One of the constant challenges we face as business travelers is finding a bag that is convenient to carry, functional and robust, but also one which we can take into a meeting at the ‘other end’ of our journey.
Depending on the circumstances, back packs are usually pushing the limit of how casual you can be. A regular briefcase is unimpeachable as a choice for the board room or client office, but potentially less convenient to fill and/or carry with all your ‘stuff’ inside. Although laptops are becoming slimmer and lighter, it is still possible to end up with 12lbs or more of ‘road warrior kit’ in your bag, and when you add the weight of the bag to the weight of the contents, you’re over 15lbs and pushing 20lbs. That’s a lot to lug through airports.
There is a middle ground between ‘too-casual but comfortable/convenient to carry’ (ie backpacks) and ‘formal but inconvenient to carry’ (ie briefcases) which is represented by what are termed messenger bags. These tend to be bags that have a shoulder strap for easier carrying, and a large fold-over flap that is the main closure method to seal the access into the main compartment of the bag. The somewhat fanciful design origins are presumably the bags that might be carried by central-city bike messengers with ‘quick opening’ flaps into which the messenger can quickly place or retrieve envelopes and small packages.
As part of my untiring quest to find the best travel gear for you, I tried out a messenger bag from EC-BC – the people who make my favorite backpack (reviewed in two different sizes here and here). I’ve had a couple of uninspiring messenger bags in the past that I’ve never used, and was curious to see if EC-BC could come up with a more compelling product. They provided one of their Trident messenger bags, and, yes, it does have a couple of enhancements that distinguish it from other typical messenger bags.
The first great feature is what they call their FastPass – this allows the messenger bag to open like a clamshell. Your laptop is in one half, and everything else is in the other half, and the TSA allows this as an alternative to needing to take your laptop out of its carry bag and go through screening separately. Simply unzip and fold it open, go through the x-ray machine, then zip up again on the other side. I don’t know of any other messenger bags with this feature.
The bag is rated as being able to fit up to a 15″ screened laptop, and has an insert that you can leave in or remove to hold smaller sized laptops securely in place. The carrying compartment is nicely padded to protect the laptop inside. Regular messenger bags generally have you merely dumping your laptop in the main compartment along with everything else – not nearly as good an approach.
I could fit modern slim 15″ laptops in with lots of spare space. My older and much bigger 15.6″ laptop (Dell Latitude 6540) struggled to fit in, and with an oversized battery, became too large.
The other distinctive feature is a second way to access the main compartment of the bag. Sure, you can open up the flap, like all other messenger bags. But if you just want to quickly/conveniently drop something in or pull something out, there’s a zipper on the top of the flap that allows you to reach into the main compartment more readily.
A third special feature is an external ‘sleeve’ which can be used to slide the messenger bag over the pull handles of regular suitcases. I’ve seen this on some other bags before, but not on a messenger bag.
As for the ‘standard’ features, the EC-BC bag was notable for having massively more pockets and spaces than other messenger bags I’ve evaluated. I’m a great believer in lots of pockets and organizer things, and some other companies have defined ‘messenger bag’ as meaning ‘we don’t need to provide any organizer spaces inside this bag’, so full marks to EC-BC.
Depending on how you count them, there are about 10 different sub-compartments of varying shapes and sizes inside the several major compartments. One of them has a zip closure on it – if I was to quibble about anything, I’d probably ask for two or three zippable compartments rather than only one (their Hercules backpack has three internal zippable compartments). But even one is one more than many other suppliers provide.
It comes with a slightly strange strap system. It has a nice wide adjustable strap that can go over either shoulder, and a second supplemental thin strap that can be used for extra security when carrying the bag – perhaps while riding a bike or jogging or something else ‘active’ which is beyond the uses I have in mind for the bag! I couldn’t see how to use it, and it just got in the way; fortunately it is removable, and so off it went.
There are two external pockets along the sides of the bag. One is for the ubiquitous water bottle, but it would have to be a small size bottle to fit. I tried with a 700ml/24 oz water bottle from Trader Joe’s and it wouldn’t fit, and after a lot of pushing and shoving managed to squeeze a 12 oz can of Coke into the space. So, not very useful.
The other is described as being for a cell phone, and has a flap that folds over the top to protect/secure the phone a bit more. I’m not quite sure what type of stupid a person would be to stick their cell phone into an external pocket of a bag, but in my case I couldn’t use it anyway because it was too small to accept my iPhone 6+. With a lot of pushing and shoving, I could get my smaller Nexus 5 into the space, but it was far from an easy process to insert or retrieve.
The bag weighs 2.7lbs, which is the same weight as their more capacious ‘Hercules’ backpack, but lighter than the larger ‘Lance’ backpack. It initially seems heavy, but that’s actually a good thing – it isn’t heavy because there is a brick secreted into its lining. It is heavy because it is built from good quality thick materials, and has plenty of padding to protect the contents.
Talking about well built, it has a limited lifetime warranty. There are some vague exclusions as part of that, but because you’re unlikely to ever be surrendering the bag to the tender mercies of airline baggage handlers, the exclusions don’t seem to apply, and for all intents and purposes, EC-BC seem to be standing proudly behind their product for an extended period of time.
The bag comes in either grey or black, with red stitching. I got a grey bag, which is slightly darker than shown in the picture at the top.
Oh – one more thing. As part of an ‘end of summer/back to school sale’, the Trident messenger bag is currently offered for a ridiculously low price of only $39.99 (normal price is $120) on EC-C’s website. I’m not sure how long that price will stay up, but if this is the sort of thing you might want, or if you want to get one or two as Christmas gifts and keep them in the back of the cupboard for a few months, you might want to rush out and get them now.
If you’re looking for something halfway between a briefcase and a backpack, then perhaps a messenger bag is a good choice for you.
The EC-BC Trident has all the internal organization features of a briefcase, is capacious, lightweight, and well constructed, and includes the ‘no need to take your laptop out’ FastPass clamshell design for when going through airport security.
It is better featured than other similar products, and at only $40, a scream of a deal.