Oh hey. I have a bit of a confession. I’m a bit obsessed with backpacks. Well, I’m a bit obsessed with things that can contain other things – i.e. backpacks, bags, water bottles, mason jars, tiffins, packing cubes, etc. I am also on the quest to find the perfect travel/hiking/city/everyday backpack. It’s a tall order.
First, let’s look into how picky I am. The perfect backpack:
- Is nice-looking. So many backpacks are functional and ugly as shit. At some point, it’s just not enjoyable to wear it. I want to be able to wear this bag hiking, traveling, in cities, and to anywhere without it being obvious that I am a tourist and without it exclaiming HEY I JUST WENT FOR A HIKE, FELLOW BAR PATRONS. Also, no giant logos please. And no stupid colors.
- Is functional. This means proper suspension so a heavier load doesn’t kill me. Also tough enough to withstand everything I throw at it.
- Ideally, is waterproof
- Does not include a brain. For those of you that don’t know, the brain is a feature that some backpacks have which is basically a big floppy top pocket that flips over the top opening to your backpack. While the pocket is nice, it is super annoying to flip around if you go to open your backpack a lot. NO BRAINS.
- Has organizational features. I can’t tell you the number of trendy backpacks I’ve seen that DON’T HAVE WATER BOTTLE POCKETS. Yes, I’m very passionate about this. It’s because I carry a water bottle basically everywhere, which includes hiking. So the bag needs to have water bottle pockets. All in all, I want:
- Water bottle pockets. Two of them.
- A separate laptop compartment. It makes it a lot easier to get it out for security/at the coffee shop.
- Pen holders
- A place for my keys, phone, and wallet that I can easily access but thieves can’t
- Something to hold hiking poles/ice axe/snowshoes/whatever else I might want to strap in
- Has something reflective. I’d prefer that cars see me. Make it stylish though, please.
- Has an outside expandable pocket for stuffing things like wet rain jackets
- Has an inner tablet/document pocket
- Has mental hardware. It lasts longer, looks nicer, and is easier to recycle!
- Is at least somewhat theft-proof
- Is one that not everyone has. Yes, I’m a damn hipster
- Some element of sustainability to the company
Well, Millican Smith bag, how do you measure up?
Two words: DROOL-WORTHY. I love love love the way this bag looks, with its roll-top closure, its front flap pocket, and its understated good looks. It’s an old school style pack with modern features and I LOVE IT. The logo is minimal to the point where I forget it’s even there. Woot. It comes in several understated colors, all of which are gorgeous and help you blend in a city. I got one in the rust red color and it’s sooooo prettty. It also comes in faded black (Graphite Grey), light gray (Stone), light faded blue (Tarn), dark faded blue (Slate), and a faded army green (Moss).
You can roll the top closed or close it with it just folded over. It has so many looks!
This seems to be a pretty well-constructed bag. It has decent suspension and weight distribution. Buuuttt it could do better. I’d like to see padded waist straps instead of just webbing, so they can actually support some weight. Also, the orientation of the shoulder straps is kind of strange – they basically come out of the bag in a V. If not positioned low enough, they can pinch your neck, especially if you have slightly more muscular shoulders. And load lifter straps might also be nice.
Also, this is a unisex bag, meaning that it’s built for a medium-sized lady and up or a man. I’m 5’6″ and this takes up most of my back. If you are under 5’4″, it’s going to be too big for your back.
Yeaaaahhhh baby! This bag is waterproof. No worries about hiking in the rain all day or in the mud. The material is a cotton canvas impregnated with a polyester waterproof layer (it’s called Bionic Canvas). All the compartments are protected by a flap and the main compartment is sealed with a roll-top, which is the most waterproof solution out there. This photo was taken after a day in the pouring rain. My laptop was in the laptop compartment and I was worried, but it was completely dry!
4. No brain
Yes people, this is a brainless backpack. Thank goodness. The lack of brain also makes it very, very expandable.
5. Organizational features
Somehow the genius folks at Millican managed to make this backpack look old school while packing it with modern features. YES. It has:
- TWO WATER BOTTLE POCKETS. And they actually look nice and hold the bottles just fine. You can’t access them with the pack on, which is annoying, but I’ve never had a backpack where I could so no big deal.
- A laptop compartment. Right near the back. Thaaaannnkkk youuuu. Fits a 13″ Macbook Pro just fine, fits my 15″ Surface Book 2 without a case, but you have to work at it a bit. Bonus points: there is a magnetic snap closure above the zippered opening to keep the rain out!
