One can’t have too many bags. Every day carries are on my person, but what about my kukri machete, water filtration system, and topographic maps? If only there were one bag to rule them all.
Since that’s not the case, I’ve narrowed it down to five essential bags. They have endured my life as a wilderness guide, photographer, and ultra-endurance athlete.
Fjallraven Rucksack no. 21
A legendary company known for their elegant design, rugged materials, and proven functionality, Fjallraven immediately became one of my favorite brands. Everything is tough as nails, cool as Sammy Davis, and ready to take from the trails to the train. Also, Fjallraven is an eco-conscious company that’s committed to sustainable practices.
When I picked up Fjallraven’s Rucksack no. 21 I was looking for an everyday bag. I required enough storage for my basic survival kit, some food, water, a book, my laptop, and a hoodie. This bag delivered with room to spare.
A top load bag with a hood, the Fjallraven Rucksack no. 21 makes for easy packing on the go. It has one large main compartment and two side pockets for quick access. There’s a zippered pouch in the main area for valuables and with their renowned G-1000 material and durable leather, it looks better with age.
This is the perfect combination of timeless design, simple functionality, and sustainable materials. If you’re looking for an heirloom backpack, this is the one.
Cotopaxi Allpa 35L
Meet the Swiss Army Knife of bags. It is the go everywhere, do everything, plane to base-camp backpack you never knew you needed in life. Touted by Cotopaxi as the world’s greatest travel bag, the Allpa 35L fits everything you need for your next trip. It’s also very durable – you won’t have to worry about finding a tailor on your backpacking trip in the Himalayas.
A certified B Corporation, Cotopaxi donates 1% of profits to those in need. You can feel good about supporting a brand whose creed is “Do Good.”
This bag is built like a backpack, but it acts like luggage. The clamshell design gives you two distinct storage areas. Unzip down the side and it opens like a book. Both sides open via zippered netting and unveil your main storage areas. You can fit all your clothes, a pair of shoes, cosmetics bag, and snacks.
The back panel has two zippered slit pockets. One opens up to the main compartment for easy access to your gear. The other hides your laptop and paperwork in a padded compartment. Stand it up and you find a big pocket at the top of the bag. In mine you’ll find my Beats by Dre, a snack, a book, and anything else I want to be able to grab on the go in that spot. There is also a hidden passport pocket, theft-proof zippers, and a waterproof front panel.
This pack is for weekend warriors, city dwellers, wanderers and world-walkers who need one bag they can use for everything.
Cotopaxi Batac 16L
Small but mighty, the Batac 16L is the little cousin to the Allpa. This colorful pack can pack down to nothing and go anywhere without notice. Sometimes you need a bag to pull out of your back pocket, toss in a Nalgene, snacks, shades, and adventure away. This is that bag.
It’s designed to be ultra-lightweight with water-resistant material that comes in a bunch of cool colors. Put down your expedition pack and pull it out for a day hike. Toss aside your suitcase and take it with you to the festival. Pull up at the beach and rock this down to the waves. When all you need to carry is the essentials, the Cotopaxi Batac fits the bill. Weighing in at next-to-nothing and packing down to a baseball, you won’t even remember you brought it along.
For a take everywhere bag, the Batac is my pack of choice.
Gregory Denali Pro 110L
The next two bags are the workhorses. First, my full-size expedition backpack, the Gregory Denali Pro. I’ve put this thing through its paces from the Albanian Alps to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I’ve even humped 90-pound loads on 20-day expeditions with this monster.
At 110 liters, the Denali Pro has one of the largest carrying capacities of any backpack. When backpacking, the majority of the weight rests on your hips and lumbar. The Denali Pro has the most comfortable padding and suspension system I have ever used. It is a top load pack with a hood cover that easily converts to a handy day-bag. The waterproof bottom provides protection against crampons and rough terrain. Axe-loops and trekking pole straps round out the design. With the Denali Pro, Gregory delivers a world-class bag you could live out of forever.
Whether hiking the Appalachian Trail or backpacking in South America, this pack has got your back. When I need to know I am good to go, I pick up my Denali Pro.
(Editor’s Note: Gregory no longer makes the Denali Pro 110L, but the Denali 100 is a strong alternative.)
Wild Things Mule Duffel 144L
A reviewer on the Wild Things Gear website said he got the bag after his Everest Sherpa told him it was the only bag he trusts up there – the decades-old bag had logged countless Everest summits and it was still ticking.
Wild Things Gear has been producing for the military and mountaineers since 1981. They make everything from down jackets for the Marines to backpacks for international mountain guides.
When Special Forces need a rugged bag that swallows gear, they grab their Mule Duffel. It’s water resistant, with handles built like seatbelts and burly zippers. You’ll find it strapped to mules heading up Kilimanjaro, on missions with S.W.A.T. and Spec Ops, and with me in the trunk of our rig. Coordinates and conditions don’t matter to this beast of a bag. When you need it, it shows up.
One huge compartment and a large side zipper pocket. That’s it. You don’t need more things that can bust on you when you’re in the field. If you’re looking for a duffel that will likely outlive and outperform you, head to Wild Things Gear and get it now. Your grandchildren will thank you someday.