Best back-to-school laptop backpacks (photos)
The back panel is heavily padded, while the main laptop compartment is divided in two with a Velcro-attached panel that create a padded laptop section and a large but shallow space for papers or magazines. A front compartment has a traditional assortment of small pockets and flaps, big enough for laptop power bricks, phones, and other accessories. Two generous pockets (with snap closures) are on the front face, with a water-bottle-sized snap pocket on each side of the Convoy's body.
The STM Convoy is very sturdy, with plenty of room for laptops and other gear--just make sure you're ready to sign up for the green canvas look.
Tom Bihn Brain Bag
One word of warning: you'll need to buy an additional "Brain Cell" ($60) or other Tom Bihn accessories to make the most of the two large interior compartments (no laptop sleeve is sewn in), but that could be great for regular travelers: the noncompartmentalized space is perfect for weekend packing. In case things get too bulky, side buckles adjust to compress the backpack. A variety of basic colors and a rugged construction give the bag a very outdoorsy feel.
Several deep outer zippered compartments are great for commuting or airline travel, and buckles running down the middle are even thoughtfully placed to lock an umbrella or jacket in place. The more we spend time with the Brain Bag, the more we like it. Enough to justify its $200 effective cost? Actually, yes.
Booq Boa Flow
The Boa Flow also has an oddly-placed but well-padded bottom compartment shaped to hold an SLR camera. In case you don't own a camera, it's also nicely sized for a AC adapters and cables. Even with a laptop in the back, the rest of the Flow has enough room to pack a change of clothing, some books, and an ample supply of pocket gadgets. It doesn't stand upright easily, but we'd have no concerns about throwing this reinforced bag around.
Kensington Saddlebag Pro
Inside, its massive main compartment is evenly divided into two sections--a padded one for your laptop, and a large space for accessories and other goods. The front face of the bag has a decent-sized triangular pocket that's surprisingly deep, with a separate webbed pocket in front of that. The most interesting compartment is a semihidden one in the very base of the bag. It's a hard plastic drawer that pulls out to provide safe storage for delicate electronics, or bulky cables.
While it has backpack straps, the Saddlebag Pro ($79) deemphasizes them, at least compared to other laptop backpacks. The twin shoulder straps can be unhooked from the bottom of the bag and stowed inside a zipped pocket on the rear face, allowing you to use the large, and well-padded, top handle instead.
Even though it's a little slighter in feel than some heavy-duty backpacks we've seen, it's well-built and feels comfortable. The back is slightly padded, and there's even a small Velcro webbed pouch on one shoulder strap for pens or loose change. Not surprisingly, since Targus focuses on laptop bags, this no-nonsense all-around backpack is pretty versatile.
Pacsafe DaySafe 200
The outer layer is embedded with a mesh of wires, making it slashproof, which is important, as thieves have been known to take a boxcutter to laptop bags (even ones that are right on your back) and slice their way through. The large main compartment has a fully enclosed slash-proof laptop sleeve inside it, which cinches shut with a metal cable that can be attached to a table leg or lamppost with an included padlock.
In short, this is a very secure laptop backpack. Left alone, a thief might be able to cut away the actual bag, but hypothetically wouldn't be able to get away with the wire exoskeleton inner sleeve, if it's chained to something secure. Unless they have a pair of bolt cutters, that is.
Slappa M.A.S.K. custom backpack
The front face bows out like a turtle's shell, giving you plenty of room, and three small triangular pockets on the front bow open wide, accordion style, although we'd be cautious about putting fragile gadgets in there.
The most notable feature of the M.A.S.K. Koa ($129) is its interchangeable lining inserts. The front compartment zips all the way open, and a variety of sold-separately inserts, done in different art styles, can be slapped in with Velcro. The styles are appropriately collegiate, with themes from aliens, to mock Soviet constructivist art, to Che. Of course, the artistic inserts are mostly for your own amusement, as people will only see them when the bag is wide open.
Tom Bihn Smart Alec
Those expecting multiple pockets and plenty of zippers might be thrown by the Smart Alec ($120), which has one deep chamber and two long outer zippered pouches, but not much else. On the other hand, fewer zippers mean fewer openings for rain to seep in. The raincoat-esque lightweight fabric and weather-protected zipper linings make for a minimalist backpack, but one that actual backpackers heading to school might prefer.