I have recently completed an exhausting journey of finding the perfect bag (for me). I’m going to give away the ending: there is no perfect bag. In about a month I have gone through 4 bags, each with its own strengths and flaws. I’ll share some of my thoughts here.

Please keep in mind that I am not “reviewing” these bags. At most I had one for 72 hours but usually 48 hours. There will be no unboxing or walk-throughs, etc., just why I bought a bag and why I returned it.

For the last couple of years I have carried a Blackhawk Matrix in OD green. I liked it because it was less military looking than my previous RUSH 24 and it has proved to be a great EDC bag. Originally designed for mountain rescue professionals, it was cut to fit around your back and shoulders. When strapped down properly, you could barely tell it was there. Unfortunately, there was no good way for me to carry a laptop in the Matrix. I travel a lot and work remotely so computer carry is important (and also why this story is included on galenhale.com). Yes a 15″ MBP does fit in the radio bag but since the pack is shaped to deflect wind, getting the computer out was difficult, especially at TSA checkpoints. After Christmas of last year I decided I needed an EDC bag that would comfortably carry a laptop and fulfill my other needs so I wasn’t carrying a backpack AND computer bag.

My bag criteria were:

  • needed to carry my computer safely and comfortably
  • computer needed to be easily accessed for the TSA
  • good, well thought out pockets; and many of them
  • good, USEFUL, admin panel
  • some way to secure a pistol, didn’t need to be dedicated but it should be secure
  • robust, 500D nylon or better; I beat the hell out of this thing
  • tone back the “tactical” look; I don’t want to be singled out

In the order I tried them, here we go:

5.11 COVRT 18

5.11 COVRT 18I wanted to try this bag because it had a dedicated computer sleeve and was designed to be functional while being discreet. It had a great pass-through pocket for the 5.11 BBS system, although very little loop-side velcro was added compared to the actual size of the pocket. I suspect that will be fixed later on. It also has a hidden MOLLE panel for adding your own pouches to create your own admin system if you wish. I like 5.11 yoke system on the straps; not sure if it help but it feels good. The COVRT 18 integrated the grab handle in the straps which looked pretty cool but was difficult to grab since it fell wherever the straps fell. Overall this bag was quality and will probably find good use in the field if it was actually a product being sought for.

Here is what I didn’t like and ultimately sent it back. The sunglass pocket that 5.11 puts in all of their bags is a good idea… in the wrong place. If you fill up the main compartment then the pocket is crushed and useless. On the COVRT 18, they have expanded the size of the pocket which is good for easily fitting in all of your gadgets but it hangs over the computer when it is in the sleeve. I had to wrestle with the full sunglass pocket just to get my laptop out. I can not tolerate any delays on my part at the TSA checkpoint, there are enough idiots there. The time it took to dig the computer out was unacceptable. Another thing I didn’t like about the bag was the QuickTact™ velcro system on the straps. It’s a good idea but when 5.11 released the bag, they only released two compatible pouches. I found that the velcro straps dug into my face if I turned my head at extreme angles. I get why there are there, I just had no use for them and didn’t want to have to deal with them. I love 5.11 gear and my RUSH 72 has been to Europe and points beyond and never had a problem so I’m not bashing 5.11 (TDU belts are awesome!). This bag just didn’t fit the bill. Oh and 5.11, please put waist belts on your bags.. please?

Oakley Kitchen Sink

Oakley Kitchen Sink BackpackReturning from my bad TSA experience with the COVRT 18, I immediately looked for something with easy access to the laptop. Oakley bags have the side-zip access to most of their laptop compartments so I tried one. I haven’t heard great things about the quality of the Icon 3.0 so I went with the Kitchen Sink. I have always wanted this bag just to have it but couldn’t justify the price tag. I found it on sale for the same price as the previous bag and bought it. Just as I suspected, getting to the laptop was easy. Yup, it was easy.

