Gear Review: Topo Designs Daypack
Topo Designs' Daypack is built and bred as a stylish, functional classic. Its simple but eye-catching look is love at first sight. Everyday usability makes it a perfect lifelong companion.
What we dig. Topo nailed it with a retro design seamlessly blending simplicity and organization. As a traditional "student" style daypack, Topo takes a classic and maximizes all of its most important features.
The Daypack is damn good at organizing day-to-day essentials (laptop, notebooks, foodstuffs) without going over-the-top with features. Impeccable as an everyday carry workhouse, it doubles as a serviceable hiking pack as well.
What we’d change. Perhaps it goes against Topo's late-70s inspiration, but the simple addition of drink-tube hole and inside tether would allow the laptop sleeve double as a hydration bladder pouch.
Otherwise, the small side pockets can't hold much more than a 16.9 oz disposable water bottle. We regularly used the inside space to stash our canteens, which could be a deal-breaker during long day hikes that require stowing a day's worth of water, gear, and food.
The bottom line. If you love Topo Design's aesthetics, but require a bit more than minimal organization, the Daypack is your answer. It's a no-brainer for work or school and makes for a solid hiking companion on few-hour long jaunts into the forest, desert, or mountains.
Not to be overlooked, the durable 1000D Cordura® nylon fabric, overbuilt YKK zippers, and handmade construction make this long-lasting bag a worthy investment.
Origin of the Daypack
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the likes of Henry C. Merriam, Camille Poirier, and Lloyd "Trapper" Nelson applied for the earliest backpack patents — mostly inspired by Native American designs. Most packs of this era were external frame and made of leather.
Built for the rugged demands of the outdoors and military, these packs were much too cumbersome and heavy to achieve mainstream popularity.
That all changed in 1938 when Gerry Cunningham created the modern daypack. Cunningham's pack lacked an external frame, replaced leather with nylon, and added a major innovation: zippers.
This new combination lightened the backpack's weight and allowed for more compartments. Gerry's pack provided quick and easy access, better organization, and improved weight distribution.
While Cunningham's design inspired hundreds of new pack designs in the blossoming outdoors industry, the nylon daypack didn't truly take off until the late-60s. In 1967, the newly founded Jansport brand gained popularity on the University of Washington campus. The "student" daypack was born.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the simple nylon daypack spread like wildfire across the country — and the globe. During that era, California brand Wilderness Experience created the simple, iconic, rugged designs that inspired the Topo Designs Daypack we're reviewing today.
Topo Design's Daypack sports a 20 Liter-capacity and weighs in at 23.04 ounces (27.36 for the navy and leather version). Constructed with rugged 1000D® Cordura, it's not the lightest pack, but it sure is built to last.
In all, it's a pretty simple design, with the outer structure rocking a good-sized zippered front pocket, slim side-pockets, a leather lash tab, and a single webbing loop.
The front pocket's zipper access is strung at a slight angle. This splash of geometry gives the pack a striking, dynamic look.
Bright-yellow pack cloth makes for a durable interior. Organization stays clean with a simple laptop sleeve, zippered mesh pocket, and three-compartment supply pouch.
The Daypack is neither an ultra-light hiking bag nor a feature-packed technical pack. It's all about classic looks, simple design, and long-lasting construction.
Organization wise, the pack features one main compartment, one front pocket, and two side pockets. Inside you'll find a laptop sleeve, one zippered mesh pocket, and a tri-split supply pouch. It's simple, yet effective.
Most students, commuters, and hikers will find plenty of places to stash their favorite items. Carrying the Daypack to work every day, we found the perfect mix of features for staying organized without going overboard with snaps, zippers, and pockets.
We especially love the tall and spacious front pocket. It's got way more room than similar features on many other packs we've tried. As the de-facto spot for snacks and other foodstuffs, the extra space here prevents squished bananas, yogurt cups, and other sensitive edibles — as long as you don't overstuff the main compartment.
