When I bought Everlane's Modern Commuter Backpack, I was making a bit of a gamble, because I couldn't find any really thorough reviews of it anywhere. That's why I decided to review it here--similar to my post about the Uniqlo soft bra, which some people seemed to find useful. I figure that if you're not into non-beauty content, you can just skip this post. I've been using this bag since the beginning of October, so I feel confident that I know it well enough to give it a detailed review--and since the holidays are coming up, it could be a good gift idea for someone. I'm not really the gift guide type, but I would have been very happy to have been given this bag, so consider this my one recommendation. Everlane also has free two-day shipping until December 21, so it's not too late.
I have a couple of niceish leather shoulder bags/briefcases that I use when I'm teaching and on other occasions when I particularly feel the need to look like a grownup. But for everyday work purposes, I much prefer a backpack, because I walk several blocks every day, and it's better for my back. Until recently, I was using an ugly blue backpack that I'd bought from Dell for about $6 back in 2008. The amazing thing is that, other than a couple of the plastic covers on the zipper pulls falling off, it is still in perfect condition. A little dingy, sure, but no tears, no holes, no broken fasteners--nothing! So I really wanted something more grownup and attractive, but at the same time it almost felt like bad luck to ditch a ridiculously cheap backpack that had served me so faithfully. That meant that I put a lot of pressure on myself to find the perfect replacement.
I spent most of this year casually looking at all sorts of backpacks. I kind of wanted a leather one, but I also didn't want to spend $300 on a backpack that might get ruined in the rain. Most of the non-leather options I was looking at had big logo labels stitched to the exterior, which I don't love. Finally I settled on Everlane's Modern Commuter Backpack, mostly because I liked how it looked. But I was worried about a few things and, as I said, couldn't find a good review to reassure me.
My concerns were the following: (1) that it wouldn't be big enough to carry all my things (though I knew it was at least designed to fit a 15" laptop, and mine is only 13"); (2) that it didn't have enough pockets and compartments to organize my belongings, since I was used to having a lot of them in my old backpack; (3) that it wouldn't be comfortable; and (4) that it would be disastrous in the rain.
I paid $68 for my backpack, and I chose the Reverse Denim color just because it looked best to me. In person, though of course it's really a combination of navy and white, it looks like heathered grey, and the fabric coordinates well with the black accents. It has a leather handle at the top, leather zipper pulls, and leather reinforcement where the straps on the back attach.
The backpack has two main compartments. The front zipper compartment doesn't have any pockets inside. The larger, main compartment has a sort of sleeve for a laptop that is lightly padded, with two smaller pockets sewed to the front of it. The laptop sleeve is useful, but I wish it had a flap of some kind at the top to keep the laptop in place--if not that, then it would nice if the top of the backpack were padded. As it is, if my bag were to fall off of something and land upside down, there would be nothing protecting that end of my computer. That hasn't happened, but it's a concern. Fortunately, since the pocket is big enough for a larger computer than mine, I can put it in another padded sleeve and still slide it inside. The smaller pockets are big enough for a phone or whatever, but I don't find myself using them much. I tend to throw all of my small things into the front compartment or into a makeup bag.
On the front of the bag there is a small, sideways, zippered pocket. The pocket itself entends only a bit lower than the bottom of the zipper, if that makes sense. This is the pocket where I keep my keys and phone. That's fine for me in the small, low-crime city where I live. If I were commuting in a different area, however, I might hesitate to use that pocket for anything important. Because it's sideways, it would be pretty easy for someone to unzip it and take out what's inside without the wearer feeling anything. So this is a downside--besides that outside pocket, there isn't a convenient place to put phone, keys, and wallet. The small pockets inside are hard to access--you'd have to open the main zipper and reach way down inside to pull out your bus pass or phone.
The zippers are very sturdy and don't slide around on their own. I can carry a rolled-up poster in the main compartment with part of it sticking out the top, and the zippers won't fall open and let everything topple out. (Yes, this is something I've already had to do.)
There are also two side pockets which are each big enough to hold a large water bottle. For my purposes, the organization and number of compartments and pockets works fine, even though I was used to more, but it might not be perfect for everyone.
My first concern, that the bag would be too small for my needs, was unfounded, as it turns out. I can easily fit all of the things I typically carry with me to work in here: computer and cord, phone, wallet, keys, a book or two, notebook and pens, hairbrush, makeup pouch, lots of kleenexes, water bottle, small umbrella and/or sunglasses, and sometimes a cardigan. There's room to spare with all of that stuff inside. Compare it to my 14" Cambridge satchel bag, and you can see that it's quite a bit bigger.
As for comfort, I have no complaints. The straps are positioned well to distribute the weight, even when I cram a couple of extra books in there. I thought that they might rub on the back of my neck and shoulders because they are so close together at the top, but I've used this while wearing a tank top and it was just fine. The straps take a little muscle to adjust, which makes them hard to change without taking the bag off. That's a slight inconvenience, but it also means that once you get them where you want them, they won't slide out of place.
When it comes to holding up to rain, I've also had good results--but that's partly because I sprayed it with a waterproofing spray. The exterior is cotton, which is obviously an absorbent fabric, and it's lined with a cotton/polyester blend. The description on Everlane's site does not say anything about it being waterproof, and I also wanted to protect the leather, so I decided to spray it. I used the Sof Sole Water Proofer spray, so I can't vouch for others, but this has worked really well. I did take the bag out in a light rain before spraying it, and though it didn't get wet on the inside, the fabric did absorb the drops. After spraying, rain beads on the exterior--I've been caught in a deluge and the inside of the backpack wasn't the slightest bit damp. Obviously that's pretty important when you're carrying around your computer. It also still looks like new, nice and clean, which the spray may be helping. Since it's a fairly light color and made of fabric, I've been watching out to see if it attracts grime. I haven't noticed any, even though I'm not exactly careful about where I set it down. The Sof Sole spray didn't affect the appearance or feel of the bag. I've read reviews of other waterproofers that say they add a plasticky sheen or film, so if you're concerned about that, I'd recommend this particular spray, which is about $5.
I've only been using the bag for a couple of months, so I can't say much about how it holds up over a long period of time. What I can say is that the construction seems pretty flawless and sturdy, and the material is tough and thick. One of the most common problems I've had with backpacks in the past is the divider between the compartments tearing, and I can't see that happening here. Everything is well-constructed and reinforced, so I have high hopes.
I'd recommend the Modern Commuter Backpack to anyone who wants something that is sturdy, practical, attractive, and not-branded (i.e. the brand isn't advertised on the exterior). I noted a couple of potential issues above, but for me the pros outweigh the cons, and I'm really happy with how my choice turned out. I got lucky, and it's pretty much everything that I'd hoped for. Plus I don't feel like a slob or a high school student dragging it around with me everywhere.
Do you use a backpack for commuting? Or are you one of those effortlessly chic people who can carry a big bag on their shoulder all day without any apparent discomfort?
Also, I'd love to hear recommendations for other things I might buy from Everlane. This is the first and only purchase I've made from the company, but I am impressed enough with the quality that I think I might try some of the clothes. I'm also in need of some wardrobe updating. I was scrolling through some photos today and realized that a lot of my nice, "new" clothing was actually purchased in 2013. I mean, it's not that long ago and it's great that they're holding up so well, but I could use a few fresh pieces. What would you recommend?