Pros: Looks good, stylish, large single compartment makes it a versatile daypack Cons: Very little protection for your laptop, few organizational features Bottom line: A classic style that works but will cost you.
This pack is about style and durability. It's not about lots of features or ultimate comfort. It's also not cheap. But we've been using it for over four years, taking it around the world, and still use it every day. It's a classic that should last a decade. That said, for only another $10, you can get the Editor's Choice Osprey Flapjack that scored much higher and is arguably even more stylish.
The Patagonia Arbor just looks terrific. It is the antithesis of our 2nd highest scoring The North Face Recon, which is the most purely functional laptop backpack but doesn't look so hot. Honestly, the Arbor is a great pack that would surely rank much higher in most categories if this review was not specifically about laptop backpacks.
This protects your laptop enough - but just barely. The padding is thin and you don't want to throw this bag around. Patagonia's website points out that if you don't carry your laptop you can use the pocket as an insulated water bladder holder instead, and we think that this may be a better use of this design.
The laptop pocket with an 11 inch laptop inside. Lots of room for movement and not much padding. This was one of the least protective systems in the tests we did, and places it securely in the category of "backpack which can also carry a laptop."
This model is one of the more comfortable bags we tried. The straps are simple but cush. It's only when you completely load it up, and walk around for days, that it becomes uncomfortable. There is no sternum strap and the waist strap is thin. This is not the best pack for hiking fast or biking over bumpy terrain.
The thin soft foam back provides little structure. It has old school and minimalist shoulder straps, but is still pretty comfortable.
The storage is simple: one outside pocket and one lid pocket. It's enough for basic organization. But there are no pockets for business cards, pens or anything of that size. It's a bag for people who specifically don't want too many extra zipper or pockets.
This pack has a large top-loading compartment and functions as a good daypack. Also visible is a 15 inch computer secured in the compartment with a strap.
Ease of Use
Because the pack is so simple, it's also easy to use. Getting the laptop in and out is quick. The best feature is the ability to lash a big jacket under the lid. This allows you to travel with a big parka and easily carry it when it gets hot. There are leather patches that allow you to lash extra items to the side with webbing. But these are mostly for style. We never found them all that practical to use.
If you like a timeless design, this is the most stylish bag we tested. The Osprey Flapjack is a more modern stylish pack. What is the best comes down to personal preference. What is clear, is the Arbor has a timeless design. It works just about anywhere from the mountains to cities. The colors are generally low key and muted.
The Arbor fits in perfectly at the coffee shop. Our Top Pick for Style works well for daily around-town use and light outdoor use.
The Arbor did very well in our water resistance test. It has a protective polyurethane layer and a durable water resistant (DWR) coating, both of which did an adequate job of repelling water. That said, by the end of the two-month testing period our model showed signs of beginning to wet out, meaning the DWR coating was already wearing off. There are only two zippers on the outside of this bag, and they are both very well covered by protective flaps. The top flap adequately covers the large top opening, although we feel that in prolonged exposure to heavy rain, water could find its way in.
The DWR coating is effective and the top flap covers the large opening well. It was one of the more water resistant backpacks in our shower test.
The Patagonia Arbor has a retail price of $99. This is squarely in the middle of the price range. It's expensive; the Timbuk2 Rogue (our Best Buy Award winner) is a comparable bag that includes almost the same set of features and scored a little higher, but is $20 cheaper. However, with Patagonia's Ironclad Guarantee standing behind this product, we doubt you could end up disappointed.
The Patagonia Arbor is one of the best-looking bags that we tested, and because we believe that style matters. The Arbor is a highly functional backpack for most uses, especially in the outdoors. However, we feel that if protecting your laptop or keeping your school or work things organized is your top priority, then the Arbor will not be a great selection for you. Functionality also matters. But in the end, when faced with a box full of backpacks and asked to pick one out to use for a day, most of our testers reached for the Arbor first.