Tech-friendly bags

A good bag can turn a daily commute on public transport from a trial into a triumph by giving you quick access to the tech you need to work or play.

For this roundup, we invited bag-makers to send us their best laptop bags, with our only requirement being that they be either a shoulder bag or backpack and support a laptop up to 15 inches.

When it comes to choosing between a shoulder (AKA messenger) bag or a backpack, there are good arguments for both from a utility perspective.

Shoulder bags generally give you quicker access to their contents due to the fact that they can be slung around and don’t need to be taken off to access their various pockets — they’re therefore great if you’re constantly pulling gear out and putting it back.

Backpacks, on the other hand, aren’t quite as convenient but are better-equipped to handle heavy loads because they distribute the weight evenly across your shoulders. And even in the age of super-light ultrabooks, if you do a lot of walking with your bag on then opting for a backpack is going to be better for your back’s long-term health.

Booq Boa Squeeze

booq boa squeezeThis is a neat and compact little bag, befitting a laptop of up to 15 inches. Its front flap zips outwards in a mushroom shape revealing a large chamber with a small, padded pocket for the laptop.

There are smaller pockets inside — best used for thin items like pens and smaller documents — as well as two smaller mesh and zipped pockets.

Meanwhile, each side of the exterior has two pockets, both large enough to hold the type of belongings (wallets, phones) you need immediate access to.

There’s also a rather useless pocket on the front of the bag — a long vertical zipper provides access to a thin and firm crevice where… well, really thin things can be kept — or perhaps a tiny umbrella.

The Boa Squeeze is a decent bag, but it lacks any of the impressive bells and whistles of its competitors. Still, it’s also not a bad price.

Verdict: A decent enough bag, but it holds no clever tricks.

Price: $179
From: Rushfaster

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Booq Taipan Shock

booq taipan shock 1This second Booq bag is one that really demonstrates the power of synthetics; it’s made of a tri-weave polyester that makes the whole thing water-resistant and super lightweight (it’s just 960g) but still incredibly tough.

There’s four quick-access zip pockets (one front, two side and the dedicated laptop compartment in the back, accessed from the top) so there’s plenty of spaces to stash things you need to get to frequently.

While this isn’t a huge backpack physically, the way the front flap is designed means the whole thing is quite rigid and always a little paunchy — even if you don’t have the massive 30-litre main compartment stuffed with gear.

That compartment gives you a few organisational elements: a document pouch and an area to store a few pens, plus a mesh pocket with an elasticated top that sits on the inside of the front flap, and a thin pencil case-like section below.

All up, this one’s amazing value and if you’re after a bag that’s tougher than the average, you should definitely check this one out.

Verdict: A tough, synthetic backpack that can store a lot and take a beating too.

Price: $130
From: Rushfaster

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Crumpler Dry Red No.5

crumpler dry red 1This mid-sized backpack from Crumpler does kind of look like it belongs on the set of The Martian — at least the striking grey-and-red model does — and it’s got about as many tricks up its sleeve as Matt Damon’s character.

That includes a sneaky zip-shut padded compartment in the back which allows quick stashing or retrieval of a laptop up to 15-inches, a front section that’s jam packed with mini pockets for your smaller gadgets and tools, and a main middle area that can be expanded when needed thanks to a fold of extra fabric that’s very thick and durable.

It has matching chunky zippers and a lifetime warranty, which means if any of these bits start fraying or coming apart, Crumpler will repair the damage for free. This is a fantastic little pack that can store a surprising amount of gear.

Our only gripe is that, on our wide shoulders, the straps felt a little tight — so if you’re broad across the back, we’d advise trying this one on in person or try the larger Dry Red No.6.

Verdict: Combines superb build quality with well thought-out design and very-quick access to the laptop compartment.

Price: $245
From: Crumpler

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Crumpler Rampaging Mob

crumpler rampaging mob 2The first thing you notice about the Rampaging Mob is how good it feels to wear. The backstraps are abundantly padded yet firm enough to stay in place, and even at the bag’s full capacity, it’s a pleasure to carry.

Inside, there’s a laptop slip between two sizeable main pockets — all accessible through one main zipper running all the way around, while two smaller side pockets have hidden zippers beneath the otherwise clear front.

Aside from these three zippers, everything is well hidden inside the main chamber, alleviating the anxiety of open zips so common among more complex designs.

It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing bag on the market, but it’s a workhorse, and if you’re needing a bag you can wear all day at conventions, with half your office on your back, this is a great choice.

Verdict: A great all-rounder with a comfort-comes-first attitude.

Price: $225
From: Crumpler

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Deuter Giga

Deuter GigaA comfortable ride when hauling gear is where the Deuter Giga really shines. The shoulder straps are breathable and super comfortable while two strips of shock-absorbing, closed-cell foam — one on either side of your spine — that contact the body which maintains maximum comfort and air-flow even under heavy loads.

