Mamma needs a new bag!
August 28, 2014 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Help me find a new backpack for my new job! Difficulty level: I am one picky bitch.


Room for 13" MacBook Pro. If doesn't have a dedicated sleeve, needs room for laptop in a case.
Not super huge. Just needs to fit laptop, a notebook or two and maybe a lunch when I'm feeling virtuous.
Easy to access pocket on outside with dividers for pens, notepads, phone, etc that does not open up to main compartment.
Sleek, non-hiking backpack looking.
Waterproof enough to ride for three miles on a bike regardless of weather.
Pocket for Nalgene sized water bottle on the outside.
Under $200

I really don't think this magical unicorn of a backpack exists. Prove me wrong!
posted by youcancallmeal to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (39 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Main compartment zips closed independently of everything else?
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:34 AM on August 28, 2014

I believe the Osprey Radial 26 and Osprey Momentum 22 meet all of your requirements except that I doubt they'll fit a 1 liter Nalgene bottle (although two smaller 20 oz bottles will fit).
posted by saeculorum at 10:34 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Timbuk2 Uptown has served me well lately. It's got room for a computer, a slim profile (doesn't stick out too far, even when filled it fit under the seat on the plane, which is not what you're asking about but should give you some idea). Easy pocket access and many pockets/dividers inside of pockets. Water bottle pocket on side. Unsure about waterproofness but it's survived a lengthy walk in heavy rain without problem. $119 but I got it for like $70 on sale (the site seems to have frequent sales).
posted by troika at 10:36 AM on August 28, 2014

Response by poster: Yes, I want at least one pocket on the front for small stuff and a separate pocket for the big stuff so that I'm not showing everyone my fancy laptop when I'm getting my bus pass out or whatever.

The Ospreys are not what I'd call sleek. I'm not a brogrammer and have no desire to look like one.

The Timbuk2 Uptown is closer, but I'm not totally in love with the totally separate laptop compartment.

(I know! Picky! I've been at this for a month now.)
posted by youcancallmeal at 10:38 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a more traditional bag type bag rather than a book bag, but I have been extremely happy for the last two years with my Ogio.

Here is a backpack.
Here is another.

I believe they both meet all of your requirements (though less so on the waterproofiness of the second one maybe?--my bag is made out of that same material and has weathered (heh) ~10mins of walking through downpours with no ill effects to my things inside but it's a smaller bag and YMMV).
posted by phunniemee at 10:39 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

One suggestion: Synapse 19, from Tom Bihn.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:41 AM on August 28, 2014

Depends on what you mean by sleek I guess? Fashiony? Or more technical?

If you like that utility canvas-and-leather thing, Fjallravens are pretty great. I like the Foldsack No. 1 a lot. Or the Rucksack No. 21 if you like a more classic look. Fjallraven's trademarked canvas is oldschool weatherproof—tightly woven and heavily waxed. They describe it as water resistant rather than proof but my Foldsack has kept everything (including a laptop) dry through 15-minute downpours. No exterior bottle pockets, sadly (the Rucksack has interior ones, though).
posted by peachfuzz at 11:00 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have this: Targus Sport Backpack. Comes with a laptop sleeve for inside the backpack, and it fits my 13" laptop really well.

The mesh should be enough for a Nalgene bottle, though I've never used it as such. I found it durable, and it's under $30, not including shipping. These are the backpacks that they issue to every employee at Amazon (this is how I got mine), so they can handle carrying a laptop around every day. I use mine quite a bit, and I really like it.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:01 AM on August 28, 2014

If "sleek" can also mean "it will never occur to anyone that there's a laptop in it," there's the Jansport Wasabi, which retails for less than $40 (and in more discreet colors) if you look around. The laptop section is discreet, and totally isolated from the rest of the backpack. Bonus: There's a small compartment on the top of it where I put my keys, so they're not merrily scraping away on whatever's in the front compartment.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:07 AM on August 28, 2014

I have a smaller backpack from this company and love it to pieces. This is a larger version that I think meets all your requirements, but maybe looks too much like a hiking pack. This is a more attractive pack, and it has everything but the nalgene pocket. Although, it looks like there's an open front pocket you could put a water bottle in, if that would be close enough. Alternatively, you could get crafty and just sew some mesh on there and seal it with waterproof tent repair glue.

