WTB Bag of Holding +?? Help!
June 8, 2009 11:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm searching for a new around campus backpack, but I have some very specific requirements - help me, hive mind you're my only hope!

I've been wanting to buy a new backpack for a while now, but I've been totally unable to find a bag that meets my requirements. Besides needing to be durable, water resistant, and all of the usual things for a good backpack, here are my requirements:

1) Needs to be an actual backpack, not a messenger bag. I used to love these, but can no longer use any bag that has only one strap due to hip problems. I love things like the M-15 bag from the military, but it is too small for my needs.

2) It needs to be secure for a laptop - padded and preferably have its own compartment. It also needs to have room for the power adapter for said laptop. You'd be amazed at how many laptop bags don't have a good place to put a laptop power cord.

3) It needs to have LOTS of room, separate from the laptop. It needs to be able to carry the approximate weight of 3-5 small books (200 pages each), or about the thickness of a ream and a half of paper. And it needs to do so in a way that doesn't mangle said paper or books. My current bag is huge, but tapers at the top in such a way that it mangles papers. When carrying 200 + student exams, this is a problem.

4) External pockets for things like phone, keys, pens, etc. I carry a lot of other stuff with me during my day and need a way to keep it all easily accessible.

5) Place to store a water bottle or soda bottle. This is really important, as I generally carry one with me at all times.

Any recommendations are appreciated. I've looked at a ton of bags, and none seem to be what I need. They are either too small, the wrong strap type, or don't seem durable enough.
posted by strixus to Shopping (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've been looking for a decent backpack to replace my REI Bookpacker bag for a while now. I have a hard time finding one because I don't like that durable ripstop fabric that everone else seems to like. I have been looking at a few bags from places like LL Bean [love th elifetime warrantee] like this Super Shockwave Pack thing. Not sure if it's big enough but seems to hit all of your other points. This one is bigger but doesn't have a laptop sleeve. That said, you might want to get something like that and then a really good shock resistant laptop sleeve which gives you more flexibility with how you carry your laptop.
posted by jessamyn at 11:33 AM on June 8, 2009

North Face X Shot meets all your needs.
posted by fire&wings at 11:36 AM on June 8, 2009

I have a Targus Rakgear backpack, which has everything you want and is very durable, though it doesn't fit larger laptops very well. It is quite heavy. This one looks a bit like the one I have. The ones on the website do not look similar. I've had this backpack about 4 years now. I don't use the weird rack thing it came with.
posted by jeather at 11:40 AM on June 8, 2009

I don't have a bag recommendation for your specifics, but my wife has a ridiculously large laptop from work and could never find a bag that met all her other needs. I scored lots of brownie points on Mother's Day thanks to the bag finder at Career Bags.
posted by IanMorr at 11:49 AM on June 8, 2009

My Targus CityGear Backpack got me through three years of High School, and another six years of College. I still use it today for overnight trips.
posted by litterateur at 12:14 PM on June 8, 2009

I have an Eastpak Unplugged which I've used since freshman year of college, and it's still going strong in my second year of med school. It looks like this Jansport has all of the same features and same basic build, if not as feminine an aesthetic. (The mesh waterbottle pocket is on the side of the bag not pictured). I LOVE the two full-sized zipper compartments- very nice if I have some loose papers I don't want a book to crush, or I want to throw a sweatshirt in my bag but don't want to pull it out every time I need to get something. Jansport and Eastpak are owned by the same company, so if the interior of the bottom outside pocket is designed the same as mine, there are even littler zippered compartments inside. Your laptop adaptor should fit nicely in this pocket too. Top exterior pocket makes for a great pencil holder.
posted by alygator at 12:42 PM on June 8, 2009

Response by poster: I forgot to mention - one of the prime things I'd really like would be a stiff form bottom - something that holds it shape and doesn't sag horrifically when you put a lot of weight in it, or when its mostly empty. The two bags I have right now will both sag down nearly 3 inches if I put anything heavy in them. The only solution I have currently is using an obnoxious strap system to attach the top of the bag (the hand strap) to the front of the bag. It looks like ass.

That Jansport looks like an updated version of the ANCIENT one I have, which is great except for the fact that it has NO padding at all on the bottom, and crunches everything I own because of the shape of the laptop sleeve inside the main compartment.

The Targus bags look nifty - how well do they hold their shape? How much padding do they have for the laptop sleave?

The north face looks great... but it seems really narrow. How does it fit papers?
posted by strixus at 1:01 PM on June 8, 2009

I just went bag shopping with the same criteria (and the same annoyance at the sagging issue with my old bag), and I found a great Swiss Gear bag, but I can't find the model on their website.

Thing is, bag design is a bit stupid - even great brands (like Jansport) have some bags which are brilliant, and others which are terrible (I think that you and I have the same ancient Jansport). The only way I have found to get a good bag is to head to several different bag stores and just keep checking each bag individually, checking whether the bottom was stiff, what kind of padding it had in the laptop sleeve, what the other pockets were like, how far it stuck out behind me (previous one made me look like a turtle even when it was 1/2 empty). It took an afternoon wandering around a good mall (with two bag shops and a good department store - found the bag in the department store) - have you got access to a good shopping area?
posted by jb at 1:25 PM on June 8, 2009

I used an ALICE pack (medium, no frame) while in high school through grad school. You would need one with the back padding - some have this, some don't - or a separate laptop sleeve. It absolutely fits papers without scrunching, as long as you have them in a folder, and remember that the ALICE is oriented more horizontally than vertically. Three external pockets minimum on it, too, and the weight sits on your hips instead of in your shoulders.

