Review: First impressions: Pacific Design Backpack

This is a first look and not a review based on use. (May 3rd, 2006)

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Product Manufacturer: Pacific Design

Price: $59.95 US

The Good

  • Water bottle holders. Rolling case or backpack. Good padding on most of the waist strap. Telescoping single arm handle. Very reasonably priced.

The Bad

  • Waist belt straps not wide enough. Uncomfortable handle. Zipper pulls on main compartment poorly made.

I have a few requirements of anything that goes on my back, and to date none of the computer backpacks I've seen meet all my needs. Today, I received a surprise product in the mail, a Pacific Design Action II Rolling Backpack XL. While I was expecting a roller bag or two to dole out to reviewers, this piece was a nice bonus. At a bargain price of $59.95, this backpack is certainly priced within most budgets.

One big pack

It is a bit large, but closer look at the tag reveals it is an XL, which explains the size (20" tall x 15.5" wide x 10" deep). Figuring it is just too large for my frame, I inspected it anyway. Normally a product this big would go straight to one of my larger male reviewers, as it weighs 6.8 lbs empty and my back can only support about 20 lbs. The single-handled push-button curved trolley handle means I don't have to wear the bag if it's too heavy when packed, so maybe I will personally test it.

Zipper pull problems

The nylon zippers aren't the most robust for a backpack, but the pull cords are sturdy and about a 1/2 inch thick, with nice big rubber pulls, so no fumbling around. They are well stitched too. The problem is that the main compartment pulls are different, they are only razor-toothed plastic, and one came apart the second time I unzipped the case. That's not good and means to test this bag, I first need to replace those two pulls.

surprising features

There are plenty of pockets to carry a variety of items, but only the two outside ones are padded, plus the inside slider for the computer. None of the padding is very robust. At first I thought, ok it's just a typical backpack, but a closer inspection revealed more perks. Three features caught my eye and made me want to don the pack and try it out immediately. Unfortunately its pouring out so, it will have to wait until I actually leave the house again.

First, elastic netted water bottle pockets grace both sides! Maybe that's not a big deal for you, but unless I'm using a hiking backpack, I haven't been able to find a computer bag with water pockets. I always carry water and this is a great feature for me.

The second, more common feature is nice large inline skate wheels, so the bag can be rolled around on any surface. As most bags with wheels don't stand too well, I was elated to find there is also a stand on the bottom, so that the bag stays upright when put down. The stand is strong enough to use as a handle in a pinch too. Admittedly, I haven't inspected a lot of bags lately, but this is the first one I've seen with a stand instead of feet. A very nice feature.

The third feature, that almost thrilled me are the straps. The back straps are ergonomically designed, and say they have moisture-shedding mesh. There is actually a wide, padded waist strap. That means when the bag is fully loaded, you have the support where you need it to actually hold the bag correctly on your back. No wait, turns out the waist strap is only partially padded and thick on the sides. The part that attaches in the front is just regular 1" webbing. That's too bad, because this bag warrants a nice thick 2" strap, like I have on my camera waist bag. Oh well. The odd thing is that the webbing used on the inside strap to secure a laptop is the nice thick webbing I would have appreciated in the outer straps.

Due to the bag's hefty size, I might actually be able to carry my camera's zoom lens in the bag along with my computer. That would be a first for me, as normally I have to strap on a huge lens case to the outside to accommodate my foot long lens (it is a Sigma 170-500mm behemoth). Unfortunately, the carry handle, which does not interfere with the trolley handle, is also only 1" nylon. It has a thick plastic handle that doesn't immediately feel very comfortable. A padded covering would have been a nice addition.

So, this first look reveals that the Pacific Design Action II Rolling Backpack XL delivers almost all of my necessary requirements in a pack. You may need to replace a couple of zipper pulls and add your own laptop sleeve though. Now, I just have to road test it for a few weeks to see if it stands up under real-world use.

by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor


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