eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack Review
The multiplicity and variety of backpacks on the market today are staggering. For anyone who travels for work or even makes the long slog from the parking deck into the office, not all backpacks are made equal. Too many are too bulky and should be laid to rest with the L.L. Bean monogrammed pack of one’s childhood. No, it’s time to re-evaluate the “professional” backpack and make an upgrade that will last you trip after trip and never leave your side.
So, if you’ve read any of my other reviews by now, you’re probably wondering – how did I get here? Certainly there were other interim steps along the way. And you would be correct! How did you know?
No More Pencils, No More Books
As mentioned, I feel it necessary to separate all backpacks used during educational periods of one’s life from those for work. For many people, schlepping stuff into and out of an office each day or as a carry on for business trips inevitably entails a laptop, its related accessories, some paperwork (but not much), a notebook (maybe), and then a whole host of bits and bobs in addition. Most people don’t need to carry multiple books with them at a go. This allows for a slimming of the backpack concept in general.
I started my career with a backpack well used from grad school. It had seen better days. The straps started to fray and unravel; the padding in them shifted wildly so they no longer appeared uniform, but off-kilter. That was replaced quickly by a branded company backpack that looked decent at the start, but quickly fell apart. A few other ill-advised bags blew through my daily use like tumbleweeds, and were quickly forgotten.
Wistfully thinking about all the bags I’ve loved before.
Don’t Shoot the Messenger
The first bag I got for work that I really loved, and still like, is a messenger bag from Patagonia. It’s no longer being sold; the closest approximation is the Patagonia Black Hole® Mini Messenger 12L. For short trips from the car to the office, this was a great bag. It has a deceptively large amount of storage space, and the premium materials and construction mean that this will last a very long time. I’ve taken it on trips all around the world, and it’s performed admirably.
Unfortunately there were a couple drawbacks to the messenger style bag that made me into other options. First, when the bag is fully loaded with a laptop, tablet and lots of little tech accessories, it can get heavy. I found that when traveling and walking longer distances, the weight of the load rested entirely on the one shoulder, which caused some discomfort.
Next is the “style” of the messenger bag. Depending on your point of view, the messenger bag is either a giant man-purse, or a pretentious hipster accessory (did you ride into work on your fixie?). In other words, it’s a unique style, and haters gon’ hate, but it may not be worth the attention it garners, depending on how conservative your office is.
So what makes a backpack “professional,” anyways? Is it about its size, shape, or dimensions? Is it the color black? I think it’s a bit intangible, but it’s one of those – you know it when you see it. And you cringe a bit inside when you see something that’s not.
After hunting for a while (and being HUNTED BY some persistent ads on Instagram and Facebook), I came across the eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack. At that point, even though I loved my Patagonia, I was ready to return to the old school two strap backpack and experiment to see if that felt better than the Vulcan death grip sometimes wrought by my messenger bag. I pulled the trigger on the classic black version, and haven’t looked back since.
Why I Like the eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack
So, why do I like this backpack so much? First of all, it completely lived up to my expectations and the marketing around it, so that’s a great start, and more rare than it should be. Overall, though, I like it because it was everything I was looking for – slim, sleek, “professional,” with lots of organization but without so much room that you load it up excessively, losing the benefit of the less is more, minimalist approach.
Get in the Zone
I love how the bag was designed to be separated into different “zones” that keep things organized much better than I ever was in previous work bags. There are times when the “L” zippered sections are still off-putting – sometimes I just want to open the whole friggin’ thing like a clamshell, like I’ve been used to doing, but again, I’m quickly reminded that this is all part of the design philosophy, and re-appreciate the wisdom that went into it. Here’s how I break things up.
Stash Your Laptop Securely
The first zippered area closest to the back has the laptop pocket, and this is where I stash my, you guessed it, laptop. My 15” MacBook Pro fits snugly in there, and I like the fit – it feels as though it’s quite protected. There’s also room here for documents / notebooks – I wouldn’t recommend storing anything too thick here – save it for the next pocket area.
In between the big pockets, you’ll find a small zippered pocket that is designed to hold a tablet. It’s got a soft microfiber lining to keep even case-less devices scratch free. I haven’t really used this pocket extensively – although it’s nice for stashing your phone / watch / wallet in quickly when going through airport security.
