A bag for all seasons
September 5, 2009 5:02 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for a new bag - hopefully, you can help me find one bag that will do my international business trips, day hikes, and weekends away.

The bag needs to serve as carry on luggage, to-the-office luggage, day hike, or overnight trip luggage.

I want something that can fit a laptop, preferably in a compartment/sleeve for that purpose. My own laptop is a 12 inch Apple, but when travelling for work, I have to carry a larger laptop (15 inch?). I usually put their laptops in my checked luggage, so as not to cripple myself in the airport, but then need to carry it between the hotel and office while away. I find it too heavy to use a messenger bag or shoulder strap bag.

I accept that the only way I can do this sensibly, given the brick laptops from work, is with a backpack (despite a visiting consultant snootily remarking that she doesn't think people should have backpacks for business - fine for her, as an independent, she has bought a 10 inch laptop). Wheels will be a pain for the other uses and the main office I visit overseas is in a country where there aren't nice smooth surfaces to drag the bag along.

But it needs to look somewhat professional (not bright colours or too sporty looking). Also, I am female and small, so not too large, should be comfortable for me to wear.

I would like an easy to access compartment to put my passport and travel docs when moving through the airport. But not heaps of little compartments inside.

For day hiking, waterproof/resistant is good, and I would like a water bottle holder on the outside.

I want it of a size that I could fit a change of clothes and small toiletries, if I am going somewhere just for a few nights.

I am in Australia, but will consider online possibilities also (oh, I have a MEC membership!). No particular cost restrictions - I think you get what you pay for with luggage. Having said that, my last bag that I used for these purposes was maybe US$50 and has lasted for 12 years or more (zip broken, and waterproof lining has deteriorated).

Tell me your favourites!
posted by AnnaRat to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This JanSport bag has served me faithfully for 6+ years. I've got mine in red so I can keep an eye on it in airport security, but you could get it in something more demure for the office.
Customer service is great, the 2-stage handle broke after about 3 years and they fixed it under lifetime warranty. When it broke again about a year later, they replaced the entire bag for free.
Best things about it are the capacity, chunkier wheels so it can navigate terrain OK and the backpack straps. Takes a beating and still looks like new. Also doesn't look like a typical laptop bag so less likely to be targeted by thieves. Might be a little too chunky for day hiking due to the wheels, but I tote it around OK. They have another model without wheels that looks like it might also be worth trying.

One note, please don't put your laptop in the hold luggage, you're just asking to get it stolen. My company bans that and if you do it and it's lost, you're responsible for the replacement as they deem it negligence (we lost a bunch this way a few years ago).
posted by arcticseal at 6:29 AM on September 5, 2009

I use a discontinued Patagonia backpack that seems related to this one. I can't vouch for the current model, but the one I have has a surprisingly trim profile, making it look more professional than a backpack. I use it for business without hesitation.

I used to use just one carry-on-sized backpack for everything on a trip, but it was uncomfortably heavy. Now I use my slim backpack for the laptop, and it counts as my personal bag. I put my clothes in a separate, small carry-on and will be testing this lightweight duffel soon. It has backpack straps and can take a shoulder strap (I'll add a shoulder strap). Here's a review of the duffel when used for business travel.

Some more to consider:

Outdoor Products Essential Carry-on: light at 1 lb 12 oz; cheap at US$33. Some comments here.

A darker-colored version of the Tom Bihn Western Flyer, though it's well outside your price range.
posted by PatoPata at 6:39 AM on September 5, 2009

Best answer: I love my North Face "Surge" backpack. The laptop sleeve is well padded, and I'm always amazed at how much it can hold in books, clothing, groceries, etc. I've had mine (but it was this 2007 model in black)for two years, and looks like it's hardly undergone any wear and tear, and I've used it on a regular basis. I'm a petite-ish female, and really only felt that it's as large as what you put in it. YMMV.

At $115 though, it is quite pricey (you might be able to find one $15-20 less if you look around on the internet). This was my first North Face product and I was concerned about the price versus reliability, but I've been very happy with the backpack, and looks like it's going to last me a long time at this rate.
posted by raztaj at 6:49 AM on September 5, 2009

Here's that Tom Bihn link fixed.
posted by PatoPata at 6:55 AM on September 5, 2009

You know, screw that consultant who thinks a backpack isn't professional. I know alot of male consultants who carry them, when wearing suits even.

I have a Dakine Jewel in black. It fits my 15" work laptop and it has great pockets on the front. I like the location of the laptop sleeve, but it sits against your back and if walking long distances with the work laptop (>2 miles or so) I find it starts to hurt my back. It's not a huge backpack but it could hold a change of clothes.

My female friends at work, almost to a woman, use the Sherpani Tosca laptop bag. Just passing it on an option, but I am put off by the big daisy on it.
posted by cabingirl at 7:30 AM on September 5, 2009

Best answer: I have an Osprey that I absolutely love. Their non-hiking packs often have a laptop component, and it is by FAR the most comfortable backpack ever. They look pretty nice, although not all that corporate. The organization is fabulous. As an added plus, they have sizing particularly for women, which I didn't think was going to be all that important, but makes a huge difference in comfort, particularly if you are short-to-average or (like me) tall but high-waisted.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:39 AM on September 5, 2009

I have a Lululemon Cruiser backpack which I love. It has pockets for everything. I can literally keep ALL my non-luggage 'stuff' (wallet, keys, pens, sunglasses) out of the main bag part. I like that it has two compartments. In the laptop one, I carry my netbook and papers. In the larger one, I carry lunch bag, gym gear if going to the gym after work, groceries if stopping at the store after work etc. I recently went on a five-day trip, packed carefully and only needed to take this one bag. Clothing went in main compartment; e-book reader and snack went in laptop compartment, and I was good to go.
posted by JoannaC at 10:04 AM on September 5, 2009

