Bargain laptop backpacks

IF YOU’RE STILL rocking that well-worn backpack with the dodgy zipper that saw you through high school or uni, it may be high time to consider an upgrade. Bags with dedicated laptop compartments used to be the sole domain of tech accessory brands, however the prevalence of mobile technology has seen many mainstream manufacturers incorporate this as a near-standard feature, including the likes of North Face, Osprey and Pelican.

What this means is that you no longer need to have separate bags to carry your laptop and daily gear — you can combine the two functions into the one bag. The added bonus of a backpack with a laptop compartment is that it’ll typically sport a number of other pockets that can accommodate your tablet, smartphone, portable battery, hard drive, headphones, and numerous accompanying chargers and cables — while still having enough room left over for your gym gear.

While most laptop bags have an overtly masculine quality to them — which echoes the trend of backpacks in general — there are an increasing number of options available for women who want something a little more stylish for carrying their notebook.


Osprey Tropos


WHETHER YOUR ADVENTURES take you to the boardroom or the outback, the versatile Osprey Tropos has got you covered. It boasts 32 litres of storage, with no less than three compartments — each with multiple pockets for organising gear — and two side pockets for carrying a drink bottle and umbrella.

What we love about the Osprey Tropos is how thoughtfully it’s designed. The zippered vertical pocket on the front, for instance, is perfect for stashing running shoes or sweaty gym clothes that are a bit on the nose, while the laptop compartment is suspended above the bottom of the bag, with a hard wire frame beneath to absorb shock.

The Osprey feels like it’ll age with a George Clooney-like grace, retaining its handsome good looks even when it starts to look a little wrinkled. It can be worn comfortably for extended periods thanks to the well-padded straps, and if you’re packing a lot, you can take advantage of both waist and sternum straps to distribute the weight more evenly across your body. There’s also a floating mesh panel on the back to keep your back cool.


STM Grace Pack


YOU WON’T FIND too many laptop backpacks designed specifically for women, so the STM Grace is a refreshing change of pace for those who prefer this form factor.

Available in two attractive colour schemes — dark purple and night sky — it’s a compact carrier that can accommodate most 15-inch laptops, a tablet, and your various other daily bits and pieces. While you can fit a pair of running shoes in there, it’s a tight squeeze that won’t leave room for much else.

There are two deep pockets on the front, with individual sections in the top one for stashing your phone, pens, keys and portable battery charger. There’s also a ‘CableReady’ system that promises to be an ‘innovative cable routing solution’ — but it’s really just a reinforced hole between the front pocket and main compartment for passing a charging cable through.

One thing the Grace Pack isn’t short on is style. In addition to the attractive yet understated exterior, there’s a faux fur lining in the laptop compartment that looks and feels luxurious.


STM Kings


WITH NO LESS than 12 different pockets and two main compartments, the STM Kings is optimised for travelling packrats. You’ll have no problem stashing a full day’s worth of kit inside its depths, with plenty of room left over for your overnight accoutrement. It even comes with a separate pencil case-style bag that you can use for storing chargers, cables, or toiletries.

Here, the CableReady system — which was halfheartedly attempted in its Grace Pack stablemate — makes a lot more sense. By sticking a portable battery pack in the designated pocket, you can route charging cables into the top and bottom pockets on the front of the bag, as well as to the rear compartment, taking advantage of the handy hooks along the sides to keep your cables from getting tangled or caught on things.

The only thing stopping it from being the perfect backpack is its lack of open side pockets. While there are zippered pockets on each side, which can just squeeze in a water bottle and collapsible umbrella, they’re not as accessible as the standard open pockets.


Code Republic Danielle Luxe Tech Handbag


YOU WON’T SEE the word ‘luxury’ being used to describe a laptop bag too often, but it’s entirely appropriate in the case of Code Republic’s range. Designed specifically for women, the collection consists of premium handbags made from high-quality leather.

The Danielle model boasts a lovely tan-coloured pebble leather exterior, rose gold accents, and a bright green-and-blue cotton lining. Inside, there’s a pocket that fits a 13-inch laptop, a smaller section for a tablet, and various other pockets and holders. We’re disappointed that it can’t fit a larger 15-inch MacBook in the laptop compartment, but you can stow one in the main section if needed.

It’s beautifully designed and decently-priced for what it is, and there’s no doubt many professional women will be relieved to find a laptop-carrying option that doesn’t make them look like a uni student or hiker. Note that it’s slightlytoo big to replace your everyday handbag. If you’re using this for work, be prepared to have a second, smaller handbag for when you don’t need to carry a laptop around.


Pelican MBP25


PELICAN HAS AN excellent reputation for providing military-grade protection in the great outdoors, so it’s no surprise that the US-based company recently turned its attention to laptop bags.

The new Mobile Protect Backpack range consists of ultra-rugged 1000D nylon shells in three different sizes, but the main distinguishing factor is the water-resistant coating. While most bags offer some modicum of protection from the elements, Pelican’s new bags are designed to keep your pricey electronics dry even in the middle of a rain shower. Another point of difference is the loop-and-lock zipper pull system, which is essentially a loop that you can clip the zipper into to make life a lot harder for pick pockets.

