The main purpose of a laptop bag, backpack or a sleeve (case), is to let you easily carry the laptop computer around.
But since computers are subtle electronic devices that can easily be broken, you should pay close attention when choosing a carrying medium, such as a laptop bag.
Yes these items come in all sorts of different configurations, colors and other fancy features, but what distinguishes a good laptop carrying medium from a bad one is; its Size, Security & Safety features and User Comfort.
In other words, its your Purpose for buying it (defined by the Size, Security & Safety features) and how comfortable (User Comfort) it will be to carry around, that matter. Other aspects such as the appearance are important too. But you should first consider those three main features, others are all secondary compared to them.
So in this guide I will explain to you those three main factors in detail (in easy to understand English, as I always do) and then I will describe under which conditions you should choose either a laptop sleeve (case), bag or a backpack. And I will leave it up to you to choose a style, because after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Table of Contents
Laptop Bags Size
Size matters. Not just the overall size of the medium itself, which is also important, but your laptop basically should firmly fit into it, though, not too tightly or too loosely.
A too tight fit will make it difficult for you to take it out. If it fits too loosely on the other hand, that will give the laptop some space to move around which can be annoying for the user when carrying around. The best way to make sure that your laptop is going to fit in nicely to whatever carrying medium you choose, is to make sure to purchase one that only supports the size of your laptop (11.6″, 13.3″, 15.6″, 17″ etc).
This should prevent you from purchasing an unnecessarily oversize (bulky) carrying medium. The medium should also let you put the necessary accessories of your laptop, such as the charger, inside it.
If you will be needing to carry additional gear (mouse, backup battery, headphones or items that you frequently carry around) or travel related belongings if you travel a lot (cloths, water bottles, books, shoes etc), make sure it has enough space to hold them, which will be in the form of pockets (both inside and outside) and different compartments inside.
Laptops Security & Safety
Laptop carrying mediums nowadays are usually manufactured using five materials: Polyester, Nylon, Neoprene, Leather (both natural and artificial) and Cotton (or other related materials such as flax).
Polyester is the mostly commonly used material, especially for manufacturing bags.
It has a long lifetime, it’s durable & flexible, resistant to color saturation & heat from the Sun.
Unfortunately, it’s very flammable which is its biggest drawback.
Nylon also has a long lifetime, great for manufacturing water-proof and resistant containers (Polyester too is very popular for creating such containers), lightweight and very anti-static.
The disadvantage is however, Nylon wears out quickly when exposed to Sunbeams.
Neoprene is a synthetic rubber.
It can withstand to high temperatures (up to 200 Fahrenheit) and resistant to flames, chemicals & Oil, Sunbeams & to harsh weather conditions (very water resistant, in fact, they’re very popular for manufacturing dry-suits) in general.
It is also an excellent abrasion material. The lifetime of Neoprene is long, and it’s also cheap.
The slight downside is that since it’s a latex based material, some people are allergic to it.
Natural leather is an expensive material that is hard to maintain and weighs a little compared to others.
But they small great, and render an unmatched classy look.
A carefully crafted laptop carrying medium with natural leather will become an extension of you, not a bag or a sleeve. And, when properly cared, they last long too. Artificial leather on the other hand is cheap and can looks as good as a natural leather. But its downside is the shorter lifespan.
Cotton is not a popular prime material for manufacturing laptop bags or other mediums. They have a gentle, soft touch, but Cotton is not a durable material.
The Laptop’s Compartment
A good carrying medium should include a separate, padded compartment optional for the laptop which acts as a shock absorber. This will protect the laptop (to a certain degree) should you bump into other people or things, while travelling.
This also protects the laptop by absorbing the weight (some have padded chambers that are made out of strong plastic shell or other similar materials so that your laptop won’t get crushed by the weight of other heavy things inside the bag) of the other items inside it as well (you should consider the chamber’s ability to absorb shocks & weights when buying a backpack as you will be putting more than your laptop and its accessories inside it).
Some also have a hook-and-loop fastener for securely holding the laptop inside the padded compartment as well.
Security & Safety Features
Some carrying mediums come with a layer of steel mesh (covering the bottom, front and the side panels), lockable and high quality zippers (they make it difficult to break into the bag with a sharp object like a pocket knife for instance), removable shoulder straps that have a layer of metal mesh (or sometimes wires) inside them which you can use to lock the bag to an unmovable object for example.
And when not in use, most let you retract strap into the bag. These features add additional layers of protection against theft. Some also come with ‘TSA friendly’ lockers that let TSA officers at airports to unlock the bag, should they want to check what’s inside it, by using a ‘master key’, without having to cut (destroy) the lock.
Some (messenger bags & backpacks) have built in compartments for tablets and mobile phones, and other small but handy features such as key clips & wallet rings etc inside them as well. It is difficult to spill out everything here, but I think you get the general idea.
Today we also live in a technologically more complex world in which theft can take the form of physical or non-physical. Most credit/debit cards, passports, IDs have a small micro-chip known as a RFID device that contains sensitive & personal information. The data on these micro-chips can be retrieved without having to make physical contact with them.
