What to Look For in a Laptop Bag

Finding the right laptop bag for you (and your gear) can be a real pain. There are so many choices out there, and it would appear the ones that are easy to find are usually the absolute worst ones out there. I have about a dozen laptop bags for a variety of laptops I’ve owned over the years, and some of them were really good while others just didn’t meet expectations.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself next time you’re looking for a laptop bag.

What Does It Do?

Every laptop bag out there holds your laptop, but not every one holds much else. I’ve been surprised to find just how difficult it is to put standard things like a power adapter, external hard drive, or even a notebook mouse in most of the bags out there. It would appear that a thin frame wins out over functionality in the minds of many manufacturers. I say nay! Function over form, always and forever.

If you’re a frequent traveler that doesn’t like to check bags, having a laptop bag that serves as both an “extra personal bag” and a useful addition to your luggage is essential. Can you fit more than just your laptop in it? If not, you have the wrong bag. A laptop sleeve is what most laptop shoulder bags out there amount to. Sure there’s a document pouch and a shoulder strap with a little mobile phone pocket, but where do you put your accessories?

Often a backpack solution or some hybrid bag is actually what you need. For photographers, having a bag that is both suited for camera equipment and a laptop is best, though these bags often cost an arm and a leg.

Will It Last?

When it comes to gauging the durability of a bag, you might want to look at a few different criteria. Rip-stop patterns are a good sign of a bag that’s built to last. You can find this pattern by looking for little squares sewn into the fabric. This pattern prevents rips and tears from moving behind a tiny hole. It’s commonly used in military clothing and bags, which is always a good sign for durability.

If you feel that you can fill the bag with rocks and throw it around the back yard without it busting open or ripping itself to shreds, then you have a good bag. I know, that sounds a bit extreme, but there are many companies out there making brilliant civilian bags to military standards. Why settle for something that’s made to fail and require you to buy a new one? Get a bag you can see yourself passing down to your children. That’s a bag that will last.

A few of my recommendations are: Tom Bihn, STM, and Crumpler.

Can I Travel With It?

Having a bag that carries whatever you need is a great thing, but will it travel well? By this I mean, can you carry it on a plane as you extra personal item, or will you have to consider it your primary carry-on bag? This is a real concern for travelers that don’t want to pay outrageous fees only to risk their equipment being damaged or lost in the checked bag system.

Take a moment to gauge your needs and the bag’s ability to fit those needs without taking up too much space. I used to carry around a ThinkGeek Bag of Holding and found it to be a great laptop bag for my then 17.3″ gaming laptop without being too big or bulky to take with me to most places. Even at restaurants and while walking around, big bags are a big problem. Keep it slim yet functional. That’s the key.

Image: STM

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • Joe Vargas

    Great article and insight; very informative. Personally, if I can find a laptop bag that’s impact and water resistant, I’m sold. Laptops are not cheap and have almost become a necessity – especially for students – to have it break in an unreliable bag.

  • sdeforest

    My best laptop bag is a Microsoft labelled bag that was on sale at Fry’s. It has pockets and spaces galore for office and repair equipment in addition to my laptop. It was heavily discounted because a 17 inch laptop would not fit in the padded compartment. No problem, I resewed one side of the padding to the outside and my laptop fits nicely. I lost a bit of padding on one end, but it is minimal. Of course it is black. The only problem I have had is remembering to unload tools before going flying. Those screw drivers can be dangerous.

  • sdeforest

    My best laptop bag is a Microsoft labelled bag that was on sale at Fry’s. It has pockets and spaces galore for office and repair equipment in addition to my laptop. It was heavily discounted because a 17 inch laptop would not fit in the padded compartment. No problem, I resewed one side of the padding to the outside and my laptop fits nicely. I lost a bit of padding on one end, but it is minimal. Of course it is black. The only problem I have had is remembering to unload tools before going flying. Those screw drivers can be dangerous.

  • http://twitter.com/DutchGuyOnAir The Dutch Guy

    I got me one of those STM laptop bags, loving every minute of it! Great bag, without fearing I’m wearing a purse ;)

  • Ryan White

    What to look for in a laptop bag? A Targus label… I have been through many gamer backpacks and laptop cases but non have stood up to my abuse as well as Targus cases. But anything with triple stitching and large quality zippers should suffice.

    You get what you pay for…

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.czarnecki1 Dan Czarnecki

    I myself just have a regular JanSport backpack, and it has a built-in laptop pocket. For my 13″ MacBook Pro, it works like a charm. The other pockets that it has are perfect for carrying all of my accessories like my Magic Mouse and power adapter.

  • Jeremy Crum

    Since i began going back to college in 2007 the use of a good laptop bag was something very important to me. At first i was using an Adidas backpack due to it being within my budget at the time. But since that time i have found that spending the money for a better laptop bag really does make a difference. Since then i have used either Skooba Designs Seventeen 2.0 bag or Timbuk2 D-lux Messenger bag. You do pay more for them but you get so much more for your money. What’s nice about each bag is they are weather resistant, how ever not water proof, and each are backed by life time warranties. The fact that a laptop bag company is willing to offer a life time warranty on a bag is big for me since i carry books, computer, and all the needs supplies for college on a daily basis.

  • http://twitter.com/uthmanbaksh Uthman Baksh

    Right now, I have a Targus laptop bag. It not only holds my laptop, a 13″ MacBook Pro, but it also doubles for a briefcase when I go out on job interviews and the like. I also need something that looks professional. Backpacks aren’t always professional. They did well in college but not anymore. I haven’t tried to carry the laptop with the Targus bag yet. I just hope it can also fit my power adapter seeing that when I bring my laptop I also bring the power adapter. I’m pretty sure that if and when I get an iPad, that the Targus bag will be excellent in carrying that!Plus I got it off of eBay for less than $20! Can’t beat that!

  • http://twitter.com/qwertysucks Zain Siddiqui

    I think the best bag is the PowerBag. The reason why is because it has plenty of space for a laptop an other items like tablets, folders, books, etc; but it also has a battery system that charges your tablet or phone when you’re on the go. I’m not sure if it can charge laptops though.

  • scallawagon

    i do agree with the concept of having a bag that carries more than just the laptop. and it also must open easily for the TSA checks at airports.