The backpack is the cornerstone of any academic outfit. It’s your constant companion throughout the long study day – the Tonto to your Lone Ranger, the Fallout Boy to your Radioactive Man – and it will never complain, no matter how much you dump on (or into) it. But, like all good crime-fighting partnerships, you need to choose wisely if you want things to last.
We continue our run of Back To School Week features with this checklist of things to look for when making your selection. Because, really, you should feel happier than James Brown when finally buying that new bag…
There are two kinds of zip you want to look after in life: the one on your pants and the ones on your backpack. If either of them goes, you’ve got an awkward situation on your hands. Given that a faulty zip can spell the end of your bag, this is one area where you want quality, reliable components, and nine times out of ten that means YKK. As the market leaders in zipper technology, this Japanese company produces around seven billion zips a year (roughly half the world’s supply,) and they didn’t get to that stage by making a dodgy product. EXCELLA is their flagship line (seen above on this bag from Herschel) but also look out for Swiss company RiRi, who polish every tooth in their premium range of zips for a staggering 18 hours to ensure faultless operation every time.
There are times when the trek to school feels like summiting Everest and you wouldn’t head up a mountain that size without some decent straps. Scoping out a bag’s level of padding before making a purchase is a no-brainer, but here’s something you might not be aware of: the strongest muscles in your body are your legs (unless you’ve been seriously biased with your workout regime), so this is where the majority of weight should be carried. By choosing a rucksack with waist straps (such as this one, from Eastpak x Marcelo Burlon County of Milan), you can avoid painful shoulder tension by diverting weight to your hips. Likewise, a sternum strap allows your pectoral muscles to pick up even more of the slack, meaning those heavy textbooks should only strain your brain, not your spine.
So often less is more, but when it comes to stashing the assorted crap of your day-to-day routine, a healthy supply of pockets is infinitely preferable to the chaos of one single compartment. Things are easier to find, less likely to break, and you won’t feel like you’re venturing inside a black hole every time you need something. Side pockets make it simple to keep a drink handy, a thin front pocket is great for storing documents, penholders do exactly what they’re supposed to and compartments on the back panel will allow access while you’re wearing the bag itself – bags like this one from Mission Workshop even allow you to create your own pocket combinations.
If you take a laptop to class, make sure your bag has a dedicated pocket inside that actually fits your computer (hot tip: the clue is in the name. 13”,15” or 17”). Finally, if you want to keep the water out, make sure any external zippers are reverse-taped or shielded with a layer of fabric, otherwise rain will seep straight through and really ruin your day.
You might think the lining of your bag is up to the task of keeping your study notes, laptop and textbooks dry, but until you’ve been caught doing a Gene Kelly in a torrential downpour you can never know for certain. One of the few materials that will actually guarantee your belongings stay 100% dry is Gore Tex, but this is limited to a handful of select partner brands like The North Face, and rarely found outside the hiking scene. An alternative is to side with a more sporty brand like Salomon or Chrome Industries, who produce a handful of streetwear-appropriate designs, or opt for something a little more high-end from Patagonia or Arc’teryx.
Something else that’s important to bear in mind: unless it has been specially treated, leather (as great as it looks) is not waterproof and will not only allow water in, but can easily stain when wet. Synthetic leather alternatives (like the one seen here), however, often repel water due to their high plastic content, so this might be one time in life where the more affordable option really pays off.
Click here to read the rest of our Check Before You Buy series.