Bagging It

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.