Finding the perfect EDC/hiking/travel bag

(This was originally posted on jasna.me, so it appears before my inaugural hello, world! post.)

As I mentioned in my retrospective, I’ve been quite obsessed with travel accessories, bags, and ironically, anti-consumerism and minimalism. (I thought the latter two were synonymous, but in practice, they are often not. I’ll write about my thoughts on this sometime.) I have watched way too many Youtube videos and read way too many comparison articles on the best bags for this and that since before my recent trip to Seattle and Vancouver. I bought two new bags (a backpack and a roller bag) for that trip, and while they held up fine, I ended up returning them. Since then, I’ve been on this shamefully consumer-driven journey on finding the one perfect bag (minimalism, haha!) that can function as my EDC, my personal item on a plane, and also my hiking bag.

(I have already found 2 contending roller bags. I’ll write about them sometime.)

In the past few weeks, I have gone through 12 bags:

  1. Osprey Radial 34L (2017 ed.)
    • $128.37; down to $79 Osprey close-out
  2. Osprey Radial 26L (2017 ed.)
    • my size (S/M) is actually 24L so I’ll list it as such from now own
    • $103.99; down to $84 Osprey close-out
  3. Osprey Radial (2019 ed.),
    • expands from 26L to 34L$180
  4. Osprey Metron 26L (2019 ed.)
    • $160
  5. Osprey Questa 26L (2019 ed.)
    • $89.99
  6. Osprey Talia 30L
    • $111
  7. Osprey Momentum 32L – coming in a couple days
    • $103.99 – $50 gift card = $53.99; down to $79 Osprey close-out
  8. The North Face Surge (Luxe Ed.)
    • $125 – 15% discount = $106.25
  9. The North Face Recon
    • $99 – 15% discount = $84.15
  10. Arc’teryx Mantis 26L – coming soon
    • $149.0
  11. Deuter Trans Alpine Pro 26L – coming soon
    • $180 – 20% discount = $156.99
  12. Deuter Trans Alpine 28L
    • $130

All of the above are either “unisex” or women’s fit.

What I was looking for

Throughout this journey, I learned about what I valued and looked for in the perfect bag, in descending order of importance:

  1. high-quality material
  2. between 25L and 30L
  3. comfortable for long walks in the city or trail
    1. load-bearing waist belt
    2. load-bearing sternum strap
    3. comfortable shoulder straps
    4. comfortable back panel
  4. lightweight, though not compromising all other things
    1. ideally, no more than 2.5 pounds. but the lighter, the better.
  5. in line with 2 and 4: not too bulky
    1. would like to use this bag daily in crowded metro trains without being an ass
    2. would also like to use as a personal item on international flights
  6. simplicity in # of main compartments: no more than one
    1. I don’t want a more typical fancy school backpack that has 3 or four smaller vertical compartments, one for laptop, one for books, one for other shit, etc. Instead, I want…
    2. A large main compartment for helmet and whatever else.
    3. A secondary compartment just wide enough for a 15in. laptop that raises the laptop for safety. Maybe even a slim book too.
    4. A tertiary compartment for smaller things I need quick access to, e.g., pen, wallet, phone
    5. A small pouch to safely store my sunglasses that’s easy to access
    6. An easy way to access a rain jacket and rain cover (or have bag be waterproof for latter) from the front: a “shove-it” pocket or shoe compartment are perfect
  7. useful side pockets
    1. at least one must be able to hold a water bottle/umbrella upright without trouble
      • many bags have shitty side pockets in which bottles/umbrellas fall out or don’t fit at all
    2. the other must be able to comfortably hold a few knickknacks (keys, ID, earphones) securely and be easily accessible. normally if both are #1, then both are #2 for me.
  8. SOME way to harness my helmet from the outside without it swinging around in case I need more room inside
    1. I do not like Osprey’s Lidlock. It is just too stiff and a pain to use. It also seems to be placed in inconsistent heights across its bags.
    2. usually if there are compression straps or daisy chains, on the outside, I can find a way to do this without a lidlock. I prefer this.
    3. the lazy person’s way is to just strap the helmet onto the bag’s top handle, but that has the helmet annoyingly swinging around.
  9. not ugly. see the Osprey Momentum 32.
  10. blinker light attachment
  11. bonus points
    1. NOT The North Face
      1. only because, at my college, EVERYONE had TNF products, and I vowed to never join that bandwagon because it pissed me off for some reason. maybe just that so many people were obviously unoriginal in this way.
    2. NOT black but still cool-looking
      1. everyone loves black, including me. but it’s kinda overdone and I want my bag to be easily identifiable but still not sickly-looking.
    3. fatter waist belt for better load-bearing. seems to be rare in EDC bags; basically essential in hiking bags.
    4. NOT expensive! but the prices above are all in the range I’d be willing to pay, so not a big issue. (in fact, it is the last issue listed!)

