Mobile / Hands-on Review

Bag to School: Six Bags for College and Beyond

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The “meet cute” is a classic Hollywood storytelling device used to get two characters to meet (cutely) and fall in love. When it comes to movies about college, there’s one meet cute that’s used over and over again: The two are walking towards each other, hands full of books and notes, so absorbed in the demands of university that neither notices the other as they get closer and closer. With a crash, they collide, scattering papers to the wind like so many autumn leaves. As they gather their things, they look up, meeting each other’s gaze and knowing at first sight, deep in their hearts, that they could have avoided this whole mess if they had their papers in a school bag instead of holding them loosely like a couple of morons.

Point being, it is very silly to not have a bag for your schoolwork, especially in today’s day and age, when knocking another student’s things to the ground will more likely result in you breaking their laptop than you finding your soulmate. But! Luck is on your side! There exists a multitude of thumb-intensive apps to help you find the love of your life and even more bags to help you haul your stuff from class to class. Here are a few favorites.

The Minimalist

Sometimes slim and stylish is the sensible solution, and the City Brief from Incase fits the bill. Sized for either 13” or 15” MacBook Pros (don’t worry, they’ll handle most other 13ish and 15ish-inch laptops of similar dimensions), the City Brief is compact with a fleece-lined compartment to cuddle your computer. Two zippered pockets make room for accessories and a larger pocket, the same size as the laptop compartment, gives you space for important papers. Best of all, the interior areas are all lined with contrasting navy blue and yellow fabric to help you find your stuff. There’s a shoulder strap included, and the two built-in handles can hide away in special pockets when not in use.

Incase Designs Corp City Brief Bag for 15" MacBook Pro

The Maximalist

Going away for a weekend? Or a month? The DC-3VB Director’s Case from Porta Brace is more clown car than bag, with up to 18 liters of capacity at its most stuffed. I’ve heard the cavernous interior described as “larger than the exterior,” which makes sense once you consider that it can fit a 17” laptop, papers, and cables without breaking a sweat. Two main interior pockets hold papers, books, hard drives, chargers, and even your lunch, and there are tiedown straps and built-in cable management so you never have to remove your laptop. There’s even a sun shade for your laptop so you can work without prying eyes seeing your screen. The tough-as-nails exterior is made from 1000D Cordura nylon and zips closed. There’s are two padded handles and a removable shoulder strap, both covered in suede, for carrying and multiple exterior pockets for convenient access to your stuff. There’s a smaller version with only one interior compartment, but it’s still no slouch.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/739644-REG/Porta_Brace_DC_3VB_DC_3VB_Director_s_Case_Midnight.html
Porta Brace DC-3VB Director's Case

The Backpacker

Maybe a backpack is more your bag (sorry). Case Logic’s Jaunt is made of tough nylon and opens wide so you can easily access everything inside the roomy inner compartment. Inside, you’ll find a padded sleeve capable of taking a 15.6” laptop as well as a dedicated tablet pocket, extra-useful if you use e-textbooks. There’s plenty more space for books, papers, chargers, and accessories. A cord storage pocket helps keep all your cables from getting tangled and a pen loops make sure you’re never without a writing utensil. On the outside, you’ll find padded straps, an exterior pocket, and two mesh side pockets for water bottles. Three colors are available but I’m partial to Racing Red.

Case Logic Jaunt Backpack for 15.6" Laptop

The All-Rounder

My love for Peak Design’s Everyday Messenger is well known, so I had to put it on this list. Despite the space-age good looks of this bag, it’s really a form-follows-function design. Available in two sizes and three colors, this bag is loaded with small details that make a difference, like the multiple wearing styles, stabilizer strap, origami padded dividers (which work great for chargers, water bottles, and other junk as well as their intended cameras and lenses), and hidden key tether. Coolest of all is the magnetic latching system, which feels as secure as it is easy to use and helps the bag expand for oversized loads. The exterior is made from water-resistant synthetic canvas and has waterproof zippers along the top of the main compartment and the separate padded laptop compartment. And if you’re a two-shoulder type, there’s an Everyday Backpack too.

Peak Design Everyday Messenger 13"

The Patrician

Inject a little Ivy style into your school day with The Brixton from New York-based manufacturer Ona. No, it’s not cheap, but this bag will likely outlast you (and maybe even the next entry on our list). Why? It’s made from Italian-tanned full-grain leather, the highest grade you can get. Unlike other grades of leather, full-grain processing retains the topmost layer of the hide, which contains the strongest, most durable leather fibers and the small blemishes that make every steer unique. Instead of wearing out over time, it takes on a beautiful patina as it ages, reflecting its journeys with you. The Brixton can hold a 13” laptop, has a spacious main compartment and two front accessory pockets, and has removable dividers for camera gear. Brass hardware keeps everything shut. There are three colors available, but I strongly recommend Antique Cognac, which will age best. For 11” laptops, try the slightly smaller Prince Street.

ONA Brixton Camera/Laptop Messenger Bag

The Bruiser

If your educational institution of choice is the School of Hard Knocks, it may behoove you to check out something from the reigning kings of ultra-durable hard cases, Pelican. Their 1490CC1 Deluxe Laptop Case is used by pros who need their storage systems to take a beating, not what’s inside them. The copolymer shell is crush-proof and sealed so tight it can withstand dust, dirt, and submersion in more than three feet of water for half an hour. In fact, it’s sealed so tight it has a pressure equalization valve built in for dealing with altitude changes. It’s got a built-in combination lock and is padlock-able to foil the nosiest of roommates. Inside you’ll find built-in compartments for your laptop, notebooks, pens, and other gadgets. Its exterior has a convenient shoulder strap. For something a little larger and a little more customizable, the 1500 Case is filled with “Pick n’ Pluck” foam that lets you create cushiony homes for all your stuff without carving it up like Michelangelo. Sure they’re overkill, but when the apocalypse comes, your gear will outlive the roaches.

Pelican 1490CC1 Computer Case with Lid Organizer and Tray

While these are my favorites, choosing a bag can be intensely personal. They’re accessories that have to fit your standards of function and fashion, and for many people they get more use than any garment in their wardrobe. If you have a favorite bag or a feature you just can’t live without, please sound off in the comments below.

1 Comments

If you have any small items, like 99% of us, do not buy a bag with a dark liner. It is amazing how much easier it is to find things when the liner has a light color. I have ones with fluorescent orange and other light colors and have had ones with dark liners. It is a HUGE difference for finding things inside the bag. Especially in low light conditions like an evening flight or lecture hall presentation.

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