On the baby shower registry for my friend and his girlfriend, most of the gifts were meant for their daughter and mom-to-be.
So I asked the soon-to-be dad what he needed. He asked for a red JanSport backpack — his version of a diaper bag.
Their baby is now 5, and that backpack has turned into a travel bag, a work bag and a place to store toys and favorite books, too. That’s the thing about backpacks. The straps aren’t the only thing that adjust. So do the uses.
Messenger bags, totes, cross-body styles and cinch bags have come for the throne. But in this back-to-school season it’s time to admit: The backpack reigns supreme for all ages. It’s as classic as a good pair of jeans.
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Besides the carryalls for students, they are go-to bags for parents, young professionals, jetsetters and athletes. I carry mine — a floral Obey backpack — when I am in New York and D.C. catching subways, trains and taxis. It’s always my carry-on for flights, the perfect place for my iPad, headphones, snacks and purse. And when I’m working remotely out of coffee shops, my laptop comes along in my backpack.
Zoey Miller, a Lee’s Summit 7-year-old, says backpacks are another style of purse that you can decorate with keychains and things. Carrington Harrison, co-host of KCSP-610’s “The Drive,” says backpacks are like watches: functional accessories.
As our lifestyles grow more tech dependent with our tablets, smartphones and laptops, backpacks just make sense.
Beyond one big basic bag with a zipper and front pocket, backpacks now include phone pockets, water bottle holders, key rings and pockets for laptops and tablets. The North Face Charged collection can keep phones, tablets and computers charged. There are all kinds of niche backpacks, like the Shrine Daypack with its special sneaker compartments.
And like all fashion staples, there are luxury brands. Remember that $55,000 Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen backpack? Zendaya and Russell Westbrook have been spotted rocking MCM backpacks that can cost $600 to $2,500.
But JanSport is king of the packs, rocking the crown since 1967.
Eric Rothenhaus, design director at JanSport, says backpacks have staying power because they are rooted in function.
“They help to provide ways to make a person’s day and the things they do a seamless experience. In your wardrobe, your backpack is always working in the background of your life as a trusted object you can rely on,” he says.
“Your pack is with you every day. It becomes as personal as a great pair of jeans or that hat you always wear; you fall in love with its comfort and patina. Packs provide a very simple function of making your day work and the transitions between things simple. A pack can accessorize an outfit or blend into the background of a person’s life. … We want you to have a bond with your backpack and take it on all the adventures and life experiences you can throw at it.”
Or in it. We took a peek inside the packs of a few Kansas Citians (and the JanSport man himself) to get a feel for the lives people carry on their backs.
The Little artist and gamer that could
Zoey Miller, 7, just started second grade at Longview Farm Elementary in Lee’s Summit. She believes the right backpack keeps you grounded.
The backpack: Minecraft Creeper. $40, thinkgeek.com
What’s inside: Art book, Chromebook, headphones, pencils, lunch bag, My Little Pony thermos, a pencil sharpener she calls her pencil shavings trash can, Shopkins to remind her of Paris, four books including a “Minecraft Gamer’s Adventure: The Quest for the Diamond Sword” and “I am Rosa Parks.”
On the outside: Two Minecraft keychains and sword zipper pull, a frog from her family trip to Puerto Rico and a keychain with a picture of her and her mom at Worlds of Fun
The backstory: “I just feel like a backpack is another style of purse. My backpack reminds me of Minecraft and my sister and my brother. It reminds me that whenever you’re getting crazy in your head and about to blow up, you can go play video games. It helps me deal.”
The sports radio personality
Kansas City’s own Carrington “CDot” Harrison, 27, co-host of KCSP-610’s “The Drive” (with Danny Parkins), said he can’t wear a purse, so a backpack was a must.
The backpack: Jumpman quilted backpack. $40, amazon.com
What’s inside: Always his iPad and Beats by Dre headphones, occasionally his wallet and a Macbook
The backstory: “I can’t fit everything in my pockets and I just got a MacBook, so it made sense to get a backpack to transport everything to work. I went to Marshalls and saw a bag with a Jordan logo for $23. It was cheap and it was Jordan. (We couldn’t find that good deal Carrington scored, but we found a $40 style on Amazon). And I just saw a Mickey Mouse Vans backpack I liked. I think backpacks are like watches — functional accessories.”
The traveling woman
Kerri Tobin, 30, a former Chiefs cheerleader, says her career as a Kansas City healthcare sales exec keeps her racking up those frequent flier miles and in need of a convenient carry-on.
The backpack: Calvin Klein Talia. $125, macys.com
What’s inside: Laptop, charging cord, spiral notebook, wallet, keys, business cards, hand sanitizer, wireless hotspot, earbuds, phone and “In the Woods” by Tana French
The backstory: “I was looking for a backpack to relieve the shoulder tension I felt from carrying tote bags. I travel a lot through airports with luggage, and I was on the hunt for something neutral enough for work. A lot of the backpacks were too juvenile. And then I found this. I wanted something ergonomic and practical but I didn’t want to completely forfeit style. A bonus was the hidden pocket I found that rests closest to my back. That’s where I keep my phone — you can feel it vibrate and get to it easily.”
The college freshman
Phoenixx Cartwright, 18, of Olathe, starts classes at the University of Kansas next week. She went with an oldie but goodie this school year.
The backpack: The North Face Recon. $99, thenorthface.com
What’s inside: A red Moleskine, composition notebook, a folder, MacBook Air, Ti-84 calculator, coin purse, pencil pouch, purse, earbuds, phone, a worry doll, water bottle and a copy of “Writers at Work 08: The Paris Review Interviews” from her sixth-grade paraprofessional, Mr. B.
On the outside: An Ugly Doll keychain and a Love Garden Sounds kitten button
The backstory: “Personally I like to adorn myself with things that make me feel good. I chose this backpack because I’ve had tons of others that have fallen apart, that I bought to dress up for other people. Now I get dressed for myself. I begged my dad for this bag because it is sturdy. I’d even say hardy. I have loved it and used it since my sophomore year in high school.”
The backpack man
Eric Rothenhaus, design director at JanSport
The backpack: JanSport Pleasanton. $245, jansport.com
What’s inside: Two MacBooks and chargers, iPhone and iWatch charger, three magazines (Monster Children, Road and Track, Dwell), work notebook, beloved Moleskine notebook, extra pair of sneakers, sunglasses, assorted pens, one mechanical pencil, mints
The pack that rules: “That’s a hard question to ask in some ways. It’s like asking what child is my favorite … I love them all. Right now I’m carrying the Pleasanton pack because I’m traveling and I want everything to fit into one bag but still be stylish.”