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Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase Review

Transitions seamlessly from backpack to messenger to briefcase.
Topo Designs Mountain 13L
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $169 List
Pros:  Versatile, durable, stylish, fun to use
Cons:  Not weatherproof, less classic messenger design
Manufacturer:   Topo Designs
By Penney Garrett & Lyra Pierotti  ⋅  Aug 21, 2019
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81
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 8
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Packing & Organization - 25% 8
  • Electronics - 15% 9
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7
  • Wear & Tear - 10% 8
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 10% 6

Our Verdict

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.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award   
Price $169 List$169.00 at REI$80 List$57.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$120.00 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
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Pros Versatile, durable, stylish, fun to useWaterproof, comfortable, lightweight, highly durable, ambidextrous shoulder strapCompact, lightweight, customization options, simpleDurable, comfortable, simple but thoughtful storage, customizableDurable, weatherproof, comfortable
Cons Not weatherproof, less classic messenger designTips over easily when set down, doesn't have very many pockets, expensiveToo small for large laptops, no padding, must purchase laptop/tablet protection separatelyMinimal features for electronicsHeavy for size, no top grab handle, less versatile
Bottom Line Transitions seamlessly from backpack to messenger to briefcase.This sleek, comfortable, and lightweight bag is highly durable and weatherproof with minimal yet thoughtful features.This messenger bag is very small and lightweight, and useful for trips with a tablet and a few items.A great messenger bag but has a lot of thoughtful competition in the industry.This is an excellent, rugged, and stylish messenger bag that is on the heavier and bulkier side.
Rating Categories Mountain Briefcase Arc'teryx Granville 10 Tom Bihn Daylight Briefcase Timbuk2 Classic Chrome Mini Metro
Comfort (25%)
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
8
Packing & Organization (25%)
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
6
Electronics (15%)
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
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7
10
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6
10
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5
Ease Of Use (15%)
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
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9
10
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6
10
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6
Wear & Tear (10%)
10
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8
10
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9
10
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7
10
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6
10
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10
Volume To Weight Ratio (10%)
10
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6
10
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8
10
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8
10
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7
10
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6
Specs Mountain Briefcase Arc'teryx... Tom Bihn Daylight... Timbuk2 Classic Chrome Mini Metro
Measured weight (pounds) 2.26 1.15 0.99 2.19 2.39
Measured volume (L) 13 10 8 16 14
OGL Volume/Weight Ratio 5.75 8.69 8.1 7.3 5.85
Dimensions (inches) 13 x 11 x 4.5 in 16 x 10.5 x 5 14 x 10 x 4 14.6 x 12.2 x 7.1 20 x 12 x 7
Shoulder preference Either & both w/ backpack straps Either Either Either Left
Number of Compartments 1 1 1 2 1
Number of Large Pockets 1 2 5 6 2
Number of Small Pockets (i.e. sleeves for pens, thin items) 3 0 0 4 3
Number of Zipper Pockets 2 2 3 3 1
Key Clip? No Yes Yes Yes No
Reflective Material? No No No No Yes on straps
External Side Pocket No No No No No
Sleeve Fits Laptop Yes - 15 inch Yes - 12 inch Yes - 13 inch Yes - 15 inch Yes, not padded
Stabilizing Cross Strap No, has backpack straps Yes No Yes Yes
Available Sizes One Size 10L and 16L One Size XS, S, M, L One Size
Size tested One Size 10L One Size Medium One Size

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison


The Mountain Briefcase is a messenger bag first but transforms into a backpack in a flash for impressive versatility and comfort.
The Mountain Briefcase is a messenger bag first but transforms into a backpack in a flash for impressive versatility and comfort.

Comfort


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.

Scoping our next adventure on the map with the Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase.
Scoping our next adventure on the map with the Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase.

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.

The bag transitions easily from messenger to briefcase to backpack for customized comfort according to the activity at hand. Our only quibble is the somewhat awkward buckle attachment at the bottom of the backpack straps.
The bag transitions easily from messenger to briefcase to backpack for customized comfort according to the activity at hand. Our only quibble is the somewhat awkward buckle attachment at the bottom of the backpack straps.

Packing/Organization


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.

The Topo Designs bag is rectangular in shape but soft and large enough to handle a pretty impressive haul of stuff. We also like the external straps for bulky items like a jacket.
The Topo Designs bag is rectangular in shape but soft and large enough to handle a pretty impressive haul of stuff. We also like the external straps for bulky items like a jacket.

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.

The Topo Designs bag has thoughtful  useful features throughout like the laptop-securing strap and the external attachment points for bulky items.
The Topo Designs bag has thoughtful, useful features throughout like the laptop-securing strap and the external attachment points for bulky items.

Electronics


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.

The Mountain Briefcase handles electronics and office supplies well but also accommodates gym clothes and other bulkier items. Just don't get caught in the rain.
The Mountain Briefcase handles electronics and office supplies well but also accommodates gym clothes and other bulkier items. Just don't get caught in the rain.

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.

A highly versatile model with stashed backpack straps and a removable shoulder strap.
A highly versatile model with stashed backpack straps and a removable shoulder strap.

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.

The Mountain Briefcase is not suited for wet environments -- the zippers leak readily. Otherwise  it is a very durable bag.
The Mountain Briefcase is not suited for wet environments -- the zippers leak readily. Otherwise, it is a very durable bag.

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.


Value


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.

This model is more rectangular than a classic messenger bag  making it well suited to electronics and office or school supplies. It is large and supple enough to accommodate other items as well.
This model is more rectangular than a classic messenger bag, making it well suited to electronics and office or school supplies. It is large and supple enough to accommodate other items as well.

Conclusion


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.

The Mountain Briefcase is stylish  versatile  and durable.
The Mountain Briefcase is stylish, versatile, and durable.


Penney Garrett & Lyra Pierotti