Finding the right laptop bag for you (and your gear) can be a real pain. There are so many choices out there, and it would appear the ones that are easy to find are usually the absolute worst ones out there. I have about a dozen laptop bags for a variety of laptops I’ve owned over the years, and some of them were really good while others just didn’t meet expectations.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself next time you’re looking for a laptop bag.

What Does It Do?

Every laptop bag out there holds your laptop, but not every one holds much else. I’ve been surprised to find just how difficult it is to put standard things like a power adapter, external hard drive, or even a notebook mouse in most of the bags out there. It would appear that a thin frame wins out over functionality in the minds of many manufacturers. I say nay! Function over form, always and forever.

If you’re a frequent traveler that doesn’t like to check bags, having a laptop bag that serves as both an “extra personal bag” and a useful addition to your luggage is essential. Can you fit more than just your laptop in it? If not, you have the wrong bag. A laptop sleeve is what most laptop shoulder bags out there amount to. Sure there’s a document pouch and a shoulder strap with a little mobile phone pocket, but where do you put your accessories?

Often a backpack solution or some hybrid bag is actually what you need. For photographers, having a bag that is both suited for camera equipment and a laptop is best, though these bags often cost an arm and a leg.

Will It Last?

When it comes to gauging the durability of a bag, you might want to look at a few different criteria. Rip-stop patterns are a good sign of a bag that’s built to last. You can find this pattern by looking for little squares sewn into the fabric. This pattern prevents rips and tears from moving behind a tiny hole. It’s commonly used in military clothing and bags, which is always a good sign for durability.

If you feel that you can fill the bag with rocks and throw it around the back yard without it busting open or ripping itself to shreds, then you have a good bag. I know, that sounds a bit extreme, but there are many companies out there making brilliant civilian bags to military standards. Why settle for something that’s made to fail and require you to buy a new one? Get a bag you can see yourself passing down to your children. That’s a bag that will last.

A few of my recommendations are: Tom Bihn, STM, and Crumpler.

Can I Travel With It?

Having a bag that carries whatever you need is a great thing, but will it travel well? By this I mean, can you carry it on a plane as you extra personal item, or will you have to consider it your primary carry-on bag? This is a real concern for travelers that don’t want to pay outrageous fees only to risk their equipment being damaged or lost in the checked bag system.

Take a moment to gauge your needs and the bag’s ability to fit those needs without taking up too much space. I used to carry around a ThinkGeek Bag of Holding and found it to be a great laptop bag for my then 17.3″ gaming laptop without being too big or bulky to take with me to most places. Even at restaurants and while walking around, big bags are a big problem. Keep it slim yet functional. That’s the key.

Image: STM