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(Almost) Every Bag I’ve Owned in 25 Years

As I stated before, I have a problem with bags. In my search for the one bag to rule them all, I’ve amassed a large pile of bags. I’ve kept almost every bag I’ve had since middle school when I got my first decent backpack, a North Face Hot Shot. I haven’t found the perfect bag yet, but I’m going to keep looking.

Below is almost every backpack I’ve owned. The two missing bags are a Jand Mountaineering hydration bag that didn’t have the capacity I needed. I think I gave it away, but I’m not certain of it’s fate. The other bag is a North Face day bag I bought off eBay. It didn’t fit my body at all so I gave it to my sister.

Here are the bags in chronological order to the best of my memory along with some info on why I bought it, why it’s not the one, and how I currently use it:

North Face Hot Shot: My first halfway decent bag.

  • When it was purchased: 1992 or ’93?
  • Intended purpose: School Backpack
  • Why I purchased it: All my friends had them, and I wanted to fit in. Really lame reason, but it’s the truth.
  • Why it isn’t the one: Not enough capacity or organization.
  • How I use it now: Climbing gym bag. It works perfectly for a harness, a couple biners, belay device, chalk bag, shoes, water bottle, with room to spare for a change of clothes.

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North Face Klettersack: I wrote about it while back because 20+ years later, it has seen and still sees the most consistent use of any bag I own.

  • When it was purchased: 1993 or ’94?
  • Intended purpose: School Backpack
  • Why I purchased it: To replace the Hot Shot as a school bag, plus it was awesome.
  • Why it isn’t the one: Not enough organization.
  • How I use it now: Gym bag, transition bag on the rare occasion that I do a triathlon or Xterra.

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Mountainsmith Telemark Backpack:

  • When it was purchased: 1996ish?
  • Intended purpose: Multi-day Backpacking trips, Skiing when there were hikes involved.
  • Why I purchased it: A friend had the next size down from the telemark and I liked that bag quite a bit, but wanted something bigger. Saw the Telemark in Powder Magazine and the review fit exactly what I was looking for.
  • Why it isn’t the one: Too big for a day bag. Not big enough for more than an overnight, maybe two.
  • How I use it now: Hauling climbing gear to the base of the localish crags.

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Jandd Mountaineering Hydration Bag:

  • When it was purchased: 1998
  • Intended purpose: Hydration bag for mountain biking.
  • Why I purchased it: It was less expensive than a Camelbak, and Jandd had a no questions asked repair/replace warranty.
  • Why it isn’t the one: Too small for all the crap I carried.
  • How I use it now: I believe I gave it to one of the younger kids who worked at the shop with me.

Jandd Mountaineering Hurricane Messenger Bags: I’m going to put the small and large bags in the same section because I bought them around the same time and used them interchangeably for the same purpose, depending on how much I needed to carry on a given day.

  • When they were purchased: 1999 (small one first followed almost immediately by the large)
  • Intended purpose: Day bag for college. I rode to class and was about 4 years in from going headlong into cycling culture so had to get a messenger bag.
  • Why I purchased them: We carried Jandd Mountaineering products in the shop at which I worked. They were excellent quality, and had fantastic customer care. Jandd was/is not well know, and since I was hipster before hipster was a thing, I couldn’t get a Timbuk2 because this was about the time they got really mainstream. Plus, prodeal…
  • Why they aren’t the one: These really fit exactly what I was looking for when I bought them and I used them all through college, and many years after as my everyday carry bag. I only stopped using them because I injured both my shoulders (separately) which made messenger bags uncomfortable to carry.
  • How I use them now: Going through the exercise of writing this post, I figured there would be a few bags I could identify to get rid of. These are the only two bags I no longer use, mostly because my shoulders still don’t like them. But I loved these bags, used the hell out of them and they still look new. I’m going to hold onto them and hope one of my kids will think they are not mainstream enough to be cool and want to use them.

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Camelbak HAWG: Replaced the Jandd Mountaineering Hydration Bag.

  • When it was purchased: 2000ish
  • Intended purpose: Mountain biking hydration bag.
  • Why I purchased it: At the time it was one of the larger mountain bike specific hydration bags that Camelbak produced.
  • Why it isn’t the one: I was a boy scout and am a chronic over-packer. This was still too small to carry all the crap I carried on long rides.
  • How I use it now: My son uses it as his hydration bag for hiking and biking.

