Below, I outline some of the main criteria I look for in an every day carry bag. Some of these may not be important to you, and you may have other factors that are more critical. You know your life, routine and needs better than anyone else does, so keep that in mind as you read through my thoughts.
One thing that will be important for many of us - a low profile appearance. If you work at a gun shop or in the military, probably not such a big deal, but many of us need a bag that can do what we need it to without raising any eyebrows or unwanted attention.
Case in point: I currently work in an corporate high rise office building, suits n' ties and reasonably high security. When I started the job, I was a bit concerned that I would need to switch from my current bag, the excellent, relatively low-key Camebal Urban Assault backpack that you've seen several times in older posts, to something even more low-key, like a laptop shoulder bag.
|My EDC bag for the past several years - the Camelbak Urban Assault|
Two people stood out with what they were carrying--I've noticed one guy carrying a coyote brown sling bag of some kind (Maxpedition knock-off, I think), and one lady in her 40s carrying a nice khaki Oakley bag (the tan version of the Icon 3.0 bag Denzel carried in the Book of Eli - an odd choice for a 40 year old woman). Both stood out from the "herd" of office workers--it's been literally months now, and I can still remember them, though I've only ever seen Oakley bag lady once, and Maxpedition knock-off guy twice.
So, boring, mundane and common colors are going to be best at flying under the radar. My black Urban Assault does a decent enough job blending in--I have had zero questions or eyebrows raised. A dark grey bag would do similar, and greys have superior urban camo performance to blacks. A mix of grey and black would be excellent as well.
I also trimmed the velcro name-tag area from my pack after I initially purchased it. I've got no use for it, and it differentiated my pack from everyone else's. So off it went.
Now there's nothing too concerning about what I carry--but it's generally wise maintain a low profile, at least during your daily routine. Being picked out of a crowd as the tactical, prepared, ex-military, concealed carrying, survivalist or whatever is not usually in your interest. I'm particularly sensitive to this issue, due to my work environment. May be a non-issue for many of you, but it's something to at least think about.
Backpack vs. Shoulder Bag?
I prefer a backpack, because you're able to carry more for longer periods of time. Shoulder bags are great because you can access the contents easily and wear the bag while seated, but for carrying more than a few pounds of weight, and if you have to move quickly with that weight, they tend to be not so good. I did the shoulder bag thing for a long while - probably six or seven years - before finally going back to a backpack.
A shoulder bag may work for you, but I'd really take a look at whether a backpack will do the job better.
Comfortable shoulder straps are a no-brainer; I know their are some "sling" style backpacks out there, but I'd tend to lump those in with shoulder bags. Throw a bit of weight in, do some moving in 'em, and the convenience of that single strap starts to become a liability.
I also like a tuck away, load bearing waist belt and the ability to carry 30 or so pounds without too much trouble. Not that you need 30 pounds of gear on a daily basis, but having the ability to do so is a good thing. My bag current bag, a Camelbak Urban Assault, lacks a waistbelt, and despite pretty good shoulder straps, it starts feeling heavy and unwieldy at around 20-ish pounds. I'm sure I've had it loaded with 30+ pounds at some point or another, but it's not something I'd want to do for a long walk.
Capacity wise, I look for around 2000 cubic inches, give or take, gives you enough capacity to expand for some travel or extra gear if needed, without becoming too big for daily use. The Urban Assault is just under an advertised 2100 cubic inches in capacity. I've found that, in addition to the daily contents, there's plenty of capacity in my bag to add a full change of clothes, a small sleeping bag and some other items if needs be--I've done plenty of over nighters with just this bag.
The 2000-ish cubic inches size category of pack is often referred to as the "3-day assault" size by military pack makers, and you'll see many companies offering packs with that label. The idea being that this is the size of pack a soldier would carry to support them for 3 days - not camping gear and three changes of spare clothing, but water, some food, spare ammunition, communications equipment, etc. Essentials.
I also demand some level of internal organization, in order to help compartmentalize the pack contents and keep things from becoming a rat's nest of gear. You're going to use this bag every day, and you'll be thankful if the little things that you use have a "place" to go inside the bag and can be accessed relatively quickly. The Urban Assault has really excellent and useful organization, the best of any bag that I've used.
Your daily use pack should be durable and able to stand up to regular use of the kind you're going to put it through. I would tend to stay away from ultralight pack materials, as they will tend to wear out, rip and tear before sturdier materials will. I don't think you need to go with the toughest materials possible - 1000D Cordura, used in Maxpedition bags and many military style packs - is often overkill for daily civilian use. Medium weight materials are often fine. Some level of water proofing is also good to look for, too.
Demand quality zippers - YKK are typically the best.
I've used the Urban Assault on a daily basis for the past 2.5 years, and it's held up perfectly. There's been no wear damage, no failures, and it still looks just about like new.
A final requirement that I look for - some kind of external compression/attachment straps for securing excess gear. Sides and bottom are ideal, but I will take what I can get.
So, here's a quick check list if you're in the market:
- Low-profile appearance that blends in with your daily routine
- Backpack (unless mission criteria dictate otherwise)
- Good shoulder straps, waist belt and load carrying features...needs to be comfortable with weight
- 2000 cubic inches/3 day assault size, plus or minus depending on your needs
- Internal organization
- Durable and made from quality materials
- External compression/attachment points or overflow capability for securing additional gear
I would not be afraid to drop some coin on a solid bag - but you also probably don't need a $500 bag for every day use. Buy something that meets your needs and fits your budget.
Interested to hear the tribe's thoughts on bag selection - what's your go-to daily bag and why? Any other criteria you consider a must have?
Next entry in the series - every day bag contents!