Just like most, if not all, of my readers, I like pens. And notebooks. And paper. And computers. And... And the list goes on. But we have to have a way to cart around all of our beloved nick knacks and baubles, right? Enter the Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase.
A few years ago, I picked up a rather nice leather satchel from Scaramanga in the UK and it's been with me ever since, but I really wanted something in Cordura (nylon) that would be good enough to walk into a client's office with, but a little more casual and forgiving than a leather bag. I have explored bags from Patagonia and Chrome (and some no-name bags). The Patagonia bag was too big and had too many pockets and buckles and straps and things. It also was too floppy and didn't hold its shape when sitting on the floor and if you had anything heavy in it (i.e., a computer) and grabbed it by the top carry handle, the bag just sort of took on this weird, strained shape. The Chrome Industries bag, while perfect for cycling, was too tight, lacked enough pockets or organization and had a Velcro closure, which is a no-go for me as I prefer not to be ripping into Velcro during a meeting. Also, the shape of the bag, while perfect for riding high and close on your back, left it frumpy and toppled over when sitting down. The cross-body strap also meant that it wasn't easy to just throw over a shoulder for quick trips into and out of a building. Both of the aforementioned bags hit on a few of my requirements, but neither of them gave me a bag that I loved 100%.
So what are my requirements, you ask?
- Canvas/Cordura for durability and easy cleanup
- Computer slot large enough to handle a 15" MacBook Pro Retina
- A roomy front pocket separate from the main compartment for quick access
- Division for small items (pens, notebooks, earbuds, etc.)
- Removable shoulder strap (if possible) with handles at the top of the bag
- Zippered or Clasped Closure (no Velcro)
- Must hold it's shape well when resting and being carried
The Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase ticks most of the boxes and on the ones it doesn't tick completely, it gets pretty close. It's made of Cordura and comes in a wide selection of colors (black, navy, olive, gray, etc.). I got mine in navy as it'll be dark enough to hide dirt and still look decent in a slightly more professional setting. Topo jazzed it up a bit with a fun yellow interior that gives the bag a little personality and, while it originally came with red paracord zipper pulls, I swapped mine out with some fun Aqua (blue/green/yellow/black) paracord pulls from my friends over at Nock Co. I think it gives the bag a little personality, don't you?
The computer slot just barely holds my Mac, but it does hold. It's a little tricky getting it in and out, but it's doable. It does have a little Velcro tab, which I dislike, but it's a small quibble and I can just tuck the little flap behind the computer so it's not an issue. I think that they could have made the bag about 1-2" wider and it would have fit a 15" computer perfectly.
Topo added a generous front pocket, spanning the width of the bag, with a big, beefy YKK zipper that's plenty smooth for quick access. I keep a small pouch inside of here with some EDC stuff (batteries, charging cord, back-up battery, paracord, etc.) and a charger for my iPad. I can toss my keys in here as well, which are easy to access from this pocket. And the shoulder strap, which is detachable (cha-ching!) rides down in the bottom as well. This would be a great pocket for boarding passes, wallets or passports if you're traveling. It's easy to get to and you're not digging around in the main compartment for this stuff.
Aside from the computer compartment, the main compartment features a small zippered pocket (I keep my earbuds here), three pen slots (one larger than the others for a thicker pen) and an open pocket where I keep an extra pocket notebook. That's it. I would have preferred they do two open pockets with zippered compartments on the fronts of them rather than one zippered and one open, but it's close enough. You can see in my photo below the orange item, which is a Lihit Bag-in-Bag. I'm a fan of this as it features a main compartment large enough for a notebook (I have one in A5 and one in A4), a pen slot (or two on the larger one), two flapped pockets and two open pockets. Bag-in-Bags are well-made and really nice for switching between bags on-the-fly as all your stuff can live in them and you move them rather than unloading all your stuff. While the Mountain Briefcase lacks a lot of interior organization, these will suffice for added organization in my bag, and the roomy main pocket means I can fit them in there easily and with room to spare. This is my preferred way of using a bag now, anyway. And Topo offers a range of accessory pouches in lots of fun colors to choose from for all of your accessory needs if you choose to pick some up.
As for the rest of my checklist, Topo did a great job. The adjustable, webbed shoulder strap (think seatbelt material) is removable with sturdy chrome swivel clips (so the strap doesn't get twisted, thank God) and is plenty long for this 6'2", 230lb guy (not fat and not athletic, but not skinny either). The top handles are sewn in perfectly and offer a grab-and-go solution (which I prefer for going from home to car and car to office and back again). I would have preferred some sort of grip on the handles or maybe even some kind of wrap that could keep them together, but as long as you catch them on the wide part, they're pretty comfy and feel good in the hand. Still... A little cushiony bit would have been nice. All of the zippers are big, beefy YKK zippers. They're smooth and easy, making bag access a breeze.
Topo added a pair of leather diamonds to the front for strapping stuff to (and for a few extra bucks, you can add a set of accessory straps in a number of colors). I doubt I'll use these, but they might come in handy for carrying a tripod or something at some point. And there's a set of straps at the bottom that you can adjust to hold a blanket roll or sleeping bag. Or a really, really big burrito (which is what I'd use it for). I kind of wish they had made these removable or done the leather lash points on the bottom with optional straps for them as the ones that are fixed to the bag just sort of hang down when not in use. This isn't a huge deal, but it takes away from the professionalism of the bag just a tiny bit, in my opinion.
Right between the two diamonds on the front is the only branding on the bag other than the Cordura and American Flag sew tags on the right front (because these bags are made right here in the USA). The all-white label with red and black stitching isn't out of place, nor is it gaudy or obtrusive. But, if you hate the idea of branding front and center, they make a rather cool blacked-out version.
One nice surprise was the inclusion of backpack straps on the back of the bag. There's a pocket on the back of the bag that is roughly the size of the bag, save for a few inches and inside are two straps. Pull them out and connect them to the loops on the back and you've got yourself a backpack. Super, super cool and perfect for riding a bike. There's another handle at the "top" of the bag when turned vertically for on-the-back carry, just like you'd find on a traditional book bag (think JanSport). Again, this handle is missing any sort of cushion, but it's not unbearable. Topo also offers a sternum strap that goes from strap-to-strap for added security and comfort on extra-long hikes from the coffee shop to the art gallery. Or from the top of a mountain to the top of another mountain.
The last little bit to mention is that there are a couple of heavy duty loops on the back of the bag on the short sides, about 1" in length. These would be perfect for hooking keys to or tying your bag down to something or tying something down to your bag. They're useful for something, I'm sure, although in the couple of days I've had the bag, I haven't found a direct need for them. Still, it shows that Topo is thinking a bit outside the box or, should I say, bag (see what I did there?), and is giving us a solution to random problems that might arise, whether you be at work or school or trekking through the woods or hanging with friends at a music festival.
All-in-all, I'd say this bag is a "go" for me. I really love that it's lightweight and versatile and that Topo has taken the time to explore various needs and scenarios and implemented possible solutions for them. Added growth through the inclusion of lashing points and additional straps shows they mean business and this bag would be right at home at the campsite, in the great outdoors or at your office. Me? I plan to use it for all of the above. By utilizing some of my favorite cases and dividers from other companies like Lihit and Nock Co., all of my daily and just-in-case items will have a home in this bag, making it my favorite EDC solution thus far. This may be the last bag I ever buy (until I decide I want another color, that is).
Check out the awesome folks over at Topo and see what they have to offer. You're bound to find something that will provide a solution to whatever life slings your way.
Thanks for reading,