The Duluth Trading Co. is not shy. The plumber’s crack image is almost as prevalent as their logo. In fact, I bet you know that image better than you know their logo. It’s not over the top but it is right on the brink. Naming the most functional backpack (it is, as we say on the Facebook Group, Ivy-Adjacent) the Fire Hose Bulldozer Backpack… THAT’s over the top. If I had known they did that (if you are going to go that far why not just name it the Fire Hose Bulldozer Hammer F10 anything-else-outdoor-labor-related Backpack?) I would have pulled up short of buying it on general principle. But I didn’t know about the name, and I bought it, and I am hoping to convince you to forgive the hubris (but man, Marketing Dept., take a breath will ya?) and examine what I propose as the most function bag for this time of year.
First, here it is:
I am not suggesting this for year round use. It is too heavy-handed for Spring/Summer. But for right now Good People, this is your Huckleberry. A quick overview before we open it up.
I get pushback from a few on the idea of a backpack at all. Let me make the case for the category. (1) It is undeniably collegiate. (2) Both of your hands are free. Who doesn’t want free hands? (3) I have the vintage Coach leather messenger bag that I bought last year for $25 and is now on their site for I think $879 and it is All Ivy, but a backpack holds thrice the content, easily. (4) Compartments. Things like pens and keys are not the fodder of the fumbler, they are where you last put them. This is the goal of not only the chronically under-organized (guilty) but even those of us with a hint of OCD (guilty). (5) Versatility of wear. You want one shoulder? I got your one shoulder right here. You want hands free? Or best of all, you wanna work on your posture so that the passing years wither not your personal altitude? The backpack is your Valet-Chiropractor.
To work in the winter though, at last where I am, it has to have heft in the straps, and these padded straps do just that. They are easily manipulated so that the bag can accommodate whatever number of layers you are wearing at the time. You need exterior pockets to get at your draw-first items without having to unpack a crate. You need a key fob. This backpack also, well, here, look first.
See those pads? They are strategically located and an inch thick and they weigh less than a teaspoon of peanut butter. But what they do is they make the backpack conform to the shape of your back (which is hopefully improving because you are wearing a backpack in the first place). I have worn this bag with a suit, with a sweater, with a Harris Tweed, and with an overcoat. You only feel a gentle tug pulling your shoulders back, like your ballet teacher (what, you don’t have a ballet teacher?) standing you up. The straps are padded as well. Those two leather bands on the straps do absolutely nothing. Nothing.
The bag brags of a Fend Off Finish (that’s trademarked but I can’t make the symbol), I will tell you I have had it in the rain and it is waterproof. I have spilled cigar ash on it (and everything else) and left no mark.
Now for the zippers. My first take on Duluth was… Poor Man’s Filson. Except I had the Filson, and the zippers will indeed survive an apocalypse but your hands won’t survive an afternoon. Those zippers bite, these do not. They are not as sturdy (they are also a few hundred less) but I am working the stuffing out of my bag and so far no failure. The stitching, the canvas, not quite Filson either, and I don’t know about the wear. I will show you the bag again at the end of the winter.
But it is when you open it up that this thing sings. But before you look, this bag has a RACK. Inside it. Like a skeleton. It holds the bag upright but doesn’t make it rigid. I don’t understand how they did it, but it is hard to tip this over, and it stands tall when you are packing it. If for no other reason… ok, here’s the inside.
That’s not my bag, it is from their website, but I will walk you through it. The very front zippered compartment has room for two glasses cases and a big thing of hand sanitizer. There are two covered pockets in the compartment as well. The two side pockets have neoprene pockets within them, I am not sure what for but they are cool. One is a perfect fit for my Midori Traveler’s (if you don’t know what that is let me know, and I will change your life again). The main compartment has three different bays. The first is just a large space but you can fit three bottles of Merlot in there (I have heard) and have room left over for a ball cap, leather gloves, a book, and this tool I always carry for no reason. The divider has stitched bands on it, as well as eight (I said eight, 8) loops for pens. You can clip anything you want here, even a spare pair of glasses. The next pocket is about two inches wide, I carry headphones in a case there, you can carry a Triple Decker Turkey Club if that suits). In the back is a well padded sleeve for your laptop, iPad, or both.
A few closing notes. The color is a little darker than pictured, neutral enough to go with anything. At $169.50 on their site it is not cheap, but also not a stupid price to pay for something that you are going to throw around a bit. It has a carrying handle which is leather too, and the leather isn’t “rich Corinthian” (you’ve heard Ricardo Montalban say, “rich Corinthian leather” right?) but it softens in the first few days and ages well. It isn’t a light backpack but you aren’t hiking, you are going to work. It makes a great Dad Bag because you can fit your 14 year old daughter’s mall bags in it and still give the appearance that you are not throwing money at a child-rearing problem.