The Salary Sacrifice
Could this be the best backpack of it’s kind EVER made? I really don’t know. I haven’t seen every single backpack on the market, but if there is a better one than this Crumpler “The Salary Sacrifice” laptop-friendly backpack I can’t imagine it.
I’m not a regular backpack guy like many students (my son comes to mind) and grown up geeks. Some of my best friends are backpack people. They seem lucid, so they must know something. In the past backpacks seemed to me to be flimsy canvas or nylon bags that could carry lots of stuff but may not protect the contents very well. The backpack I’ve had for the last twenty years is somewhere, but I’m not tearing my storage space apart to look for it. Maybe if it was this Crumpler laptop backpack, whimsically named “The Salary Sacrifice,” I wouldn’t have stored it at all.
When my cohort and friend John Nemo and I visited the Crumpler display at the Macworld Conference this year I was pleasantly surprised by the metamorphosis that backpacks, at least Crumpler bags, have taken. They’re not your father’s backpack anymore. They are made with materials that can withstand near atomic testing, they are sewn tightly, with enough pockets and inserts to carry just about anything in the way of portable equipment your life demands.
This “The Salary Sacrifice” bag features a water resistant 700d nylon shell and 420d ripstop nylon lining. When I tell you these materials are sewn well and are very stout you can take that to the bank. The case also has a fully padded removable laptop sleeve with six-pocket organizer. There are two external zip pockets, two accessory loops, three internal pockets (one with zip and mesh), a spine slot back pad, a carry handle, chest strap, D-rings accessory loops, and retro reflective strips on harness straps. Crumpler backpacks are available in three sizes and five colors. They also make small pouches, like the kind you can hook (via velcro strap) to your belt and carry little accessories. The one they sent me was called “Thirsty Al.”
When I unpacked “The Salary Sacrifice” from its shipping box, my first impression was how simple it looked. Then, when I started going through the case, I could have used a tour guide to find all of the accessories, pockets, storage places, and zippered nests in this not too large bag. I chose this model to review because of its size. I can fit my 13″ MacBook into the removable laptop sleeve, even with my Uniea case attached, and a lot of other stuff to boot.
The way Crumpler designed and built this bag is impressive and ingenious. The construction is meant to last. The utility is undeniable. “The Salary Sacrifice” price is well worth the investment, especially since I’ll be carrying my precious MacBook in the bag’s removable padded sleeve. But just looking at this bag and stuffing stuff into it would not do justice to its utility. What I needed to do was take it on a trip with me. Put it through its paces. Carry it around. Pack and unpack it. Lo and behold, out of the blue, a trip materialized to North Carolina with my band to play at a pre-wedding party.
Since I was driving the 300 miles from Nashville to Asheville in my Mazda Speed, I used “The Salary Sacrifice” to carry my MacBook, plugs and wires, Fuji digital camera, a half dozen CDs in their jewel cases, pen and paper, two photo magazines, and a 16 oz. bottle of water. After placing the MacBook in the removable sleeve and putting it back in the bag — within the bag the sleeve is held in place by very substantial velcro clasps — I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to zip it up. I still had the Uneia cover on the laptop and it was a bit of a squeeze, but just a little finagling and the bag zipped up nice and tight. There was still plenty of room left, even with all these things packed in it. I could have easily taken another book or two, several CDs (with jewel cases), and maybe some fruit and a sandwich or two.
I kept the bag in my passenger seat and left it unzipped to give me access to whatever I needed while I was enroute. When the case is fully unzipped the internal world of the backpack is completely open. The 16 oz. water bottle fit tightly in one of the two zippered outer pockets provided, one on each side of the bag. The pocket was very deep and would have zipped if I wanted. I left it open for easy access to the water.
