If You’re Going to Spend $180 on a Backpack, Make It This One

My philosophy on backpacks has always been the same: they’re useful but ultimately disposable, and not worth getting too attached to or spending lots of money on.

Blame it on a decade-and-a-half of schooling carried on the back of whatever was overflowing out of the discount bin at Staples, or piled right before the checkout lanes at Ikea. Until I received OnePlus’ Travel Backpack as a gift two years ago, I never really put much thought into the bag I carried every day.

That OnePlus backpack has been good to me, especially considering how little it cost — just $69. But then Bellroy’s Tokyo Totepack showed up at the Laptop Mag office, and now I never want to use anything else as my main laptop bag. Here’s why.

You pay a lot, you get a lot

Let’s get one thing straight before we go any further: at $179, the 20-liter Tokyo Totepack is not cheap. I don’t know how much backpacks should cost, though that seems like too much to me.

You get a lot for your dollar, however. The Totepack’s exterior is comprised of sturdy, water-resistant woven fabric that is resilient enough to ensure the bag holds its shape, yet has a necessary degree of give to it. There’s a soft mesh pocket on the inside that can stretch to hold more than you’d think, opposite two sleeves against the back of the bag — one lined with a thick padding that fits laptops up to 15 inches, and another smaller, thinner pocket lined in polyester.

Outside the bag, there’s one more compartment secured with a button where the shoulder straps can be tucked away. (You could presumably use this space for anything you want, so long as the straps are out.)

Don't overlook the pair of deep pop-out pockets within the Totepack, which are ideal for holding water bottles and umbrellas. These compartments are lined with the same polyester material as the rest of the inside of the bag, and sit flush against the sides when not in use. Once filled, they push out the sides, essentially like an internal replacement for exterior cylindrical pockets.

Bellroy’s backpack really won me over, though, with its two front pockets, that are split between the left and right hemispheres of the bag itself. The one on the left offers robust interior padding, whereas the one on the right instead conceals a ring for a carabiner or set of keys — though that’s not what I use it for.

Actually, on my Totepack, these compartments are each almost always filled with smartphones I’m testing. In fact, they’re the perfect size to each hold one phone independently. Working at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag sees me carrying an average of three handsets on any given day, so it’s a godsend to be able to lug around two in separate pockets without them repeatedly clashing and scratching each other up.

There are other nifty features of the Tokyo Totepack. The two thick handles on the top don’t seem particularly special, until you realize they’re literally the reason for the bag’s name. Hold them and the backpack effectively becomes a tote, which is really useful when you need to be as slender as possible to slip out of a packed New York City subway car. I also like the fabric that guards the zipper at the top, which ensures the teeth don’t scratch up your laptop as you’re sliding it in and out.

Imperfections aside

I also have to give a shout out to the overall design of the bag. Initially, I wasn’t in love with the mix of beige, rust and navy that comprises the Desert Ochre colorway of the one I’m using — it’s a bit too preppy for my tastes — but it’s slowly grown on me over time. There are also Black, Forest and Ink Blue options for those looking for a more consistent, subdued look.

Still, as much as I like the Totepack, I have some small criticisms. Because the zipper for the main compartment doesn’t extend all the way down the sides of the bag, it can be quite difficult to put things inside. It would also be nice to have at least one or two small holsters for pens or pencils, though I’m not exactly sure where Bellroy could have put them.

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Oh, and again — it’s really expensive (at least to me).

Of course, I realize there are pricier backpacks out there. But just like a pair of $80 headphones aren’t that expensive in the context of the entire market, but are extremely expensive compared to the pack-in pair you get for free with your phone, $179 is a lot for something you ostensibly need just to haul stuff around.

It’s for that reason that I can’t in good conscience recommend everyone reading this go out and buy a Tokyo Totepack, unless you’re in the mood to splurge, or enjoy the little details of a well-made gadget or accessory. Either way, this bag won't disappoint you.

Credit: Laptop Mag