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First Click: Every backpack should have side access

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November 8th, 2016

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first click

Two ergonomic oddities persist in our world that make zero sense to me: perfectly circular over-ear headphones and backpacks that only load from the top down. The first should be self-explanatory, as our ears are D-shaped rather than circular, but the second might be a little less obvious. Allow me to elaborate on the matter, using the stellar Everyday Backpack from Peak Design as the role model.

The archetypal backpack is an upright rectangle, spanning the space from the waist of its wearer up to somewhere just below his or her shoulders. This shape makes sense, covering most of the back and, with a strap on either shoulder, distributing the weight of whatever is being carried evenly. The Everyday Backpack adheres to this basic, almost prehistoric blueprint. But where it differs from the sacks and satchel our forebears might have fashioned by hand is in its recognition that just loading everything in from the top is awfully inefficient.

Consider the typical contents of a modern, tech-infused backpack. I usually carry around a laptop, a camera, a large Anker PowerCore backup battery, a zippered pouch full of cables, a few essential chargers, and at least two or three sets of headphones. (Okay, my headphone count is not strictly typical). What happens with all that gear in a conventional top-loading pack is that I have to choose what I think I’m least likely to use and deposit it at the bottom, stacking everything on top of it. But then that stacking means the bottom item must also be resilient, so it can’t ever be my camera, even if I know I won’t need quick access to it.

So with most of my bags, I wind up rifling through everything as if searching through a washing machine drum for the one white T-shirt that slipped in among my coloreds. Peak Design’s answer is as obvious to me as a D-shaped ear cup: it just gives me access from the side, with adjustable compartments that can function independently. Out of habit, I still put my battery pack at the bottom, but now I can access it directly without disturbing my meticulously arranged camera and chargers.

Kata V Kata Sensitivity-V

Before Peak Design’s Everyday Backpack, I was a happy user of the Kata Sensitivity-V bag, now sadly discontinued. It had a similar, albeit less flexible solution, with two front-facing pockets doing much the same job. The cleverness of the Kata bag was that I could remove the middle section that separated those pockets and thus create one large space, just like a top-loading bag, so I didn’t lose the ability to carry big things. It was more modular and compartmentalized, but could still contain a 400mm lens when required. And yet, front access is not the same as side access.

With the Everyday Backpack, which I can open from the left, right, or top, I can use the opposite side of the pack as essentially a bottom against which to pack things. And I can do that cool maneuver of just popping off one shoulder strap, rotating the bag around my body, and just dipping into the side of it for the one thing I need, before zipping it up and swinging it back around, all while keeping one shoulder looped into it.

Quick release side access | Peak Design

Even without any special compartments or clever design, though, side access simply makes more sense. If you’re just stacking gear indiscriminately, you’d still prefer to do so into a horizontal rectangle rather than a vertical one, as that leaves more things directly accessible and puts less pressure on whatever item’s at the bottom. The modular bits from Kata and Peak Design just make sure it doesn’t all get tumbled into a mess when you flip things into a vertical orientation.

Many people have enquired about the backpack I used during my MacBook Pro review, having been attracted by the Everyday Backpack’s handsome look, but the thing that stands out to me most is just how functional and thoughtful its design is. I’m sorry to anyone looking for fair and balanced nuance here, but this is just a stupendous bag, with basically no detectable downside. I hope to see more bag makers emulating it with their future designs.

To learn more about what makes the Everyday Backpack so special, read my colleague Thomas Ricker's glowing review, which was the thing that prompted me to check out this bag in the first place.