The Big Pocket (Relatively Speaking)
Next is the BIG pocket, which, to be honest, isn’t that big at all. Again, this bag is all about minimalism – pack only what you really need, folks, and you’ll be sure to have a sleek experience that fits easily under the seat in front of you and doesn’t scream “diaper butt,” the hilariously apt description of what bigger, less structured backpacks tend to look like – saggy bottoms.
Still, you can fit all the essentials here: Bose QC35 Headphones in their travel case, Freefly Movi Cinema Robot Smartphone Stabilizer, external hard drives in travel cases, a book or two, snacks – that’s what I’ve traveled with on my most recent international trips. One important note: out of the box, this pocket area is smaller than its full potential due to a hard case that sits at the bottom and is accessible from a pocket at the front of the bag. If you take this hard shell case out (it’s intentionally removable, you’re not breaking anything), you can expand the real estate available in this pocket (which again, isn’t massive to begin with, let’s be clear).
A New Level of Organization
Moving on to the front of the bag, the organization made possible by the main zippered pocket here is really one of the bag’s biggest selling points, in my opinion. I’ve always had lots of little miscellaneous stuff that has littered the bottoms and few pockets of previous bags. I was always rummaging through trying to find what I need, or else completely forgetting about items I had stashed in pockets I could no longer see. This bag seeks to avoid those sticky wickets by employing what they call a 2D design – basically most of the individual zippered pockets within the larger front pocket are see-through and don’t have enough space within each one to cram a bunch of stuff. Think of it as “flat” versus “layered” – you can see all your stuff at one go because nothing is hidden behind something else.
I load up this area with tech and miscellany – AirPods, Anker backup battery, various cables, keycards, flash drives – lots of little stuff, but it all has a place. I know I can find what I need quickly, and this is a game changer. Love this part.
Easy Access to In-Flight Essentials
There’s also a pocket on the front of the larger front pocket that is great for storing things you need to easily access, especially when reaching to grab something during a flight when your bag is stowed by your feet. In this pocket I keep Kleenex, hand sanitizing wipes, and chapstick.
Moving down to the bottom of the bag, the previously mentioned “crush proof garage,” which is optional, is designed for heavy, hard items like an AC adapter, for example. The idea here is to isolate anything that would really bang other stuff up if it was just hanging out loose in the main compartment. Again, I’d rather have the extra real estate gained from removing it.
The water bottle currently stashed here is the YETI Rambler – I really like it.
The Southpaw’s Water Bottle Pocket
One other thoughtful detail on the outside of the bag: a zippered water bottle pocket. This was important to me as the Patagonia had a water bottle pocket I used all the time, and wanted a bag that had one. The really neat thing about this is that when you aren’t using it, you can zip it up so it maintains that sleekness and it won’t get caught on anything (again, most useful in a stowed under seat context). My only gripe: it’s positioned on the left side of the bag. As a righty, and as someone who got used to this being on my right side where my messenger bag positioned it, I am constantly trying to slip my water bottle into thin air, which must be amusing to any onlookers. Then I realize my error, and awkwardly try to stash it with my left arm, but it can be an uncomfortable angle. Very small but had to mention.
Use the Power of the Wheel
Finally, another really cool feature is the bag has been designed to slip over the handle of rolling pieces of luggage, and can do so in either landscape or portrait orientation. Yes, it’s a backpack, and you can easily carry it on your back while rolling your other luggage, but do what the most frequent travelers do – pilots / flight attendants – and use the amazing invention called the “wheel,” and roll with it. Not always necessary but nice if you’d otherwise be carrying it for long distances / time frames.
Overall, I do like this bag and highly recommend it. I’ve taken it on business trips to Europe and throughout the US, and it has performed admirably. If you detected some hesitancy about the size throughout the review, don’t let it scare you away. Part of it is my own coming to terms with minimalist packing, which in most cases is of course ideal, but my Boy Scout roots want to pack everything, including the kitchen sink, to be prepared for all contingencies. This bag has actually trained me to only bring the essentials, which has literally lightened the load while traveling.
A note for the ladies – after seeing mine, my wife immediately ordered one for herself, choosing the Heathered Graphite color, which looks quite nice (I have the classic Solid Black).