Sleek bags to haul your gear...just in time for Back-to-School 2013

On Thursday, August 15, 2013 0 comments

Each year about this time I go on a quest to perfect my "on the go" lifestyle by looking for the best ways to optimize what gear I need with me and the best way to bring it along. This year I've set out to pursue an almost minimalist approach to hauling my tech with me.

So let's talk about the stuff I want to bring with me on a day to day basis or for slightly longer trips.

Macbook Air 13" laptop - While I have the latest iPad, I still find that I need my laptop with me for a wide range of tasks. These tasks include "work stuff" like Excel, Word and Powerpoint documents, downloading my photos and organizing them via Apple's Aperture or iPhoto applications or any task that will require a good bit of typing such as detailed emails and the like.

I also typically have my iPad for web-surfing, watching a videos and engaging with the wide-range of apps I have onboard.

My daily "carry around" camera gear of choice today is the Sony RX1. My logic is if you are going to carry a camera, it needs to offer a substantial benefit over your smartphone's camera. This would include either meaningful image quality improvements through better imagining sensor or lens, speed of operation and/or better zoom. And as I've talked about the Sony before, it totally delivers on the sensor and lens category in spades.

And an assortment of cables and accessories. To keep the cables and chargers accessible but in their place I use the Grid-It organizer. Works great. 

So let's look through the bags I took through their paces over the past couple months to see what shook out.

Backpacks & Slings

Thule Crossover Sling Pack
I really wanted to like the Thule Crossover Sling Pack. It is extremely well engineered and quite attractive. It is good sized for this project...not too big and not too small. But I'd have to put this specific Thule bag in the category of design aesthetics over functionality. Several aspects of the bag just didn't sit well with me.

This product is a sling, a single cross the body strap design. I do like the concept of a sling as sometime I will have a Black Rapid camera strap over my other shoulder. But the Thule Sling strap was way too wide at the top of the shoulder for me. I felt it constantly rubbing against my neck or lifting up when I would move my arms.

But lets say you have very broad shoulders and like this well padded strap. The nice thing is there is a zipper compartment on the strap that "just barely" holds an iPhone 5. It really didn't hold my large Samsung phone though.

Other nice features included some well thought out layers of compartments. With my only real internal storage issue being that the oddly shaped bottom of the bag caused my Macbook to sit at an angle and sometimes shift within the bag during a day of walking around. Now the compartment for the laptop will hold a 13" notebook computer just fine and is nice and well padded. The exterior is water resistant fabric and comes in some very cool color schemes. I really love the exterior design, finish and aluminum hardware features. Exterior dimensions: 19.3in x 14in x 8.3in. Priced just under $100.

Pacsafe Camsafe Venture V16
I regularly talk about hauling camera gear when I am looking into bags and this bag affords me some greater flexibility in bringing any one of my cameras as well as the items mentioned above. Not only can I bring a laptop up to 13" housed in its own padded compartment, but the main compartment can accommodate an assortment of items based on how you configure it.

A novel aspect of the Pacsafe Camsafe Venture V16 is a side zippered opening that allows you to easily access an area designed to hold a digital SLR camera with addition accessories (lens, flash, etc.) that sits at the bottom of the main compartment. There are velcro walls which are adjustable to handle larger camera gear those walls can be removed to give you full access to the entire (16 liter) compartment for times you are not needing the larger camera gear. The main compartment also has a nice draw string divider that allows you to separate or hold down items to prevent movement.

Another thoughtful aspect of the Pacsafe products is their focus on security and safety. The V16 features they a slew of their anti-theft solutions including smart zippers that lock into place making it hard to simply open a zippered compartment, RFID blocking pockets to protect your wallet newer credit cards and passports that can be read electronically, the straps on the bag have slashproof carrysafe straps with metal wires within to prevent the bag from cut loose as well as eXomesh slashguards throughout the bags exterior to protect the contents from spilling out if the bag is torn or cut open.

The bag also has a front zipper compartment where you can locate the RFID blocking pocket, a place for pens and a secondary mesh storage compartment. You will also find a built-in rain cover, an option to house a 3 liter hydration bladder within the laptop storage area and an exterior side compression strap and stretch pocket for a water bottle or tripod.

As you can tell, this bag is quickly becoming my favorite for the times I travel with my larger camera gear while still maintaining a minimalistic profile. This bag measures 18.1in x 10in x 7.9in and is priced around $180. One of the larger bags I looked at but not too much larger to be bulky or inconvenient.

Messenger and Reporter Bags

Crumpler Skivvy (S)

I have had a ton of luck with Crumpler bags over the years and this year was no exception. I spent a good bit of time with their small Skivvy messenger bag and thoroughly enjoyed it. Like other Crumpler pieces I’ve reviewed before, their bags consistently provide a lightweight offering while still providing enough structure and padding to protect your valuable gear.

The Skivvy (S) included an easy to access front zipper compartment with a built-in organizer for your immediately accessible small items. As you continue inside the bag, you find a large velcro area as well as two smaller areas to hold your items securely. On top of all that, you get a padded 13-inch laptop sleeve area that also includes a velcro faster. Everything sounding protected and well organized? It sure is! The bright, clean interiors make it quite easy to locate what you are looking for.

