Essential Laptop Accessories

Brenthaven Trio 15.4 Shoulder Case
Brenthaven Commuter Backpack
Brenthaven Trek Backpack

review © Mark Elliot 2004
images used with permission
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last updated 15 March 2004

The Brenthaven Commuter Backpack

Lately we've added reviews of essential products that our staff use day-in, day-out in order to maintain tight travel schedules and aggressive deadlines. We have previously dropped the laptop in a run-of-the-mill over-the-shoulder bag and set out overseas or cross-country and have also dealt with daily commutes or treks the same way. Brenthaven answers the need to do it better with a tough, light-weight, and easily mobile bag with plenty of room for anything from a laptop, books, CDs, or even our iPod.

To say the Commuter backpack from Brenthaven is sturdy is a gross understatement. Made from high quality ballistic grade nylon, the user would be hard-pressed to physically damage the bag. For obvious reasons, an extra layer of padding, and a thicker layer of the nylon appears around the bottom of the backpack and extends up the sides just over three inches.

Oversized zippers seal the outside from the compartments with a protective flap covering the zipper to the main section. Everything is a smoke-gray to black color that looks as stylish as it is sturdy. A small leather name-card holder neatly folds in half and buttons shut on the side of the bag. It hangs secured independent of the zippered region of the bag.

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Images © 2004 Brenthaven

Contoured shoulder straps with lots of extra padding keep the bag comfortably centered on the wearer's back. The weight of the laptop distributes so evenly that one will at times forget it's inside. The straps are securely anchored into the bag--worth noting as other bag straps have been proven to yield under moderate pressure. A thick padded handle completes the top of the backpack.

While air flow seems moderate, and the padding is more than enough to provide a high degree of comfort, the pack lacks a ventilating passage. This is, perhaps, the only addition we'd request in future iterations of the product.

There's much more to rave about inside, too. One of the most incredible features of the backpack is its laptop-safety and protection system. A specially engineered removable sleeve contains a foam compound and a suspended inner liner that is designed to protect the laptop upon in a drop. This is a handy feature, assuming the pack slides off of your stack of luggage at the airport, the foam will ensure the laptop doesn't end up slamming into the floor. While we're typically quite adventurous with our testing, we didn't quite have the nerve to test this feature in particular. After some careful examination, however, we're confident that Brenthaven has put as much quality into this patented method of protection as they say they have--worth noting.

The sleeve itself is removable, it velcro's into its place in the bag in front of the built in file-folder. A velcro 'lid' and attached handle complete the sleeve, which appears as though it can be used independent of the bag (though it seems unnecessary to be able to do this, it is a nice consideration). The lid, however, can make it slightly difficult to remove the laptop. The tendency is that the height of the bag is only slightly greater than that of the sleeve, and that the zipper sits in front of where the sleeve opens. The hazard is that the bag needs to be unzipped quite far in order to open the lid far enough to get the laptop out. This might be resolved by moving the zipper slightly further towards the back of the bag, or alternatively adding about a half inch of height.

The file-folder in front of the laptop/sleeve is comprised of two sheets of thicker nylon that can be pushed apart. The feature is a lifesaver for carrying documents that one might wish to remain wrinkle free. We've transported several paper documents and letters without a problem in this folder.

In front of the file-folder is an open space. The room is ample for many CD jewel cases, or a few of those handy CaseLogic CD wallets. We found, however, that our iPod fits better in one of the two elastic pouches that are at the front of this space (and also in the very front of the bag). A small hand-bike-pump and bike-repair-kit also seem to fit just perfectly. It's nice to see space organizers in the general area of a backpack. It's fairly common to find such organizers just in the front of the bag for pens and keys, but the main storage region of a pack usually remains haphazard and messy. Here one can use the organizers, or they seem to retract away to nothing if one chooses not to use them.

Finally, the front of the bag has two storage compartments. A small, horizontally-zippered and non-padded pocket appears in the upper half of the bag. The space is useful for odds and ends, but we've found that dumping a couple of those old-biros, or even some business cards for quick access is a particularly useful application of this space. The main front compartment, however, is full of great places to put anything for quick access, too (which is why we found it hard to decide what could be placed in the smaller pocket at the top).

Three elastic pouches are provided at the front. These netted pockets are great for cables, and once again that iPod. The organizer is one of those thickened-hard-nlyon sheets like that of the file-folder in the main compartment; it provides a gap behind for storage of the larger items that might be placed in the front of a pack - perhaps such amenities as a plane ticket or other bulky but foldable paperwork. The other typical features of an organizer include three pen holders as well as a small zippered pouch, not to mention two more open spaces within the organizer to place items. Brenthaven also supplies a clear business card pocket. To top it off there's a key clip at the top of the compartment.

The numerous features and spacious--but compact--Commuter backpack from Brenthaven is a brilliant travel companion. It goes on easily and carries beautifully. There's plenty of space for a quick day-trip or as a carry-on. The organizer has plenty of space and utility, and the backpack is of a solid build. It's interesting to note that the laptop actually lies horizontally in the bag--like a briefcase--and as such widens the pack a bit. This isn't a let-down, just some more of the Brenthaven ingenuity that brings this great find a well-deserved positive review.--Mark Elliot

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