I recently decided to embark on a journey of discovery. Surely, I thought, there must be life beyond Tom Bihn’s popular Ristretto vertical messenger. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to find my first destination: STM’s $70 Vertical Laptop Shoulder Bag. (I tested the Small version.)
As you may have deduced, the plainly named Vertical is an upright messenger bag. STM designed the Small size for 13-inch notebooks, but not necessarily MacBooks. This means the main compartment—with foam padding, a plush corduroy lining, and its own dedicated, protective Velcro flap—feels a little oversized for Apple’s slim notebooks, though my wife’s 13-inch MacBook didn’t swim around too badly.
Moving down the front of the bag from the main compartment, there’s a general-purpose pocket that fits a couple magazines or a thin book, though you probably won’t be able to stuff a rain shell or other thin jacket in there. In front of that is a thin pocket for an iPad or other tablet, lined with a felt-like material but without much padding at the bottom of the bag to protect your tablet from sudden drops.
The final compartment on the front of the bag is a zippered area for smaller trinkets, a power adapter, cables, and the like. There are a decent number of slots and small zippered areas inside, but closing it gets a bit tight if you’ve stowed thicker items. I ultimately felt more comfortable putting my laptop’s power adapter in the zippered pocket on the bag’s outer flap. This flap closes to protect all the compartments I mentioned, securing with Velcro.
On the back of the bag is a standard thin, full-length pouch for tossing quick-access items such as a magazine, a boarding pass, or your headphones; there’s also a carrying handle you can hide when it’s not needed. The shoulder strap is a standard nylon version with a movable (and removable) nylon-with-padding shoulder pad, which I found to be plenty comfortable in daily use.
Overall, the STM Vertical is a solid bag at a competitive price, but I recommend it with a caveat: If you’re the type of mobile warrior who needs space in your bag to store random things you pick up during the day, this bag might not be for you, as it really doesn’t afford much in the way of extra room beyond the basics. If that’s not an issue, the Vertical is a fine bag for your daily essentials—but not an iPod cable or rain shell more.
Former Macworld associate editor David Chartier is a Herald for 1Password, proprietor of DavidChartier.com, wrangler of the Finer Things in Tech, and eternally searching for the perfect gadget bag.