Some of their clothes are overpriced, but I really like Filson bags. I’m utterly obsessed with their Journeyman backpack, I use their giant duffle as my primary travel bag, and I picked up their 48-Hour Duffle for shorter trips. They’re all made of old-timey materials like waxed canvas and bridle leather, so they have a timeless look and age beautifully.
But what about their nylon bags? Do they cut the mustard?
After all, there are a times when I don’t really need a heritage aesthetic and I think there are even more guys — maybe the majority — just want a simple, slightly more modern backpack that goes well with any outfit from jeans to sweats. A daily commuter you can use for hiking, traveling, or the gym.
I think the best simple black backpack is Filson’s Dryden Backpack. I’m going to break down why I feel pretty confident saying this by looking at the materials, features, and price.
Nylon is a lot cooler than you think.
Overview: The Filson Dryden Backpack
I’m not going to bang on too much about why I love Filson (I’ve done that a lot) but they are one of my go-to brands for bags and outerwear. Founded back in 1897 in the Pacific Northwest, the company was launched to outfit prospectors heading north to the gold rush. (They were then known as C.C. Filson’s Pioneer Alaska Clothing and Blanket Manufacturers.)
Today they’re known for making bags and apparel out of old fashioned, ultra-durable materials like waxed canvas, twill, leather, and wool and while their products are pricy, they’ll last a lifetime. Literally: if it breaks, they’ll fix it for free. (I have experience of this when the leather handle broke on my old backpack.)
Canvas and leather, though, aren’t cheap. My waxed canvas Journeyman cost $395 and for a backpack, that’s more than the average guy wants to spend. Filson seems to have picked up on that fact so they released a backpack that’s made from cheaper nylon. This dropped the price down to, at the time of writing, $225.
So is Filson worth it now?
Just get this out of the way, in case you’re just here for a quick reference. I’ll start with why a guy might want the Dryden backpack.
Who Should Buy the Dryden
- You’re someone who likes simplicity but wants plenty of functional pockets; there’s even a separate compartment with sleeves for two laptops.
- Guys who want a bag that attaches to their rolling luggage and fits in an overhead compartment.
- Anyone who’s not into the old-timey, on-my-way-to-the-gold-mine aesthetic you get with the other Filson bags.
- People who like versatility; this isn’t want a bag that takes center stage, it’s a very subtle backpack.
- Guys who need space; the Dryden has a considerable 25.5 liters.
Who Shouldn’t Buy the Dryden
- You’d rather pay under $200.
- Guys who hate branding on their bag.
- Anyone who prefers American-made products; this is backpack is manufactured in Vietnam.
- Folks who prioritize sternum straps to distribute load.
Filson Dryden Backpack Materials
The materials are very important for this bag; without them it’d just be an overpriced Jansport. Let’s take a deeper look.
- Premium vegetable tanned “Bridle Leather” on the straps, handle, and zippers.
- Ballistic grade, water resistant, 1000-denier Cordura Nylon.
I know that some guys will see the word “nylon” and figure it’s low quality or not durable, so let’s take a closer look at what’s being used here.
Filson Dryden’s Nylon
Nylon is a synthetic polymer that’s usually derived from petroleum oil. Thin, cheap nylon wears out and is used for products like disposable toothbrushes and lady’s stockings, but there is also very thick, durable nylon that’s used for safety-critical applications like seatbelts, climbing harnesses, and even bulletproof vests.
Filson uses the durable type, not the cheap type. It’s 1000-denier Cordura® nylon which is some of the strongest nylon on the market. There’s a lot of fabric and material science jargon in the 1000-denier high tenacity ballistic Cordura, so I’ll break it down.
1000-denier means it’s high-density or has a lot of grams per square meter — a denier technically measures the mass in grams per 9,000 meters. If you happened to have a single strand of nylon that’s 9,000 meters long, it’d be 1 denier. This fabric would have 9,000 fibers per 9,000 meters.
It’s “high tenacity,” which sounds like something you might put on a resume if you’re into high-frequency trading, but this doesn’t refer to a favorable personality trait for high performers. It’s a measure of physical strength per denier and it can take a lot of weight without the fibers breaking. Think of climbing ropes: they have to take a lot of loads and not snap, they are “high tenacity.”
But fibers are also measured in lateral forces like tears and scuffs — and the US military invented Cordura fabric to resist these forces. So you can pull on this fabric over cement and the bottom won’t get a hole in it or scuff. It’s tough.
