Peak Design’s last Kickstarter for the Everyday Messenger was the most successfully funded photography product on the crowd-funding platform. With two days to go, its latest for the Everyday Backpack, Tote, and Sling just beat that record with nearly $5 million in pre-orders. These are my first impressions after a week with a pre-production version of the highly anticipated Everyday Backpack.
The Everyday Backpack comes in two sizes, the 30L and 20L, which each denote the maximum volume of carry (in liters) for each size. While the 30L is (full disclosure) the one that I pre-ordered for my own needs, the smaller, more agile 20L is what is reviewed here.
Having extensively reviewed the Everyday Messenger, I was not surprised to find the Everyday Backpack was immediately familiar. Everything from the overall look to the brilliant, patented MagLatch and FlexFold dividers make their expected appearances on the Backpack 20. The one-hand grab handles on either side of the pack immediately stand out as obvious conveniences alongside the pack’s top-end handle, all formed from the same cushioned, soft, seatbelt-like material.
Access to the pack is well thought-out with an industry-challenging full side-access zippered flap on either side. I am not at all a fan of bags that rely on side access as a major feature or point of accessibility, but that’s because they never allow for access to the entire pack. Instead, side access usually means you have to have a system in place and memorized so you always know what you’re going to get when you open up the one or two compartments that the side flap protects. But with the entire back opening up all the way, I immediately became a huge fan of the feature.
The reliance on the large MagLatch-fastened top flap and both side access openings does leave one looming caveat for those that like to open one side of the bag and lay everything out inside a maze of dividers: you simply won’t be doing that. Most photographic backpacks allow you to lay one side (the back or front) of the pack on the ground and open up a giant U-zip flap to view and load all your gear in one place. While you can do that easily from any of the Everyday Backpack’s access points for reasons I’ll go over later, some will have to get their heads around this potential sticking point, but it’ll be well worth it for those who can manage.
What’s important to note is that the names of each bag refer to the maximum amount that can be comfortably fit into the pack. As one might hope, this means that there’s also a low-end range that the backpacks are truly optimized to fit — to some extent, they expand and contract as needed.
One might normally imagine that a smaller mirrorless kit might feel a little lost inside a 20-liter bag. But with this little fact in mind, the 20L comfortably snuggles around a 12-liter volume of gear, making it perfect for a full mirrorless kit with room to spare on the low end or a one-body, multi-lens DSLR kit with accessories as well. As with most gear-packing estimates, the reality is that you can swap out a lens or two for a second body if that’s the way you prefer to roll. This is all highly modular, and what you pack is completely up to you.
Still, the Backpack 20 is best thought of as a smaller, “normal-sized” backpack for a serious mirrorless or single-body full-frame shooter. For those wondering, I did get a few minutes with a pre-production 30L model at Peak Design’s San Francisco headquarters a few weeks ago, and that pack still falls within the realm of a “normal-sized” backpack. But it is definitely quite a bit larger and will likely fit up to three bodies and 3-5 lenses depending on whether or not I decide to cram in that third body, and for those reading, I am a traveler, and I am therefore a crammer.
As mentioned earlier, the Everyday Backpack lacks the giant, one-time open flap that allows you to lay everything into the backpack from a birds' eye view. It does, however, feature alternative and arguably equally flexible positions from which you can add or remove your gear. Realistically speaking, you can actually access all of your gear from all three of the access points (the top flap and both side flaps), and that’s not at all a stretch to say. Because these flaps each open to the entire width of the bag, the addition of the FlexFold dividers lets you navigate around any obstacles you might otherwise find when digging deep for gear.
These suckers are a key part of Peak Design’s allure. A friend of mind recently told me he was skeptical of Peak Design’s dividers. I simply told him that the FlexFold dividers alone are worth getting into Peak Design bags. This is how I felt with their introduction in the Everyday Messenger. Likewise, it’s only more true for the backpacks because of their unique access styles.
