padding does not continue to shoulder in messenger mode
    • no quick detach for other shoulder strap (which could become waist strap in messenger mode with the right adjustment
  • minimum size configuration is large for an everyday bag

So which choice?

Let me know if you have an opinion or are interested

A perspective on the everyday bag (and John Steed).

suitcases10The past.

In the era of the ‘Avengers’ John Steed, this is what a ‘man bag’ looked like.  Men used briefcases or what was clearly luggage.  The only other alternative was to carry everything in pockets. In fact most ‘every day’ items outside work or sport had to be carried in pockets.  Children used ‘school bags’ that were between small luggage and briefcases in design.  Only women had everyday bags, call ‘handbags’.

Humans, that animals who are so attached to possessions, followed very strict limitations on how they could carry those possessions.

The Present.

Today, bags are becoming just as essential as clothing, and just as much a statement as to who we are as individuals. Individuals of both sexes can use messenger bags, shoulder bags or backpacks.  But only women uses ‘totes’ or handbags.  Men still use their pockets for ‘everyday’ social occasions, while women have handbags.

Many companies who produce ‘everyday’ bags, have a history in camping and hiking backpacks.  There is a parallel with that other major way of carrying our possessions: the automobile.  Our ‘dream cars’ have been sports cars capable of acceleration and speeds that are not only impractical, but often illegal.  Other dream cars have off road capability we also will never use.  The ability of a car maker to produce amazing products we have no use for means their products will be amazing at what we do need.

If you can make a backpack capable of carrying making a persons entire world on a three week camping trip in a remote rainforest, surely you can make a bag that can see someone through an urban day?

The reality is the requirements of the everyday backpack and the camping trip backpack are quite different.  Similarly, the needs of a professional photographer, are considerably different than an everyday bag, but many of the best everyday bags have their origins as camera bags.

Most of todays standout everyday bags have their origins from companies also tackling what could be seen as bigger challenges.  These bigger challenges justify design and materials beyond the ‘average’.  With an increasing role for an everyday bag, these better designed bags from better materials are seeing a rise in demand.

The Future.

Humans are more mobile than ever before. This combined with trends for both work and transport becoming less personalised is likely to increase the role of the ‘everyday bag’.

That other way of carrying our possessions, the automobile, seems to becoming of lesser significance, with the ratio of trips by public transport increasing.  Uber and other organisations are hoping to make even automobiles function as public transport.

Workplaces now have hot-desking, which eliminates leaving possessions at work, and again increases the need for a way of daily carrying possessions.

As transport becomes less personal, workplaces become less personal, the ‘everyday bag’ is likely to be charged with the task of carrying the things that make life personal.  It is logical that solutions will arise that are sufficiently workable that men may start carrying bags just for phones, tablets, wallets etc, in the way women carry handbags.  To use a bag that way, the logical transition requires the bag work like a ‘patch of pockets’, accessible on the move, not restricting movement and leaving hands free for other tasks.

Who ever can blend that criteria of the everyday with the ability to still function for carrying more will tap a very significant market.

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