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]