The wide 50mm shoulder strap includes an air mesh shoulder pad to distribute the weight more evenly proved to be comfortable with my gear fully loaded into the bag. A clever handle is integrated into the back of the bag, which is well cushioned for one-handed carrying, but this handle is also a good size to slide onto your wheelie luggage.

The Skivvy is water resistant and includes oversized flaps with corner rain guards to protect your interior. Exterior dimensions are 14.1in x 11.4in x 3.9in. The Skivvy is also available in a Medium format for 15” laptops as well as a Large to accommodate those huge 17” notebook computers.

A Crumpler bag simply feels solid and well constructed. The small Skivvy is priced at $110.

STM Linear Small Laptop Bag
Love this bag! If I am out and about and need to travel super light but with my notebook, this is it! Laptop, iPad and accessories are not a problem as each has their own dedicated storage locations. One caveat is that the STM Linear Small Laptop Bag did not handle my entire gear set mentioned above and as such I needed to downshift my camera to my smaller Sony RX100 as the Sony RX1 was a bit too beefy and proved to be problematic...but everything else was great. 

The outer zipper pocket with nice soft fabric interior for some easy access items. Another immediately accessible zipper pocket inside which included storage compartments for pens, cards and other small items. In this inner pocket you also find a convenient key leash. And lastly, three dedicated pockets (laptop, tablet and accessories) make up the main interior space.

What makes this bag so great? A thought-out package for the person on the go featuring water resistant nylon, swivel mounted strap, wheeled bag strap on back, well constructed zippers and pockets throughout. A sleek and easy handling overall bag. 

The STM Linear's exterior dimensions: 13.9in x 10in x 3.1in and attractively priced at $65.

Note: There is a medium -sized option that will accommodate a 15" laptop available as well but this bag also wasn't really going to accommodate my mirrorless camera.

Tumi Alpha Bravo - Benning Deluxe Messenger

Another great messenger I had the pleasure to test out was made by Tumi. The Tumi Alpha Bravo - Benning Deluxe messenger is available in two shades of Tumi's well-regarded ballistic nylon and in an attractive Anthracite color I test drove which was made with a pretty durable polyester fabric.

You'll find several well thought out compartments throughout the bag. Including an exterior pocket on the outside face of the messenger flap. This outer section has a small holder for business cards and the like. My iPhone would fit but I found my larger Samsung S4 wouldn't go in the slot and allow the zipper to close. The phones did fit in the overall pocket...just not in the secure slot within.

Also on the outside is two side pockets. One is labeled as a water bottle pocket and the other similar pocket is called simply "the side pocket". 

When you open the flap, there is an exterior exposed pocket for some loose papers and the like and behind that is another zipper pocket with more organizers as well as your key leash. I do wish the key leash was in the outer zipper pocket to afford easier access though. I kept most of my accessories within this inner zippered compartment.

Then the main section is subdivided with an area for your laptop and the rest of your gear. I do wish the laptop section was "slightly padded" and there is not separate compartment for a tablet like I have found in many other bags (I stored both my iPad and Macbook in the laptop compartment with ease) but beyond that this bag hauled all my necessary gear and then some. The strap is thick and adjustable but does not have any of any padding. With my bag fully loaded, I still found it comfortable to carry all day.

Along the back is a zippered sleeve that allows you to open them and mount the bag on the handle of your wheeled luggage. Exterior dimensions are 15in x 12in x 4in. All this luxury comes with a steeper $275 Tumi price tag.


If I want to go really light with a small point and shoot camera, tablet and laptop, I would definitely rely on the STM Linear Small laptop bag! If needing to haul more gear like I mentioned above including a mirrorless-sized camera everyday, I would go with the Crumpler Skivvy product. The Crumpler is the right kind of durable for hauling everything you need, everyday. And when it comes to style with a bit of a professional appearance, I really enjoyed the Tumi Alpha Bravo - Benning Deluxe messenger. And lastly, I have found a new favorite for when I am hauling my full-sized Digital SLR camera and laptop...the Pacsafe Camsafe Venture V16.

I did look at some other bags but for various reasons they didn't strike as much of a cord with me as several mentioned above. The other bags including the Crumpler House of Horror did not enough storage compartment separation for my taste but love their naming convention and quality construction, STM Impulse backpack was a bit too big for what I was looking for but a wonderful, though well organized bag 15in laptop backpack, Booq Mamba Courier 11in laptop was too small but they make a more conventional slightly larger version I didn't receive which might have worked and I went through the very cool online custom ordering process from Timbuk2 but haven't received that item year. When I do, I will update the report to include my experience with it.

What am I taking to work tomorrow? The Tumi Alpha Bravo - Benning Deluxe messenger.

Which bag am I taking on my two-week trip to Europe? The Pacsafe Camsafe Venture V16.

LarryLarry Pacey, award-winning designer tracks the latest news on consumer products, electronics, appliances, smart devices, networking and the gadget lifestyle.For the latest news follow me on:

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Just my 2-cents,