I’ve spent years looking for the best backpack. The pursuit started while I was at college, intensified at university (despite living on a shoestring) and continues to this day. Every couple of years I change my mind and buy something new, whether it be a satchel, a backpack or a briefcase, I’m constantly on the lookout for the perfect way to carry a laptop, a couple of accessories and the occasional weekend’s worth of clothes.
The Goldilocks bag I’m looking for is one that isn’t too big or too small, is stylish enough to go with most of my outfits, all year long, and which is affordable enough to buy without referring to it as a “big purchase”. All too often, I settle on a bag that ticks the practicality and cost boxes, but which makes me look like I’m on a school trip. I tend to cram them full of stuff, eager to make use of every pocket, until they are bulging to the point that cabin crew question whether it still qualifies as carry-on.
That’s a key factor too; the bag needs to be suitable for business and pleasure. It needs to work on a weekend away, but also cater for the sort of short work trip I go on every few weeks, often with two days of clothes, a laptop, a camera and everything else I need to do my job.
I had seen the Commuter Backpack by Harber London before, so jumped at the opportunity to review one when the offer came my way. This is a backpack that's stylish, with space for a laptop, tablet, water bottle, a change of clothes and a few choice accessories – all without, I’d hoped, looking like a school bag when packed to the seams.
Available in olive green, black and mocha brown, all versions come with a black leather lid. Inside there’s space for a laptop sized between 13 and 16 inches, plus a tablet of up to 13 inches, and there’s a dedicated pocket for a phone or wallet.
All three colour ways have the same bright interior, which really helps when it comes to finding your possessions in a dimly lit plane cabin (something I struggled with when testing out Harber London’s Everyday Leather Briefcase and its black interior). The interior features dedicated pockets for a laptop and tablet, plus a zippable pocket that falls somewhere between a Kindle and an iPad in terms of what it can hold. I see it working best as a compartment for accessories like cables, chargers, power banks and headphones.
On either side of the interior there’s a slot for a water bottle. I suspect this was designed for the taller and slimmer first-generation Chili bottle, as the second-gen 500ml bottle I have is too wide to fit, which is a shame. Other bottles are available, and you can find T3's favourites here.
A couple of other features include an integrated keychain for hooking your keys onto, so they don’t get lost in the depths of the bag, and a loop for storing a pen or tablet stylus. This loop is a bit large for most pens or the Apple Pencil, but it does the job well enough.
The bag is secured in two ways, but neither makes it fully water-tight. The first is a zip that neatly closes the top of the bag, but which has a sort of tail that dangles down into the bag. This at first looks like a mistake but you soon realise it gives the bag room to fully open while still incorporating the zip. It also ensures the bag can zip closed while being absolutely full to the brim, if that’s the way you roll. I understand why Harber London has done this, but it all feels a bit clumsy to me.
Once that’s closed, and you’ve tucked the zip’s little tail into the bag itself, the leather lid folds over the top and secures with a magnet. This all looks great (smells good too) but the magnet needs to be much stronger. It doesn’t close with the reassuring snap I want from the magnet of a £230 bag housing a couple of grand’s worth of tech.
And while Harber says the fabric is water-resistant, the way the bag closes means there’s a gap on either side of both the zippered top and the (slightly narrower) leather lid, ready for rain to fall straight into. This isn’t something I’d care about on a dry day, but it’s raining as I write this and those gaps right next to a laptop compartment are making me nervous.
The corners of the bag can be tucked in, as I see they have been in Harber’s promotional images, but it doesn’t really stay like that when you’re walking. I imagine a couple of magnetic press studs like those from a handbag would help, but that’d mean a zip and three magnets to simply close a bag.
Better news is found around the back, where a black leather strap is perfectly placed to hook the backpack over the handle of a carry-on suitcase. The leather shoulder straps are also very nice; compact but surprisingly comfortable, and with plenty of adjustability. I love how comfortable this bag is and how neat it looks, with none of the extra straps and drawstrings seen on some backpacks.
It also remains tidy when packed with clothes. I can fit two days’ worth, plus aeroplane-friendly toiletries, a 14-inch MacBook Pro, a Kindle and various tech accessories without it looking overly bulky. In fact, that's what the bag is containing for most of the photos in this review, hence it looks larger than on Harber's website.
Harber London Commuter Backpack review: Verdict
There’s a lot to like here. The Commuter Backpack looks great, wears well and is very comfortable, with plenty of thoughtful space for tech and clothes alike. It’s the perfect size for a weekend away or a short work trip, with thoughtful pockets designed for water bottles, a phone and a pen or stylus, plus a keychain attachment too.
The leather looks, feels and smells lovely, as we’ve come to expect from Harber London, and the water resistant fabric (made from recycled plastic bottles) feels exceptionally hard-wearing. It would have been a five-star backpack, but it’s let down by a weak magnet on the lid and a design that could leave the inside exposed to rain. These aren’t dealbreakers, but are the kinds of details Harber needs to get right when positioning itself as a high-end brand.