Funny you should ask this…I've been looking for something along the same lines. Check out BBP. They have a line of hybrid bags that serve as messenger-style briefcases and, with the attachment of a clever shoulder strap system, backpacks. The way the harness is designed the bag rides lower than a conventional backpack, kind of tucked into the small of your back, providing better balance and less stress. I think they offer the best of both worlds.
posted by dinger at 10:20 AM on September 5, 2009

I used a Tom Bihn Western Flyer for that purpose this summer. It will easily hold a notebook in a sleeve (I have a 13" MacBook from work and a 15" MacBook Pro for personal use; both fit), along with power supply, digital camera, pencil case, a couple books, two cell phones, an inch-thick folder of printouts, a compact umbrella, a sampler set of akvavit, and a few other things I'm probably forgetting. The backpack straps are comfy, and when they're tucked out of the way the bag looks pretty much like a soft-sided briefcase. Bihn's Absolute Shoulder Strap works well with it.

I've used the bag as a suitcase for weekend trips, too. It will hold what I need for a couple days away from home, including a second pair of shoes.

The only drawback is that the water bottle pocket is designed to be used only when the bag is horizontal. You'd need to rig some kind of retaining strap to hold the bottle in while using the bag as a backpack.

If you don't care about not looking like a backpack, then Bihn's backpacks might suit you better. I have a Brain Bag that has gotten lots of use and still looks almost new. I also have Bihn's medium Café Bag, a Ristretto bag for my MacBook, an Empire Builder briefcase, and an Aeronaut suitcase, plus their clever daypack/packing cube, which got a lot of use on my hikes this summer. I'm not the only one keeping them in business but I'm certainly doing my part!
posted by brianogilvie at 11:01 AM on September 5, 2009

Best answer: I LOVE my Victorinox Big Ben. I've had it for two years and it looks brand-new. Yes, it's kind of boring-looking and costs a lot, but there are good sales all around and it's worth it. The pockets (including a nicely hidden but strong water bottle holder) are unobtrusive but work very well when you need them, and the insides fit a lot. I've used it for exactly the kinds of things you've listed (daily commuting to grad school and work; continual overnights at a partner's house; weekend trips with full change of clothes, toiletries AND a laptop), and it's been wonderful. Straps and back are very comfortable; I have back problems and a large chest, and I've never had issues (unlike with some previous bags I've owned).

Bonus: I have the regular model, but the one I linked is built so it's easy to get through airport security without taking the laptop out.
posted by Madamina at 11:16 AM on September 5, 2009

Response by poster: arcticseal - If it was my company, I would also ask people to carry them on; I understand your point. However, I specifically asked the IT Department about whether there was a policy requiring us to carry on laptops, rather than check them. They advised me that they did not have a problem with me putting it in my luggage.

I have told them that until they either provide appropriate carry bags or buy lighter and smaller laptops, I am going to continue to put them in my checked luggage.

For all the other suggestions - I am looking through them now and there are some good suggestions so far, thanks!
posted by AnnaRat at 4:46 PM on September 5, 2009

I'm not a fan of backpacks, and I'm a fan of not paying too much for luggage that is going to get knocked around. But I reckon this Black Wolf backpack is the best bit of kit I've ever bought (alongside my Blundstone boots ;-).

I take it to uni daily, and it's been on several working trips into the bush and scrub. It gets loaded up with books & laptop, dragged around uni, kicked around the floor of public transport, taken with me on every field trip, rained on, bashed through thick scrub - and it still looks as good as the day I bought it a year or so ago. No rips, tears, stains, and nothing is wearing out or fraying.

Best things? #1 - the price. IIRC, RRP is ~$75; I got mine on sale from BCF for AU$55 - about what you pay for a decent-sized cheapy from K-Mart. #2 - it's comfortable & sits high on my back. Most of the cheapies, and far too many expensive ones, want to hang down low & pull my shoulders back / down - great if you want to look like a slovenly schoolkid; bloody terrible for actually carrying anything on your back all day.

That particular one may be a bit small for your needs - it's big enough for me to take food + gear + clothes for a 2~3 day camping trip (but I'm male, YMMV ;-), or my 12" MacBook (in its own neoprene sleeve) + books for uni, but my GF's 15" ASUS is a bit of a squeeze.
posted by Pinback at 5:54 PM on September 5, 2009

Now I can't actually say that nothing is better than a Crumpler bag, because I have not had any need to use anything else. I have be equipping our family with crumpler bags at any bag needing occasion, and I kind of artificially manufacture these needs just to get a new bag. :)

They range from simple black, to fashionable colours, to loud combos. They are incredibly durable, lightweight, and comfortable. I cannot recommend these bags highly enough.
I use my laptop bag daily, and it shows no wear at all.

The great part about the site is that they give real-life examples of what will fit inside, and they are very good at identifying what laptops will fit inside their padded, suspended, sleeves.

(link is to the non-flash US site)
posted by swimbikerun at 10:06 AM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: I have marked as best answer those that sound like what I am after, and am trying to find them in shops to have a look at them. I have been to the Apple reseller nearby, the outdoor equipment shop, and will go to the Crumpler store down the street soon. I am particularly keen to have a look at the Victrinox.

I have found this one, STM Evolution, which also looks really good. Waterproof, has a raincover, water bottle pockets etc. My only concern is that the 15" laptop version looks quite big compared to my previous backpack. It is about A$125. I may take one of work's laptops down to the shop and see how it feels - the other concern is that the laptop sleeve does not sit against your back.
posted by AnnaRat at 9:02 PM on September 13, 2009

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