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Backpacks

Drive By :: WaterField Staad Stout laptop backpack

by , October 2, 2014
6
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“A nice beer that’s half foam”

You’d expect a month using something would result in a clear opinion on it. Right now, the WaterField Staad Stout is a bag halfway there. Some days, the things I like take precedence. Other days, they don’t.

WaterField’s goal was to create a refined laptop bag that’s as comfortable in the office as it is in a fashionable café if they succeeded, this would be the perfect bag for a middle-management hipster like me. So does it work?

It’s fine. It doesn’t irritate. I’d keep using it but I wouldn’t tell you to rush out and buy one. It has some parts I like and others I don’t, some parts I find interesting and others confusing. It all levels out to nonplussed indifference.

 At US$329 is that good enough?

WaterField Staad

Who it suits

As I mentioned above: middle-management hipsters. Or anyone else who’s chasing a backpack with visual appeal. The combination of leather and waxed canvas stands out against a wall of primary-coloured Herschels. It’ll turn heads (in a nice way).

Who it doesn’t

Anyone looking to carry more than a laptop and a few magazines. Or anything that isn’t flat, really. This bag borders on two-dimensional.

It might not be well suited for short people either. If you’re looking to buy a Staad, check the measurements. I wouldn’t want a Stout if I was much smaller than I am. I’m around 5’11” and your average breadth. I like the way it sits on me but I can see the top corners if I turn my head. Measure it out on your back and make your call.

straps

WaterField Staad

Materials – what works?

The materials are, mostly, quality and add a distinct character to the bag – it looks novel. The leather flap is thick, sturdy and attractive. Most importantly, it has aged well over the month I’ve been using the bag. Part of leather’s appeal is the way it shapes and transforms over time – the Staad seems likely to perform well in that regard.

The waxed canvas provides a nice counter to the leather: it’s a rugged and textured counterpoint to the leather’s smoothness. Again, it looks like it should hold up to some battering and it ticks the usual “water-resistant” boxes.

For me, the true star of the materials section is the bag’s lining. Where other makers would be content to fill their bag with something plain, WaterField have gone bright and patterned. It’s a lovely injection of personality and luxury (it also helps make finding things that little bit easier – but that’s much less important than the little ray of sunshine the material adds). I appreciate the touch: you spend a lot of time burrowing about inside a bag so it may as well be handsome. It’s a small touch.

WaterField Designs Staad

Materials – what doesn’t work?

For all the thought put into the bag’s appearance, a few details let me down.

I’ll start with a somewhat low blow: I’m not feeling the company logo. It looks like something out of the 90s. Thankfully it’s hidden under the flap. I feel petty making this complaint but it really did bother me. I’m sorry.

The zippers and latch are uninspiring: chunky, black plastic (not a great match with the leather and canvas). While they’ll hold up over time, they’re disappointing visual elements that seem out of place. They work against the overall aesthetic.

WaterField Designs Staad Stout

WaterField Designs Staad Stout

The air mesh down the straps and on the back panel is a similar problem: while it’s perfectly functional (and appreciated because of it), it adds another uninspiring visual element that runs counter to the rest of the bag. The back is particularly egregious: when the bag is lying face down, the cushioning almost looks like the stomach of a beetle. It’s why I started calling the bag Gregor Samsa.

WaterField Designs Staad Stout

Part of Staad’s appeal is its balancing contrasting natural materials to striking effect. I was apprehensive of its leather/canvas combo but I soon grew to like it – there’s a nice duality to them, their textures. They’re two materials chosen for the way they play off each other – it may throw you at first glance, but that feels intentional. The bag catches your eye because of it.

The plastic and the air mesh work against that effect. They add extra stimuli that contrasts rather than compliments. It’s too much; they throw off the bag’s balance.

There’s a rule of design when using typefaces: don’t use too many. You can extrapolate this rule to other areas of your life. Dating? Don’t have too many partners. Cooking? Don’t use too many spices. Making a bag? Don’t use too many materials.

