Unlike most people, I prefer a backpack to a roll-aboard suitcase. It holds almost as much, and is easier to shove underneath a seat if the overhead is full. It can also be used more often – you can use it in more situations without seeming out-of-place than you can with a rollaboard suitcase.
I’ve long enjoyed a great backpack from ECBC – actually, I have two (see reviews here and here). I’ve had them for three and five years respectively. The older of the two, the Hercules, had one of its chest strap fasteners break, and while the larger Lance is still good, I was reminded awkwardly of its weight on my last flight with Norwegian. The airline actually weighed it, and deemed it slightly overweight. They kindly let me board without either charging a fee or requiring me to gate check it, but I feel that was more good luck than official airline policy.
It reminded me that the backpack is indeed a bit heavier than some of the other bags out there, and every pound these days can make a big difference – particularly with airlines that are starting to weigh carry-on bags. Air New Zealand in particular is an airline I simply can not fly on, because of its 15 lb carry-on weight limit. At least Norwegian has a 22 lb weight limit, but I can’t easily keep within that, traveling with a full size laptop, an external screen, power supply, camera, assorted other electronics, and other bits and pieces.
I had a look around at what is out there and found an interesting bag from Targus. I’ve associated them with computer type accessories for many years, so was interested to see what they offer in the way of backpacks, and found one that is lightweight, appropriately sized, and affordable. A few days later, I was keenly opening the package delivered by the UPS man.
The Targus “15.6” Work + Play Fitness Backpack (Black/Gray)” has the tag line “Your Entire Day in One Bag”, which denotes its focus is on providing both space for work items such as a computer, tablet, and whatever else, and also a change of clothing, shoes, and other items too.
It is very similar in size to the Lance backpack earlier reviewed and which I often travel with, but it weighs 2.3 lbs instead of 3.4 lbs. While 1.1 lb of weight saving mightn’t sound like much, if you’re struggling with a risible 15 lb weight limit, that means the difference between 11.6 and 12.7 lbs of net carrying capacity, which is a 10% increase in actual weight you can carry.
Although it is lighter, it doesn’t seem to be appreciably less robust or reliable. We suspect the nylon or whatever other plastic it is made from is a bit thinner and lighter, but the key parts – laptop padding, straps, zips, back panel, and corner panels – all seem sufficiently robust.
Using the BackPack
On the plus side, the bag has a coat hangar hook with the idea being you unzip the center of the bag and then hang it from a hook. This is a great idea in theory. In practice, it didn’t work quite so well. For starters, the hook was too small for all but the narrowest diameter of wardrobe rails and shower rails (be careful if hanging on a shower rail – many times they are ‘friction fitted’ and will collapse if undue weight is added).
More confusingly though, some parts of the bag were accessed from one side and some from the other. If you use the hook to hang it on the back side of a door, for example, some parts of the bag will be hard to access because they are not facing you, but are facing the door.
Also, when you are carrying the bag, “up” means the same for both halves of the bag. But when you unzip it open and hang it up, half the bag is now “upside down” and compartments now open to the bottom rather than to the top. Not a very convenient thing at all. Solution – we resolved never to hang our bag upside down, while feeling slightly frustrated that a potentially useful feature turned out to be useless.
Sadly, while it has this clamshell (ie fully open flat) type design, it is not TSA compliant, because the side the laptop is on is the same as the side that everything else is on, too, so you still have to take your laptop out when going through security.
Okay, so neither of these three minor frustrations are total deal breakers, but you have to wonder what the designers were thinking, and whether they ever, ever, actually tried a mockup unit themselves before committing to a manufacturing run.
Perhaps because of the potential for half the bag to be upside down, the compartmentalization and organization of the spaces inside the bag was a bit confusing, with openings sometimes on the top as you’d expect, sometimes on a side, and sometimes on the bottom, and with the ability to get from one compartment to another, and indeed, to go from one side, via compartments, completely to the other side.
You could fairly say that it is not appropriate to complain about too many different ways to get in and out of compartments, but it left us feeling muddled and with no clear appreciation of the topography of the different spaces or the best way to access or use them. Perhaps as a partial concession to this confusion, Targus helpfully labeled many (but not all) of the spaces with little line drawing icons of what it suggested could be placed inside each space.
We next tried loading the bag up with the usual stuff we carry and quickly came up with a 22 lb load. The bag says it can fit a large 15.6″ sized laptop, so we put one of those in, complete with an extended long-life battery pack, and it was accommodated easily in a well padded laptop compartment. There is also a padded compartment (strangely without an icon/image to indicate a suggested use) that seemed to be intended for storing a tablet.
This fairly substantial weight proved reasonably comfortable to carry and the backpack has an adjustable chest-strap to hold the two main straps close together. Everything seemed to fit well and lie snugly against our back.
The bags come in either muted two-tone grey, or in grey with bright yellow striping and branding. We don’t recommend you use the bright yellow highlighted bag any time you’re traveling out of the country. Nothing screams “Wealthy American Tourist – Mug Me” louder than brightly colored brightly branded travel gear. We always only carry muted colors with no visible brand names when traveling.
The bag lists for a very modest $80, either on the Targus website (grey yellow) or on Amazon. It has a “limited lifetime warranty” that applies to the original purchaser only, and excludes all the usual things, although to be fair, airline damage isn’t so much a factor with a bag you carry with you rather than check.
So, should you buy one of these? We like that the bag is lightweight, well constructed, and good value. It is large-sized without being unusually enormous, sits comfortably on our shoulders, and (if you avoid the yellow) reasonably discreet and neutral to be seen with.
But we were frustrated by the strange internal layout of the pockets and compartments, and the concept of hanging from a rail or hook is not well thought through. Easy solution to that, though – don’t hang it from a hook! It is a pinprick of disappointment not to be able to use its clam-shell design to leave one’s laptop inside the unit when going through airport screening, but that’s a tiny issue.
All in all, a good light-weight versatile and affordable backpack from a respected brand.