Gear-based opinions are as varied as they come. However, after countless hikes and what could be described as man-handlings, I feel qualified enough to offer opinions on some of my choices bits of kit.
First, an admission
I’m a pack fiend. I love’em! Backpacks, rucksacks, messenger bags, daypacks … Given the option, I’d happily fill a room with nothing but gear, of which 60% would be bag related.
I’ve spent years swooning over some, while painfully regretting others (*cough, Peak Design, *cough). I think I’ve built up a nice internal list of criteria to determine if something is worth time and money. I’ll spare y’all the actual list, as it leans hard on subjectivity.
I have 2 main bags that make it into regular rotation. First up is my standard daypack.
Daypacks are honestly pretty easy. It’s hard to go wrong if you aim for the £20-£30 range, and you can find many great options from brands like Eurohike, Deuter, and Mountain Warehouse, to name a few. Some folks like them to be absolutely minimal, little more than a carrier for a hyropack and some cereal bars. Others tend towards the more is more mentality, rationalising that it’s better to have unused space rather than need it and not have it.
I fall somewhere in-between. Daypacks are the bags I reach for when I’m simply going out for the … day. There are two considerations here:
- Is this actually a day trip?
- Or, is this a small outing while on a longer camping expedition?
In the latter case, flexibility is key: compact while not compromising comfort. This is the sort of bag that I’ll stuff into my larger pack, or clip out of the way when not in use.
I opted for the Gravity Pitch 12, from Deuter. The reason being that I can squish it into my main bag without adding too much extra bulk. I’m not worried about damaging it as there aren’t any rigid parts to damage. And it’s cheap enough (I pulled mine out of a bargain bin for less than £15) that I’m not out a small fortune if it gets lost or damaged.
The only downside to it is that it does add some bulk. The factors that are the bag’s biggest plus – its comfy and padded shoulder straps – prevent it from compressing as much as I’d like for a super-light hiking trip. If you’re not overly-concerned with packing for max efficiency, however, the Gravity Pitch 12 will certainly do the trick.
When I’m setting out for a day on the trails, but have the added comfort of either returning home or to a vehicle, the Airzone Z20, from Lowe Alpine, is my best friend.
This bag has been with me since 2016. Originally purchased as a cycling bag, it’s instead been my go-to for hikes through the South Downs, the Jurassic Coast, as well as through New Forest, The Lake District, London, and all over the UK’s countryside.
It’s big enough to hold a change of clothes or offer storage for extra/shed layers. The large inner compartment features a divider for a hydropack, as well as a zippered gear pocket for smaller bits. Separate from this, and attached to the back panel, is another smaller gear pocket. Being attached to a rigid panel allows for a little more weight and bulk to be placed in this pocket. I don’t know about you, but I hate fighting with bags that don’t consider structural integrity and pocket placement. In this case, the contents remain in place and out of the way whether the main compartment is open or shut.
On the underside of the bag is a stow-pocket, hiding a rain cover. The cover is more than capable of covering the bag, even when absolutely stuffed.
On the outside of the bag are a further 3 handy pouches. Each side features large elastic mesh pouches, perfect for water bottles, bits of kit, small stones, you name it. Unlike other bags I’ve used, these pouches are quite deep and sturdy. Lowe Alpine has found a good balance with their mesh that allows them to remain easy access, but strong enough that you’re rarely worried about escapees. I use a 1L canister for water on longer hikes, and even it fits without hassle.
There’s also a large elastic mesh pocket on the face of the bag. This is a great place to store maps, gloves, or other small items you’ll want easy access to. It may also accommodate a helmet, but I’ve not tried and suspect it might be a tight fit.
Also worth noting are attachments for hiking poles. 2 poles can sit secure to one side of the bag, held in place at the bottom by 2 plastic eyelets, and at the top by an elastic clip. The poles will limit access to one of the side pockets, but that’s why the designers gave us two, I suppose.