Function 

The layout

The bag is thin. Thin enough to warrant comment from friends. An unscientific tally of said comments brings those in favour ahead of those who are not. Compared to other packs that slouch like a middle-aged man with a pot belly, the Staad is a welcome change. This, however, comes with limitations.

WaterField Designs Staad Stout

This shape is enabled by the bag’s fortification – it’s actually hard to bend. This is good and bad. It’ll hold its structure on your back and look good because of it. It’s frustrating when it’s too tall to fit under the chairs on the train and too oddly shaped to sit comfortably on your lap. But that could be a problem unique to me: your mileage may vary.

There are two external pockets, perfect for whatever small miscellaneous knickknacks you want on hand (e.g. keys, gum, positive affirmation cards). Their placement and design make it easy to access with the bag slung over one shoulder. I couldn’t quite find a way to dig into one without taking the bag off, but I came close and I enjoyed that. Again, that may just be a “me” thing.

Lift the flap and you’ll find a zip that runs halfway down the bag. This opens up the main compartment a bit to make access a touch easier. Having used the Staad for a while, I think this comes as a result of WaterField realising the limitations of their design: carrying anything that isn’t flat and thin in this bag is a pain.

WaterField Designs Staad Stout

Hold that thought.

The inside of the bag features two pockets a full-width one for your laptop (up to 15″) and a smaller one for your tablet, ereader, notebook (the paper kind) and so on. The padding and bag’s rigidness combine to keep things comfortable when carrying your tech around. The thick straps keep weight nicely distributed.

WaterField Staad Stout

Opposite that, you’ll find two small pouches with a Velcro seal (one on each side of the zipper). They run about halfway down the bag. They’ll hold anything you want to access but don’t want roaming free think cables and pocketknives.

Finally, there’s a dangly clip thing. I have no idea what you’d use this for. I’d assume your keys, but you’d still need to undo the bag to get at them. It might be handy for an ID badge if you’re travelling. I just put a little blue guy on there.

The use

It’s odd for a bag with so few elements to have so much of it feel superfluous. This is especially pronounced when the bag is designed to carry so few things.

WaterField Staad Stout

I carried around a laptop, a notepad, a book and an umbrella – I was hesitant to take anything else. The MacBook and the pad fit in their compartments with no problem but had I put anything else in the pouch, the book and brolly would have become hard to access. Even a jacket is enough to throw the bag’s feng shui.

WaterField Staad

The bag’s zip does little to help: the bag’s space isn’t functional space. Its depth, once so attractive, works against it. (In the bag’s defence, I’m reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: an 800-page tome.) You’ll get around this with some judicious placement, but I favour bags that get out of my way. I don’t want to think about where I’m putting my jacket or removing my water bottle.

An aside: one of the FAQs on the bag’s product page is “Will a water bottle fit in the Slim Staad?” The answer is “It’s going to be snug fit [sic] but it’ll work”. Call me an idealist, but “Easily enables hydration” is one of my “must have” features for a bag.

The Staad is a perfectly functional laptop bag. It has a great silhouette and its limitations work with my daily carry requirements – its compromised in ways that work with me. If you carry anything that isn’t necessarily flat and thin, I’d look elsewhere.

WaterField Staad

“Verdict: nice but incomplete”

But at $329 do you really want something so compromised?

The design is striking but let down by (functional) missteps. The internals are attractive yet limited. Parts that are functional run counter to the bag’s aesthetics. Elsewhere the reverse is true.

There are moments of nice design – the front zips are well placed – and others that just confuse me – those same zips are glaring and would benefit from some refinement. This bag is a study in balance. At times it’s perfect. At others, it’s not. It all levels out, leaving something that is neither great nor terrible.

The Staad will look good on your back and people will say nice things about it. You’ll enjoy the patterned lining.

Is that enough? At this price point, I don’t think it is. At $300+ for a laptop backpack I want fewer compromises. I’d love to see a Staad 2.0.

If WaterField do look at a second version, I hope they embrace the bag’s limitations. Strip it down. Drop one or two of the internal pockets. Refine the front zips and invest in a more rustic clasp. This backpack is designed to carry a few things – does that mean they could pull back on synthetic “comfort” features to streamline the appearance? Maybe.

