Outside Magazine, October 1998
Laptop computers are forever becoming more powerful, more versatile, and lighter, but they really can't get much smaller — people simply favor full-size keyboards. Consequently, to ditch the confines of the office, you still need a way to portage that seven-pound chunk of plastic, metal, and silicon. The following batch of rugged laptop conveyances — from padded daypacks to ingenious portable workstations — brings unparalleled mobility to the task. You can crunch numbers creekside or spin snappy prose from a table at your favorite coffee shop. And these bags trump conventional cases in comfort as well as security — they don't announce "steal me" like some boxy black valise.
If your daily routine involves waging war for personal space on a line like the PATH train from Jersey to Midtown, the SunDog CFO ($68; 206-782-5404) might just be your bag. It streamlines your load by setting the laptop on end — so you won't get hung up when squirting through subway doors like you would with a blocky briefcase. Your machine rests in a removable, padded sleeve, while your other supplies slip into 10 pockets of varying size and security. The lightweight satchel will do well in the city with a water-resistant, grunge-hiding black fabric and a molded rubber handle that gives you a reassuring grip on your goods.
JanSport Laptop Transit
Built like a campus book bag, with spare-but-passable shoulder straps, the water-repellent JanSport Laptop Transit ($70; 800-558-3600) is the most unassuming pack of the bunch. It's also the biggest, with a cavernous 2,250 cubic inches of cargo space. The computer nests in a sewn-in, padded envelope and is separated from your back by another zippered space big enough for several binders or a bulky coat, and four compression straps keep your computer from knocking around. A wide-mouth pocket is the perfect shape for a bundled-up power cord — not that you'll have access to an outlet in the remote reaches you'll find yourself wandering with this pack.
Overland Equipment's Plumas Computer Pack
You can carry Overland Equipment's Plumas Computer Pack ($90; 800-487-8851) as a briefcase, backpack, or haversack, making it the most versatile tote on the market. A nylon bib suspends the computer off the bottom as a hedge against dropping the case, though only the backside on the market is padded. The whole thing is extremely well constructed and designed with similar diligence: It expands via a baffle to accept extra files, the zippers are big and easy to use, and an organizer panel arranges pens, keys, and business cards. Besides, its neutral tweedy Cordura is another nod toward versatility.
Shaun Jackson Design Lapdog
The Shaun Jackson Design Lapdog ($140; 888-662-4300) isn't so much a pack as it is a nylon-and-foam wrap that folds smartly around your computer for transit and then flips open to create an impromptu workspace. Its modular design is a marvel, ideal for the peripatetic professional who can't afford not to work on the fly. Indeed, the Lapdog fits perfectly atop an airline tray table, and if the bastard in front of you insists on reclining, you won't mind shifting the whole caboodle to your lap: Your CPU rests on an egg-crate-like rubber pad that, in concert with the nonslip suede on the case's underside, keeps your whirring machine from frying your thighs. Bonus: One of the flaps doubles as a wrist rest.
Kiva Designs Virtuoso
The aptly named Virtuoso from Kiva Designs ($199; 800-645-8818) offers the most comfortable carry of these packs, sporting thickly padded shoulder straps, a sternum strap, and nylon hipbelt — all of which tuck away. The Virtuoso encourages extended absences from the office with 1,710 cubic inches of storage, parceled out among a roomy expanse with slots for 20 diskettes, a detachable organizer, and a cell-phone pouch. As for the computer hold, two stiff foam panels protect a portfolio that cradles your laptop on two elastic slings. You could let it slip from the lip of the Grand Canyon and still expect to find your machine — and your work — intact. (Nice try, though.)
TerraPax Field Office
At the other end of the technological spectrum, but no less well thought out, is the TerraPax Field Office (800-308-3772). It's billed as eco-chummy, made of sustainable materials including hemp, linen, and vegetable-tanned leather, with the only concessions to finite consumption being the brass hardware and zippers. And you pay heavily for the clean conscience: It costs $260. The 2,000-cubic-inch brief divides its space in two, with slots for pens and diskettes on one side and panels of pressed wool padding on the other. As for the practicality of natural fibers, aside from being a bit heavy, they perform on par with synthetics, even in rain: The hemp fibers swell when wet, creating a reliable water barrier. Not that we'd ever recommend soaking your hemp, dude.
Photographs by Clay Ellis