Review: Waterfield Designs Staad Backpack

For nigh on a decade I've carried my laptop in backpacks, which work out great - they're comfortable to use over both shoulders and can hold a lot of stuff. Finding one that doesn't look like I'm heading to class or getting ready for a wilderness adventure can be a bit tough, though. Enter the Staad Backpack from Waterfield Designs. It's a more upscale and elegant design that's still eminently practical and capable of holding a lot of stuff.

If you're not familiar with Waterfield Designs, pop on over to the web site and have a look. Based in San Francisco (where the bags are produced, as well), the company puts careful thought and detail into every accessory and the Staad is no exception. It's an elegant, vintage-looking bag that's made to last and to work well. The Staad is their first backpack design; most of their previous bag designs have been designed to sling over one shoulder (not surprising, given founder Gary Waterfield's background as a bike messenger).

Customizable

The Staad comes in two body materials and colors - a tan waxed canvas and a black ballistic nylon (both are waterproof). A top flap made of premium leather comes in black, "chocolate" brown and "grizzly," a lighter shade of brown. Each bag is made to order, so you can mix and match however you'd like it. Mine is the black ballistic with grizzly leather.

Waterfield also makes the Staad in two sizes: "Slim" and "Stout." Waterfield says the Slim is designed for a 13-inch laptop, while the Stout fits a 15-inch laptop. The Stout is the one I went for - it's bigger and can accommodate a lot more stuff than just a laptop.

Practical

The top flips open to reveal a main compartment that has a cushioned inner sleeve to securely hold my 15-inch MacBook Pro perfectly. Another smaller cushioned sleeve stitched to the outside of that one is perfect for a full-sized iPad or iPad Air. Two cushioned interior pockets hold plenty of accessories and other stuff you don't want floating around free in the bag, like cables, power cords and more. They seal at the top using velcro tabs. There's also a key clip.

A zipper runs lengthwise about half the length of the outside of the bag - covered by the flap when the bag is closed, making it easier to get inside the main compartment without having to fish around to reach what you need. A strip of leather that matches the top flap runs the length of the bag below the zipper, a pleasing accent that reminds me that Waterfield is as much about design as it is about function.

There are also two zippered outside pockets, thoughtfully placed below the flap and at a slight angle, to make it easy to store things like boarding passes, passports, a small notebook, pens - anything you might want instant access to without having to fish around inside the bag. Pop off one of the shoulder straps, swing the bag around and get instant access to that pocket while everything inside stays secure.

The flap is held in place using a clever design Waterfield says is lifted from ammo pouches - it's easy to latch and unlatch with one hand, but stays securely in place. The tapered bag design lies flat when it's empty, but expands several inches at the bottom to accomodate whatever stuff you might have to bring with you - up to 3 inches in the Slim design, 5.5 inches for the Stout design.

Two adjustable backpack straps and a handstrap that runs across the top of the Staad make the bag easy to carry, and the side that lies against your back is covered in a breathable mesh material so you won't have an unsightly sweat stain on your back when you take the bag off.

I've gotten a number of compliments on the bag since I've started carrying it around; people notice the smart design and the custom leather embellishments.

If there's a downside to this bag, it's the price. Waterfield's custom designs don't come cheap. You're going to pay $319 for the Slim version, or $329 for the Stout.

The good

  • Padded interior pockets protect laptop and tablet; places for cables and cords keep the bag from becoming a tangled mess
  • Customizable size and colors
  • zippered side pockets make it easy to access stuff in a flash

The bad

  • Pricy

The bottom line

It's easy to find a laptop-carrying backpack these days; everyone and their brother makes one. It's a different story to find one that looks this good, dresses up nice, and is this well-made. Admittedly, you pay for that quality of construction and appearance. But if you're looking for a laptop backpack that looks as good in the boardroom as it does on the subway, the Staad fits the bill.