Quick LinksBooq Python Pack (my current everyday backpack)
Ricardo Beverly Hills Essentials 30" Rolling Duffel (my luggage)
BBP Hamptons Bag (a convertable messenger bag / backpack)
Booq Python Pack
When I was looking to replace my everyday heavy-duty computer backpack, I did a lot of research. One major factor that immediately excluded a lot of bags is that I refuse to buy a bag with a dark or black interior. There is no good reason that the interior fabric of a bag should make it difficult to find things inside. There aren't that many companies that take this seriously, and Booq stood out as one of the few that had an obvious understanding of the benefit of a brightly-colored interior.
Booq is a small company that seems to aim their products at Mac users without exactly excluding others. I'm guessing the reason for this is that their M.O. seems to be that they make really really expensive bags. Really nice, really thought out, really expensive bags. And the mentality of the average Mac user is probably more in line with that philosophy of "Yeah I spent a whole lot of money on it, but look, it's awesome!"
They seem to have a lot of cool bags for different purposes. What I wanted most in mine was capacity and organization for lots of small accessories, while not being too huge for my small body. I found the Python Pack most to my liking. It's designed for photographers, and comes with a matching camera case that has dividers which can be arranged to fit camera, lenses, and other accessories, and then the whole case slips into the bottom of the main compartment. The idea as best I can tell is that you have your laptop, accessories, memory cards, and camera gear, and then a little room for some extra stuff. I wasn't so interested in the camera bag, but the size of the spacious compartment, and the many pockets and slots for storage appealed to me, so I gave it a try. Because it doesn't seem to be carried in stores, I had to make something of a leap of faith. Thankfully, I ordered it from ebags.com, who I've always had good luck with, and who happen to have a generous return policy, so if I decided that this bag I paid $300 for, sight unseen, was not the perfect bag for all my needs, I could return it. Thankfully, I have found it to be the best backpack I've owned, and I intend to keep it for a long time.
List of Pockets and CompartmentsClick to make bigger!
I didn't get so fancy for this one. There's just a pocket on each shoulder strap. Because the straps get bent around your body, I wouldn't really advise putting anything in them that might not like getting bent. I usually keep gum in them. It would be good for an iPod smaller than an iPhone.
The right-side flap has a lot more little pockets than the other side. I keep things like my computer's remote, a few thumb drives, my camera (not shown unfortunately because I was taking the picture with it), and some assorted cables. There are two pen slots, but neither is big enough for a chunky pen or pencil, and one of the slots is really only appropriate for a standard #2 pencil. As a stage manager and fan of mechanical pencils, this is pretty useless.
Basic exterior view. Henry V luggage tag not included!
The camera case is really too big for the bag. Even with all the interior pockets empty, the case has to be forced just to get through the opening of the bag. Also, it's too tall to have it sitting in the bottom of the bag and still be able to get a binder upright above it (you can kind of fit one diagonally, but it's awkward.) I try to travel with my script in my bag as little as possible, but to be unable to makes me uneasy. While experimenting with this, I discovered that my printer (Canon i70) does indeed fit sideways in the bag, just barely, which helps justify using the camera case in certain situations. Case, printer, script and laptop is never going to happen, though.
I'm not a photographer, so I really had no use for the case, but I thought it might be fun to play with the provided partitions and use it to hold other goodies of an electronic nature. It holds most of the gaming peripherals I travel with on the road: mouse, USB hub, and gamepad, as well as my backup hard drive. I brought the case on this leg of the tour, and it was a stupid idea. It takes up way too much space for its usefulness. Keeping it in the bag on a daily basis is not a good use of space, and the important stuff, like my mouse and backup drive, live perfectly well in the pockets within the main compartment of the bag itself -- pockets which ironically can't be filled when the camera case is in the bag.
At any rate, the case would definitely be useful to bring along in more casual situations where I would not need to carry a binder. For an overnight trip, for instance, there would be just enough room left in the bag for some clothes and other small items.
