Lander Carry System Traveler Pack
MSRP: $200 (or on Kickstarter, $175)
Lander designed their Carry System for both sides of you—the technical and the active. Like me—a working professional slash weekend warrior or midweek active person—that backpack is split in half. The back of the pack is a padded pouch for your computer, iDevices, or perhaps a small camera or Goal Zero solar charger. The front of the pack is a top-loading stuff sack with enough room to stash a weekend's worth of clothes, shoes, and supplies.
On first impression, the Carry System felt intense. It's a big pack, and it doesn't pack down lightly. The "Crash Pad" for tech storage is bulky, and there's no hiding that. Especially for a woman, it's a lot of pack for my frame. But when I started to use the Carry System, my concerns over the bulk diminished against the pack's smart, functional, utilitarian design.
When I go to work, I pack for an entire day, and that usually that means I have my work bag, my gym bag, my lunch bag, a coffee cup in one hand, and a water bottle in the other. Definitely, because my hands are so full, I have spilled coffee on myself more than I care to admit. And that's where the Lander Carry System has saved me. It's one bag for everything to keep my hands free. There's a place for my gym shoes. There's a place for my computer and my notebooks. There's enough room in the gut of the pack for a change of clothes for yoga, my lunch, and plenty of room to spare. It's a top-loader, but it also zips all the way down the side, which gives it easy access to all the things I packed for the day.
I haven't used it for a weekend trip yet, but if you pack light, it could be a great one-bag wonder for two- or three-day jaunts on the road. Being a skier, come winter, this could be a great solution for a pack that I bring in addition to a ski bag on flights. But it doesn't work as a backcountry ski pack. There are straps that could potentially work with a pair of skis as an A-frame mount. But the "Crash Pad" and its added bulk are not what I'd want to be lugging up a mountain with. There are also no hip straps. So, if I'm planning on doing any ski touring, that would mean I'd have to bring two packs. (And probably, I'd leave a pack like this at home, and opt to just use my backcountry ski pack as my carry-on.)
Bottom line: The Lander Carry System is ideal for the active business professional, whose days include dawn patrol bike rides to the office, a few hours of work logged into the computer, and a stop at the climbing gym on the way home.
Rocky Mountain Underground Core Pack
Like the other options in this list, the Core Pack is also a cross-over made for commuting to the office, weekend road trips, or hikes into the mountains. For skiers, however, the Core Pack stands out because it is inherently a backcountry ski pack. It's designed with both diagonal and A-frame ski carry systems, and it has a helmet sling and two pockets—one for your avy gear and one for dry gear.
I love the Core Pack's heavy-duty, durable, and waterproof fabric. An exposed piece of wood on the back panel and hip straps give confidence that this thing will support heavy loads. It feels like it's made to last and to go into the elements or be stuffed on an overhead rack on a train bound for beautiful places. Once you arrive, it's suitable for any kind of activity you desire, and a 270-degree zipper opens it up so you can easily find whatever you packed. Stuff it full of camping gear to go backpacking—full metal buckles and exterior webbing make it easy to attach things that might not fit inside the pack, like a tent or sleeping pad. I like to climb in the off-season, and the Core also moonlights as a climbing pack. There's a sling to throw a climbing rope in, or in the winter, toss your skins in there. And oversized loops are great for mountaineering axes, be it for climbing or boot packing. Pack extra water with holes for hydration tubes in both straps.
For weekday use, there is no designated lap top pocket. And the only pocket for my phone and accessories is a small one. But I did grab an extra laptop sleeve to store my computer that fits easily in the main compartment.
Bottom Line: The RMU Core Pack is for skiers who want to adventure outside year-round.
Patagonia Black Hole Backpack 32L
Patagonia's Black Hole Backpack is the most straightforward, versatile, and lightweight of the three packs here. It's not specific in its use—like the Lander is for the active professional or the RMU pack is for the year-round mountain person. Rather, the Black Hole is the versatile, do-it-all backpack that everybody needs and anyone could use.
The material is polyester ripstop with waterproof laminate and DWR finish. It only weighs 850 grams (or just under two pounds). It has a zipper that can either work as a top-loading pack or a side zip, so you can open it up and find what you buried at the bottom of the pack easily. A folding lid with compression straps means it packs down as small or as big as you need on any given day. A padded sleeve is big enough to hold a 15-inch laptop, or a water pouch. A front pocket is where I keep my pens, granola bars, head lamps, wallet, keys, and iPhone.
So far, I've used the black hole as a carry-on for weekend trips, as a day pack for summer hikes, or as my daily pack for work commuting.
Bottom Line: It's a weather resistant backpack that feels durable and is versatile for whatever you want it to be. It's also Blue Sign approved, which means it is made with an environmental ethos. BUY IT NOW.