It does not have a flat bottom, though having a clipboard or giant biology text on the bottom turns it into one.
posted by cobaltnine at 2:01 PM on June 8, 2009

The Targus bag holds its form well. Being a laptop-specific company, the padding for the laptop is very nice. Currently, I use it for Things-to-do on long trips, so I've held in one trip my laptop, notebook, ten or so hardbacks, cd player and 100 cd case, portable dvd player, gameboy (yes, I'm a geek), and a change of clothes. All have survived admirably.
posted by litterateur at 2:04 PM on June 8, 2009

I have an Outdoor Products Powerpack. Many pockets, lightweight, holds a ton, and a lifetime warranty. The main pocket has dividers to keep your papers from getting mangled. And it looks like an ordinary backpack, so it's not screaming "steal me I'm holding a laptop".
posted by Wet Spot at 2:07 PM on June 8, 2009

Response by poster: cobaltnine, I've thought about getting an ALICE, MOLLE, or IIFS bag because of the versatility of those systems. I'm a bit worried about going back to a hip weight system though, because of my hip problems. I've got a wonderful large frameless backpack I use for traveling that is a hip strap system, and I don't generally have many problems with it. How good are they at keeping the load balanced across both hips?
posted by strixus at 2:48 PM on June 8, 2009

I love my small STM evolution backpack. They make a larger size as well.
posted by demon666 at 2:53 PM on June 8, 2009

Targus bag holds its bottom form well; it does sag a bit when it's not totally full. Padding is very good, on 3 sides and the bottom (held above the bottom of the bag) -- extra padding is on the back for your own back. The bottom of mine is rubberised, meaning it doesn't leak when I put it down on slushy pavement. There are specific pockets for things like power cords, mice, etc. It holds a lot. It is, however, fairly heavy. It has a waist strap as well as the nice padded shoulder straps.
posted by jeather at 3:29 PM on June 8, 2009

Booq Mamba is what I'd buy.
posted by zpousman at 3:35 PM on June 8, 2009

I have an eBags Downloader. I especially like that it doesn't scream "there's a laptop in here" when I carry it around town. I abuse it regularly, and it keeps coming back for more.

Except for that one time when I tore an internal seam by throwing a power drill in there a little too aggressively, and eBags replaced the bag for free under the lifetime warranty.
posted by toxic at 4:15 PM on June 8, 2009

I actually never had the waist strap on my ALICE pack; I think it's something to try, but if it makes it worse/heavy on your hips, then it's worth trying without.

My comparison was only to the generally available backpacks at the time - an LL Bean full of Calculus and Biology texts feels like it weighs a ton more than an ALICE, although empty the ALICE weighs more. Since it sounds like you'll be hauling slightly less around than I was - you said paperbacks, my experience was more like 'let me cram all these giant German hardcovers in here' - it shouldn't be bad at all. The biggest disadvantage is also it's advantage - the horizontality. I had some difficulty getting through narrow Amtrak corridors when I took my bag home.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:24 PM on June 8, 2009

I think I own a backpack that meets all of your requirements - here - I got it at Staples though. It holds a laptop, has a completely separate pocket to hold books/papers (that is as big as some other backpacks are entirely), has external pockets, bottle holders on the side, MP3 player pocket at the top with a grommet for the headphone wires. It has plenty of padding and still looks great 5 years later (and I carried everything around in it!). It has flat padding at the bottom of the bag.
posted by miscbuff at 6:43 PM on June 8, 2009

Lululemon Crusier backpack. It has pockets for everything, two main compartments and looks cool. I use it as may day bag and have also used it as my sole piece of luggage for a 5-day trip where I did not want to check a bag. I love this bag and have never found another one like it.
posted by JoannaC at 6:51 PM on June 8, 2009

I would look at Burton Bags. I have the fader and transistor and like them both, mine are both roasted brown wool, circa 2007, they offer them in different fabrics now.
posted by bach at 7:44 PM on June 8, 2009

I love my eBags Downloader, which is smaller than it sounds like you'd like. However, they do have a larger size version, the Macroloader.

eBags prices are good, I've had good service, and I would buy all my bags from them in the future.

posted by reddot at 7:21 AM on June 9, 2009

We've got the Macroloader and I can put the 17 inch portable (it fits in the pocket, but not in the sleeve that comes with the bag for the pocket) and all its gear in the bag, along with a weekend's worth of clothes, toiletries and reading. It stays upright when empty, but it doesn't open any wider than a typical backpack, which I find awkward.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:44 AM on June 9, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all the great info. I'm still shopping, but I'm narrowing it down.

I WILL find the perfect backpack that both is functional, looks good and professional enough to pass, and doesn't kill me to carry. When I do, I will update you all!
posted by strixus at 12:27 PM on July 8, 2009

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