Here's how I set up the dividers for my HD and gaming stuff (that's mouse on the left, HD top center, USB hub upper right, and gamepad at the bottom.)
Below is a picture of the bag with the camera case in it, and my printer on top.
My first commute with the bag went surprisingly well. All I had in it was my laptop and the accessories I permanently carry (which is a lot of stuff). The bag was very well balanced, and as a result felt much lighter than it was. My morning train was pretty packed -- I got a seat, but I was crammed in, so it was a good opportunity to check how well the bag can be contained on one's lap without spilling over into someone else's personal space. While it is much more rigid than a normal backpack, it can still be squeezed into a smaller footprint if need be. The sturdy handle on the top is also nice. It's big, padded, and strong enough to really be used to drag the bag around with a lot of heavy stuff in it.
World Traveler Report:
The bag has been nice to fly with. Again I was nervous about the fact that it's kind of rigid, but I have found it fits beneath the seats of every plane I've been on, including some tiny puddle jumpers. On a couple it has been really tight, though. It does fit in the overhead compartments well, too, if you can tame the straps from going everywhere. When I fly I tend to take the little tiny electronic crap out of my bag as much as possible so the TSA people don't freak out and have to look at all of it. On my first flight with this bag, I didn't really do that, and sure enough it had to be hand searched. But because there are enough pockets for everything to have its proper place, that didn't take long.
I really love the fact that the bag naturally stands upright. It just makes getting into it easier. The rigidity is also nice since you don't have to dig around, everything is exposed. I keep my laptop charging cable in the inner pocket on the flap, which makes it very heavy. When the bag is largely empty and the charger is still in the pocket, it does have a tendency to fall over, but that probably serves me right for packing it that way. The handle on the top is very sturdy for wrestling with the bag and dragging it under my desk, into the junk bunk on the bus, or anywhere I need it to go.
I have no regrets about buying this bag. It's very expensive, but so far it's been worth it, as I haven't seen another bag that meets my needs so well.
Here's a view of the bag carrying a theoretical load of two large scripts, my printer, and computer (for those who really care about the distinction, that was my 15" Powerbook standing in for the picture, my Macbook Pro was busy doing something -- it's a little bit longer and thinner than the PB.) You can also see one of the padded inserts that comes with the bag, so that it can fit Macbooks from 13" (where you would use both pads) to 15" (with one pad) to 17" (no pads needed).
Booq Taipan Skin Laptop Sleeve
You can see in some of the other pictures that I have an inner sleeve in the laptop slot. That is one I just bought, also made by Booq, although it's not particularly marketed as an accessory for this bag. It's their Taipan Skin sleeve, which comes in a couple colors. The black one pretty much matches this bag. It has three little rubbery stripes sewn on it, which give it a little more protection and grip. The zipper wraps around two sides of the bag, so you can take the computer out horizontally or vertically. There are also two zippers. I have the medium model, designed for the 15" MacbookPro. If you're curious, Booq makes it clear that it fits both current (unibody) and previous-gen MBPs. Mine is previous-gen, and the fit is very snug, but not too snug. I don't have a current-gen model to test it with, so I can't say for sure how it would fit, but I'd guess it wouldn't be swimming in it. It's a little tight to just slip the computer in when it's inside the laptop slot in the bag, but I like traveling with a sleeve because it allows me to carry the laptop around by itself with some protection, when it's overkill to take my whole bag, such as running into the theatre for a minute from the bus, or going up to the booth during a show.Pics below:
Booq Bag Replacement Experience
After about 3 months of use, I found that the straps were indeed as fragile as I feared. Given the amount of use my bag gets, it didn't surprise me that the rather ordinary straps started to fail. The place where the top of the right strap joins the bag was starting to come undone and fray at one side. I'm not sure if this was a manufacturing defect in my specific bag (there was a stray orange thread on the outside of the strap, suggesting maybe it wasn't sewn properly). Within a few weeks of the separation first starting, the strap had progressed to the point where it was only hanging on by a (very determined!) strip of fabric from the underside of the strap.
