Top Three Crossover Day Packs (as of March 2015)

Posted by Deron Chang on Sunday, March 01, 2015 with 2 comments
Note:  I will be updating this post in June!  (I am reviewing a lot of packs at the moment and there will be changes to this list.)  

Keep in mind that I only purchase a type of pack called the crossover day pack that fits the somewhat strict criteria that I laid down here and here.  As a result, the pool of packs I review is limited.  While I continue to look for cross over day packs to review, there are fewer and fewer that have escaped my eye.  What follows are my Bronze, Silver, and Gold medal winners for crossover day packs.  Given that the Gold medal pack is one that I discovered in February, it is worth checking back on occasion.

Honorable mention (no medal) goes to:

The Osprey Momentum 26L.  This pack could easily have won the Bronze medal but, given that it is discontinued by Osprey I could not give it a medal.  If you find this gem of a pack used or in someone's old inventory, you should snag it.  It is extraordinarily versatile.  This pack can hide its suspension system (shoulder straps and waist belt) behind the frame sheet; essentially converting this pack into a duffle bag complete with side mounted handle.  It is perfect for the business airline traveler.  The other nifty feature is the shoulder strap mounted key pocket that comes complete with a retractable cord.  Alas, because this pack is not readily available anymore (and Osprey regrettably did not replace it with a pack listing similar features) it falls out of contention.  It is also one of the ugliest colors I have seen manufactured by man.  The photo above does not do it justice.  It has a tinge of green in it that immediately makes me think of being motion sick in the back of a school bus after drinking Hawaiian Punch on a hot summer day.

If you are around my age (46) you surely remember this from your elementary school days. Fruit Juicy Good!

The Bronze medal goes to:

The Burton Lumen. This pack is built to last - just look at the zipper pulls as a clue as to how much Burton cares about making a tough pack.  It is also designed smartly with most of the key features that I look for in a crossover day pack.  I do like the bucket design that allows you to easily drop a lot of stuff into the main compartment, but it does have the disadvantage of looking a bit too much like a technical pack.  It's casual outdoorsy look would be fine in a classroom or coffee shop, but it would be a bit too informal in a boardroom.  Except for the surprisingly skimpy waist belt, the suspension system is one of the best.  One of the major strikes against this pack, that came close to knocking it out of the running, is the organizer pocket.  It is small, limited in types of pockets, and mounted inside the main compartment (rather than being accessible form the outside).  There are some other niggling issues, but most of them I would have been willing to live with and you might find them to be inconsequential.  It also comes in a variety of colors, though I find red to be the most striking.  Read the full review for details.

The Silver medal goes to:

The Osprey Radial 26L. I own this pack and up until a couple of weeks ago it was the pack that I considered the best crossover day pack I had reviewed. (I even convinced my brother in law to get it and I don't regret urging him to do so.) Indeed, it is expensive ($160) does have a more technical look and its color certainly does not make is a shrinking violet. However, because of its functionality, these issues were easy to ignore.  It has ALL the features that I had sought in a crossover day pack plus one: this pack can make a heavy load feel like a light load.  No pack I own (including technical climbing packs and multi-day backpacking packs) does a better job of this.  When you are toting a 15 inch laptop, a camera with a couple of lenses, an iPad and various other bits and pieces, this is an important consideration.  The reason it is so good at hauling gear has to do with its trampoline suspension system.  Not only does this design maximize air flow between your back and the pack itself, but the stiff wire frame when coupled with the "comma" shape serves to effectively transfer the weight to your hips.  There are only two flaws with this bag.  One minor and one that I have come to realize is major.  1) The minor issue: The outermost pocket on the front/top of the bag is not fleece-lined.  This is clearly a great place for sunglasses and yet, without the fleece, it is not as gentle as it could be.  That is not to say my glasses have been scratched; they haven't.  However, adding fleece would pretty much eliminate the risk altogether and offers a layer (albeit thin) of protection. 2) The major issue:  The bag tips over when you set it down on the floor, a table, or a chair.  I never realized what a huge pain this was until I had to live with it for a few months.  Of course, its lack of being able to stand upright is what makes it so great at carrying loads. It is a mutually exclusive design choice.  Indeed, the gold medal winner is not nearly as comfortable a pack for carrying heavy loads.  As nutty as this sounds, I think that I will use the Radial as my summer weather pack (when the pack spends more time on the back) and the gold medal winner as my school-year pack (when the pack spends more time sitting on a desk).

And can I have  drumroll, please?

The Gold medal goes to:

The ecbc Lance Executive Daypack. This gold medal winner lapped the field in this competition.  It does seem like ecbc (a small start-up company out of California) read my mind when they designed this gem of a day pack.  It really does have everything I was looking for.  The most striking feature is one that many may not pay attention to: the superb waist belt.  It is a better waist belt than I see on technical climbing packs - it does not just stabilize the pack, it actually does transfer the weight of the bag to one's hips (like a hip belt).  The best part is that, despite its size and functionality, ecbc designed the waist belt to tuck behind the pack's frame sheet when you don't need it.  Most manufacturers will make these waist belts removable, but frankly, that is not a viable option.  Sometimes you need a waist belt at a moment's notice (running across town when late for a meeting) and if you have removed the waist belt, it will take at least five minutes to reattach it to the pack.  Conversely, if you don't need it, but want to have it available on call, then it hangs down below your butt and gets caught on turnstiles.  Paying attention to this kind of detail is what ecbc is all about.  There is so much to rave about this pack that a single paragraph here will not do it justice.  Please take the time to read the full review and video here.  I hope you will see that it is fully deserving of the gold medal.  [I was so enamored with this pack that I got one to auction off at a recent charity event at the school where I teach.  Here is the photo of the winner(s)]:

The girl on the right won the auction and then gave the pack to the boy on the left!