September 28, 2005

Bagging It

by psu

Bags are a problem.

The modern dork has a lot of crap to carry around and protect on a daily basis. You have your laptop, cell phone, big camera, small camera, maybe a lens, a flash, Gameboy, PSP, sunglasses, various papers, wallet and lots of small things that you don't really want in your pockets, but which you don't really want to leave at home either.

The ideal bag does not exist. The ideal bag carries all of the above in a space no larger than the inside of your pants pocket. Therefore, life is reduced to finding the optimal approximation of this ideal.

In my lifetime, I've spent all too many hours in pursuit of this bag. I've tried big bags, small bags, briefcases, messenger bags, canvas bags, camera bags, camera briefcases, camera backpacks, fanny packs, laptop backpacks, regular daypacks, vertical bags, horizontal bags, convertible bags, padded bags, unpadded bags, sling bags, diaper bags, and padded lunch boxes. I've used bags made by Eagle Creek, North Face, Domke, Timbuktu, Jansport, L.L. Bean, Lowe Pro, Tenba, Tamrac, and god knows who else.

Every single bag I ever used has had problems:

- The bag is too small.

- The bag is too big.

- The bag has too much padding.

- The bag has too little padding.

- The bag is too stiff

- The bag is too floppy.

- The bag falls apart.

- The bag has too many pockets.

- The bag has too few pockets.

- The bag has an "organizer" that organizes nothing that I own.

- The bag is too expensive so I've never tried it (leather bags are like this).

- The bag looks like it is made out of aluminum siding.

And so on. No bag seems to capture just the right set of features and leave out just the right set of stupid bugs.

The two bags I've used most recently were a Timbuk2 Commute laptop bag and a North Face laptop backpack. Both bags are a good size, and are easy to carry when either full or empty. But each has a lot of problems. The North Face bag has a useless front pocket because it is just one large cavernous black hole. Stuff goes in, never to be found again. The bag is also a bit thin and floppy, so you worry about all that stuff you just tossed into the endless front pocket. The padding on the straps is also too short.

The Timbuk2 is perfect. It can hold a laptop and everything else needed on a 8 hour flight to France while keeping it all easy to find in just the right number of inside pockets. It was also the right size to carry around most of the time, whether full or empty. Too bad the stitching is coming apart all over the bag, the velcro is already dead, and the shoulder strap is uncomfortable. All this after only a year or so of heavy use.

I think the ideal bag would be a backpack with a small shoulder bag inside. Or maybe a large shoulder bag with a backpack inside. Or maybe a large backpack that morphs into a small shoulder bag when all I want is to carry my laptop. I want an insert that isn't there until I want to pull it out of the bag and carry it around. I want nice shoulder straps that are curved and just the right size to not chafe, but turn into a messenger style strap when I want to carry my cameras around and get at them quickly. But no matter which mode the bag is in, I want it to look like a great beat up old leather satchel like you see in Paris.

I'm not asking for much, I think.

Posted by psu at September 28, 2005 06:26 PM | Bookmark This

The Timbuk2 is a lot more comfortable if you get the extra padded shoulder strap. I agree that it's pretty awful with the regular one.

Posted by krevis at September 28, 2005 07:56 PM

Look. You want to carry TWO cameras, a lens, various other bits of electronics, a stepladder, a draft mule, and a studio apartment all in one bag, but you somehow don't want it to look bulky or ugly.

What you want isn't actually a bag, it's a little space-time pocket.

Until then, maybe leave one of the cameras home or resign yourself to two bags.

Posted by Nat at September 28, 2005 08:09 PM

Who said anything about two cameras?

Posted by psu at September 28, 2005 09:01 PM

I have not found the perfect bag either, so I make do with something cheap for just carrying books, and papers. For commuting with an notebook, I have an old DoubleCase NB-1000, double hard shell abs. I got it back when laptops were $3K minimum, and it is just about drop and crush proof.

I have been mulling over getting a Wenger Sahara backpack, or Comet Notebook bag.

Posted by Amos the Poker Cat at September 28, 2005 09:02 PM

Um: you did. "big camera, small camera".

Posted by James Kew at September 28, 2005 09:10 PM

The small camera doesn't count. It's small.

Posted by psu at September 28, 2005 09:22 PM


10. iPod Nano.

Posted by peterb at September 28, 2005 09:30 PM

9. Swedish-made penis enlarger pump with accompanying book "Swedish Made Penis Enlarger Pumps and Me: This Sort of Thing Really Is My Bag, Baby."

Posted by peterb at September 28, 2005 09:33 PM

8. Stepladder for those overhead shots. (how did nat know??)

Posted by psu at September 28, 2005 09:35 PM

7. A towel

Posted by Tim F at September 28, 2005 09:40 PM

The last issue of "Make" magazine (or was it the one before that?) had an article on how to make your own bag out of wetsuit neoprene.

