It wasn’t that long ago that you wouldn’t be seen dead in a backpack. Once the reserve of high school students and tourists, searching for the best backpacks just wasn't a consideration for those with an inclination for good design.
This couldn’t be further from the truth now. Thanks to a whole heap of brands adopting the backpack as their signature luggage style, it’s become the ultimate go-anywhere, do-anything bag. Simply throw it over your shoulders and go, hands-free into the day ahead.
But with the sheer range of designs available today, choosing the best backpacks for you is trickier than it might first seem. Allow OPUMO to step in.
Why you need a backpack
If you’re going to buy one bag, it may as well be a backpack. Pick a medium sized one and it’s good for day out, an overnight trip or even as a weekend bag if you pack light. The best thing about them is the ability to keep your hands free, which is something you’ll appreciate if you’re used to lugging around a holdall or shoulder bag.
This functionality is something that’s been utilised by militaries for decades - backpacks are essential for the field, keeping soldier's belongings secure while their hands remain free. Like plenty of other garments, certain backpacks styles originated in the military - roll-top styles, popular today, were issued to US soldiers during WW2, while multi-pocked canvas bergens were developed for the British army.
Best backpack styles to consider
This design originated in the military but has since gone on to become one of the staple backpack styles for men. Roll-top backpacks are defined by their opening, which is designed to be wide and easy to access, making it easier to put in and retrieve items from the bag. It then rolls down and clips shut, making the bag weatherproof.
While original military packs would have been made from canvas, many of today’s best roll-tops are constructed from high-tech nylons or leather.
Hiking backpacks are made for pure functionality. Designed for long excursions and trips away, you’ll find numerous pockets and features not usually found on other backpacks. Expect drawstring closures, expandable interiors, padded compartments for laptops, reflective panels, mesh pockets and water-tight construction.
Hiking packs are usually made from lightweight polyester or nylon fabrics, meaning they suit a more laidback, outdoors-inspired look.
Given the rise in popularity of the backpack, it makes sense that luxurious variations are now readily available, made from materials usually reserved for larger luggage styles. Leather elevates the backpack, further removing it from its previous adolescent associations.
Due to the expense of high-grade leathers, these luxury packs are often on the pricier side, but work as excellent investment pieces should you want a hand-me-down piece that will last decades, and arguably get better with wear.
Minimal styles are incredibly easy to wear, thanks to their lack of extraneous detailing. With pared-back designs you can expect to find perhaps a single zip, clip or opening as well as subtle colourways which easily combine with a straight-forward, capsule wardrobe.
If you want to go for a tonal look, a minimal backpack could work well, or find one in a muted colour that could combine well with an all-black look.
While it's rooted in military history, canvas material still works incredibly well in backpack form. It’s rugged, ages well and perfectly balances the line between casual and formal. Good quality canvas is tough, and if you find the right one can be waterproof too, making it hard to beat for all-round use.
Stone or green may be the obvious canvas choice, but why not try a more unexpected shade? Brown, black or burgundy are all surprisingly easy to wear.
The best backpack brands
Founded in 2014, Bennett Winch has mastered the classic canvas backpack. With military-grade webbing, heavy duty brass zips and 24oz bonded waterproof canvas, it could be the ultimate everyday bag. More recently the brand has crafted this style entirely out of full-grain leather too, so if you want a super luxurious take on a versatile design, Bennett Winch could be for you.
Producing functional packs with a focus on sustainability, Pinqponq is noted for its hiking-inspired backpacks. Each of its designs has a modern edge - they're made from high-tech recycled fabrics, with elongated zip pulls and often have multiple ways to open. It proudly uses only fabrics that are 100% recycled from PET bottles, which are given a PFC-free water and stain resistant treatment, making them as functional as they look.
Beginning in 2012, Carl Friedrik has become known for its minimal designs in which form follows function. Following Dieter Rams’ motto of ‘less, but better’, the brand prides itself on simple, good design that allows its quality materials to do the talking. Look out for its C3-1 backpack constructed from leather and nylon - it’s perfect for business or pleasure.
Property Of… produces innovative backpacks that are perfect for travel or as a work bag. From day packs to 48 hour packs, the brand's designs are functional and its materials are hard-wearing, from recycled polyester to its nylon zips and leather straps. Arguably the best part about them though is the way you can pack them. The rear can be unzipped and folded down so you can pack it like a suitcase, meaning rummaging around is a thing of the past.
Beautiful design and classic details define Mismo’s backpacks, which are somehow classic looking yet contemporary at the same time. Solid brass D-rings clip down the top compartments, giving a luxe update on a WW2 military-inspired design, while the tight-woven cotton and nylon canvas fabrics and bridle leather trimmings ensure they’ll last a lifetime.
Utility Archive’s technical designs make it stand out from the pack. Sustainable recycled polyester bodies are paired with recycled webbing, lining and plastic-free hardware, making its packs about as responsible as they come. The designs take inspiration from hiking styles and alpine packs from the 1960s, so if you’re after a throwback technical backpack with up-to-date fabrics and construction, they could be for you.
Steele & Borough
Founded in 2014, Steele & Borough made a name for itself through creating P.E.T.A. approved vegan duffel bags, but has since moved onto producing other styles including backpacks. Interesting design details including oversized hidden zips and magnetic closures make its minimal backpacks high desirable options for those after a versatile, everyday bag.
For more on staple accessories, check out our ultimate guide to men's belts.