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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

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