The Best Laptop Backpack Review

We tested eight of the best backpack style laptop bags in a eight-week long competition to determine their ranking in the following categories; durability, security, aesthetics, comfort, storage, water resistance and versatility. We had eight reviewers use each pack for a week in order to determine our award winners. They choose the best all-purpose pack and best high capacity pack. For those of you who prefer a bike messenger-style bag, please check out our related Messenger Bag Review.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Max Neale

Top Ranked Laptop Backpacks Displaying 1 - 5 of 6 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Timbuk2 Swig
Timbuk2 Swig
Read the Review
Video video review
Cilo Gear City Pack
Cilo Gear City Pack
Read the Review
Video video review
Timbuk2 Light Bright Swig
Timbuk2 Light Bright Swig
Read the Review
Video video review
Arc'teryx Blade 24
Arc'teryx Blade 24
Read the Review
Chrome Soyuz
Chrome Soyuz
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Top Pick Award   
Street Price Varies $64 - $99
Compare at 3 sellers
$175$120$179
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $144 - $268
Compare at 3 sellers
Overall Score 
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Editors' Rating
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Simple design, well placed pockets, side access laptop compartment, great laptop sleeve, dozens of color options, u-lock sleeve, fits men and women.Simple and effective storage, storable shoulder straps, easily accessible external pockets, waterproof materials, large reflective strips, six removable and adjustable external attachment straps, lightweight.Simple design, well placed pockets, side access laptop compartment, durable materials, great laptop sleeve, u-lock sleeve, fits men and women.Sleek professional look, great document and laptop storage, exceptionally good external pockets and handles.Fully waterproof, extremely durable, easy access front pockets.
Cons Can be small for some people, no reflective material, u-lock only side pocket, customization is expensive.Some say it's too large for their needs, not sexy.Can be small for some people, back panel can be sweaty or slippery, u-lock only side pocket.Difficult to get large objects in and out of compartments, not waterproof.Heavy, sternum strap is poorly positioned for women, main compartment has small opening and is hard to organize, poor velcro closures on front pockets, no external side pocket, only one zippered pocket, poor fit for shorter people.
Best Uses The best all-purpose laptop bag.Bike commuting, people who carry lots of things.All-purpose wet weather bag.Active business commuterWe don't recommed this bag.
Date Reviewed Aug 24, 2011Aug 24, 2011Oct 16, 2011Aug 28, 2011Oct 11, 2011
Comfort - 15%
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Storage - 15%
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Versatility - 15%
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Laptop Protection - 15%
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Professional Look - 15%
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Water Resistance - 15%
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Durability - 10%
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Product Specs Timbuk2 Swig Cilo Gear City Pack Timbuk2 Light Bright Swig Arc'teryx Blade 24 Chrome Soyuz
Volume (L) 21 30 21 24 26
Dimensions (in.) 17.7 x 12.2 x 5.5 21 x 10 x 9 17.7 x 12.2 x 5.5 20 x 12 x 5 22 x 14 x 8
Weight (lb.) 1.9 2 2 2.9 3.1
Number of Compartments 2 1 2 2 2
Number of Large Pockets 0 2 0 1 4
Number of Small Pockets 1 1 1 3 3
Number of Zipper Pockets 2 3 2 4 1
Key Clip? Yes Yes
Reflective Material? Yes Yes
External Side Pocket U-lock only Yes U-lock only
Fits Laptop 15 in. 17 in. 15 in. 15 in. 17 in.
Available Colors 5 Black 2 Black, Brown Black
Available Sizes 1 2 1 1 1
Hip belt Removable
Sternum Strap Yes Yes
Waterproof Yes Yes Yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Timbuk2 Swig
$80
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Arc'teryx Blade 24
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Arc'teryx Blade 30
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North Face Surge
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Chrome Soyuz
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Timbuk2 Option
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Product Selection
We tested eight packs that represent the cream of the crop of the laptop backpack market. From large companies like North Face and Timbuk2 to much smaller outfits like Cilo Gear our mission was to provide a line up of products from various manufacturers. Here we hope to determine the best product for your everyday needs. One that accompanies you on whatever adventure you decide to embark upon. The challenge, as a reviewer, is that every person has a different lifestyle and therefore has different requirements for what they expect it should be able to endure. We addressed this problem by getting eight testers with completely different preferences, occupations and lifestyles, to test each laptop backpack for a week.

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Laptop backpacks at Lake Tahoe, California.
Credit: Max Neale

Backpack vs. Messenger
We found it challenging to choose between a backpack and messenger bag. Mostly, our testers found backpacks to be better for everything except for having near instant access to the packs contents. Check out our Messenger Bag Review for more details.

Criteria for Evaluation
We assessed each laptop backpack based on its durability, its professional style, storage, versatility, comfort, security and water resistance. All variables count equally. We also scored each contender based on how well it performed at various activities such as bicycling, walking, and hiking, and also in various environments like offices, airports, subways and costal day excursions.

