As Editor at realfoodtraveler.com, I schlep luggage through airports all over the world. To save money and time, I prefer to carry on a small roll-aboard and a “personal item.”
Until recently, my personal item — where I carry my ID, tickets, reading material, reading glasses, food, my pashmina — consisted of a side bag with a shoulder strap. But I found lugging a heavy bag on my shoulder caused shoulder and neck pain so I opted for a small day pack. However, on return trips, my bags are usually bulging and my little day pack becomes so overstuffed it’s not really usable. So when L.L. Bean asked me to try out their larger Ridge Runner Day Pack (item #TA264980, $69), I was eager.
When the Ridge Runner arrived, I was first impressed by its classy dark olive and grey coloring that looks professional and doesn’t make me look like I’m heading to the nearest football game. (The Ridge Runner also comes in black, red, navy, orange, and turquoise).Then I noticed all the zippers and pockets. The Ridge Runner, with 1,800 cu inches of space, has a main compartment (rests against the back) divided into two sections: a roomy computer sleeve (or a hydration compartment) with a sturdy strap and clasp to keep it in place, and a larger, deep pocket where I could easily stash all my expensive gear – DSLR camera, point-and-shoot camera, noise-canceling headphones, computer charger. There was so much space left, I was able to tuck in two bagel sandwiches and an apple. For hiking, there’s also a port for a hydration tube.
The next pocket is equally deep, though not quite as large, and features handy mesh pockets, including a zippered one, that’s the perfect place for pens, writing tablets, Kleenex, etc., and secure enough for wallet and passport.
A smaller, u-shaped pocket, specially designed with a port for an I-pod or cell phone headphones, is lined with a soft material to keep these expensive electronics safe and scratch-free. I filled this pocket with all kinds of in-flight needs – inflatable neck pillow, gum, a hairbrush, my boarding pass, anti-jet lag tablets, etc.
In the very front, the Ridge Runner features a half-pocket that’s large enough for magazines or, in my case, a handy place to put my plastic bag of liquids and gels for airport security screening and a paperback novel. This pocket also has two additional mesh pockets on the outside. (On my return flight, I folded up my lunch cold bag and stashed it in one of these spaces.)
Unlike some other manufacturers, LL Bean has cut all of the pockets deeply with long, beefy, sturdy YKK zippers that zip easily and make getting in and out of the pockets very easy.
I particularly like the Ridge Runner’s two big side mesh water bottle holders, each with closures you can pull tight. Too often, water bottle holders are too skinny and won’t accommodate larger bottles. Not the Ridge Runner! I could have put two quart bottles in these holders.
This is a day pack that will carry a lot of stuff and, accordingly, it has a ton of straps and buckles – something that, at first, I was sure I wouldn’t like. I was wrong. About a third of the way from the top of the bag are two short straps and clasps that tighten the bag up so it is snug and takes up less room. There’s also a thin breastbone strap/clasp that keeps the pack from pulling away from the back. The larger hip strap, with its chunky buckle, helps transfer the weight of the pack off the shoulders and onto the hips, relieving shoulder fatigue and making it easier to carry more weight. The wide shoulder straps, which are easily adjustable with pulls straps on each side, allow the bag to rest comfortably against the shoulders.
On my return flight, I stuffed this bag full of heavy items and still found walking the long corridors of the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport easy and pain free.
Real bottom line: Since I was putting LL Bean’s Ridge Runner through a Real Test™, I kept looking for something not to like about this day pack. but had a tough time finding anything. My only complaint — and it’s a minor one — is that I’d like to see a small place to tuck in the tail of the breastbone strap to keep the strap’s end from dangling. The hip strap has two elastic pieces that allow you to tuck in the ends of the hip strap — something that would be an easy-add to the breastbone strap.
The Ridge Runner Day Pack easily passes realfoodtraveler’s Real Test with flying colors. This is a pack that’s well-designed, has plenty of room, and is perfect for either the city or the trails. The rip-stop upper and bottom Kodra nylon, heavy duty straps and clasps make this day pack one that’ll last. And, at $69, LL Bean’s Ridge Runner Day Pack is a real bargain.
A bag like the Ridge Runner, with its hydration ports and lots of tie downs, cries out to hit the trails. I can’t wait to take the Ridge Runner into the woods. www.llbean.com — Real Tested by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor