The Core Pack
I’ve been working on the Topo Designs Core Pack review for far too long. Finally, here it is.
Here’s the video review below – scroll down for old-fashioned text.
The Topo Designs Core Pack is a 25L panel loader daypack with a feature set and size that makes it versatile and usable in virtually any situation. It’s got large side side pockets, bomber zippers, a laptop compartment that’s large and padded, and a port for a hydration bladder. On top of all that it’s comfortable. For some users this may be the unicorn, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the much sought “one bag.”
Context For the Topo Designs Core Pack Review
I’ve dug Topo Designs packs and bag for years. I discovered them sometime in ’11 or ’12 and since then I’ve been a regular user. Like a cordura-crazed nutjob I order most of the bags as they come out. I use them for a few years and pass them on. Almost every bag I’ve had from Topo Designs has lived up to my expectations. I still miss the (sadly discontinued) Mini Mountain Bag I sold a few years ago. Topo’s bags are well-built, they’re mostly comfortable, and there’s something that, to me, kind of defies description. They’re minimal and not fussy. They’re clean looking and fun to own. The colorways Topo offers are unique and they’ve helped shape a kind of “Mountain-West” aesthetic. It might be stupid to wax poetic about at a backpack or a bag, but I’ve owned dozens and dozens of bags, and I’ve been happier with the Topo Designs stuff than with others. Many companies try too hard to make a daypack. Topo Designs keeps it simple, keeps it fun, and keeps hitting home runs. I’d take a Topo Designs daypack or bag over almost any offering from The North Face, Patagonia, and yes, even over the much-hyped GoRuck.
The first Topo Designs daypack I owned was the original. It was (and still is) a great backpack. It’s a good size, it’s well-built, and it’s lasted on hundreds of miles of trails and roadtrips. Initially, I thought the love affair would last forever.
Over time though, I found some things to complain about. Nothing major, but there were some shortcomings to the original daypack. First, the zippers didn’t go all the way to the bottom of the bag. While not terribly inconvenient, it bugged me to have to dig a little to get to the bottom. I lamented the fact that I couldn’t just flop open the front flap and access everything. Second, I wanted some side pockets. I wanted somewhere to store a water bottle or something else that was on the exterior of the pack. Again, not a huge deal, but a wish-list item. Third, I wanted a hydration port built into the bag. I could put a hydration bladder in the laptop compartment, but there was no way to get the tube out and over to the front of the bag. I even considered cutting and sewing my own, just so the bag would be a little more versatile. Enter the Topo Designs Core Pack.
Core Pack Improvements
The Topo Designs Core pack solves every one of those shortcomings. It has full zip panel access to the interior of the bag, it has side pockets that are large and deep enough for a water bottle, and it has a hydration port. On top of those features, Topo made the laptop compartment separate, a little larger, and slightly more padded. In short, the Core Pack is a huge improvement over the original daypack.
Topo Designs Core Pack Funtionality
I always wanted a daypack that served multiple functions, and served them well. I’ve got LowePro backpacks that scream “Camera Gear!” They hold literally too much equipment. They’re padded and protective, but fully loaded they’re too heavy to carry anywhere. If I’m actually on a photo shoot, they’re great, but they suck for travel or hiking. Other daypacks are too small to hold some camera gear and a water bottle. Or they force me to carry the water in the main compartment with the camera gear – an option I’m loathe to exercise. The Topo Core pack puts most of these concerns to rest. I can throw some padded camera cubes in it, a water bottle on one side, and a small tripod on the other and just go.
The full access to the interior is awesome. For me, it carries just about the right about of camera gear – enough to get me through the day with enough spare room for a jacket and a water bottle. It probably won’t hold multiple bodies and a 70-200 2.8 and three other primes and a drone, but I don’t usually carry all that stuff on a normal day anyway.
The laptop compartment is well-designed and easily holds my 14″ laptop. I complained a little bit about the Topo Designs 30L Travel Bag laptop compartment not having an adequate opening for a laptop – my 14″ fits, but not easily. The Core Pack zips wide and swallows a laptop with no fuss.
