The Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase challenges the limits of what a messenger bag can be. It keeps pace with this evolving category of personal bags by adding backpack straps and briefcase handles. Instead of trying to make the side strap system more comfortable with a cross-body strap in traditional messenger fashion, you can deploy the backpack straps and ride in comfort. The bag is suited to many uses, from your daily commute to light hiking. It is durable and well organized for all kinds of adventures, both urban and mountain town, many modes of travel, and over many miles of terrain, so it's no wonder that it sailed to the top of the pack and grabbed our coveted Editors' Choice award.
Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase Review
Cons: Not weatherproof, less classic messenger design
Manufacturer: Topo Designs
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Mountain Briefcase redefines comfort in the messenger bag category by morphing into a backpack or briefcase to fit your needs and environment. If you're hopping on a bike or trotting up a trail, unclip the shoulder strap and deploy the backpack straps hidden in the sleeve on the back of the bag. Instead of fussing with a cross-body strap like a typical messenger, the backpack straps allow you to toss the bag on your back and carry on in balanced comfort. Moving through crowded public transport? Grab the briefcase handles to reduce your bulk and slip through the masses at your train stop.
The straps, whether shoulder or backpack, are very comfortable. They are wide and the padding slender but soft. The back of the Mountain has a padded sleeve for your laptop or tablet which also adds comfort for your back and side. It's firm enough to provide structure, like a soft briefcase, and supportive enough to carry well while molding to your body and padding your electronics.
The messenger bag category is far from purist in modern designs, but our bike commuting reviewers increasingly prefer the standard backpack design for comfort on their ride. This messenger bag/briefcase/backpack addresses the needs of the modern messenger bag enthusiasts, giving you one bag to replace them all.
Topo Designs provides a well-balanced array of packing and organization features in their Mountain Briefcase. It has a padded laptop sleeve with a velcro strap and several internal pockets to organize your cords, pens, and small notebooks. The internal pockets are relatively minimal and maximally useful. There are just enough and not too many.
The only other pocket is a large zippered one on the front of the bag. There aren't any dividers or pockets within pockets here, making it useful for a variety of things. This pocket works best when the bag isn't overstuffed, and it's always easy to access thanks to extra-large, smooth zippers.
Topo created this model to facilitate organization that doesn't overwhelm you with choices and excess features. It's clear they thought through and tested this bag extensively to refine the features, making it simple, streamlined, useful, and fun.
This messenger bag is ready for all of your electronics needs. The padded laptop sleeve accommodates laptops up to 15 inches, and the internal pockets work well for pens as well as small charger cables. Larger laptop charging cables fit in the main compartment or large external zippered pocket.
The laptop sleeve is no more waterproof than the main zipper, which is not weatherproof at all. If it's raining heavily, your electronics will get wet after a few minutes in this bag. This is likely a side effect of a company that hails from Colorado instead of the Pacific Northwet. But if you keep a compact umbrella in the bag (which fits comfortably), or if it's just a few drops of rain, you will be fine. For those who regularly commute in the rain with a laptop, this might not be a smart choice.
Ease of Use
The Mountain Briefcase redefines ease of use in this review. It transitions between briefcase, messenger bag, and backpack, allowing you to adapt to changing travel conditions in a matter of moments and with just a couple clicks of a buckle. Once loaded up for travel, the bag is also effortless to carry, and the pockets make it easy to access your items. Topo Designs uses high-quality materials, including large and smooth zippers with extended zipper pulls that add to the style as well as the utility of the bag. The main zipper has two zipper pulls, allowing you to open it from either end.
The one feature that isn't effortless is the buckle that attaches the bottom of the backpack straps to the pack when you transition to backpack mode. These have a metal loop that hooks over the plastic, but it's fiddly and difficult to open and close. Overall, the Mountain Briefcase is useful and easy to use due to its carrying options and streamlined features, but this one aspect isn't the best.
Wear and Tear
This bag is built to last. Topo products have a lifetime warranty, and the company has a repairs program for damaged goods to be rehabilitated. We didn't envision a time when we would need to take advantage of it, however. They claim to "overbuild" their products, and we saw this to be true. The craftsmanship is outstanding: simple and robust. The zippers, materials, stitching, straps, and clips are all extra burly without sacrificing style.
For our weather test, we put the Mountain Briefcase, fittingly, out in a mountain environment. We let it sit on a snowbank during a springtime rain-and-slush-storm in Alaska. The zippers are not waterproof at all, and our belongings that were near that weak point got wet. We docked some points here for this reason. The material itself, however, proved to be waterproof and very durable. After over a month of testing in rugged urban, rural, and mountain environments, the bag still looked sharp. The implementation of 1000 denier Cordura nylon and thick leather help this bag stand the test of time. As it ages, we look forward to the leather on the pack earning a bit of character and a unique look of its own.
Volume to Weight Ratio
This messenger is not the lightest bag for its capacity, weighing in at 2.3 pounds. This stems from the leather and rugged 1000 denier Cordura. The manufacturer claims the volume of this bag is 13 liters, and our measurements confirm that. We didn't penalize the Mountain too much in this category, but it's clearly not its strongest metric.
The Mountain is more expensive than most of the messenger bags in our review, but its ability to switch into a backpack and also function like a briefcase make it an investment worth the cost. This is a pack that will last a lifetime if you keep it going with Topo's lifetime warranty and repair programs.
The Mountain Briefcase is an excellent messenger and so much more. It morphs into a backpack and moonlights as a soft briefcase. We gave this bag our highest accolade for a solid performance across all metrics and its unique versatility. It is not a classic messenger, but who needs to be put in a box? Topo Designs took the best of the messenger style and added features to make it more comfortable and broadly useful without detracting from the utility of the messenger as a simple over-the-shoulder courier bag.
— Penney Garrett & Lyra Pierotti