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Earlier this year, before my holiday, I decided that I wanted to treat myself to a new daysack as I realised it had been ten years since I had bought my Kipling one. The Kipling one was still in excellent condition but didn't offer much shoulder support or have any inner compartments, so I was constantly hunting for little things (usually my phone or purse) while having minor palpitations thinking I'd lost them. Ideally I wanted a bag that was comfortable to wear and had secure inner pockets (but not too many), at a good price, but also looked nice and stylish (so many daysacks look rather ugly and are always in dull colours). This was actually a greater challenge than I first thought and I did have to make some compromises.
The one I ended up with is the Isabella daysack from The North Face, an outdoor brand that I have always associated with quality and reliability. I paid £55 for it at John Lewis (it is the same price on the North Face website and on Amazon at the time of writing) which was slightly more than I wanted to spend but I justified it on the grounds that it was turquoise, which is my favourite colour.
I tried it on in the shop and whilst it wasn't as light as I would have preferred (800g approx) it was sturdy. The back part feels stiff when I first put it on, but I don't notice it after a while, once it is adjusted. It claimed that is was ergonomically designed for a woman's frame, but I often take such claims with a pinch of salt, as we all have different shapes. What fits my 'petite but with boobies' frame won't necessarily be comfortable on a taller woman with a more sporty physique and vice versa. The shoulder straps are thick, but not stiff and are adjustable. When fitted snuggly over my shoulders and against my back there is still approx 10cm of strap left, so those with small frames need not worry. On the other side of the coin there is a further 30cm to play with if you need. There is a chest strap that (I was relived to discover) sits above the boob line. There is slight boob squishing from the edges of shoulder straps if you pull it really tight, but that will depend on your personal preference on how you wear it. Again there is plenty of length in the straps. I don't really like the waist/hip strap on a daysack, I find it too awkward, but this does fit on my waist and not my hips. Again with plenty of length, and I believe removable. I haven't removed them but may well as the length means they are always dangling down, even when fastened, so that if I am carrying the bag by the top handle I can tread on them or trip over them. The sliding mechanisms on the straps are smooth, not stiff, and easy to adjust when you are wearing it - although I did find the shoulder strap one slightly awkward to get to when wearing a bulky fleece over several other layers.
When you look at the bag from the front you will see that it has two small mesh side pockets which can hold a 500ml bottle of water each. I don't think they would hold anything larger. My 500ml poly drink bottle is rectangular and only just fits, conventional round bottles are better. It is secure, and sometimes I struggle to reach round to get the bottle or put it back without taking the bag off my back. There are bungee cords at the front that did the job of holding my fleece in place when needed. There is also a small zip up pocket on the front - good for keys, travel-cards and whatnot. Although it could hold my purse and phone or a compact camera, I prefer my valuables to be inside. The bag is approximately 44m high and 32cm wide (measuring the back) with an adjustable depth of 16cm.
The capacity of this bag is 20 litres, and I always have trouble imagining what these sizes actually mean in reality. Essentially it is fairly roomy. Inside there are two compartments accessed by double sided zips. There is a flap that goes over the zip to hide it and act as a deterrent should you be wearing the bag on your back in a crowded place, it makes it a little bit harder for eager hands to find the zip pullers (I prefer to not have my bag on my back in these situations nonetheless). There are two small adjustable side straps that can make the bag less bulky if you don't have much in it.
In the back compartment there is a small zip up mesh pocket that is good for the phone or purse, nothing too bulky and two good sized document compartments which are good to keep guide books and maps flat and wrinkle free. These sections are against your back and opposite there is a deep mesh pocket (going all the way down to the bottom) secured my a strap and clip. The back section is quite deep and is good for bulky items like cameras or binoculars.
The other compartment is not as spacious and has lots of smaller pockets. There is a Velcro section that is a wide as the compartment but not as deep. A good sized mesh compartment that would hold most smart phones, two pen sections and four other small sections, of which the smallest can just about hold a small 100ml bottle of hand gel. You could probably also get insect repellent or sun cream in the other compartments. There is also a slim strap with a key ring attachment which is obviously handy to keep your keys secure. It is plastic and quite stiff, but I am sure it will ease up if I used it more often.
I find this bag easily holds all my requirements for a day out, and is good for an overnight stay, providing I pack light (luxuries like hair straighteners and extra shoes would take up too much room).
I am pleased with my purchase now and in retrospect I think it was worth the money (and not just for the colour). Having used it quite a bit over the summer, I found that it was always comfortable. On a hot day it won't prevent sweaty back syndrome but the straps didn't dig in anywhere, or chafe under the arms or around the bra region. With everything being so easily adjustable I suspect most discomfort could be due to to having straps set for a bulkier jacket and then having it too loose when this is removed. I don't recall ever thinking the bag was too heavy when I was on a walk but I try not to over pack. I did notice it heavy when I took it on the flight but then I was taking a lot more things in that instance than I would on a normal day out or on a hike. Initially I was put off by the number of pockets, concerned that I would not be able to find anything still but in fact the pocket sections are very well thought out. Even though I rarely use them all, I do see that there is a purpose to most of them, and that some thought has gone into what sizes and types of sections you may need, rather than a random selection of pockets. The bag (which is made of a treated polyester) seems to have held up well thus far (although it has only been a few months), and should be easy to care for. Some of the straps have got a bit grubby where they have been dragged along the ground and trodden on.
I do recommend this for those who are looking for a roomy bag for days out and holidays.