by James A. Martin

13 travel bags for the discerning techie

Oct 21, 2016
Consumer ElectronicsLaptop AccessoriesLaptops

Today's tech-savvy traveler has more gadget friendly luggage options than ever before, including Kate Spade purses that recharge iPhones, suitcases with built-in laptop trays and 'smart' bags that track their own locations.

The best travel bags and backpacks for techies

Would you use a rolling suitcase with a built-in laptop tray? How about a backpack designed specifically for GoPro fans, or a purse that recharges your iPhone? 

Bag makers, including startups and more established brands, clearly think you would. During the past year or so, a variety of bags hit the market that aim to make the life of the gadget-laden traveler a little easier, often in clever or unusual ways. These 13 bags range in style, size, features, and price. We road tested a few of them, and we selected the others because they’re in some way different, cool or otherwise compelling.

Carry-on bag: Bluesmart Black Edition

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Image by Bluesmart

Bluesmart’s second-generation smart suitcase, the Black Edition, is the most attractive “smart bag” on the market. The gray, fabric-covered exterior pocket is a classy complement to the four-wheeled suitcase’s black hard-shell body. As for its smarts, the bag features a built-in battery for recharging mobile devices, GPS and global SIM location tracking, which in our tests worked well and requires no service fees, and Bluetooth. The latter wireless tech is used to communicate with the Bluesmart smartphone app. You can use the app to automatically or manually lock and unlock the bag’s built-in TSA-approved lock, and determine how much your packed bag weighs using built-in bag sensors. You can add flight itineraries to the app, too, to receive travel updates. At $600, though, you pay a hefty premium for all those features.

Carry-on bag: Raden A22 Carry

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Image by Raden

When it comes to looks, the Raden A22 Carry “rollaboard” smart suitcase is a close second to Bluesmart’s Black Edition. It’s a bit smaller, but so is its price tag: $300 versus $600 for the Black Edition. What do you give up to save $300? Raden’s mobile app doesn’t control the bag’s built-in TSA lock. You don’t get GPS, either; Raden’s bags use Bluetooth for location tracking. However, if you usually carry your suitcase on planes, you don’t really need GPS. And Raden’s built-in battery lets you recharge two devices instead of only one with Bluesmart. We experienced some initial Bluetooth connection issues, but the Raden carry-on is sleek (it comes in multiple colors) and reasonably priced.

Miscellaneous Bag: Rimowa Electronic Tag bags

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Image by Rimowa

Rimowa bags are pricey. They’re also sturdy and good-looking, and we’re amazed by how much stuff they hold. In 2015, the company added Electronic Tags to many of its suitcases, including some of its Salsa Deluxe, Topas Stealth and Limbo models. The tags are e-ink displays roughly the same size as paper airline tags. The tags communicate via Bluetooth with the Rimowa mobile app, so you can check-in your bag from wherever you are and then drop it off at the airport later. Rimowa uses Gorilla Glass to protect its tag displays, which means they’re difficult — though not impossible — to crack. Currently, only Lufthansa supports Rimowa’s tag system, but other airlines are also testing it.

Carry-on bag: Barracuda Carry-on

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Image by Barracuda

Luggage startup Barracuda built laptop trays into its line of collapsible carry-ons. The bags are available in six colors, they come equipped with Bluetooth and GSM cellular service (which requires fees after the first 30 or 60 days) for location tracking, and each includes a digital scale and 10,000 mAh battery for recharging your gear. The bags cost $349 without location tracking and $399 with it, and volume discounts are available.

Miscellaneous bags: Away bags

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Image by Away

Another new luggage startup, Away, rolled out a line of four-wheeled carry-on bags that are “crafted from premium German polycarbonate.” They feature a compression system for squeezing in more stuff, a removable laundry bag, and a 10,000 mAh battery. The bags come in three sizes and four colors, and they range from $225 for the carry-on to $295 for the company’s largest rolling bag.

