Gear Review: Topo Designs Y-Pack Backpack

topo designs y pack review

The Y-Pack is a fundamentally simple bag, but it holds up as well as Topo Designs' larger, more rugged packs. Its streamlined focus on the essentials makes it affordable and functional: an ideal combo for day trips and weekend ramblin'. 


What we dig. We’re huge fans of the boxy, old-school builds Topo uses on many of their bags, but the Y-Pack is a refreshing departure from that approach. It retains a classic look and vintage roots (based on old flap packs of the 70s and 80s) but the Y-Pack is a less-structured bag with a comfortable, low profile and minimal features.

Its no-frills design also makes it the most affordable of Topo’s backpacks – without sacrificing the brand’s trademark quality standards.

What we’d change. We’re all good with keeping things simple, but if you need pockets in your life, you’ll find the Y-Pack’s minimal aesthetic lacking. There’s no external front pocket, and nothing inside save for a 15” laptop sleeve.

But you’re not completely out of luck: two expandable, external side pockets and one zippered pocket up top offer sufficient organization for small goods and carry items.  

The bottom line. We took the Y-Pack on several extended weekend trips and found it just as functional as Topo Designs’ larger packs, like the Daypack and Klettersack. The Y-Pack’s 14-liter compartment also fits more than we expected: a laptop, handful of books and long weekend’s change of clothes all fit with ease.

This bag’s a dream for outdoor minimalists who want a bold, high-quality bag without paying for extras or unnecessary space.

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The Flap Pack, Refreshed

Back in the early 1970s, a small company called Wilderness Experience began making backpacks and mountaineering equipment after the founders realized they could improve upon what was on the market at the time.

By 1979, their bestselling daypack was the Meadow, a simple bag that was accessed from the top and secured with a flap of fabric. It was a basic design but functioned well and offered the right amount of space and organization. It was a classic look – even 30 years ago – that was reminiscent of old scout packs made for heavier-duty exploring.

flap pack backpacks

Image: tenayatravels.com

Today, Topo Designs has given new life to the flap-style bag with their Y-Pack, a lightweight, sub-$80 backpack that holds to the company’s stellar quality standards and “mountain modern” aesthetic. Where many of Topo’s bags are boxy and structured, the Y-Pack has softer lines and a body that’s purposely basic.

For months we’ve tested Topo Design bags out in the field, and switching between the Daypack, Klettersack and Y-Pack was easier than expected. The Y-Pack may be the smallest and lightest of the three models, but it holds its own and makes a strong case for being one of the most versatile packs in Topo’s lineup.


topo y pack review

Breakin' Down the Y-Pack

The Y-Pack is a basic daypack that weighs 18.4 ounces and holds 14.4 liters in its main compartment. Its flap-style top covers a drawstring closure that sports the company's signature yellow pack-cloth and red drawstring.

The exterior is a 1000D nylon that's abrasion-resistant and durable without adding too much weight. The internal pack-cloth lines the back and bottom of the bag, but not the entire compartment the way it does in other Topo bags. This is a welcome trade-off, however, as less fabric helps makes the Y-Pack at least five ounces lighter than the Daypack. The inside also has a sleeve that fits most laptops up to 15 inches.

The Y-closure uses strong webbing and ultralight hardware to form a secure closing mechanism that stayed in place during all our tests, whether the pack was full or not. Tabs at the top and bottom allow you to add extra travel accessories, and expandable side pockets offer a place to store slim water bottles.

The pack sports a larger, bolder Topo Designs label than what adorns the Klettersack and Daypack, and it's a welcome contrast to the simple nature of the bag. The shoulder straps offer above-average comfort for the size and weight of the Y-Pack, and the back offers thing but sufficient padding.

The appeal of the Y-Pack is in its simplicity, and it's all the stuff that's not included that makes the backpack a winner. It's a less-is-more attitude that gets back to basics and makes for an excellent entry-level pack that's different than anything else out there.


topo designs y-pack review

The Good

What's good about the Y-Pack is what's good about Topo Designs products in general: they toe the line between form and function, aesthetic and substance, life in the city and wide open spaces. The Y-Pack looks like an old-school outdoors daypack, but it's weight and ease of use make it just as practical for everyday carry, commuting or parenting (we've got the stains to prove it).

