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Tom's Back To School Guide: Gear for Work

Functional, Fashionable Laptop Bags

By Rachel Rosmarin

For the Jock: Rawlings Soft Double Gusset Laptop Case

$367.50, available from Sportsaccessories.com

Touch and smell this tan leather laptop bag, and it might bring you back to your childhood — that is, if your childhood was spent playing Little League baseball or catch with your dad in the back yard. The bag is made from genuine Rawlings leather — the same stuff used in your baseball glove.

The laptop bag’s baseball heritage isn’t over the top — the biggest clue comes in the form of the handles, which feature the same familiar rough stitching as the gloves. Obviously, this bag doesn’t belong over the shoulder of a Little Leaguer; instead, we’re thinking it would be more appropriate on an MBA-er. After all, that’s the only kind of student we can think of that could afford the hefty price tag of this well-made satchel.

Getting a 15.4" notebook into this bag is a tight squeeze, but it can be done. The notebook compartment is actually removable, with canvas and nylon side-straps that don’t stretch very much. Other compartments include an expandable document pocket, a zippered inside pocket, and a zippered outside pocket. There’s also a front pouch that stays closed with magnets; inside that, you can find various other pockets for gadgets, pens, keys, glasses and business cards. The bag itself weighs six pounds, so make sure you’ve put in enough time at the gym before you decide to carry this bag for the long haul.

For the Fashionista: Knomo Siena Laptop Shoulder Bag

$275, available from Careerbags.com

There’s no reason that a stylish person’s laptop bag shouldn’t resemble a luxury handbag. Knomo’s Siena tote is made from the same grade of leather and fabric as designer goods. Available in three colors — black with fuchsia lining, red with pink lining, and plum with plum lining — the bag fits all 15.4" and smaller notebooks, though at 18" in width, we assume you could squeeze in a 17" notebook in there as well.

The eye-catching quilted pattern on the exterior serves as excellent padding, and a unique series of square-shaped raised bumps on the bottom of the laptop compartment cushions the shock of just about every major bump on the road. The shoulder straps drop a full 10.5" — longer than most handbags — which means you can distribute the weight of the bag on different parts of your arm. A leather flap keeps the bag closed with magnets, and inside you’ll find numerous zippered pouches and pockets. There are also pockets on each side of the bag, and a large one on the rear as well.

Such a precious bag implies valuable contents, which is why each Knomo bag comes with an “ID Tracker System”: a special leather-embossed tag on the interior of the bag that contains a unique code and a toll free number. The idea is that if a good Samaritan finds your bag, he or she can call the number to report its location. If you’ve registered your bag on the Knomo site, the company will contact you if your bag is found.

For the Tree-Hugger: HER Design Leaf Laptop Bag

$270, available from Careerbags.com

For students who must make every purchase count, environmentally speaking, there is the Leaf Laptop bag, an eco-friendly vertical shoulder bag designed to resemble an unfurling leaf.

In form and function, the Leaf bag treads lightly. It contains room for a 15" laptop (and a few 17" models) and not much else — perhaps a few paper notebooks, some gadgets and a keychain. The simple adjustable canvas strap isn’t especially long or padded; it provides the bare minimum of comfort.

But that simplicity is also part of the Leaf bag’s appeal; if it were loaded with ample cushions of ballistic nylon, it wouldn’t be as environmentally sensitive. The bag is made of recycled materials, including microsuede and PET lining — that’s the stuff you get after recycling your bottles and cans at the curb — and PVC-free faux leather trim. To the touch, however, the bag doesn’t feel as though it is composed of post-consumer refuse. Its smooth, velvety exterior and sturdy canvas-like interior feel more like cotton than plastic.

As if these recycled-material touches weren’t enough to impress the sustainability crowd, the bag’s maker — a small New England company called Helen E. Riegle — donates a proportion of each bag’s sales to local and global environmental and youth-oriented organizations.

For the Pack Rat: Slappa Ballistix Aura Messenger

$149, available from Slappa.com

Laptop, text books, iPod, cell phone, water bottle, sack lunch, change of clothes: some students insist upon jamming all of this and more into a messenger bag every day. While we can’t guarantee that this practice won’t damage a student’s posture, Slappa’s bag will cushion the student with ample padding, and provide as much space as possible for this big load of gear.

The Ballistix Aura Messenger has 1500 cubic inches of storage room. There are pockets everywhere, including a big one for the laptop, a large space for clothes, at least a dozen little ones for gadgets and other small items, a top-loading pocket, a coin pocket, and a pocket under the handle — this thing is composed entirely of pockets.

The bag is made from water resistant 1680-D ballistic nylon, so should that water bottle spill, as long as it is in its own pocket, it shouldn’t harm anything else in the bag.

To enhance comfort, the bag features a fat “Slappa” hand-shaped imprint on the back of the bag. This hand is placed exactly where the bag would bump against your thigh or hip, providing a bit of a buffer. The rest of the bag is quilted in Slappa’s proprietary “super-cush” padding. The bag’s handle prevents klutzy accidents by retracting tightly into the bag. To keep your laptop comfortable, though — the bag holds up to 17" models — be sure to keep it in a sleeve, as the Slappa bag is especially roomy, and the laptop will move around inside it.