Outdoors gear is made for out there. As trends take wilderness apparel from the summits to the streets, Highsnobiety is recasting a seminal part of the outdoors for its new home. Trail Mix is a wear-test series, by Highsnobiety. Instead of climbing mountains, we put gear through tests that ring closer to home. Will camp shorts work for lounging around? Is a trail runner too much for a jog in the park? Each month, we’ll take on a new category, testing five pieces in the wilds of New York City to answer questions just like these.
This time, we’re scaling the summits of our daily — and now sometimes biologically hazardous — commutes with our favorite day packs.
The backpack is the single most important part of an outdoor escapade. Jacket? Depends on the weather. Shoes? Ask the Tarahumara. Without a pack, an adventure-to-be is a glorified lug. The proper utility sack relies on a system of straps and stabilizers to keep a heavy load firm to your body’s natural support column.
But always remember: It’s not about what you’re packing. It’s how you carry it. In the outdoors world, backpacks take all shapes and sizes. Packs meant for wet conditions use a rolltop to keep water out. Packs meant for heavy loads use a rigid frame to keep weight balanced. And if you’re backpacking (noun, “traveling or hiking carrying one’s belongings in a backpack”), you’ll use a body-sized pack with a hip belt to split the mass between your hips and your shoulders.
For those who split time between the concrete and the countryside, daypacks – outdoors packs meant for hauling a day’s worth of gear, electronics, and GORP - are where it all comes together. What is a commute if not a hike quotidien, a Circadian slog through your own personal wilderness? In the spirit of back-to-school and whatever that means during COVID, here are our picks for the best hiking daypacks with urban crossover.
The Backpack Equivalent of Kanye’s Tanks ($275+)
Colorado is famous for skiing. Wyoming is famous for tax evasion (sorry, ‘Ye). As for their northern neighbor? It might as well be backpacks.
Bozeman, Montana is the home of Mystery Ranch, a pack man’s packmaker that traces its roots to the legendary pack designer Dana Gleason. MR got its start in the year 2000, winning a contract to make custom packs for the Navy SEALS just four years later. Today, they make packs for everyone from high altitude climbers to airborne firefighters. And while their iconic ASAP bag was designed originally for tactical purposes, it’s also dope for carrying your laptop. Sizing up at just 20 liters, the ASAP redefines “small but mighty.” The core of the pack is MR’s famous “3-zip” opening system, a teardown of the typical zip-up that allows for quicker and more intentional gear access. Beyond those zips are two massive side pockets originally meant for hydration bladders as well as a MOLLE webbing panel that lets users customize their pack with pouches that suit their specific needs. The ASAP also includes its own internal HDPE frame to provide a more comfortable carry for heavy loads. Empty, it’s a hefty, USA-made three whole pounds.
In Multicam, the ASAP is the definition of overbuilt cool. Durability and usability are off the charts thanks to the bag’s bombproof 500D Cordura face. Massaging that rigid fabric into a zipper system that looks like an Aliens facehugger just hits different. With the Y-shaped zip and camo drip, what’s already a muscular daypack turns heads as something truly unique. My recommendation: get a laptop sleeve and a pouch or two. When it’s time to leave cell service, ditch the sleeve, move the pouches to the face webbing, and roll before packing. Whether you’re packing textbooks or bagging summits, the ASAP is a bonkers backpack with a unique look that’s guaranteed to perform.
Get one. As soon as...
P.S. If Drake soured you on Multicam, their Foliage colorway makes a great backup.
Cross-Running Is Not Just a Shoe Trend...($190)
French gearmaker Salomon is famous for its crossover cred. And while its trail shoes may steal the fashion spotlight, the brand’s full line is every bit as design-forward. Exhibit A: the XA series of multisport packs.
Ranging 15 to 35 liters, the XA’s are expandable roll-top daypacks made for trails of all kinds. Every pack features a running shoe-inspired Sensifit system that keeps loads comfortable as well as “quick link” straps that bring the agility of Salomon’s shoelacing to chest support. While all lightweight and agile, the XA 25 is the best size for daily use, both on the mountain and off. It’s also the most proportional – a sleek, bleeding red knapsack equal parts pack and tactical vest.
I had a lot of fun with the XA 25. Strapping it on, the first thing you notice is its supreme lightness. Running in it is a joy, and even wearing it casually, you’ll almost forget it’s on. What you won’t forget about are the shoulder flasks.
