Pad & Quill Roll Top Backpack Review

I started looking for a new backpack for work a couple of months ago as I wanted to find a backpack , while still maintaining some form of retro modern look. This turned out to be a surprisingly difficult task.

The challenge with backpacks is they aren’t really designed to have an executive look, and most of the bags look about as executive as my daughter’s Dora the Explorer backpack. You get black backpacks, but they are not really at home walking into a boardroom. Add the challenge of finding something to carry 15″ Macbook Pro and an iPad Pro and this becomes more difficult. Granted I could have gone for a conventional messenger, but with the amount of travel (and riding on a motorbike) I tend to do, my back and shoulders are starting to suffer as a result.

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I found the Pad and Quill Roll Top Leather Backpack a little by fluke when I was looking at their website for an iPad Pro cover as a birthday present for my business partner. While I was ordering the iPad Pro cover (which is also incredible and highly recommended), I discovered they had a laptop section with a variety of bags ranging from leather messengers to canvass and leather backpacks.

At US$320 (yes, US Dollars), the bag isn’t cheap but at the time I ordered, there was a 10% off discount running so I managed to offset the cost of shipping with the discount. Shipping was expensive at $50 (it was combined with other items so probably less on its own) but in their defence, they are shipping with Fedex International Express so my order was placed on Friday evening Melbourne time and arrived on Tuesday which is about inline with local shipping if you consider that they would only have been Monday if they were a Monday to Friday operation which most business are.

The bag comes in a bag (as strange as that sounds), which is a white material protective bag with the Pad & Quill Logo. If you’re wondering about the envelope with the wax stamp, that was some extra stylus holders that I ordered with some iPad Pro cases. It wasn’t part of the order, but I liked the look and feel for the photos.

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The rolled design of the leather backpack is a little odd and may not favour everyone but it’s one that grows on you. Initially I ignored it in favour of their canvass and leather backpack but as I looked at the website a couple of times, I started to fall in love with it. If you understand the history behind the backpacks, the owner of Pad and Quill was looking for at retro designs that tied into his café racer theme (he is a motorcyclist). I’m not sure if this applies to only the leather and canvass bags, but I think this bag would look very much at home for café racers as well.

I picked the black over the other colours as I found it had more of an executive look. The two brown versions look a little more casual so depending on the office environment and your style, you may find one of these to be more suitable.

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There is construction and there is construction. It’s hard to explain the quality of this bag without simply saying “wow”. I honestly could not find a single thing to complain about when it came to quality, even if I was nitpicking. The leather quality is as good as it gets, the stitching and finishing is simply impeccable, the fittings on the bag are all high quality. They have no skimped on the quality for anything. In short, if you were going to complain about anything on this bag, quality wouldn’t be it. One of the upsides with this bag is that it comes with a 25 year warranty which is a testament to the quality of the bag, and one of the unusual elements is the signature of the person who handmade the bag, showing the level of pride that goes into the manufacture of these bags. My last ThinkTank retrospective laptop bag cost $160 and last 2 years so if this lasts more than 5 years, it’s been well worth the investment. With the quality and construction, I’d be surprised if this didn’t last 10 years with the added benefit that leather tends to look good as it weathers and softens so this will get better with age.

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The bag falls into the basic category when it comes to features. In some respects, leather provides some limitations to the bells and whistles you can add to a bag, but I don’t see this as a bad thing. I’m a fan of clean designs and this falls into that category. It’s functional but if you are looking for something that has 40 pockets to put every conceivable device, this is not the bag for you. I tend to carry a cable bag to hold my cables and small odds and ends and this really is the kind of bag that requires it if you carry a large amount of cables.

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The design is clever but does come with some minor compromises. The roll top leaves you with a really long top to the case meaning the bag can be deep and awkward to get devices into, particularly when the leather is new as it’s very stiff. This makes it a little cumbersome but it’s something that will soften over time.

The buckle design makes getting in and out of the bag a little harder although they have added a zip on the side which is handy for accessing small items when you need them. I don’t consider the buckles to be a major shortfall because I am not the type of user that has to constantly put my laptop in and out of my bag. I’d also rather have something that is more secure than find out something has fallen out of my bag due to a clip failure which is a problem I have experienced in the past as bags get shifted around on aeroplanes. This is partially due to the failing velcro on my Thinktank which leaves the main accessory pocket prone to having things fall out and I’ve had to collect my Bose QC20i’s from Virgin lost property thanks to this. At $350 for a set of headphones, it would have been an expensive bag fail if I had not got my headphones back.

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The zip on the side allows you to remove accessories without having to go through the top. Obviously with the laptop pouch you won’t be able to get the laptop out the side pocket but it is large enough for an iPad.

On the outside of the bag, you’ll find a small pocket. It could fit a couple of odds and ends, a Macbook Pro charger along with a mouse and maybe one or two other small items. The latch for the outside section is quicker and easier to open but it’s secure enough not to worry about things falling out. Inside the bag you’ll find a laptop section which fits a 15″ MacBook Pro. The laptop compartment is a snug fit for a Macbook Pro Retina 15″.

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There is also a zipper section which could be used to store keys, cash or any small items that can fall out easily. The inside of the bag is actually fairly spacious and the rolltop nature of the bag means some have some level of flexibility as to how much you store in it.

From an additional space perspective, I tried fitting my ThinkTank Retrospective 7 camera bag in and it’s a no go with the laptop and iPad although it’s a fairly bulky case designed for a camera and spare lens. It would easily fit my DSLR (D750) but I’d obviously have to put a wrap around it to protect it so there is enough room for a water bottle, some shoes or a couple of odds and ends.

The straps are very comfortable, which is surprising given the lack of padding but the soft feel of the leather helps. I do like the buckles on the straps because I’ve had issues with the straps on other bags changing over a period of time where as the buckle is pretty locked to a set position.

I haven’t included photos of the inside because I was too lazy to get the logistics right of taking a photo down the inside of a bag.

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Value for money

A lot of people are going to look at the price of this bag and going to be put off which is a little sad. It’s really hard to look at value for money and compare it to other bags because it doesn’t really compare on a conventional level. Personally I consider the pricing on this bag to very reasonably when you consider the quality of materials, quality of workmanship and the fact that this isn’t some mass produced bag coming out of a factory where quality isn’t the highest priority. It also comes with a 25 yr warranty so when you consider my $170 Think tank Retrospective laptop bag is failing after only 2 and a half years, spending a little over $100 more for a bag that is going to last closer to 10 years, gives you a real indication of the value for money. Everything on this bag is built to last a lifetime.

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I’m going to start by saying this bag isn’t going to suit everyone, but the market this bag is targeted at, the bag is simply as good as it gets. It’s pricey, but with that price comes a bag that is impeccable in every respect and if I was rating this bag out of 10, I’d really have to look hard to find reasons not to give this the maximum. It is simply is that good. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s worth every penny. If you’re looking for a backpack that Falls into this category, then I’d highly recommend you consider this bag.

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