Backpacks tested

  • Thule Crossover TCBP-217
  • Ivar Revel Daypack
  • Deuter Giga Office Pro
  • K-Way Firewall 30
  • Everki EKP 133 Concept Premium
Date:3 May 2013 Author: Anthony Doman

HAVE LAPTOP, TABLET AND ASSORTED GADGETRY… WILL TRAVEL

Urban warriors tend to travel light. More to the point, they prize efficiency. They have to have gear that does its job on the go with minimum hassle. The traditional laptop bag or briefcase, slung over a shoulder or carried by its handle, doesn’t fit well into that picture. A backpack is the answer, but regular ones provide inadequate protection.

Enter the laptop backpack. Styled like a traditional pack, it features protective padding and separate compartments, at least one of which is dedicated to protect your laptop. Although the default colour used to be boring black, it now often comes in trendy colour schemes. We took a selection in the 30-litre category and put them to work:

Thule Crossover TCBP-217

Pros: Premium style, space, versatility
Cons: Water intrusion, comfort compromises
Price: R1 699
Weight: 1 370 grams

Tough yet stylish, the Crossover has a plush-lined interior that’s roomy enough for laptops up to 17 inches, a tablet in its own padded pocket, and all my stuff – plus a change of clothing. Thule’s Shove-it Pocket provides compressible space on the outside for a jacket, and a crushproof box safeguards fragile items. Stash zones and loops are all over the place; the organiser compartments are sensibly sized, with features that include mesh, plasticised mesh and zip closure. The bag is seriously well padded, and reinforced on the edges of the shoulder straps. The Thule is big enough to carry all I need equipment-wise, with extra room for a change of clothing. In functionality and finishes – particularly on the interior – it’s way ahead of the rest. The aluminium hardware looks classier than plastic and should last better, too.

The whole is let down somewhat by details such as zips that allow water through; rear padding that doesn’t promote airflow; lack of a belly strap; and flimsy locking loop on the crushproof compartment. That makes its eye-watering        R1 699 price tag hard to swallow; the slightly smaller – though not as capable – 30-litre model costs R1 299 and comes in black, orange and teal. www.thule.co.za

Ivar Revel Daypack

Pros: Novel ergonomic stowage
Cons: Lacks some versatility, comfort
Price: R799
Weight: 950 grams

Imagine if could carry your workstation drawer unit or filing cabinet on your back. That’s the idea behind the Ivar.
In the typical backpack, items such as books, document folders and laptops lie vertically. In the Ivar, a patented shelf system angles these items outwards.

According to Ivar, this adds up to better weight distribution and load stability, eliminates content shifting, optimises comfort, keeps contents organised and allows quick, easy access. Ivar says the result is ergonomic weight distribution, superior comfort and file-like organisation.

Ian Ivarson dreamed up the idea while still at high school in 1998 and founded the company in California after graduating from university. Perhaps that West Coast vibe has something to do the Ivar not only boasting an unusual concept, but also being produced in uncharacteristic (for a laptop pack) colours.

It sounds wonderful in theory, and to an extent it works. However, this particular model doesn’t have enough stowage space for my needs.

Also, comfort levels are not as high as with some others. The rear padding is generous, but consists of large oval padded sections that could create hot spots on the wearer’s back. The padded shoulder straps are only mildly contoured. On the plus side, there’s a belly strap. www.ivarpack.com; www.capeunionmart.co.za

Deuter Giga Office Pro

Pros: Multi-talented
Cons: Not much
Price: R899
Weight: 1 460 grams

Open up the laptop compartment and there’s a surprise: a dedicated, stiffened and padded carry bag. The laptop compartment itself has padding on its edges and a semi-rigid rear.

The middle compartment is enough for two ring binders. Then, sliding open the third zipper reveals the organiser… and another surprise: a padded zipped accessory bag with padded base and mini grab handle. There are six (!) pen/pencil slots, a Velcro-flap pocket that might just fit a bar of chocolate – but certainly not the average smartphone – a wide zipped pocket and a rather flimsy keyring clip.

