The wheel is regarded as one of the landmark inventions, but for my money the guy that created the first bag was pretty damn smart.
Think about it: before the bag, humans could only schlepp what they could carry in their hands, and that’s not much if you’re a nomadic hunter-gatherer. But once you had a bag, once you had luggage, once you had a satchel, you could begin accumulating schwag. In a sense, the guy who invented the bag invented wealth.
Update on February 1, 2013: Speaking of wealth (and preserving it), eBags, the online retailer with perhaps the best selection of bags in the world, has a good deal right now: Click here to get 20% off plus free shipping on most orders over $49 at eBags.com.
We don’t know who got that first bright idea to make a bag (maybe it was a woman carrying twins) or what inspired it (maybe some guy observed a marsupial and thought “Heyyy…”) but we do know that bags have evolved into many designs, that they’re now made with a variety of both traditional and space-age materials, that industrial designers try to make them hip, and that just about every student in the world carries one.
If you’ve got stuff to carry with you, whether you’re a first-grader with too much homework or a world-renowned architect popping over to the gym during lunch time, a good bag is indispensable. I’ve gathered together some of the best bags, backpacks, satchels, messenger bags, and laptop bags here — they’re functional, stylish, and durable — and will also point you toward some of the best sources for all types of bags online.
Now, we know who makes the most use of backpacks and shoulder bags — students. And maybe you’ve just returned, or are about to return, to school. Isn’t it time to replace that frayed, drab-colored bag with something you’ll enjoy carrying? Here’s the first recommendation: a bag that firefighters, policemen, and military operatives use — the 5.11 Tactical backpack. You’ve got to know that if it meets military spec’s, it will protect your laptop and keep your books dry.
You can’t get a more rugged, practical bag for the money. One online reviewer wrote: “The compartments are PERFECT for storing a large-screen laptop and all the instructor materials needed for an EMS licensure class — it’s a bunch!” Use it during the week for school or work, then toss in a change of underwear and a few other essentials and use it as the perfect carryon on a weekend trip to see the folks. Or as a day-pack. Or heading into the wilds of Pakistan to capture Osama Bin Laden like that guy from Denver did.
You’ll note that many of the bags I link to here are available from eBags. EBags is the granddaddy of online pack/bag/luggage/handbag sources. They’ve got good prices, excellent customer service, and frequent special sales and deals. Plus, they’re currently offering free shipping on orders over $25. There are very few manufacturers they don’t carry. I’ve purchased a number of bags from eBags and have found them to be a well-run, reputable company. Plus, their eBags brand bags are quite decent and you can’t beat the price. When I went back to grad school, I used an eBag bag for a couple of years to lug around huge slag heaps of books.
When it comes to bags, I tend to like the messenger style, particularly the ones that can double as a briefcase. The bag I’m using right now is made by SOLO (yes, I got it from eBags). SOLO bags are thoughtfully-designed, well-constructed, and nice-looking. They’ve got lots of pockets, rugged materials, and handy details like grommets through which to thread the earphones of your audio device. Pictured at left is the SOLO Expandable Messenger bag — currently under $25 from eBags — a good choice for students. Check out the customer reviews for this bag on eBags.
Another cool option, particularly for business types, is the SOLO Vector 17″ Laptop Messenger bag. It’s got a padded compartment that will hold a laptop up to 17.3″ in size, another pocket for books, files, tools, candy bars, and whatnot, an organizer under the front flap for pens, biz cards, keys, and laptop accessories, a headphone pocket, and other handy features. That’s it to the right. And it’s currently discounted to only $39.99 at eBags.
The SOLO shoulder bags above will fit the bill, especially for those on a budget (like students who don’t go to, say, Johns Hopkins or USC). If you want to move up a bit in style and materials, check out the Hamptons Hybrid Laptop Bag by bbp. One of its claims to fame is that its carrying system will convert from a messenger style to a backpack style; customers report it as comfortable. It’s made of rugged ballistic nylon and has a limited lifetime warranty. It includes mesh water bottle holders and even a holder for your newspaper or umbrella. And a luggage pass-through that lets you rest it on top of your roller. Check it out at eBags — in particular, read the customer reviews. Fits 15-inch laptops.
If you need to haul bulkier stuff, you should consider the bbp Hybrid Hauler Book Bag. It’s a little more compact than the Hybrid Laptop Bag, but has greater interior depth (the laptop divider is less padded). Its nylon fabric is water-resistant and has a water-resistant backing. It’s also got the warranty. The Hybrid Hauler is also pretty cool-looking. There’s a reason bbp bags have been favorably reviewed by everyone from CNN Money to Bicycle.com — they work. You can check out the customer reviews at eBags.
Of course, in the midst of all these high-tech materials — Cordura, coil zippers, foam, fleece, etc. — some guys prefer leather. And for that, Kenneth Cole’s got what you need.
