I want a new laptop bag. I’m somewhat particular though, in that I want a laptop bag that doesn’t look like a laptop bag. I don’t want to carry something that screams “I have a laptop!”. I want to avoid the black, fake leather exterior. I want to avoid the traditional laptop bag form factor. I want to avoid a name brand logo emblazoned on the straps or flaps. I’m also a miser, though, and don’t want to pay a lot of money.

I’ve looked at a couple local shops, but they all seem to carry the same lame selection of laptop bags that look like laptop bags. I refuse to buy online because I want to inspect the bag with my own eyes and hands before purchasing. I want to check the relative size and strength of the straps and handles and fasteners. I want to feel the external surface, and evaluate the internal padding. I want to eyeball the storage capacity of the various pockets for my laptop, its AC adapter, and any miscellaneous gadgets I may want to lug with me. I want to see how it’ll feel on my shoulder.

I have a STM 13” Loft bag for my old Averatec laptop. I like it well enough: it doesn’t look completely like a laptop bag and it fits the laptop comfortably. It’s a little cramped when I add the AC adapter, and there’s not a lot of room for many other gadgets. I almost bought a 15” grey Loft bag recently, but decided to wait a little longer to see if I could find something superior.

I also have a LowePro CompuDaypack which is great for taking both the laptop and the DSLR camera, but that’s not always what I want to do. Further, the backpack form factor isn’t the most convenient for many situations. For example, it was entirely too bulky for me while walking around the IFA consumer electronics show. The CompuDaypack makes for a nice travel accessory, keeping all my precious electronics close at hand in the airport, but is way more than I need for going to meetups and similar events.

I think I would like a laptop bag that looks more like a messenger bag – something reasonably amorphous that doesn’t necessarily declare that there’s a laptop inside – provided it could comfortably hold the laptop secure. Along with the laptop and AC adapter, I also want to be able to carry with me my Flip video camera, possibly a point-and-shoot camera, a few spare batteries for the previous two items, and possibly even a battery charger for the batteries. I’m sure that there are all manner of other things I’ll find that I want to take with me at different times, so I want to make sure that my laptop bag is sufficiently accommodating. I don’t need crazy iPod integration, or an included laptop cooling pad – both of which I saw in bags last night at MicroCenter. I want high quality materials and construction that will last me a while (I don’t want the shoulder strap or clasps breaking any time soon!), and I want it to look halfway decent so that I can take it with me to business meetings without looking like some kind of dolled up bike courier, but also not so fancy that I look like a corporate stiff when I walk into a coffee shop. I’d like something that’s comfortable on my shoulder, and easy to access for when I’m on an airplane.

Nicholas from Crunchgear recommends Crumpler bags. They look like decent enough bags, but a recommendation from a trusted source just isn’t sufficient for me: I need to see the bag with my own eyes before I’ll buy it. Plus, the Crumpler bags are more than I really want to pay. Jorge Castro recommends Tom Bihn, but Tom Bihn laptop bags are also more expensive than I really want to pay. (I did say I’m a miser, right?) Jorge highlights the lifetime guarantee, which is a nice selling point, but to be honest I’ve never had a laptop bag break on me before.

What laptop bags do you use and recommend? What are the chances of me finding a local retailer for them, so that I can kick the tires before purchasing?

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