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The Shopaholic Beaver(Get) Off My Back (Part 1 of a series of 3)

By Elizabeth Zakszewski

I love shopping. I am also anal retentive, obsessive-compulsive, and whatever other psychotic adjective you’d like to call me. Before I buy something, I have to look at a dozen similar products, buy one, take it back, and start all over again. It started just with clothes, but then moved on to my more geeky toys and gadgets, which I waste countless hours staring at on online stores. So I thought, why don’t I put those formerly wasted hours to the benefit of the populace? It’d be like a community service! Thus this column was born. I’ll share what I learn about stuff us good little beavers would use every day.

The first product on the list is laptop-carrying backpacks. I got sick of the messenger-style bag digging into my shoulder whenever I wanted to take my beefy four-year-old Dell anywhere. So I tried eight different backpacks that I hoped could serve me. They all had to have a sleeve fitting a 17 inch computer, and the first three are up today. I’ll rate them from 1 to 5 (1 = best, 5 = worst) in four different areas, and then explain myself a little.

High Sierra — Magnum

The Magnum gets points for looks right away, because mine was an awesome shade of green that had me at hello. The shape is weird, long vertically but not very deep front-to-back, which proved detrimental in the size category since once I put my laptop in, there wasn’t room for more than a thin folder and one binder. All three bags had a clasp on the strap that holds the laptop, and it always gets in the way when I’m putting the laptop in. But once the laptop’s in, it’s well protected. The features are nice: a convenient cell phone holder on the shoulder strap, zippered pockets on both sides for a water bottle or small accessories, and a front pocket big enough to hold all my non-binder-sized junk. The straps were supremely well designed, The straps also featured a “suspension system,” a piece of elastic material that connects the strap to the top of the bag near the shoulder, reducing stress there; at least I think that’s how it works — I’m not Course 2. Padding on the straps and the back panel added to comfort.

I really wanted to like this bag, but the lack of space for carrying books and binders was a deal breaker.

High Sierra — Holmes

The Holmes is a high-end version of the Magnum, apparently. The black color I picked and the high-density material on the front panel made it look very professional. Extra compartments and bigger features, however, made the bag look much more bulky, a big minus for an everyday bag. And oddly, the cell phone pocket on the strap was removable, making it stick out too much. However despite the extra size, this pack still was not deep enough to hold more than one binder and my laptop! All the same comfort features on the straps were there, with the added benefit of straps across the chest and waist, which my poor shoulders appreciated, but the waist strap would hang out unattractively on both sides if you didn’t use it. Improved features over the Magnum included better shaped side pockets and a larger front compartment. Additional features such as a music pocket for a CD player and CD’s and a small felt-lined pocket for more delicate accessories like sunglasses were very nice, although I couldn’t see myself using the huge CD pocket in the age of MP3 players. Overall, the features weren’t worth the extra price and bulk, since I still couldn’t fit the important stuff.

High Sierra — Access

This looked the bulkiest of the three, and the light blue and grey color I picked ended up not looking very professional. It did have more room to fit all my stuff, but there were zippers and clasps and straps flying everywhere. Same comfort features as the Holmes, but the shoulder straps were not padded as well. Features include just one side pocket (fine, I only carry one water bottle anyway), a smaller front compartment but a second middle compartment for larger accessories, a carabiner and loops to attach stuff to the front compartment, an MP3 player pocket in front, an even nicer padded handle on top (I love cushy padding), and the same bulky, detachable cell phone holder on the strap. All nice features, but this bag is just too heavy-duty for my everyday life.

So there’s my take on the High Sierra line. If you have a smaller laptop, they had some smaller bags that might be worth a try. My quest continues next week!