What Bag Carries Your Geekd’m? – Part 2 of a Three-Part Series Review of the Best Laptop Backpacks 2009

May 11, 2009

In 2005 Michelle and I co-founded LitCentral Inc. and we both needed bags that were professional, durable, and functional.  When your career choice requires that you constantly have access to a computer, you become very familiar with what the laptop bag market has to offer.   One thing is for certain, while quality often equates to higher price, a higher price tag doesn’t necessarily equate to quality.  A few years ago, I paid $100 for a Victorinox backpack and it lasted less than 12 months before the fabric started to unravel and the clips broke off.  You would think paying more for a recognizable brand would equate to quality – wrong!

All of the bags chosen for this article series were chosen for the quality of the manufacturing, design, materials and functionality.  It’s not always about money, so we didn’t factor cost into our initial round-table discussion about which manufacturers to contact; we just wanted to contact the best.
 
Here at LitCentral Founders’ Blog we wanted to strive to do better than the mundane laptop bag reviews that inundate the web – offering a press kit, Photoshopped image and a cursory review.  In this three-part article series (What Bag Carries Your Geekd’m?) we lay hands on the product, take pictures and communicate the functionality and quality of these bags.  Part I of the series covers the best laptop and messenger bags.  Part II will cover the best laptop backpacks, and Part III showcases some of the best laptop sling cases on the market.
Part II – Best Laptop Backpacks
Listed alphabetically:
1.  Axio – Hybrid
2. Belkin – Slim Backpack
3. Chrome Bags – Soyuz
4. Tom Bihn – Smart Alec & Brain Cell
 

Axio Hybrid

Axio HybridWant something unique? Something that screams, “I stroll the road less traveled(!)?”  Well then, you better check out Axio’s Hybrid.  What — a hybrid backpack?  Exactly.  Axio describes this backpack as “functional minimalism with style” – and I completely agree.

True story:  I was in St. Louis Lambert Airport the first time I ever spotted an Axio backpack in the wild.  The guy that was wearing it was in line in front of me.  He sort of stood out from the crowd so I asked him what kind of backpack he was carrying . He said, "Axio" then he turned around and went back to looking cool.

I usually reserve backpacks for travel because there is nothing I loathe more than having to carry THINGS in my hands when trekking through airports.  Yes, I risk looking younger than I am, but who says that’s a bad thing???  Secondly, a backpack provides space for the packing of all sorts of stuff I don’t end up using or reading because I’ve fallen asleep before we’ve left the runway.

Most backpacks on the market fall prey to the “cluttered” look.  Because of the general design of a backpack, it’s easy for manufacturers to clutter the surface with pockets, zippers, bungee cords and nylon netting.  So when a backpack design comes along that marches-to-the-beat-of-its-own-drum, it makes you stand up and take notice.   The thoughtful sleek design of the Hybrid offers plenty of storage options, but with the Axio Hybrid, it is accomplished with clean sophistication.  

I love the functionality of this backpack and the fact that it exudes "cool" is just a bonus.

Cost: $139.95
External Size:  19”H x 13.5” W x 10.5”D
Weight: 3 lbs  9 oz
Holds: 15” laptop or smaller (17” XL available)
Material: 900D polyester
Purchase Here
 

 

Axio Hybrid Backpack

•   •   •   •   •   •   •   • 

Belkin Slim Backpack
I actually know three people who own either the Slim Backpack or Slim Slingpack, and for some odd reason all three own Macs.  Maybe that’s because after they’ve dropped a couple grand on a computer, the Belkin fit within their remaining budget.   This is the least expensive backpack in our review ($49).  However, as I mentioned in the first article series, Belkin offers a really decent line of laptop bag products for the price point, and the Slim Backpack is no exception.
 

If you’re the kind that likes to throw your backpack on your back and forget about it, the Slim Backpack might be your perfect companion.  This backpack lives up to its name, offering just enough room for your laptop, a couple of books, MP3 player, pens, and a document folder or two. 

The top grip handle lays flush with the bag and allows for an alternate carrying method.  The laptop compartment has a soft, padded velvet lining to help protect your laptop from bumps and scratches.  Inside amongst numerous open-faced pockets, there is a detachable pouch that is perfect for housing your A/C adapter and gadget cords.  The 15” Slim Backpack comes in 5 different color combinations.

There are two horizontal and vertical pockets on the front, which can accommodate other slim gadgetry such as an iPod or a cell phone. There’s also an earphone jack connected to the front pocket that allows you to thread your headphones through, up, and over your shoulder.

Overall, I think the Slim Backpack is a really good deal for the budget conscious writer. You get good value for your buck, and with a lifetime guarantee backed by Belkin you really can’t go wrong.

Cost: $49.99
External Size: 18”H x 12.5” W x 5”D
Weight: Not provided
Holds: 15.4” laptop or smaller
Material: 100% polyester
Purchase Here

 

Belkin Slim Backpack

•   •   •   •   •   •   •   • 

Chrome Bags – Soyuz

Chrome Bags SoyuzThis is part of Chrome Bags philosophy and how the company got started:

"Chrome was founded in Boulder, CO by a couple of guys who needed a bag that lasted forever. They began sewing in their garage using the toughest material they could find. A company came out of that with a philosophy of building stuff that would function well in tough conditions and would last a lifetime." [sourced: Chrome Bags website]

See…now that’s what I’m talking about – necessity, a mission, and passion – all packed into a garage.  Then bam! A company is born.  I love that stuff.

