Review: The North Face Offsite Laptop bag (Fits 17")
The North Face Offsite Laptop Bag Review.
My job has me doing a lot of traveling with my 17" Dell M90. I've had a heck of a time finding a laptop bag that is travel friendly that fits my 17" widescreen laptop. The Dell branded laptop case that was touted as the bag that "fits" the M90 was terrible, the bag would not fit under the seats of airplanes, there was no room for the extra Battery and the huge 130 Watt power converter, let alone anything else you would want to carry with you on and airplane (books, magazines, mp3 players, etc). After lots of searching I settled on the The North Face Offsite bag. MSRP is $99 but I found it at travel country for $74 with free shipping. It is not perfect and I will go over it's shortcomings in the review.
First off lets take a look at the exterior of the pack. The most notable feature of the front of the exterior is a 1/2 mesh elasticized front pocket. There are buckles that cinch open or closed to allow the pocket to expand and is perfect for items you want quick access too. I'll throw my book and my customs papers/ boarding pass/ passport in there for quick access while moving through the airport. The buckles are hard to press to release because of the way they are attached to the bag, but it is only a very minor complain about the system. Beneath the mesh pocket is a small zippered compartment, it's not quite large enough to fit letter sized documents but it's perfect for my 5x8 calendar I keep.
The back of the pack is padded with two layers of ~1/8" foam material. Between the two layers you can slide the handle of a rolling bag. Makes moving through the airport much easier. There are two mesh water bottle holders on each side with an elastic cinch. These water bottle pockets are far superior to any other I have had on a laptop case, they are actually useable and you don't have to struggle to get a 20oz beverage in and out of them. Holds the drink securely no matter what the size.
On the bottom of the pack is a zippered compartment which I use for my 3 meter long cat 5 cable and power cables keeping the rest of the bag free of clutter.
The padded laptop sleeve is in the back of the bag. If my 17.1" Widescreen Dell M90 was any larger it wouldn't fit, but it fits fine as is and uses about 98% of the room in the sleeve. The laptop sleeve has a thin ~1/8" foam all around. It's not as well protected without the hard plastic frame and 1/2" thick foam all around that my Dell case has, but it's about average for what you see with most padded compartments in aftermarket bags.
The middle compartment is expandable and quite big. There are cinches on the side to cinch the bag down if you don't have it filled. You can see that the middle compartment fits quite a bit of stuff. There are 3 separate file slots in the main compartment to fit letter sized files or folders. It's large enough I can fit a windbreaker with ease in the compartment, along with my DVD case, a paper back book, and my sunglasses/sunglasses case.
The front organizer compartment is separated from the middle compartment with a large plastic divider the help the bag keep it's shape. There is only one zippered compartment, the rest of the compartments are open and feature no closures. I usually keep my full sized 5 button Logitec mouse, passport, two cell phones, cell phone charger, business cards, and 2 pens and a mechanical pencil, and most importantly my Chap Stick in this area. I also store my extra battery and 130 watt power converter here. There is a headphone passthrough if you keep a CD player or MP3 play in your bag. As you can see there is PLENTY of room in this bag for those of us who need an office on the go.
The bag has plenty of features, but what about the intangibles? Like most good bags this Offsite has very nice beefy zippers that work smoothly without any hang ups. The small exterior zipper pocket is hard to unzip without unclasping the mesh pocket. The shoulder stap pad is nice and thick and comfortable even with 12+ lbs of laptop and converters and extra batteries. The bag is well laid out and all the features work great. The one part of the bag design I do worry about is the plastic rotating buckles on the shoulder strap, they may be plenty strong but they aren't as confident inspiring as some of the large heavy duty metal hooks that I've gotten used too in my Dell branded bags I've used in the past.
As someone who flies about 5000 miles/month this has been one of the best bags I've ever used for air travel. This is my first non-clamshell case. In the past going through security had me struggling opening the case, getting the laptop out, and then trying to get the laptop back in the bag and the bag closed enough to get out of the way of traffic. This bag you can hang on your shoulder and just slide the laptop into the sleeve and you do not need to zip it up to be secure enough to walk away from security. Very nice. Most importantly the bag fits under every seat I've sat in so far, very important if you are on those crowded flights and are trying to carry everything on the plan without checking anything.
Only time will tell if the bag holds up to abuse but the price is decent, the bag is loaded with features, and is a great alternative for people looking for a non-backpack case for a 17" widescreen laptop case.