Good luck!
posted by ohisee at 11:16 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I too was going to suggest an Ogio. This is pretty slim.

Can you get a backpack you like and get a waterproof cover for when you're biking? That really makes the most sense so you can find all the other requirements, then just cover it with one of these during your commute.

Also I think a problem you may run into is that you want it to fit a water bottle on the side, but also be sleek. They have to be a certain depth to have a water bottle pocket.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:18 AM on August 28, 2014

Response by poster: Sleek = not with a bunch of straps and stuff all over it. More hipster fashion-y. It can have actual depth, it just needs to look like it belongs to an urban 30-something, not a college dudebro or like I'm heading out for a hike.
posted by youcancallmeal at 11:19 AM on August 28, 2014

I was introduced to my wonderful backpack/purse on here, so I'm passing on the goods.


Not sure if it'll fit a lunch, but I think it hits your other requirements.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 11:28 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Isar Rucksack from Cote&Ciel. Link goes to purchase page in Evernote market, here is a review with better pictures.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:28 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

YOU! We are soul sisters because I have the exact same problem. I am even starting a backpack company that addresses this so I would like to get your opinion on my first few designs if you are okay with me Me-Mailing you.

ANYWAYS. This is the closest that I found to satisfy my requirements that is fashionable, has compartments, a great laptop bag, etc.

Cote and Ciel is beautiful, but not as practical. I am personally more of an easy access fan, and the front pocket seems pretty hard to use.
posted by pando11 at 11:34 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're biking in heavy rain I'd get a dry bag roll top style. Its the only thing I trust to keep my important stuff dry. Not damp- really dry. Patagonia makes a sleek cool looking expensive one, so do most biking pannier companies and (I use panniers but they come in backpack format too). I think REI is making a house brand one that's cheaper. But basically look for roll top waterproof backpacks in Google or at REI, Eddie Bauer, LL Bean etc. They're a thing right now so lots of choice.

I use have a Simms roll top drybag backpack (they make fishing gear) that looks cool, and is 100% dry and was reasonably priced.
posted by fshgrl at 11:42 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really like GoRuck's backpacks, though they don't have the divider/organizer you mentioned.

They're sleek as hell (the SD bags more than the Echo bag - the Echo has these external webbing grips).

I removed the flag patch from mine with a seam ripper and it left no trace.
posted by cadge at 11:42 AM on August 28, 2014

My Everlane Snap Backpack fits all of these requirements except being waterproof.
posted by amaire at 11:43 AM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe a bag from Chrome?
posted by absquatulate at 11:50 AM on August 28, 2014

Patagonia Black Hole

Chrome pack.
Kinda paramilitary looking but sleek, I guess?

Overboard. Super popular with boating people. So is sealine brand.
posted by fshgrl at 12:10 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I came to post the Everlane Snap Backpack (see amaire's post above). It's not waterproof, but you can protect your laptop with a sleeve, and it's water resistant enough that it wouldn't ruin anything non-electronic. It looks very good. People comment on it all the time whenever I leave NYC (in NYC it's a bit ubiquitous, but I like it, so who cares?).
posted by telegraph at 12:26 PM on August 28, 2014

The Pacsafe Metropac 150. Can't get sleeker than a low-volume sling.
posted by bonehead at 12:30 PM on August 28, 2014

I also have this problem where I don't want to look like I am in college, but need to carry various stuff with me at all times (I am a teacher). I currently own the Madrone Cycling Backpack from timbuk2 and love how sleek it looks, how it has a laptop compartment inside, and how it has not one, but 2 waterbottle compartments on the outside! It is a little bit dorkier than some of the other choices, but it works and the biggest plus is that it actually fits me, instead of being weirdly too large like most backpacks. I am a pretty small woman, and it is designed for small women, which is the biggest plus for me.
posted by ruhroh at 12:35 PM on August 28, 2014

If you can find it in the retail store, I like the Fjallraven Commute.