As this is a very expensive bag and Booq makes a big deal about their guarantee of quality, I looked into how I might get myself a replacement before the whole thing fell apart. The process was much easier than I had feared. All I had to do was email a few photos of the damaged area, and in just a few hours I had heard back from someone at Booq letting me know that they would be sending me a replacement. I did have to pay $20 for shipping, but considering how they didn't give me any hassle about assessing the damage, and I didn't have to ship the old back back, I think it was worth it. I am being extra careful with the new bag, I don't yank it up by the single strap when there's 20lbs in it like I would like to, and it's showing no signs of coming apart after several months.
Ricardo Beverly Hills Essentials 30" Rolling Duffle
When I joined the Acting Company tour, I decided I needed a snazzy new piece of luggage that I could lug around for six months, that would be bigger than the small suitcase I use for summer stock, but small enough that I can still get around with it easily. I haven't selected a piece of luggage for myself since I was about 12, so I really didn't know what my options were. After looking for ideas in some luggage stores in New York, I decided to try the rolling duffle format, as it seemed the most expandable while still being lightweight and compact when the contents allowed. I think they actually may not make this model anymore, but you can still find it for sale online (at about half of the original MSRP). Here's the Amazon link.
This is the Ricardo Beverly Hills Essentials 30" Rolling Duffle. It's MSRP is $180, but most places I've seen it online have been around $100. It comes in blue, shown above (which is the one I have), and brown. The wheels (which are Razer-scooter-style) match the color of the bag, which is a completely useless but cool feature. It has some little accents that are yellow (such as the zipper pulls, and the button you push to make the handle pop out).
As this handy image shows, it has two main compartments: there is a lower compartment that's kind of box-shaped and somewhat rigid, but not completely. The zipper that you see partially opened on top leads to the main compartment which takes up pretty much all the rest of the space. There is also a nice mesh section on the bottom of the top compartment, so you can see into the bottom compartment and air can get in there. It even zips open so you can get in the bottom compartment without opening it from the outside (my bag is always packed too tightly to make that very useful, but I'm sure it could be).
The upper compartment has two elastic pouches on the back edge, like many suitcases have, to stick whatever it is you stick in those (toiletries mostly, I guess, though I travel with a separate toiletries bag since we don't stay in a hotel every night). These don't close, and when the bag is flipped open, due to its flexible nature, I find the pouches sometimes bend over and the contents spill out. I keep things like my little swiss army knife, apartment keys, coins for laundry, stamps, and a roll of scotch tape in there. I don't mind it too much, but they're not the most useful for keeping things separate that you really need to keep separate. Unfortunately, I'd say the one fault of the bag is there really aren't any small compartments, but I think that's true of most traditional suitcases as well.
Attached at either end of the upper part of the bag are rather large side pockets. The one on the left is kind of normal, the one on the right has a little trick. It's mostly designed to be a place to keep dirty laundry, wet clothes, shoes, or other things you might not want getting shoved in with all your nice clean clothes in the main part of the bag. The pocket actually goes much deeper than it appears -- it has a sort of sock-like shape to it that extends into the main compartment. This has advantages and disadvantages: if you don't need to fill that pocket with much, then it just compresses and doesn't take away valuable space in the main compartment. If you do try to cram it with stuff, it will expand into the main compartment, giving you less room in there. I think this is the best possible solution, but when I've got close to a week of dirty laundry, it can be tricky to shove it all in the side pouch, and then rearrange the rest of my bag to compensate for the fact that the center compartment is now reduced in capacity for clean clothes. In theory it should all work out because it's the same total volume, but I find I always have to start rearranging things as the proportion of dirty vs. clean clothes changes throughout the week. If you stay somewhere more than a day or two and actually fully unpack your bag in the hotel, it might not matter at all. Anyway, the idea of having a separate place for dirty laundry was a huge selling point for this bag. The fact that it doesn't waste space when empty is also highly awesome.
