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Q:

What’s the best multi-purpose backpack?

I’m searching for a great multi-purpose backpack for graduate school. I'd like to use it while biking to carry my laptop, books, and some dog accessories. In addition, I'd love to be able to throw a bladder in there along with some hiking gear. Any suggestions for me as to what route to go for a super sweet new pack?
—Liz
Denver, CO

Novara Commuter Backpack     Photo: courtesy, REI

Novara Commuter Backpack

A:I dunno, Liz. I guess they haven’t yet taught you the art of compromise in grad school. You know, where you give up one thing to gain another.

Same for packs. You want a book pack. And a hiking pack. And a hydration pack. But a book pack is kind of a casual fashion thing. A daypack for hiking is something else. And a hydration pack is a third thing. And kind of a useless thing, really. I mean, I occasionally use a hydration bladder on a bike. But otherwise: really? A water bottle doesn’t work?? I can’t get my head around that.

Anyway. Your first pick ought to be REI’s Novara Commuter Backpack ($70). It’s ideally suited for your biking world, and an easily hold a laptop, books, and doggie things. It’s designed to carry well on a bike. And it will be OK on a trail. Not a ton of room inside it—only 1,500 cubic inches—but it’ll hold clothes, a snack, and water. And it will adapt for a water bladder if that is what you really want.

On the more backpack-y side of things, there is the Osprey Stratos 24 ($99). Same size as the REI pack, but a little less streamlined as it’s mean to be carried while walking. But you can use it on a bike. It’ll take a hydration bladder, it carries great, and its design gives you easy access to the stuff you need.

Lastly, Gregory’s Z35 ($139) goes all the way in the backpack direction. Bigger than either the REI or Osprey packs (2,500 cubic inches), it is a bit of a lump to carry as a bike pack. But it will do on a bike, and otherwise it’s an excellent all-around daypack.

So there you go. One of these ought to see you through grad school—and years beyond.

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