Help me find a giant commuting backpack!
October 3, 2011 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Help me find a backpack for commuting use that can carry a ton of stuff and maybe isn't a rolltop.

Hi! I ride my bike to work. Not too far (about 15 minutes), but I bring many things. On a typical commute day, I have my laptop, my lunch, a large thermos of coffee, a set of gym clothes, and a pair of sneakers. Some days it's all of that and a racquetball racquet and assorted small accessories (a can of balls, glove, headband, gym lock).

For a long time, I've used my 1995 L. L. Bean Classic Continental Rucksack, but it has some drawbacks. While it is big enough to carry everything I've listed above, it sucks from the organizational department because the main storage area is one massive deep pocket.

What I want:
- a laptop sleeve
- massive storage capacity
- comfort for cycling
- ideally less than $200, but if it's perfect I can go more
- a backpack, not a messenger bag; this much weight hurts when I try to carry it in my messenger bag
- Quality. I'd like to use this bag for 10 or more years.

Where I've looked already:
- Chrome: I'm not wild about the looks of their rolltop packs, and there seems to be a lot of buzz about recent quality problems
- Timbuk2: None of the backpacks look very big

Please help. Thank you!
posted by rachelpapers to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I have this Jansport, which I think is the biggest non-campong backpack they make, and I love it. Jansport has a lifetime warranty, so if it breaks, you can send it back and get a new one. It's comfortable, has a laptop sleeve big enough for a 17-inch computer, and has multiple pockets. Also, $40.
posted by decathecting at 8:22 AM on October 3, 2011

Whoops, forgot the link.
posted by decathecting at 8:23 AM on October 3, 2011

Have you looked at Tumi bags? I think you need to try the bags on since what's comfortable for me is not necessarily comfortable for you. The key things to look for is wide padded straps, padded and rigid back so that it holds its shape when you have it on. Bring your stuff with you and put them in the bag when you check out the bags so you know if you like the way they all fit in!
posted by Yellow at 8:23 AM on October 3, 2011

I recently got a Thule Crossover, though it also goes by the designation of "TCBP-217" at some US websites like Amazon (which is where I got it). It easily holds my Macbook, my Dell laptop, accessories for each, and a couple days worth of clothing. It's pretty well laid out, and doesn't break the interior space into the other extreme of all-pockets like the Swissgear backpacks that are available everywhere. It's long and skinny, so it'll still fit in the overheads on an ERJ.
posted by Runes at 8:25 AM on October 3, 2011

something like this bag from 511 tactical, plus a laptop sleeve?
posted by rmd1023 at 8:25 AM on October 3, 2011

The Victorinox Big Ben bags are fabulous. Mine looks brand new despite being used as an everyday school bag and travel companion for four years. They have at least two dividers aside from a laptop compartment, and you can stuff enough things in there that you'll forget what you've packed.

It says this one is $249, but I'm sure you could find it for cheaper at various places.
posted by Madamina at 8:26 AM on October 3, 2011

Maybe a different direction than you'd intended, but have you considered adding panniers to your bike to carry your stuff? You could either get the detachable kind and take them with you or get the basket-style and just drop your bag in and pull it out. Much more comfortable than a backpack, and more useful too if your bike can accomodate them.
posted by The Michael The at 8:28 AM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, I ride with a Chrome, probably the equivalent of their current "Falcon". What I bought isn't offered anymore, it's basically a big-ass backpack.

No laptop sleeve, but as far as the quality, I've ridden it close to 10,000 miles and it's still working for me. I take it everywhere - it's my general purpose travel bag for flights, road trips, weekends at grammy's place.

Anyway, since I have a solution that works, I haven't been looking at backpacks for a while. You might want to look at some of the smaller, boutique bag makers, since they might have options the larger companies won't, and they might also be able to make some changes if you ask nicely. Also, since they're small, my guess is they'd be manufacturing high-quality shit.
posted by rocketman at 8:29 AM on October 3, 2011

Have you looked at any of the Osprey packs? They're amazingly comfortable with many models to choose from, some specifically designed for cycling. They might be a bit outdoorsy, though I seem to recall a laptop sleeve in some models.

I absolutely adore my Talon 22.
posted by HFSH at 8:34 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband ended up with a Chrome and has been going strong with that for three years in all weather. He also has panniers for bigger loads. He ended up with Chrome after I bought him five different bags and set him up on the trainer with all his usual stuff. It was a birthday gift and I returned the ones that didn't work.

The thing is, if you want it to work for all that crap, a big open space is really all that works. If you add panniers to the mix, you can do a lot more.
posted by amanda at 8:37 AM on October 3, 2011

A friend gave me one of these, and I'm amazed at how much fits in it!
posted by luckynerd at 9:12 AM on October 3, 2011

Tom Bihn Brain Bag! Plus laptop sleeve and maybe a snake charmer and freudian slip.
This system is my everyday bag-takes me from the gym, to work, to law school, carrying casebooks, laptop, gym clothes AND shoes, and toiletries. It's freaking huge. And awesome. And durable. And ergonomically designed.

(Sorry, I'm kind of a fan of it)
posted by atomicstone at 9:13 AM on October 3, 2011

I've been using a Chrome Soyuz for the last year or so and while nothing is broken, I don't have high hopes for its longevity. The top flap that covers the two outer pockets (which are perfect for my insulated coffee mug and water bottle) attaches with velcro that is already starting to wear out. I've got my eye on the Banjo Brothers bags for its replacement, they're cheap, waterproof and have replaceable liners. Here's their big one. I haven't bought one yet so can't comment on build quality, but they look good to me.

Also, thirding the suggestion that a rack and panniers are really the appropriate solution for carrying that much stuff on a bike.
posted by contraption at 9:20 AM on October 3, 2011

How about a huge ol' bag from Spire?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:19 AM on October 3, 2011

Thanks, everyone! Really nice packs to look at and I appreciate your recommendations. I am a big guy, (6 feet 5 inches / 1.95 m) so carrying this much stuff on my back is easier for me to manage than it might be for most folks.

I've played with the panniers before on my bike and I just don't like the way my nice, light bike rides with a big heavy weight on the wheels.

I'm intrigued by the absolutely giant and kick-ass sounding Spire Meta, but I'm just not ready to go into the frame pack category, and I think it might be toooooo big even for me. I may go with a Spire Torq, the Tom Bihn Brain Bag, or an Osprey Momentum 34.
posted by rachelpapers at 10:59 AM on October 3, 2011

REI has a huge selection of laptop backpacks.
posted by brujita at 11:01 AM on October 3, 2011

A ReLoad midpack is the way to go if you want something custom. If my Chrome ever dies, I'm buying a ReLoad.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:36 AM on October 3, 2011

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