We first used the Y-Pack for a few extended weekend trips in Northern Arizona, and from the road trip to the Airbnb, from hiking around the lakes to getting our kids ready for whatever shenanigans came next, the Y-Pack was easy to carry and perpetually comfortable.

The body of the bag has a smooth, low-profile that's less rigid than other Topo bags, and the bottom fabric of the bag wraps around front, giving the Y-Pack a soft, curved silhouette. It's a nice change of pace from the boxier bags we've tested, and we found that filling the Y-Pack was easy because the bag seemed to conform to whatever we stuffed in. 

Even with a laptop and notebooks, the pack still felt comfortable and didn't get too stiff. On the flip side, it's structured and padded enough that it doesn't feel sloppy when the bag's not as full. 

The top flap pocket is roomier than it looks, and it reminds us of backpacking packs we've used that have large, spacious pockets for lights, maps and easily lost supplies.

topo designs y-pack hiking review

The shoulder straps' width and padding are average for this size bag, and even at capacity, it doesn't seem like a burdensome load. And although a 14-liter capacity doesn't sound like much on paper, we were surprised to see how much really fit in there when we packed efficiently.

Our favorite feature is the Y-closure that defines the backpack: it's a unique but not impractical system that keeps your stuff secure while providing easy top-access. You get a feel for quickly opening and closing the Y-strap after some time, and the addition of the drawstring closure makes it painless to tamp down and balance your weight.

In our opinion, the Y-Pack looks and feels best when it's packed relatively full: the flap lays tight over the bag and the Y-strap clamps things down nicely. When the pack is less full, it doesn't feel as balanced, and tended to bounce around a bit more. For that reason, we recommend the Y-Pack for those who will keep the main compartment more full than not.

Overall, we're fans of the Y-Pack because of its unique exterior, as well as its ability to carry far more stuff than we anticipated. In some ways, it's comparable to the Patagonia Arbor, a heavier, larger pack that has many of the same features.

The Arbor has been one of our go-to day packs for camping and hiking trips the past few years, but we prefer the Y-Pack's side pockets, simple one-piece closure and the thicker nylon that seems to hold up better over time. 


topo designs y pack backpack review

The Drawbacks

The Y-Pack is economical in its features, and though this is purposefully and masterfully done, users with greater organization needs should consider bags with more internal pocket options.

Personally, our weekend travels and daily field tests with the bag didn't present any problems, and the top zippered pocket offers a surprising amount of room for its location and layout. We were able to carry keys, wallets, phones and small everyday carry items without feeling disorganized.

Ultimately, this is a matter of personal preference that should be considered with any Topo Designs bag.

The side pockets, though expandable, still only hold slim water bottles (think: Miir or Liberty), so if you're a Nalgene person or need a water bladder for your daypack, the Y-Pack may not fit your needs. You can always through any size bottle in the main compartment, but that can affect the balance and comfort level of the bag as you go.

Older versions of the Y-Pack didn't have side pockets, though, so today's model is an improved version based on user feedback and testing, and offers more side pocket flexibility than the Klettersack and Daypack.

Finally, the Y-Pack is made in Vietnam, where Topo Designs has established a quality manufacturing process that rivals their US operations. In our field tests, the bag's quality, construction and sewing appears to us to be just as solid as their US-made bags, but it is something to consider if you're strictly looking for an American-made backpack.


topo y-pack backpack review

The Consensus

The Internet is littered with vintage-inspired backpacks, but a classically-styled bag with substance, practical functionality and craftsmanship that's guaranteed for life doesn't come by often. When it does roll around at the Y-Pack's price point, it's hard not to be impressed.

The Y-Pack maintains Topo's commitment to a "timeless look with modern functionality" at a lower price than some of their larger packs. It's an ideal choice for someone who wants a retro outdoor aesthetic without the extra space or cost of the Klettersack or Daypack.

The flap-style backpack may have had its heyday in the 70s and 80s, but this version is right at home in 2018. In a world dominated by more - more features, more options, more extras - the Y-Pack's uncomplicated design is a welcome sight.

We're fans of the clean lines, bold branding and same level of functionality we've come to expect from Denver-based Topo Designs. The Y-Pack's an excellent choice for daily use, weekend getaways and city exploring for those who like to travel lean.


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