The Kenneth Cole Reaction line of bags and luggage has received the “Best of the Best” designation at eBags. That means that the average rating of these bags by customers is 9 out of 10, and 90% of customers would recommend them to a friend — in other words, high praise from unbiased sources. So explore the Kenneth Cole Reaction line (enter “Kenneth Cole Reaction” in the search bar and sort by “Customer Rating”). For example, the Kenneth Cole Reaction Columbian Leather Flapover Computer Case — a simple, stylish leather satchel that does just what you need it to with unflappable competence. It’ll hold a 15-inch laptop, plus a variety of business accessories and miscellaneous flat stuff. It’s got a 10-year warranty, and the tan, full-grain cowhide leather will set it apart at the airport from the anonymous horde of nylon carry-ons. Readthe reviews for the Kenneth Cole satchel and get it for the best price online.
And now for something completely different, materials-wise… The Alchemy Goods Pike Messenger Bag is made of recycled inner tubes, and the shoulder strap is made of a recycled seatbelt. How cool is that? Fortunately, you get good function along with your environmental form. The bag is waterproof, has multiple internal pockets, will hold up to a 14.5-inch laptop, and looks hip. Alchemy Goods stands behind their products with a lifetime warranty and, on top of that, you can get it from Bambeco, which also offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee. There aren’t many bags available that will function as a conversation-starter. This is one.
If you want to feel a little more secure with your bag, look no further than the Pacsafe CourierSafe 100, which is designed to protect your laptop (and data) as you’re transporting it around the mean streets. CNET’s reviewer gave this bag 4 out of 5 stars, praising its multiple security features. They stated: “Fortunately, peace of mind doesn’t have to mean lugging around a locked attaché case, as the CourierSafe 100 provides more protection than anyone other than a secret agent or industrial spy would need.” If you do happen to be an industrial spy, the Pacsafe offers ballistic nylon construction with metal wires woven inside the material (eXomesh® Slashguard) so some ne’er-do-well can’t slash the bag and get at your laptop. The shoulder strap is also slash-proof. There’s a combination lock so you can anchor the strap around an object and you can lock the zippers closed. The bag is pretty nice-looking, offers a thoughtful collection of interior and exterior pockets (the padded pocket will fit 15-inch laptops) and two water-bottle pockets. eBags currently has it for 20% off.
I don’t want to be accused of being too biased toward messenger bags (though I suppose I am), so let’s get back to a backpack style: Mountainsmith makes a number of excellent, purpose-focused packs and, if you like the daypack style, you can’t go wrong with the Explore 17-inch Laptop Backpack. This pack will carry your BIG laptop, plus books and accessories, and will do it comfortably. I’ve had a number of Mountainsmith packs and one thing that sets them apart is their ergonomic, balanced fit. If you’re tired of wearing a backpack that feels like it’s cutting your shoulders in half or will drag you over backward, try the Mountainsmith. My friends like them, too. And it’s got a lifetime warranty. eBags has the Explore 17-inch on sale right now for 20% off. Ideal for commuting, road warriors, and students.
Crumpler’s line of bags is well-known for being both stylish and well-made. If you want a good, functional messenger bag with a number of interesting color options, try the Crumpler The Barney Rustle Blanket. Everything you need, nothing you don’t, plus coolness. And if you’re a photographer, check out the Crumpler line of camera bags, such as The 7 Million Dollar Home.
Actually, if you’re an actual messenger or bike commuter — i.e., you ride your bike a lot while carrying stuff — there are only a few manufacturers that are dedicated to the proposition that a high-quality messenger bag is not only desirable, it’s a necessity. One of them is Chrome. They are legendary among cyclists and they’ve branched out into a number of other types of packs and products (including clothing and shoes). For any biking/urban commuting/vagabond world exploration situation, Chrome has a product to cover it. For example, the Berlin Bag, part of their Professional Series. One customer wrote in his review of this bag: “I’ve carried bundles of firewood, cases of beer, small children, even other bikes with this bag.” You cannot go wrong with Chrome’s products.
So that should about do it for your daily bag needs. Of course, if you need a bag for a specialized purpose — to carry your CDs, say, or your snowboard — eBags has you covered there, too. You might wonder about some brands I haven’t mentioned. Timbuk2, for example, or Dakine — both popular names in the marketplace. I find Timbuk2 bags not as protective or as thoughtfully-designed as some of the products I’ve highlighted. I wouldn’t want to use one in the rain, for example, and, for the price, they’re rather simplistic. Dakine bags are okay but I don’t find them as comfortable to carry as certain others. I’ve singled out the best above. If you like Dakine, however, eBags often has them for a good discount.
There is one more manufacturer I want to mention, though: Tom Bihn. Tom’s got a relatively modest operation in Seattle, but his bags are second to none. Legendary quality, material, and functionality. Like a lot of the companies here, he started making bags for himself because he couldn’t find any that satisfied him. He’s been doing it for over 20 years. I happened to go to high school with Tom and he was always a creative kid, marching to his own drummer. Our school association is not why I’m mentioning his company, though. It’s because you won’t find a better bag. Unless, maybe, you learn to make one yourself. (He has a retail store in Seattle and you can also buy his bags online. I don’t have an affiliate relationship with Tom, by the way. Wish I did.)
I’ll finish this review how I started — by reminding you that you carry important stuff in your bag or backpack and you should get the best bag you can to protect it. Plus, a top-rated bag will work with your body rather than against it to keep you comfortable and able to carry on for a long while. With respect to these criteria, the bags from 5.11 Tactical are some of the best you can get. So, just a reminder to check them out, too, by clicking the banner below.
Schlepp well, my friend.