As long as there have been laptops, people have been shoving them in bags. Incredible advances have occurred since that first big honking computer got shoved into a slighter bigger honking bag decades ago. Fabrics have grown more durable, straps more comfortable, and bag design itself has diverted into a wide number of directions. So why do laptop bags still look like ass?
Even now, you basically have two options for taking your laptop on the go: cute and useless or useful and fugly. You can have a good-looking bag that everyone will complement—and will also cut off the flow of blood to an appendage. Or you can have a dorky bag that will hold lots of gear—but will permanently cement your status as the kid who either LARPs as Delta Force or owns a Leica range finder for aesthetic reasons and drinks iced coffee in winter.
While this has been a problem for decades, it’s now one facing me (me!) personally. My much loved and used Peak Design Every Day Backpack broke while I was in Las Vegas last month. I unzipped it to give someone my card and found the zipper loose in my hand. The side of my bag was left gaping open, forcing me to hustle to my next meeting with it clutched in my arms like a baby made out of gadgets, batteries, and cords.
I eventually got the zipper back into place, but after three years, it feels like it’s time to retire the old gal and find a new bag for daily use. The problem is... they are all terrible. And when I presented this issue to my colleagues at Gizmodo—people who actually like gadgets and gear—most of their suggestions were bad too.
I am 100 percent sure one coworker just googled “rave backpacks” so she could haunt me with stuff like this Teletubby pack that watches your back with the gaze of the damned or this S&M Fruit Loops box no doubt inspired by MDMA, asbestos, and chemical fumes accidentally huffed from an abandoned toilet.
Others suggested some very cute backpacks with straps thinner than the ones on my bra. Look, if I’m carrying a laptop, a camera, a makeup bag, a wallet, glasses, and the other assorted necessities of a tech journalist who takes public transit, then I essentially need a car trunk that can rest on my shoulders and not kill said shoulders.
The more practical options aren’t much better. There are so-called “everyday carry bags,” which seem built for people who want the convenience of a purse without actually carrying a purse. There’s a deeply gendered stigma around purses, so the men and women who turn their noses up at handbags can instead embrace these tech-y messenger bags, which are just a purses that can hold more shit and be real ugly. They have a lot more support than my favorite purses, making them a potential choice for people who regularly have to carry 20-plus pounds of stuff in their bag.
They’re just, well, they’re not that great looking. There are a lot of very practical and proven messenger bags from companies like Chrome, Timbuk2, and Mission Workshop that will hold a ton of stuff... and make you look like a big dork. Even the handsome stuff is shot through with dweeb. It’s like the designers got 95 percent of the way to attractive and then thought, “But what if I put a big useless black strap on it?”
Backpacks are equally dorky. One, because backpacks, while very practical and comfortable, are ALWAYS dorky, and two, because the best ones are usually too damn expensive for a big black sack. One former co-worker insisted I try out GoRuck’s shooter series. He regularly transports all his camera gear in his and adores it (he’s also had it as long as I’ve had my Peak Design and has suffered much less wear and tear). But GoRuck backpacks are very expensive—almost $400 for a completely empty bag that you then customize with smaller packs that can be as much as $100. $700 or $800 for an all-black backpack wrapped in MOLLE webbing feel and awful lot like $700 or $800 spent on cosplaying as a character from Call of Duty.
The other end of the spectrum—far from the dork—isn’t much better. Fancy messenger bags from Waterfield, Trakke, and Ona are attractive, but a little less practical—usually with one major flaw like a fussy latch system, and all embracing a certain douche vibe. It’s that very specific “hipster in the city” vibe. You will know these bags because they are expensive, and because the photos all showcase handsome, hip men, usually wearing their bags too low and clutching a $3,000 camera or a weather-worn copy of Catcher in the Rye. The streets they are photographed on are almost always brick or cobblestone.
These bags—which are actually really nice looking!—are selling a specific lifestyle that is profoundly douche-y, and by buying them I feel kind of douche-y, too.