I'm a huge bag nerd. Backpacks, messenger bags (I finally found one I like), camera bags, duffle bags; I love them all. More than that, I love trying to find the right one for every job—the one that actually makes the job it's intended to help me with, easier.
This has, unfortunately for me but fortunately for you, resulted in my ordering lots and lots and lots of bags. I have huge plastic containers full of them. At one point, between my roomy and I, we had every size of North Face's Basecamp series of bag—a bag that remains one of my favorites to strap to the back of a motorcycle.
Since motorcycling is such a huge part of my life, a lot of this bag searching has revolved around finding something great for using on the bike. Something to use when commuting into the office and going up LA to see friends for the night, or weekend jaunts to the desert and bigger adventures.
The motorcycle tailored brands have actually been pretty bad thus far at filling this need, at least if you want something that also looks half decent and won't fall apart. Some of the OGIO stuff is okay (although ugly), but the Alpinestars and Dainese backpacks I've tried have been garbage. So finally, I started looking outside of the bags marketed as "motorcycle backpacks," and it was there that I found some that are pure gold.
Here's what I've been wearing lately:
Peak Design Everyday Backpack - $260
More and more, it seems that my camera kit has become one of the things I grab when I head out the door on a bike. Finding a bag that could keep my camera stuff protected and mold to meet my needs for various shoots and with different gear was tough—until I met the Peak Design Everyday Backpack. The internal dividers fold up and down easily but are rigid enough to keep their shape once in place.
The bag opens from both sides making all of my lenses easy to access, and has some really well thought out features throughout, which is great for everyday usability. For instance, the top closes using a series of magnetic hooks so it can accommodate different size loads. The pull tabs for the zippers can be secured to the bag, essentially locking them shut to make them harder to open by would-be thieves. There are hidden straps to secure things like tripods or other, long equipment that might not fit well in the bag. The side flaps of the bag that open also have small zippers which reveal storage compartments for things like batteries within them. Even the chest strap secures away nicely when not being used.
If I have any complaints of the bag, it's that I wish there was a divider on top of the partitioned areas, between them and the top opening of the bag, so that things placed in top didn't fall down into the lenses on the top row.
Black Ember TL Pack - $196 base, $364 as worn
The Black Ember TL pack has become my go-to for working on the road. This pack comes as a clean slate, with optional accessory pouches to tailor the pack to your needs. I normally use a large admin, small admin, and smart pouch, but I move the smart pouch to the front shoulder strap and add another small admin on long trips so I have easy access to my passport and plane tickets while in airports. With all of the different places to put things, this becomes my mobile office on the go.
The external large pouch holds power cables and the small bag I keep all my USB cables in, while the smaller external pockets hold external battery packs, earphones, gum, storage for my receipts, and external hard drives. Inside the bag, I take my laptop, a few issues of our latest mag, and a notebook.
I was a little worried about how the external compartments secured to the bag, and that they would either come loose or move around too much while on the bike but so far they've held securely.
My only complaints about this bag are that the internal dividers in the main compartment need to hold their shape a little better and become slightly bunched up when I'm trying to slide things into the back ones. Also, the shoulder straps, which are made so that they can come off if desired, tend to come off when I don't desire. I've tried to tighten the hooks used to secure the bag, which helped a bit, but the system is still not perfect.
Colfax Design Works Recon Pack - $375
Unless I have super-specific needs, this is the pack I choose every day. Its pocket size and layout provides a perfect balance for almost everything between the daily commute and weekend trips. The bottom compartment is separated from the top, which means you can access or load it even when the top is full. It's the perfect size for a pair of shoes, although I normally stuff it with every cable and battery charger and pair of headphones I own when traveling. It has a dedicated and padded laptop sleeve, which is accessible when the bag is closed, as well as a small compartment on top for the little things.
It looks amazing, is one of the most comfortable bags I’ve ever worn even after hours on the bike, and it's incredibly durable (I crashed wearing it and it doesn't have so much as a scuff). One of my favorite things about this bag is that it's fairly cavernous, but doesn't feel like a sail when worn empty. Honestly, I don't have any complaints about the bag which is why I reached out to Adam, the company's founder, to collaborate on the next iteration of the backpack.
The bag currently for sale on their site is a smaller version, which is missing the bottom compartment, while a revised version of my pack with my modifications that make it even better for use on a motorcycle is coming. Stay tuned.
Disclaimer: My offer to help Colfax Design Works comes with zero financial compensation for my efforts. I'm a bag snob and really excited about potentially creating something people will really enjoy using, and any efforts I can give to make that happen (as well as continuing to be someone you all trust with gear recommendations) are well worth it.
AER Duffel Pack - $150
The AER Duffel Pack is the best gym bag I’ve ever used. Out of all four packs here, it’s the one I use the most because I take a gym break midday when in the office, and this one carries all my clothes, a water bottle, has pockets for my iPod, phone, and headphones, and has a separate vented pocket for shoes. It also has a laptop sleeve and plenty of room for anything else I need to bring to the office, plus the vertical main zipper makes pulling your stuff out a cinch.
The AER duffle is as simple as it gets, but that's one of its big strengths. The company also has a travel backpack, which I have not tested, but looks like an interesting option for those who find this bag appealing.
The only complaints I have of this bag is that it doesn't have any real way to secure the excess material from the shoulder straps so they whip your chest when riding.