packing: a shout-out to my travel daypack

Throwback to last May, when I was backpacking in Peru 

Someone recently left a comment on an old post asking me what I use for a day bag when I travel, and in my reply, I went on a bit about the backpack I use as a daypack - the "Urban Hauler" model by Marmot. Since I've been using it for a while now, I thought I might as well make a review out of it.

Before I bought the bag, I'd used enough backpacks to know what I wanted in one:
- Something around 30 litres in capacity
- Something light, yet capable of taking substantial weight 
- Something that could roll up or pack flat in a bigger backpack/suitcase
- Something that could be tossed into a washing machine (or at least vigorously hand-washed) after a sweaty hike
- Something that didn't look aggressively "sporty" and would look normal in a non-sporty context
- Something with an external pocket
- Something with internal pockets
- Something with a side pocket for my water bottle

My primary goal was something that was strong and yet light - I carry a heavy DSLR around and I had no desire for heavily-padded backpacks or leather ones which would leave me groaning at the end of the day.  

When I first saw this backpack in the store, I was almost afraid to get my hopes up, because it seemed so spot-on.


I liked that it was the right size (it's actually 28l), and that the material, while not super-thin like those backpacks that fold into pouches, was lightweight enough to roll up and stuff into my backpack. There isn't the kind of padding and webbing that make actual hiking backpacks so comfortable, but Marmot managed a modicum of padding in the back and on the shoulder straps for some comfort. 

Inside the main compartment is a simple sleeve pocket which is big enough for my 13-inch Macbook Air, and a small zipped pocket for valuables. On the outside is a deep zippered pocket with internal slots for me to stash things like lip balm, earphones and sunnies. There is also a roomy side pocket big enough for my 1l water bottle. 

Bonus: there was a big variety of colours to choose from - and when I was there, it happened to be available in this nice vintage-y edition, complete with cute marmot on the logo. I hate "sporty" looking backpacks, and here was one that actually fell within my aesthetic comfort zone.


I've used the backpack as a daypack for hikes, and also as an everyday backpack. For the former, it does the trick - roomy enough for all the essentials, comfortable, easy to clean. 

As I said earlier, the straps aren't cushy the way they are on more padded, substantial backpack models, but it didn't bother me even after eight hours of hiking. If you use a Camelbak-style contraption for water, the water bag would also comfortably fit inside the laptop sleeve. The material (nylon and polyester) definitely isn't water-proof, but I have a rain cover from an old backpack that fits nicely over it.  

I like the way the main compartment fastens too; I find the drawstring closure is easy to use but still relatively secure - i.e. not something someone can easily undo or slip their hands into. And when you put on the backpack, the straps pull the top together, so it can't be undone from the top once you get it on. I can also tuck a rolled-up sweater or jacket under the straps, without having to stash it into the bag. 

In airports, I find that I prefer pulling up the straps and carrying it shopping tote-style (like in the top photo), because it's easier to get things in and out quickly. The drawstring closure is secure enough for things not to spill out when I toss it onto the conveyor belt during security checks. It also stashes neatly under an airplane seat.

Mostly, importantly, I like that I can fit it into a bigger backpack when I'm not using it. 

It's not perfect. When I put my water bottle into the external side pocket, it eats into the available space inside because it presses into the side of the bag. And if your bottle is tall, it may fall out because the pocket isn't very deep.

Because the material is so soft, the bag also doesn't stand well when it isn't full, and flops over quite a bit. This can be irritating when you just want to set the bag down for a moment.

Also, note that the bag's base is narrower than the top, and it's deep - another two reasons it doesn't stand up so well. The depth can make it hard to reach for things at the bottom. 

Finally, again, on the thickness of the bag fabric - I'm perfectly okay with tossing a DSLR into the bag without any protective casing, but it means I can't be throwing my bag onto the ground. This probably isn't ideal for everyone.

From clockwise from top left: 1) The shoulder straps are thin and minimally padded, but comfortable; 2) the side pocket fits a water bottle (this one is only 500ml) but awkwardly; 3) my Canon 550D in the bag, for scale. 


The very thing that make the bag work for me - the lightweight fabric - is also what limits it, but overall, the bag suits my needs to a T. It's also impressive how strong it was, despite being so light - I stuffed it to the gills when I was travelling in South America and it sometimes weighed as much as 8kg (don't ask) but it showed no strain or wear whatsoever.

The only other backpacks I came close to buying were the Patagonia Arbor Grande, and the Patagonia Black Hole backpacks, but I never got to examine those in person. Ultimately I decided to go with something I could check out in person. 

In my hunt for backpacks, there weren't very many that came close to checking off so many qualities on my list, and so I'm happy I went with this one. 

What's your favourite travel day bag?


Astrid said…
I was considering the SYNAPSE 19 for casual day hikes and travel. But your suggestion is also under consideration. Especially as, sometimes a backpack is not ideal - ie where you need easy access or in a place prone to thievery.
Jamie-Lee said…
Such a great review, and I love the fact that it is also versatile in how you carry it - whether that's handheld or as intended. I am kinda starting to think about adding a backpack into my wardrobe (especially as I'd love to start doing more hikes if I can drag Luke out with me) and this one looks like a good contender.
Jessica said…
Although I prefer smaller bags (I usually wear my A.P.C. bag to work) I was gifted a Fjallraven backpack by my husband last year when I landed my current job. It's a bit trendy but I like the design so I'm not too bothered that everyone around me is carrying the same backpack. It's great when I need to carry more than my wallet, phone and some other smaller items. I wish it was waterproof though. I really like the vintage look of yours!
lin said…
Astrid: I do prefer cross-body strap bags in general for travel, but on holidays where I may be a little more active, and plan to go trekking, this backpack checks off most of my boxes. Hope you find the right one for your needs!

Jamie-Lee: Hope you do find something that suits you! I actually like a simple drawstring backpack as well if it's a leisurely hike, and you can find ones in cute prints.

Jessica: The Fjallraven backpacks are very popular here too, and I think it's because it's so practical. I'm happy using rain covers when it rains, rather than getting a waterproof backpack because sometimes the coating doesn't last, especially in the humid weather in Singapore.

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