Backpacks - Blending In and Being Light

A very important part of moving smoothly in a city is having the ability to carry what you need, while remaining nimble and comfortable. Yes, in this case, backpacks. I will focus solely on backpacks. I will not talk about messenger bags, folios or other things used to carry your daily stuff, simply because they are - in my opinion - ineffective.

If you have to carry things with you while you travel to a city, and you can’t carry those things on your person, a backpack is the best choice. It keeps both your hands free, the weight is distributed evenly between both shoulders and back, providing more comfort, and allows for natural and fluid movement.

However, not all backpacks are created equal. What do you need to look for in a backpack for a better urban commute? Let’s see.

A backpack, in my opinion, should have the following features:

  • Remain low key (as in muted colors and shape)
  • Have a low volume (as in capacity - liters/oz)
  • Have a smooth or slick exterior
  • Have no unnecessary external pockets or straps
  • Made out of weather and dirt resistant fabrics
  • Have comfortable straps

© Arc'teryx

Low Volume

The bigger the backpack is, the more you will be tempted to fill it up with unnecessary stuff, and the more it will protrude out of your person. This will slow you down and get you noticed. However, my main concern here is easy of movement. The bigger the backpack, the harder it is to move easily in a crowded urban environment. If you wear a big backpack, it will be harder to fit in a crowded train or subway, it will be harder to find room to place the backpack on smaller office spaces, and it will be harder to move without hitting things or people on crowded cities and smaller spaces.

There is a reason special operation soldiers around the world keep their packs as small as possible when they are going to fight in urban environments. A slimmer profile backpack allows for much greater freedom of movement, and lower key footprint, providing two of the key elements of the Urban Commuter Philosophy: Be Light, and Blend In.

If you are worried about how to fit all the stuff you need to carry with you, we’ll talk about that in another post, but let me say this, you need less than what you think you need.

Smooth Or Slick Exterior And No Unnecessary External Pockets Or Straps

The more stuff you have protruding from the outside of your backpack, the bigger the chances they will get caught on things. The more stuff you carry on the outside of your backpack, the bigger the chances they will fall out. Simple as that.

When looking for a backpack, try to get one that has a very smooth exterior. Maybe a small zippered pocket outside, at the most, and that’s it. If you sometimes need to carry things outside, then maybe search for a backpack that allows for the temporary attachment of pouches that can be removed when not needed anymore.

Another plus of a slick exterior is easy cleaning. A backpack with a smooth face can be cleaned and maintained easier.

Weather And Dirt Resistant Fabrics

A key feature to good a backpack. In the cities you have to have fabrics that are water resistant, dirt and oil resistant, and generally speaking, fabrics that can take an abuse from any weather. This in turn will help keep your stuff clean and dry inside your backpack.

Comfortable Straps

The last feature, but by no means less important, is the straps. You want a backpack that can sit comfortably on your back for hours, even if sometimes you have to carry a lot of weight. Commuting to, walking and just moving in an urban environment means having to negotiate a lot of stuff, over long periods of time, so having a comfortable backpack is a must.


Simple does it. That's the general rule. The simpler the pack, the better it is. The lower key the backpack is, the better the chances you will blend it and not be noticed. Stay safe.

Some of my Backpacks

I do admit I have a problem with backpacks. I'm always looking for the "ultimate" and "most amazing" backpack. So far, I'm split between the GORUCK GR1 and the one I've been testing, the Arc'teryx Granville 16. It's been a good backpack so far. More soon on that.