There’s no way around it: this pack was born to run, and everything from the external bladder slot to the single interior pocket reminds you that your bike commute is shallow and delicate. Up to 30 liters of expandable space in a package that weighs less than a pound is impressive. But the lack of organization makes this more Grand Canyon than concrete canyon, at least if a laptop’s involved.
The Extremely Everyday Option ($195)
While Klättermusen may be younger than Fjallräven or Haglöfs, the mountaineering-focused equipment maker has gained acclaim beyond its years by yodeling to its own tune. Klätter’s sharp lines and vibrant colors are instantly recognizable on both wooded trails and archive accounts alike. The Wunja 21L, its “everyday” backpack, brings those worlds together in an über-functional way.
The highlight of the Wunja is its oversized half-moon zip, a portal to another world that makes stuffing easier than a box of Kraft Stove Top. This clever, angled entry grants full access to a utility belt’s worth of organization. There’s a 15” laptop sleeve. And a slot for folders. And three pen loops. And a zip pocket. Inside that zip pocket, you’ll find a quality control card signed by the name of the worker who inspected your pack from seam to straps. I’ve loaded up my Wunja with a laptop, a fleece, two hardbacks, a lunch box, a water bottle, and enough chargers to rig up a Best Buy.
In terms of aesthetics, I think the Wunja is the best looking outdoors-indoors crossover pack on the market. I love the colors on this Sulphur Yellow model, and the mixed media (mesh/Kevlar/polyester/recycled nylon) that trims its shiny coated shell is effortlessly stylish. Compared to more technical packs, the slim straps and lack of chest or hip buckles may cause friction, especially for cyclists. But for the world at large - both its people and its destinations - the Wunja carries the day with unmistakable flair.
Hyperlite Summit Pack ($195)
For a super-technical skunkworks brand, Hyperlite Mountain Gear is surprisingly earnest. It’s exactly what it says on the tin: Hyperlite Mountain Gear is hyper light. An enthusiast brand in every sense, Maine-based Hyperlite crafts packs of all sizes from thin sheets of Dyneema, a durable composite fiber that’s 15 times stronger than steel by weight. Dyneema composites are typically found in maritime tow cables and VIP vehicle armors. They also do a fine job holding an extra fleece (in case it gets cold).
Hyperlite’s niche is ultralight backpacking, a hardcore sect of the Church in the Wild devoted to hiking long trails with equipment that’s weighed in grams. Because pockets add weight, the typical Hyperlite pack is less of a school bag and more of a cavity with straps. The Summit Pack is no exception. A featherweight 30-liter, what the Summit lacks for internals it makes up in sheer athleticism. There’s webbing belts, some sealed seams, and that’s about it. For fast and light, there’s simply nothing better.
Off mountain, the Summit makes a peak companion to black-on-black techwear fits. Dyneema’s waxy sheen complements matte fabrics something fine, and on this specific pack in white DCH50, the combo of Space Age textile and astronaut straps gives the Summit an absolutely alien look. I loved this pack for rough weather and volume-filling errands. You probably will, too.
A 3M Diamond in the Rough ($150)
Known throughout its own world, yet a mere whisper outside of it. Black Diamond is the Wüsthof of extreme sports: an OG equipment maker with sharpness at its core. While Black Diamond Equipment (acronym: BDE) may be most famous for its crampons and carabiners, the brand’s line of backpacks is every bit as serious – and equally suitable for rapid ascents.
Billed as a trail running pack, the Black Diamond Distance 15 is a lightweight ruck that handles laptops as well as Leadville. A 15-liter capacity may not seem like much, but the Distance packs it in thanks to clever organization. An internal hydration bladder sleeve fits a 13” MacBook. Adjustable webbing locks water bottles tight. Best of all, three low-pro zip pockets (two on the straps; one inside) keep bits and bobs right where you left them. For trail runners, the Distance 15 is a comfortable carryall with room for an ultra’s worth of layers and gels. For errand runners, it’s a super-light backpack with enough space for a day in the rat race. And for those walking to class in a hurry, it’s a way to bring your laptop somewhere without hauling half of your earthly possessions.
Style-wise, we loved the Distance 15 in Alloy for its gleefully technocratic sheen. Contrast logotype runs circuits over a stitchless ripstop exterior, complete with 3M logo hits front, sides, and center. This Space Odyssey shell is joined to an Aliens strap system that keeps the whole package wicked and wily. Total tonnage: less than 400 grams. On this run pack turned daypack, BDE speaks for itself.
Browse some alternatives below.
Our designated Selects section features products that we love and want to share with you. Highsnobiety has affiliate marketing partnerships, which means we may receive a commission from your purchase.