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Review: Backpacks

School necessity…. airline carry on…. overnight bag…. equipment carrier…. diaper bag…. hiking must… emergency preparation…. A good backpack is all of these and more. These versatile bags have been around for ages, and it seems like new uses are discovered for them every day.

As the new school year starts, odds are you can find dozens of varieties of backpacks in local stores. They come in every shape, size and color. Some have sections for carrying laptops or other equipment; others are smaller to accommodate young children, and there are still more that have frames designed for hiking. There are equally as many brands. Odds are you can find one made by your favorite sporting-goods company that will cost you a pretty penny, but you can also choose a store brand that will cost you only a few dollars (and probably last you only a few weeks).

So how do you choose a good backpack? A pack that will be used for a variety of uses (like an airline carry on or overnight bag) will need to be roomy and versatile. If you are purchasing a backpack for your school-aged child, you want one that will last a good long while. Nothing is more frustrating that having to buy a new bag every semester (like my poor mother did for years). If you are purchasing a pack for carrying camera equipment or going hiking, you will want one that is sturdy enough to protect your gear. And finally, if you are buying a bag that you can use in an emergency situation (as an evac-pack or bug-out bag), you want a bag that is extremely dependable.

For all these uses and more, I highly recommend L.L. Bean backpacks. I stumbled upon these bags during high school, a time that I was known for being incredibly abusive to my backpacks. (I don’t think I’ve actually changed much since then either.) My mother had gotten used to replacing my school bags every semester, usually because I would put so many books in them that the straps would just rip right off. When I changed schools in ninth grade, I noticed that many of my friends carried L.L. Bean backpacks. I thought it was just a fashion statement, like fuzzy boots and big sunglasses are today; however, when I commented on it to a friend, she quickly corrected me. Most of the students in my school had owned their backpacks for years—they just never wore out. And if something did break in them, they were guaranteed forever (yes, I really mean FOREVER). She told me how the zipper on her pack broke after six years, and when her parents contacted the company, they sent their sincere apologies and a new backpack right away.

I was sold. My next backpack was an L.L. Bean. It was also my last backpack, because I’ve had it for over ten years, and it is still in great shape. Yeah, maybe it’s a little dirty, but there is a not a tear in it. That pack has been with me through three years of high school and four years of college, not to mention dozens of overnight trips and airline flights. And it’s not like I ever learned how to take care of a backpack: It has been dragged, kicked, dropped, slung, stuffed, and crammed in every way possible, and I imagine it can handle another ten years of the same.

Now you tell me—isn’t that the backpack you want your kids to have for their school years? The one you want to store your hiking gear in? Or even more importantly, isn’t that the backpack you want to depend on in a crisis situation?

While there are retail stores in various parts of the country, I find it easiest to use the L.L. Bean website.  This way, you can customize your pack to your exact needs. They have dozens of varieties to choose from, so you can find the one that fits your child’s small back, your laptop, your hiking equipment, or your evacuation needs. You can also choose from a host of colors and patterns.

Yes, the prices are a little higher that what you will find in your local retail stores. Consider it an investment though.  For my mother, my L.L. Bean backpack had paid for itself when it survived a whole year of school with me. She was used to paying $20 a semester for a new backpack, so $40 for ten years was a great bargain.

On top of that, L.L. Bean is a company you can feel good about buying from. Their products are American-made with a lifetime guarantee. They support conservation efforts and utilize energy-efficient buildings and alternative energy sources in their headquarters and factories.

Personally, I am sold on these packs. L.L. Bean is the only brand of backpacks my family will ever buy. I have a feeling if you take the plunge, you’ll feel the same way too. Check them out at llbean.com.

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