This summer, I wrote of my search for the perfect laptop bag. Like my search for the perfect mouse, it relates to how ergonomically challenged I’m apparently becoming as I get older. Things hurt that never hurt before. (Hell, things hurt that I didn’t even now I had before.) It started the morning I decided to switch from my rolling backpack to a shoulder bag.
So, this morning I decided to switch to another bag, a messenger style bag that’s carried over the shoulder. Since it was smaller I thought it would force me to travel a bit lighter. It did, but that’s not all.
Maybe I didn’t travel light enough, but at some point while walking Parker to camp, I realized the bag was affecting my posture and my walk. Halfway there, my right side from the lower back down was in pain. It was so bad that after I left Parker at camp, I had to find a bench at a bus stop and sit down for a while, until I was ready to walk to the Metro.
Pain, in that case, was a motivator. Because I carry a bag to a from work every day (I take my Macbook to work, because I prefer the OS X platform for many tasks), I had to find the right bag, and I was willing to pay for it…within reason.
Since then, I’ve tried a couple of bags, with positive results.
Shortly after writing that post, I started searching for a bag in various shops around the Metro-DC area. When it comes to shopping, there are times when something kicks in for me that I can only describe as intuition. It’s like a little voice that says, “Just go in a take a look. You never know. You might find something like what you’re looking for.”
That little voice is often right. Last winter, I was looking for gloves that I wouldn’t have to take off to use my iphone. I literally Googled “iphone gloves”, and did the same search on Amazon. I eventually ordered a pair of gloves from Amazon, and promptly lost one of them.
Shortly after that, I had some time off during the winter break, wandered into Filene’s Basement, when that little voice told me to go in and look for gloves. I had in mind that I’d get a pair mittens that flipped open to fingerless gloves. Instead, I found a whole array of Freehands gloves, just made for gadget freaks like me. I walked out with a pair of the Freehands Stretch gloves, with fold-back caps for the forefinger and thumb.
This summer, that little voice served me well again. I had a rare day off, and it told me to wander into Marshall’s this time. “You never know,” it whispered, “You just might find a the kind of bag you’re looking for.”
So, I went in, and started digging through the stacks of bags to see what I’d find. I came up with a surprising find. Buried under a bunch of backpacks and other bags, I found a Nike Sportswear Bike Messenger Bag that was apparently discontinued (because I couldn’t find it on Nike’s website), and thus ended up in Marshall’s, marked down to half its recommended price.
It was similar, I thought, to the InCase Skate Messenger Bag I’d admired in the previous post. The construction was similar, and it had many of the same features for about 1/4 the price of the InCase bag. So, I grabbed it. I’ve been using it since, and have liked it for the most part. It distributes weight evenly, so I’m not in pain after using it all day. I kind of like the snug fit, though I found it made my back sweat during the summer.
It’s fairly roomy too. It’s held everything I needed to carry, but sometimes things get a bit disorganized, as there aren’t a lot of pockets. Also, it can get bulky when really packed, and that can cause problems on my commute, which I’ll get to in a minute.
But I’ve found that I don’t really like the strap that crosses the body diagonally in front. Especially in the winter, it tends to get in the way if I need to get something from the inside pocket of my coat, or just want to unzip it. It’s also awkward on the subway. My fellow commuters haven’t been thrilled with the amount of space it takes up on a crowded train. But I can’t take it off on a crowded train. I’ve got to check for clearance behind me first, to make sure I don’t whack someone.
On the other hand, maybe I’m just not that good at handling the bag.
In any case, I found myself going back to look at one bag in particular, the Hampton Hybrid from BBP Bags.
In all my searching, I hadn’t seen anything quite like it — and still haven’t. The closest I’ve see is the BackTPack, but as I wrote before, I don’t see that one as being all that Metro-friendly either. Besides it doesn’t look like it can handle the amount of stuff I tend to carry. (I carry too much, I know, and every so often go through my bag and toss stuff out.)
I kept coming back to the BBP bag.
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Finally, I gave in last week and ordered the large Hamptons Hybrid in black. It arrived on Monday. That is, it almost arrived. FedEx couldn’t deliver it because whoever shipped it forgot to include part of my office address. So, I had to go to a FedEx location to pick it, but I finally got it, took it back to my office and opened it up.
I know I should probably reserve my opinion until I’ve had more time with the bag, but my first impressions are so positive, I can’t help sharing them here.
First, let’s talk space. I ordered the large bag because I was afraid the medium would be too small for the amount of stuff I carry. Even though my laptop would fit in the medium, I tend to carry an Xpad for those times when I’m using the laptop on my lap. So, I ordered the large.
I was impressed with the construction of the bag as soon as I opened the box and took the bag out of the plastic wrapping. When I picked it up, I could see and feel the strength and toughness of the ballistic nylon (the same stuff used to make bulletproof vests) the bag is made of. It was clear that this bag is made to stand up to regular use, and built to last. It’s weatherproof to, and built to keep out rain, show, etc.
