the-bolt-backpackI had the privilege of testing out the Bolt backpack from Waterfield Designs/Sfbags.com.

Waterfield Design's Website

The Bolt Backpack Page

I had been using an Eddie Bauer Daypack, which is a thin, super-light backpack designed for, yes, day travel activities, biking, and light carrying.  I used the Eddie Bauer backpack primarily for riding, travel, and day activities.  It was great for most of that.  Interestingly, I had this backpack on when I was hit by a car while riding my bike back in 2014.  It survived with a minor scratch.  Sturdy backpack.  I love that backpack!

But, it didn’t offer padded protection for my laptop.

Nor was it professional looking.

In fact, I attended multiple conferences with this backpack (which is black and neon green by the way).  I was rocking my dress pants, sport coat, crisp ironed shirt, freshly shined shoes, pocket square, and freshly cut hair.  Dang.  I was looking good.  Then I turned around and there was my black and neon green backpack.  I looked more like a high school kid attending a prep school.

Fail.

I went to Vegas in June for the Hexagon Global conference.  I wasn’t about to make the same high school prep school mistake.  So, I pulled out an old hand-me-down leather laptop/messenger bag.  It looked relatively professional and offered limited protection for my laptop.  But it was big and a bit out of date with its functionality.

But I looked good.

By the end of the week in Vegas, my neck and shoulders hurt so bad, it was making me nauseous.  Granted, I have, for those of you who know the story, a damaged sciatic nerve due to a 1% chance failure from back surgery.  Then, getting hit on my bike by the car causes issues with the entire posterior chain in my body.  Meaning, it also affects my neck and shoulders.  So I just have to be extra careful and ensure I have the proper posture and ergonomics in everything I do.

Including my bag.

I needed something professional.  I needed something that protected my laptop and was functional for what I needed to carry.  I needed something that was also ergonomic.

I was first introduced to Waterfield by Carl, aka, CJ Thunder.  He lent me one of his laptops for a time and its case was one of the sleeves from Waterfield.  It’s a beautiful waxed canvas, which looks classic, professional, and rugged.  The thing that impressed me the most about this laptop sleeve was how thick and protective it was.  I actually felt like I could toss the laptop across the room and it wouldn’t damage the laptop!

So I checked out Sfbags.com as per Carl’s recommendation.  I went straight to the backpack section.  I know that a messenger bag or briefcase is the more “professional” option for the professional man, but let’s face it, most don’t have my neck/shoulder issue.  I wanted ergonomics over carrying around a messenger bag or briefcase.

Enter the Bolt and Staad backpacks.

Both looked amazing and functional to me.  I also knew, if they were anything like the laptop sleeve I experienced, that the quality and protection would be top-notch.  I did, however, have a difficult time choosing which backpack would be the better option for me.  Neither seemed to offer an “all-in-one” functionality.

The Staad looked AMAZING, with its leather flap and design.  Wow.  I wanted the Staad based on looks alone.  However, some reviews said it was “too small.”  I used my bag for day activities, meetings around town, biking, biking to work at coffee shops (I love my job!), and travel.

It seemed the Bolt was a better option for me, as it holds much more than the Staad and would be perfect for travel.  The hard part was that I liked the look of the Staad better.  It was a perfect look for the professional!  I wanted to get both so I could do an extensive comparative review!  But I was only able to get one.

I decided to go with the Bolt.

First of all, it’s a beautiful backpack.  It’s designed and crafted very well.  One thing I LOVE about Waterfield/Sfbags.com is that they are out of San Francisco and the bags are made in San Francisco.  Each is handcrafted and made as ordered.  That’s a huge selling point for me.

The Bolt offers extreme protection for my laptop, tablet, and other items I carry.  I decided to go with the waxed canvas for the look and the fact that, as the backpack gets scratched and well-loved, the waxed canvas will age with beauty and grace.  It’s something I can use for many, many years down the road.

I’ll be honest… the Bolt is a bit too much for the day-to-day necessities.  As I mentioned, I go to local meetings, bike, bike to meetings or to work at coffee shops, etc. and the reality is, the Bolt is big.  It’s a bit excessive for these kinds of activities.

