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The Thread Guide to: Backpacks

The Thread Guide to: Backpacks

In winter months in particular, a backpack can be the most practical bag choice. It keeps your hands free to stay warm in your pockets and—unless you almost always default to a suit—if you choose the right one, a backpack can add to your outfit rather than distracting from it.

"Backpacks have shed their schoolboy reputation," says Thread associate stylist Tahmid Akthar. "They're useful and multifunctional and a boon to all but the smartest outfits."

With that in mind, here's advice on our four favourite backpacks. 

Thread's favourite backpack 1. The smartest backpack

Photographed: Oliver Spencer brown rucksack (£449), Jigsaw navy scarf (£55)

Why we like it: "If your office is smart casual, this makes a good match. Together, the leather and compact shape make it smart and urbane enough to preclude academic connotations. Plus, leather—unlike other fabrics—will only get better with age."

What to look for: "Most important is that the backpack has a handle at the top: you'll want to take it off your back and hold it like a bag once you arrive somewhere smart. The straps should be at least an inch in width so they don't dig into your shoulders. Opt for 100-percent leather—perhaps pebbled, like this one. It'll look good even after years of wear."

... and avoid: "Faux leather won't hold up well: if real leather's too pricey, try a minimal urban style like the ones below."

Wear it with: "Your smart-casual clothes—such as overcoats, shirts, jeans and smart shoes—although it'll also work with more casual staples like denim jackets and minimal trainers."

Thread's favourite backpack 2. The carry-on

Photographed: Herschel Supply blue backpack (£75), YMC navy striped scarf (£35)

Why we like it: "Casual, lightweight backpacks are ideal for travelling: they're roomy enough for an outfit change for a quick weekend away, and collapsible, so you can pack an empty one to stuff with souvenirs for the flight home."

What to look for: "A light, durable fabric like nylon, canvas or twill; padded straps; and at least one pocket inside. Otherwise you're bound to waste time rooting around in the one compartment."

What to avoid: "Finicky locks and fastenings—like buckles—that make opening the bag a chore. Magnetic buttons or snaps are easier but still secure."

Wear it with: "Anything casual. This would look great with a denim jacket, Oxford shirt, chinos and trainers. If everything's plain and fits well, you won't risk looking like a schoolyard escapee."

Thread's favourite backpack 3: The pragmatic bag

Photographed: Rains grey backpack (£30), London Undercover grey umbrella (£59) 

Why we like it: "We at Thread love practicality, and a slim, waterproof backpack gets it without compromising on style. This would be great for shuttling your laptop to and from a casual office, particularly if you're a cyclist."

What to look for: "Waterproofing and a flap closure; if it's just a zip, rain can get through and leak into your computer. The shape is almost as important as the function: an unbulky design looks a million times smarter than your hiking backpack—and much cooler—and makes it easier to squeeze onto a crowded train." 

... and avoid: "If you'd take your backpack hiking, it's too casual for the city."

Wear it with: "Anything that's comfortable and practical, like the bag itself: jeans, t-shirts, boots and macs come to mind."

Thread's favourite backpack 4: The double-duty bag

Photographed: Folk green packaway bag (£95)

Why we like it: "On its face, this kind of bag—which can be a laptop sleeve or backpack depending on how you fold it—can seem gimmicky. And yet it's a good option for the guy with a busy schedule: you could pack it full for your way to the office in the morning and then bring only your laptop out to a meeting or a dinner at night."

What to look for: "If it's a transformer, it's got to be fairly easy to switch from one type of bag to the other. Also, go for an unshiny fabric to keep it from looking too technical."

... and avoid: "Don't fall prey to the gadgetry. Would you really make use of both functions? I think it'd be good for client management or sales guys, for example, who often want to pop out at midday with just a laptop and notebook but might want the backpack capability for the gym after work."

Wear it with: "As a backpack, this is fairly casual, but as a laptop bag it can go with sharper clothes."

Plus: Three backpack-related tips

1. Suit guy? Skip the backpack. If you regularly wear a suit, a leather briefcase, tote or satchel will serve you best. Backpacks can look too casual and knacker your suit's shoulders.

2. Make sure the straps aren't too long (or too short). They're too short if it's bunching up around your neck, and too long if it's knocking against your tailbone; it should make contact with at least a few inches of your spine.

3. Beware backpack-induced wrinkles. Unless it's absolutely boiling, it's always good to wear a jacket between your shirt and backpack to keep your shirt from creasing.