To counteract this, some carrying mediums come with ‘RFID Safe’ pockets where you should keep your passports, credit cards etc, that block certain frequencies. Although no one cannot guarantee 100% that it will be able to protect you against such cyber attacks, they will enhance nonetheless the overall security. Secrecy is another key aspect most people ignore. If you will be carrying an expensive laptop inside, then it’s important no one gets to notice that.
Some products that are made for a specific brand usually display the brand of your laptop on the outside (Apple based products are a good example of this). If you purchase something like that then you’re just asking for trouble. A thief will immediately know that you’re carrying something valuable. If you’re truly concerned about safety, avoid such products.
Some products come with a rating called the IP rating. IP stands for International Protection Marking. These ratings indicate the protection level of the carrying medium (against hand & finger intrusion, water resistance, RFID & other electronic safety capabilities, protection against dust etc).
However, not all products come with an IP rating or a code. If you will be purchasing a high quality carrying medium that you will be using a lot, make sure it comes with an extended warranty period. It’s also advisable to ask for the return policy of its manufacture, and try to find out the quality of their customer service if can (for repairing purposes in the future).
The point is, if you often travel long distances or embark on adventures, then high build quality, security & safety features, and the quality of the after sale services (and the User Comfort, which I’ll explain next), should be the deal-breakers for you. Although, a carrying medium that come with all these features won’t be a cheap one, it’s better to be safe than be sorry.
The user comfort mainly depend on four factors. The weight of the medium itself, the overall weight of the things you’ll be putting inside it, how well it distributes the overall weight, and the quality of the straps or supporters in general.
Depending on the design & its purpose, a laptop carrying medium can be as light as a feather, all the way up to 6 or 7 pounds. That’s why you should carefully consider the size (enough space for the laptop and other goods) and the security & safety features (more features mean more components which mean more weight) which will help you naturally settle into a carrying medium with the proper weight factor.
The weight of the medium itself changes with its design, and the overall weight depends on how many things you’ll be putting inside as mentioned above. So it is important that you choose a medium that addresses your weight or space requirements, which I’ll explain in more detail when describing some of the most popular carrying mediums, towards the end of the article.
That said, every carrying medium has a capacity or a maximum weight it supports, and matter what type of medium you choose, as a general safety precaution, you should not be carrying more than 15% of your total body weight.
The weight distribution defines how your body will be exposed to the overall weight.
A well designed carrying medium should let you carry the weight without compromising the proper posture(s), or the balance of your body. Mainly the straps, the materials used to manufacture it & how they’re arranged, play a crucial role. How or which part of your body is affected by the weight distribution, again depends on the style of the bag, which too I shall explain under each one.
Except for most laptop sleeves or cases (since they usually don’t come with straps), no matter what type of carrying medium you’ll be purchasing, make sure the straps are comfortable. The comfort level is proportional to the total capacity of the medium. Generally, the straps should be adjustable & padded well, so that the weight is not concentrated on a small area on top of your shoulders or hips, which is where they’re mostly ‘tied’ to.
The width should be around 2 to 3 inches long (2 inches is just about perfect for my mid-sized shoulders. I’m 5.8″). A strap that has a small width will put a lot of weight (pressure) on your shoulder, and a strap that is too wide is uncomfortable to use. If it’s a travel backpack, make sure the hip belt is also comfortable (well padded).
Before I move onto the next section, which is the last one, let me summarize what we’ve discussed so far. If you remember, in the beginning I said there are three things that define a good laptop carrying medium from a bad one. Those will be the Size, Security & Safety features, and the User Comfort.
If you have read what I wrote carefully, then by now you should be able to figure out the characteristics of the carrying medium that you require. So now I will describe to you few of the popular types of laptop carrying mediums there are, so that you can purchase the actual physical product, that suits your needs.
Also please keep in mind that when describing each style, I will not go into great details of the things that I’ve already explained (build quality, security features, comfort etc), you should instinctively bring them into the picture.
Laptop sleeve or a case, is the most basic form of a carrying medium that you can find. They are mostly
very lightweight, but don’t offer lot of protection (some, such as the Neoprene based ones, are water resistant and can provide a reasonable level of protection against shocks) or room for the accessories. Cheap ones act like basic a ‘skin’.
Most sleeves or cases don’t even offer any space to insert the charger. Some have an outside pocket or two, but even those will struggle most of the time providing enough space, especially if you have a bulky charger or a long power cord. Some come with a shoulder strip, but most don’t.
My advice is, you should choose a laptop sleeve or a case, if you have a small (15.6″ or below), lightweight laptop and if you will only be covering short distances (to your office that’s few blocks away, for instance). If you have a bag or a backpack that’s not designed to hold a laptop, it is advisable then to first put the laptop into a sleeve or a case, before putting it into the bag or the backpack.
That said, if you have a thin, lightweight laptop that can last 6 – 7 hours on a single charge which you usually take to your office in a normal bag, then when blended with a professional suit, a leather laptop sleeve will turn heads!.