The North Face Prewitt. No extra straps going everywhere.
posted by hooray at 12:38 PM on August 28, 2014

Tom Bihn Synapse 19 or Smart Alec.
posted by Silvertree at 12:39 PM on August 28, 2014

Crumpler Aso Outpost
posted by mymbleth at 12:48 PM on August 28, 2014

Chrome bags hit every point except a water bottle holder. I can vouch for the waterproofness, I have used mine for 5-mile rides in pouring rain for years and it's just as waterproof as ever.

I don't find it too annoying to get my water bottle out of the bag. It's pretty sleek in my opinion and definitely isn't a hiking pack. I have a smaller bag, not too big, holds a 13" laptop in a case very well. Mine cost $90, and I can easily access my pens and small stuff in the outer pockets.
posted by Cygnet at 12:56 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ah, I have also coveted this bag but never seen it in real life: Moop Backpack. Waxed canvas. I never got it because it doesn't have an outer water bottle pocket and the flat back looks like it would be sweaty in the summer.
posted by hooray at 12:58 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've been very happy with my Sherpani.

Access Tablet Backpack (No water bottle pocket)
or the
Quest which as a pocket.
posted by 26.2 at 1:13 PM on August 28, 2014

I think for the waterproof aspect, you might need to focus on bike messenger bag manufacturers, which then makes the water bottle pouch less likely. One reason I stuck with my Freight bag is that I never have to worry about the weather or what not.

Here's a bag from Reload that has a side water bottle pocket. The bag is also PVC lined, so it's definitely waterproof. It's more than $200 though.
posted by kendrak at 2:35 PM on August 28, 2014

Or this Timbuk2 Swig backpack, but it has the laptop hammock which seems meh. Also there isn't a good outside pocket.
posted by kendrak at 2:40 PM on August 28, 2014

Maybe the Timbuk2 Ram? It can be worn as a shoulder bag or backpack, and it looks fairly briefcasey. I had the previous version of this bag and liked it.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 2:41 PM on August 28, 2014

Have a look at Mission Workshop, something like The Sanction might work (though no water bottle pocket). I have one of their messengerbags, it's virtually rainproof and has been great so far.
posted by Petersondub at 2:43 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Arc'teryx backpacks are really nice and in your budget, though I've never owned one. The Cordova, Pender, and Kitsilano look like they meet all of your requirements. From your list, the Pender is probably best.
posted by amicus at 3:33 PM on August 28, 2014

What about a Pendleton backpack? The current styles don't have a side pocket, but, depending on the style you like, this one could work. It would probably require an extra cover in heavy rain, though.
posted by ohisee at 4:42 PM on August 28, 2014

I'm in love with my new Cote & Ciel monsoon. It's sleek but can comfortably hold a lot of stuff -- I pack it with my gym gear and lunch most days and have room left over. It doesn't have dividers in the outside pocket or space for a water bottle, but otherwise it meets all your criteria.
posted by zahava at 5:23 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding mission workshop. Their bags are bullet proof and absolutely waterproof- I have taken my rambler through some incredibly intense rain. When one of the clips broke in the -20 deg f winter weather, they replaced it for free. Also made in Colorado, which is cool.
posted by rockindata at 5:27 PM on August 28, 2014

I love this Lululemon backpack so much. It has pockets, is sleek in the black, has so many useful features. The fabric is nice and hardy without being stiff. It doesn't look or feel like a hiking backpack, it's more like a gorgeous unisex urban bag. It also has a separate laptop pocket which is padded. I particularly love the phone pocket on the shoulder strap. It does have a water bottle side pocket. I love the padded sunglasses section. I love the pocket for the tablet. I love the water resistant base. I love how comfortable it is to wear on the back. I LOVE IT!
posted by shazzam! at 4:58 AM on August 29, 2014

Herschel bags seem to be pretty popular with the hipster-y fashion-y 30-ish people I interact with in Brooklyn. I didn't look at their entire selection to see if there is anything that meets your exact requirements, but might be a good starting point.

I also had this problem and I ended up getting a bag from Etsy that I really like. I was looking for something a little different than what you are, but it might be a good place to look. The number of options can be a little overwhelming, but perhaps an efficient search query would narrow the results down.
posted by wintrymix at 7:22 AM on August 29, 2014

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