TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Reviews: Laptop Backpacks

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 6
Column Tag: Reviews

Reviews: Laptop Backpacks

by Lorin Rivers, Bon-vivant and Raconteur

A roundup of some of what's available


If you have a laptop, you need a way to transport it. A conventional briefcase or backpack just does not offer the protection your extremely valuable hardware deserves! After carrying (at some times two) laptops all over the US and Europe in a shoulder bag, and suffering the discomfort the uneven load produces, I thought I'd try a backpack instead--and I'm glad I did. The worst thing about backpacks is they are dorky looking, but I doubt I'll go back to a shoulder bag for lugging my kit around. Maybe someday I'll be rich enough to afford a laptop Sherpa and won't have to worry about it....

I used seven different backpacks from as many manufacturers for at least a few days each. I have a highly mobile work life, and live in one of the most unwired cities in the US (Austin, TX). I throw my poor battered TiBook into a bag several times every day.

Figure 1, Top Row, left to right: Brenthaven Professional 15", Shaun Jackson Design BackOffice, Willow Design Jacques 15", Booq BP3 System, Bottom row, left to right: Targus Sport Deluxe, Timbuk2 Detour, Spire Volt

That's Not My Bag, Baby

No, I'm not going to use the "Which bag would you want if you were trapped on a desert island" cliche (the bag with the satellite phone in it, thanks for asking). Instead, each of the bags fills a particular niche as it turns out, as I'll explain in more detail.

Cadillac Bag

Hands down, the best all-around bag in this collection is the Brenthaven Professional 15", and at $170 MSRP, it ought to be. That said, it's also the one I'd pay for with my own money if I were to buy a new laptop bag. The construction is very solid, and materials are top-notch. The amazing thing about the Brenthaven is its capacity--somehow, they've made this bag far bigger on the inside than on the outside. With six closeable pockets, and numerous pouches, there's a place for every piece of kit you might have, and all easy to get to. It's not that it's a large bag at all, it's just very well designed. Hefty padding on the bottom of the bag, plus a sturdy removable inner sleeve, ensures the safety of your machine. It has strong, comfortable, quick-adjust shoulder straps with perforated covers to promote airflow and cooling. The straps have rings and hoops to attach accessories to (cell phone bags, and what not). This is the bag I always came back to, and the one I always chose when traveling. In several months of hard use, the only visible impact is the finish on the zipper pulls is starting to wear off. I recommend this bag without reservation to anyone.

Figure 2, Interior of the Brenthaven, with sleeve detail. Note the numerous pouches and places to stow things--the pouch for the sleeve has a large document slot and the inner compartment has six pouches, two with elastic tops.

Commuter Special

The Shaun Jackson Design BackOffice <> is a unique piece, and if you commute by train or bus, or work frequently without ready access to a table or desk, this is the one for you. This bag is also sturdy, and well constructed, as you'd expect from one at the higher end of the price range at $149.95 MSRP.

Figure 3, BackOffice virtually deployed. There are two pads for elevating the back of your 'Book for airflow. The sides which drape on either side of your lap as you use it are easily accessed while in use. Takes about one second to close it up and go.

While it's ideal for the type of users I mentioned, it doesn't have much in the way of storage. It's also one of the more compact bags I looked at. I enjoyed using it around the house too, since I have a thigh-frying TiBook.

Expedition Grade

The Willow Design Jacques 15" <> is the bag for those who tend to be hard on their gear, or live a rough and tumble life. If you want to bring your laptop along for the ride and still be able to use it after, this is for you. I've never felt my machine was better protected in my life. When it's all in place, this bag has bank-vault solidity, and it's quite compact, as well. It's truly amazing. You can also use the sleeve as its own bag--it's got its own shoulder strap and some compartments of its own.

Figure 4, The sleeve for the Jacques, strapped in.

