Back when I reviewed a knapsack from Shinola (which you can see here) I mentioned that, as our site is called Knapsack.News, it only made sense to review, well, knapsacks (you know, backpacks), particularly as many of us use them to carry around the gear essential to our day-to-day. In today’s review, I’ll be telling you about one of the most protective backpacks I’ve used, the Pelican U105 Urban Backpack.
My interest in laptop-capable backpacks goes back at least 15 years. At that time, I had myself a motorcycle (a Honda VLX, for those in the know) and wanted a way to carry my work laptop with me without having to strap it to the sissybar. That started my journey with a very capable Jansport (which I ended up getting a second, newer version of down the road). Since then, I’ve had a few different types of bags, but I keep coming back to backpacks. It’s nice to be able to carry everything snugly on your back – and balanced, not having to use just a single strap to throw your shoulders out of whack.
Prior to testing out the Pelican U105 Urban Backpack, I was using a bag from Timbuk2. This has been a very usable bag, and I’ve travelled a good deal with it for commutes and work trips. One of the best things about that was the size zipper access for quick removal of the laptop. And second best, was the well-sorted water bottle (or in my case, coffee cup) holder. In fact, that was the one big ding I had against the Shinola we reviewed – no place to put a cup. And, at first, you’d think the Pelican U105 Urban Backpack is in the same boat.
Yes, yes, you could use the molle attachment points on the side to put a holder on, but that’s cheating. Take a look on the other side, what’s the odd, small pocket there? Well, when you unzip it, out pops a water bottle (or coffee cup) holder. This is slick, as you can have the capability when you need it, and tuck it away when you don’t. What about the ease of access to the laptop? Here, we’re coming up aces. The zippers are smooth-running, and you only need to open up the top, and you can sneak the laptop on out. Putting it back in is just as simple and that’s with getting it inside the velcro strap to hold it in place.
I mention that strap as they can sometimes be hindrances on backpacks, forcing you to fully open the compartment. Not so here. Which means on the Pelican U105 Urban Backpack you will want to use the strap. And that’s good, because holding it in place helps to secure and protect the device. Frankly, if you’re looking at any backpack – let alone from from noted protective case maker Pelican – you should be thinking about how well it protects your laptop. When that strap is cinched in place, it’s holding your laptop (up to 15”) firmly inside an impact frame that protects it on all edges. The bottom of the laptop is against your back, and the top has some layers of of the backpack – including another impact-resistant panel on the front – keeping things safe.
In short, I felt like my laptop was very well protected. As an added bonus, with that frame in place, you can have a heavier-duty grab handle setup on top, which is actually quite comfortable to use. Seriously – I doubt you’ve used anything near as sturdy-feeling as this grab handle is, even on your traditional luggage. Within the laptop compartment, you do have a zippered pouch velcroed in placed on top (which you could move, or removed) to hold cables, battery packs, and the like. And there’s still room to slip some folders, notepads, or other files on top of the laptop.
In the next compartment up from there, the Pelican U105 Urban Backpack has a fairly wide-open space. No pockets or anything, just a large open section. For daily commuters, it’s a great spot to swallow your lunch bag and an umbrella. For the road warriors, you can easily slip your packing cubes in there and head on out with just a single bag. The next section up from there is where you start finding some pockets and the like. This outer section – due to the rigid panel mounted on front – actually expands back into the middle compartment. So, depending on what you’re carrying, you might need to adjust stuff around. However, it does allow the bag to keep a sleek outer profile while giving you flexibility in terms of what – and how – you pack into it.
That impact protection panel also has another added benefit to my eyes. If you’re the sort to plaster various stickers on your laptop (and I am that sort) you can easily do the same here on that plastic panel. Sure, you could sew patches onto the fabric, but I never liked thinking about what that would do to the water-resistance of the bag. Stickers, though, that’ll do just fine.
The straps of the Pelican U105 Urban Backpack are not the most padded that I have ever felt, but they were reasonably comfortable. I mean, you’re not going hiking with this, just commuting, so they get the job done. The back of the bag also has a mesh section, so you’ll ostensibly get some airflow in there as well, helping to prevent a sweaty back. The straps themselves have standard buckle adjustments, with the added (and very nice) bonus of keeper loops on the straps to keep the loose ends from flapping around. Additionally, that Pelican logo patch is another loop as well, onto which you could easily hook something if you were so inclined.
When I got the Pelican U105 Urban Backpack in, I expected it to be heavy. And yeah, at over 4 pounds, it’s not an ultralight. But once I had it loaded up for my commute, it actually was not that much heavier (to my very calibrated shoulders) than my less-protective Timbuk2. So, unless you find yourself slogging multiple miles with your bag on your back, I don’t think the additional weight (especially given the protection that the laptop brings) will be that worrisome.
Is the $82.95 Pelican U105 Urban Backpack a perfect bag? Well, I don’t know that such a thing exists. I do wish the outermost compartment had some more pockets built in, or some velcro sections so you could pop some in (much like you could with the molle attachment points on the side). And the bottle/cup holder could do with being a bit taller. However, if you need something that can protect your laptop like nothing you’ve likely carried before – and pull double duty as a commuter and one-bag-road-warrior setup – in my book, it’s a tough one to beat. Other may be able to do it, but I’ve not run across one that keeps as sleek of an outer profile as this bag does (nor get as many compliments as this one has). So, for me, the Pelican U105 Urban Backpack is definitely in the “Win” column. If you think there’s a better one out there, though, do let me know, as I’m curious to hear your thoughts. For now, this one stays at the top of my list. pelican.com
- Device: Pelican U105 Urban Backpack
- Price: $82.95
- Recommended for: You’re on the road a lot – wether that’s in airports or on a motorcycle
- What I would change: I wouldn’t mind if the hidden water bottle pocket was just a bit taller to more securely hold the container
- Would I use it? Absolutely – it’s a solid combination of compact space management and business-appropriate ruggedness
Details from Pelican
- Backpack with protective laptop frame
- Impact frame for 360° protection
- Fits 15” Laptops
- Impact protected front compartment fits iPad and other tablets
- Balanced rugged grab handle
- Concealed water bottle pocket
- Lightweight, ergonomic design with ventilated mesh back
- Durable, water resistant material
- Case Interior (L×W×D): 15.50 x 10.50 x 1.50 in (39.4 x 26.7 x 3.8 cm)
- Exterior (L×W×D): 20.50 x 12.50 x 9.50 in (52.1 x 31.8 x 24.1 cm)
- Bag Volume: 19.00L
- Weight: 4.22 lbs (1.9 kg)