I call myself an itinerant writer because, unlike many independent journalists, I don't work out of my home nor do I write in an office. I much prefer a more natural environment, preferably sitting outside on the waterfront in lower Manhattan or in one of the city's many hidden green spaces or, if it's inclement, in a cafe or atrium bathed in natural light. As a result of my wanderings, I carry around a load of stuff including my laptop, extra batteries, power cord, portable printer (I don't always carry this, though), iPod, an e-reader, files, books, notebooks, and more. It can really weight me down. So when Mountainsmith -- a company whose products I have long used and have blogged about extensively -- asked me to test out one of their urban backpacks, the Cruiser, I jumped at the opportunity. Here's what I found:
The pack easily fits my laptop (max size is 15") in a protective neoprene sleeve in one of the two main zippered compartments. This rest of this main compartment is further divided so that I slipped my bulky files and large notebooks including legal pads in one part and in the other section I placed my batteries, power cord, e-reader and printer. The middle zippered compartment -- where I keep my books, magazines and tape recorder -- contains several small pockets for my pens, cell phone, iPod, camera as well as a fleece-lined sunglass case and a mini zippered pocket where I put my business card case. On the front of the pack is a diagonal zippered compartment where I put things I need to grab immediately, such as my house keys, sunscreen, tiny first aid kit, and small memo pad.
Because I'm only 5'2" I'm thrilled that the Cruiser fits my compact torso. Most times a heavy-loaded pack will hang down to my butt making it very uncomfortable to tote a heavy load. That's not the case with the Cruiser which has very comfy foam shoulder straps, a sternum strap which also helps distribute the load, and foam backpanels that provides some pretty good airflow on my back. In fact, I've been testing out this pack for the past month in New York City where the temperatures have been sweltering and I found the pack as comfortable as possible under these conditions. This weekend I walked three miles briskly both on Saturday and Sunday carrying a full load in the humid temperatures and my back wasn't a sweaty mess as might've happened with backpacks that press against your torso. Nor did I suffer any back strain as often happens with a pack that doesn't carry a heavy load well.
The Cruiser has two water bottle pockets on each side and I use one to store a little umbrella because the weather this summer in NYC included unexpected thunderstorms almost daily. Another nice feature is a little rubber haul handle on the top of the pack which I use regularly when yanking my bag off the floor of buses and subways, instead of pulling on the shoulder straps as I normally would. And below the diagonal zipper is another rubber loop where I could attach my keys if I needed to.
The only thing I'm not thrilled about is that the pack is a little too snug to additionally pack clothes and toiletries for my multi-day trips. (I tried it out on a four-day trip to Cedar Key, Florida but I had to severely trim what I brought along in order to fit everything.) Though the pack has two compression straps that keep everything snug, I opened them all the way but still couldn't fit the slim number of clothes I needed for the trip in addition to my work gear. So my recommendation is that the Cruiser is perfect for the urban road warrior. It looks and feel good, and fits everything you need if you want your backpack to double as your desk.
And, if you are interested in purchasing this bag or any other cool Mountainsmith gear, they generously are offering my readers 20% on all purchases from today until August 6 if you use this discount code: JTTA20 on the Mountainsmith website. My Mountainsmith backpack and fanny pack have long been the only bags I travel with and the reason I never check luggage, even when I'm on a 6+ week journey.