I will admit that I have way too many backpacks for any one Dad to own. I’m always on the lookout for the perfect backpack. I know I can’t be the only parent trying to find a backpack that has great multi-functionality, is stylish, doesn’t look like a diaper bag, isn’t too tiny, isn’t too huge, and has two water bottle holders that will actually hold water bottles in the pockets when you swing the bag around. That said, here is what I have found out by reading countless reviews, buying countless backpacks, and trying them out. Here is my comprehensive list (so far), of what the parent daypack needs to do:
- Hiking with the kids (too big, will not travel)
- The Beach (waterproof, or at least will not soak)
- The Park (too small, will not hold enough gear)
- Zoos and Museums (good snacks and water bottle holders are must)
- Disneyland and Themeparks (keep on eye on those loose strings)
- Camping (small enough to fit in your bigger backpack)
- Traveling in a new city (stylish enough to not make you look like a tourist)
As you can see, you need a ton of different features for a backpack to even be in the running for a Parent Pack. I usually try to aim to get 5 of these covered off with any one bag, otherwise I have learned that the bag will just sit in the closet never being used.
- Great (not Good) Water Bottle Holders, and you need two of them to even be in the conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I have bought a backpack (in the beginning) to find out the water bottle holders on the side were complete junk. I would put in my water bottle (i.e. this one, or this one), swing my bag around to get a snack, and whoom there goes my water bottle flying out of the side pocket. It only takes one time for this to happen on the bus where my water bottle goes flying down the aisle to retire a bag for me. I have retired countless North Face bags just because of this one flaw (and yes this is a flaw). So non-starter if the water bottle holders don’t have good elastic on the top, stretchy pockets, and ideally a tie down that will keep the water bottle in place.
- Quick Zip Pocket on top or in front. I think this is self explanatory. If you don’t have a quick zip pocket on the front or on top (better), then how are you going to get snacks. I got the answer for you, you aren’t. You are going to be digging through your “rucksack” with the top roll opening for 5 minutes. I also don’t need to tell you that when a kid wants a snack, 5 minutes is like 4 minutes and 30 seconds too late.
- Good Shoulder Straps. Cheapo shoulder straps mean when you inevitably have to put the jackets, water bottles, footballs, and whatever else you buy into your backpack your shoulders will be burning. They don’t have to be super big, just have some padding. Those bags with strings for pads are for the young folks.
- Back Panel. What is a back panel, well you can think of it as a cushion that goes on the back of a backpack that provides some space for your back to air out. Why is this a non-negotiable for me. Easy, go hiking, and tell me how soaked your back is with a backpack that doesn’t have a back panel. Not hard to find, and any good backpack will have it.
- No Hip Strap. What…?! That’s right, I used to be all about the hipstrap, until I tried to put it in an overhead carry on, carry it in the bus, walk with it in a city, go to the beach (and get it covered in sand), and ride a rollercoaster with it at Disneyland. No. Thank. You. Any dongles, straps, or otherwise known as things that can get stuck, trapped, or ripped off, are a no go for me.
That said, my top 3 parent backpacks today for kids that are older than preschool (which I will review in individual posts) are as follows:
Now I’m not a backpack reviewer, but if you are interested in backpacks, my favorite backpack reviewers are Chase (his website here) and Bo (you will find him here). They will have reviewed exponentially more bags, and are the true experts in the industry.