For my first Things entry for 2012, I’ll be Tolkien[1. Not a typo.] about my black backpack.
I’ve had it now for 13 years. I know this because I received it as a gift from my then-girlfriend’s parents for my 21st birthday. Although I wasn’t expecting a gift from them, when they gave it to me I felt awkward because it was such a plain and utilitarian item. It sort of didn’t seem like a gift at all. But I like to think they could see waaaay into the future with this thing.
I’m petrified of the day I need to replace it. It’s so plain, so bare-bones, so stark, that it’ll be almost impossible to replace.
In today’s backpack climate, everything has extra padding, extra pull cords, extra colours, extra compartments, extra everything. Backpacks these days are extra extreme. They assume I want to look like a rock climber, or mountain biker, or some other adrenaline junkie’s wet dream of a pastime. But I want to boring, non-adrenaline-raising stuff with my backpack, like fill it with undies and socks for a short trip, or carry my shopping home.
This bag does just that — exceptionally well:
- It’s super light. It’s (almost) made from one type of material; a strong, thin, canvas-like plastic. And it’s black. No highlights.
- It has no extra anything. The only padding is in the shoulder straps, where it’s needed. This makes it easy to fold, crumple, or wrap up to fit into another bag if needed.
- The zips are strong. They’ve worked flawlessly for 13 years. 13 years! And they feel great in the fingers because they’re largish, and the metal is ever so slightly rounded. The zips don’t have any rubber, or texture for gripping, cos’ y’know, carrying some groceries doesn’t require a vice like grip.
- The bag’s design is basically a big rectangle. It is not streamlined. I’ll never be caught out stuffing that weirdly-shaped item into that niggly ‘small part’ of the bag. There simply is no small part of the bag.
- The rectangular shape makes it fantastic for packing things because you can easily and quickly visualise your packing ahead of time, resulting in a swift pack when at the supermarket checkout. When packing for a trip, it’s easy to Tetris-pack your clothes to achieve a maximum contents-to-size ratio.
- This backpack has one pocket at the front, roughly the same size as the whole front of the bag. It’s deep enough to fit four one-litre cartons of milk stacked like logs.
- It has a small loop to hang the bag on a hook, which bears the whole weight of a full bag of groceries without any issues. I often carry a full bag around by this loop in the house.
It only has one downside: some of the lining around the zips on the inside of the bag have begun to fray. Occasionally the zipper catches on the frayed fibres and jams up the zipper. It’s easy to unclog it — I’ve probably never spent more than five seconds getting it back to working order. And after 13 years of solid use I can hardly call that a downside.
Which brings me back to replacing this bag. Inevitably it will fray too much and fall apart. What will I do then? Where can you possibly get a backpack of such simplicity and stamina? Indeed, is anything built to last a decade and a half these days?