Gadling Gear Review: Pelican Elite Tablet Backpack

When you see the baggage handlers hurling your suitcase on the car or you watch a fellow passenger trying to crush their carry-on to the already packed overhead bin, you start to ask yourself: is it time to switch to hard-sided luggage? Pelican makes super rugged packs that are something of a compromise. Your heart won’t lurch in your throat as you remember that you left your tablet in your pack at the same moment that the bus driver hurls it up on to the luggage rack, but there are some tradeoffs.

The U140 Urban Elite Tablet backpack is built around hauling your tablet from A to B and getting in there in one piece. It’s got a hard-shell, a plastic case built right in. There’s a divider to keep it separate from your keyboard, if you’ve got one – it’s removable or you can keep it as a little extra padding. The compartment clamps shut – it is not going to fall open, but you could add a cable tie or a padlock, if you’re feeling extra security conscious. Your iPad or netbook will be well secured; that’s for sure.

The rest of the pack has your typical daypack features. The front pocket has lots of compartments and sleeves for your phone, your business cards, the kind of stuff we all carry around. There’s a sleeve-like middle pocket where you could stow any paperwork or a sweater, but it’s a little shallow – you’re not going to get a lot of bulky stuff in there. If you pack carefully, you might be able to stow a change of clothes, but it’s going to be tight and you’ll have to be a master folder. You can strap your jacket (or beach towel) on to the bottom of the pack and there are lash hooks on the side that do not feature a water-bottle pocket.When you flip the pack over, there’s another compartment at the back. You could absolutely stow a minimal photography kit in here. There are no dividers provided, so you’ll have to figure out your own system, but I was able to get my DSLR with the 300 lens in there, no problem. You will have to take off the pack to access that pocket, but it’s a great place for things you’d like to secure and don’t need ready access too.

The back of the pack (where that lumbar pocket is) and the straps all have comfortable padding on them. Everything is adjustable for fit. There’s a chest strap, but no waist strap – I’m a little surprised by that given that you could be carrying quite a bit of weight.

The weight is the thing you’ll sacrifice on with the Tablet Elite pack. It’s heavy. The built-in case, the plastic handles and grips … it weighs just short of seven pounds. There are scenarios where it’s worth making the trade off around weight. Any traveler who’s mentally inventoried the contents of their pack while watching it sail off a roof or hearing it slide around in the bus hold or… let’s just say it’s not a good feeling. I watched the backpack holding my camera drop to the floor from a coat hook once. There was a sickening crunch and later, I unpacked a shattered telephoto. That would not have happened with a hard side extreme conditions pack.

The pack retails for about $250, though I’ve seen it for about $100 less, so shop around. When you add up the potential replacement value of the gear inside it, you may find that spending the money on the pack gives you peace of mind. The gist? Pricey. Heavy. Your sanity could be worth it.

Related – I rather liked the Gregory Border day pack, gear guy Kraig Becker had favorable things to say about ECBC’s Javelin day pack.

[Images courtesy of Pelican]

Eagle Creek Traverse Pro Roller Bag

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve made the full jump to the roller bag. It’s what I pack now, unless I’m traveling super light, and then I just take a little day pack. The perfect bag remains just out of reach, though I’ve noticed some real improvements since I got my Costco standard sized carry on a few years back. Luggage is lighter and more versatile these days, and generally more thoughtfully designed.

The Traverse Pro is a combination bag — a day pack and suitcase in one. There’s a TSA friendly zip-off backpack and a standard roller bag. The bag is overhead bin sized even with the day pack on it, though if you’ve really stuffed it tight and you’re on a smaller plane, you may find you can’t stow the whole thing in the bin. To test the bag, I packed for a short weekend away, I flew to my destination –that’s how I know about the overhead bin issue.

I wasn’t thrilled with packing the Traverse, though it’s easier to manage with the auxiliary backpack zipped off. The bag zips most of the way open with a large flap; I wanted it it to open all the way and to lay flat and it doesn’t quite do that. It’s not a dealbreaker, it’s just a minor detail that could be improved.

The bag has your standard “keep your stuff in place” straps and the inside of the lid is a full zippered pocket for your lose items. There are two outside pockets on the front, one big sleeve, one smaller. You have to keep in mind that they’re not easy to get to if you’ve got the day pack zipped on, so don’t put your boarding pass in there.

The bag was easy to wheel around — I liked the locking handle and the maneuverability of the wheels — those things can be clunky sometimes, the handle sticks or the wheels just aren’t smooth. This bag has nice base hardware and is easy to move around. Plus, it’s light compared to anything else I’ve tested in this category. The zipper pulls are nice — they have those round, finger tip shaped things that make the bag easy to open and close, but the zippers themselves were a little resistant when going around the corners on the bag.The day pack is handy, and it’s a nice one, it’s got padded straps and a sleeve for your laptop. It’s got some nice organizer pockets sized right to hold your phone or your pocket camera. There’s a key hook which is great if you’re me and you’re always digging in the depths or your bag to find your house key while you’re on the front porch in the rain. It doesn’t have external water bottle pockets, something I always want on a pack and something that seems to be often left off a luggage system. (See also, this review of the Airporter pack.)

Top and side grips make the bag easy to deal with when you’re hefting it in and out of the rental car trunk, or again, up into that overhead bin. There’s a nice little luggage tag sleeve on the side that tucks out of the way — a small detail that I’m seeing on newer bags and really appreciating. I’ve had airlines lose my bags repeatedly and knowing that there’s ID on them helps. (Sidebar: I have also always had my bags find me. Up to five days later, but still, they find me.)