The other distinguishing feature of the Jacques bag is the conspicuity factor. There are reflective strips all over the place on the outside of the bag, and the sleeve. If I had a kid who rode a bike to school (or skateboard or whatever), and had their own laptop, this is what I'd get for them. At $170, it's not cheap, but that price includes the sleeve, and with laptops averaging $2000, not a bad price to pay for the level of protection this bag offers. For what it's worth, the Jacques was a close second in my opinion. My only complaint was that because the zipper goes all the way to the bottom of the sides, the front part of the bag had a tendency to flop open and if it wasn't all buttoned up stuff would fall out.

Qool Factor

Next, and pretty much tied with the Jacques, is the Booq BP3 System <>. This is a very cool looking, and customizable bag. The System includes a shell, a sleeve, a PDA case, and a phone case in addition to the bag itself. At $159.95 MSRP, it's a pretty good deal. Carefully consider this unit if you spend much time listening to an iPod due to the handy Media Jack, which allows you to thread your headphones through a grommet

Figure 5, Big black Booq with orange shell

The BP3 includes some great features (such as the MediaJack), lots of storage, sturdy design, very comfortable straps with a sternum strap (this keeps the shoulder straps securely on the shoulders, and makes carrying heavier loads more comfortable), and hip padding. It also has an innovative pocket for storing documents on the side of the bag--stuff slides between the padding against the wearer's back and the lining of the main compartment. The bottom, and back surfaces are well padded. The PowerSleeve is a rugged, padded enclosure for your laptop, and Booq offers them in 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 in. sizes. They sport shoulder straps, zippered compartments, and heavy-duty padding.

Budget Model

I suffer from champagne taste on a beer budget. The Targus Sport Deluxe <> is wholly adequate, large, and quite comfortable to wear, with well padded back and straps (which also have a sternum strap). I found it to be priced very fairly at $79.99 MSRP. It might be hard to argue that the more expensive bags are twice as good as the Targus, but I'd recommend this only for people on a very tight budget, or who only want to use a bag occasionally.

Figure 6, My stuff kept falling out of the outer pocket of the Targus

Messenger Bag AND Backpack

I am a big fan of Timbuktu products. I have had one their messenger bags for years. They also have a great, and entertaining website. The Timbuk2 Detour <> is a fantastic messenger bag, way better than the classic that I have--it's padded and has a handle. I just found it hard to use as a laptop bag, even with a sleeve. I like compartments, though, which is reflected in how much I like certain bags in this roundup. The Detour also suffers a little from the "neither fish nor fowl" problem. It's got these vestigial straps, but it's not wide and shallow like a regular messenger bag, it's sort of square. That said, it's definitely cool looking, well made, and stylish. If you are looking for an all purpose bag that you sometimes put a laptop into, this is one to consider strongly, because it's priced reasonably at $100 MSRP.

Figure 7: The Detour

The Timbuk2 sleeve is fantastic--stouter padding than any of the others, while not trying to be a bag inside a bag (with no shoulder strap or extra pockets). The one they sent for review was this crazy electric purple (Mariposa Purple) that is beautiful. It is priced at $50 for small, medium, large and XL and $60 for XXL (for 17" 'Books).

Glow in the Dark!

This bag has the coolest zipper pulls ever! There are sturdy plastic buttons attached to cord and tied to each conventional pull and they glow in the dark! I am easily amused....

Figure 8: The white part glows

The Spire Volt <> is much more of a technical backpack that carries a laptop really well. It has things like a real hip strap with padding, well padded shoulder straps with a sternum strap, lots of places to hook other things to, and a grommet similar to the Booq for passing a headphone jack through.