UPDATE: After a recent string of nights spent sleeping on the bus, I had gotten to the point where most of my clothes were dirty. I'm happy to report the dirty laundry pocket was able to expand to about 2/3 the size of the total upper part of the bag, successfully keeping all my yucky clothes away from the nice ones until we were able to spend the night in a hotel.
These are really the only four compartments. There is a zipper at the bottom of the bottom compartment which leads into the lining of the bag. I really don't know what it's for, but you could shove stuff in there if you really want, maybe for extra security. I keep my mail in there so 3 months of bills and bank statements aren't rolling around in my way every day. On the exterior there are a few loops, and some elastic straps, which if I'm careful, I can get my toiletries bag to fit in -- by complete accident, the bags even match!
The final zippered area is on the underside of the bag. A panel pulls down revealing some (rather thin and cheap-feeling) backpack straps. I like this feature because if I have to carry the bag up a flight of stairs, it's much easier as a backpack than as a duffel. However, when there's 30-40lbs in the bag, the straps are not particularly comfortable, so I don't personally see this as an alternative to rolling the bag, except for a quick 30-second jaunt up stairs or the like. I also suspect with any serious use they would start to break.
The bag has a standard pull-out locking luggage handle for rolling it. It's very sturdy, the only complaint I have about it is that it's short. This works fine given the height of the bag, but if you have any carry-on bags that have a slot intended to be passed over the luggage handle of another bag, you will probably find this handle too short to come out the other end of your carry-on.
On the back side of the bag is a little window for your name and address, with a cover that velcros down over it.
The handles are nicely designed. There are duffel-style handles with a velcro strap to keep them together. The top of the bag has a soft handle, and the bottom has a hard rubberish one, which I think is also intended to help the bag stand on end. This doesn't always work, depending on how the contents are weighted, but it's a start. No matter how you want to carry the bag, or if you want to carry it with another person, you'll find a handle for it. I found that especially useful when yanking the bag around in the luggage bays under our tour bus.
The wheels, as I said, match the color of the bag and are similar to the narrow variety used in Razer Scooters and inline skates. I'm sure you could find a suitcase with more rugged wheels, but I found these satisfactory even through the snow and ice in Minneapolis.
Wear and Tear
When I was shopping for this bag I read some reviews saying that it started to fall apart quickly. I was a little concerned, but I must say so far I don't see any signs of wear at all, except that one of the zipper pulls broke (not the zipper itself, the little string with the plastic bauble on the end that you yank with), and the elastic bungee on the top came undone from one end. I tied it in a knot large enough to keep it from coming unlaced, and it's fine. For the zipper pulls, I found some at REI that I like better anyway. They're made by Eagle Creek. I would say these small failures are not bad for over six months on the road, with a half-dozen or more flights, and almost daily loading in and out under the bus.
Finally, here's an action shot of my bag in the Minneapolis airport. This gives some indication that the colors are a little darker and more subtle than the Smurftacular blue that the manufacturer's photos make it seem to be.
One thing I discovered about this bag that I had never considered before is that I thought it would be a great bag to take with me for my summer stock season. It wasn't until I got to Penn Station and happened to be picking up my ticket next to the carry-on luggage sizer that I realized that Amtrak has restrictions on the size of carry-on bags, and the maximum length is 28". As it was far too late to put it in the baggage car, and my destination station did not offer checked baggage service anyway, I took my chances that nobody would notice (and promptly began sitting on it in the hopes of making it squish a little!) The conductor even helped me put it up on the baggage shelf and didn't seem to care (I'm sure it helped that it was very light, and thin in all other dimensions). I didn't have any trouble on my return trip, either, but in the future I may have to settle for my old suitcase to avoid any problems with that. Had I realized that 30" was bigger than Amtrak allows, I would have restricted my search to bags under 28".
- Separate pocket for dirty laundry, collapses when not needed.
- Hidden backpack straps
- Handles every place you could think to carry it from.
