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I tested 6 laptop backpacks so you don't have to

You wouldn't put your precious gear in just any laptop bag, would you? I lugged these puppies around airports, conferences and the daily commute to log their highs and lows.


Looking for a lovable luggable? I am. That's what kickstarted this little project, which became a rather big project once I decided to test out six backpacks that would hold all my electronics, lunch and other assorted gear.

Unlike some of you, I usually use a purse in addition to my backpack, so I'm a little laden down, but I like the weight balance that a backpack brings, and dedicated laptop protection is an absolute must.

So, how do you test a laptop backpack? You live with it. I loaded up these six bags with everything from phones, cables and my 13-inch Macbook Air to toiletries and a change of clothes, then I lugged them around for a week each (or more) to see which ones are worthy of their cargo. I even tried them on my coworkers and friends for comfort and fit.

After a couple months of testing, I paraded them around the office again, one after the other. My desk basically looked like a fort made of backpacks -- it was ridiculous. But it was worth it. Here are the backpacks I tried, in no particular order.

Incase Icon Backpack

InCase makes the Icon and a smaller Icon Slim.

Josh Miller/CNET

A structured bag that keeps its shape empty or full and a separate, luxuriously lined laptop compartment are two of this bag's key assets. Seriously, it was like Grover in there. I want a jacket made of this backpack. Or a blanket. Or both.

Anyway, the main cavity harbors extra pockets, which is good. But a separate phone pouch overflows in this space and gets in the way, which is bad. Its only saving grace is that the pouch is padded with the same fuzzy material as the laptop hideaway.

You'll also find thick, cushy straps, a key leash (yes!) and two additional zippered pockets that leave plenty of room for your remaining gear.

The details:

  • $199
  • Five colors available from
  • One-year warranty

Timbuk2 Rogue Laptop Backpack

Timbuk2 lets you customize some backpack designs.

Josh Miller/CNET

This water-resistant toploader with a roll-down closure is ideal for commuters who want to shove most of their things in the tall, open pocket and strap additional items -- such as a helmet or tripod -- on the outside.

The metal closure wasn't my favorite to undo. The opening has to be small, and therefore your movements precise, in order to keep the hook in place.

Inside, you'll find a padded laptop compartment. Two smaller outer zip pockets are deep enough for chargers and phones. Mesh water bottle holders are a thirst-quenching plus.

The details:

  • $79
  • Six colors available from
  • Lifetime warranty repair

Ogio Renegade RSS Laptop Backpack

This had my least favorite fit.

Josh Miller/CNET

The profusion of pockets -- including a hardened recess for your sunglasses -- is a dream for people like me who carry far too many cables, phones, books, snacks, lotions and spare sweaters. Heavy padding cushions your backside, which is a good thing.

But there were too many problems with this pack to really like it. It balloons more than others when you overstuff it -- and frankly, I'll use all the room I have. Worse, the buckles controlling the pack's strap height routinely slipped their grip. I wound up with the whole heavy package dropping uncomfortably to butt-level.

If this were $50 gear, that'd be one thing. But it isn't. It's $150, and that's real cash. I was much more impressed with some of the other bags that cost the same or even a little less.

The details:

  • $150
  • Available from
  • Warranty covers construction flaws

Chrome Kharkiv Backpack

Chrome is another brand that lets you make custom bags.

Josh Miller/CNET

Chrome is a San Francisco-based brand I see around the streets. I had never owned a Chrome bag, but the trademark mini seatbelt buckles look pretty badass.

It turns out they're not just ornamental. The sturdy buckles and thick, premium zippers are two signs that this bag isn't messing around. Don't laugh about zippers either -- these elements take a lot of stress and are often the first to give way. What I'm saying is, strong zips are an important touch.

This particular Chrome design is lean on pockets (just four zippered), but the bag is impeccably made and has a netted pouch within the main compartment that helps make keys and phones easy enough to grab.

The details:

  • $150
  • Two colors, available from
  • Lifetime warranty

Tom Bihn Synapse 25

The smaller-size 19' version is still pricey, but works great if you don't need to stash too many extras.

Josh Miller/CNET

Pockets on pockets in pockets make this well-designed pack terrific for carrying and organizing every cable and cord you can imagine. Pouches and pockets on the sides, top and bottom hold more than you think and help keep smaller items from getting lost. Premium zippers and tucked-away features like a key leash are a real bonus, too.

The Synapse 25 is for people who want to tote some serious gear. It has enough space for your gym clothes and your lunch. I also tested the smaller, 19-inch version, which costs only $10 less, but is a better fit for most day-to-day loads. I still wanted the larger backpack for most travel and the little guy for basic day trips.

An optional laptop sleeve (they call it a cache) adds a ton of padding...for an extra $40. Ouch. Even more ridiculous is the way that sleeve connects. It's been sewn in on straps, so the whole pouch slides out when you pull it. This is supposed to be a good thing, but to me it resembles a sea creature puking out its guts. I want to pull out the laptop, not the backpack's innards, which I then have to shove back in.

The details:

  • $200, plus $40 for the optional laptop cache
  • 13 colors, available from
  • Lifetime warranty

Case Logic Berkeley II

Case Logic's simple, traditional backpack looks after your laptop fine.

Josh Miller/CNET

There's nothing too fancy about this everyday backpack, and that's OK. Case Logic, which specializes in covers and carriers for all sorts of electronics, offers a more traditional build than some of these others.

The Berkeley II has a separate laptop zip for easy in-and-out storage and large, uncomplicated pockets for stashing your stuff. Two water bottle holders help keep you hydrated while on the move, and I sometimes used these to store more goods.

My one gripe? A flat back chokes off the cooling airflow you find in bags with contoured backs. If you're rushing around on a warm day, things can get a little humid.

The details:

  • $60
  • Seven colors, available from
  • 25-year guarantee

This story appears in the winter 2016 edition of CNET Magazine. For other magazine stories, click here.