Or, more seriously, get timbuk2 to replace your "perfect" bag.

6. A hooker torso.

Posted by Sir Antihelp at September 28, 2005 09:52 PM

I am perfectly happy with a Kenneth Cole messenger bag. Carries all of the above, can take even a change of clothes for those overnight trips, looks fashionable, and best of all, is free. (Well, mine was - what are birthdays for? ;)

Posted by Robert 'Groby' Blum at September 28, 2005 11:44 PM

Maybe you are looking in the wrong places.
For instance, the LL Bean "The Big Easy Pack" says
> One big bag – three convenient ways to carry it
> Switch from backpack to messenger bag to
> briefcase with ease
> Our most versatile and sophisticated pack easily
> switches from backpack to messenger bag to
> briefcase. Double-decker design has a separate
> bottom compartment to keep workout gear away
> from books and papers. Built-in padded laptop
> sleeve protects your computer during transport.
> Extra-large organizer panel holds essentials
> like pens and discs. Padded back panel makes
> heavier loads more comfortable. Rugged
> ballistic-nylon bottom. Mesh pocket for your
> water bottle. 3M™ Scotchlite™ reflective
> material on front is highly visible to motorists
> at night. Get-a-Grip handle lets you comfortably
> carry bag at your side.
> Fits laptops 15"H x 16"W x 1¾"D.
> Pack 1,725 cu. in. 3 lb. 1 oz.
> 16"H x 16"W x 7"D.

Posted by Shelby Davis at September 29, 2005 08:14 AM

That page is morally disordered because it fails to show me a picture of the inside of the bag. Something that I forgot to complain about before.

The fact that people would try to sell me a bag without doing this boggles the mind.

Of course, it is L.L. Bean, so you know you can return it.

Posted by psu at September 29, 2005 09:50 AM

> The small camera doesn't count. It's small.

The cellphone shouldn't count either. It's small.

The Gameboy shouldn't count either. It's small.

The PSP should't count either. It's small.

Hey wait, why do all of these small things suddently take up a bunch of space?

In any case, a laptop, a PSP, *and* a Gameboy? Don't forget a wrist-brace for that RSI that must be coming along nicely.

Posted by Dr. Click at September 29, 2005 07:59 PM

So... I ordered a timbukt2 bag lastnight, to replace the ZoBag I have had for 15 years. The Zo bag was very good for the years I was in college, worked outside college, but in the end bright green/blue just isn't working at work.

(apparently they are not selling bags currently though.. just some art stuff?) I like the zo bag... very much, just the color was a little too much for me. It's very durable though, very.

For 'laptop' and 'backpack' I've had great luck with:

it holds my 17" pbook fine, has great straps, lots of internal packets and compartments. If you want pictures of mine, which is older than this model. That could be provided. (email me if interested)

Posted by Chris morrow at September 29, 2005 11:15 PM

5. Another bag, containing many small items. Because it is filled with small items, which do not therefore take up any space, the bag itself is actually smaller than its contents. Scientists proclaim themselves baffled.

Posted by Thomas at September 29, 2005 11:37 PM

(I did buy my zobag at 'the devil!' Pittsburgh Pro Bikes on Murray Ave in 1991 or 1992... so you may find them there still even though everything I see online has them not sold anylonger:( )

Another like bag might be:

and look, they have picts of the inside of the bag!

Posted by Chris Morrow at September 30, 2005 12:35 AM

Have you looked at They have many spendid bags...

Posted by Meredyth at October 6, 2005 02:19 AM

I have to agree on psu's complaints regarding bags. I am further limited as I can't use a shoulder bag because of back problems --it's backpack or nothin'.

My latest peeve: what the heck are they thinking when they put the laptop slot/sleeve in a backpack not the closest thing to the back? Tossing out the #1 rule of packing a backpack seems pretty dumb.

I really like the REI Big Byte. It's large enough for everything, but not so large as to encourage me to overpack. And it's got this cool handle (riveted) on the side.

My only complaints--I did have to pony up for a neoprene sleeve (Marware) for the Powerbook, b/c there are zippers (and the metal pulls for same) inside the laptop compartment--can't be scratching up the nice shiny Mac! :-D And, I wish it had another drink bottle pocket so it was "balanced" (again, the back).

And $60!
People who prefer the "convertible" shoulder/backpacks might like the REI Verticle Computer Brief:

And here I thought my "bag problem" was a rarity.


Posted by N. at October 9, 2005 12:25 PM

Please help support Tea Leaves by visiting our sponsors.

November October September August July June May April March February January

December November October September August July June May April March February January

December November October September August July June May April March February January