I have a habit of carrying backpacks with one strap slung over my shoulder. I guess I like to be able to put it down without having to squiggle out of the shoulder straps. Even using just one strap the bag felt substantial and secure. I never had the feeling that the strap would tear away from the body of the bag. In the interest of science when I finally got to the hotel I put the bag on my back, both straps cinched up and adjusted to the feeling of balance and proper tension. The chest strap adjusted easily and married the two shoulder straps to my body. I knew the bag wasn’t going anywhere but with me. As I walked through the parking lot I felt like my gait was easy and natural.
I wore “The Salary Sacrifice” bag, weighing in at about 10 pounds with all my things in it, while I waited my turn at the desk, through the registration process, and then, with my clothes bag in hand, through the lobby, up the elevator, and down the long hallway to my cubicle of a room. All together I wore that bag for a total of maybe 15 or 20 minutes. I know that’s not exactly pressing the issue, but the straps are so padded and everything felt so balanced I know I could have carried my precious load for quite some time with little or no discomfort.
It was suggested to me to put this bag through some practical and more severe paces. I rubbed my hands together and thought, “he he, this ought to be fun.” So, as suggested, I took this innocent, almost virgin, bag, filled it with heavy phone books bringing the weight factor up to 14 lbs. according to my bathroom scale, which is accurate to within a ton or two. One book went into the removable laptop case and two more in the body of the bag. I zipped it up and got out the water hose. I dowsed that bag with heavy streams of water from all angles. The “downpour” lasted a minute or two. I thought that should be enough to simulate getting caught outside with your MacBook in and your umbrella down.
With all those books in there I could hardly close the poor thing, but it closed. There are two opposing zipper pulls on the main body of the bag, and knowing it was going to “pour” I positioned them so they would be at the bottom of one side. When they are zipped together there is a tiny space between them and it could allow water to seep in if they were positioned at the top of the bag. It POURED, all over that bag.
After the test I opened the bag, and, WOW, the books directly inside were wet. Not soaked, but obviously water had somehow gotten in. Inside the inner laptop sleeve there was no water. That phone book was dry.
Now I really sprayed this bag down. I doubt that anyone would get caught in this kind of deluge without being in a life threatening situation, like a hurricane, flood, or a tornado. But in a heavy downpour I believe there would certainly be some leakage. As heavy-duty as the zippers and materials are, there could have been sewn into the bag a rain flap which would cover the zipper when closed. That, I believe, would have eliminated a lot of the leakage. BUT, and it’s a big but, the internal laptop sleeve kept its contents dry. That told me that maybe my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and books would get a little dampened from a major downpour, but my precious MacBook would probably make it through dry as a bone.
There are many big box stores and retail giants selling backpacks, usually with the student in mind. Some of these products do their job and are relatively affordable (cheap sounds so unforgiving). What usually happens is that at the beginning of the school year mommy will buy her little dears a backpack to carry all the many books and papers which schools seem to download on their students. If the pack makes it through the entire year it’s a miracle. I know from my own kids going through this very thing that they throw their bags around, pull them, push, stuff, scrape, and slowly destroy what mommy has so graciously supplied. Then it’s back to the store for another round, that is, after mommy gives the fledgelings a good tongue lashing for not taking care of their things. Mommy shouldn’t be too hard on the little imps. Those bags might be affordable, but as a wise man once said, “you get what you pay for.”
With a backpack constructed like Crumpler makes them I have little doubt that Buffy and Junior could use their new pack not only for the year coming up, but for the next few and on into college. Yeah, anything can be destroyed if you try hard enough, but it would be a lot harder to destroy something that is made well and with first quality materials manufactured to take a beating.
Check out Crumpler’s site at the above address. Have fun with their whimsy, and at the same time they will show you where all the purveyors of their fine products are in your area. Go to the retailer and check out the quality inside and outside of these bags, and then decide, “Do I want to save a few bucks, or do I want a product that will last, give me good service, and look great doing it?” Your choice, though. I think, there really is no choice.
Incidentally, I think I just became a regular backpack guy, grown up geek and all.