Lessons learned

I thought I was down to the wire with the Osprey Questa and the Osprey Momentum. However, the Questa’s bungee cord system was just a no-go, and the Momentum’s “unisex”/MEN’S fit was just too unwieldy (plus, it’s ugly). Finally, I just couldn’t deal with Osprey’s lidlock system.

I think I would’ve settled with The North Face Recon (perhaps more of a true “unisex”), but it’s just not as comfortable as Osprey. It’s stiff (and the Surge even stiffer). The Recon is quite good in most other ways, though.

Almost getting tricked by the Osprey Radial 24L (2017)

This bag was in my second batch of bags I was comparing, and I got woo’d into the fancy kickstand. I also thought it was comfortable around me. I found it for about $20 less on Osprey and ordered it, returning the Amazon one. But then I realized the next day that my shoulders were hurting a lot. Not positive it was the bag but it seems to be the culprit. I also had reservations about it because it was one of the heavier bags for all its bells and whistles, and I didn’t like that it had essentially 3 main (smaller) compartments instead of 1 (big one, with 2 smaller ones). Finally, it was much less bulky than its 34L relative, but still bulkier than all of the other bags.

And then its successor, the Osprey Radial (2019)

The new Radial is definitely better for me than the old models. This one only has one main compartment. The flexibility in expanding from 26L to 34L is great. The fancy back panel seemed to work a lot better for me in the REI store than the old models’. It is a stretchier mesh material. It is adjustable, making this model a one-size-only one.

A small gripe about the older models is the sunglasses pouch is between the main compartments on the top; I think (?) I prefer it in the front so my stuff doesn’t crush it in between. The new model moved the pouch to the front!

Another small difference is the new model does not have the cheap but fun and useful retractable key chain thing in one of its side pockets. This doesn’t really matter to me; I guess it helped trim the weight, because…

A major con to this bag is it is even heavier than the old models at 3.31 pounds, making it by far the heaviest bag in the list. Granted, it is supposed to have the most superior back panel / load-bearing support.

Let’s not get too needlessly fancy

But I reasoned late in my assessment that, to be completely honest,

  • I am not biking THAT far every day–at most, 5 miles; normally, 2 miles. I don’t need a heavy-duty bike commuting bag.
  • I am not hiking THAT far when I do–normally, I’m pretty spent at 5-6 hours of hiking. I’m not really into overnight/multi-day hiking anymore, so I don’t need such a hi-tech back panel for this. (Anyway, I already have a bag for that.)
  • One thing I am succeeding at in minimalism is minimalist packing, and I don’t need THAT much space, really.
    • With my Questa 26L (and accompanying roller bag), I still have probably 10+L of space after trial packing for a 10-day trip.
    • For EDC it is about the same, with helmet clipped on the outside, that is. (Stuffed inside, it works, though a little tight.)
  • I HAVE LIVED WITHOUT A KICKSTAND ALL THIS TIME!

The other minor point about the new Radial is it is WHEW! $180! That is literally double the price of the Questa and more than double the Momentum.

So, once the new Radial and the old Radial arrive, I’ll be promptly returning them. (Again, I feel very ecologically irresponsible about my carbon footprint in all this…)

Problems with the other bags

I’ll sort these in order from best to worst.