The bag is HEAVY.  It could be the metal, or maybe the materials but the empty bag weight was too much. Also, the small item storage was nonexistent and there was no real admin panel. For such a big bag, the access was inadequate. The zippered openings were too small and annoying to get into. The waist belt is useless by my standards and the little pockets all over it and the shoulder straps were… something. Seriously Oakley? Who has a cell phone that small anymore? I really bought this bag because it looks cool but the functionality sucks.

Mountain Hardware Enterprise

Mountain Hardware Enterprise BackpackAt the suggestion of a friend, I looked for a bag off-brand (not 5.11, Blackhawk, Oakley, etc.). I have always liked Mountain Hardware gear and I knew they made daypacks with computer sleeves. I liked the Enterprise because it is a cool technical-looking bag, well-made, and lots of pockets in all the right places. When I loaded it up, everything had a place. It is a really nice bag for school or EDC if you want to look completely obscure. It is made out of 210D nylon with 810D bottom and panels, quality zippers, and very soft lining for gadgets. It is very comfortable to wear. I really have nothing bad to say about this bag for what it is. It didn’t carry a gun very well but I doubt MH had that in the design specs. Like I said, it was a little too “school” looking and I would have liked to have seen more cinch straps on the side to secure smaller loads. Honestly though, had I not found the following bag at the price I did, I would still have this bag. I really liked it; Mountain Hardware continues to make good stuff.

Blackhawk Hydrastorm S.T.R.I.K.E. Cyclone

Blackhawk Hydrastorm CycloneI have history with this bag. When I first saw it in a catalog over 2 years ago, I really wanted it. At the time I wanted all the MOLLE, OD green and desert tan I could get my hands on and I didn’t care what people thought. The Cyclone retails for around $175 and for a medium-size bag, that has always been too much money. I had never actually seen this bag in person and the online reviews and videos are lacking but I always knew this bag was good. A few days ago I found the bag at CheaperThanDirt for half of the retail cost so I jumped on it.  It was also less than the cost of the previous bags.

I know I didn’t want something that looks “tactical” and with over 100 MOLLE points and the nice Coyote Tan color, this bag looks nothing but. It is completely worth it though. Since it is made by Blackhawk, it is quality (hence the price). Blackhawk makes almost everything out of 1000D nylon and over-stitches everything. These bags are made to go to war, come back, go to school, have a family and then give to your son to do the same. When you pull it out of the plastic, you know you have a quality piece of gear. I like this bag for my purpose because the radio bag is the perfect size for my computer and easily accessible from the very top, it has a place to conceal a firearm, good pocket layout and an admin panel (that is removable, more on that later). I carry a few things every day that usually just get dumped in the bottom of a bag, like a large Leatherman and a flashlight. With the MOLLE points along the side I can move some stuff to the outside and closer to the body for greater stability. The top pocket is perfect for the smaller items that I go for every day and the bottom pocket has places to strap pouches on to as well as a secure-able pocket for radio or GPS. There is also an admin panel that is removable. I have no idea why no one has said anything about this in any of the reviews I have seen or read. Blackhawk doesn’t even mention it in the catalog. When you remove the panel, you have a large loop-side velcro panel for 5.11 BBS pouches or Blackhawk’s equivalent. I barely noticed it but when I did, I knew I was going to keep this bag. I somehow knew all along that I would be getting another Blackhawk bag after all of this. The fact that it is this bag, the one I knew was so good so long ago, makes me angry that I have gone over 2 years without it. I know I am going to love the hell out of this thing.

That being said, here is what I would change to make it better for me (I know the current setup has a purpose and it isn’t to haul laptops): I would like to see the zippers open down more. The way it is now, it is almost a top-load bag because the zippers don’t go all the way down the sides. Loop-side velcro would also be nice for patches and name tags but is not necessary. The shoulder straps are good but not great, luckily the waist belt is big enough to take on most of the load. If Blackhawk is planning it, the next iteration of this bag will be hard to pass up.

So after a month of searching, I have another Blackhawk bag. They really do make the best packs for non-recreational applications. You will pay for it but the bag will last a long, long time.

What bag do you use and why?