The search for the perfect packable day bag

Tue Nov 13, 2018 · 5 min read

travelgear review

I had some pretty specific requirements for a packable day pack when I started looking. It had to be able to carry my 13" laptop, be water resistant in the rain, be lightweight, and take up very little space when stowed in my one carry-on bag. At the same time, I wanted a bag that wouldn’t stand out in any situation - blending in with sporty or casual wear, while also not being a detriment to a business casual meeting.

That’s a long list, and my experiments thus far have included a lot of trial and error. As a result, I’ve discovered more about what’s important to me in a laptop carry day bag. Here’s a little tour through my day bag progression, and how I ended up with my current choice, the Timbuk2 Rapid Pack.

Bag 1: close but too casual

I first tried out the REI Flash 22. It’s a water resistant top-loader that’s very lightweight and definitely packs down flat. The inner hydration sleeve was enough to hold a 13" laptop, albeit without much structure.

The unpacked Flash 22

Unfortunately, there was no getting away from the sporty look of this pack. Unless it was full, its lack of structure caused a caved-in, floppy look, especially with anything in the lid pocket.

Bag 2: twice as nice for twice the bulk

My second day pack was the Tate bag, made by Hellolulu. It’s definitely a business-appropriate bag, and I really enjoyed the organization and contrast interior. Its padded shoulder straps also took off some of the strain of carrying my stuff all day.

Photos of the Tate

It mostly packed flat, but that great organization, padded straps and laptop sleeve added quite a bit of bulk and some weight. Eventually I gave it away and went in search of something smaller and lighter.

Bag 3: not much wiggle room

Enter the MEC Blitz Crag. This pack came pretty close. At 12L with a padded hydration pocket that was just large enough to fit my Dell XPS 9360, it was just large enough for my needs. The sleek all-black exterior and padded shoulder straps also helped check some boxes. I brought this bag everywhere - from nice restaurants in Hong Kong, to Mount Fuji in Japan.

My Blitz Crag and Minaal at the airport

It sort of could pack flat, but not enough to fit comfortably in my Minaal Carry-on. Ultimately, its small size was the dealbreaker. When I needed to upgrade my laptop, I knew a 14" model wouldn’t fit.

Finally… the Timbuk2 Rapid Pack

Since it’s designed for cyclists, I find the Timbuk2 Rapid Pack does a great job of being roomy while also staying out of the way. Its slim profile is well suited to a petite figure, or to just not holding you back when you’re slipping through a crowd. It was my only bag on a side trip to Montreal and performed fantastically.

A flat lay of my pack for a trip to Montreal

The Timbuk2 Rapid Pack is constructed from mini-ripstop Cordura and is similarly lightweight to most sporty-looking packs, but manages this without looking like a hiking bag. It comes with a removable magnetic sternum strap that I leave off unless I’m going on a hike, helping to further streamline its look. I think the pack’s overall sleek lines, especially in all black, elevate it to the level of a stylish city bag. It certainly doesn’t stand out, in a good way.

Flat lay of the bag

The internal sleeve easily keeps my 14" laptop in place against my back, and the padded mesh back of the bag makes it comfortable to carry all day. While the shoulder straps aren’t padded, they are wide, which helps to distribute weight for a more comfortable carry. The bag itself is very light, and weighs only 380 grams.

The pack’s straps

I especially like the two mesh pockets on the outside of the bag. They’re conveniently available to stow a travel mug or umbrella, and lay unobtrusively flat when not in use. I can just reach back enough with the pack still on to retrieve a bottle from either pocket. YMMV. (Time for yoga classes?)

The side pocket

It packs very flat, straps and all. In fact, I slip it into the laptop compartment of my Minaal Carry-on 2.0 when I’m in transit, next to my ThinkPad Compact Bluetooth Keyboard with TrackPoint, Roost Stand, and laptop, a Lenovo X1 Carbon. It’s very convenient to have such a flat day bag. That way, I have my daily work set up stored together in the same section of the Carry-on, and I’m able to take out what I need and set off immediately without even getting into the main compartment of the Minaal.

Flatted pack

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the Timbuk2 Rapid Pack. I’ve been using it every day now for almost a year (!), and it’s performed beautifully.

End game?

If you know anything about me, I’m constantly experimenting with how things could be improved. When it comes to the Timbuk2 Rapid Pack, there are just a couple things that I would change.

First, since I use it as a daily laptop carrier, my ideal laptop pocket would have just a slight bit of padding, and be accessible without opening the main compartment of the bag. Something to the effect of a neoprene layer, just to take the brunt of any knocks, would be ideal.

Second, I wish there was a convenient side pocket that I could access without having to remove the pack, or just by swinging it around to the front on one shoulder. A zippered pocket just large enough for my phone and wallet would make a perfect addition to an already great pack.

Recently, I’ve also been interested in elevating the way I dress in general (I think I’m getting old) and I’m eyeing an upgrade. I’m considering bags like Bellroy’s Slim Backpack and the convertible Peak Design Everyday Tote Bag.

What’s my end game day pack? I’m not really sure there is such a thing for people like me! I’m always experimenting with something, and every day’s a new day.