The Patagonia Arbor is about style and durability. It's not about lots of features or ultimate comfort. It's also not cheap. But we've been using it for over four years, taking it around the world, and still use it every day. It's a classic that should last a decade. That said, for only another $10, you can get the Editor's Choice Osprey Flapjack that scored much higher and, for some, might take the cake in style.
Patagonia Arbor Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Looks good, stylish, large single compartment makes it a versatile daypack
Cons: Very little protection for your laptop, few organizational features
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Patagonia Arbor looks terrific. It is the antithesis of techy bags from The North Face, which are function-forward backpacks but that fall short in the appearance department. Honestly, the Arbor is a great pack that would surely rank much higher in most categories if this review was not specifically about laptop backpacks.
This pack protects your laptop enough - but just barely. The padding is thin, and you don't want to throw it around carelessly. Patagonia's website points out that if you don't carry your laptop you can use the pocket as an insulated water bladder holder instead, and we think that this may be a better use of this design.
This model is one of the more comfortable bags we tried. The straps are simple but cush. It's only when you completely load it up and walk around all day that it becomes uncomfortable. There is no sternum strap, and the waist strap is thin. This is not the best pack for walking around all day or moving over uneven terrain.
The storage is simple: one outside pocket and one lid pocket. It's enough for basic organization. But there are no pockets for business cards, pens or anything of that size. It's perfect for people who specifically don't want too many extra zippers or pockets.
Ease of Use
Because the pack is so basic, it's also easy to use. Getting the laptop in and out is quick. The best feature is the ability to latch a big jacket under the lid. This allows you to travel with a big parka and easily carry it when it gets hot. There are leather patches that allow you to lash extra items to the side with webbing, but these are mostly for style. We never found them all that practical to use.
The Patagonia Arbor did very well in our water resistance test. It has a protective polyurethane layer and a durable water resistant (DWR) coating, both of which do an adequate job of repelling water. That said, by the end of the two-month testing period our model showed signs of beginning to wet out, meaning the DWR coating was already wearing off. There are only two zippers on the outside of this bag, and they are both very well covered by protective flaps. The top flap adequately covers the large top opening, although we feel that in prolonged exposure to heavy rain, water could find its way in.
If you like a timeless design, this is one of the most stylish bags we tested with a throwback rucksack design. The Osprey Flapjack is a more modern stylish pack, which comes down to personal preference. What is clear, is that the Arbor has a timeless design. It works just about anywhere from the mountains to cities. The colors are generally low key and muted.
The Arbor has a retail price of $99. This is in the middle of the price range. It's expensive for its limited functionality. The Timbuk2 Rouge is a comparable bag that includes almost the same set of features and scored a little higher, but is $20 cheaper. However, with Patagonia's Ironclad Guarantee standing behind this product, we doubt you will end up disappointed.
The Patagonia Arbor is one of the best-looking bags that we tested, and we believe that style matters. It's a highly functional backpack for most uses, especially in the outdoors. However, if protecting your laptop or keeping your school or work things organized is your top priority, then the Arbor is not a great selection for you. Functionality also matters. But in the end, when faced with a box full of backpacks and asked to pick one out to use for a day, most of our testers reached for the Arbor first.
— Andy Wellman