Grad student bag x2
August 30, 2017 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Bagfilter: I'm looking to replace my frustrating laptop bag with something better suited to my grad school needs. I want one that I can get quick and cheap to hold me over while I save up for an expensive/durable one--I'd like recs for both. Snowflakes inside.

My current laptop bag is thin, not comfortable to carry, constantly falls over, and has the most GODAWFUL ANNOYING two velcro straps on the inside, which are I guess supposed to protect your computer or whatever, but have a terrible habit of linking together mysteriously inside my bag, and then when I try and put something in I am subsequently blocked until I undo the straps. It's also ugly. And it doesn't hold a lot. Since I have multiple days where I'm on campus from 10am-8pm, I need to be able to carry everything I'm going to want for that time.

I'm looking for a bag that:
- Is mildly stylish; preferably in a shade of brown. My ideal color would be something like this, but I'll consider other shades as well.
- Stands flat on its own without falling over. God, am I sick of my bag flopping over on its face. I understand this probably isn't possible if I have a heavy laptop in the bag, BUT I want it to be able to sit upright when all I have is some notebooks and a three ring binder.
- Fits A LOT. Things I will want to carry: 1" 3-ring binder (if I could carry multiple, that'd be ideal, but not required), notebook, folder, pens/pencils, some snacks, a ball of yarn + needles, a standard size novel. I'd also like to be able to fit in my laptop (12" by 10" and about 2" thick) and its cord occasionally, but since that won't be regular it's okay if that's a snug fit. I would also be amenable to, like, some sort of snug laptop case I can clip to the back of the back (if such a thing exists?) or something.
- Pockets! At least one front pocket for pens and such, more is great. I get more use out of exterior pockets than interior ones but both are good.
- Shoulder or cross-body straps, shoulder preferable to cross body. Yes, I know it's not good for my back, but since I walk with a cane backpacks are extremely annoying to get on and off, and hard to access quickly. I also am not going to be carrying heavy things often (textbooks aren't required in-class) and only for very short distances (into and around one floor of a building, rather than across campus).

Bonuses but not required:
- Straps for BOTH shoulder or cross body. I've seen a couple like these and I really like them because while I prefer the shoulder strap, if I'm carrying other things I like the cross-body strap for security.
- Pocket/holder for my 32oz water bottle
- Clasp rather than zipper, for easier access but still some security.

Things I don't want:
- Velcro ANYWHERE. It's annoying and I hate the sound and ugh just please stop. If it's only in one little pocket I'm not going to use, then maybe? But otherwise please avoid.
- A backpack unless it can also be converted to cross body or shoulder
- Metal studs, fringe, any sort of excessive little decorative add-ons. I just want it to be simple so it'll pretty much go with everything

This bag was close to perfect, and I ordered it, and realized I am not good at turning numbers into a proper conceptualization of space, and it is not nearly as large as I had hoped. It can kind of fit my laptop and 1-inch binder, except they both stick out above the top of the purse, and the laptop is kind of finicky to get in. So, definitely something bigger than this.

I'm looking for recs for:

1) Something cheap that hits at least a couple of my needs to use while I save up for something more expensive. I just want something better than the bag I have right now, which mostly means: more space, doesn't fall over, isn't ugly. I'm looking for something under $50 for this.
2) Something durable that I can save up for that I can expect to last me a long time. Budget for this is about $100, but I'll go up to $250 if it's really fantastic and you can give me a spiel with which to explain to my very frugal partner why this is a good idea. ;)
posted by brook horse to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I should clarify: I am using a laptop bag right now because that's all I have, but I am not specifically looking for a laptop bag, because I won't actually need/be bringing my laptop most days. I want a bag that I can also put my laptop in, on occasion.
posted by brook horse at 2:38 PM on August 30, 2017

Hi! I was you a few months ago. I'm guessing from the two that you linked and the stuff about cross body/shoulder bags, rather than "messenger bags," that you are ok with feminine reading bags. Apologies if I misinterpreted.