Lap tops Messenger Bags
A messenger bag is the enhanced version of a laptop sleeve in the sense that it is more roomy, provides better security and protection for the laptop, and it has a single shoulder strap which makes it easy to carry around. A good messenger bag should include a separate container (with padded walls etc as mentioned earlier) for the laptop and enough space to add laptop gear (charger, external storage device, CD/DVDs etc) & other goodies (notebooks, pens, mobile phones,
business cards etc). Some even have a separate container for a tablet as well. Messenger bags are mostly used by students & professionals. If you’re a professional, make sure it also has a handle (not all come with one), the strap should be removable, and for you, leather is the perfect material.
Messenger bags come in two different styles (I’m not sure if you can call them ‘styles’ exactly, but let me explain) that basically determine how the laptop will be held inside. First there is the more common horizontal messenger bag which will hold the laptop horizontally. Then there is the vertical messenger bag.
I’ve used both these styles and when coupled with a good shoulder strap they’re both comfortable to use, but, personally I prefer the vertical style. Because most laptops have the shape of a rectangle, and when put on a travelling body (such as to your body when walking), a rectangular object is more stable when held in a vertical position than when held horizontally.
This is because (in this example) the distance between the two ends that hold the weight of the messenger bag is short on a vertical bag, so the torque that’s operating from each end gets reduced, thus it doesn’t sway (back & forth) as much.
In simple words, when you walk with a vertical messenger bag, the bag won’t pull you to the front when you suddenly stop, or pull your body towards backward, when you start to walk suddenly, compared to a horizontal bag.
Plus, I think vertical messenger bags look better too, but that’s just my preference. Being said all this, this is not a deal-breaker. Feel free to choose between either a horizontal or a vertical one.
When using, also keep in mind that a recent university research also suggests that if you’re a right hand dominant individual, then by wearing the messenger bag left hand draped (vice-versa) will improve your posture as it equalizes the weight distribution of your body. As little as they may seem, these things matter. No matter what type of messenger bag you choose, use it properly and don’t let it abuse your body.
A backpack is the enhanced version of a messenger bag because it can hold a lot more items and provides all the security and safety features of a messenger bag (or even more, if it is well made). Two types of backpacks are popular among laptop users.
One is the frame-less version (most popular), and the other is the backpack with an internal frame. This frame is usually made out of carbon fiber, strong plastic or aluminium.
As a basic rule, the frame should be lightweight but strong. The frame-less version is suitable for students. I don’t recommend it (or backpacks in general) for professionals because it takes away the key element that makes all the difference for a professional – Your Rendered Focus (yes, looks matter!).
You’re way better off with a leather messenger bag. The framed version is for those who travel long distances and embark on adventures. They can hold more items than a frame-less backpack, they’re built to withstand rough weather conditions and have the best weight distribution.
Most frame-less backpacks only include two shoulder straps, but those that has an internal frame (avoid the ones with external frames) should also include a hip belt. When coupled with the frame & the shoulder straps, the hip belt makes sure that most of the weight of the backpack (75-80%) is channeled through your hips towards the legs.
This is because, as a general rule, heavy things should be ‘carried’ by the most strongest parts of your body, which are your bones, and muscles should be less involved in action. This enhances both the comfort of your body and safety. And, no matter which backpack you choose, the side which touches your back should also be padded for increased comfort. When buying (either one) you should also consider your body size.
The basic rule is that once the shoulder straps (and the hip belt, if it has one) are properly tightened, the bottom of the bag should be slightly above your hip. And the total weight of the backpack (the weight of the backpack itself + the weight of the items inside it) shouldn’t weigh more than 15% of your total body weight, as mentioned earlier. Don’t let it hang on a single shoulder when fully packed.
Also keep in mind that, unlike any other medium, you should thoroughly consider the security & safety features when purchasing a backpack, because you wear it on your back and thus do not get to see what is happening behind you. Also, if you’ll be travelling by air a lot, then go for one that’s especially built for such travelers, because others that are built for different purposes, such as for hiking for instance, won’t fully or comfortably fit into the overhead, usually. This is due to their size (because of the height mostly).
There are other things you should keep in mind when purchasing a travel backpack, but this article is for educating you about how to buy a laptop bag or a carrying medium. This is not a travel backpack buying guide. If you’re interested in educating yourself more on the subject, then I recommend you listen to what Matt, who is an experienced traveler, has to say.
If you’re interested in knowing more about purchasing a wheeled backpack, Nora has written a great article.
So I’ve come to the end of my guide. I hope that you would find what I have explained to you useful for choosing the best carrying medium that addresses your requirements. Don’t complicate things by over thinking. Stick to the basics. Keep the size of your laptop in mind, and consider where you’ll be carrying it, & what you will be putting inside it.
Based on that information, evaluate the proper size, security & safety features and the comfort level. Then settle into the type of carrying medium (sleeves, messenger bag etc) that suits you the most. Quite simple. Oh and, as I mentioned in the beginning, feel free to indulge yourself over the appearance. Good luck!.