Bag of the week: Spire Torq backpack

Everyone has their special preference when it comes to lugging a laptop. Some prefer the messenger-style bags you fling across a shoulder, others favor bags that could be mistaken for briefcases. I prefer a backpack. They’re easy to carry, can hold a load of gear, and, if you choose the right one, remain comfortable even when worn for the better part of a day.

My first laptop backpack was made by Spire, the end-all-be-all laptop backpack maker of the time. It was a great backpack and served for many years with nary a rip or blown zipper—the thing was nearly indestructible. But once I graduated to carrying not just a computer, but also a couple of iPods, accompanying iPod gear, a note pad, a mobile phone, and a digital camera, it was clear I needed more capacity than that particular Spire could provide.

After speaking with a number of colleagues about their bags of choice, I settled on STM’s Medium Eclipse backpack. It offered great capacity, a logical layout with three separate compartments, a solid handle on top for lugging it around with one hand, and a nicely padded back panel and shoulder straps. Even full of stuff, it was nicely balanced. Regrettably, its zippers weren’t as robust as those on my old Spire backpack; within a couple months, one of the zippers on the compartment closest to my back slipped the rails and refused to return to the straight and narrow path. To be fair, STM bags include a warranty that would likely cover the problem, but I haven’t taken the time to ship it back to STM to see if it meets the requirement of being “defective in materials or workmanship.”

So, when my colleague Dan Frakes offered me the opportunity to put the latest Spire backpack—the $170 Torq —to the test, I jumped at the chance. For the most part, I’ve been very happy with it.

Spire Torq

Unlike my first Spire bag, the Torq one holds gallons of stuff. So much so that you could easily pack your laptop (there’s a special compartment and included sleeve for just that), every cable imaginable, an iPod or two and its accessories, and enough clothes (mushed up, granted) to last a weekend. I’ve managed to carry a digital SLR as well, though there’s no special padded compartment for the camera, so I was taking a risk.

The downside of having such a high-capacity bag is that you can easily overload it. I’ve done so and afterward regretted that the Torq has just a little less padding on the shoulder straps than the STM Eclipse; I tend to carry my backpack on one shoulder and could feel the difference. Also, despite a foam pad inserted in a sleeve within the back compartment, the part of the pack that rests against your back isn’t as nicely padded as that of the STM bag. On the other hand, the Torq’s waist belt—which you’re likely to use with an overloaded pack—has far more padding than the Eclipse’s.

Another danger of overloading the bag is that it winds up poorly balanced. Spire addresses this issue by including cinch belts on either side of the bag. Pull these things taut after packing to pull the bag more tightly together and, hopefully, bring about better balance.

The Torq’s zippers are beefy and, so far, have performed their jobs admirably. The bag sports two outside mesh pockets for holding water bottles or other smallish gear you want close at hand. Inside the first compartment you’ll find a couple of shallow pocket for things like small notepads, mobile phones, pens, and adapter cables. Unlike the STM bag, the Torq doesn’t have velcro straps for keeping the contents of these pockets in place—something I found handy with the Eclipse bag. Below is a broader mesh pocket for keeping cables and cards in hand, and the outside flap holds two zippered pockets. There’s also a zippered compartment on the outside of the pack.

The middle compartment is for your laptop and includes a padded sleeve that was just a little small for my 15-inch MacBook Pro. I regret that this compartment doesn’t have the kind of removable semi-hard bumper pad at the bottom that the Eclipse provided. A little added protection for the laptop—particularly on the part of the bag that makes contact with the ground—never hurts. The separator between the middle and back compartment, however, is nicely padded and has a slightly plush surface to help prevent scratching.

The back compartment is the place for putting everything else. It’s deep and expands nicely. As I mentioned, it includes a Velcro pouch for a removable foam pad. If you’re unhappy with the amount of padding against your back, you can also replace this pad with something cushier from the local House o’ Foam. If you really want to cush out the pack, there’s yet another pouch on the back of the pack. This mostly-hidden pouch is not a good place to put gear as it will fall out the holes at the bottom of the pouch, but it could work for holding another foam pad or, if push comes to shove, secret documents you’re trying to smuggle through customs.

Because of its capacity, you’ll be tempted to over-pack this solidly-built backpack. But resist that temptation and you’ll find the Torq a worthy bag.

The Torq is available in black with blue, gray, red, or more black.

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