We were all very impressed with the build quality of Chrome Bags’ Soyuz.  This backpack  was the largest of all the backpacks we reviewed and it fits a niche – “the extreme writer”. 

The Soyuz has a main backpack chamber that’s completely waterproof from the inside out.  This chamber is huge and lined with a thin rubber-like material.  How could you use this compartment?  For the writer who journeys beyond the corner café… perhaps to surf, swim or go to the gym before writing, you can throw your wet gear into this compartment and breakout the laptop when you reach your writing destination. The laptop compartment has a unique side-entry, fully padded compartment with a divider for a document folder. Although the Soyuz does not have any tie downs or straps within the laptop compartment, we felt like the 12" tablet PC we tested was snug and secure.  The laptop compartment could easily service a 15" laptop while a 17" would be a little tight but still make the cut. 

If you live where you are consistently exposed to rain, snow, dust, or sand, and you need to protect your precious laptop against these external elements, then you would be amiss not to check out the Chrome Bag laptop product line.  The design and industrial materials that go into Chrome Bags is clearly evident.  Fully waterproof.  Urethane coated YKK zippers.  Seam-sealed main chamber. An 18 oz truck tarp free-floating liner.  Military speck seam binding tape.  Metal cam lock buckles.  And on and on! 

You have to respect a company that throws so much into a single backpack, at a decent price point, and then backs that baby with a lifetime guarantee.  But then again, who needs it?  The chrome on a garaged Harley would rust before this bag wears out.

One more thing… There’s a “hip factor” that applies to Chrome Bags.  How can I explain… The next Hollywood movie that is made deep in the Seattle woods where the fictional writer lives in one of those high-tech, environmentally clever, all glass homes, with a Weimaraner on the white couch and an Audi R8 in the garage…  Chrome Bags product placement needs to be all over that set, because that’s the “hip factor” these bags are dripping with.  Can you see me now?

*Note – At the time of this publishing this popular model was completely out of stock.  Check back in June for new shipments or sign up for email notification.

Cost: $180
External Size: Dimensions: 14W" x 21H" x 6D"
Weight: Not provided
Holds: 17” laptop or smaller
Material: 1000 denier Cordura®
Purchase Here

 

Chrome Bags Soyuz 

•   •   •   •   •   •   •   •  

Tom Bihn – Smart Alec
Tom Bihn - Smart AlecRemember the kid who sat in the front of the class and made straight As without lifting a finger?  This is the backpack he carried.  His name was Alec and not only was he astute enough to realize the ingenuity and innovation that went into the build of his backpack, but he was clever enough to call it by name –  Smart Alec.
 

Tom Bihn designed the Smart Alec to be a regular backpack with one large main compartment. Two side pockets offer storage for water bottles, cell phones and A/C cords. The adjustable crisscross bungee cords on the front create a pocket, allowing you to strap down a sweatshirt, large rolled documents, etc.  The bag opens at the top, allowing easy access to the contents inside.

This is a great backpack for airline travel because of the light form factor and the wide mouth.  After takeoff you can tuck the Smart Alec between your legs and have easy access to the contents throughout the flight. 

The Smart Alec comes in four different color combinations and in true Tom Bihn style, it’s made of durable, top quality material and backed by a lifetime guarantee.

But there’s more to this backpack.  Tom Bihn offers accessories that turn this backpack into a “Transformer” – as you change the accessories, the functionality of the bag changes.

Let me explain…

Tom Bihn - Vertical Brain CellWith this “Transformer” approach, you don’t always have to use the Smart Alec as a regular backpack.  Insert a Vertical Brain Cell and this bag converts to a laptop backpack.  Add in the Vertical Freudian Slip and you now have an organizer for documents and writing instruments.

What if it’s a light mobile day and all you need is your laptop?  No problem.  Use just the Vertical Brain Cell and you have solid protection guarding your most prized possession.   Accessorize the Vertical Brain Cell with a shoulder strap or just tote the bag with the nylon handles.  The front mesh pockets will expand to accommodate your A/C adapter.  

We stole one of the Brain Cell pics from Tom Bihn’s website to illustrate to you just how protected your laptop is when engulfed by this bag.  If you have one of the new unibody MacBooks with the glass screens this is one of the few bags I would trust to protect such fragile cargo.  Suspended between layers of corrugated plastic and memory foam, your laptop is no doubt well protected.  The Brain Cell comes in six different sizes and a host of colors.

Smart Alec
Cost: $130
External Size: 18.5”H x 11.75” W x 7.75”D
Weight: 1 lb. 13 oz.
Holds: 15.4” laptop or smaller
Material: 1050 denier nylon and 1000 denier Cordura ®
Purchase Here:

Vertical Brain Cell
Cost: $60
External Size:  varies (6 sizes)
Weight: 14 oz – 1.4 lbs.
Holds: 15.4” laptop or smaller
Material: 500 denier Cordura ®;
Purchase Here

 

Tom Bihn Smart Alec

Accessories – Vertical Freudian Slip & Brain Cell
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lyng May 11, 2009 at 9:02 pm

My bf loves Chrome. He’s a cyclist.

Reply

Frank Colbert May 12, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Sweet article! The Axio looks ideal for me but I might go with a messenger.

Reply

Robin May 13, 2009 at 1:09 pm

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