But I just bought this and kind of love it. Whatever the opposite of buyer's remorse is, that's how I feel about this bag. There is a small decorative tag (no name) which is pretty unobtrusive, and the cutwork detailing is not gaudy. It is quite light and roomy, but I'm not sure if the dimensions are appropriate for you. The same company has other sizes, like this one or this.

Other bags I looked at online when trying to decide:
Ibagbar messenger-style
Brinch tote style, with clasp closure on laptop compartment

But honestly, the suggestion to try bags at TJ Maxx or Marshall's or something is a good one. Laptop fit can be weird and hard to tell from the listed dimensions alone.
posted by basalganglia at 3:28 PM on August 30, 2017

Can't link right now and these are higher end but look at Patagonia and Filson. My Patagonia messenger style bag is tough, comfortable and has many storage options.
posted by ITravelMontana at 4:49 PM on August 30, 2017

Don't have a lead on a $50-ish bag (although why you want to spend $50 and then save up for a $100 bag rather than just wait a bit and pay $100 once is beyond me) but when I was in grad school a number of us had big-ass messenger bags of various kinds, which were great because they held everything we needed (binders, stationery, textbooks, laptops, water bottles, lunches, hell I used to put my groceries in there on the way home from school) while being comfortable, durable, and just really super functional.

Mine is something like this, although they will also do you a fancy one of the same model for twice the price, and there are certainly other good brands out there besides Timbuk2. They do everything you want (including not falling over!) and are basically indestructible. One note: the one I have does have velcro under the flap, but it also has buckle straps so you could easiy just remove the velcro if you hate it. Personally I never use the buckles anymore—I just mash the flap down onto the velcro and go—but the choice is yours. And there are velcroless models, I'm just talking about the one I have personal experience with.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:53 PM on August 30, 2017

I don't know if you want leather, due to the ones you linked (for me, leather bags are way too heavy), but the Betabrand CommuteHer is the bag I carry daily, and it pings most of your requirements. Except it doesn't come in Brown -- just grey and navy.

No velcro -- the flaps on the outer pocket have magnets. The inner mesh pockets are open or zip.

Mine is currently holding my laptop, kindle fire, two a/5 notebooks, a 1" zippered binder, a stuffed pencil bag, wallet, phone, keys, cosmetic bag, stuffed pencil bag, two pairs of glasses in hard cases and various other sundry items. It has a pocket on either end large enough for a big water bottle or tumbler. If I don't zip it, I can add a frozen meal and a jacket too.

It definitely stands up on its own better than I expected. Even if this isn't the bag for you, I think the answer to the standing up problem is how this one is constructed: instead of just the sides coming to a middle seam at the bottom, it has a large rectangular bottom piece that the sides attach two (so it's built more like a box, than an envelope, if that makes sense.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 6:30 PM on August 30, 2017

I have the previous version of this leather LL Bean tote and it is the best grad school bag ever imo. I frequently carried all of the things you're describing in it (including my laptop in a zipper case) and a 32 ounce Nalgene and like, a pair of shoes, and everything fit comfortably. It's lasted me for three years now with minimal signs of wear. It's also been rained on a million times with no problem (the zipper top helps). It's nice enough looking that I still use it as my work bag now that I've graduated, and it's great as a plane carry on.
posted by MadamM at 8:48 PM on August 30, 2017

Putting my vote in for Lo & Son's the OG bag. It's very structured but made from nylon so it's pretty light. It's billed as an overnight bag but I've used it for work/travel.

It holds a lot; I've had my chunky work laptop, toiletry bag, knitting gear, magazines, a paperbacks, snacks, and a light jacket all in there comfortably. The link has a video too of what all can fit in it.

Used to come in brown so you might want to check resale sites. Otherwise the army green is a great warm color.

While a bit out of your desired price range it hits most of your other requirements for structure, style, room, no Velcro, and still looks good three years later.
posted by mlo at 9:30 PM on August 30, 2017

I was about to recommend my commuting totebag, but I sadly discovered it's been discontinued.
So - online places for you to look: ebags and Sierra Trading Post
posted by Ardea alba at 9:03 AM on August 31, 2017

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