Opening it up, I started to count the pockets, but was immediately distracted by the straps on the underside of the front flap. BBP says it’s for stowing an umbrella or a newspaper. Well, I never know what do to with my wet umbrella after I get on the bus or the train. But I do now. Of course, that’s not the only place I could put my umbrella. There’s a side pocket that would work nicely.
Speaking of pockets, I counted about 12, not counting the computer compartment and main compartment, but including the two mesh drink pocket on one side and the ballistic nylon pocket on the other. The first thing I did after opening was start considering how I wanted to use the pockets, then I started transferring items to the new bag, filling all the pockets first.
I became more impressed when I discovered that not only did the bag hold all my stuff, but I ran out of stuff before I even got to the main compartment. It was empty except for a few items I tossed in. I put all my stuff in it and still had room for more stuff. So, I’m confident that this bag will carry everything I have to carry, with plenty of room to spare.
Then there’s carrying the bag. It can be converted from backpack to single strap in a few steps and then carried like a shoulder bag, but the selling point of the bag is the hybrid Bak2Pak carrying system.
Traditional backpacks ride high causing stress on your lower back. To support the weight you must lean forward and shrug the shoulders which is not good for your back, shoulder, and neck.
The ergonomic Bak2Pak system rides near your bum and has a lower center of gravity reducing back strain. Pulls shoulders back for good posture. No more sweaty back as well.
Hybrid bags are meant to be positioned lower than your typical backpack. Generally this means the lumbar “bum” pads should be positioned around the lumbar area or the small of your back. Or, the bag should be vertically centered around your upper hip area. Of course some of you may find it more comfortable for it to be a little lower which works too. The bag will bounce a bit more that low, but the lumbar “bum” pads help minimize it or you can even use the waiststraps. Keep in mind the center strap can also be adjusted along with the front/sides straps of the backpack.
This is not a “one-size-fits-all” bag. Getting the right fit takes a few tries, and some trial-and-error. But once you get the right fit, it’s worth the effort.
I tried it on almost as soon as I opened it, and then again when I’d packed it. The straps weren’t hard to adjust. In fact, their fairly easy to adjust even when I’ve got the back on my back. There are adjustment straps at the bottom of each shoulder strap that include another cool feature. There’s a velcro strap at the bottom of each, so after you get it adjusted the way you want it, you can roll up the strap and warp the velcro around it. I’m guessing the purpose of this is mostly aesthetic; there are no dangling straps. But it may also serve to secure the adjustment of the bag, if it’s particularly loaded and heavy.
What I quickly realized after my first try at adjusting the bag was that I hadn’t allowed for the thickness of my winter coat. So I lengthened the straps enough to get my arms through once I had the coat on, only to discover the bag hung lower than was comfortable for me. One more adjustment, though, and it was just right.
All I can say it what once I got the right fit, and put the bag on “backpack style,” is that it felt like a weight had been lifted. I didn’t realize how hunched over I was when carrying other bags, and when I put this one on my shoulders started to shrug as a reflex reaction, and I naturally tried to lean forward a bit. But this bag reminded me of my voice teacher in high school correcting my posture. (“Stand up straight! Shoulders back!”) It pulled my shoulders back down, and as a result I had to stand up straight instead of leaning over. The sternum strap helped make the fit feel more secure. (There’s also a waist strap, but I haven’t used it.)
Riding the Metro was different. Because the bag rides lower on my back, I think it was less of an obstruction to my fellow commuters. At least, I didn’t feel that I had the huge appendage on my back that was always getting in someone’s way, or that would knock someone over if I turned around. (I felt a little paranoid that someone could get into the back pockets, which are less secure than the others, but I didn’t place anything of value in them anyway.) Also, I found it easier to take the bag off on the train. It doesn’t have to go over my head like the Nike bag. I can just slide it off my shoulders
Walking to the Metro was different too. I swear, I think I’m able to walk a bit faster with this bag than with others. Maybe that’s because my body doesn’t have to adjust to the bag, because the bag pretty much adjusts to my body. Also, it doesn’t feel heavy. I’m carrying in it the same stuff I carried in my other bag (minus a few papers I through out in the progress of transferring stuff from the old bag to the new), but what felt heavy in my other bag doesn’t feel heavy in this bag.
The real test, though, came this morning. I had to take a later bus than usual, instead of the one that stops practically at the end of my street. The bus stop for the later bus is about a 20 minute walk from my house, which includes walking up and down a couple of hills. With my other bags, I found this walk exhausting, and even painful sometimes. Even with the Nike bag, having to shift my center of gravity make for more work.
But when I made the walk with the BBP bag, I barely noticed it. I wasn’t winded, tired, or in pain by the time I got to the bus stop. In fact, I think I made it in record time.
It’s only been a few days, but unless the bag disintegrates, starts emitting toxic fumes, or something, I’m pretty much sold. Without a doubt, it’s the best laptop bag I’ve had so far. And if I stay as happy with it as I am, it may be the last one I buy.
Oh, alright, who am I kidding. There are too many others out there left to try! I can’t say I won’t try a few of them. But I think it’ll be a long time before I need a new laptop bag.