The deep final compartment contains yet another organiser, with three pockets. The side pockets are stretch fabric with an elasticated top and fixed compression straps, which also act on the bottom part of the bag as a whole. Additional straps up top apply compression there.

Even at the rear there’s a lot going on. Chunky, vertical mesh-covered padded strips, called Airstripes, are said to provide a chimney effect. Segmented, rather like a chocolate bar, they allow airflow upwards and sideways through the channels between segments – air can circulate freely over 80 per cent of the wearer’s back, says Deuter. The same segmentation and the use of bilaminate foam help the Airstripes mould more easily to the wearer’s back and aid weight distribution. Additional comfort measures include contoured mesh shoulder straps with an adjustable sternum strap, a removable belly strap and a solid, wide grab handle on top. Main zips are completely shrouded, adding to the coated shell’s water-resistance. www.capeunionmart.co.za

K-Way Firewall 30

Pros: Light weight, price
Cons: Not as capacious as some, feels flimsy
Price: R499
Weight: 600 grams

The Firewall 30 is the minimalist option. As you might expect from a company renowned for functional (and, these days, funky) outdoor gear, this featherweight is by far the lightest in the group. Still, the people at Cape Union Mart assured us that though the PU-coated 420D nylon may be light, it’s tough.

It is designed for carrying standard laptop up to 15 inches in its single big central padded compartment. A generous-sized padded flap with tenacious Velcro closes the full width of the padded laptop pocket, ahead of which sits an open tablet pocket.

The main zip is shrouded and so should provide good protection against water intrusion. Running the compression straps through a pivot point provides a more even tension and, by the way, a more striking look. There is no sternum strap and no reinforced grab handle. Latches are of the click-in type. Two distinctive visual features set the Firewall 30 apart.

Firstly, its asymmetrical style is visible in both its front face and its side pockets, which are two different designs. On the right is a standard mesh pocket with elasticated top; on the left is a small zippered pocket. Secondly, colour accents (ours were bright blue) lighten up the default black finish.

The zip running diagonally down the main face, shrouded at its top end only, opens up the organiser compartment. Features include a keyring clip, three pen slots and two oddments pockets. A grommet allows earphone cables to protrude. An airflow harness system with breathable mesh involves padding that holds the bag well away from the back to prevent heat build-up. The actual padded zone is quite slim, though. www.kway.co.za; www.capeunionmart.co.za

Everki EKP 133 Concept Premium

Pros: Unique foldout design, features
Cons: Price, fiddly operation
Price: R2 116
Weight: 1 830 grams

A clever checkpoint-friendly laptop/tablet compartment opens out 180 degrees and lies flat, so that there’s no need to take your laptop out for scanning. The unusual configuration locates the zippered laptop compartment “behind” the shoulder straps, which means having to deliberately move the straps out of the way (best to flip them 180 degrees, in fact) every time you unzip it.

The main laptop compartment and tablet pocket are well padded, with a felt-like covering. The zips have locking loops and there are patent pending laptop corner protectors.

The elasticated side pockets could accommodate a bottle and, in addition to that, they have clever clip-in compression straps that run through a pivot to create a pulley effect.

A zippered compartment at the bottom serves the dual purpose of housing the rain cover when it’s not needed and providing extra cushioning. That looks like it may be needed, considering that the 180-degree opening feature involves having zips all the way around the bottom corners of the bag, right where they could bear the brunt of being flung round.
In the front main compartment are two narrow velcroed pockets that could hold spectacle cases; a semi-rigid divider with concertinaed sides makes an ideal pocket for documents, with ample space in front of that.

The frontmost pocket includes a keyring hook, one large and one small zipped mesh bag and half a dozen variously sized pockets. Right on top is quick access hardshell stowage for sunglasses and the like.

Finishes are very good, with leather accents adding a touch of class. Mesh-covered contoured padding is used on the back and shoulder straps. www.rectron.co.za

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