Back to basics
People are in need of backpacks these days – and Canadian labels are catering to them. Here are some chic choices to consider
Here's the situation: I don't travel light any more now that I have a kid. In my 20s, I spent months wandering through South America with an 18-pound bag; the first trip I took after having a baby involved throwing things out of my suitcase at check-in to avoid heavy baggage fees.
Things have settled down as he's grown older, but still – I'm always going to need a daybag big enough for (toy cars, spare pyjamas and three separate snacks, not to mention as many groceries as I can bear, plus wine, always wine). And I'm always going to hate it if a strappy, sporty backpack wrecks my outfit.
Luckily, all sorts of grown-ups are in need of backpacks these days – and all sorts of Canadian labels are catering to them. Not only was I able to find a sizable list of locally designed (and made!) bags, a whole bunch of them met my basic requirements. One must is a zipper closure, since straps and hooks are far too fiddly, and drawstrings will inevitably burst under the pressure of my hoarding. I also want at least one outer pocket, for quick access, and a laptop pocket, to protect my devices from inevitable spillage.
I rounded up a batch of backpacks and took them all for a trial run. Here are the ones I liked best.
Taikan Tomcat, $100
Best for: short people who carry too many things
Launched in Vancouver last fall, this all-bag brand fits a lot of function into its admirably quiet designs. Most bags are made from 1000D Ballistic Nylon (developed for army flak jackets), which seems extremely durable and lends a streetwear feel. Leather zipper tassels add a little flair – some bags come in more fashionable versions made of canvas, with leather bottoms.
Of the many bags on offer, I chose the Tomcat because it's specifically designed for "petite frames" – I'm 5 foot 3 on a tall day, and many backpacks sag down uncomfortably when I attempt to carry them. It has just one subtle outer pocket, plus an inner laptop pocket lined in neoprene, an excellent detail for a bag that needs to protect my computer from me at all times. taikaneverything.com
Woolfell Fugato, $190
Best for: MEC backpack users fed up with all those straps
I can hear my mom now – "$200 for a backpack?!" – but this is a very sleek bag handmade in Montreal. This three-year-old company markets itself to DJs: The listing notes that the inner pocket on this bag holds a Traktor Kontrol audio device, but for my purposes a 15-inch Dell works, too.
The handsome Fugato is slightly inflexible, which is good in that it prevented me from my tendency to throw in just one more thing, but tricky when I needed to slip things into the series of outer pockets (they'd likely relax over time). It has a leather bottom and a flap that folds over the zipper, then closes with a plastic claw. It comes in simple, solid colours, such as faded grey: For more fun, try the Rationale, a standard round-topped backpack that comes in navy blue with a bright orange bottom. woolfell.net
Matt and Nat Dean, $195
Best for: tall people who care about the environment
Also based in Montreal, this vegan brand was started 22 years ago with the goal of recreating traditionally leather goods out of vegan materials that were both sustainable and good-looking. It's beloved by many: My days on the street with this bag included a number of chit-chats over how much certain random strangers love Matt and Nat.
There are a vast array of shapes and sizes available, and somehow I chose the wrong one: The Dean was too big for my frame and hoarding tendencies. Still, its faux leather outer body makes it suitable as an office bag and it's very gender neutral in its styling; I'd recommend it to anyone of a reasonable height. The inner lining is made out of recycled plastic bottles. mattandnat.com
Opelle Kanye, $525
Best for: stylish moms whose kids are less messy than mine
This beautiful bag is less of a backpack and more of a purse designed to be carried on your back. By that, I mean it's luxurious in a swoon-worthy way, but also in a way that made me afraid to carry various foodstuffs and soiled children's clothes in it, lest I destroy it forever.
But if you're tidier than I am (not hard) and in need of a sexy day-to-night bag that leaves your hands free to carry your ungrubby child, this is a flawless choice. The Kanye comes only in black, with a gold or silver zipper, and is handmade in Toronto. It has one outer pocket, plus an inner sleeve big enough to squeeze in a 13-inch laptop. opellecreative.com
WillLand Selection, $148
Best for: springtime sloughing
Based in Scarborough, Ont., this outdoor outfitter is aiming to branch out to the fashion crowd with this series of backpacks handcrafted from ribbed wool. This gives them a rich, grown-up feel in cool weather, and makes them a bit inappropriate as summer approaches – even in pale blue, I'm not carrying wool on my back when the thermostat hits 30 degrees.
That said, the bags are certainly attractive, if less sturdy than some of the others.
There's no outside pocket, but there is a lined inner laptop sleeve, as well as leather detailing. shop.willlandoutdoors.com