When I tell people I only travel with a backpack, and haven’t checked a bag in five years, they assume I’m either homeless or using one of those “backpacker backpacks.” You know, those 5-foot-tall behemoths with more straps and ties than a kink shop. When I clarify that my backpack isn’t designed for the Camino de Santiago, but instead for some high school kid carrying his books to school, reactions range from disbelief to incredulous laughter.

“You travel with a SCHOOL backpack? For a whole WEEK?”

That’s right. Sometimes three weeks. And I’ve learned more from this school backpack than I ever learned in actual school – at least, when it comes to packing efficiently. I’ve had my SwissGear Wenger Synergy Laptop Backpack since I started grad school in 2015, intending to use it solely for academic purposes. When cobblestones crippled the back wheel on my rollaway luggage during my first weekend away, the SwissGear rose to the occasion. A temporary solution while I browsed replacement rollaway bags. Or so I thought…

Much like Lou Gherig stepping in for Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp when Pipp injured his ankle, the SwissGear wound up being a permanent replacement – a generational talent, if you will. Its main features include a padded laptop compartment for a 16” laptop and tablet, a stabilizing platform to keep the bag upright, mesh side pockets perfect for water bottles and travel documents, airflow back padding to prevent the wearer from overheating, shock-absorbing shoulder straps, a soft-grip handle, and main compartment wide and deep enough to hold clothes for at least two weeks (if you’re me, anyway).

But let’s get into what really makes this backpack special, and how to maximize its use for travel.

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SwissGear backpack review: More than what meets the eye


First, the laptop compartment. Not only is there enough space for your laptop, but for at least four laptops. Unless your work-life balance is totally out of whack, you probably don’t need four laptops. Repurpose this extra space for clothes. I always slide two folded button-down shirts in there, and more often than not, they emerge wrinkle-free.

The second benefit is the main compartment, which is slimmer at the top but widens toward the bottom. This makes it perfect for carrying shoes.

“Shoes in your backpack? Doesn’t that take up a ton of room?”

Not if you do it right. The space is wide enough to fit a pair (or even two pairs) of shoes side-by-side, and deep enough to throw some pants, six or seven shirts, a belt, socks, and underwear on top.

“What about your toiletries, though?”

Glad you asked. A generous front pocket has more than enough room for a small toiletry bag, a pair of sunglasses, some granola bars for inflight consumption, and a phone charger. And since we’re talking about the smaller pockets, we might as well dive into the side pockets – one mesh, one zipped on each side. The mesh pockets are great for travel docs, water bottles, and anything else you need readily accessible during the travel experience. The zippered pockets are ideal for more important docs like a passport or COVID-19 vaccine card.

You could probably make do with just the features mentioned, but we haven’t even gotten to the best part – the secret pockets.

Ok, maybe not secret, but to the naked eye, they don’t appear to be of much use. There’s a tiny zippered pocket in front of the laptop compartment that goes much deeper than you’d expect. This is my snack compartment. I regularly store at least one ziploc bag of trail mix, and one bag of cereal here for on-the-go snacking. Somehow, some way, the food never gets crushed, and always emerges perfectly intact.

It’d be easy to forget about Main Compartment 2.0, but we won’t. I’m not sure how else to describe this compartment, except to say that the designers outdid themselves, had more fabric to work with, and said “to hell with it, let’s give the people what they want.” This second, slightly smaller main compartment on the front is perfect for holding slimmer, flatter items like books or tablets. It’s ideal for those unexpected layovers when you need a conveniently accessible book without digging through the rest of your bag. 

In 5th grade I bought a goldfish for a science project, expecting it to live no longer than two weeks. It lasted six years. This backpack is like that goldfish. The thing is unspeakably durable. My SwissGear has been to over 35 countries over six years, endured some rough conditions, and still looks good as new. I’m sure there’s a technical explanation for this, involving sturdy, high-quality materials, but I prefer to believe it’s magic – like if a backpack drank from the fountain of youth.

The SwissGear Wenger Synergy Laptop Backpack is on sale for 26 percent off. Grab it now for only $66.65.

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