Man I need help finding a backpack.
November 14, 2017 8:30 PM   Subscribe

OK hive mind, I need help. I've used Timbuk2 laptop messenger bags for 10-15 years and I'm ready for a backpack, but I can't find the right one for me. Open to any and all suggestions. I'm a freelancer and practically live in coffeeshops, so this is my EDC and laptop bag that I will have with me at all times, including travel. I think my perfect bag would be a Tom Bihn Synapse with big soft straps from the North Face Recon, but I haven't found it yet.

Here's my wish list:

Size: Around 1200-1500 cubic inches (22-25 L). I'm flexible on this, but I'm a big guy (6', 280 lbs), so I need something that won't look too small on me.

Organization: Lots of pockets, good admin panel for pens, etc. Laptop sleeve. Big water bottle pocket.

Straps: Padded, comfortable straps.

Style: I'm open to anything from tactical to minimalist - the only thing I really want to avoid is bags with no style, like Amazon basics, Swissgear, Jansport, etc.

Here's my experience with a few models I've looked at or tried:

North Face Recon: Very comfortable to carry (big padded straps) but the bag was cavernous and huge. All my items were at the very bottom of enormous pockets. Also, the bag won't sit even close to flat on the floor.

Tom Bihn Synapse 19 and 25: I tried and reluctantly returned both of these bags. I love Tom Bihn but the straps on these bags just didn't fit me right. They dug into my armpits and were uncomfortable to carry. If I could get a Synapse attached to North Face straps, it would be perfect.

Peak Design Everyday Packpack: This bag looks amazing, but it doesn't look like the right fit for me. I rarely carry a camera, and when I do it's a small mirrorless (Fuji x100f). I need a place to throw in a sweatshirt, lunch, or a few books, and this bag doesn't look like it would work since it's designed to be configured to carry specific items.

Goruck GR1: This looks like an amazing bag, but aside from being very expensive, I don't need a kind of bag that opens wide open flat - I need pockets and organization.

511 Tactical Rush12: I don't mind a tactical looking bag, but this seems to have poor padding for a laptop, and the laptop sleeve is under the straps, which would require moving the straps out of the way every time I need my laptop.

Timbuk2 Authority Backpack: This isn't bad, but I don't need the TSA feature where the laptop compartment lays flat on a conveyer belt (I have TSA PreCheck), so I'm thinking the side access laptop pocket will leave my laptop sliding around too much.

Thank you for any help!
posted by kdern to Technology (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you checked out the Wirecutter? I went by their recommendations and got the LL Bean Quad Pack a few months ago, and love it. Plenty of pockets and organize-y bits, two deep water bottle/umbrella pockets, comfy straps on my 2-mile walk to campus, good laptop pocket. At 33 L it's bigger than what you say you want, but as a big guy it definitely won't look small on you.

I wavered a lot before picking my backpack but I'm really happy with this one.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:05 PM on November 14, 2017

I don't know if it's too unstylish, but I bought the eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack a while back and it's beaten out the GR1 and the Everlane Modern Snap Backpack as my daily driver. It's simple and tough, the organization is top-notch, it's got a carry-on handle pass-through, side handle, tablet pocket, and expandable water bottle pocket. I like it a lot.
posted by protocoach at 9:15 PM on November 14, 2017

One perhaps annoying and definitely expensive option is to get the Tom Bihn Synapse of your choice, a North Face Recon, and take both to your friendly local tailor and/or upholsterer and get them to refashion the North Face straps into the Tom Bihn bag.

I've enjoyed my Focused Space Ivy League as a durable EDC, but it's smaller than what you are looking for and I suspect it may have no style. Then again, it is on massive sale at Nordstrom Rack at the moment, and has a very good balance of space and compartmentalization, plus a contoured strap yoke which you may find more comfortable.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 9:20 PM on November 14, 2017

I had a nice laptop roller but needed to replace a small backpack in a hurry to replace one that broke. I picked up an Embark 19" Jartop backpack and it has become my go to bag for everything. The backpack sleeve also handles an enclosed clipboard and the main compartment can become very large. It has two successively smaller pockets on the front, smaller on the side, large bottle pocket that I usually carry two 500ml bottles in, and a few other zippered pockets.
The big con is that it is not completely waterproof, so I usually stick my laptop in a large ziplock if I will be out in the elements.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 9:27 PM on November 14, 2017

GR2 if you like pockets. GR1 is great though, but yeah not a ton of pockets.