In typical Topo Designs fashion, this bag is built to go to war. From the 1000D Cordura fabric to the oversized YKK zippers to the handbuilt construction, durability is at a premium here. Topo handmakes this bag stateside, as indicated by the small tab stitched with an American flag on the bag's side panel.
We don't baby our gear, and the Daypack easily stood up to being tossed around in urban and wilderness environments. We've tested "lightweight" daypacks only to see their thin nylon bottoms shred when dropped on rocky terrain — not the case with the Daypack's thick Cordura membrane.
Inside, the overbuilt construction continues. Bright-yellow pack cloth makes for a strong base with enhanced visibility. Sturdy internal bias tape holds it all together.
Another favorite feature of ours is the nicely padded shoulder straps. Thick and comfy, the Daypack's straps offer even more cushioned than those of other Topo bags like the Klettersack and Y-Pack.
In practice, it's hard not to get shoulder pain after hiking for hours with any pack. So we can't claim these shoulder straps eliminate discomfort, but they'll ride more gently than most.
While the Daypack maximizes durability and functionality, it's also easy on the eyes. In the classic "student" backpack mold, it stays in its lane but still has its own style.
We love how Topo set the front pocket at a slight angle — this simple but unique brushstroke defines the bag's look. In the upper-right corner, a single leather lash loop adds a functional splash loyal to the pack's vintage roots.
The Daypack's simple but iconic design is topped off with a small, unobtrusive Topo Designs label.
While it's not the most affordable or lightweight "student" style pack out there, the Daypack is a unique beast that's a pleasure to use and carry, a beauty to look at, and built to stand whatever you throw at it. Topo's lifetime warranty on materials and craftsmanship offers additional peace of mind.
Besides the essential laptop pouch, Topo remains fiercely loyal to its 1970s roots — sometimes to a fault. And while the Daypack's vintage style holds up remarkably for work or class, it leaves a little something to be desired out on the trail.
First off, the side pockets are too small for many popular hiking water bottles. Ironically, the old school classic Nalgene — one of our favorites — is persona non-grata here. Either ya gotta go small or stash your bottles inside.
While more robust side pockets might take away from the uber-simple design, we think the tradeoff would be worth it for the improved functionality.
Speaking of water, hydration bladders aren't compatible with the Daypack either. It'd be easy for Topo to add a tether and a tube hole — standard features in most of today's hiking packs. We're not even fans of reservoirs ourselves, but such an oversight is too hard to ignore.
While the straps themselves are super-comfy, there's no chest strap to leverage the pack's weight away from the shoulders. Again, Topo goes as simple as possible, so we're not surprised here, but simplicity does sometimes come at the cost of comfort.
Similarly, the Daypack stays vintage with a lack of padding on the back panel. Forgoing the mesh ventilation pads of most modern packs, the Daypack proliferates sweaty backs and the potential for sharp edges on inside contents poking you.
To be fair, we don't mesh pads improve ventilation very much, but the increased sweat volume is noticeable when hiking with the Daypack.
In all, the Daypack is absolutely usable for hiking, but you must be comfortable with its drawbacks to be happy taking it out on a long day hike.
In a world of backpacks filled with excessive features and overembellished details, this bag zigs where most zag. Keeping it simple is the Topo Designs' modus operandi, and the Daypack tows the line well between simplicity and functionality.
This pack is great for commuting to work or school as it's sports tasteful vintage style with organizational features in all the right places. It's never been easier or more enjoyable to tote your favorite laptop and the day's supplies. Just make sure it fits your hiking style before hitting the trail on a 10-mile hike.
Finding a practical, good-looking pack as durable as the Daypack doesn't happen every day either. The price point for this pack makes it an investment, and the heavy-duty materials, fine workmanship, lifetime warranty provide a fantastic ROI.
Overall, the Topo Designs Daypack won us over with simplicity, functionality, and durability. If you're down with retro style, this will be your EDC workhorse for years to come.