Figure 9: The Boot Deluxe, the divider and the inside of the Volt

What sets the Spire Volt apart is the security (but different from the Jacques). I felt like it was so strapped, in nothing would shake it. There are two cinch straps around the body of the bag (you can see the top set's buckles clearly in the group photo), so with all that hooked up, it's going nowhere! The laptop pocket is lined with Velcro loop (the fuzzy side). Then there's another divider made from a hard, but flexible material, and covered with ballistic nylon. This protects the bottom and sides of your machine unlike any of the other bags here. You can fit the divider precisely to your laptop because the sides have Velcro hook stuff on them. For even more protection add the Boot Deluxe <> which fits into the divider in a clever way. The sleeve has a shoulder strap, handle, and a zippered pocket. My only nit to pick is that it was a little hard to get the laptop in and out of the sleeve with the sleeve in the bag. At $115 MSRP for the Volt, and $30 MSRP for the Boot Deluxe, this rig is priced reasonably.

Loving Each One Best

OK, I didn't really slam any of them (though a couple rightfully deserve kudos). You really can't go wrong with any of these bags unless you choose the wrong one for your needs. Some of these are carried at national computer stores, and I encourage you to really check them out before throwing your money down.

Lorin is a long-time Mac user with roots in the NEXTSTEP community (he was a key member of the Altsys Virtuoso team), a former Macromedia evangelist, Power Computing PowerTower Pro Product Manager, Vice-President of Marketing for REAL Software, and is currently Account Executive for MacTech Magazine.


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Dash 3.4.0 - Instant search and offline...
Dash is an API documentation browser and code snippet manager. Dash helps you store snippets of code, as well as instantly search and browse documentation for almost any API you might use (for a full... Read more
RapidWeaver 7.1.7 - Create template-base...
RapidWeaver is a next-generation Web design application to help you easily create professional-looking Web sites in minutes. No knowledge of complex code is required, RapidWeaver will take care of... Read more
Printopia 2.1.22 - Share Mac printers wi...
Run Printopia on your Mac to share its printers to any capable iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Printopia will also add virtual printers, allowing you to save print-outs to your Mac and send to apps.... Read more
SteerMouse 5.0 - Powerful third-party mo...
SteerMouse is an advanced driver for USB and Bluetooth mice. It also supports Apple Mighty Mouse very well. SteerMouse can assign various functions to buttons that Apple's software does not allow,... Read more
Arq 5.5.1 - Online backup to Google Driv...
Arq is super-easy online backup for Mac and Windows computers. Back up to your own cloud account (Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Cloud Storage, any S3-compatible server... Read more
Slack 2.3.0 - Collaborative communicatio...
Slack is a collaborative communication app that simplifies real-time messaging, archiving, and search for modern working teams. Version 2.3.0: Note: Now requires OS X 10.8 or later New The app... Read more
Cocktail 10.1 - General maintenance and...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for macOS that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
Firefox 49.0.2 - Fast, safe Web browser.
Firefox offers a fast, safe Web browsing experience. Browse quickly, securely, and effortlessly. With its industry-leading features, Firefox is the choice of Web development professionals and casual... Read more
Art Text 3.1 - $49.99
Art Text is graphic design software to create stunning illustrations, such as badges, flyers, logos, social headers and icons, text mockups, website graphics and buttons, picture captions, word art,... Read more
AirRadar 3.1.9 - $9.95
With AirRadar, scanning for wireless networks is now easier and more personalized! It allows you to scan for open networks and tag them as favourites or filter them out. View detailed network... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Oh...Sir! The Insult Simulator (Games)
Oh...Sir! The Insult Simulator 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
WitchSpring2 (Games)
WitchSpring2 1.27 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.27 (iTunes) Description: This is the story of Luna, the Moonlight Witch as she sets out into the world. This is a sequel to Witch Spring. Witch Spring 2... | Read more »
4 popular apps getting a Halloween makeo...
'Tis the season for all things spooky. So much, so, in fact, that even apps are getting into the spirt of things, dressing up in costume and spreading jack o' lanterns all about the place. These updates bring frightening new character skins, scary... | Read more »
Pokémon GO celebrates Halloween with can...
The folks behind Pokémon GO have some exciting things planned for their Halloween celebration, the first in-game event since it launched back in July. Starting October 26 and ending on November 1, trainers will be running into large numbers of... | Read more »
Best Fiends Forever Guide: How to collec...
The fiendship in Seriously's hit Best Fiends has been upgraded this time around in Best Fiends Forever. It’s a fast-paced clicker with lots of color and style--kind of reminiscent of a ‘90s animal mascot game like Crash Bandicoot. The game... | Read more »
5 apps for the budding mixologist
Creating your own cocktails is something of an art form, requiring a knack for unique tastes and devising interesting combinations. It's easy to get started right in your own kitchen, though, even if you're a complete beginner. Try using one of... | Read more »
5 mobile strategy games to try when you...
Strategy enthusiasts everywhere are celebrating the release of Civilization VI this week, and so far everyone seems pretty satisfied with the first full release in the series since 2010. The series has always been about ultra-addictive gameplay... | Read more »
Popclaire talk to us about why The Virus...
Humanity has succumbed to a virus that’s spread throughout the world. Now the dead have risen with a hunger for human flesh, and all that remain are a few survivors. One of those survivors has just called you for help. That’s the plot in POPCLAIRE’... | Read more »
Oceans & Empires preview build sets...
Hugely ambitious sea battler Oceans & Empires is available to play in preview form now on Google Play - but download it quickly, as it’s setting sail away in just a few days. [Read more] | Read more »
Rusty Lake: Roots (Games)
Rusty Lake: Roots 1.1.4 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.1.4 (iTunes) Description: James Vanderboom's life drastically changes when he plants a special seed in the garden of the house he has inherited.... | Read more »

