Recently I found myself in the market for a new laptop backpack. My old Targus bag has been with me for years, but has begun to show its age. On one of the straps, I tried valiantly with middling success to remove some random gum that had stuck to it, and on the inside, the velcro patch that held the notebook in place was torn off on half the sides and seemed ready to give up the ghost at any moment. Outside of this, my backpack was manufactured in a bygone era, where mainstream notebooks didn’t have widescreens. This backpack has carried notebooks of all sizes, none of which fit anywhere near as well as the first notebook it held, the only 15" it held.
So I needed a new one. Incidentally, Swiss Gear was interested in having us review some of their laptop backpacks. It sounded like a good opportunity. They needed a review. I needed a backpack. You see how it works out.
So today I’m reviewing their backpack dubbed "The Maxxum." While it’s MSRP is $69.99, the frugal consumer can find it online for closer to $50. Mine came in red, but they also come in a quieter gray.
The Maxxum at first looks, well, gigantor. It’s huge. But it’s also very busy, which might give one the sense that it doesn’t have a whole lot of space to actually carry anything besides the notebook itself. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
It also looks like it was meant to take a beating, and while I can’t say I’ve personally tested this, I’ll just say I feel pretty safe having my notebook in there.
So what’ve we got?
Swiss Gear’s "Comp-U-Flex" pocket for storing 15"/15.4" notebooks.(view large image)
The place where you keep the notebook was the first and probably most important thing I tested. Everything else is secondary; this IS a computer backpack. That said, my oddball notebook fit perfectly, and that’s WITH the extended battery sticking out awkwardly. It’s really quite snug, and this has largely to do with how it’s strapped in.
Swiss Gear chose to eschew the traditional velcro strap – in my opinion a very wise move – in favor of an elastic strap with a snapping clasp at the end. This gives the backpack some flexibility with what it can carry, but also keeps the unit snug and in place. Velcro wears out far faster than this will.
The iPod/MP3 player pocket. (view large image)
The backpack also includes a place for you to keep your MP3 player, as well as a port to run the headphone cable through. I didn’t have a whole lot of use for this (I tend to shuttle through songs a lot), but your mileage may vary. It’s a nice feature and mercifully takes up a minimal amount of space in case you’re like me and don’t have any use for it.
Of course, if you’re a Magic: the Gathering nerd like I am, you’ll find it fits one deck exactly. 😉
The secondary pocket along with the organizer pocket. (view large image)
The rest of the backpack is remarkably spacious, and the secondary pocket actually has a sheet in the bottom that can fold down to flatten the bottom of the pack and increase the space in that pocket, easily fitting a binder and a book or two.
The organizer pocket is also a nice touch; Swiss Gear tucked a lot of similar places to stash things all over the backpack, but this is one of the main places. It goes without saying you’ll be hard-pressed to lose anything in here.
The external pocket. (view large image)
There’s an external pocket that doesn’t zip up, only clasps, so don’t turn your backpack upside-down. But it’s a nice, quick place to stash something (I keep my copy of Koji Suzuki’s "Spiral" in there.) Outside of it are also two places to keep a bottled water or other beverage.
Ultimately, this thing looks like a tank, and may outright dwarf some of our smaller readers; certainly it feels a little big on me, but I’m a short, skinny guy. If you can’t tell, though, Swiss Gear built it to last. I honestly can’t complain about the design (apart from the red). This is one of those things you can go see in the store and decide if it’s right for you aesthetically; my job here is to tell you that I’m confident this thing’ll last, and that I feel it’s well designed.
Surprisingly, the Maxxum distributes its weight well, and feels unusually light when you’re actually wearing it. While the air channels and oversized straps may look like a bit much and may even feel a bit bizarre when you first put on the backpack, it doesn’t take long to adjust to.
I’ve been using it for the first couple weeks of school, toting around my backpack, headphones, iPod, a couple of books…I can’t really complain about comfort. I suspect if you put a sizable amount of crap in it you’ll start to really feel it, but the same could be said of any backpack, and the Maxxum’s design minimizes the discomfort caused.
Air channels to minimize unsightly back sweat. (view large image)
I’m not sure how much good the air channels in the back padding actually did, but they sure felt comfortable on my back.
The only gripe I have with it in this respect is the chest strap. I know this thing’s supposed to be durable, but I find that more than anything it just gets annoying. While the Muir campus at UC San Diego is certainly rougher (and more beautiful) than most college campuses, it’s not quite hiking territory, and I’m not sure I need the additional support. Your mileage may vary.
The Wenger Swiss Gear Maxxum. (view large image)
It’s really hard to go wrong with this backpack and it was definitely a welcome replacement for my aging Targus bag. It has a rough-and-tumble design that suits students that are going to be spending a lot of time trekking all over a college campus. More than that, while I largely didn’t replace my Targus bag out of laziness, I’m confident this bag will more than outlast it.
If you need a backpack to carry your mainstream-sized notebook, the Maxxum makes a mighty fine case for itself.