Upsizing – and Upgrading – My Carry-on Backpack

The ECBC Lance Executive Daypack looks good in the boardroom and on the boardwalk.
The ECBC Lance Executive Daypack looks good in the boardroom and on the boardwalk.

I wrote, just over two years ago, about my carry-on epiphany, converting from a hand carried ‘tote’ to a backpack.

I’ve continued to take the ECBC Hercules backpack with me everywhere for the last two years, but there’s some sort of universal law that states ‘the more space you have, the more space you need’, and what was once a capacious backpack capable of holding just about everything I needed has increasingly seemed somewhat cramped and crowded.

And so, after my last epic six week roadtrip this May/June, including five flights, one cruise, countless ferries and coaches, three long-distance trains, two rental cars, and 18 different hotels, I decided it was time to upgrade/upsize my Hercules backpack.  I hasten to add that the Hercules remains a current product from ECBC and is every bit as excellent now as it was in 2013.  I simply wanted something a bit bigger.

I wanted to continue to have a ‘multi purpose’ or cross-over device that looked simultaneously appropriate to take into a business meeting, but which was not showy/ostentatious and shouting ‘steal me’ when in tourist areas, or looking too much like I’d just come down from climbing the Himalayas.  The ECBC products walk this fine line well, and so I chose their slightly larger Lance Executive Daypack.

If you look at the numbers, in the table below, at first it would seem that the Lance isn’t really appreciably bigger than the Hercules.  An inch taller, and two inches thicker.  But it is amazing what an inch here and two inches there ends up as representing in carrying capacity, as the next line in the table suggests – the actual effective storage capacity has probably increased by at least a quarter, while not making the pack noticeably larger or more clumsy.  I can now stuff a warm jacket or something into the backpack, shove in some food and buy something else in Duty Free, and it becomes practical to consider using the backpack on short overnight trips to both transport one’s ‘business’ stuff and also a spare shirt, socks, underwear and essential toiletries, avoiding the need for any additional luggage at all.

Of course, with a significant increase in space/capacity comes a potential increase in weight, and so ECBC have added a waist strap as well as the chest strap already to be found in the Hercules.  This is much appreciated – it surprises me how often I have ended up needing to bend down while wearing the Hercules backpack and the waist strap stops it from suddenly plunging towards my head and the ground (when bent over) and also allows one to cinch the waistband tightly to cause the bag’s weight to be located more on one’s waist than one’s shoulders.

A common drawback with a waistband though is that it makes the bag very ‘strappy’ with lots of dangly bits, better suited for mountains than meetings.  Happily, ECBC have a convenient way of tucking the waistbands into side pockets that streamline the bag’s appearance.  Other bags also have tuckable waistbands, but their tuckability is sometimes minimal and inconvenient, whereas the ECBC approach is easy and effective.  So the waistband feature is a strong plus with no associated downside.

The Lance bag also features the wonderful clamshell design – what ECBC call their Fastpass.  This allows you to just open up the backpack and lay it flat, 180° open, and send it through the TSA X-ray machine without needing to remove your laptop.  That saves time and hassle and makes it less likely the laptop will be damaged or stolen.

Curiously, while the TSA is more ‘strict’ than many airport security services in other countries (for example the requirement to remove shoes), the US is one of the few countries that allow laptops to remain in these clamshell type carry bags.  It always seems incongruous that in the US I have to take my shoes off but can leave my laptop in its bag, but in other countries, the shoes stay on but the laptop comes out.

Back to the bag.  While it is larger and has many common features with the Hercules, inexplicably and unfortunately, ECBC have limited the internal ‘organizer’ pockets and there’s no obvious place where one could put a folded shirt without it getting crushed and crumpled.  Well, there is indeed an obvious place – the main middle compartment – but there’s nothing in that to put a shirt, other than a cavernous empty space that will probably be shared with other ‘road warrior’ and general travel things.

Similarly, they’ve also taken out the pocket opposite the laptop which I’d found useful for carrying assorted files and loose paperwork.  It is a bigger bag, for sure, but with – sort of – less internal organizer capabilities.

I say ‘sort of’ because it has a huge third compartment (the first is for the laptop and pretty much nothing else, the second is the capacious middle ‘main’ compartment).  With the Hercules, this was a relatively tiny thing stuck on the front measuring about 12″ deep and 9″ across, on the Lance it is about 15″ deep and 9.5″ across, and with considerably more pouches to hold things inside.  But the added pouches are smaller than the larger pouches eliminated in the other two compartments so don’t fully compensate.