However, it holds a LOT.  So it’s perfect for carrying a lot of stuff.  It’s great for podcasters or photographers, for example, who may need to carry a lot of gear.  It’s perfect for travel.

In fact, the maiden voyage of the Bolt was a week-long trip to Seattle and Ketchikan, Alaska recently.  Having the Bolt allowed me to only need it and a small carry on, rather than a large checked bag, avoiding the checked bag fees.  Ok, so THAT is another HUGE selling point that I didn’t think of before getting the Bolt.

Wow.

Here’s what I packed the Bolt full of:

  • Overnight bag/dopp kit
  • Rain jacket
  • Nintendo Switch (in case)
  • Anker battery charger
  • Full-size Nikon camera with case and charger/cord
  • 15 inch MacBook
  • iPad
  • All associated chargers
  • 2, 25 ounce Camelbak water bottles
  • The other pockets full of necessities

I could have stuffed a bit more into the backpack, but I was at my weight limit.

With that said, the overall weight was a bit more than I expected.  The reviews said that the Bolt was super light and lighter than most backpacks.  I’m not sure what backpacks they were comparing to, but my comparison was the Eddie Bauer daypack (which weighs next to nothing) and my laptop bag I mentioned (which was heavy).

The Bolt was about the same weight as my laptop bag, which surprised me a bit based on the reviews.

Packing it full was heavy on my shoulders/neck.  With my personal issue, it put a decent amount of strain on my neck and shoulders.  As a result, on our second day of travel, I ended up with so much neck and shoulder pain, that the pain extended into my head and caused nausea.

It should also be noted that the backpack was full for the travel day, but on the second day of our trip, we lightened it significantly for day exploration around Seattle.

As a result of the side effects, my wife ended up having to shoulder the Bolt for most of the rest of the trip.

Keep in mind, I packed it FULL and heavy.  I have issues with my neck and shoulders that, I assume, most others don’t have.  So, I don’t believe this is a common issue to worry about.  But, if you do have any shoulder/neck sensitivities, it’s worth noting.

Other than that, the backpack is very functional and will hold and organize that which you need.  It really was the perfect backpack for our travels and I’ve, since, carried the backpack on my shoulders with a decent load and it hasn’t caused any shoulder/neck issues.

As I mentioned, the Bolt is durable and made well.  We got caught in a downpour in Ketchikan, Alaska when we arrived.  But the Bolt held up famously and nothing inside got wet or even remotely damp!

Another thing to mention is on the craftsmanship of the Bolt.  It’s amazing.  It’s durable, as I’ve mentioned, and it seems wonderfully made.  I did have two small issues with a leather tie breaking due to a noticeable weakness in the leather.  The tie broke after opening that zipper for the first time.  This wasn’t much of an issue with the exception that the leather tie is what makes each zipper, well, functional.  You can sort of open the zipper without the leather tie but it is not an easy feat.  It was obviously a leather quality problem with that one piece.  The other leather ties are just fine and have withstood plenty of use.

The other issue is a weird weakness in the waxed canvas under one of the shoulder straps.  It looks to me like the crafting of that area just wasn’t tight enough and it started to “unravel” (for lack of a better crafting term).  As a result, the canvas weave seems to be coming apart a small amount to form an almost “hole.”  Keep in mind, this is a very small (physically) area on the backpack.  Is it a structural issue or just cosmetic?  I’m honestly not sure.

I will also note this: I FULLY expect that NOTHING is perfect.  I expect mistakes.  When the leather tie broke, it didn’t bother me.  These things happen.  No one, anywhere, can craft the perfect thing.  So I have full understanding and full grace of mistakes in craftsmanship or anything like that.  All I ever ask is that these things get fixed and resolved.  That’s the true test of a company, in my opinion.

UPDATE: Waterfield has offered to send me a replacement leather tie, so that's great!  They've also suggested one way of possibly repairing the canvas issue.  I'm going to try that and see if it works.  Either way, they've taken care to find a solution for these 2 issues and resolve them.

I really do love the Bolt.  I’m so impressed with the quality of their products.  When possible, I’d like to get my hands on the Staad backpack so I can also do a review for you on that pack.  I intend to continue to patronize Waterfield and will be getting a laptop sleeve from them in the near future as well.

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