What should I look for in a laptop backpack?
Buying a new laptop backpack isn't the easiest purchase: it's likely to stay with you for 2-5 years so it's worth taking a moment to remember what you need to look for. I’m a backpack designer and I’ll guide you through some of the important decisions when buying your new laptop backpack.
What should I look for in a laptop backpack?
Specific features to consider in relation to the laptop:
Laptop compartment size: You need the right size laptop compartment in your laptop backpack. Whilst we're used to talking about 11 inch, 13 inch, 15 inch, 15.6 inch and 17 inch laptops, laptops do not come in standard sizes. Each laptop has slightly different dimensions. The only way to make sure your new laptop backpack fits your laptop is to get a ruler or tape measure out. For newer models, you can look up the dimensions for your particular laptop model online.
Laptop compartment zips: When we use backpacks in real life, they lie on their side, go upside down, go up in overhead lockers and jump around on our backs. For this reason, the best type of laptop backpack has zips to close the laptop compartment so that your laptop stays in the safe, padded laptop holder and nothing else - e.g. coins from another pocket - can jump inside and scratch up your laptop. Sometimes people have a bottle of water or lunch in their bag. To stop liquids accidentally getting into your laptop compartment, look for one that is easy to close with double zips.
Tech compartment structure: If you’re carrying more than one item of tech e.g. a laptop and a standard or extra large tablet like an iPad Pro, a second laptop, an ebook reader and other flat tech, look for a backpack with a double laptop holder. There should be a nice padded divider so your tech doesn’t touch.
All backpack features to look for:
Anti-theft or not: If you're planning on doing solo trekking through Antarctica with your backpack, there’s not much need for an anti-theft backpack. If you’re carrying your laptop through towns and cities where there are other people around, get an anti-theft backpack. Anti-theft backpacks - or secure backwards backpacks - have no zips on the outside, so the person behind you can’t open your backpack. All the zips are designed against your back so you know everything is safe inside your backpack, even in busy crowds. You never need to think about pickpockets and busy crowds again which makes sense if you’re carrying technology on business, commuting or on holiday.
Capacity: the backpack industry measures itself in litres. How big is a backpack in litres? In general, a 10-14 litre backpack is small and holds a few things for a day. 15-20 litre backpack can be used as a daily work backpack - an everyday carry EDC - which has the potential to hold extra clothes for an overnight stay or light-packed weekend away. If you’re doing international travel or a stay longer than 2 nights, you’ll want a 30-40 litre backpack. That’s also the maximum size you can take on a plane as hand-luggage. If you have different capacity requirements at different times of the year, consider investing in a backpack that changes capacity. An expanding backpack can be folded or undone to get into the right shape for your daily or larger capacity needs in just one backpack.
Bottle holder: think about the hotter days in summer. If having a good sized water bottle is important to you, make sure that's a feature of your backpack.
Trolley suitcase strap: if you travel with a suitcase from time to time, consider getting a backpack that has a strap for your suitcase. If you're running through an airport or a train station, you may prefer to attach your backpack to the extended handle of your trolley suitcase.
Waist and sternum strap: for cyclists, if you're walking longer stretches, travelling on a bike or a motorbike, think about the extra straps to position the backpack and distribute the weight well over your shoulders. If you have neck or back problems, using a backpack is a great first step to looking after your long term back health but certainly invest in a backpack that can help you distribute the weight of the bag onto your hips and across your chest too.
Inner organisation: do you want to have one large space that you can fill with different size objects and belongings, or is it more important to have smaller spaces that have defined pockets?
Machine washability: backpacks have a longer life and look better if you give them a wash every year. Having this option is really good for people who commute on a bike or motorbike, but also for pedestrians. Backpacks take on a lot of sweat and dust which breaks down the fibres and eventually makes the backpack look old.
Material: if you're looking for a high quality, durable backpack avoid polyester and aim for high density nylons like 1000D Cordura.
TLDR; What should I look for in a laptop backpack? Make a list of what you carry so you get the right backpack for your needs. Make the effort to measure your laptop with a tape measure and make sure it fits.