As is, the Staad is nice. It’s fine. There are just too many things I look at and think “Well then, that’s disappointing…” If nothing else, now I know how my mum feels when she sees me.

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access
6
Organization
6.5
Comfort
6.5

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
6
Build, Materials & Hardware
6
Features
6

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
7
Brand experience
5
Value
5
X Factor
6

Reader's Review

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  • Tony Cobb

    Cant wait to see another similar bag just launched!

    http://www.uptherestore.com/product/treecreeper-backpack-black

    Step 1. Get this bag!
    Step 2. Review it!

  • dz

    Always disappointed to see huge gorby gaps on bags that use “water-resistant” materials.

    • AA

      This x1000. Water resistant materials are pointless if you have huge gaps.

      This bag would be okay at $150. At the price it is, no way. Poorly designed.

      • Felipe

        agree

  • djitea

    I have one of these and have to say…after hesitating to drop the $$ for it, I’m now glad I did. I pack my Macbook, an iPad mini, a laptop stand, wireless keyboard, mouse, cables, folding iPad stand, eyeglass case, and slim coffee thermos in that thing, along with all the small stuff in the pockets (mints, keys, meds, pens, etc) and it still looks sleek and professional in the office and is comfortable on my back. YMMV, of course, but no regrets here. I love this bag. (I have no connection to Waterfield, btw.)

    • StinsonR

      Ditto. I have the Staad and just returned from a conference where it served me incredibly well. Granted I have the “Stout” size. It held exactly as much as I needed, and kept me from over-carrying stuff. I loved the ability to keep it on one shoulder and access the side pockets. It was also incredibly comfortable.

  • http://www.dobien.co.uk/ BUR70N

    I have to admit that I read the review lightly and thought I had miss read the price, I guess I didn’t that’s a huge price for this type of bag with limitations. It maybe water resistant and I have seen other images that don’t show as large gaps near the top, but still wow should be half that as there are many bags with a slim profile that do the job for a lot less!

  • Kevin Hall

    It looks like bit of a rare misstep for Waterfield – they have always came up with interesting and innovative designs.

  • Adam Strasberg

    So I’ve been looking at the Staad for a while…. But this review dampens my enthusiasm. I have a Tom Bihn Synapse 25, and I love the size (capacity) and the utility of the bag (stuff just fits and everything has a place), but I’ve been looking for something a little more stylish.

    I was hoping that would be the Staad.

    Is there a bag out there that combines the utility of the Synapse 25 and the style of the Staad?

  • mjastudios

    The dark brown leather on black ballistic nylon is a definite improvement. It hides the air mesh back panel MUCH better, as well as the zippers on the front. This is one handsome bag and it never feels out of place with a jacket and tie. I have traveled business class with it and not felt ashamed (although I usually carry a messenger bag, and not a backpack for this reason). Personally, backpacks just say “I’m a child,” to me.

    I have been able to put everything I usually haul in my messenger bag (my latest is a Greenroom136 – Junkmonkey larger-sized that I first found reviewed on your site!), but transferring everything is tight. My main complaint? The ultra-new military toggle to close the lid. This strap is not adjustable and when fully loaded the bag can be difficult to close – and impossible one-handed. And don’t even try to put a jacket or an item under the flap – Again, no ability to extend the flap. Other than that, and being afraid to take it anyplace with inclement weather (rain), I am sold. It is expensive, but I LOVE Waterfield bags. And I love this bag. I have a 15+ year Cargo Messenger Bag by them in Taxi Yellow that looks as good today as it did when I bought it. And they are hyper about quality and super-responsive. Did I mention that I like slim backpacks? There is a tradeoff here, but I also like not have tons of straps and extra dongles hanging off the bag. That said, the straps are a little thin. It’s clean, minimalist, and if you usually carry extra drives, files, cords and cables – rather than helmets and other oddly shaped items, you might just fall in love with this bag forever.

    I missed if you reviewed the stout or slim. The stout has more room. I did a full load out on Youtube if someone wants to see everything I put into mine for comparison or real-world practicality. Hope this helps!

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