Like I mentioned, the original Topo Daypack didn’t come with any provision for a hydration bladder. The Core Pack does, and it’s a welcome addition. It makes the Core Pack that much more versatile. It’s a pack you can load with books and computer for a weekday, clothes and dopp kit for a short trip, and a hydration bladder for hiking. If you’re looking to only have one daypack in your arsenal, you could do a lot worse than the Core Pack.
Of course the Core Pack comes with other pockets too. There’s a smallish top pocket that’s easy to access – good for sunglasses or a phone. It has a front pocket with some small dividers to keep stuff mostly organized. I dislike bags with a million little pockets designed to hold pens, phones, and specific items. I like a bag with some organization, but not over-the-top school-style backpacks and the Core Pack doesn’t try too hard in this department.
Topo Designs Core Pack Comfort and Usability
So sure, the Topo Designs Core Pack is usable and versatile. Is it comfortable though? In the few months I’ve had it I’ve hiked as far as 6 miles with it. I’ve done short hikes, medium hikes, and rugged, wet hikes. I’ve traveled with it and used it as my main camera bag on some smaller photo shoots. I’ve strapped it in a side by side and bounced around the trails in Moab, I’ve filled it cameras and water and thrown it around in tour vans weekly. I’ve crammed it and stowed it on rafts and gotten it soaked on the Colorado River. I even carried it on a 107 mile bike ride full of camera gear. So yeah, it’s comfortable enough.
For comparison, it’s more comfortable than the Topo Mountain Pack – which is great, but a little floppy and saggy if it’s not full of stuff. It’s more usable than the Topo Designs Klettersack, with it’s top-loading design. It’s smaller than the Topo Designs 30L travel bag, but where the Travel bag might be better for longer travel, the Core Pack is more useful in day to day situations.
Are there any downsides to the Topo Designs Core Pack? I’ve said from the beginning that the shoulder straps on the original Topo Designs Daypack were far and away my favorite shoulder straps of any pack I’ve ever owned. They were flat, wide, and super comfortable. Those old shoulder straps are still the gold standard. in a lifetime of daypacks and hiking, I’ve never found shoulder straps I liked more than those. Sadly, Topo moved away from those wide, flat straps, and is using a more conventional, typical shoulder strap on the current lineup. They’re still good shoulder straps, but I don’t think they’re as good as the originals. It’s a minor quibble, but I wish they’d bring back the original straps.
It’s worth mentioning that the Topo Designs Core Pack retails for $129 on the Topo Website. While that’s not necessarily cheap, it’s far from the highway robbery of some other daypacks (I’m looking at you GoRuck). All the Topo gear I’ve owned over the years has lasted long enough for me and I’ve always gotten most of my money back flipping them after I’ve moved on. While there are cheaper bags, Topo’s pricing falls right in line with other premium bags and daypacks, and I’d argue they’re a good value for the money.
If you’ve followed me for any time you know I’m kind of a nut for the Made in USA stuff. It’s the reason I started reviewing bags and daypacks in the first place. I like the idea that some great gear is being built here in the U.S. It’s what drew me to Topo Designs in the first place.
In the past I’ve lamented the fact that Topo Designs decided to move some production overseas, but in the end, I kind of understand. Topo got popular so quick that they had to seek out manufacturing partners overseas to fulfill demand. I’m happy to notice that the few overseas Topo bags I have are easily the equal of the Made in USA stuff I was used to. I’m also happy Topo kept manufacture of several designs here in the states. It neat to see a company dedicated to both growth and local manufacturing.
Conclusion – The Core Pack is Competent and Versatile
I’d had my eye on the Topo Designs Core Pack for a little while. I’d been looking for a daypack that would serve several different missions. I wanted a daypack that I could hike with, bike with, and on other days, load with camera gear and move about. The Core Pack fulfills all those needs and does so at an acceptable price point and without any hassle. Sure, it’s not a dedicated camera bag, and I have to use some camera cubes to pad my gear, but as a versatile bag for multiple uses, I’m really enjoying the Core Pack right now.
Fine print? Yes, some of my links are affiliate links to Amazon. Where so far over the course of 7 years of sporadic blogging I’ve made a whopping $12.00. Also, thanks to the great folks at Topo Designs – specifically Sarah, who sent the bag to review. You guys are great. Keep up the good work.