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WaterField Designs Tech Rolltop Backpack review: A pouch with a slouch

How can a bag feel so perfect yet so flawed? That’s what I kept asking myself during my time with WaterField Designs’ new full-sized Tech Rolltop Backpack, which is made from solid materials and holds a ton of stuff but sports a ill-designed “convenience” pocket that threatens to undermine the excellence of the bag as a whole. It’s not a bad bag, but it’s certainly a puzzling one.

WaterField’s signature thoughtful design reveals itself in every other feature. There’s its water-resistant waxed canvas, for one, which also now comes in a less rugged-looking shade of blue. (If you’re looking for something better suited to the boardroom than the backwoods, you can also get it in a “black ballistic” nylon fabric.) It’s attractive for a rolltop bag, although I miss the heavy leather accents WaterField tends to use for its bags. Here, you’ll only find them on the leather handle and the strip for the logo.

Nor does it lack spaces to put your stuff. There’s the padded, zippered sleeve along the back, for instance, which lets you slip out a device as big as the 15-inch MacBook Pro in TSA lanes or the coffee shop without bothering to open the main rolltop compartment. (If you only need to carry a 13-inch MacBook Pro, WaterField also makes a “compact” version of this bag, but I’d stick with the full-sized if you want to get the most out of the rolltop design.)

waterfield designs tech rolltop backpack back Leif Johnson/IDG

I also like how the straps come with attrachments that keep the slack from dangling down.

Along the sides, you’ll find two open pockets, each big enough to hold a water bottle or travel umbrella. Along the bottom front, you’ll find a zippered pouch that’s large enough to hold all kinds of junk at once, which in my case means everything from charging cables and mice to playing cards and power banks. It also has a key fob inside and a canvas flap that covers the zipper for protection from the rain. It’s the pouch I use the most—although, as we’ll see soon, I wish that honor went to another.

Into the depths

The star here is the main rolltop compartment itself—a cavernous 18- to 24-liter space capable of holding everything I want while managing to keep a slim profile on crowded rush-hour trains. I’ve managed to toss all my groceries in there without needing another bag, and I once managed to fit an old pair of shoes in there (sans box), when I bought a new pair on a rainy day. Somehow WaterField managed to keep the Tech Rolltop Backpack comfortable even when it’s burdened with this bulk, as I’d barely notice it while taking the hilly 200-foot ascent from the grocery store to my apartment.

I typically dislike the hassle of getting into rolltops, but the magnetic Fidlock buckle here keeps entry simple and quick. No other bag I’ve handled from WaterField better illustrates why the company uses a golden honeycomb fabric for its interiors. The Tech Rolltop Backpack is so deep that darker items might get lost against the dark fabric you tend to find in other bags, but here they stand out like blots of ink on bright paper.

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