So where to now place presentations, papers, and files?  You could leave them loose in the third outer compartment, but only if their width isn’t much more than 8.5″ or else the zippers get in the way when placing them in and taking them out.  Standard letter/legal/A4 sized papers are fine, but wider presentation folders start to get a big of a tight fit.  On the other hand, if you have papers protected inside folders, they could be left loose in the middle compartment, although you might need to be a bit careful how you remove them with a grand flourish in your boardroom meeting if you also have a shirt and toiletries stuffed into that same compartment!

I’ve solved this ‘first world problem’ by simply keeping a couple of plastic folders in the middle compartment to store loose papers within.

Comparative Specifications

Size18.4″ x 12.1″ x 7.1″19.4″ x 12.1″ x 9.2″
Notional cu in15812160
Weight2.7 lbs3.4 lbs
ColorsBlack Blue Green Linen BerryBlack and Grey
Laptop size17″17″
TSA Fastpass ClamshellYesYes
Chest strapYesYes
Waist strapNoYes


The Hercules backpack remains an excellent product, but if you want something a little bit larger and better designed for carrying heavy loads, the Lance becomes a better choice in all respects, other than for the disappointing omission of a couple of internal pockets.

It weighs a half pound more and costs $10 extra, but gives you more than a 25% increase in internal carrying capacity and the added functionality of a waist strap.

I’d rather travel with a bag that is slightly ‘too big’ than one slightly ‘too small’, particularly a soft/collapsible type bag like this which only takes up more space when it is more full.  So the Lance Executive Daypack is now my preferred traveling bag.

Available direct from ECBC for $150 and free shipping, or from Amazon ($140 and free shipping) and probably elsewhere too.

8 thoughts on “Upsizing – and Upgrading – My Carry-on Backpack”

  1. I will look at the Lance. But I have found I really do not need that much room in my backpack. I now take a Chromebook which is small, lightweight, and runs for about 10 hours on a charge. Even then I find myself using my smartphone most of the time. I got a SIM in Ireland for 20 Euros on the 3 network including 20 euros for roaming calls and free Data. Inserted SIM and it worked great including my Google map program. On return flight, put back in Verizon SIM and back on US phone system.

    I also carry charging cables, adapter, my travel docs for next 5 days, passports, currency, some reading materials, small headphones and sound Boosteroo and small camera. Also a extremely lightweight nylon type bag (folding into itself) in case I end up needing to carry extra stuff along the way.

    By the way, when traveling from Heathrow to Dublin, they took pictures of every passenger boarding and said they do that for all domestic travel now. They have a “tower” with camera mounted within. Is that new?

    1. Hi, Mike

      I envy you your packing restraint. I had a large heavy laptop, two iPads, two phones, mouse, assorted chargers and cables, and so on and so on and so on.

      Heathrow to Dublin isn’t really a domestic flight, not since 1921! I’m sure one has one’s photo taken a bazillion times going through the airport, but I’m surprised they do so publicly/obviously. My flight in June from Heathrow to Reykjavik didn’t seem to have obvious cameras.

    1. Hi Scott – The Tom Bihn bags have an excellent reputation and obviously you like your Brain Bag, which is a credible point in their favor too.

      They are however a bit complicated to understand – my gosh, there are nine different options to configure with the Brain Bag, and they all add more money to an already slightly higher price than the ECBC bag.

      $190 for a Brain Bag, then a $65 insert pouch for a laptop, maybe a $35 insert pouch for a tablet, a Freudian Slip ($50) or a Snake Charmer ($30) to put ‘stuff’ in, a $30 hip belt, and the bag is now costing $400, compared to $150 (and currently less 45%, dropping it to $82.50) for the ECBC product.

      I think you really need to be able to see and experiment with the Bihn Brain Bag to be sure you’re getting the correct options, whereas the ECBC bag is good to go without any such complications. Maybe Bihn should think about a more constrained entry level product as well as the fully customizable one.

      I’ve nothing against the Bihn Bag company. As I started off saying, they do have a good reputation in the market, and your own endorsement is also a salient further point in their favor. But – $82.50 vs $400…..

  2. Have you looked at the Swissgear 1900? I have been traveling with it for about 10 years and continue to be extremely pleased with it. It sells on eBay for $52, free shipping.

    1. Hi, Hank

      I haven’t considered that bag. It is a big larger, and a bit heavier – but also a great value for sure. But does it have the waist/hip belt – with an even larger bag and the temptation to load it down even more, I think that is an important feature to seek out.

    1. Hi

      I like the Scottevest products and have a couple of them myself. But I’d hesitate to put a 9lb 15.5″ laptop in one. And if I were going into a business meeting, I think there’s be slightly less panache when I started acting like a stage magician, pulling things out of pockets every which way!

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