Backpacks for Laptops – Traveling with Technology

Brian Welsh
Dec 7, 2010
Updated • Dec 6, 2012
Mobile Computing

The mighty backpack has been around for a long time. For thousands of years men and women have been strapping their goods on their backs and lugging them from place to place. While the backpack itself isn't new, the modern version of this ancient tote is as different from it's ancestors as humans are from monkeys. The form is still recognizable, but the functions and abilities are worlds apart. If you would like a concrete example of what I'm talking about, imagine putting your laptop into an ancient satchel from Babylonia. Sure it would work, but there are much better ways to lug your machine around than that these days. With waterproof pockets, shock proof fabric, and an assortment of high tech goodies available for your backpack, using an ancient satchel would be about like hiring a chimp to be your nanny!

The modern traveler doesn't need much more than a laptop to stay in touch with their family, blog about their adventures, work remotely, and even watch films, take classes, or listen to music. With all of that functionality, it just makes sense that a better backpack should be used to keep the laptop, netbook, or tablet safe and secure. One of the great things about modern backpacks is that they can be slung over one or both shoulders, carried by a ring handle, or even, in some cases pulled behind the traveler on wheels. To get an idea of the vast variety of functionality that is available in backpacks, let's look at some of the specifics.

When you are looking for a backpack, there are few things that you really need to keep your eyes open about and dedicate some time to considering. First and foremost, you should think about the size of the backpack. Not just the external size, but more importantly you should think about the interior dimensions – called volume. There are as many sizes of backpacks as there are of anything else from which you can choose. The big consideration should be that you make sure your laptop actually fits into the backpack. If you have a 17 inch gaming laptop and the bag is only big enough to hold a netbook, it's not going to do you much good.

Other things to consider are what else will you need to carry with you. Are you planning to carry a weeks worth of clothing in your bag? Is it just for your laptop or is it also for all your other travel gear. Are there enough specific pockets for your various accessories?

Now, what about the material? If you are a traditionalist, chances are that you will go for leather. Leather is still one of the best materials for a travel bag because of it's durability, waterproof ability, and natural characteristics. The downside is that leather backpacks are expensive and they can also be very heavy. A better choice for most people is a combination of ripstop nylon and canvas. This will provide you with protection from the elements, lightweight, and durability. Depending on the amount of protection you want for your machine, you may want to make sure there are padded compartments in the bag.

Today there are a number of ergonometric designs available that will save your back from feeling like it's been carrying a million pounds at the end of the day. In addition, you may want to make sure that there is a waistband on the bag if you plan on carrying it fully loaded.

Make sure that the bag is divided into a number of sections and has separate compartments for liquids, tickets, pens, and other bric-a-brac. Many backpacks today come with specialized pockets for chargers, headphones, iPods, and other tech gear.

One thing that is often overlooked is the maximum carry on size. This is the maximum size that airlines will allow for bags to be carried on. Since you are going to be keeping your laptop and valuables in your bag, chances are that you don't want to risk checking it. Make sure that your bag is within the range of the maximum carry on dimensions so that you won't be forced to check it.
A backpack can go with you on the plane, in the woods, up the mountain, to the cafe, and everywhere else where your holiday may take you. Since your hands will be free and your bag will be strapped to your back, you can enjoy yourself more.

One recent innovation is the inclusion of soft, light, and flexible solar panels on the exterior of backpacks. This innovation means that while you walk, your laptop or phone can actually be charging with the power of the sun. A number of adapters and chargers are available with these innovative designs.

A laptop backpack is one of the most important items you can provide to yourself or another traveler. Make sure you take the time to explore all of the options that are available. If you will be traveling in risky areas you can get snatchproof, slashproof, lockable backpacks that function as a sort of safe for your valuables. Your gadgets and gizmos are important and you shouldn't skimp on the means to protect them.

Make sure that your backpack closes securely. Examine the seams closely to be sure that the bag is at the minimum double stitched. Make sure the straps are adjustable as you will want to change the size of the straps depending on the load you choose to carry. Above all be certain that the bag will protect your laptop!

One last thing to consider is color. Some people might argue that the color of a backpack is the least important factor to consider, but I disagree. You will be wearing this bag and you will have to see it for a long time. Make sure that it's something you like. While that bright pink pack might strike your fancy today, are you sure you will want it in three years time? When in doubt, go with black, khaki, or a very neutral brown. These colors go with everything.


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  1. Gulo said on December 7, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    If you need a backpack — or most any kind of tech bag, really — the best answer is Crumpler. Started by a pair of aussie bike couriers, they really know how to design a bag that most of all doesn’t scream “I have a laptop inside me!” like most notebook bags do — heck, the name of Targus alone is probably a target.

    I’ve had three bags from Crumpler, but current only one one; my first went to a friend who didn’t have a decent bag, the third was for a 17″ laptop that went with the computer since the Dell bag was atrocious. Which means I’ve kept my current bag for nearly 5 years at this point and at best, it’s a little dirty. My first bag is in about the same state (maybe a bit frayed, a bit dirty, but entirely whole) and is probably 7 years old at this point.

    I’ve got the King Single currently, the bag sits well on your back due to a thick padding, but doesn’t press directly on your spine. The shoulder straps are NOT sewn straight into a seam like most bags, but the piece that goes around your neck and shoulders is one whole piece which means you’ll never tear the shoulder strap off trying to pick it up and dump the bag over.

    Maybe another $200-250 bag from Tom Bihn or the like might compare, I just know that nothing I’ve seen offered at most stores can compare to the durability of my Crumpler. Since getting this bag, I’ve had the pleasure of turning down many bulky and ugly bangs from work to carry various things in.

    Seriously, if you are lugging around 4-5 pounds of notebook or have just ponied up for a fancy new laptop, you really ought to get a decent bag. $40-50 for a notebook bag is NOT enough. You will get crap and you will have to replace it. In the long run, you’ll probably spend way less and be way happier with a Crumpler.

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