Buying Right: The Backcountry Briefcase

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, September 1996

Buying Right: The Backcountry Briefcase
By Bob Howells

AH, THE LAPTOP COMPUTER, EMBLEM OF freedom! Walls fall away as our definition of the workplace expands. But even in the age of the virtual office--anywhere from your airplane seat to your favorite oak tree--there are burdens we cannot escape. Such as a laptop's very real weight. The average business case isn't equipped to make such a load comfortable on a bike ride or even a long hoof to your local coffee shop, and most backpacks aren't built to protect fragile electronics. There are bags, however, that combine a computer case's padding with carrying straps refined in the great outdoors.

The Targus Convertible Backpac ($99, 714-523-5429) looks like a conservative attach‹ but features a padded computer compartment, shock-absorbing rubber feet on the bottom , a separate expandable compartment for files, and an array of accessory pockets. Backpack straps make it viable for the long haul--just stash 'em behind the zippered panel when you get to the boardroom.

Eagle Creek's Classic Convertabrief ($60, 800-874-9925) also has hideaway backpack straps and a plethora of thoughtful pockets. Padded shoulder straps and a cushioned back make it comfortable for longer jaunts, but no padding at the front of the bag means you'll have to be careful setting it down.

The Jansport's Power Pack ($60, 800-552-6776) is essentially a college student's book bag with a well-designed computer carrier. Foam surrounds your laptop everywhere but the top, and two pockets leave plenty of room for other accessories. The only drawbacks: no hipbelt, and its shoulder straps don't hide.

Mountainsmith's Backcountry Office ($100, 800-426-4075) shows its genuine outdoor origins in a shoulder-saving design that places the weight on the hips, by way of a wide hipbelt. Compression straps snug the load into your lumbar region, and an internal plastic hoop gives the pack its vertical structure. For comfort, it's the best of the bunch, but it's padded only on back and bottom.

A simple protective insert, essentially a cushy envelope for your computer, is a good alternative to a full-blown computer case; use one to carry your machine in a favorite briefcase or daypack. SunDog's Universal Computer Case ($30, 206-251-8410) is an insert that doubles as a stand-alone, with a top handle, shoulder strap, and a couple of slim pockets. Eagle Creek's no-frills insert ($17) is available for either a briefcase or a daypack. It's a simple, padded Cordura pocket with a hook-and-loop-securing top flap. My favorite insert is the Boing Notebook Computer Cover from Zing Designs ($40, 800-359-9199). Inside this zippered neoprene cover, my PowerBook has its own snug little wetsuit that slips neatly inside any other bag.

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