This Is the Best Backpack for When You Only Need a Backpack but Don’t Want to Look Like a Backpacker

PHOTO: Knack

Because even the most functional of travel gear should be stylish.

The Tester: Rachael Levitt, Managing Editor, Fodors.com

The Bag: Medium Expandable Knack Pack, $165

The Trip: A quick, rainy weekend to San Francisco

Knack

The Bag

The competition for overhead bin space is something that stresses me out every time I fly. Regular people turn into elbow-throwing monsters in a quest to stash their roller bag into allowed stowage space and avoid ridiculous check luggage fees. And as a traveler with an aversion to checking luggage in the first place, I prefer to fly with only my carry-on.

I don’t want my luggage to scream, “I’M STAYING AT A HOSTEL IN AMSTERDAM!”

But here’s my traveler conundrum: For short trips, a roller bag feels like overkill. But schlepping through an airport with any sort of heavier shoulder bag from large purse to computer bag to briefcase to weekender case can cause serious damage to my weak, elderly body. And yet, I’m inclined to injure myself for the sake of fashion, henny. Because quite frankly, I’ve been unable to find a suitable two-shoulder-strapped knapsack that a) Doesn’t look like I’m headed to Algebra 2 and b) Doesn’t look like I’m mountaineering up Kilimanjaro. Is there no vaguely professional option that I could wear to work or with block heels?

Enter: the Knack Pack. First of all, it’s so non-aggressively schoolbaggy I could take it in the office, yet so practical I could wear it on a bicycle ride. In four neutral-heathered tones and with plenty of options to hide the zipper-hardwear, the Knack Pack cleans up for any event. There’s a separate 15-inch computer pocket on the back side which makes for comfortable wear and easy access to my giant MacBook.

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 Knack

Travelers know that organization of your luggage is key, whether that’s via packing cubes or pockets. And the Knack Pack loves its pockets. Some are brilliant—there’s what I call the “flip-flop” pocket along the bottom, as well as the deep front pouch with side pockets for smaller items. The main compartment is expandable/collapsible and opens clam-style for a more traditional suitcase feel. On the front are a small top pocket about the size of a large glasses case/computer charger and a triangular flat pocket that seems to be intended to hold documents and credit cards. It offers hidden zippers to “lock” it from would-be thieves, but the notion sets off alarm bells in my traveler’s guard-these-essentials-with-your-life paranoia. The best hidden pocket is the side one that holds your water bottle, ensuring the bag’s clean lines stay sleek.

What I Packed

This is exactly the type of trip I want to be low-maintenance as possible for: a Friday night flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco with a return late Sunday afternoon. I’m going in exclusively for a buddy’s birthday and staying with friends, so there will be no other handling of my bag outside of me. Though it’s a short stay, it’s a festive one, and on top of that, it’s rainy and cold. I need my cold-weather party outfit, pajamas, leggings and a sweater, wool socks, and undergarments. I’ll wear my coat and boots. Toiletries, makeup, and accessories are at a minimum, but I have to do some work on Saturday morning, so my laptop and its attachments are coming with me, not to mention my phone and charger, a book, and a wrapped present (special edition cinephile apparel) for the birthday boy.

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Extra Credit

Everything about the “back” in this pack is a bonus. It’s incredible how many of these stylish bags don’t seem to factor in how you’ll be carrying the bag. Both the shoulder straps and the actual padding on your spine make the literal weight on your shoulders bearable for extended periods of time (I’m looking at you, TSA lines). A big bonus for the overpackers. Another important feature that makes airport/plane travel better? An option to grab this bag by its sturdy grip handle at the top. I’m not always swinging this back on, and lugging this around with one hand is a nice option for switching it up.

The Catch

What I assume should store most of your stuff—the secondary clam-shell-style main compartment—is slightly inconvenient. For one, the compression straps are ill-fitted and don’t really hold rolled clothing in place. You’ll have to forgo your learned packing strategies and lay clothes out flat to best keep them in place, and even then, they can slip out of place fairly easily. It’s not a dealbreaker—retraining yourself on how to open this particular bag and getting into different packing habits can save you the trouble of messing up your neatly organized apparel, but it’s definitely annoying the first few times you open your main compartment and everything seems to fall out.

The Verdict

Knack

My priorities are dubious—I clearly value style over function when it comes to travel packs, but that’s because there are so many unfashionable sacks on backs out there. I don’t want my luggage to scream “I’M STAYING AT A HOSTEL IN AMSTERDAM,” and almost as importantly, I don’t want back problems as a result of lugging everything around. The Knack Pack provides me with the superficial superiority I crave but not at the expense of my aged body, and probably most importantly, more than fits in all the stuff I’d need for a sack-styled vacay.