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North Face Generic Day Bag:

  • When it was purchased: 2001
  • Intended purpose: Backpack style day bag, needed to carry skis.
  • Why I purchased it: I had a lot of the features that I was looking for. Got it really cheap on eBay.
  • Why it isn’t the one: Too small for my body.
  • How I use it now: Since I couldn’t return it, I gave it to my sister almost immediately.

Dakine Helipro: This is the bag I had really wanted, but didn’t want to pay for when I bought the previous North Face bag. I have since learned not to compromise for a cheaper price.

  • When it was purchased: 2001
  • Intended purpose: Backpack style day bag, needed to carry skis.
  • Why I purchased it: It ticked almost all the boxes I was looking for in a day bag that could haul skis.
  • Why it isn’t the one: I used this bag for a long time. As I pulled back from skiing and got more into mountain biking and was doing longer rides into the shoulder seasons, I found that the Camelbak HAWG was too small for all the supplies and extra layers I was carrying. I started using this bag as my mountain bike hydration bag and used it that way until 2008.
  • How I use it now: This is probably the bag that is most underutilized without being completely unused. We bought a really awesome hammock in Key West in 2006 and when I stopped using this as my mountain biking pack, I started storing the hammock and associated supplies for hanging in this bag.

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Arc’teryx Blade 21: I separated my left shoulder in a mountain bike crash in 2007. I was still using my Jandd Mountaineering Messenger bags at that point as they really had served as the ideal everyday carry bags. I was traveling for work and found that not being able to switch the bag between shoulders was uncomfortable on long travel days so I started looking for a backpack to replace them. While I was on the road, I’d take my down time to visit outdoor stores and load everything in my messenger bag into various bags and walk around the store. REI was really good about letting me do this. The Blade 21 was my first go at a replacement.

  • When it was purchased: 2008
  • Intended purpose: Everyday carry backpack for work/travel.
  • Why I purchased it: It fit, and organized all the crap I was carrying with me while traveling for work.
  • Why it isn’t the one: There were two features I didn’t realize I wanted when I bought it. A place to stow a water bottle, and a way to carry extra layers like I was able to do under the flap of the messenger bag. There was one additional issue that really sealed the fate of this bag. The damn shoulder straps creaked with every. single. step. From the first day I owned it, it drove me insane. I stopped using it pretty quickly because of the two features it was missing, and would periodically try and use it again only to remember how infuriating the creaking was. I reached out to Arc’teryx about it, but apparently infuriating creaking in the shoulder straps is not a manufacturer’s defect. If you’re listening Arc’teryx, your lack of concern over this issue has turned me off of your brand indefinitely.
  • How I use it now: Other than the damn creaking, it really is a nice bag. I use it now as a briefcase for ski patrol related business (not as my patrol bag).

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Camelbak Hellion:

  • When it was purchased: 2008
  • Intended purpose: Everyday carry backpack for work/travel.
  • Why I purchased it: It fit, and organized all the crap I was carrying with me while traveling for work. It also ticked the missing boxes on the Arc’teryx bag: Place to stow a water bottle, a place to stash extra layers (in the shovel pocket), no infuriating creaking.
  • Why it isn’t the one: This one has come the closest to being the one. I really like this bag, but it lacks the organization I am looking for in an everyday bag. Although it was almost identical to the Dakin Helipro in intended purpose and dimensions, it was somehow better than the Helipro in difficult to express ways. I ended up using the Hellion as my mountain bike hydration pack for several years.
  • How I use it now: I don’t mountain bike nearly as often as I did before kids, and generally they are shorter rides so I don’t carry as much as I did back then. I’m using a Dakine Heli pack as my mountain bike hydration bag for typical rides. The Helipro sees occasional use in different situations now. On the rare occasion I get out on a mountain bike trip, the Helipro is my bag of choice. I also use it when I sign on to ski patrol at larger hills where I want to carry a bit more than will comfortably fit in my patrol vest. I also use it if I’m not patrolling, but when I skiing and want to carry a backpack. I’m still trying to figure out how to make the patch removable. I actually looked for new-old-stock to purchase a second bag so I could have one with a patch, and one without. I no longer travel for work so my travel needs are very different, up until very recently the Hellion was also my go to bag for traveling.

