As anyone who’s spent much time with me knows, I have a bit of an obsession with gear, and lately backpacks and bags have been high on the list. Fortunately (for my friends, who don’t have to listen to me talk about it anymore,) I’ve finally found almost the ideal day to day, and travel backpacks. I’d hoped I could find one bag to fill both roles, but the reality is, I want a much smaller day to day bag than I need for travel, so I had to find two good bags.
Day to day, I need to fit a MacBook Air or an iPad, maybe a change of clothes, a bike lock, and some other miscellaneous bits like sunglasses and a charger or two.
For Travel, I need to fit a weeks worth of clothes, various toiletries, and maybe even an extra set of shoes. This takes a much larger pack. But I still need it small enough to to be carry on baggage on a flight, because I prefer to never check anything.
I bought and used quite a number of backpacks and messenger bags over the past couple of years before I found the right fit. I wanted something that was highly functional, durable, and fashionable. Water proof would also be a big plus, since I walk to work, and it does occasionally rain in San Francisco.
While messenger bags are certainly popular, I find that they hurt too much and I was sick of the frequent neck and shoulder pain. I’ve used several over the years, and I’ll be talking about two of them, but ultimately I put them aside as soon as I could find a stylish and comfortable backpack.
The Mission Workshop VX Rucksacks
Day to Day Backpack - Mission Workshop AP Sanction Rucksack
The Mission Workshop AP Sanction is my go to daily bag. It’s small enough to take everywhere, but has enough room for a weekend away. I got mine in slate.
It has an internal zippered pouch that perfectly fits the 13” MacBook Air I use for work, so this is the bag I take on my walk to the office. On weekends I usually swap the 13” MacBook Air for my iPad and Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, maybe add a change of clothes. There is another pouch that perfectly fits my iPad, and two other zippered front pockets that easily fit other essentials like a charger and a few pens. Finally there is a front velcro pocket that’s perfect for easy access to sunglasses or what ever else you need.
The build quality of this backpack is fantastic, with a 1000 denier VX Cordura shell, and a PTFE waterproof membrane, it keeps my gear dry. While the fabrics on the standard Mission Workshop bags are also high quality, the VX fabric really looks and feels much nicer. It gives the bag a higher quality and more unique look. The Arkiv closure system is just cool, and works well. I always perfer metal to plastic when practical. This pack is also very comfortable on a bike. The straps secure together nicely with an adjustable buckle, so you don’t have to worry about the pack shifting while you ride.
Travel Backpack - Mission Workshop AP Fitzroy Rucksack
I recently returned from a 2 week trip to Europe, and the AP Fitzroy fit everything I needed. From the picture you can see that it’s quite a bit larger than the AP Sanction. The Sanction actually fits inside the Fitzroy! The Fitzroy has an internal volume of 36 liters, while the Sanction is less than half that at 16 liters. The larger Fitzroy has all the same features as the Sanction, it’s basically the same pack, only more than twice as large. Because of the flap top closure, you can open this bag up to access the huge compartment. It makes packing very easy. I was able to put a pair of shoes at the bottom, and roll up all my clothes packing them tightly on top. It’s quite a bit more bag than I’d want to use every day, but when I need a week or two worth of gear, this is perfect.
Other Bags I Tried
Daily or Weekend Messenger Bag - Chrome Mini-Metro Buckle Bag
I used the Chrome Mini-Metro Buckle Bag for around a year and it worked well, but it is a messenger bag, which pretty much rules it out. It’s also very popular in San Francisco, and I got to the point where I wanted something a bit more unique.
That said, it is a great bag, especially when combined with the Chrome Laptop Sleeve. The build quality is excellent, with tough fabric on the outside and a rubberized inner liner, it’s going to keep your gear safe and dry. However I ultimately replaced it the next bag on our list.
Daily or Weekend Messenger Bag - Rickshaw Zero Messenger
I used the Rickshaw Zero Messenger for at least a year. It’s made out of much lighter materials than than the Chrome messenger bag, so it’s not quite as bomb or water proof, but it is more affordably priced. I visited the Rickshaw store in San Francisco, which is also where they make all of their bags. I was there on a quiet Sunday, which was great because I got a tour of their factory. I picked up the limited edition silk screened messenger bag you see to the left, along with a Drop Pocket. I later had them make a custom Laptop Sleve to complete the setup. Their modular Zero bags are a great system, with velcro to add things like the drop pocket. I’d still be using my Zero Messenger bag if not for my issues with messenger bag comfort and how awesome the Mission Workshop backpacks are.
Travel Backpack - Chrome Soyuz
My first attempt at finding a travel backpack was the Chrome Soyuz which has as nice easy access zippered laptop compartment on the side. This is really convenient for airport security, and was the primary reason I bought it. The pack has a lot of pockets, but ultimately I felt the layout was a bit clumsy. It has two side by side narrow and deep pockets that open under the top front flap. I found them awkward and often difficult to get things in and out of. The Soyuz also wasn’t quite large enough for longer trips. Chrome says it’s internal volume is 26 liters, so that puts it in the middle between my two favorite Mission Workshop bags. For me, that’s too big for a day to day bag, and too small for a serious travel bag. That combined with the awkward pockets and compartments had me giving up on this bag after a few months of use.
Travel Backpack - Mission Workshop Vandal
Finally, the Mission Workshop Vandal which is a large expandable bag. I was leaving for a week long trip to Europe and I knew the Soyuz wasn’t big enough. This seemed like the perfect thing, because it’s actually two sized bags in one. When zipped up, it’s a respectable 29 liters, but then you can expand it to a huge 65 liter bag. For the picture to the left, I actually put the Sanction, Zero Messenger, and Mini-Metro inside the Vandal to fill it out. You really can fit a ton of stuff in there. Unfortunately, when it’s expanded and full, it’s a heavy huge bag, that’s just hard to carry. I also find that having that much room encourages me to over-pack. When it’s not expanded it’s actually slightly too small, and a little awkward to get things in and out of.
It has a few flaps that you can see on the left hand side of the picture. Those are actually pockets that can hold quite a lot of stuff, but I found them functionally awkward. It also has two small pockets on the bottom front, that were also awkward to use. I wanted more, easier to access pockets, so I could quickly get at my sunglasses, chargers, and other accessories. This bag didn’t really deliver that, it’s trying to do too much and ends up too complicated and awkward to use.
The Mission Workshop Advanced Projects Rucksacks are both fantastic bags. High quality combine with great design and a very solid build make an excellent product. They also look great. These are simply the best bags I’ve ever owned, and clearly I’ve tried a few. For this post I didn’t even bother to dig up The North Face bags I also have hiding in my closet.