The thing about diaper bags, useful as they may be, is that they have an unusually short shelf life for something so utilitarian. This is probably to the delight of bag manufacturers, but as the owner of a 20-year-old red Jansport backpack that has been everywhere from Pittsburgh to the Galapagos, I had a hard time when it came to registering for a diaper bag.
On one hand, having a baby is highly specialized, and special—so why not use a bag that is emblematic of this time in life? On the other hand, I couldn’t quite justify the purchase. I never got around to registering for one, but I was gifted a beautiful Petunia Pickle Bottom convertible backpack that I loved using. This brand is a pricey, but an innovative one.
I can carry the bag as a tote or backpack. The color and pattern are cheerful and retro, and the bag itself is of the wipe-clean variety. It is still, clearly, a diaper bag. After two years of nonstop use, it sits on a shelf in my closet now, looking lovely. It’s just not quite right for work or travel.
With a speedy toddler on my hands and lots of family and work trips on the horizon, I gave up looking at bags geared towards parents and went straight to the surprisingly awesome world of bags for travelers, trekkers, hikers, and campers. Not only are there tons of options for bottle, toy, diaper, wipe, and book storage but when you use one of these you start to feel more adventurous. Be warned: You might even start hiking.
At the very least, you’ll be mistaken for a hiker.
Marmot Salt Point Daypack
While this one isn’t compartment-heavy, it is 15” laptop-friendly and priced right ($50 to $70). REI has a great color combo, while you can get it in black from the Marmot site. Padded shoulder straps mean you won’t get cranky carrying this on long day trips, and two external water bottle pockets are great for keeping everyone happy in the airport, car, or amusement park. There’s a key clip, which has saved me more than once, and a basic external pocket for wallet and phone or camera.
To make up for the lack of internal pockets, I’d suggest an insulated bottle bag and some simple clear zipper pouches.
Adidas Banner Backpack
Adidas won me over with two zippered main compartments in this 17” laptop-friendly commuter pack ($95). Here you’ve got the option of separating your stuff from your kid’s or separating one kid’s accessories from the other’s. It’s also got adjustable compression straps at the sides, in case you overstuff and need to make the bag smaller. There’s a sleek, vertical-zip external pocket, additional internal pockets, two water bottle pockets, and it’s water-resistant.
LL Bean Continental Travel Pack
Designed for multiple days on the road, this pack ($130) opens flat, into a mini suitcase. It has two compartments, separated by mesh, lots of internal pockets, a laptop area, a key ring, and is extremely versatile.
It makes up for the price by giving you options to carry as a backpack, briefcase, or shoulder bag. It’s also the perfect size for a carry-on, stowing easily beneath the seat in front of you. This one is an airport and business-trip winner, and the vintage styling is a nice touch.
Patagonia Refugio Backpack, 28L
Patagonia offers its most popular backpack ($60 to $80) in a ton of colors, with a sleek design, and enough pocket options to keep any parent or picky toddler organized. The laptop compartment is raised, to protect your computer, even if you accidentally plunk it down in a puddle. It has external water bottle pockets, and breathable mesh straps and back panel.
They’ve tried to think of everything with this one, and they’ve come pretty close.
REI Co-op Trail 40 Pack
Now, this is a serious hiking pack ($109). It looks like a hiking pack. You have to be okay with that. But if you are, you also get to basically wear a fanny pack without wearing a fanny pack.
You see, the hip belt of this multi-compartmented, rain-cover laden wonder, had two zipper pockets on it. If it’s not your dream to wear a fanny pack without the social implications of doing so, you can probably go with something less hardcore. But I say try it. Live the dream. REI has an awesome return policy.