When it comes to travel gear, I’m as much a creature of habit as I am extremely loyal. So, when it came time to move on from my old, worn out backpack, I was reluctant to choose a replacement. My old backpack had served me well for five, six or maybe eight years (time flies when luggage does its job) and so I feared that a new bag wouldn’t live up to the standard set by its predecessor. Would its zippers break? Are the straps too stiff? Is there a secret pouch for my keys? These are the questions that keep me up at night.
More importantly, I needed a bag that not only had enough space for my laptop (a Microsoft Surface Pro with case) but also my essential carryon accessories: iPad, battery charger, multiple USB cords, notebook, two books, toothbrush and toothpaste, sunglasses, extra t-shirt and underwear, a small water bottle and maybe one or two other devices (a portable WiFi hotspot and Relay walkie talkies, for example) depending on the length of the trip. It’s not the tallest order, but losing the ability to pack almost any of these items would almost be a dealbreaker.
Not long after beginning my search for a new backpack, I was introduced to KeySmart’s Urban21 Commuter Backpack, and being familiar with the company’s reputation for creating cool tech (specifically the namesake keychains) and RFID wallets I was eager to find out if the Urban21 lives up to the hype.
I’d hardly call myself an “urban commuter,” and in this line of work I’m more likely to wear a flowered shirt and flip flops than a slim-fitting suit and dress shoes. My concern was that the bag said, “I’m all business,” while my t-shirt says, “I heart Aruba.”
The Urban21 is very stylish and cool, with a stitching pattern that I normally wouldn’t mention, except that in this case the design is strategic for preventing rips (something I’ve dealt with a lot between the tight spaces beneath airplane seats and curious hands of a toddler desperate to free his iPad from daddy’s backpack).
If I had to describe the look of this backpack in three words, it would be: Futuristic motorcycle messenger. My personal style is more like “dorky beach dad,” but styles are merely superficial if the backpack does the trick, and especially if the straps are comfortable – and these are.
Can it Pack a Punch?
Upon first glance, the Urban21 doesn’t look like it has a lot going on, with one long vertical zipper on a flat front pocket appearing to be the only external pocket. But this thing is packed with little pockets for every need, starting with two side pockets (I used one for my water bottle and the other for a pair of socks) and the aforementioned waterproof flat pocket that is perfect for easy access to magazines, a notebook and my passport. And what I really love is the secret bottom pocket for my keys.
Held in place by two magnetic clasps and straps, the external, open pouch makes a great spot for a book or two, but it also at first concealed the two zipper pulls for the hardshell compartment at the top, which is a big bonus for people concerned with privacy. Lined with an RFID (radio frequency identification) blocking microfiber fleece, both urban commuters and world travelers can move about without the stress of worrying about digital muggers. But the multiple pockets inside (including a large magnetic pocket) are ideal for essential personal items, like cash, cards and ID.
It wasn’t until after my first trip with the Urban21 that I realized there’s also a secret pocket built into the anti-sweat back pad under the shoulder straps. I knew there was suitcase sleeve, but right above that is another zipper pouch, which soon became the perfect spot for my passport.
Inside the bag, there are three more pockets, the most important of which is a padded laptop pocket that fits up to a 15-inch laptop or tablet. Keeping in mind that my laptop is already inside a case that doubles as its stand and also boasts multiple pockets, I was worried about the fit, but it was just big enough (even if it resulted in several new “Time to get a MacBook!” conversations). The second pocket rests on top of the laptop pocket and is great for an iPad or slim notebooks and magazines.
Finally, the third, smallest pocket rests on the inside of the front of the bag, beneath the hardshell case, and easily protected one of my most important travel necessities: a bag of Skittles.
If I had one wish to make this bag better, I’d want the two zippers on the main compartment to run all the way to the bottom sides of the bag so I could open it up all the way and pack easier. Overall, though, I was able to fit all of my required gear into this bag, even if the laptop pocket was a tight squeeze. I also emptied the backpack and used it to carry my gear for snorkeling expeditions on recent trips to Turks and Caicos and Aruba, and the waterproof exterior, while not tested with extreme efforts, did well in the face of splashing and my fellow passengers spilling their cocktails.
The Added Bonus of Tile
Despite the best/worst efforts of some airlines, I’ve never lost a bag. (Knock on wood.) But for some reason, now more than ever, I’m constantly worried that I will leave my backpack in the hotel lobby, in an airport shuttle, or on a boat, or that it will be scooped up by an opportunistic thief when I’m not paying attention. To calm that concern, I included the Tile Slim accessory with my bag.
On the inside of the Urban21’s exterior pouch, there is a small square patch for the Bluetooth-activated Tile insert. Should anything happen to my backpack, I just click on my phone app and it tells me the location of my bag. There’s even a musical alert in case my son hid it in the closet or the bellhop forgot to unload it and is taking it to someone else’s room. You can’t ever be too safe.