I don’t usually write posts like this. Product reviews etc. are outside of my Open Source realm. Over the last month however, my quest for an elite laptop backpack has revealed a chasm between the best that the market has to offer, and the bags that review websites typically recommend.
Screw PCAdvisor. To hell with T3. Thule, Herschel, Fjällräven, and Wenger all make nice bags. But for a certain class of commuter, aesthetic articulation and identity originality are just as important as inspired design and practical features.
Perhaps it’s because they’re newly released. Maybe it’s because those who’ve discovered them guard their secret. But for some reason, the following bevy of bags lack the coverage that they deserve. Thanks to John Ngo for pointing me at several of the products below.
I use my backpack virtually every day of the year. Whether fetching groceries, hauling gymwear, stowing shirts for a conference on the continent, or ferrying laptop, headphones, ergonomic peripherals, and myriad cables to the office, my backpack is my stalwart companion, on foot, on train, and on bicycle. Therefore I judge the bags on the following merits (in no particular order):
- Airflow to one’s back (for comfort and sweat)
- Reflective panels / night visibility
- Quality of craftsmanship
- Quality of materials (especially zips)
- Aesthetic design
- Distinctive appearance
- Layout originality
- Easy access pockets (e.g. for water bottle and umbrella)
- Multiple large compartments (to separate clothing from tech)
- Comfort of wear
- Multiple carry options (e.g additional carry handles / packable straps)
- Balance of size and capacity
- Secure accommodation of laptops of multiple sizes
My best backpacks
Booq Cobra Squeeze
Beautiful and distinctive bag made from high quality recycled materials, with good access, excellent size to capacity ratio, and good laptop compartment padding. Unfortunately it’s made for macbooks only with a very tight fit. My Dell XPS 15 didn’t stand a chance; the bag went back.
Côte&Ciel Isar Twin Touch
Incredible, distinctive design from one of the highest quality backpack companies around. I generally prefer vegan wearables, but the calf leather frame on this beauty is in a class of its own.
Mission Workshop Arkiv VX /R8
A striking, militaristic bag with extreme practicality, with the unique benefit of customisability via velcro accessory system. “Build your own bag” and attach and detach components as necessary. From the Mission District of San Francisco (their store is a thing to behold).
Incase Halo Courier
Incase had to have a bag here, but choosing which was hard. Customers rave about their design and attention to detail, and clearly this company is doing many things right (especially their EO range — see their brilliant but boxy offering in the honourable mentions). Unfortunately aesthetics have been lacking across their range however, with square monochrome bags coupled with limited colour choices. This bag however breaks from this trend with a flash of neon yellow, and though the ICON and City bags offer more structure and better size to capacity ratio, the Halo Courier introduces the critical component: handsome looks.
These bags didn’t quite make the cut, whether because they prioritise good looks a bit too much (in the case of the Côte&Ciel Nile), not enough (the Osprey Nebula 34), or have too much, or too little capacity (the EO Travel / Evoc Commuter, and Boa Squeeze respectively). They are noteworthy nevertheless, and deserving of your attention.
I run 4 miles each day with a MacBook Pro 15″, a clean shirt, my lunch and all sorts of other stuff across London. I read your article because my current rucksack, a Opsrey Talon 11 is now 7 years old. When I put it on it just felt as though someone was hugging my back on a cold day – so nice and undeniably the bag I wanted. It has a lifetime guarantee so I’m hoping that Osprey will do something for me because it should not have warn out as it has.
So, you didn’t really look at Osprey but I’d recommend having another look. I think I’ve done something like 5,500 miles running with this one (plus it’s been on countless international work trips with me). It might not be vegan but do take a further look.
Wow Roland, that’s nearly 9,000 KM with a laptop on your back! I’m surprised that it didn’t wear out first (SSD I presume?). Thanks for sharing your recommendation; indeed I didn’t look in depth at Osprey (though the Nebula 34 received an honourable mention). The Talon sounds like a venerable companion, though the skeletal design isn’t to my taste. Feel free to share with us what you replace it with.