Eagle Creek pairs this bag with a recommended, optional packing system which I also tried out. It includes a couple of packing cubes and a folder. I’m coming around to the idea of packing cubes for things like socks and underwear, the smaller bits that go wandering around the inside of your bag. Eagle Creek makes their own, but candidly, I’m not brand loyal and hey, I used to just use plastic shopping bags. I still do for dirty laundry.

Eagle Creek suggests you include their Pack-It Folder. It’s the exact size of the base of the bag — you fold your stuff up inside it, cinch it down, and it stays nice and flat. There’s even a folding guide for the folding challenged. Thing is, I can fold like no one’s business. While it’s tempting to stuff my clothes into a great wrinkly wad, I don’t. I don’t need a folding system. You might. If you’re packing challenged and just can’t make yourself fold your shirts properly, this is going to help you out a lot. And if you’re traveling for business or need to look pulled together, a folding system is worth checking out as a crutch. My shirts did stay nice and neat, I didn’t have to iron.

Get the bag and the packing system directly from Eagle Creek — the bag retails for just over 300USD. Bits and pieces in the packing system go from 15-40 USD.

Gadling Gear Review: Quiksilver Shutter Speed Camera Pack

In 2011, I had the spectacular good fortune to go on two trips that fit the “once in a lifetime” category. One was to Antarctica, the other to Tanzania. Both were the kind of trips where you want to take your best photo gear, weight be damned, because, dude, how likely are you to be twice in Penguinistan or Elephantlandia? So schlep my gear I did, my heavy Nikon, the big telephoto, a video camera, a pocket camera, a zillion miles of cable, pockets full of camera memory and spare batters and oh, yeah the laptop for additional storage and backup.

Hauling that much electronica across the planet and back has its challenges — before I had a decent camera pack, I used a standard day pack which plunged, before my very eyes, from a hook on the back of a door in Bangkok to a hard tile floor. The result? An irreparable 200 lens and a somewhat depressed traveler. Thankfully, it was the end of the trip.

I now use a pack especially designed for camera gear. I’m partial to my Kata Digital Backpack. I tried the Timbuk2 messenger bag — it’s nice but it doesn’t really fit my geometry. Quiksilver — yeah, that surf brand — now makes the Shutter Speed pack, a bag designed to get your gear from the top to the the bottom of the planet in safety. The short wrap? This is a great bag for transit, but I’m not sure it makes the cut for regular use.

To find out if this is the bag for me, I gathered my usual kit and stowed it in the Shutter Speed. There are loads of pockets, internal, external, zippered, mesh, I had no trouble getting my complete kit, flash included, into the bag. And it was all very well organized. I moved the Velcro secured pads around so they held my gear in place and zipped the bag shut. Nice. My stuff didn’t rattle around, it was very secure. I didn’t drop test it, I’m just too traumatized by the last time that happened, but I feel like the camera would survive the fall.

I also put in a binder, a laptop, a water bottle, and a few other odds and ends. Everything was beautifully organized. There’s a security pocket at the small of the back for your stealables (I mean beyond your equipment stealables) — you’re not going to have your wallet or passport lifted if you stow them there. There’s a stowable rain cover, some lashing straps on the outside for your coat, and did I mention the zillions of pockets? All good.I also really like what I’m going to call the chassis on this pack. It’s got fat padded straps and a padded waist belt. It’s all very adjustable and once you’ve got it cinched to fit, the pack feels secure and close to your body — it’s just not going anywhere. You can race for a bus with this thing on and it’s not going to be swinging around. You could take your gear on a long hike and the weight would be where you want it to be. All good.

But I’m not crazy about how you get your gear in and out of the Shutter Speed. You have to place the pack on its front — think suitcase with straps attached to the top. The back opens up to reveal all your gear. You can’t have your pal pull the camera out of the pack while you’re in it, you will have to take the pack off and then open it up.

Some of the Velcro pads are sewn into place, making the gear bucket a little less customizable than I’d like it to be. I wanted to place my camera, with the big lens mounted to it, at the bottom of the pack. No go. It needs to sit in the center because I can’t move the pads to accommodate the camera body. Furthermore, there’s no obvious place to lash on a tripod. This seems like a big oversight. You can use the straps on the front, but I couldn’t figure out a really efficient way to do this. It could be just a matter of trying a few different things, but for a pro gear pack, it seems like this should be more intuitive.

My final issue is that the bag is, for my kind of use, a little too specialized. There’s no great place to stow my lunch, the front pockets are just too small and flat for much more than a power bar or two. I travel with a roller bag and a day pack, and when I’m in transit, the day pack carries my camera, snacks, my travel documents, a clean shirt, a toothbrush… the kind of stuff you need should your trip go wrong or should you be compelled to check your bag. I imagined what a hassle it would be to have to extract stuff from the main body of the pack on a crowded airplane. That scenario didn’t go well.

I’m not dissing the pack at all. As I said, it seems like a great way to haul all that gear from point A to point B and to have the gear be secure in transit. But you need to think about what you’re doing with your gear at your destination. If you think you’re going to be continually packing and unpacking it as you shoot your way across the Serengeti or the ice, well, I’d want a day use bag, too. Your mileage may vary.

The Shutter Speed pack retails for 175.00 directly from Quiksilver. Expensive, but not as expensive as replacing that telephoto that got sacrificed to gravity in Bangkok.