A removable waist belt tops off the comfort stakes, plus there’s a couple of compression straps on the side to cinch everything in when you’re only packing light.

With 28L of storage split across three large cavities, the Giga is about as simple as it gets in terms of discreet stowage options and device protection.

The rear slot is for laptops up to 15.6in; it piggy-backs off the bag’s padded back for protection, plus has additional protection in the base.

There’s another cavernous area in the middle for the remainder of your miscellany, plus another large slot on the front which features a small organisation area for your smartphone, pens and so on.

Verdict: A large, affordable, 28L workhorse which holds user comfort at a premium but features fairly rudimentary organisation options.

Price: $74.95
From: Deuter

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Everki Versa

EKP127_02Fully featured laptop bags can look a bit like high school bags, but the Everki Versa is designed to appeal to the more serious among high-flying business people.

It does a pretty decent job of looking discreet and corporate, but it does an even better job holding stuff — just as well… because it’s a bag.

In addition to two large main pockets — one with padding and straps designed for laptops up to 14 inches — there are more than a dozen other pockets of varying sizes. All are well hidden and don’t deter Everki’s minimalist design goals.

It’s the smaller touches that matter most, though: the glasses pocket has a heavy-duty, shell-like interior, and the most readily accessible front pocket is clasped with a magnet rather than a zipper (zippers are not good for business meetings, you know).

It’s an expensive bag but it’s also a very beautiful one.

Verdict: A great, fully featured bag for those prepared to pay a premium for fancy design.

Price: $239
From: Everki

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Henty Tube Backpack

Henty Tube BackpackOne large, segmented pocket with a couple of tie-downs, shoulder straps and a waist belt. Its design is genius.

There are two main zippable areas for gear; a cavernous main pocket with waterproof seams, plus a weatherproof laptop/tablet pocket floating inside that easily gobbles up laptops up to 15in.

You basically stuff everything in these, then roll it up and secure the load with a couple of quick-release buckles. There are also a couple of quick access spots on the outside for wallet, keys etc.

Those who like to keep loads of gadgets and whatnots on hand at all times may find keeping everything organised tricky to juggle, but if all you really need is a laptop and lunch most days, then the flexibility and utility of the Tube is unrivalled.

When you’re not laptop laden, the Tube can even convert to carry a hydration system. The Tube comes in three sizes; the 15L we looked at here as well as larger 20L and 26L versions, which RRP for $149 and $159, respectively.

Verdict: A versatile pack that’ll convert depending on your load. Compatible with both a hydration system and carry-on luggage requirements.

Price: $119
From: Henty

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Lowe Alpine Magma 28

LA-MagmaLowe device storage bags are great; they’re quite rigid in design, luxuriously padded all around and feature a velcro tab to lock stuff down when on the move.

The size of the bag is quite deceptive too — we were pleasantly surprised at how eagerly it gobbled up an oversized 15+ inch gaming laptop with room left over for a tablet, as well as your lunch and business paraphernalia.

The front cargo area is a bit quirky, but in a good way. There’s an organisation area in there with dedicated smartphone and HDD slots carved from a large piece of neoprene.

It sits super flat and adds nothing to the overall weight when not in use, but stretches to become a secure, and snug house for your gear when you do.

There’s a quick access pouch on the topside for on-hand gear, which is nice, but it hangs kind of intrusively inside the laptop compartment when loaded up.

The Magma 28 rides nicely on the back and features both sternum, waist and compression straps. It has a whistle too!

Verdict: A comfortable backpack with a few quirky and clever design decisions that make it stand out from the crowd.

Price: $119.95
From: Lowe Alpine

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The North Face Microbyte

NF-MicrobyteThe North Face traditionally appeals to adventurous sorts who reckon the Solo man is a dead-set wuss.

You might think the Microbyte is an example of the company trying to fit into a space where it doesn’t belong. Where are all the massive buckles? Fear not: this is a company that knows what space and storage you need to survive, whether you’re going bush or battling the daily commute.

The Microbyte has a generous 17L of storage. Two main compartments are subdivided, the first with a padded fleece-like material that will fit a 13-inch laptop. Smartly, the pocket ends before the bottom of the bag so you’re not smacking your laptop against the ground.

In the front compartment, there’s a slot for a 10.8-inch tablet, business cards and more, all of which are kept snug against the subdivider. On the front is a single zip, ideal for throwing in a pair of sunnies.

To top it all off, the chest strap buckle on this compact commuter doubles as a whistle.

Verdict: Successfully carries your essential tech in a compact package, and comfy to boot.

