The two-bag problem
August 25, 2019 7:04 AM   Subscribe

I usually carry a largish shoulder bag with various necessities of life (books, wallet, phone, umbrella, etc etc etc). I am now likely to need to carry around a smallish laptop on a regular basis as well. What's the most efficient and comfortable way to schlep all these things?

My usual shoulder bag is fairly large and holds a lot, as noted above; I could probably fit the laptop into it along with everything else, but a) it would be quite heavy and b) it doesn't seem like the healthiest thing for the laptop (I'm always paranoid that the magnet snap on the bag is going to erase the hard drive, which I'm sure has no basis in fact). My fallback just now is to put the laptop and power cord in its own small bag (not a dedicated one, just a fabric sack) and carry it separately, but having one bag on each shoulder is a little tiresome. What do I want to do? (Having the laptop in a kind of backpack that would fit flat to my back is appealing, but I'm not sure such a thing exists anyway). Good ideas of all kinds please. (I've seen similar questions, but they're all several years old and it seems worth asking again.) Many thanks.
posted by huimangm to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have a backpack from Dakine, similar to this one, that has a padded, flat laptop pocket all the way closest to my back. When my laptop is in there it's quite flat to my back and comfortable. I also like Dakine backpacks because to my taste, they're a nice mix of rugged, space-efficient, and (perhaps most importantly to me) aesthetically pleasing, both design wise and with their fabric selection.
posted by seemoorglass at 7:21 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I use this small backpack for my laptop and it's the best. It's basically just a laptop sleeve with backpack straps. I can fit my power cable and a mouse in the front pocket. I don't carry my laptop around enough to want to give up my other purse, and this is the smallest lightest easiest way to do that.

I've also occasionally considered buying Betabrand's Under the Jack pack, but the Amazon one has served me well.
posted by brainmouse at 7:48 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've been considering something like this laptop backpack. You can see the sleeve is located so the laptop (up to 15.6 inches) would be at your back, and it has plenty of other pockets.
posted by automatic cabinet at 9:01 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Several variations (though I keep my phone in my pants pocket):
- Backpack for laptop, books, umbrella + purse with wallet, lip stuff, etc
- Briefcase for laptop, pared down amount of stuff, wallet
- Backpack for everything (wallet goes in a small zippered pocket underneath a buckled flap)
- Messenger bag for everything (wallet goes in a small zippered "Napoleon" pocket)

All my backpacks are flat against my back, usually 20L or less. If a backpack sags or goes past your waist, it's probably too tall for you. Most laptop backpacks have a sleeve or dedicated segment at the back of the pack for ease of carry, though you could also get a separate laptop sleeve for a backpack you like that doesn't have a laptop compartment. I'd recommend using a backpack rather than a shoulder bag for your laptop to balance the weight more comfortably (and to avoid future chiropractor problems), but depending on how much you can trim the other stuff you plan on carrying, a shoulder bag can work if you're not trying to walk a few miles with it in a row.

I have a lot of backpack opinions that are taking me too long to write, so here's a short list of what I've been using in the past year:
- Mission Workshop Fraction (14L) or Sanction (20L) (charcoal variant holds up terrificially in downpours)
- An older model of a Timbuk2 Swig in black (they've since changed the design) w/ water bottle pocket and reflective panel
- Tumi Carson (used for conferences, not my first choice for daily use however because the straps are slippery & there are plenty of other options for lower price points)

I'd generally avoid outdoor companies' backpacks for work, as they tend to skew too casual for my work aesthetic. But I've noticed plenty of tech companies using Patagonia for their official branded packs, and I often see North Face, Osprey, Topo, and other outdoor/travel packs used for office laptop carry.

A lot of women I've seen also just carry everything in large shoulder totes - Longchamp's Le Pliage is a popular one, as is Madewell's Transport Tote, and various Kate Spade options. Dagne Dover gets mentioned a bunch online, but I haven't seen those in person as often (though I'm kind of tempted to get one myself in all black for more formal networking events). Leather, however, tends to be much heavier than non-leather materials, so I'd generally avoid those for laptop carry if possible.
posted by rather be jorting at 9:45 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

If your laptop is 13" or smaller, you might like Tom Bihn's Maker's Bag.
posted by praemunire at 10:05 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think most backpacks have laptop compartments now, right? You wouldn't necessarily need to get something expensive- I think this IKEA bag is actually pretty nice, and it's $23. I try to avoid carrying two bags, so I either transfer my purse stuff to a backpack (I have everything in small mesh bags inside) or use a large bag with the laptop in a sleeve, but the backpack is definitely the most ergonomic solution.
posted by pinochiette at 10:51 AM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

This seems like the problem that laptop sleeves are designed to solve. Put the laptop in a sleeve, and then put the sleeved laptop in your shoulder bag.

There are sleeves that go on the laptop and fit tightly, but depending on the kind of bag you have, there are also sleeves that go semi-permanently into the bag and you just drop the laptop into. E.g. Tom Bihn "Brain Cell" sleeves are really good, although sadly discontinued (although you can find them on eBay and add it to an existing bag if you wanted to—this is what I have and I think it's great).

Personally I would not want to carry around two bags; I think the risk of forgetting about the second bag, if you are only used to carrying one, is quite high. Get a nice wide neoprene-padded strap (again, the Tom Bihn ones are nice) if you find the additional weight is hurting your shoulder. Or better yet get and use a waist strap combined with a cross-body configuration for the shoulder strap: you can carry almost as much weight this way as you can in a backpack, which is quite a lot.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:02 PM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think most backpacks have laptop compartments now, right?

Yes, but shop smart. A lot of them will have padding for the back and between the laptop and the large compartment, but not have padding at the bottom of the backpack, so you have to be careful about putting it down on hard surfaces. To alleviate this, besides with actual padding, I've seen ones that have kind of a suspender design where the compartment doesn't extend all the way down, or you could DIY with some foam rubber or half of a door-draft snake and stuff it down there.
posted by rhizome at 1:53 PM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Most of the time my laptop, together with all my other stuff, lives in my le pliage tote, as does my iPad and any other electricals. I don’t use a sleeve and travel on foot, by public transport, by car and plane. I do have a bag organiser like this and the laptop just slots next to it. I use the organiser because the le pliage can turn into a bottomless pit and the organiser means I can find all the stuff that would otherwise accumulate in the bottom. Despite the lack of bespoke protection I have never managed to damage my work laptop, it always lasts the full 3 yr replacement cycle.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:57 PM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Most bag shops (either the company's own store or a luggage store) I've visited in the U.S. encouraged letting you try out bags by filling them up and walking around inside the store to get a feel for how they work. If you're still in the Kyoto area, there's probably some terrifically-designed backpacks and bags you can check out in person at the local stores. I'd imagine luggage stores especially would have a decent array of items to browse through.

Besides the suspended laptop compartment (which should end at least an inch above the actual bottom of the bag), YKK zippers are worth looking out for as a basic feature.

As for carrying around two bags, I usually leave my backpack/laptop bag behind at the office when I go out to lunch, as carrying around a laptop-sized bag can be cumbersome when you're sitting down at a restaurant (especially if you're sitting with a group and there isn't much room for bags along the floor/on the back of your chair/anywhere else nearby), so it's nice to deal with just the smaller purse during such times.
posted by rather be jorting at 3:49 PM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lots of people have lots of bag knowledge, but I’m just dropping in to note that you shouldn’t worry at all about your magnet closure doing anything to your laptop unless it is some dinosaur with a spinning disk hard drive, which is basically unheard of at this point.
posted by rockindata at 4:53 PM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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