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Innovative Backpacks: Gimmicks or Functional?

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

A man and a woman hiking up a trail in the mountains.

Oh, how we love our backpacks. And how backpack manufacturers love to tinker with them. Everything from backpacks specifically designed to be theft-proof, to sections that rotate around to your front, to backpacks that stay stationary as you hike, and backpacks with built-in umbrellas. I've collected a few samples of innovative backpacks for your review and entertainment. One thing to keep in mind, all of these backpacks are pricey. Innovation doesn't come cheap you know.

Note: Some of these are available from Amazon and as an Amazon Affiliate I will get slightly compensated if you buy one of them.

First up we have the 2in1 Built-in Sun Umbrella Backpack from Mavigadet. Its advertising claims, "Waterproof. Rain cover and back anti-theft pocket. UV protection protects the sun and rain from the outdoors".

2in1 Built-in Sun Umbrella Backpack from Mavigadet.

Read that out loud. Considering the backpack retails for $499.95 you would think they could afford a proofreader. Aside from the umbrella attribute, this backpack doesn't offer much more than standard backpacks this size. And considering you can buy an umbrella that's larger and clips onto your existing backpack for $32, I'm not sure this is worth the cost.

Tenba Solstice 12L Backpack.

On the more functional and affordable end, we have the Tenba Solstice 12L Backpack. This starts at $155.95 and is designed with photographers in mind. What's unique about this design is that it opens fully from the straps side of the backpack. If you take off the straps while wearing it and swivel the pack around from the belt strap, you can open it up with the pack in front of you.

Tenba Solstice 12L Backpack.

It comes in three sizes, 12L, 20L, and 24L, and I can see where even for those that just use their smartphones for capturing nature's beauty, this would make a convenient day hike pack.

Next up we have the Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault Backpack. Mystery Ranch has produced a lot of high-end backpacks. And this interesting pack is right there with them. This will cost you $217.98 but considering its lineage, probably money well spent.

 Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault Backpack

The pack has all the usual features you'd expect, but what makes this pack stand out is the three-way zipper setup. Instead of the usual plebian method of opening the backpack from the top. You can open the top and front of the back to get full access to the contents of your pack. The advertising says that it's designed for "Everyday urban missions" but you can probably take this out into the woods too.

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40L Daypack.

If you're looking for a pack designed for a very active

day, then you're going to want something like the

has four pouches on the front straps for small water

bottles, snacks, phones, etc., and is probably a little

more exciting than this guy makes it seem. It's a roll-top backpack with a side zipper to access your gear. This front-loaded pack comes in three sizes, 20L, 30L, 40L, and will set you back $194.95. (Maybe that price is why the guy looks so glum?)

Similar to the Tenba, is the Upranger from Eberlestock. This pack has a hard plastic back with the designed intention that you put that side down in the mud and dirt and then open it up from the strap side. This is no lightweight day pack.

Upranger from Eberlestock

It weighs in at 6.45 lbs and is designed for use at the outdoor gun range, or other events where your hike is short, the conditions are messy and you don't want your gear getting muddy. The pack costs $329 and only comes in tactical colours. But it's Eberlestock and for those familiar with that brand, neither the price nor colours are a surprise. I can see where this pack would be favoured by those that have outdoor work, linemen, surveyors, and loggers.

Probably one of the most innovative backpacks in recent years is the HoverGlide backpack. Initially, this was a pack developed for military use, but the Department of Defence dropped it and the developers have gone private since. This pack bounces on up and down on your back and is supposed to reduce impact forces on your back by 86%.

 HoverGlide backpack.

The HoverGlide uses a combination of pulleys and bungee cords to prevent the weight of the pack from pulling down on your shoulders. A unique idea and the videos on their site do a good job of explaining the mechanics of the system. However, with all those moving parts, I'd be a little concerned about its durability. Sand, dirt, moisture, etc., would likely cause mechanical problems over time. Nonetheless, of all the backpacks in this article, this is the one I'd most like to try out. But at $599 for the smallest pack, I don't think that will be happening anytime soon.

The Paxis Shuttle Pod backpack is similar to the Tenba in that it allows you to access some of your backpack gear without taking off the pack. Unlike the Tenba though, you don't have to take the should straps off. Just swivel the lower part of the pack around to the front.

 Paxis Shuttle Pod backpack

The pack retails for $225 and apparently, sales are good as the more expensive models ($325) are sold out. I do a lot of filming and photographing on my hikes and would definitely make use of this clever backpack. Like the HoverGlide, it has moving parts and again, dirt, sand, moisture may be a problem if not addressed properly. It's a small backpack designed more for day trips and hikes. I wasn't able to find any information on the weight of the pack but I'm guessing that with the swing arm, pack frame and padding in the section that swings out front, it's probably not a lightweight pack.

For men and apparently, for men only, we have L.L. Bean's Men's Technical Upland Vest Pack. I looked for a woman's version but to no avail.

L.L. Bean's Men's Technical Upland Vest Pack

This pack is designed sort of like a vest, but with its large lower storage on the back, it has the capacity for a day hike gear. This is one of the most affordable backpacks in this article at $149. One interesting feature of this pack is its "Large, lined bloodproof game bag." The pack is designed for hunters and the like but that doesn't mean a casual day hiker wouldn't benefit from its design. You'll notice in the photo that the majority of the weight is low on the back. This will help keep your center of gravity close to the hips and reduce the pack exposure to branches and the like if you're bushwhacking.

VITAL GEAR 2017VTGRJMMLORG Modular Travel Get Home Backpack

Finally, we have the VITAL GEAR 2017VTGRJMMLORG Modular Travel Get Home Backpack. Selling at $349.95. This pack also comes in two gender-specific harnesses and is designed more for the traveler and not the hiker. Nonetheless, I can see this pack being very functional for hikers or overnight backpacking trips. With dimensions of ‎22 x 13 x 7 inches, there's plenty of room for your gear. And with more MOLLE straps than a squad of Marines, there are plenty of ways you can add to this pack and carry more gear. Another interesting feature is how it opens. One big zipper that goes all the way around three sides enables it to open up like a suitcase.

The outdoor recreation business is a billion+ dollar a year part of our economy. With that much money going around, I don't think we'll see an end to folks trying to build a better mousetrap to snare us. That's fine with me. :)

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