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Jansport Agave 32: 

  • When it was purchased: 2009
  • Intended purpose: Everyday carry backpack for work/travel.
  • Why I purchased it: I was still taking my bags to outdoor stores and looking for “the one” at this point. The Jansport Agave 32 fit, and organized all the crap I was carrying with me while traveling for work and mostly checked my boxes. Organization, capacity, water bottle stowage, I could use the cinch straps to hold a jacket, no infuriating creek.
  • Why it isn’t the one: It’s hard to put my figure on it. Aside from the Blade 21, this was the first bag I had purchased that was actually intended to be a general duty day bag. This became apparent when I really loaded it down. It doesn’t carry a load as well as the Hellion or Helipro and I think this is why I stopped using it as an everyday bag.
  • How I use it now: Bike commuting bag. It fits and organizes all of my clothes an assorted crap better than any of my other backpacks. The surly patch was added as a place to put a blinky light. The top is not sewn on. I only commute occasionally. If I was a more frequent commuter I’d probably look at a more purpose built bag. For now, stashing everything in a trash bag works if I get caught out in the rain.

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Columbia Patrol Pack:

  • When it was purchased: 2013
  • Intended purpose: Ski patrol pack
  • Why I purchased it: Had more organization than the next size down. Wasn’t as big as the bigger version (I patrol in the midwest, I don’t need to carry as much as patrollers out west).
  • Why it isn’t the one: To big even for midwest skiing. For my local hill, I can carry everything I need in my vest. On the occasions when I sign on at a larger hill, I use my Camelbak Hellion. It’s a better size.
  • How I use it now: I keep this stocked with an extensive first aid kit in the trunk of my car.

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Dakine Heli Bag: 

  • When it was purchased: 2015
  • Intended purpose: Alternative to the Hellion.
  • Why I purchased it: Since I couldn’t find any new-old-stock of the Camelbak Hellion, I bought this bag as a patrol bag so I could use the Hellion in the non-patrol/mountain bike roles.
  • Why it isn’t the one: To small to be my patrol pack.
  • How I use it now: Since I don’t ride as much, I use this as my mountain bike hydration bag, and non-patrolling skiing bag and keep the Hellion as my patrol pack.

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Marmot Big Bison: 

  • When it was purchased: 2015
  • Intended purpose: Everyday carry backpack for family outings/travel.
  • Why I purchased it: It fit, and organized all the crap I carry day to day. Was hoping it would carry a load better than the jansport.
  • Why it isn’t the one: This bag really did everything I wanted, but like the Jansport it was designed as a general duty day bag, and doesn’t really carry a load well. Plus, the top pocket flops around unless the bag is fully loaded.
  • How I use it now: Camera bag and light duty everyday bag. I keep my DSLR and GoPro and all their assorted accouterments in this bag. If I don’t need much more than water bottles and perhaps some light layers, I’ll grab this bag for family outings.

(Because it’s my camera bag, I had it off to the side when I was taking photos of all my other bags and forgot to get a clean shot of it…)

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Bontrager Messenger Bag:

  • When it was purchased: 2015
  • Intended purpose: Bag for professional settings.
  • Why I purchased it: It was on super closeout.
  • Why it isn’t the one: Forgot about my damn shoulders.
  • How I use it now: I do actually use this one as intended, as a bag for professional settings.

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Dakine Builder Pack: My most recent purchase. Perhaps it’s an indication that I carry too much crap, but I’ve come to realize that general duty bags don’t really work for me as family outing/travel bags. I’ve had my eye on the Dakine builder pack for awhile now. Though it has a very specific purpose, for which I have little intention of using it, the features made it stand out to me so I took a shot in the dark and ordered one.

  • When it was purchased: 2017
  • Intended purpose: Larger backpack for family outings/travel.
  • Why I purchased it: Loads of capacity, designed to carry a heavy load, organization, places to stash water bottles and spare layers.
  • Why it isn’t the one: TBD
  • How I use it now: For sure this is a big bag. The internal frame is an indication that it is designed to carry weight. I’ve only really used it on one outing, but was able to carry camera gear, extra clothes, snacks, 4 water bottles and 3 folding chairs while riding my bike to my kid’s track practice with no problems. This will be the family outing bag when the Marmot is too small. I anticipate being able to fit a weekend’s worth of stuff in it and forgo a second carry on bag for short trips. I do occasionally help the local club with trail building, or clear undergrowth from my favorite tree runs so at some point I plan on actually testing it to its intended purpose.