The MBP25 is the middle child of the lineup, and it’s deceptively light and compact, able to accommodate a spacious 25L of storage. There’s no shortage of pockets, including a well-padded laptop section that can fit notebooks up to 15-inches, a vertical pocket on the front and a small zippered pocket on the top that could stash your phone or sunglasses.


Incase City Compact Backpack


NOT EVERYONE NEEDS a million pockets in their backpack. If you’re after something that’s smaller, simpler, yet easy on the eyes, the Incase City Compact is an excellent option.

A single main compartment houses the well-padded laptop pocket with a luxurious faux fur lining — perfect for babying your 15-inch MacBook or other notebook. The same plush fleece lining is present in the top pocket, which is large enough to stash your wallet and smartphone. Alas, the iPad compartment — which sits in the outer front pocket — doesn’t get the same royal treatment. Once your electronics are stowed in the bag, there’s still quite a lot of room in the main compartment — enough to stash gym gear, if you’re that way inclined.

Available in multiple colour options, we reviewed the latter option and liked how the distinctive colour was consistently repeated throughout the entire backpack. In any case, we appreciate having a more feminine colour option in a sea of quite masculine looking laptop bags.


Belkin Active Pro Backpack


THE ACTIVE PRO isn’t going to turn heads, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re travelling through dodgy areas, having a nice-looking bag — particularly one that’s obviously made for laptops — can make you a target for nefarious characters.

The Belkin is all about practicality, with plenty of pockets for stashing your various bits and pieces. There are no less than three zippered compartments on the front, deep pockets on either side for stashing drink bottles and umbrellas, a secret zippered pocket on the rear, and a mesh pocket inside.

The unique, knapsack-style opening means everything goes into the bag from the top. This can be annoying if you’ve got something right at the bottom that you need to grab quickly, but it shouldn’t be an issue if you take advantage of the numerous outer pockets. The spacious main compartment comes with padded areas for a 15.6-inch laptop and smaller tablet or e-reader, and it can comfortably accommodate gym gear or a change of clothes.


Booq Daypack


THE BOOQ DAYPACK is deceptively compact. It doesn’t look like it can fit much, but it accommodates a 15.6-inch notebook in the dedicated laptop pocket, along with a spacious 19L main compartment. You’ll have to dig around a bit in there to find your various bits and pieces, but there are enough pockets — one on the front, two on the sides, and three inside — for you to organise things you need to access quickly.

The top-mounted zipper opening of the Daypack’s main compartment is a little unusual, resulting in a flap that needs to be opened in order to get to the bag’s contents. But it’s not a bad thing. Because the two zipper pulls sit quite close to the back of your neck, it makes pick pocketing far more difficult.

As with other Booq bags, the Daypack comes with a Terralinq serial number, which you can register against your details in case you lose your bag and someone’s kind enough to want to return it. The effectiveness of such a system is questionable — we’re looking forward to the day you can track lost backpacks the same way as a missing phone.


Incase Reform Tensaerlite Backpack


INCASE’S REFORM TENSAERLITE Backpack sports a curious design that we liked and loathed in equal measure. On the one hand, it boasts a unique, compression-moulded laptop cage that’s specifically designed for the 15” MacBook Pro — so much so that it fits like a glove, with exceptionally thick padding opposite that keeps it protected from all sides.

This is great if you have that one model of laptop — as we do — but not so great if you’re rocking one of the hundreds of other notebooks on the market. Other compartments include two zippered pockets on either side (one of which features a soft, faux fur lining for storing your smartphone and other gadgets), and an internal pocket for your tablet.

Another polarising aspect of the Reform is the location of the single compartment’s opening, which is closer to the rear of the bag than normal. This results in quite a large ‘roof’ overhanging the front flap that means you need to work harder to get to the bag’s contents — a design choice that left us baffled.


Booq Cobra Squeeze


YOU KNOW A bag’s getting a bit on in its years when the dedicated phone pocket can’t fit your current plus-sized smartphone — as was the case with the 3-year-old Booq Cobra Squeeze, which couldn’t accommodate our Galaxy Note 8. Admittedly, the Note was able to ‘squeeze’ in (sorry) when we took its case off, but we prefer to keep our thousand dollar devices fully clothed as much as possible.

There are plenty of other pockets where you can keep your mobile devices and other easy-access items on the Cobra Squeeze, including a zippered vertical pocket on the front — although this one lacks the plush lining found in the dedicated phone pocket.

We don’t know if Booq was being a bit tongue-in-cheek when it called this bag the Cobra ‘Squeeze’, but things actually are a bit of a tight fit. Despite its size, it can only hold 12.9L worth of stuff. The laptop sleeve is designed to fit a 15.4-inch laptop, but the top of our 15-inch MacBook was butting heads with the top of the backpack — so much so that an SD card sticking out of the MacBook was in danger of getting snapped off.