What’s the best bag for traveling when you’ve got a lot of tech to carry? This is not a product decision that can be made by looking at spec sheets. Different people carry different amounts of gear, but more importantly, different people organize differently, or want their travel accessories to look a certain way: stylish, or stealth, or perhaps business-warrior.
All the editors and writers at Yahoo Tech have their own preferred carry-on bags. Here’s what we pack when we hit the road. We think you can tell a lot about our personalities by our choices.
This messenger bag is comfortable to wear, holds a lot, and doesn’t look terribly out of place with a sport coat. Most importantly, it’s TSA-friendly. The laptop compartment unzips on three sides and hinges out from the main bag so you can lay the whole thing flat in the airport scanner. You don’t have to remove your laptop. And since it’s “hinged” at the top, when you pick up the bag by the handle, the whole thing just kind of falls back into the right configuration and you can zip it back together later. Other, inferior TSA-compliant bags hinge at the bottom, so the laptop section falls downward. If you’ve forgotten to zip the laptop compartment closed and this happens, your computer will fall onto the floor.
Who else uses this bag? David Pogue. In 2012, while at the New York Times, he also wrote about this great carry-on.
What could be better: Those nice-looking silver slide-on flap clasps come undone if you look at them funny. Standard clip-tabs would be better.
Where to get it: Timbuk2
A few years ago, my wife got me this messenger bag as a Christmas present, and it’s accompanied me on almost every trip since. Like any messenger bag, it efficiently and comfortably distributes the weight of a laptop and other travel accessories across my body, with sufficient capacity to carry a couple of days’ worth of clothes if necessary. On the inside, multiple smaller pockets hold chargers, cables, business cards and all of the other items I dare not leave home without. But instead of closing with Velcro or a plastic buckle, this thing employs a genuine used airline seatbelt buckle. TSA screeners, flight attendants and other avgeeks get a kick out of that; to everybody else, it provides instant confirmation of what a dork I am.
What could be better: I wish this thing had a key ring on the inside like my regular bike messenger bag. Also, the zipper on the outside pocket gets caught up in the fabric inside it too easily.
Where to get it: Reisenthel
The bag: “Czech Military” shoulder bag
The writer: Rob Walker, Culture Shock columnist
My travel priority is minimalism. I strive to bring only what I absolutely know I will need and nothing more. Also, I hate visible logos.
Probably 10 years ago now I followed a random link to a store in Chicago selling what it described as surplus Czech military shoulder bags from the 1970s (or something along those lines) that looked pretty spiffy. Obviously I wasn’t thinking of my 2014 travel habits when I bought one, but it turns out my bag is the perfect size to efficiently accommodate an iPad with keyboard attachment, one book, one notebook, two magazines, a bunch of pens — and pretty much nothing else. Also, to my surprise, it is by far the most commented-upon object I have ever owned in my life. Total strangers in elevators ask me about it.
I’m not the only guy who likes this design. There’s this YouTube video about what seems to be this very bag, described as an “unissued Czech military officer’s military leather shoulder bag.” One of the comments says it accommodates a 13-inch MacBook. It also maintains that it isn’t really leather. I don’t care.
It looks like you can, by way of eBay or other online sellers, buy a bag like mine for yourself.
What could be better: I’d prefer a wider shoulder strap. I’d also prefer that nobody else could buy a bag like this one, ever. I’d like to keep thinking of mine as an obscure, one-off discovery. Oh, well.
Where to get it: Search eBay
The bag: North Face Women’s Backpack
The writer: Alyssa Bereznak, tech columnist
This North Face backpack is ideal for me: comfortable, durable, and compact. I’ve had it for seven years, and not surprisingly it’s no longer being made. But the Women’s Slingshot looks like it’s almost the same thing. It has mesh side pockets for your overpriced airport beverages, adjustable side straps to secure whatever load you’re carrying, and a handy front pocket where you can stuff your regulation-size plastic bag of toiletries, snacks, and chargers. There’s also a front bungee pocket to attach your bike helmet or any unwieldy international purchase you find yourself toting through the airport. The Slingshot also has a 15-inch padded laptop sleeve.
It comes in a variety of bright candy-colored hues. But if you plan on keeping this one for a long time, I’d recommend opting for black.
My backpack is big enough on the inside to hold my MacBook Air, a tablet, a magazine, my headphones, a big warm sweater, and some fluffy socks. And even if you’re carrying a heavier load than that, the foam-padded shoulder straps — designed specifically to fit a lady’s frame — will make lugging the thing around a little less painful.
What could be better: The mesh side pockets of this backpack don’t have the grip necessary to keep my water bottle secure. I’ve lost many a Klean Kanteen after bouncing around a dirt road on a scooter while wearing this backpack. In other words, this thing is not turbulence proof.
Where to get it: The North Face
The bag: Columbia Rime Technical Backpack
The writer: Dan Tynan, Modern Family columnist
My travel bag of choice is a humble yet sturdy backpack designed with the geek in mind. The padded sleeve in the back is ideal for my iPad or MacBook Air (and sometimes both — oof). The dual-zipper middle section opens almost all the way down, making it easy to stuff my Gore-Tex rain parka inside, along with my oh-crap-the-airline-has-lost-my-luggage-again emergency kit (underwear, socks, T-shirt, toothbrush), a book, various gadgets, and the mini power strip I never leave home without. The two pockets inside it are large enough to hold my wallet and one of the two or three smartphones I have on my person at all times. The slender front organizer has four smaller pockets, where I stash various chargers and USB cables, as well as business cards and the backup battery for my phone.
It’s even cooler on the outside. Webbed pockets on either side are perfect for the Klean Kanteen bottles I carry just about everywhere. The Rime has a chest strap and a waist strap, which makes it excellent for hiking and biking as well as hauling ass through an airport to make my connection. A ventilated back makes sure I don’t get sweaty doing it, while rubber pads at the shoulder blades and hips keep my old bones from feeling even older.
Do I look like a dork? You bet. But at least I’m a well-organized dork.
What could be better: If anything, this backpack has too many straps. If I don’t use the waist belt, it dangles uncomfortably and gets caught up in things, like my earbud wires. The front organizer could be bigger; when the pack is full it’s nearly impossible to get my hand in there to find things.
Where to get it: Columbia. (The Rime is no longer made; look instead at the $45 Circuit Breaker or the $75 Manifest.)