Strong, cheap, unattractive, and indestructible. That’s how you know it’s Russian. It’s the “veshmeshok,” a primitive canvas knapsack.
I used to think of it as a crappy, “last-ditch” item, but now it’s my first choice. When traveling with one Huge Freaking Backpack, I still need a small daypack, unless I want to empty out all my belongings at my destination and then use the comically oversized backpack to carry a few paltry items like a book and my lunch around town. Though I’ve got a couple of nice, tough shoulder bags and daypacks, when I’m packing my big rucksack, it’s a silly waste of space to stuff an empty shoulder bag in there.
But Mother Russia has an answer. Enter the veshmeshok, a flat bag you carry on your back that will handle about 25L of anything you can fit inside. (Mine is holding 70# of kettlebells with no complaint.) It weighs just 1.25# and rolls up half the size of a pair of jeans. In fact, you could squeeze into your front pants pocket. It’s dirt cheap and I think the only way to permanently damage it is to douse it in gas and burn it like Hitler’s corpse. Otherwise, you could just patch it with scrap cloth. It barely even has seams, and it only has five cheap metal fittings, though they’re so inessential that even if you broke all five of them, you could still use the pack just fine. In fact, I think you could sew a perfectly good veshmeshok from a tarpaulin or a couple old pairs of jeans. It wouldn’t even look any crappier than the real thing.
Is it comfortable? Not especially. Russia seems to design its gear for the convenience of someone other than the end-users. But you can improve it with a little creativity. A laptop stiffens it nicely, and since the straps are so adjustable, you should be able to change around the way the pack rides so that you can shift any discomfort around the body over the course of a long day.
And it also works pretty well as a water bucket. Too cool.