- Pen holders! Yes, I carry pens and the occasional stylus. Now I have somewhere to put them that isn’t a black hole. The front compartment has pen holders! It also has a pocket that’s large enough to fit my 311 bag and a padded pocket that snugly fits my cell phone.
6. Keys, Wallet, Cell Phone:
- A place for my keys! There is a compartment on the left side near the back just for keys! It’s also big enough to hold my kindle!
- Wallet: there is a zippered pouch in the front compartment that fits a wallet. If you don’t want to put it there, there is another one inside the main body of the backpack. There is also a lot of room in the key pocket.
- Cell phone: there is a nice padded cell phone pocket in the front compartment. It snugly fits my Galaxy S7 with a thin case. If this isn’t large enough, there is a larger unpadded compartment inside the main body of the bag. This padded compartment can also be used for sunglasses.
7. Hiking Pole/Tripod Attachment Loop
8. Reflective Detailing
The reflective strap on the front can be flipped out of sight.
9. Expandable Pocket on the Outside for Wet Jackets
10. Padded Tablet and Document Sleeve
- In front of this there is a super deep non-padded pocket that is perfect for storing paper documents
- The inside of the bag is a light color so you can actually see inside it
11. Metal hardware
- The waist straps and sternum straps are adjustable (the sternum strap is a pain in the butt but you only have to do it once!) and removable.
- In addition to the nice large padded handle that is part of the roll top closure, there is a tiny mini handle behind it that is perfect for hanging the backpack on a hanger.
- All the hardware is metal. Classy AF. Think talon closures instead of zippers.
12. Anti-theft stuff
- Remember that key compartment? It’s actually a rather large pocket and perfect for storing a passport, since you can’t really tell it exists from the side. Check!
- Same with the laptop sleeve
- No thief is going to bother trying to open this backpack while it’s on you. The talon closures are confusing if you’ve never used them before (you pick it up fast!) and you would have to unroll the whole thing.
- Similarly, the more fiddly (to the point of being somewhat annoying) compartment is the front one where you might store things like your wallet and cell phone. If I have trouble opening it, thieves sure will too.
- No RFID blocking pockets here, but is that really that much of an issue? I’d love to hear your stories in comments!
13. Not everyone has it
I don’t like looking like everyone else. Call me a hipster, but it’s important to me. Well, this bag gets MAXIMUM hipster points. (I realize that by sharing this, more people will buy this bag which will make it less hipster, but still, you saw it first here folks!). First of all, Millican is a UK company. They design the bags there and the bags themselves are hard to get outside of the UK. REI carries them now though.
Also, the company is located in a National Park and is named after the local legend and explorer Millican Dalton. Who is basically Christopher McCandless/Henry David Thoreau. Read more about him here.
14. Some element of sustainability
This bag is made of 57% recycled materials. It’s designed in the UK and made in Vietnam. If you happen to rip it (I don’t even know how you could manage to do this; it’s so strong!), they can help advise you on repair options so your bag can last forever!
A Field Test
While on my work trip to Medford, OR I brought only this backpack. I went on a couple hikes and jaunts around town with it. The most intense was a day when it was cold and rainy (well, drizzling) all day. I was leaving that day, so I had all that I had packed (including my laptop) in the bag.
How did it do?
- Everything inside stayed dry! I was a little nervous about the rain getting into the laptop compartment on the side, but everything stayed super dry! A+
- I also set it down in the mud a couple times and it stayed pretty clean! Not only does the waterproof layer repel water – it keeps dirt from sticking to the bag.
- It handled the weight okay, but not amazingly. Without weighing it, I would say that I had about 15-20 lbs in there. After about 30 minutes, I could feel it in my shoulders and needed to adjust the position of the straps. The sternum strap helped a bit. I didn’t bring along the waist straps, but I know from experience with similar non-padded waist straps that they offer more stability than weight distribution.
Who is this bag for?
If you want to go from travel to work to hiking and to a bar, all with one bag, this is the bag for you. It excels at fitting in and performing well with it’s understated good looks in nearly any situation. The only thing I wouldn’t recommend it for is carrying a lot of weight (more than 15 lbs) and ultralight travel situations – it’s a hefty (and tough) bag!
THIS BACKPACK IS AMAZING. The only things I would change are the weird shoulder strap configuration and I would like padded waist straps so they can distribute the weight more evenly.
Here’s where you can buy it.