I have both, the GR2 is my travel bag, and GR1 day bag.
posted by so fucking future at 10:05 PM on November 14, 2017

Have you looked at Herschel backpacks? I've tried them out in shops IRL and they're niiiice. Good quality, nicely designed, reasonably priced (especially since the exchange rate is in your favour). A friend of mine has one and a couple of my students do too, and they all love them.

Maybe the Lawson?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:11 PM on November 14, 2017

I decided a few years ago to go with a backpack from Tortuga and the thing is just freaking bombproof. They cycle through their models pretty quickly, so the one I bought isn't for sale any longer, but they likely have gotten even better. I've put thousands of air miles and at least ten countries on mine and it looks like the day I bought it. It has all of the features you're looking for.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:49 PM on November 14, 2017

I just bought the Timbuk2 Uptown a month ago, and still like it. I have the fortune to have a Timbuk2 store in town, so I went there and tried it on. I, too, had just switched from a messenger to a backpack, and was rediscovering the shortcomings of my old Eddie Bauer backpack, particularly its one cavernous pocket and one small pocket and lots of straps I'll never use.

Salesguy said, "what do you need in a backpack?" "Pockets." And so I've got a laptop pocket (haven't used it, but it looks like I'm heading in to the office Monday, so we'll see), 3 sections, a couple of useful external utility pockets (including a padded one for sunglasses). Inside the smaller section are some little pockets, both with and without flaps. I like it, and considering my crappy old EB bag was worth $36 towards it (30% trade-in deal in the store that day, but he said 20% is the store norm), it was an easy sale.

It's got handles where I want them, it takes the Seattle rain. I'm as tall as you and a bit heavier and while it doesn't feel huge on my back, it doesn't feel like a mere accessory. It holds all my every-day stuff with aplomb. It felt small at first, but once I applied some organization, and also got rid of the junk that accumulated in the old bag (mostly those little packs of tissues, and lots of paper napkins collected for the same purpose), I fit into it just right. It has a bottle opener, which likely I will never use, but I like they way they think.

Straps are decently padded-- they look about the same as that North Face bag, but I'm looking at pictures, so what can I tell. I removed the chest-strap, as I'm not likely to use it; it snaps on/off.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:11 PM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I like the osprey pixel pack - its large for me for a daypack, but I'm a 5'9" woman, so it might be just about right for you. It's got a sort of weird profile - wider at the top than the bottom, but I've carried it for about 9 months, and I really like it. It does have a side access laptop pocket, but my laptop doesn't seem to slide around.
posted by mercredi at 3:45 AM on November 15, 2017

I have a slightly older model of this LL Bean Waxed-Canvas Continental Rucksack and, while it's a bit larger than your posted size at almost 33L and is not light it (presumably still) has a liner in the back of the main compartment in which laptops may be carried, netted insertions in the side and zipped pocket that can be used to divide the space or make things more accessible (like pens in the zipper pocket, as it's fairly voluminous), and the backpack will sit flat on the floor. Overall the dimensions are such that one can slide them under an airplane seat so long as one doesn't have a water bottle in one of the side pockets.
posted by mr. digits at 5:58 AM on November 15, 2017

I'm a big advocate of Chrome for stuff like this. You might take a look at their Hondo and see what you think. It'll absolutely sit flat on the floor, it has *two* water bottle (or whatever) pockets, and I've found their backpack strap configuration to be exceedingly comfortable with or without the sternum strap in use. Their bag backs also have foam padding, which cushions and breathes well, and their stuff is generally waterproof as heck and lasts like cast iron.

The Hondo is on the smaller end of your specs at 21L, but their interiors and pockets make good use of the space. They do have larger packs if you want to scale up, but if your size concern is mostly 'I don't want it to look small and weird on me,' I think you'll find this one fits your proportions okay.
posted by halation at 6:25 AM on November 15, 2017

I love my Timbuk2 Uptown.

Water bottle pocket (1) can fit a thermos, good pocket for pens and a good top and front pocket that's easy to reach for keys/etc, a few different compartments, my laptop hasn't seemed to slid around in the bottom pocket.
posted by typecloud at 11:01 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks all for the ideas - I will check them all out!
posted by kdern at 12:18 PM on November 15, 2017

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