The Instagram-worthy Adventurist backpack is put to the GearJunkie test. Spoiler alert: it’s a good one.
Denver-based Adventurist Backpack Co. began in 2017 as a passion project of married couple Matilda Sandström and Kelly Belknap.
Avid global travelers, they wanted to both create quality outdoor products and do something to address the alarming poverty they have witnessed, not just around the world but also right here in the United States. Accordingly, for every Adventurist Backpack sold, the company donates 25 meals to the hunger relief nonprofit Feeding America.
Perusing the Adventurist website is a decidedly feel-good experience, replete with beautiful photos of millennials wearing the brand’s distinctively minimalist packs in often stunning settings, plus the company’s heartwarming story and mission statement.
But do Adventurist backpacks actually feel good on your back?
To find out, I tested two of their models, the Adventurist Classic and the larger Weekender, on and off trails in the western San Gabriel Mountains. What I discovered on these day hikes were unfussy but well-thought-out products that are deceptively durable, voluminous, and versatile.
The Classic is Adventurist Backpack Co.’s original product. Measuring 10.5 x 15.5 x 6 inches with a 16L capacity, this unobtrusive bag weighs just one pound.
Like all Adventurist backpacks, it has a deliberately functional design influenced by the styles of Sandström’s native Sweden. And all Adventurist packs are innately unisex. The seven available Classic colors offer something for everyone.
The Classic in Action
For the Classic, I chose a 5-mile off-trail hike up a narrow, rocky creek bed. Only made accessible by a 2016 wildfire, this hidden ravine requires much scrambling over boulders and waterfalls. And it’s already semi-overgrown.
I felt that the compact Classic would be well suited to clambering rocks, ducking branches, and crouching to explore the long-abandoned mines that pock the ravine walls.
The side pockets of the Classic proved too small for my usual 20-ounce wide-mouth water bottles and are clearly designed for standard 16.9-ounce PET containers. The fit is so perfect for these that they didn’t fall out even at extreme angles.
I also packed a thermal hoodie, beanie, fleece gaiter, minimal first-aid kit, a Tupperware container of sandwiches, small binoculars, flashlight, and travel-size sunblock and bug spray.
The main compartment of the Classic comfortably swallowed most of what I was carrying. The flashlight, sunblock, and bug spray fit perfectly into the zippered pocket on the front of the pack. This is also apt for wallets, keys, and phones. An internal padded sleeve can accommodate up to a 15-inch laptop.
Padded front and back, I was almost unaware of wearing the Classic, albeit with only 6 pounds aboard.
I found the $65 Classic a pleasure throughout what turned into a pretty sweltering midday hike. It slipped easily off the back when required, proved equally comfy when slung over a single shoulder, and was small enough to toss up waterfalls by its top handle when I needed to be entirely unencumbered (which also proved its water resistance!).
The Weekender is Adventurist’s largest pack, measuring 13 x 17 x 6.5 inches and weighing 1.25 pounds. With its 23.5L capacity, I could have carried everything I put in the Classic twice over. Plus, its side pockets very snugly accommodated my usual pair of wide-mouth water bottles. The Weekender is only available in black or pine green.
As with the Classic, the $85 Weekender has breathable, if slightly wider, padded straps that wonderfully spread my small load (7.4 pounds total) even through the thinnest of T-shirts. I had unwisely underpacked it with the same contents I carried in the Classic, so the Tupperware would sometimes shift to where it was uncomfortable even through the Weekender’s padding.
In addition to its main compartment, the Weekender also features a separate zippered pocket for laptops up to 17 inches, an internal zippered phone/wallet pocket, and an open pocket perfect for maps (assuming I’m not the only one who still uses them)!
The Weekender in Action
To test this more substantial pack, I chose a 10-mile afternoon hike on the Pacific Crest Trail as it winds up and beyond Indian Canyon above Acton, California. But the Weekender could easily hold sufficient gear and sustenance for a dawn-til-dusk adventure or even live up to its name over a couple of days.
Even on the first 5 uphill miles of my PCT hike on a 70-degree day, the Weekender was less sweaty against my back than my usual pack. And, like the Classic, it slipped off with ease whenever access was needed. The synthetic leather top handle once again proved a boon.
The lack of a chest strap was a little disconcerting at first, simply due to habit, but would only be desirable if such a relatively small pack was absolutely stuffed with unusually dense items.
A Pack for Life
Although I only tested the Adventurist packs for a week, I sense that these are packs for life, thanks to their unassuming versatility and lifetime guarantee.
Made with water-resistant 1000D polyester in two family-owned factories in China, I found both Adventurist packs to be strong and well-stitched.
They held their shape well, even empty, and when I got overambitious with squeezing stuff into the Classic’s front pocket, the YKK zipper showed no sign of failing. The synthetic leather straps on the classic (all Adventurist bags are 100% vegan) hold in place with magnetic snaps, which keeps things tidy with minimal effort.
In fairness, these are not marketed toward hardcore hikers, with many of the photos on the company’s website showing urban settings. But my experience found the Classic and Weekender to be fantastic day packs that forego all the fussy military-style straps and pockets that are common, but probably inessential, to many similarly priced products. And it’s this sleek simplicity that makes Adventurist backpacks suitable for multiple scenarios.
After a quick wipe-down, I used the Adventurist Classic as my overnight bag while celebrating our wedding anniversary.
Packed with a change of clothes, toiletry bag, and a bottle of wine, it didn’t look out of place in a 4-star hotel. You could even show up at a professional appointment with an Adventurist pack, in black at least, without raising eyebrows.
Get Your Pack
Conceived by a couple in their 20s, Adventurist Backpacks appear aimed at similarly youthful travelers, students, day hikers, and even urban explorers. Certainly, my twin 23-year-old daughters were fighting over the Classic and Weekender as soon as they arrived.
Compared with many of the bells-and-whistles hunting- and military-style backpacks on the market, Adventurist packs might seem a little pricey for such ostensibly basic bags. Yet over time, and considering that lifetime repair-or-replace guarantee, they may well prove to be the better buy for more casual hikers.
Adventurist backpacks chiefly sell through the company’s website, where shipping and 30-day returns are free within the U.S. If you’re buying an Adventurist pack for your next trip, they’ll even extend the return period through the end of your travels.
And don’t forget that while those 25 donated meals with each sale might sound insignificant, they have added up to more than 177,000 meals donated by Adventurist Backpack Co. across the U.S. to date.