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Drive By :: Tumi Virtue Diligence backpack

Drive By :: Tumi Virtue Diligence backpack

by , March 18, 2014
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You’ve gotta stay as cool, calm and collected as you can. In and out, preferably without being noticed. You have to pick the right time. The department store is empty, shop assistants are off on a break. A blonde shopper shoots me a strange look as I empty my pack and, slowly, repack all of my gear into the dark blue mouth of the victim. I’m on a mission: a Drive By of the Tumi Virtue Diligence.

Tumi’s heritage
We’ve been fond of Tumi over the years. Tumi’s Alpha collection has been going for ages and its quality is still hard to match. Within the Alpha collection alone there are some 90 different products! In the last few years Tumi has introduced some new collections that are more fashionable and, sometimes, even more affordable.

There’s a thing though: backpacks. Tumi makes backpacks and even a lot of them, but it’s definitely not the kind of bag they’re well known for. That is, until recently. Tumi introduced the Virtue Collection that offers two neat-looking backpacks: the Courage and the Diligence, the latter being a bit smaller, featured in one of our weekly updates and even nominated for the 2nd annual Carry Awards. Could the Virtue Diligence be the perfect work backpack? Here’s a spoiler alert: not for Mr. Zing. But read on!

First impressions
It’s 1.30 pm on a rainy weekday in The Hague. With half an hour to spare in between meetings, I head up to the local department store for a serious drive by of the Diligence. In the middle of a gazillion boring bags, backpacks and suitcases, the Tumi corner stands out. Normally you can get a Tumi work bag in every color you like, as long as it’s black. But here’s the Diligence in dark blue!

I’m impressed with the color of the pack and the luxury materials: cotton blend fabric, a bit of ballistic nylon and leather. Some of the pockets seemed to be smartly placed on the sides of the pack. I like the leather handle and there’s a perk few backpacks have: it can stand up straight. Tumi added some niceties bag fanatics drool over: a separate deluxe laptop sleeve that closes with magnets with room for a laptop and a tablet, a key clip in one of the front pockets, ID tags provided, really good zippers, a nice leather patch with the Tumi logo on the back and front. The Diligence has a main compartment, two front pockets and two side pockets. Within the main compartment and front pocket there are still some more zippered or open pockets and pen loops. Its dimensions are H x W x D: 17.5″ x 12.5″ x 5.25″. Good size. Good details. All that for just a small $295 donation… (regardless of exchange rates, unfortunately it’ll sell for €295 in Europe).

The straps are just right. Not too big, not too small, padded enough.

Hands on
It’s time for a serious try out. I unload my backpack and start filling up the Diligence with everything I need on a normal work day and some more: laptop, notebook, headphones, cables, paperwork, pens, ID, keys, wallet, a small umbrella and then some. There are lots of pockets to choose from and it takes a few attempts to find the right pocket for the right stuff. My laptop goes into the separate sleeve provided and I put it in the bag. I walk around a bit and unpack and repack some more. And unpack and repack some more. And walk around again. Peeks in my direction are starting to get more awkward.

The downsides
And then, it slowly hits me…the bag doesn’t handle well. It’s overdesigned. There, I’ve said it.

Opening and closing the backpack and using its pockets should feel logical. It doesn’t. Taking out the laptop sleeve and putting your laptop into the backpack should be an easy, no need to think about it, task. It isn’t. Taking the pack off your back and opening it should have a natural feel. It doesn’t. Just grabbing something out of the front pockets should be easy. It isn’t.
Here are some examples:
– The separate laptop sleeve looks nice but you can’t get the cover flap to close neatly; it stays kind of messy and plain old Velcro would have done a better job than the magnet closure provided.
– Trying to put your laptop into the bag is actually a tough job because of the angle between the laptop compartment and the main compartment insert. In the bag there’s a cheap-looking nylon sheet behind which the laptop sleeve should be placed, which is only partially compensated by the separate sleeve provided.
– The front pockets have curved zippers which make you have to use both hands to open them. With some bags the zippers are just a bit stiff at first, like in KILLSPENCER’s Special Ops Backpack. But in the Diligence it’s the opposite: the fabric is too thin to support the zippers properly. Furthermore, the zippers are covered with an overhanging (rather long) flap, so you can’t even see what you’re doing. There’s a gazillion pen loops, media pockets, card pockets, but what’s the use if you can’t normally use the main pockets? Eastpak’s Padded Pak’R (and every five dollar copy of it) has one front pocket that is perfect: you can grab everything you need with one hand and eyes closed.
– The pockets on the side are easy to access, but too small to put anything in. They could be useful for keys but why is there a key clip in the front pocket then? A snack would be either too big or get crushed. The side pockets also might get in the way of the stuff in the main compartment.
– When you open the main compartment, there’s nylon that holds the two parts of the bag together. Why? It looks cheap and makes it harder to open the bag. Taking that away would make it more of a Minaal/GORUCK setup where you can zip open the entire bag.

Another thing that keeps gnawing on me is that the bag is not weatherproof. Being weatherproof is not always a necessary thing, it would be a qualifier rather than a disqualifier. I wouldn’t feel comfortable cycling or walking in the rain with a laptop and other electronics inside the Diligence but you could fix this with a separate rain cover (which instantly takes away the classiness by the way).

Ando could probably go on about the mesh back of the bag, but to me it’s a work bag anyway and I don’t get to run around half naked at work. 😉 Finally, I’m a bit worried about the ageing of the materials; the stiffness of the leather versus the looseness of the cotton could deform the bag.

I’m unpacking my stuff again and putting it into my own bag. It’s time to leave. The escalator takes me to the ground floor. Perfume smells, shiny jewellery and the hum of restless consumers fill up my senses. I’m out the door and off to another meeting, but the experience keeps lingering in my mind for a long time…

The Tumi Virtue Diligence has a lot going for it in terms of looks, materials and niceties but the pack needs some serious rethinking from the user perspective.

Remember: I’ve only been toying around with the Diligence backpack in the department store for about 30 minutes, fiddling with the pockets, taking out all the stuffing, taking all the stuff out of my own backpack and putting it into the Diligence. Things might be different depending on what you’re carrying and once the bag gets broken in.

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