Backpack: Ampl smart backpack

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Image by Ampl Labs

Ampl’s “smart” backpack is designed for gear-laden travelers, and it features a range of built-in batteries for recharging; a connected mobile app that provides stats on battery levels and alerts you if you leave your bag behind; a TSA-friendly laptop compartment; and a shoulder-strap holster that keeps your smartphone handy while it recharges. The backpack ranges from $249 to $500, depending on battery options. However, it’s only available for preorder, and that’s been the case for at least a year, so this bag isn’t an option for the impatient.

Backpack: Co.alition Federal and Colfax packs

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Image by Co.alition

Co.alition offers two customizable backpacks: the Federal ($149 and up), and the larger Colfax ($169 and up). Both bags can be configured in either black or gray, with one of two built-in battery options, and a 2TB wireless hard drive. The drive is designed to provide additional storage for files and to stream them to smartphones or tablets via its own Wi-Fi network.

Backpack: HP Powerup Backpack

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Image by Hewlett-Packard

Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) Powerup Backpack ($199 on Amazon) is geared toward HP laptop users, and as such, you can only recharge its impressive 22,400 mAh battery using a current model HP laptop charger. Along with re-juicing HP laptops (up to 17.3 inches in screen size), you can use the bag’s battery to recharge tablets and smartphones, and a built-in heat sensor promises to monitor the backpack’s temperature and automatically adjust it as needed. The canvas exterior has a rain-resistant coating, as well.

Messenger bag: Moleskine Leather Lineage

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Image by Moleskine spa viale Stelvio

Moleskine’s paper notebooks and journals have been popular for years — even, somewhat surprisingly, among tech startups. (See The New Yorker‘s “Why startups love Moleskine.”) This spring, the company released a stylish line of gadget-oriented bags, called Lineage, that are modeled on the square Moleskine notebook design, including the Leather Lineage Messenger bag. The 100 percent soft black leather bag features a buckle and straps, and it is both distinctive, without being over-the-top, and classy. It doesn’t have any exterior pockets for quickly stashing a smartphone, however. At $290, it’s pricey, but startup-chic doesn’t come cheap.

Messenger bag and backpack: Henty CoPilot

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Image by Henty Designs

The Henty CoPilot bag is still only part of a Kickstarter campaign, but it blew well past its original $15,000 funding goal. The CoPilot is actually two bags: an outer garment bag, designed to keep your clothes from wrinkling, which wraps around an inner “day” bag, meant to hold gym clothes, toiletries, shoes, a laptop and other items. The whole thing rolls up into one bag that can be worn as a backpack or as a messenger bag, and it comes with a rain cover. CoPilot also has an outer pocket for your phone. 

iPad bag: Pad & Quill Valet Leather iPad Pro 12.9 Bag

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Image by Pad & Quill

Even though it’s not quite a laptop replacement, Apple’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro is an awesome tablet, and it deserves to travel in style. Pad & Quill’s $149 Valet Leather iPad Pro 12.9 Bag looks classy, and it’s made of brown “full grain U.S.A. steer leather,” according to the company. It has two pen holders for your Apple Pencil and additional pockets for a keyboard, documents, and cables. It also comes with a 25-year warranty, which is unusual for a tablet case. The company says 13-inch laptops fit in the bag, as well.

Purses and wristlets: Everpurse and Kate Spade Bags

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Image by Everpurse

Everpurse and Kate Spade collaborated on and built an iPhone-recharging battery into a line of handbags and wristlets. The battery doesn’t recharge Android devices, however, and the companies won’t ship the bags to certain U.S. states, including California. The wristlets start at $198, and the purses costs as much as $489.

GoPro gear bag: Tenba Shootout Actionpack 14L

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Image by Tenba

If you’re ready to forget work and do some skydiving (or play another extreme sport), Tenba’s recently released Shootout Actionpack 14L ($200) is the bag for you. It’s specifically designed for GoPro camera enthusiasts, and it promises to store up to four GoPros or similar-sized cameras, along with various mounts, batteries, cables, housings and other accessories. Tenba says the black backpack is the first and only bag of its kind.