- Wheels roll nicely
- No small closable pockets or compartments.
- Doesn't stand up on end all that well, depending on how it's packed.
- Handle is too short to attach a carry-on around it.
- Just a little too tall to meet Amtrak carry-on dimensions
BBP Hamptons Bag
I purchased this bag a few years ago on Amazon (retail price is $95, but I got it for $50), but it appears they may not carry it directly anymore. The company's website is here. It comes in other colors, but I liked this titanium and orange one best. They come in three sizes: small, medium and large, which hold different sized laptops. I got the medium as they claim it perfectly fits the 15" Macbook Pro, which it does. It also comes with some velcro-in padded inserts that you can use to customize the shape for your particular laptop. I actually used all of them in the bottom of the laptop compartment to provide a little extra cushioning.
The thing that makes this bag unique (and maybe a little frightening) is that you can wear it like a messenger bag over one shoulder, or like a backpack by converting the strap so that it attaches to the middle of the bag and over both shoulders. You may ask yourself, "Won't I look like an idiot with a messenger bag dangling down on my lower back?" I asked myself the same thing. Maybe? Probably? But I decided it might be worth a try, and if it was really humiliating, at least I would still have a new messenger bag to wear in the regular style.
My first reaction to trying the straps is that it is indeed quite comfortable to wear the bag backpack-style. It also works well over one shoulder with the strap in backpack configuration, so it's sort of a cross between backpack and messenger. It takes a little re-rigging to really switch modes, so I have been finding this the best way to be able to swap back and forth quickly.
Once I started using it on a day-to-day basis, I discovered a system that seemed to work well. I wear it backpack style as I walk to and from the train and my apartment, where it's not crowded. While on the train, I switch it to messenger style, which works better in the tight confines of midtown streets where I can put it in front of me, to the side, or slung around to the back depending on the size of space I need to squeeze through. The bag definitely feels much heavier in messenger style, but it's rather wide when worn on the back, and has been getting caught on things.
The other annoyance I have about wearing it backpack style begins with something BBP has on their site:I was very comforted to hear this before purchasing, as I'm 5'0" and often find that no matter how high on your back a bag is supposed to ride, it always winds up hanging down on my butt and distorting all the intended weight-distributing design. I thought maybe I was in the clear with this one. No such luck. I have read a review claiming that despite the low-hanging design, the bag does not bounce on your butt. Let me tell you, if you're 5'0" you can hike up all the straps to their shortest length, and the bag will still bounce on your butt. Hard. With every step. That's thousands of bounces every time you go somewhere, and I don't appreciate my laptop being bounced on anything thousands of times a day, even though the padding on the back of the bag is quite thick.
Brightly lined interior... or not
One of the things I found appealing about this bag that I now look for in all my bags is that the interior should be a bright color so you can find stuff in it. My bags, especially my computer bags, hold lots of tiny little cables and adapters, and generally I find them by sticking my hand way down into the pockets and finding stuff by touch. This is not really ideal. I was a bit disappointed when the bag arrived to discover that only two of the compartments have the fun yellow interior, and even that is a stretch. The big giant compartment is yellow, which is less helpful to me because I tend to put big giant things in the big giant compartment, and big giant things are usually easier to find anyway. The wide compartment in the front has yellow on the back side, adjoining the big giant compartment, but the pockets and the outer side are black. So you can sort of see things in the pockets, but anything sitting in the space in front of the pockets (which happens to be the natural place for all my cables and adapters) is lost in the blackness. Every other compartment in the bag is all black. Considering they tout this as one of the features of the bag, it feels a little half-assed when only one of the bag's eight compartments is fully lined in a bright color.
The shower test
Once a year it seems I find myself walking 20 blocks or more in a torrential downpour. The kind of downpour where it feels like there's more water than air in the air. For this reason when I buy a bag capable of holding my computer the first thing I do before ever letting it carry my computer is put it in the shower. I stick pieces of paper in the various pockets where sensitive items might be, and after letting my shower rain down on it for a while, I check to see if the papers got wet.