The coup de grace of the Airzone Z20, however, is the air zone itself. Do you suffer from back sweat while hiking? Do you dread removing your pack for fear of swampback? I sure do. While this system hasn’t cured it, Lowe Alpine’s pack has gone a long way towards alleviating my struggles with lumbar dampness.
What else can I rattle off?
The back panel of the bag is a rigid shell, molded in an arch shape. Combined with a padded mesh panel, a gap of several cms is created between your back and the bag. In theory, this allows air to flow, keeping your back comfortably cool and dry-ish, while still distributing the bag’s weight to all the right places.
In practice, it actually works really well. I’ve worn the bag on 14+ hour hikes and find it to be far more comfortable than bags that sit flush to my back. The downside? The arched shape does impact the storage of the main compartment.
I don’t mind. The added comfort is a worthy tradeoff, but your mileage may vary.
I’ve found that I need to be creative with packing, ensuring that I don’t sacrifice sandwich integrity for access to my camera or underlayer. That said, I’ve also taken this bag on multi-day outings, so it can be done!
We’ve come to the part that I’m most excited for. I’m not even joking, I’ve been anticipating writing about this bag ever since it arrived at my door. I even long for the day when I can visit the company’s shop in the Lake District. I’m talking about Millican.
If you don’t know anything about these bags, I definitely recommend jumping on the ole infobox and having a looksee.
Done? Ok let’s see what I have to say.
I don’t wear it on my sleeve, but I’m an artisanal hipster at heart. If it’s practical, ethical, recycled, or wouldn’t seem out of place on the cover of a self-published pulpy adventure graphic novel, well friend, you’ve found a customer for life!
These are some well-made bits of gear. Inspired by old school mentality, Millican bags are built to be functional, sturdy, no-nonsense and as ethical as possible. A lot of consideration has gone into these things, with special thought being given as to how to offer the most versatility in the simplest package.
I opted for the 25L Smith Roll Pack.
For starters, it’s expandable. The top can be rolled tight or unfurled almost to full, while still allowing enough material to make a good seal. Simply put, I wanted something I could take on weekend getaways.
It needed to be small enough to fit in an overhead compartment, comfortable enough to sit on my back for a weekend while also allowing extra space for knick knacks, tourist finds, or just a lack of energy to pack and repack with utmost efficiency at every stop. As an added bonus, it should look nice. Which it does.
Function and form.
This bag exudes funtionality. A single strap wraps over the top of the bag, securing the rolled top via an aluminium clasp. This strap is adjustable, with any excess strappage tucked nicely in a pocket on the bag’s front.
This pocket is created in a space between the main compartment and a large pouch on the front of the bag. As well as a place to hide extra straps, it’s a perfect spot to stow maps or a large D lock, if you use the bag for cycling.
The pouch itself has a flap that’s secured with a smaller strap and clasp. This strap also features a bit of reflective fabric that can be revealed when cycling. The interior of the pouch offers a few open and zippered compartments for smaller items, including plush fabric for fragile things, like phone screens, etc…
Moving on, the outside of the bag also includes 2 large pouches, one on either side. These are quite deep and perfect for water bottles and larger items like rain jackets, inflatable mats or cooking kits.
You’ll also find attachments for hiking poles. While I’ve never used these, they appear to be quite sturdy and placed so as to affect the contents of the bag as little as possible.
As for the straps, these are large and padded. I’ve found them to be quite comfortable, even for longer outings. They’re secured directly to the semi-rigid back panel and do a great job of distributing weight. For me, the pack sits comfortably on my back. There are adjustments that can be made to modify it for individual tastes, as well.
It’s worth noting that the straps, as well as most of the rest of the construction of the bag, is put together in such a way as to allow for easy repair. Millican stands behind their products and offers repairs for even serious damage. Should you manage to damage a bag beyond repair, wear it out, or simply decide to upgrade, the company offers a return and recycle policy. Returned bags are either rehomed via charity partners, or recycled into future products.