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I’m sure the Builder Pack won’t be my last attempt at finding the one bag to rule them all. If anything, backpacks are like tools. You need the right one for the job at hand. But like bikes and skis, trying to find the quiver killer is justification for building an impressive quiver.

And now 3 bags that haven’t really been part of the search for “the one” but have been put through the ringer and continue to serve me well.

Old School Frame Pack: This was my uncle’s frame pack from when he was a kid. I ended up with it, but didn’t have a frame to put it on. It sat in my parent’s basement for probably 15 years. I stumbled upon the good folks at Frost River in Duluth Minnesota. For an amazing price they sewed on shoulder straps that look as if they were always part of the pack. I used this as a weekender type bag when we travel by car.

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Eagle Creek 22″ Roll Aboard: When I first started traveling for work I was using cheap carry on bags. I was lucky to get 6 months out of one. Usually it was closer to 3 months before it fell apart. During one of my forays into REI searching for a backpack, I saw a deal on the Eagle Creek carry on bag. What sold me on it was the warranty. No questions asked repair or replacement even if it was damaged by the airline and it wasn’t a defect. I only need to get 6 months out of it, plus 6 more months out of a repaired or replacement bag to justify the cost. The damn thing held up through 2 years of weekly air travel, plus another 6 of occasional use by myself or my wife. I’ve even loaned it to friends. This was definitely one of my best bag/luggage purchases.

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Specialized Duffel Bag: During springs, summer, and fall my riding gear has lived in this bag. In winter it changed over to storing all of my ski gear. It has seen easily 100+ days of use per year for 17 years and while it’s a little frayed around the edges, it is showing no signs of slowing down.

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About the author:

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Dave Martin has been skiing and mountain biking for more than 25 years. He turned wrenches in shops for 15 years before selling his soul for a corporate “career.” To keep his spirit alive he’s a volunteer ski patroller and doing his best to raise his two kids into badass dirtbags. You can find him on instagram as @dwnhlldav

 

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I Have A Problem With Bags

I have a problem with bags.

More specifically, I have been searching for the perfect bag and have yet to find it. In the process I’ve ended up with more bags than I know what to do with. I’m to the point that I have so many, my wife doesn’t notice when I bring home the new “the one” only to find it’s not the one and toss it on the pile.

It all started with my first decent quality bag, a North Face Hot Shot. I think I got it in 1992 or ’93. To be truthful, I wanted it because my friends all had the same bag, and I wanted to fit in. But, it really didn’t fit my needs as a school bag.

The next year, I bought a North Face Klettersack.

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It was actually less useful as a school bag, but over the years I’ve found that it’s simple, utilitarian design has made in one of my most indispensable bags.  It needed the zipper repaired sometime in the late 90s, and I had to replace the cinch string with an old boot lace sometime in the early 2000s.

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20 years after I got the bag, the Audubon patch I sewed on is so worn it’s barely readable, and electrical tape is holding together one of the buckles, but it’s still going strong as my daily gym bag. Over the years it’s been used as a triathlon transition bag, climbing haul bag, surf backpack, weekend bag, day hiking bag, and diaper bag.

While the Klettersack has left me wanting more internal organization, it’s simple utilitarian design has made it one of the few bags I’ve used continuously since the time I bought it. Maybe it really is “the one?”

Quiver Killers They Are Not…

It seems that every marketing guru is touting their product as the so-called quiver killer. The one bike that will dominate World Cup DH courses, weekly fast guy road rides, and let you commute to work in ultimate comfort. The one pair of skis that will rip groomers, the park and pipe, bottomless pow, and blast crud. That one cam that fits in any crack, converts to a nut, and doubles as a bottle opener.

Thank god my wife doesn’t pay attention to the marketing. I’d never get away with the endless stream of gear that cycles through my house. I’m a firm believer in using the right tool for the job. That being said, I usually have a go to piece of gear. It’s the pair of skis I grab when I don’t know what conditions will be, the bike I grab more than any of the others, the backpack I carry everyday.

To pay homage to our favorite pieces of gear, we’ll be posting reviews of those items over the next few months. Don’t miss any of the reviews by liking our Facebook page or following us on Instagram. We also want to see your favorite pieces of gear. Tell us about your favorite go to item.

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