I'm sorry to say this bag did not entirely pass. The manufacturer clearly states on the website that it's water resistant, not waterproof, but I was especially worried by the fact that the laptop compartment is conveniently located behind the main flap so that you can take your computer out without opening the flap. It has a water-resistant zipper, but it's not protected from water like it would be if the flap covered it.
After ten minutes under the shower (suspended, not sitting in the water at the bottom), here are the results:
Outside of bag: soaked
Inside flap: surprisingly dry. You can see that the lighter-colored silver area is where the interior pockets pretty much survived.
Inside the big compartment: wet! As you can see the paper was pretty soaked at the bottom, and there was also a large pool of water in the bottom of the bag. I attribute this to the fact that I sometimes spun the bag under the shower head which probably let a bunch of water in through the sides under the flap. Probably more severe than anything that would happen in an actual rainstorm. The large black seam at the top of the photo also showed a little wetness seeping through.
The wide front compartment which I can best describe as "where I would put my power adapter" came out wetter than I would like at the bottom. I attribute this to the fact that the bottom of this compartment adjoins the bottom of the main compartment, which was filled with water.
The pouch in the front came out almost completely dry.
The cute magnetically-sealed iPod compartment: soaked. I expected this, especially because this is the one pouch that doesn't have a zipper, and it's exposed on the outside of the flap. In the rain I would never have my iPod in the external pouch of any bag, but this illustrates why. I didn't bother putting paper inside any of the other outer pouches.
And finally, how has my laptop been faring during this downpour? A bit wet. There is also a little water pooled at the bottom of the compartment. I'm not sure whether it came in from the adjoining compartment or from the seams at the top.
My overall verdict is that while my test was probably more severe than I would encounter in the real world, if I were ever caught in a real rainstorm with this bag and anything water-sensitive in it, my first priority would be to get the hell out of the rain.
OverallIn some ways it's an improvement over my usual messenger bag, the Timbuk2 Commute, which is also a great bag (and waterproof), as I don't like that the Timbuk2 is too small to hold much besides my laptop and script and a few accessories. This bag holds enough stuff to actually be usable for rehearsals when I have to bring everything, and the different carrying options allow me to distribute the weight better than I would be able to with a normal messenger bag, on those days when it's just too heavy for one shoulder.
Some little details I like:
Extra D-rings on the outside of the flap and on the straps for clipping... whatever onto them. I wasn't sure what I was going to use these for, but figured I would find a use eventually. After the final performance of my summer stock season, I had crammed my belongings from the theatre into every possible pocket (see photo for an idea of how wide the bag gets), but I had nowhere safe to put my headset. So I tied the strings of its drawstring bag around one of the D-rings and let it hang on the outside. I wouldn't call that a "safe" way to carry a headset, but for the trip from the booth to the trunk of my car it worked fine.
The open pocket on the back has a zipper at the bottom which opens it up to be put over the handle on a rolling suitcase. I love those things. Here's a picture of it in action on my trip home from Reagle.
The magnetic clip on what is presumably the iPod pouch is classy. A special softer lining on the inside would have been a great touch, but no luck. One other oddity is the center mesh pocket on the outside of the flap. I'm not a big fan of mesh in general, as I think it will result in the contents falling out, either accidentally, or because a potential pickpocket can see exactly what's in it, limiting it to holding nothing more expensive than a roll of BreathSavers. This particular mesh pocket doesn't even have a piece of elastic at the top. Now think about this: you put something in this pocket, then later you need to get something out of your bag and lift the flap. The outer pocket is now upside down! Something that is designed to be turned upside down as part of its normal operation should probably be closed at the top. Odd.
All in all, this bag has some really bold and smart design choices, but I don't think it's going to fully replace any of the bags I already own, because of the water issue, and the bouncing-on-the-butt problem makes it uncomfortable and unsafe for carrying a laptop.