Why Every Dad Should Ditch the Diaper Bag For a Backpack

flickr / Stefano Montagner
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Sometime in early 2015, I tore open our diaper bag in a blind fury and dumped everything out. I wasn’t sleep-deprived or suffering from stroller rage, I was genuinely angry at an inanimate object. It was an ugly brown bag designed — with all of its “handy” compartments and pockets — to make my life as a dad easier. Yet every time I searched for a pacifier or the NoseFrida, my hand wandered through an endless maze only to emerge without the one item I needed. So I dug my old Samsonite backpack out of the closet and started stuffing it full of my daughter’s baby gear. And it’s been the best damn diaper bag I could ever want.

Like most first-time parents, my wife and I registered for a diaper bag for our baby shower. In fact, we registered for two of the exact same diaper bag, thinking we’d blow right through them. Heavy daily use, inevitable milk spills, why not plan ahead? And at first, all went well. New parents love to overcompensate, and this bag fit everything — it was practically a mobile nursery. Still, it wasn’t without its flaws, and we noticed a few early on: the endless pocket searching, the shoulder discomfort caused by the single strap, that 15th pocket in which the pacifier was always buried so far within that we’d forget and have dig for it in the middle of the night.

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But we pressed on. Why buy a new diaper bag when you already own two? Besides, everyone uses these hideous looking things so they must work — we can adapt. We got resourceful. To alleviate back pain, we stored the bag in our stroller’s basket. We put the pacifier in the pocket with the tiny logo, so we always knew where it was. We started leaving the space-hogging changing mat at home. Eventually, though, even our hacks weren’t enough.

Samsonite Backpack

I don’t remember what sent me into a rage that afternoon. After spending a year as a stay-at-home dad, the minutia of fatherhood blurs. For me, it was never about the bag’s effeminate styling, it’s naturally bulky appearance, or painful shoulder strap. It was the lack of practicality. Rifling through the inside of the bag meant a full stop, hopefully with a high ledge nearby so I could put it down while I searched. The bag never felt efficient. It was the worst approach to an important job.

I found my old college backpack in a clearance bin at a now defunct CompUSA. It did a good job carrying my books then and had served me well as a hiking pack since. It can take a beating. I still don’t even know its true make or model — it came only with a basic price tag. It has external zippers and clips to attach to another bag but didn’t come with one. Inside, the only tag I can find reads “Samsonite 700 Backpack Series” with a warranty.

And while the model number might still be a mystery, the bag’s performance has been anything but: Samsonite inadvertently made one hell of a diaper bag. Not only did the two zippered pouches make everything easy to find, but they forced me to think about what to bring. Instead of packing the entire nursery, the backpack made me choose the specific gear I needed for every trip. Plus, with two drink pockets, it made carrying bottles a breeze. The bag has a waist belt, so it’s perfect for long stroller walks, and an elastic bungee on the front that I can attach to my daughter’s stuffed Curious George, or a pair of extra shoes, or soiled clothes — no need to ever open it up to make more room.

The biggest perk of a backpack diaper bag, however, has to be the teamwork it facilitates. The baby needs a wipe? My wife can dig in the backpack while it’s on my back, making parent life easy and prompting many a high-five between us. Even as our daughter has grown out of diapers, we still use the bag for her spare outfits, Band-aids, extra shoes and, of course, snacks.

Sadly, though, my Samsonite is on its last legs. The bungee string is hanging on by a thread. The waist belt clip is broken, the shoulder straps are worn thin, and the internal lining is peeling in patches. It may not be the diaper bag for our second child, whenever that may be, but there’s one thing we know: that kid’s diaper bag will definitely be a backpack.

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