Laptop backpacks are a tough sell for us. They present the difficulty of grabbing objects, such as your cell phone, on the fly. Then there's unfortunate hump on your back that makes you the bane of fellow travelers on tightly packed commuter trains and in small airport shops. And, it can be difficult to maintain a professional appearance when your clothes are crumpled beneath the shoulder straps and back panel. We've schlepped enough large laptops around town and across the countr, however, to know that a backpack is far less likely than a messenger bag or briefcase to cause shoulder or back pain. So, we were pleased when the CODi Tri-Pak arrived in our offices
in addition to being comfortable to carry, the Tri-Pak's stylish, compact design makes us feel far more confident toting a backpack in a professional environment. The bag's interior has plenty of room for a laptop (up to 15.4 inches) and cords, plus computer accessories and other business essentials. We do have minor complaints about the exterior: there's no side pocket for a bottle of water (a handy feature found on many computer bags), and there's no way to keep your cell phone within easy reach on the front side of your body. If you don't need those features, and if you can afford its $148 price, the CODi Tri-Pak provides a professional and--more importantly--comfortable way to carry your laptop.
Like other CODi bags we've reviewed, the Tri-Pak features a more compact shape than similar bags from other manufacturers. The subdued black nylon exterior is interrupted only by a tiny red embroidered logo at the bottom of the front panel and red embroidery (blissfully logo-free) on the 10 zipper pulls. On the front of the bag are two arced zippers: one opens a small pocket that's big enough for an MP3 player or thumb drive, while the other opens a larger pocket that can hold a smart phone or travel documents. Some might deem the rounded pockets a bit impractical, but we liked the interest they brought to the bag's design.
The small front pocket, accessible via a double zipper that travels about three-quarters down each side, provides plenty of organizing features to corral small items that would ordinarily wind up at the bottom of the bag. Such features include a key fob, business card pockets, pen loops, loops for thumb drives or lipstick, a large mesh pocket that's big enough for a checkbook or boarding pass, and two square mesh pockets big enough for a wallet, travel mouse, or digital camera.
Behind that pocket, a double zipper opens to reveal a large front compartment with a padded file pocket and two large elastic mesh pockets on the back wall. The mesh pockets even proved large enough to hold our rather bulky laptop power brick and cord. Inside the front of this compartment you'll find both a zippered mesh pocket that's big enough for a DVD case and a small MP3 player pocket with a pass-through for your headphone cord.
The back compartment, also accessed through a double zipper, includes another pocket for stray papers and two more elastic accessory pockets, plus an amply padded laptop sleeve with an adjustable strap and sturdy clip to hold the laptop in place. In a curious touch, two 6.5-inch zippers, one on each side of the bag, open onto a pocket between the back and front compartments--which CODi says is "perfect for snacks and other soft items." While we appreciate the bonus space, the narrow zipper opening limits its potential; in fact we never found cause to use it.
As with the CODi Sling-Pak we reviewed earlier this year, the Tri-Pak can accommodate laptops up to 15.4 inches. We tested it with the 15.4-inch Velocity Micro NoteMagix X25, which has a cooling vent that makes the system 12 inches deep; that proved too large for the laptop pocket, though the computer did still fit inside the bag's main compartment. A more reasonably sized 15.4-inch system, such as the Fujitsu LifeBook A6030, should fit comfortably.
During our testing, we carried the Tri-Pak to the library, loaded with the Velocity Micro and its bulky power brick, a travel mouse, four hardcover books, and a spiral notebook, plus pens, keys, wallet, smart phone, MP3 player, and snacks. We were very pleased with the bag's ultrapadded shoulder straps and breathable back panel, which made the heavy load significantly more bearable than it was in our budget backpack. A slim chest strap adds extra support, though we'd have also appreciated a waist strap. (You can remove the chest strap if you find it bothersome.) Even when stuffed full, the Tri-Pak's relatively slim shape kept us from feeling like we were back-country hiking.
We do think the Tri-Pak needs a few additions to make it our preferred laptop bag. First, there ought to be some way to keep a cell phone accessible even while you're wearing the backpack; as it is, you have to slip the bag off at least one shoulder to reach even the front pockets. Second, we'd have appreciated a pocket on the outside of the bag that could keep a water bottle within easy reach and away from any electronics. Otherwise, the Tri-Pak's ample storage space and plentiful organizer pockets will appeal to anyone who wants a comfortable and attractive laptop backpack.