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Survival Equipment

Get a durable back-to-school backpack with the STM Drifter

A sturdy, durable backpack is essential for students to haul all their books and gear. This STM Drifter has proven to be a good choice.
Get a durable back-to-school backpack with the STM Drifter

Backpacks are almost mandatory back-to-school equipment, since they tend to wear out.  Here is a high quality, durable backpack that’s worth looking at.

by Leon Pantenburg

I was not paid to do this review, and there is no advertising or sponsorship relationship between SurvivalCommonSense.com and STM. I have been using this backpack continually for over a year.

At the community college where I work, everybody carries backpacks, messenger bags, brief cases, man purses, gym bags, duffel bags etc. All of us have so much stuff to schlep around that an effective container/carrier is a necessity.


The STM Drifter is a high-end, top quality urban and wilderness daypack.

I looked at the Drifter with a combination of experience and skepticism. Backpacks are a dime a dozen, and you can get one virtually anywhere. They go for about $20-$50 at the student bookstore.

So  I loaded up the Drifter and started taking it to work. A 15-inch laptop fit in the padded pocket nicely. There was a  room for my point-and shoot camera, assorted notebooks and pens, files and junk. The Drifter also carries my lunch, a coffee flask and assorted urban survival items.

The Drifter has held up magnificently. In many ways, urban backpacks must be sturdier than those used in the wilderness. For one thing, the urban backpack gets almost daily hard use.

A 2009 New York Times study (the latest available) found that on average, 6th graders were carrying backpacks weighting 18.4 pounds, although some backpacks weighed as much as 30 pounds. Today, with the proliferation of laptops, smart phones hardcover textbooks and class materials, I bet students are carrying much more.

The average college backpack is really heavy, according to my unscientific research. I walked around the classroom, randomly hefting some of the students’ backpacks. My conclusion was that serious back trouble would occur if I carried one for any distance.

To stand up to the weight and nearly daily use, an urban backpack must be really tough and well-built.

Here are the Drifter specifications:

main material(s): Cottna 320D/640D Water Resistant Poly
lining: 200g Polyester with Brushed Nylex
device space: 10.04 x 14.76 x 1.18 in
outer dimensions: 18.50 x 12.20 x 7.48 in
capacity: 1094.4 cu in
weight: 2.29 lbs

Here’s what the website says about the design:

*Three zippered front panel pockets:
– Top soft lined pocket for sunglasses or phone
– Middle for keys, wallet or other sundries
– Bottom for pens, biz cards, travel docs
*Top load main compartment reveals 15″ padded laptop cell (will hold most 13-16″ laptops)
*Slip tablet pocket with cord and battery storage
*See-through zippered pocket to hold all the doo-dads that tend to get lost otherwise
*Plenty of main compartment capacity for books, shoes, clothing, etc.
*Reflective light loop for better night safety
*Side water bottle pockets with compression straps
*Padded and contoured shoulder straps with sternum strap for a comfortable carry
*Quick grab haul loop
*3D foam mesh back panel with air-flow channel for comfort on hotter days
*Integrated luggage pass through secures the bag to the handle of your wheeled luggage
*Bottom zip pocket holds detachable rain cover in case of a sudden downpour
*Durable yet super light aluminum zipper pulls with large, #10 self-repairing YKK® zippers
*Water resistant 320D brushed poly main fabric with 640D reinforced bottom fabric

What I liked:

Design: the Pockets are handy and work well for my needs. Though I’ve only used it so far in an urban setting, it will go along on some wilderness outings.

Straps: Comfortable for me and easily adjustable. I tend to lengthen the right strap and sling the Drifter over my shoulder. The placement is such that the strap doesn’t easily slide off. There is no waist belt, which is a good thing.  I rarely see anyone ever using them anyway.

Grab loop: As the mood strikes, I may carry the pack like a briefcase  by the grab loop on top.  The pack isn’t so long that it or the strap ends drag. I use this feature a lot, and this is something to consider in a school/urban backpack.

Back panel: The mesh back panel provide good ventilation. I frequently walk the two miles to work, and on hot days, the pack is cool to carry.I’ll check it out.

Zippers: On any urban pack, the zippers go first. The self-repairing  zippers are a good idea, and time will tell how quickly they wear out. So far, they work flawlessly.

Color: My Drifter is slate gray. That’s a good neutral color for most situations. In a setting where you don’t want to attract attention, the muted grey is serious urban camouflage that blends in with just about anything. For a photographer, the Drifter is perfect for getting a light reading off of. The Drifter comes in several other colors.

Electronic compartments: I don’t use these much, but for someone who must carry a laptop, tablet, phone and charger, the compartments are well-designed and well-placed. For a business traveler, the STM is a great carrier for all your electronic gear.

Size: The Drifter stows handily in the overhead compartment or under a seat in an airplane. You’ll appreciate the luggage pass that secures the bag to the handle of wheeled baggage.

Side pockets: I sometimes carry a bottle of water or Thermos of  coffee to the office. The side pockets allow for easy access, and the compression straps keep anything from falling out.

The Drifter retails for about $150. While that’s at the upper end of what I want to spend for a daypack, in the long run the Drifter may prove to be  a good investment. Daypacks wear out fairly quickly and a cheap one will inevitably have to be replaced.

When my kids were in school, they each  got a new daypack every fall. The zippers either wore out, or the straps separated from the body of the pack. Worse, the cheap models’ designs may be sketchy. A combination of lack of support, poor ergonomics and heavy loads may contribute to back problems later.

I like the Drifter a lot. So far, it does everything I need an urban daypack to do.  If you’re looking for a quality daypack that will work well in both urban and wilderness environments, the Drifter is worth considering.
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Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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