One of the quirks of my job is that I basically have to carry everything with me. I have a desk at work, but each class I teach is in a different room, and I’m only on campus three days a week. So I can use my desk to store books and things for classes I’m not teaching this quarter, but the stuff I need for my classes today, and the stuff I need to work at home, has to come with me. The resulting heavy, daily use means I routinely wear out backpacks, so over the years I’ve owned a lot of them–I’ve almost accidentally become something of a connoisseur of computer backpacks.
When Solo, a manufacturer of backpacks and handbags of all shapes and sizes, reached out asking if I was interested in trying out one of their bags, I jumped at the chance. My old back was on its last legs and I was in the market for a new bag anyway, so the timing worked out nicely.
The bag they sent me for review is their Rival model, which seemed like it would fit my needs very nicely, and indeed it did.
The bag itself is pretty very well constructed from tough polyester. On the outside, it has a bunch of straps to attach things to it and to attach it to other things, although I’ll admit I don’t have much use for those. What interests me a lot more is how the inside is laid out.
The backpack features five separate main compartments. There’s a front pocket that’s fairly narrow but easily accessible and works great to slip in smaller tablet or eReader (or, if you want to go old school, a book) in for easy access. Behind that is the organizer section. The zipper for that allows the front to fold away almost flat, giving you quick access to the compartment. It has the normal set of pen and card holders, along with two mesh pockets for bigger items. There’s also a headphone port accessible from this pocket. I did miss a smaller zipper pocket here for tiny items like SD cards, but that was far from a deal breaker.
The next two pockets are for bigger items. The backpack is actually so spacious that I have yet to even use one of them, as the other is big enough to hold my binder and a couple of textbooks and my assortment of cables and power cords. The compartment further towards the back of these two includes a padded sleeve for a tablet. You can see it in the image above, although since I don’t carry a tablet with me, it currently holds a magazine.
The rear compartment is for the laptop. It’s padded on all four sides. Solo’s web site says it will hold up to a 17.3″ laptop. Thankfully, my days of lugging around something that large are behind me, but my 15″ fits inside nicely with plenty of room to spare.
Between the rear compartment and the one in front of it is a smaller pocket. When I traveled recently, my passport fit in here perfectly. You can also slide your phone and wallet in there to get through TSA checkpoints quickly.
On either side, the pack features a smaller hard shell case. The company’s website says that these are for headphones, but since I pretty much only use ear buds, I can’t say whether they’re the right size for those. What I can tell you, though, is that my laptop’s power cable fits perfectly in one, and the mouse I keep with me in case my track pad starts acting up fits beautifully in the other. I do kind of wish that the pack only had one of these hard shell cases, and instead had a pouch for a water bottle on the other side, but again it’s something I can overlook given everything else there is to like about the pack.
The back of the pack–the one exterior part I do care about–is really nice. It’s got much softer padding than other packs I’ve owned recently. The shoulder straps share the same soft, comfortable padding. Even fully loaded with all of my stuff, this backpack is the most comfortable I’ve worn in longer than I can remember. My back still reminds me that I’m carrying something big and heavy if I wear it for too long, but I have been able to go longer with this pack on my back than my old one.
All in all, I found that the Solo Rival nicely met my needs for a backpack for work and travel. I’m not looking forward to the day when I wear this one out and have to find a replacement, but, hopefully, that will be quite some time from now. The backpack is available for $53 from Amazon.