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Engadget's back to school guide: Laptop bags

Vlad Savov

Welcome to Engadget's Back to School guide! We know that this time of year can be pretty annoying and stressful for everyone, so we're here to help out with the heartbreaking process of gadget buying for the school-aged crowd. Today, we have laptop bags in our sights -- and you can head to the Back to School hub to see the rest of the product guides as they're added throughout the month.

By now you should have had enough time to decide what on our laptop buying guide takes your fancy, but, as Apple will tell you, the protective case is sometimes as important as the precious hardware itself. You'll notice that this year we have a good number of bags that include padded camera sections as well -- to the point of perhaps being described as camera bags with laptop compartments -- but we feel that's justified by the massive proliferation of DSLRs into the mainstream market. Entry-level interchangeable lens shooters have grown cheap enough even for non-photography students to consider owning one, but we can think of no good reason why they should require a separate bag of their own. So, on with the recommendations.

On the cheap

Case Logic Slimline Laptop Case

Keen on keeping things thrifty but professional on campus? Grab yourself one of these Slimline pseudo-briefcases and you'll be the envy of all your professors. 13-, 16- and 17-inch variants are on offer, with an adjustable internal compartment letting you tailor your laptop's home to perfection. The usual garnish of extra pockets and storage is also present and accounted for, while the whole thing is backed by a stupendous 25-year warranty.

Price: Start at $23 from Dell

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Timbuk2 Freestyle Messenger
Comes with an integrated padded sleeve for netbooks, e-readers or tablets. Waterproof lining's also nice and there are more colorful options to pick from, in case you need that extra pinch of panache.

Starts at $40 from Dell

STM Alley Small

Can shelter a 13-inch laptop and an iPad at the same time thanks to its extra padded slot. Stick an e-reader in there instead and you won't have to cry over the lack of space for any textbooks.

$40 from eBags


Kata Sensitivity V backpack

An absolute superstar of versatility and a CES-tested classic, Kata's Sensitivity V is the quintessential do-it-all backpack. Adorned with useful pockets and pouches everywhere, it'll accommodate your pens, pads, DSLR, lenses, PMP, sandwich, napkins, and laptop. Padding is on the light side and it's not waterproof, but those are shortcomings we're willing to overlook for the extremely compact dimensions. Bonus: although advertised for 12-inch laptops, the Sensitivity V will wrap around 14-inchers with ease and we've even been able to fit a 15-inch MacBook Pro inside its bright yellow shell.

Price: $100 from Amazon

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Timbuk2 H.A.L. backpack
The best thing about this pack is the easy-access laptop compartment that lets you get at your computer with one shoulder still strapped in. The second best thing is the vast cavern of space it provides for your other bits.

$95 from CSN

Case Logic SLRC-206 backpack
Should your needs (or screen size) extend that little bit further than the Kata can provide for, look to Case Logic for a worthy alternative. The 206 costs a bit more but can fit 17-inch laptops and even more photo gear.

$119 from Frys

Money's no object

LowePro CompuPrimus AW

The AW stands for "All Weather" and LowePro isn't kidding around. There's a bult-in rain cover that tucks away when not in use, while the notebook sleeve is removable and integrates a sunshade. Sure, you'll look like a massive geek employing one on campus, but at least your computer won't be a useless glare-station out on the grass. The usual litany of adjustments, straps, velcro, camera-friendly compartments, and trinkets complete a fine, if somewhat humongous, package.

Price: $195 from Amazon

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Filson Padded Computer Bag

When you can't bring yourself to sacrifice style for portability, you'd better be wiling to open up your wallet that extra bit wider. There's even a practical excuse for buying this bag: disguising your laptop's presence.

$284 from David Morgan

Jack Spade Grain Leather Supply Brief
We're such eagle-eyed bargain spotters that we managed to grab you a half-price sale on this fine retro specimen. You get two zippered pockets, a laptop "envelope," and a shoulder strap. Killer value.

$248 from Jack Spade

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