Buying the best laptop rucksack should be easy, but getting the right balance of protection, storage and ease of use is surprisingly not as obvious to backpack manufacturers as one might expect. We think we've found the best backpack for laptops. In fact, we found two.
I’ve lugged the same STM rucksack around with me for the past five years or more. It’s been a stalwart storage hero for me – going round the world several times and on numerous business and leisure trips, as well as more mundane journeys to the local supermarket. It's lasted longer than my laptops!
It had a decent padded area for my laptop and plenty of storage space for books, magazines, tablets, jumpers, tins of beans etc.
Finally the main zip pull snapped. This had been under some duress of late as it kept getting caught in the fabric and so was yanked until it broke free. Then it broke altogether.
I don’t blame STM as that rucksack was a legend but the company’s current laptop rucksack just isn’t big enough for me.
My quest for a new rucksack for my laptop was a long and arduous one. Each one I looked at either had too little space or not enough protection.
I have a slip case for my laptop so I can pull it out of the rucksack quickly when going through airport security. The best I have found is the Brenthaven Trek Sleeve (below), which gives easy access and great padded protection. It has riveted handles and a rubberized bottom for durability and protection. It even features a removable back pouch for accessories and your AC adaptor.
It’s great in the rucksack and also outside as a smaller laptop carrying case in its own right. Brenthaven has a range of laptop sleeves, which I suggest you take a look at.
But I still needed a decent-sized rucksack to put this and my tablet plus other stuff in. Sometimes I fly with just the rucksack and no hold luggage so it needs to be big – just as it needs to be when it’s carrying groceries.
I liked the look of the Thule Crossover Backpack but the shoulder straps are difficult to self adjust while in use on your back. Also the padding on the bottom is a bit light – although the Brenthaven laptop sleeve offers extra protection here.
Eventually I found the backpack I was looking for – actually I found two that were virtually identical: the Wenger SA1932 and Swissgear ScanSmart SA 1900.
The Wenger SA1932 (above) is for up to 15-inch laptops and the Swissgear ScanSmart for 17-inch notebooks (below).
The Swissgear is a tenner more expensive than the Wenger, although retailers offer both bags at reasonable discounts.
Both feature a large laptop compartment with extra pocket for a tablet plus other gear. This unzips all the way round and can be opened flat on the ground or on a table. You can see the laptop through a mesh window, which might satisfy less strict airport security set ups – although all the ones I’ve been through demand the laptop be removed from the bag and the sleeve.
That’s why there’s a side opening for quickly whipping out the laptop.
The laptop compartment of each rucksack has a velcro adjustable top pad for whatever height your laptop is.
Rather like the Thule backpack we would have preferred a little more padding at the base of the bag. That’s why we carry the laptop in the extra sleeve for extra protection – better safe than sorry.
There’s a second large compartment for all your other stuff, as well as various little zipped areas at the top and the sides, above the water-bottle pockets, for instance.
There are side pockets for chargers, extra batteries, cables, etc, and one has exit holes so you can put your smartphone or music player in and feed the headphone cord through – if you have headphones, like the Sennheiser MX-200 Iii, that have a built-in control on the cord this keep your pockets free for wallet and change. There is also a special iPod/MP3 player pocket in the second large compartment with a headphone cable exit point in the centre.
Both bags feel sturdy and robust, and the looks are fairly cool and neutral in either black or black and red. Each features air-flow back padding for extra comfort and back support.
Both backpacks are smaller than airline maximum sizes for carry-on luggage so are ideal travel companions.
The shoulder straps are easy to adjust while you’re wearing the bag, so you can tighten up when carrying and loosen to easily pull the rucksack off. There’s also a carry handle at the top, which feels comfortable. The Swissgear bag has a tougher plastic handle. The Wenger’s is a softer canvas handle.
You might wonder why both rucksacks are so alike but from different manufacturers. The answer: both Wenger and Swissgear are owned by Swiss Army Knife owner Victorinox.