Price Scanner via

Apple refurbished 2015 13-inch MacBook Airs a...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 13″ MacBook Airs available starting at $759. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: - 2015 13″ 1.6GHz/4GB/128GB MacBook... Read more
64GB Apple TV on sale for $159, save $40
Best Buy has the 64GB Apple TV on sale for $40 off MSRP on their online store. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale price for online orders only, in-store price may... Read more
EyeQue Introduces iOS And Android Based Advan...
Affordable vision technologies developers EyeQue have announced what they claim to be the world’s most advanced intelligent vision solution, pitched as enabling anyone, anywhere to easily and... Read more
Smartwatch Market Tanks, Declining 51.6% in 2...
The worldwide smartwatch market experienced a round of growing pains in the third quarter of 2016 (3Q16), resulting in a year-over-year decline in shipment volumes. According to data from the... Read more
CAZE announces Ultra Thin Glass Screen Protec...
Hong Kong based CAZE has announced its first ultra thin glass screen protector, the Glazz Pro for iPhone 7/7 Plus. Glazz Pro is made from chemically reinforced glass with an anti-fingerprint... Read more
11-inch MacBook Airs on sale for up to $120 o...
Newegg has 11″ MacBook Airs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP. Shipping is free: - 11″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air: $799.99 $100 off MSRP - 11″ 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air: $979 $120 off MSRP Read more
Up to $300 off Macs, $20 off iPads with Apple...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free, and... Read more
Apple’s Thursday “Hello Again” Event A Largel...
KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a strong record of Apple hardware prediction accuracy, forecasts in a new note to investors released late last week that a long-overdue redo of the... Read more
12-inch Retina MacBooks on sale for $100 off...
Amazon has 2016 12″ Apple Retina MacBooks on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free: - 12″ 1.1GHz Silver Retina MacBook: $1199.99 $100 off MSRP - 12″ 1.1GHz Gold Retina MacBook: $1199.99 $100 off... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac Pros available for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The following... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (United...
# Apple Solutions Consultant Job Number: 52812872 Houston, Texas, United States Posted: Oct. 18, 2016 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Read more
Lead *Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (...
# Lead Apple Solutions Consultant Job Number: 52812906 Houston, Texas, United States Posted: Oct. 18, 2016 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** The Lead ASC is an Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Towson,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Software Engineering Intern: Integration / QA...
Job Summary Apple is currently seeking enthusiastic interns who can work full-time for a minimum of 12-weeks between Fall 2015 and Summer 2016. Our software Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.