The interior of the bag keeps things simple. Mostly consisting of a large open space, the only pockets you’ll find inside are a large sleeve, a second smaller plush sleeve, for things like tablets, and several smaller sleeves and zippers for smaller items. The main space is perfect space for those who use packing cubes. I have 3 cubes of varying sizes that I use for most weekend trips. These fit nicely in this space, with enough room leftover for an extra jacket or other bits.
I’ve spotted Smith bags being used for longer hiking trips, so they can be quite versatile, especially if you’re a more minimal traveller than I am.
The back panel also hides 2 narrow storage sleeves. This gives them the benefit of being protected by the back panel, as well as the security of being tucked away from sticky fingers. Each one features sturdy plastic zippers, as well as slightly magnetic bits, keeping zippers protected by water-resistant flaps.
One compartment is perfect for things like wallets, passports, and travel docs. There’s even an added clasp for keys. I love this as I can stash my travel docs safely, but still have quick access when boarding. It’s also great to be able to offload my flat keys and not have to have a frantic search for them after several days away.
The other compartment runs the entire height of the back panel. This is meant as a laptop sleeve and does its job really well. I’ve had no trouble fitting a 13” macbook into mine, complete with a slim shell case. That said, it’s a tight fit for the larger laptops. They will fit, even with a shell case, but it’s a snug fit.
How about some negatives?
The fit isn’t for everyone. While this bag fits my frame, I can see how it might be uncomfortable on others. My partner also likes it, but does find other female-tailored bags to be more comfortable for long hikes. That said, that’s without adjusting the straps, so perhaps that could be fixed with a little fiddling.
I’m really not the biggest fan of the waist strap. It’s great that this bag has one, but it’s quite thin and unpadded. The few times I’ve used it I’ve found it to be really uncomfortable. Thankfully, the strap is easy to remove, and I’ve rarely had the bag packed heavily enough that I wish I’d had it. Still, it’s a shame that the bag doesn’t feature the more robust strap as found on some of its other bags. This would be a nice addition on the 25L version, at the very least.
The laptop compartment is also pretty snug. Again, your mileage may vary. It’s fine for my laptop … buut … if your case is on the thick side, or you’re sporting a beefier laptop, it might be a sticking point.
The Smith has a classic aesthetic that I absolutely love. It wouldn’t be out of place on the side of a munroe, slung from a wall in a cabin, or on the streets of London. It’s understated and stylish, yet entirely functional.
That slightly muted colouring? That’s natural. The materials? They’re durable and recycled. Everything about the construction and materials speaks to the care and consideration Millican has taken at every turn. Seams are double stitched. Fabrics are water-resistant. Materials are recycled and repurposed from post-consumer plastics and fabrics, wherever possible.
In fact, since I bought my bag, the company has updated its entire line. Most of their current bags feature a great deal more recycled materials, including plastics in the outer shell which vastly improve the water-resistant qualities. That said, I’ve never had water be an issue with mine, and find I simply need to treat it every few years/cleanings like I would my hiking boots.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on bags. I enjoy writing my opinions on gear, but feel unqualified to do so until I’ve put things through a solid test. With gear costing what it does, I don’t mind spending a bit of time researching my options before pulling the trigger on a purchase. If you’ve stumbled across this post, hopefully I’ve been able to help you with your own decision making.
If you’re looking for a daypack, I whole-heartedly recommend the Airzone Z20, from Lowe Alpine. If you can work around its awkward shape, it’s a solid and comfy bit of gear.
For longer treks, it’s hard to beat the practicality of Millican’s The Smith Roll Pack. My 25L has been my go-to bag for longer outings and weekend trips. It’s not perfect, but it suits my needs to a T, and I feel like a proper old school adventurer while sporting it. As soon as is possible, I fully intend to invest in one of their larger Fraser bags, to cover our longer hiking and camping trips.
I especially like the outlook of the company and the strides they’ve taken to support their products while being environmentally and socially aware. Not to mention that they’re heck’n stylish!