Help me Bag an Apple
November 19, 2009 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a good backpack for a 17" MacBook Pro

I'm looking for recommendations for a durable, long-lasting, and comfortable backpack that can contain a MacBook Pro, as well as the rest of my geek gear. I'm not a HUGE gadget freak (I don't carry an entire IT closet on my back), but I do have some accessories, and some occasional books. I am not fond of shoulder slings or messenger bags. The 17" requirement makes things a bit trickier.

I've found several bag suggestions online, but need feedback on which are actually good (outside of on-site reviews). I live in NYC, but the Apple Store doesn't have a wide variety in stock - I'm trying to think outside the box for better bags that might not be sold in retail. One of the sites I've seen is Tom Bihn's Brain Bag - has anyone had any experiences with them?
posted by GJSchaller to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Normally I would recommend a Timbuk2. Their specialty is messenger bags, but they have a great assortment of backpacks that can fulfill your needs.

My Timbuk2 is my briefcase. I travel for work constantly, and it's been through all kinds of airports and rough handling, and it still looks brand new after 2 years of constant heavy use. They have *awesome* customer service, too.
posted by Lifeson at 7:12 AM on November 19, 2009

I use a Timbuk2 Underground backpack. Unfortunately it's my second one. The first experienced some fraying at the straps, but I had bought it from REI as a clearance item. Timbuk2 still honored their warranty and gave me a free replacement. The current version has a lot of space in the main compartment (I can carry two laptops in sleeves and all their cables), and four smaller pockets on the outside. It's not totally waterproof. If that's a requirement you'll need something else.

I once used a Large Loop bag from STM, which has waterproof zippers. and was even larger and more cavernous (I could take my laptop and a 10" DJ mixer). Unfortunately the waterproof zippers straight up wore out as a result of not being quite big enough for my PowerBook G4. The Macbook Pro 17" is slightly larger, so maybe avoid this bag.
posted by mkb at 7:22 AM on November 19, 2009

Brenthaven. They have a lifetime warranty on their gear in case anything fails. I and several friends use it, and have nothing but praise for them. They are not flashy, or attractive as some others; just plain black but they will do the job, and not look funny when carried into a business meeting. I have been using mine for 7 years without a problem.
posted by hariya at 7:28 AM on November 19, 2009

I've previously mentioned my Victorinox Big Ben for my 15" Pro. Unfortunately, it looks like the Big Ben won't fit a 17" model (it probably would, but you'd need a slightly longer strap inside, or just to not use it at all). Here are some other Victorinox models, at various price points, that might work (including a few new ones!):

posted by Madamina at 7:30 AM on November 19, 2009

Unless they've changed it in the past year or so, I would advise against the InCase backpack sold at the Apple Store. The pocket zippers make a sharp 90 degree bend at the top corners of the bag, and after about a year, they kink and fail there. It might not have been a problem with a smaller MacBook, but the 17" machine really fills up the bag and makes the zippers bend even more sharply.

I replaced my InCase backpack with a Wenger SwissGear backpack like this one. The zippers are much sturdier and the bag design doesn't have them bending so sharply at the corners. It's been about a year, and the bag has held up very well.

Whatever you wind up getting, try to find a design that doesn't overstress the zippers.
posted by tss at 7:35 AM on November 19, 2009

Seconding the rec by TSS. I have the very same bag. I've used it with a dell Inspiron 1720 (17 inches) w/ extended battery and can force in a HP HDX18T (18.4 inches... not comfortably mind you). Other than the laptop I have carried an 8.9 inch netbook, 25 cd wallet, small tool kit, camera (point and shoot), ipod, gps. The bag routinely weights 20+ pounds. In 2 or 3 years, the only damage I've been able to inflict is a stitch on the little loops of the shoulder strap (probably because I jam usb drives in there like a bandoleer).
posted by syntheticfaith at 8:09 AM on November 19, 2009

I feel your pain. When I got my 17" macbook pro there was very little on the market. After googling for a silly amount of time, I got the "north face surge.