It’s also described as air jet textured. (If you haven’t figured it out, Filson knows how to tap into that inner child we all carry around who likes cool-sounding names for fabrics.) Air jet textured refers to a process where the fabric mill uses turbulent air to bulk the yarn, making each strand thicker.
Finally, this is called ballistic nylon, which refers to the fabric’s weave: in this case, a very tough 2 x 2 or 2 x 3 basket weave that the military uses not just in bags, but also flak jackets to help protect against flying debris and shrapnel.
Nylon’s looking pretty cool now, right?
If you’re used to backpacks that use lighter material, this bag will seem a bit stiff, and it’s great at holding its shape. This also means it takes up more room than a canvas bag, which softens and is easier to flatten. If you don’t have a lot of space in your apartment, the Dryden can’t be smashed and shoved in a small space; it isn’t “packable.”
Filson’s Dryden Leather
Next we’ll talk the leather accents, which come from the Pennsylvania tannery Wickett and Craig.
This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill leather. It’s vegetable-tanned bridle leather from one of the few remaining tanneries America that makes this type of leather. Veg-tanned leather is considered among aficionados as the best you can get: it’s tanned with a very old fashioned process that uses vegetable matter rather than chemicals like chromium. The result is a very durable, albeit rigid leather that rather looks better with age instead of wearing out.
Why do you care? Wouldn’t you be just as happy with 1000-denier nylon for the accents and handle? Well, probably, and it’s one criticism of the bag: if Filson was trying to make a more affordable bag, they could have ditched the leather and put the price under $200. But personally, I like the leather and the way it sets the bag apart from other backpacks on the market.
Filson Dryden Backpack’s Features
- More generic style, but is heavy on features
- Attaches to luggage for easy travel
- Micro-adjustable shoulder straps
- Vented shoulder straps
- Separate compartment that fits multiple laptops
- Plastic key holder
Filson makes a few technical bags, but they’re typically geared more for the outdoors rather than blending in in the city.
But the Dryden is a combination bag that works well in the field as a functional bag as well as for business, travel, and commuting. You can take it on the trail or use it as a day pack for sightseeing in Europe.
It’s minimalist when compared to technical backpacks — the ones loaded with pockets and nylon loops for ice axes and other gear one percent of people actually use — but it’s feature-rich when compared to an old-timey waxed canvas backpack.
[Related: The Best Waxed Canvas Backpacks]
The Filson Dryden Backpack Straps
Backpacks with leather straps have a few issues: you can usually only adjust them to a half dozen lengths (or as many holes they put for the belt), and they usually don’t have padding. (I’m looking at you, Filson’s very overrated Rucksack.) The Dryden works great in this regard: the straps are micro adjustable and better than Filson’s other backpacks, but note that there’s no sternum strap — though there are loops for you to attach one if you feel so inclined.
The shoulders straps are also micro-adjustable and they’re padded and ventilated so you don’t have to feel the shame of sweat marks. Some wish that the back had some more ventilation, but as I said, this is a somewhat minimalist bag, not one that’s designed for ultramarathon running or rucking.
The Filson Dryden Backpack Compartments
Every bag in this travel/commuter/work category needs a good laptop sleeve and enough functional pockets. The Dryden has a nice big laptop compartment that can hold two laptops (or in my case, a laptop and some magazines).
It also has two external water bottle holders. They’re nice and flush, enhancing the minimalist look, although the flipside is they don’t expand much, so depending on your hydration needs these may be a bit superfluous.
There’s a deep, additional pocket above the front pocket (above) which is deceptively large and deep, capable of comfortably fitting a book or magazines. The main compartment has a ventilated compartment (below) that I’ve used to stash dirty laundry, and the front pocket has a handy plastic clip for your keys and a couple of smaller sleeves to secure a wallet and pens.
Filson Dryden Price
Filson is an expensive brand, and you may be shocked that $225 is the cost of their cheap backpack.
That said, a bag made of this kind of nylon will last a really long time. I’ve owned cheaper ones, made of decent materials and cheaper zippers, and they lasted 8 years as daily drivers. This bag will last longer and unlike the cheap ones, if the zipper blows out or gets irritatingly stuck, Filson will replace the bag.
My main nitpick is that the bag would be under $200 if it didn’t have the leather accents, and this move would probably gain them more customers than it would lose. Still, leather of this quality will never crack or flake off.
I think most guys are going to want a bag like this. It’s modern, it’s versatile, it’s large, it has plenty of pockets, you can attach it to a roller suitcase, the straps are comfortable and functional, it has a lifetime warranty, and it’ll last forever. It’s the perfect nylon backpack: not too overengineered, not too branded, just a great blend of functional and subtle.