For the same reason that you’d pay a little extra for 40/20/40 split seats in your car, the FlexFold design of these dividers allows brilliant configuration possibilities that should come with every bag. Instead, most have to deal with 100/0, where dividers are either in or out. With these dividers, I can fold one part up to access something directly beneath it, and then put it back down once I have what I need. This concept is definitely easier understood in person or after looking through some of Peak Design’s deep dive video above.
Thinking of Everything
Spoiler Alert: The whole concept of Peak Design is centered around design. Great design is the last thing this backpack lacks, as it’s easy to spot the areas where Peak Design worked hard to to increase efficiency at every point. The zippers, which will eventually feature a pickpocket-resistant design, are easy to grab and pull open or shut. The water-shedding fabric remains non-tacky, feels durable, and is now more environmentally friendly than before. A pocket at the top of the pack gives access to the first three-pocket area of its kind that I’ve seen in a bag like this: one smaller pocket for items like keys, a phone, documents, etc. and two bigger pockets for a tablet and/or a 15-inch laptop in a pocket that expands and contracts to accommodate its contents. The inside of each side flap features a discrete zippered pocket made of semi-stretching material that can stay flat for memory cards and thin batteries or expand wide enough to fit a full-sized flash. Outside pockets on either side of the bag provide similar flexibility for even larger items. And a two-strap system with multiple, also-discrete anchor points allows for a myriad of external storage options for larger items such as tripods. For every pocket where you’d want it, a sleek magnetic latch holds it shut with the perfect amount of force.
Where one might see a lack of pockets, closer inspection and exploration unveils a carefully constructed array of safe areas to store all kinds of gear that instantly hide away to provide a sleeker outer form when not in use. At first glance, it seems as though there aren’t quite enough spaces for things such as batteries and lens caps. But it doesn’t take long to learn that this is what makes the bag so special. There’s no other term for it than one-of-a-kind.
It’s worth noting that a good portion of Peak Design’s audience doesn’t come from the photographic community. In fact, nearly a third of the company’s bag sales go to “everyday” people. The organizational flexibility with the Everyday line of bags resonates with everyone, and the sales numbers show just how well Peak Design does its thing.
What I Liked
- Extreme functionality hidden within minimalistic design.
- Ingenious features such as FlexFold dividers and MagLatch.
- Just the right size for a small kit with room to grow.
- Great little touches such as sleek, magnetic closures for pockets where it makes sense.
What I Didn’t Like
- Perfect size for some people, but I have a feeling I’ll love the 30L for my full kit.
- The laptop sleeve is snug and expandable, which is good, but if you have a thicker laptop, expect it to protrude within the confines of the bag’s interior. On the bright side, you could fit the largest Harry Potter book into that slot thanks to its expandability. So how you use it is up to you.
When Peak Design sat down to draw up their first bag, it’s obvious they didn’t want it to be just another bag. Thank goodness they didn’t — the world has so many of those. Instead, they brought a Silicon Valley approach to the bag. While such an approach has often been thought of as a digital one, Silicon Valley doesn’t just bring digital tech anymore. As Peak Design has shown, the Valley’s true specialty is in creating things humans actually want to use by better tuning objects for human use to begin with. The Everyday Backpack is just the latest object that you’ll actually look forward to using.
The Everyday Backpack (in both 20L and 30L sizes) was launched alongside a Tote and Sling as well. All three styles are available at a discount for two more days until the nearly 1,000-percent-funded Kickstarter campaign wraps up.
As a special treat, last week, Peak Design also launched another product: the Range Pouch. Available in three sizes, the Range Pouch is a lens pouch that makes sense. Built upon what you now know to be my favorite — you guessed it — FlexFold divider concept, the Range Pouch adds the flexibility to safely and comfortably stack smaller lenses like your 35mm or 50mm f/1.8 when you don't have a larger lens in the pouch. Meanwhile, those same thoughtfully placed magnetic closures make another appearance on a few extra pockets for lens caps and other small accessories. When you're not pushing the limits of what the Range Pouch can hold, the pouch contracts around whatever is within it or folds flat for storage. And did I mention it's compatible with Peak Design's camera straps? The Range Pouch is also available on the Kickstarter page.