  1. Osprey Questa 26L
    • +++ most comfortable bag
    • + nice design
    • + not too fancy: 1 main compartment
    • + nice water bottle pockets
    • — don’t like bungee cord system. One time my rain cover bag fell out of it.
    • ++ it’s really light: 1.62lbs
  2. The North Face Recon
    • + more comfortable than the Surge
    • – not the most comfortable though 🙂 Questa wins
    • – laptop compartment less bulky than Surge but still too bulky
    • ++ thick, wide waist belt!
    • +++ shove-it pocket!!!
    • – a little heavy (2.7 lb) but not as bad as the Surge
    • – TNF
  3. The North Face Surge Luxe
    • ——– VERY uncomfortable. straps were rigid. no air ventilation.
    • ——– 3.1 pounds?!
    • – the random fleece-like material inside. clearly contributed to the weight, and while it was luxuriously comfy to my hands, I was worried about dirt, etc. in the long term.
    • – laptop compartment was too bulky
    • +++ the colors
    • + big main compartment
    • ++ thick, wide waist belt!
    • +++ 2 big front pockets for rain gear!
    • – TNF
  4. Osprey Momentum 32– “Unisex”, so big and bulky for men
    • ++ still comfortable
    • — pretty ugly
    • +++ shoe compartment for rain jacket
    • + built-in rain cover
    • — realized I just don’t like Osprey’s lidlock system
  5. Osprey Metron 26L
    • + not too fancy like the Radial
    • + lidlock
    • ++ thick, wide waist belt
    • ———- more designed like the Farpoint/Porter stuff, i.e., dedicated travel bags. Has those large compression belt things in the front.
      • Not sure if I would use those as areas for my rain gear. Seems weird and not secure enough.
    • ? unsure about comfort. Was too turned off by design to spend more time with it.
  6. Osprey Talia
    • ——– too many main compartments
    • —– too bulky
      1. large
      1. has kickstand
      2. has fancy back panel
    • +++ two large front pockets for my rain gear

The final (?!) round of bags

This includes the Deuter Trans Alpine 28L, the Deuter Trans Alpine Pro 26L, and the Arc’teryx. Mantis 26L.

Deuter Trans Alpine 28L

I just received this today. I LOVE it. It has everything I want except a laptop compartment, but this is not a deal-breaker because I already have a laptop case. Bonus: it has waist pockets that fit my metro and work IDs and my headphones. Not my phone, but there is still an easily-reachable and secure side pocket for that. I love the dedicated helmet pouch. It is high on the pack, which I discovered I greatly prefer over bottom or middle. I LOVE the collapsible bottom pouch. You can unzip the divider between it and the main compartment so your main compartment can have more room. You can stuff the bottom pouch since the divider is stretchy, so I can not only fit my rain jacket but also my comfy hoodie for easy access. Built-in rain fly is separate. Holy smokes. This bag is just right!

Minor setback: the compression straps get in the way of unzipping the main compartment, but at the same time they work really well for what they’re there to do: compress.

Deuter Trans Alpine Pro 26L

Have not received yet. Clearly contending directly with its non-pro version. On the screen, it looks prettier than the non-pro, and I think the materials are supposed to be nicer. But we’ll see who wins. Obviously a let-down is the 2 fewer liters, but with the amazingly easy-to-use and well-positioned helmet pouch on this model and its non-pro sister, I still have plenty of free space for my daily commute. I may not need those 2L if all other “pro” features are worth it.

Update: see comparison between the Pro 26L and the 28L.

Arc’teryx Mantis 26L

Have not received yet.

I don’t know what to expect with this one now that I’m just blown away by the Deuter. I can imagine myself keeping it if it is somewhat packable and I want a simpler bag to use without the bells and whistles of the Deuter’s waist pockets, back panel, and helmet pouch. But if I want to be more minimalist, I should return it if it doesn’t beat the Deuter. We’ll see…

Update: yup, I really don’t need this bag! But I like it… Partly because of the brand, partly because of the great reviews on its durability, partly for its looks, partly for its simplicity and still nice, deep side pockets. Will I keep it?

Author: jasna

Lover of learning, video games, books, sci-fi, hugs, travel, friends, and family. Codes in Scala most of the day. Less famously known as a warrior of Themyscira.

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