JanSport's New Laptop Messengers: Sturdy, Comfortable, And A Compartment-Lover's Dream

JanSport, venerable maker of backpacks and other outdoor gear, announced a new line of bags not too long ago: the Career Collection. These bags will not only provide a comfortable home for your notebook, but also aim to help you speed through security. Nice! Being a bag connoisseur, I thought I’d give two of the bags -- the Rush Hour and the Curbside vertical messenger -- a test drive under some of the most strenuous conditions I could imagine: rush hour on New York City’s subways.

One of my favorite aspects of both these bags is the padded bit for the shoulder strap. JanSport makes them much longer than most bags I’ve used, which meant I didn’t have to reposition it much as I pulled the bag on and off. The strap’s large buckle regulates the length on one end of the strap only and isn’t meant for quick adjustments. But it’s sure to keep the strap at your optimal length no matter how much you tug on it.

Pockets and sections separate great bags from mediocre ones, and both the Rush Hour and Curbside have plenty of both. There’s a compartment on the front flap, a triangle-shaped compartment just below the flap with two pockets sewn in, and under the flap there’s another deep pocket (great for wallet, cell phone, and whathaveyou).

Inside, both bags have multiple sections, the one at the front lined with at least half a dozen little pockets and zippered areas. At the back you’ll find the laptop compartment, complete with a strap to hold your computer in that can also be velcroed to the inside lining in case it’s not needed (or wanted).

Though I love many tiny pockets and compartments for everything, the Rush Hour and Curbside feel a bit over pocketed. They’re probably great for those who stay organized by having a very specific place for each item. But for those of us who are a bit less organized, it means many more places to hunt for your Metrocard when you can’t remember which pocket it went into…

Magnets in the flap and under the front panel make it easy to keep the bags securely closed. They're pretty strong, and I always get a bit nervous carrying around computer equipment and memory cards or flash drives in something with magnets like that.

The back panel of the bags can be unzipped all the way for airport security checkpoints. This also makes getting to your computer a bit easier — you don’t have to raise the flap as you do on other messengers.

I did several test runs with each bag. First, I weighed them down with a notebook, netbook, two hardback books and all my assorted accessories and small items. The smaller Curbside did show a bit of bulge, but neither bag became uncomfortable when carrying it. That shoulder strap padding really worked to keep it from digging in during the rush hour crush where I have to stand for 100 blocks.

Next I loaded it with a more reasonable amount of stuff -- notebook, paperback, magazines, and sundries -- and walked 20 blocks to a subway station a bit farther up the line. Again, both bags stayed comfortable and the straps stayed at the optimal length so I could walk without having to constantly re-adjust.

Two aspects of the bags I don't like: the bottom is slick and doesn't have any rubber or other frictioned areas so when sitting them on slick plastic surfaces, the bags wouldn't always stay upright. Also, instead of putting top handles on top of the bags, they're positioned on the back of the bags near the top. It makes for awkward handling. If I owned the bag for longer I might get used to it, but having a handle right at the top is much more convenient and easily grabbable.

Final Verdict: JanSport's Career Collection bags are definitely a hit. You may have to get used to some quirks and possibly make a cheat sheet for the pockets at first. If you're in the market for a sturdy, roomy, organization-minded bag, the Curbside and Rush Hour are worth a look.