Patagonia's new Arbor keeps the same basic look and shape but has lost the leather patches on the sides. The front zipper pocket now runs horizontally instead of diagonally. Barring these changes and some color updates, everything else remains largely the same. Compare the two packs below, with the new one pictured first.
We link to the new version above. The review below, however, refers to our experience with the older version.
Hands-On Review of the Arbor
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.
The Arbor and the Command out on the town.
The empty main compartment of the Arbor with a 15 inch laptop inside. It is well secured, but very light padding provides little protection. The top-loading design makes a large main compartment.
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.
The laptop pocket with an 11 inch laptop inside. Lots of room for movement and not much padding. This was one of the least protective systems in the tests we did, and places it securely in the category of "backpack which can also carry a laptop."
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 pack is not the best for walking around all day or moving over uneven terrain.
The thin soft foam back provides little structure. It has old school and minimalist shoulder straps, but is still pretty comfortable.
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.
This pack has a large top-loading compartment and functions as a good daypack. Also visible is a 15-inch computer secured in the compartment with a strap.
Check out all the features and storage of this laptop backpack by watching this video
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 detail 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 into the bag.
The DWR coating is effective and the top flap covers the large opening well. It was one of the more water resistant backpacks in our shower test.
If you like a timeless design, this is one of the most stylish bags we tested with a throwback rucksack design. 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 fits in perfectly at the coffee shop. Our Top Pick for Style works well for daily around-town use and light outdoor use.
The Arbor has a retail price of $99. This figure 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.
We tested eight packs, including the Patagonia Arbor on the left and Timbuk2 Command on the right. Two members of our testing team head in for a morning of work at the library.
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.