The best part about it, asides from it being durable, is that it has compression straps at several different angles so you can make it whatever size you like, and it tricks all the weight into being against your back rather than dangling out into space. It's equally comfortable with just the computer or with the computer, a box of muffins, two bottles of wine, and all the accoutrements for a weekend trip.

I was worried from the reviews that the computer wouldn't quite fit right, but it does with room to spare - the zippers don't hit the case. Also, the laptop portion is suspended so it won't hit the ground if you put it down a little heavily.
posted by arabelladragon at 8:32 AM on November 19, 2009

I have a Brain Bag and I LOVE it. I used it for my every day bag for about 4 years and it still looks like new. The construction is top notch. Their customer service is fantastic (I ordered the wrong thing so it was a return experience). My wife gave me a Saddleback Leather briefcase which has taken over as my everyday bag, but I still bring out the BB when I have to carry my 17" MBP around or when I need a backpack.

Speaking of my wife, she liked my Brain Bag so much she bought herself one when she started working on her accounting degree. She loves hers as well.
posted by Silvertree at 9:19 AM on November 19, 2009

I just got a Jansport Lapstation and it's been good so far. It definitely fits a 15.4" laptop, but I really only use it for a 13" one. The reviews at Amazon say it works for 17". One co-worker did not like that it said "Lapstation" on it, advertising to the world that there might be a laptop in the bag.
posted by dr. fresh at 9:21 AM on November 19, 2009

Ultra slim laptop backpack.

Stylish, distributes weight well, and not the least bit bulky.
posted by special-k at 10:02 AM on November 19, 2009

I love Timbuk2 and Crumpler products. I have a 17" MBP, along with some camera gear, a textbook or two and much more in a Customary Barge. They have a huge line of products, so if you don't need to carry this much stuff, check out their other bags.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:33 AM on November 19, 2009

I've been through a number of bags and a number of apple laptops.

I was severely disappointed with the timbucktu bag I got - yes, it looked nice, but did not protect the laptop (which looks like I took a hammer to it.)

I'd strongly recommend the Brenthaven bags or the Tom Bihn Bags. Both are well designed, functional, and most important - will protect your machine.
posted by filmgeek at 10:55 AM on November 19, 2009

filmgeek, did you use a sleeve for your laptop or just put it in the timbuk2 bare?

I always recommend looking for the sleeve and bag separately. That way you can get a really snug fit on the sleeve by buying one that is custom-made to fit your laptop. I always recommend Waterfield.

This will also give you considerable more variety in the backpack you choose, since you aren't limited to ones with built-in sleeves.
posted by radioamy at 11:12 AM on November 19, 2009

I have a neoprene sleeve for my mac and carry it in a chrome messenger bag. The medium sized Citizen bag will work well for a 17" model and you should be able to find them cheaper in stores than direct from their website.

I like to think chrome bags are better than timbuk2 because they seem to be more durable and (most importantly) they have a dedicated shoulder panel so you're not just letting the strap itself cut into you if your bag is really packed. Of course, ymmv and there will be many other people fighting tooth and nail to tell you timbuk2 is better. You should try them out for yourself *with stuff in them* because trying on a loose empty messenger bag will do you no good.
posted by kthxbi at 11:36 AM on November 19, 2009

I had a 17" g4 PowerBook, and loved the North Face Box Shot for it. If you're using it for everyday purposes, it may be a bit big (I was able to fit five weeks' worth of travelling clothes into it), but it does have compression straps on the sides which can be tightened up if you haven't filled all the space.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 9:56 PM on November 19, 2009

Thank you, everyone. After looking at them all, the Brain Bag was confirmed as what I was looking for - I'll report back when I get it in, and make sure I confirm or bust my find.
posted by GJSchaller at 6:22 AM on November 20, 2009

So I took my Brain Bag on its first business trip. I LOVE it - I regret not getting it sooner, and the Freudian Slip is wonderful. It's got pockets and pouches, but not too many of them to be in the way, and the ones it does have are large enough instead of being plentiful and small. I just need to get to know it better, and start using the features more.
posted by GJSchaller at 10:37 AM on December 17, 2009

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