Price: $111.95
From: The North Face

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

STM Trestle

STM_TrestleEvery time we roll back a zipper on the Trestle, we discover a new pocket or organisation slot — the level of minute haul options is staggering and something we’d expect from a military-style backpack, rather than an everyday street bag.

There are two primary compartments that make up the bulk of the storage options: a large pocket that includes discreet (and padded) slots for both a 13-inch laptop, a tablet, slots for portable HDDs and cabling, plus loads of space or lunch, books and paraphernalia.

On the front of the pack is a quick access pocket, again with dedicated slots for pens, a key fob, plus a pouch perfectly sized for an e-reader.

The build quality of the Trestle is also top shelf with fully reinforced handles, brushed aluminium zips and chest buckle, as well as a small molle system on the front if you’ve got extra gear to lug and need to clip stuff on. A superb little backpack.

Verdict: A tiny 15L backpack that feels like it can carry triple that thanks to a swag of clever organisation. Lifetime warranty.

Price: $119.95
From: STM

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Everki Track

EverkiIt doesn’t take long for you to come to the impression that this company has made a few bags in its lifetime, and the Tracks certainly benefits from that know-how.

Whether it’s the off-centre shoulder strap that makes it comfortable to carry even a large gaming-laptop, or the novel hook-based buckle design that pins the front flap closed without using any moving parts, there’s an understated engineering prowess that subtly emerges as you use this bag.

Despite first appearances — the short shoulder strap gives the bag a rather squat and compact appearance —
the Tracks has a rather large internal cavity for a messenger bag and, in testing, it easily fit a 15-inch gaming laptop, an over-ear gaming headset in a case, and a bulky pair of headphones.

With conveniently placed and adequately padded tablet, phone and general-purpose pockets, the Tracks is an extremely well designed laptop bag — and a truly excellent option for the sub-$100 price tag.

Verdict: A great-value shoulder bag that’ll take kilos off your laptop.

Price: $69
From: Everki

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Osprey Flapjack Courier

Osprey Flapjack CourierWith deep roots in outdoor and adventure gear, Osprey know and understand the value of organisation, and hidden beneath the flap of this otherwise everyday looking courier bag is a 20L mobile command centre for everything you’d ever need to lug.

There are three larger storage compartments: a major space that includes a partitioned laptop and documents area; another large pocket with pen, earbud and portable HDD slots; plus a pocket we found tailor-made for over-ear headphones.

On top of this, there’s a quick-access port on the front flap, big enough for anything immediate, as well as another zippered pocket on the right hip of the bag that’s padded and perfect for sunnies.

The build quality of the Flapjack is practically bombproof, with quality finishes — carry handles inside and out, waist stap, robust toggles and sticky shoulder straps, which keep everything in place when you’re on the move. Plus Osprey offer a lifetime repair or replacement warranty.

Verdict: An extremely well designed and organised courier bag for laptops up to 15 inches. Lifetime warranty.

Price: $119.95
From: Osprey

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Qwstion Office Bag

qwstion office bag 3We were a little worried when we first laid eyes on the Office Bag from the unusually named Swiss accessories company Qwstion.

A messenger bag able to transform into a backpack seemed more likely to fail at both than succeed at being useful as either one. But despite our pessimism, the clever convertible strap turned out to be one of the real highlights.

The e-shaped caribina that transforms the shoulder strap into two smaller backpack straps is made from a weighty metal, which not only functioned extremely well but also reflects the premium, modern aesthetic design.

The separate laptop section in the back gives the bag an added structure and means it feels comfortable to wear in either orientation.

Though we were impressed by what the bag had to show, the main section felt a little less considered, with oversized pockets that weren’t designed for anything in particular, a general lack of padded compartments and only limited space for office utensils.

Verdict: A decent urban backpack-slash-messenger bag that could be a little less expensive.

Price: $290
From: Rushfaster

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

STM Trust

STM TrustConsidering how well its bags accommodate the needs of a travelling techie, we’re not at all surprised the Sydney company STM has made a name for itself around the globe.

The company’s range of Trust messenger bags come with a dedicated padded compartment for a laptop up to 15-inches, plus enough room in the main compartment for a large set of headphones or a jumper and there are a number of conveniently-placed, well-sized padded pockets for your e-reader, phone or other gadgets.

But this bag really starts to show the experience of the company behind it when you notice the large A4 pocket for quick access to your itinerary or passport when travelling, an external pocket for a drink bottle and the less-immediate perks, like a bag ID tag that offers a finders reward if it’s returned it to the company when you lose it.

You can get this model for around $100 online — a good 30 bucks less than the RRP — but note that STM also has a new model called Trust Energy, which adds a power bank and inbuilt cabling for an RRP of $280.

Verdict: You can trust this messenger to carry the load.

Price: $120
From: STM

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

  • Neil Bruckner

    Love my Chrome Messenger bag.