Re-rucksack me.
May 1, 2010 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Beyond JanSport: another "tell me about backpacks that meet my absurdly precise specifications" question. This involves a 17" MacBookPro, a bicycle, unpredictable weather, and my lower back.

For years I've been carrying all my stuff, including a 17" MacBookPro, in a basic $40 JanSport. In many ways this backpack has served me very well. But I do find that a) I feel a sort of tingling pain in the small of my back when I carry a lot of weight in the pack, especially if my computer's in there; and b) it's not as waterproof as I'd like; since I commute by bike, I really need to be sure my laptop won't get wet even if it rains on my pack for twenty minutes.

The zipper on my bag is damaged beyond repair so some action must be taken; I can mail the bag to JanSport and get it fixed, or buy a new one. My ideal bag would

* comfortably hold a 17" MacBookPro in a soft case, plus a book or two and a manila folder full of paper, and in a pinch hold bulkier things like lunch or a change of clothes;
* feel good on my back even with the above stuff inside;
* be waterproof enough so that my papers don't get wet after twenty minutes in the rain (the current bag has a flap of fabric that folds over the zipper, but this doesn't quite do it);
* fit under an airplane seat;
* be suitable for carrying on my back while I ride a bike.

I don't need it to be suitable for going hiking, and I don't need a million compartments (one of the four on my current bag has been empty since the day I bought it.)

For my needs, should I be considering an expensive bag like the North Face Surge or the Brain Bag, recommended on some other threads? Or is there something JanSportty that will do the trick? Or should I just get this bag, which has served me well, repaired?
posted by escabeche to Shopping (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if you're open to getting a messenger bag, but my chrome bag is still as severly water-proof and in nearly as good of shape as the day I got it (5 years ago). It (and everything I ever put it in) survived 4 years of not owning a car in college. Either the citizen (which I have and easily holds my 13" macbook in a neoprene sleeve plus 2-3 textbooks) or the metropolis would be the right size for you. They also make backpacks in case you're anti-one-shoulder-holds-all-weight (understandable, I'll probably regret 10 years of a messenger bag about 30 years from now).

Anywho the point is, chrome bags are made for messengers ie. made to stand all forms of weather and keep the stuff inside dry. I can't recommend it enough for this. It has a double layer of material, the inner one being completely waterproof pliable plastic-y stuff.
posted by kthxbi at 3:26 PM on May 1, 2010

I LOVE my Timbuk2 messenger bag. It is waterproof, comes in a variety of sizes, is comfortable to use when I bike to work, easily fits under an airline seat, and holds lots of stuff in addition to my laptop.
posted by MsKim at 3:27 PM on May 1, 2010

Oh man just to follow up on hal_c_on's comment - my SO has a booq bag (and a macbook pro) and he hates it. He's had it just over a year now and it's completely falling apart. One of the arm straps is almost halfway ripped out at the top, the seams is just undoing itself by the zipper, and the opposite strap is coming apart at the bottom. He can't wait until it becomes unusable and he can justify buying a chrome bag. Also, the straps are really thin and tend to roll over while he's wearing it. I would suggest not getting one.
posted by kthxbi at 3:41 PM on May 1, 2010

*the seam is just undoing
posted by kthxbi at 3:42 PM on May 1, 2010

Oh, also, the booq bag is very not waterproof unless you were to buy some sort of waterproofing spray.
posted by kthxbi at 3:43 PM on May 1, 2010

The Ortlieb Waterproof Backpack Messenger Thing-Mo-Tron is becoming very popular. I can heartily vouch for the durability of Ortlieb's products, which I've subjected to rain, hail, snow, flagrant misuse, ice, and wildlife attacks. This thing is plenty big enough for anything you'd want to carry around on your back. Only downsides are visual dorkitude and lack of compartments. (I found their products to be really expensive until I started using them, after which I decided they'd be cheap at twice the price.)

If you tend to carry things on the bicycle more often than you do walking, you might want to consider a rack-and-pannier system. Say goodbye to having a sweaty back forever! Some panniers make okay messenger bags if you have to carry them around off the bike, too.
posted by yomimono at 4:03 PM on May 1, 2010

Chrome bag (super-waterproof and durable) plus a sleeve for the Macbook. This is how I've carried my 15" laptop for years.
posted by zippy at 4:41 PM on May 1, 2010

I had a Chrome sputnik for a while. Then my back and neck hated me. Now I do not have a Chrome sputnik.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:18 PM on May 1, 2010

I have a Deuter, which is great for transporting files to and from the office (not by bike, but long walk to the station then public transport). It has a light but firm frame which holds the pack physically off the back, with the weight distributed over the frame. Straps hold it in place so it doesn't move about or affect balance.

I have this one, which has a short frame for women (there's a male version). It's plenty big enough for several large files (each of them easily the size of a 17" laptop), as well as the other odds and ends I always carry with me.
posted by essexjan at 5:56 PM on May 1, 2010

it aint cheap, but the Patagonia waterproof backpack is killer.
posted by k8t at 7:18 PM on May 1, 2010

Tom Bihn's Smart Alec seems to fit the bill perfectly. They're incredibly well-made bags, and super-nice people.
posted by desuetude at 8:33 PM on May 1, 2010

I've got a crumpler backpack and love it. I'm not a fan of messenger bags, walking around with a heavy bag for hours a day (17" MBP, often a book or two and some camera gear) on one shoulder isn't fun at all.
posted by Brian Puccio at 11:14 PM on May 1, 2010

I love my chrome. I commuted by bike in all weather with a laptop for three years, and it's still bone dry.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:41 AM on May 2, 2010

Seconding Timbuk2. Indestructible and waterproof if it's closed up tight.

I've found messenger bags better for biking (especially if you're at an aggressive angle; my helmet always rubs against the top of normal backpacks), but they might be a concern if you have back problems.
posted by supercres at 10:24 AM on May 2, 2010

I shopped around a -lot- in December, and ended up with the Timbuk2 Q. I'm surprised at how much I like it, and was pleased at the number of little "wow, they thought of that" bits.

With a 17" Mac, though, and your rainy needs: have you seen their new really waterproof one?
posted by mimi at 2:21 PM on May 3, 2010

If carrying the weight is causing you physical problems, perhaps you should look into bike panniers so that the bike carries your load, and not you? Or just a cargo tray that you can tie whatever bag you decide on to?

I am a huge fan of the eBags house brand backpacks. I have the downloader and love it, although I cannot comment on it's "heavy duty" waterproofness. It has been waterproof in my experience, but I have not had it out in torrential rains for a long time. :)
posted by reddot at 9:50 AM on May 5, 2010

« Older Are CableCards swappable?   |   Stove/Oven Substitute Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.