Storage
Here we assessed each pack and its ability to serve as a vessel for our everyday necessities. We scored each bag on how much it could hold and how well. Was it possible to fit everything we thought were necessities and still remain organized? Would we still be able to get to the things we deemed most important easily, quickly and without frustration? We assessed how intrusive the amount of noise it made while accessing items just in case we might be somewhere where too much noise might be distracting to others? We also wanted to know if we could transport important documents without wrinkling them? Our highest rated backpack in this category was the Timbuk2 Swig, which represents the best blend of easy access, secure pockets, and logical compartments.

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The Timbuk2 Swig held these groceries with ease.
Credit: Max Neale
Comfort
Here we looked at how comfortable the pack was loaded with different amounts of weight and while performing different activities. We looked at shoulder straps, the inclusion or omission of rigid stays and sternum straps and back padding. We thought the North Face Surge was the most comfortable. It fits a variety of body types well and has very well padded shoulder straps. We also found that what is comfortable when walking is not necessarily comfortable when cycling. Our testers preferred semi-rigid support for walking and flexible padding for cycling. Our two top rated bags have flexible padding that remains comfortable regardless of the activity. The Arc'teryx Blade 24 and 30. with their semi-rigid removable stays, are the most comfortable for walking.

Security
Here we assessed how well the backpack protected our laptops from accidental drops and dirty floors which on occasion were wet. The winners in this category were the Arc'teryx Blade 24 and 30, both of which have a rigid hanging compartment that protects a computer on all sides. The bag with the worst protection is the Cilo Gear City Pack, which has a rudimentary foam insert.

Water Resistance
The Chrome Soyuz was the clear winner here. The least waterproof backpack was the North Face Surge. But, do you need a bag that's completely waterproof? Most people don't. But we think it's a very useful feature to have in case you get caught in an unexpected downpour.

Professional Look
This variable attempts to quantify how well each bag performed in a professional office environment. Could the bag enter a prestigious law firm unnoticed? (Answer: none could.) Each pack tested here was far from a traditional leather briefcase, but we ranked them based on how well they would perform in an environment where professional appearance mattered. Some companies, such as Timbuk2 and Rickshaw offer custom designs with your choice of over thirty colors and a variety of fabric types. While this allows you to express your individuality it doesn't necessarily make a bag look more professional. Our testers agreed that the most professional looking backpack was the Arc'teryx Blade 24.

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The Timbuk2 Swig performs well whether it's in downtown SF or in an alpine meadow.
Credit: Max Neale
Durability
We ranked each pack based on its ability to endure years of abuse. We looked at materials, buckles, straps, zippers, and velcro quality. After two months of constant use we found the Chrome Soyuz to be the most durable. None of the packs were exceptionally fragile.

Versatility
Here we assessed how well each pack adapted to different environments and activities. Could it go the office, gym, and grocery store all in one day? Was it comfortable for cycling and walking? Could the pack successfully store fragile documents and bulky, sharp objects at the same time? The Cilo Gear City Pack sprinted to the finish in this category. Its large capacity combined with adjustable attachment straps make this bag a sure winner for any and all activities.

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The Cilo Gear City Pack's removable side straps come in three different styles and contribute to the bag's versatility. Also note the large reflective strip, generous mesh side pocket, and accessory pockets under the cover.
Credit: Max Neale
Weight
Although weight isn't factored into our numerical ranking, it's an attribute worth discussing. A lighter bag is easier on your body and makes walking and cycling more enjoyable. Therefore, weight is something to consider when buying a bag that will hang from your body nearly everyday for the next ten or more years. Lighter bags are better!! Our two top rated backpacks, the Timbuk2 Swig and Cilo Gear City Pack weigh over a pound less than other bags with similar capacity E.G., the Chrome Soyuz. (This is due to their superior, more efficient design, and the fact that lighter bags are more comfortable.)

Editors' Choice Award: Timbuk2 Swig
Of the eight models tester here the clear Timbuk2 Swig is the winner, and recipient of our Editors' Choice Award. The Swig provides a durable, weatherproof, comfortable backpack with effective storage for small items, a versatile capacity, good looks, and an excellent built-in laptop sleeve. It's the ultimate conqueror of school, work, and play, and only costs $90.

Top Pick Award for Large Capacity: Cilo Gear City Pack
Taller people, those with broader shoulders, or those who demand a greater capacity should get the Cilo Gear City Pack ($175). With a 30 Liter capacity, customizable and removable attachment straps, and high quality materials the City Pack is the most versatile pack we've reviewed. Both of these bags are exceptionally comfortable and more versatile than messenger bags. You can't go wrong with either.

Chris McNamara and Max Neale
Buying Advice
How we Test
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Laptop Messenger and Backpack Buying Advice - Click for details
 Laptop Messenger and Backpack Buying Advice

by Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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