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It’s OK to be off-kilter. The slanty straps of Timbuk2’s Outtawhack Day Pack feel odd for about the first five minutes, then they feel just fine.
If you’d told us before we put it on that our favorite backpack would be Timbuk2’s Outtawhack Day Pack, we probably would have looked at you funny. “Outta whack” neatly describes the orientation of this bag, which can be used as a backpack or messenger bag. We’re not sure how Timbuk2 hit on the slanty design - it’s tilted about 45 degrees from straight up and down on your back - but once we got used to it after a few minutes, we understood its appeal. The design offers much easier access to your laptop and other gear stashed inside the bag, particularly when you hang it on one shoulder. Extra touches, like an iPod pocket that leaves the clickwheel accessible, and back padding that’s plenty cushy, will appeal to office workers and urban hipsters alike.
The Incase Rip-Stop Backpack has a totally different look, but offers almost as many perks. The only downside is its inherent bulkiness - there’s no way to collapse it inward if a ’Book is all you’re carrying. But for people who always have more to lug, it’s a sleek, comfortable, ultra-lightweight option. It’s got the best back padding of all the packs we looked at, and excellent venting for a more comfortable experience on hot days. In the same modern design category, but with yet another twist, you’ve got the be.ez LE Bag Bronze. Although it sort of looks like a giant tongue, it’ll feel comfy for almost anyone except very small-framed people, thanks to the generous back cushion. And like the Rip-Stop Backpack, the LE Bag Bronze affords your ’Book excellent protection.
Moving to a more outdoorsy style, the Brenthaven Expandable Trek is dripping with pockets and compartments - and then some. The trick with this pack is remembering where you stashed stuff. Your notebook is nicely protected with padding, but we wish there was a tab or closure of some to secure the ’Book in its slot. Similarly, the STM Medium Evolution offers lots of cargo room, ample laptop protection, and a similar expandable exterior “pocket” made from bungee cord. Too bad the some of the materials used on this pack - particularly the faux-suede tabs attached to the bungee cord - feel cheap and prone to wearing out.
Yay for the headphone pass-through on Brenthaven’s Expandable Trek!
If the pack you need has to hold a lot but offer a more buttoned-down look and functionality, Shaun Jackson Design’s BackOffice could be your answer. The BackOffice is a mobile workstation for your 15-inch MacBook Pro that also holds accessories, paperwork, an iPod, and even optical discs in handy slots. Without anything in it, the BackOffice weighs almost 6 pounds - so it’s not for the faint of heart or weak of shoulders. At $149.95, it’s no small investment either.
If you’ve already spent some time shopping for a notebook pack, you’ve no doubt run into the David and Goliath scenario: Some bags are huge, heavy, and a bit oafish, and some are tiny but powerful. Seeing the BBP Medium Hamptons bag next to PacSafe’s MetroSafe 300 recalls the age-old story, and both bags have strengths and weaknesses. There’s nothing very “medium” about the Hamptons pack, a truly humongous bag with a unique design. It’s not a traditional backpack, but it converts from a shoulder bag to one you can carry “on your bum” (as the company likes to say). It’s got enough pockets and pouches to stash anything you have to bring with you, although some pockets close with a metal button - not very practical. Because it uses the same strap for either “mode,” the strap ends up being way too long in messenger mode. The MetroSafe 300, in comparison, is oh-so-petite, and indeed the one we looked at is meant for 13-inch MacBooks only. But like its larger PacSafe cousin, the CourierSafe 100, its exclusive security features make it a good choice for students or people who want to safeguard their ’Books against theft.
The BBP Medium Hamptons bag converts in seconds to a low-slung backpack from a messenger-style bag.
Finally, if all you need is a compact but well-designed bag to tote up to a 15-inch MacBook Pro, look at The Buzz from Tom Bihn. It’s a slim and lightweight sling-style bag that’s so skinny you won’t have to take it off on the bus or subway to avoid bashing into everyone around you. Extras like strap for an umbrella and a way to cinch one side in or out depending on what else you’re carrying are a nice touch. Too bad it’s so pricey ($120).