How do I carry my laptop while I'm backpacking?
August 11, 2009 8:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm going backpacking through South America and Southeast Asia for a few months, but I need to work from the road. What's the easiest way to carry my (relatively large) laptop without destroying it? Can I do it without a separate bag? Bonus points for dSLR tips, too.

I'm more concerned with physical protection than theft prevention.

I'd like to be able to carry all my crap in one big travel backpack. I can do it space-wise, but I'm not sure if I could fit a proper laptop bag. How well padded are standard laptop sleeves? Is there something I can put around it for protection without adding too much bulk?
posted by borkingchikapa to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Could try to find a pelican case that would fit both, would keep it physically protected but it's gonna be bulky.
posted by iamabot at 9:37 PM on August 11, 2009

Like this! It's bulky, but bomb proof and could probably hold the DSLR + some lenses and the laptop.
posted by iamabot at 9:42 PM on August 11, 2009

I'm going backpacking through South America and Southeast Asia for a few months

A pelican case would be the most impractical solution for such a trip.
posted by special-k at 9:50 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, but it would be safe!
posted by iamabot at 9:50 PM on August 11, 2009

I came in here to recommend a Pelican case as well (maybe this one?). But, it's gonna be huge. Definitely bigger than a regular laptop case, although it'll offer (literally) infinitely more protection (because a regular case offers roughly zero in any harsh environment).

However, having read the [more inside], I can't say that I can think of anything that fits your non-bulky requirements. Cases basically protect their contents through bulkiness. Even if you wrapped the laptop in carbon fiber laminate, if there's no impact padding, it's just going to transfer the force into the laptop and something's going to break.

A laptop sleeve keeps the machine from being scratched. But it doesn't even remotely help if you drop the thing, or if you drop your bag in the Amazon, or if a native throws a spear into your backpack as you flee for your life.

You don't mention what kind of work you do. Would you be able to do it with a netbook? If it were me taking this trip, and I wasn't expected to program 3D games or make CAD models or something like that, I'd just buy a cheap netbook with a solid state disk. Once everything is solid state, your inherent impact resistance goes way, way up. At that point, you could probably get away with a sealed sleeve to protect it from scrapes and scratches and rain. And if it breaks, you can get a new one FedEx'd to you from home without spending a mint--on the machine, shipping will be quite dear.
posted by Netzapper at 9:51 PM on August 11, 2009

I've traveled in the tropics with a single backpack (Arcteryx Bora 95). I kept my laptop is a sleeve, inside a dry bag, and I wrapped it with many layers of clothing. The laptop was in the middle of the pack. I kept my dslr in a camera bag (a crumpler) and stored it at the top (for easy access).

It worked out fine for several months of travel. I packed a smaller pack to carry around my laptop when I was staying in one place. Just use common sense when traveling (don't drop the pack, rest anything heavy on it etc).

happy travels!
posted by special-k at 9:59 PM on August 11, 2009

I traveled for the past year through Mexico, Central and South America--from the mountains to the jungle--with a g4 15-inch mac in a sleeve in a regular backpack. I'm back in the States now and using the same computer. Maybe it's that Macs are so well put together--or maybe it's luck!
I'll leave again later this year, but I'm getting a netbook; this thing is too damn heavy!
posted by mixer at 10:51 PM on August 11, 2009

I've been doing this for the past four months. When I got to SE Asia, everything was in one carry-on bag. As many of the places I stay don't have internet in the room, it was more convenient to buy a cheap laptop bag to carry it from hotel room to cafe/bar/restaurant/internet spot, than to empty my carry-on and then use it to haul my laptop around town. But I ended having to check a bag last 2 times I flew. What I've been looking for today, is just a simple, cloth, unstructured bag that will compress in my luggage, which is just big enough for laptop, power supply and maybe a book.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:28 AM on August 12, 2009

I keep some of my studio flash heads in a Pelican case. As I always tell people who ask about it, the biggest problem with Pelican cases is that they weigh almost as much empty as they do filled.

I can't imagine backpacking with a Pelican case as large as this poster would need.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:32 AM on August 12, 2009

I have had it with my employer giving me a huge bulky laptop for travel. I just can't be bothered straining my body to haul it about the airport and so on; I have told them I will only carry on if they get some smaller ones!

I now pack mine in my checked luggage. I either put it in a sleeve or in a standard sort of laptop bag and then just pack clothes, towels and books around it. I have a soft bag with wheels - I often have to carry other work stuff like bulky folders and papers, so I can't really cut it back to a wheel-less solution, and I also need a soft bag as there is not always space for bulky suitcases in ground transport. The bag is usually packed fairly tightly (since it isn't that big), so the laptop doesn't move around much. The last one I took was one of those widescreen type laptops, so quite large.

So far, so good. The laptop hasn't been damaged or stolen. YMMV!
posted by AnnaRat at 3:47 AM on August 12, 2009

I'm a photographer and hitchhiked through Canada for 40 days last summer without a computer. It was dicey but there was no way I was going to take a laptop with me.

Now I have an EEE 1000HE and it would have been perfect for the trip. It definitely won't do processing of files, but I could have dowloaded my cards and occasionally gone to a wifi hotspot and uploaded the pictures somewhere. I was really paranoid about losing my photos (obviously).

It's about the size of 2 backup drives, very light, seemingly quite impact resistant (it's always in my backpack and I don't pay it much mind). It's way smaller than a ziplock freezer bag. I can't think of a better computer for travelling.

Oh yeah, well under $400 too with a 120 gig hard drive.

The solid state netbooks will likely be too smalll storage wise for your purposes.

Sorry, I know this is not the answer to your question.

DSLR advice: well, I have a Canon 5d and almost destroyed it by taking it out in a very light rain/mist day once. So now I'm paranoid about that too. I took a big ziplock bag, cut a hole for the lens and wrapped that with gaffers tape. I could roll the ziplock up and use the camera with it sort of half way pushed off the body, or I could use it with the camera totally sealed in the bag. This would be harder with a zoom...I was using a prime.

If you are not a phographer particulary, I'd consider taking something like a Canon G10 or some really nice point and shoot. DSLRs suck to travel with...too big, too lumpy.
posted by sully75 at 6:14 AM on August 12, 2009

I would strongly advise you, if you could afford it, to get a smaller netbook (perhaps an eee-pc like someone mentioned above) and an external hard drive.

EEE PC's are super sturdy - I traveled around Africa with one, and while I dislike the small keyboard, I appreciated the sturdiness of it in places like Kilimanjaro. I really love my WD Passport drive - they're all pretty sturdy and not that expensive.

Here are some links for you:

- WD Passport drives


I paid about $400 for my EEE PC and $100 for my passport drive. One cool feature of the Passport drive is that it does power over USB and thus does not require an external power source, which is great when you're traveling in foreign countries with different outlets.

If you cannot buy new hardware, definitely get a sleeve for your computer. I've traveled a fair amount, albeit not backpacking, with various macbooks and found my neoprene sleeve protected the computer pretty well.

Think about not just protecting your large laptop, but also how you'll feel about it after carrying the bulky, heavy item around on your back for a few days. You might want to make a smaller and lighter investment. Experience trucking around a heavy old thinkpad is exactly what made me buy the eee pc :)
posted by jacquilinala at 9:08 AM on August 12, 2009

Seconding special-k. That's exactly what I'd do. Some large packs have a smaller pack that zips on to the outside, so that might be worth considering if you don't already have a pack.
posted by benign at 12:40 PM on August 12, 2009

You can get a laptop-sized dry bag.
posted by jimfl at 12:07 PM on August 16, 2009

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